How Airplanes Were Used In WW1

One of the periods where aviation took some massive leaps in development was WW1. European governments invested big budgets for developing airplanes that would come out on top. Military aviation soon transformed from observation balloons to the first fighter planes. Let’s take a look at how airplanes were used in WW1.

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World War I was the first global conflict in world history, where aircraft were often used. Over time they became an effective weapon against an enemy army.

The aircraft used during the first war had an archaic and sometimes extravagant design. Due to the escalating war, aircraft builders were forced to react quickly to changes and improvements.

U.S. pilots in action during WWI. Captain “Eddie” Rickenbacker, known as the U.S. “Ace of Aces”, conducts a bombing run over German lines.

War as The Engine of Progress

The First World War was a powerful driving force behind the development of aviation. Governments have provided significant funding to develop new aircraft models. These projects have also led to the development of many upgraded older models. Since then, airplane production has become a profitable business.


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At the beginning of the war, there was only one type of military warplane: the response or reconnaissance aircraft. At the end of the war, military aviation was divided into several groups: fighters, bombers, planes of attack, and so on. They varied in size, the number of engines, size of crew and installation of specific equipment: fire, bomber, navigation.

The most important developments in the design of military aircraft were in countries such as England, France, and Germany. Shortly thereafter, the United States and Italy joined. Russia took its seat due to weak industrialization.

De Havilland Airco DH-16
De Havilland Airco DH-16

Hunter planes were initially used as scouts. Efficiency forced alternative use to prevent enemy aircraft from entering countries. Lighter and faster hunter and eavesdropper aircraft were on demand. However, this warplane needed firepower. In 1915, a French fighter pilot, Roland Garros was taken down behind enemy lines. This allowed the Germans to unveil the secrets behind French fighter planes. Subsequently, the “Fokker Fodder” aka “Fokker Scourge”, appeared on the battlefield.

The warplane was designed by Dutch engineer Anthony Fokker. He installed the interrupter gear weapons synchronization on German warplanes. They were designed to discharge rapid-fire rounds directly behind the plane propellers without hitting them.

Fokker M5K-MG
Fokker M5K-MG

Hunter’s aircraft reduced the speed of the strike when the blade of the propeller lay in front of the weapon. At the same time, a second Russian pilot invented a synchronized machine gun. These synchronization systems have also been installed on French, Russian and English airplanes. They’re the first fighter planes to arrive in fleets of multiple countries during the year 1916.


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Reconnaissance aircraft were very vulnerable at the time and rarely did. They needed powerful weapons to defend themselves against small but swift, aggressive hunters. Frenchman, Le Prieur realized the issue and integrated solid-fuel stick-guided missiles. It saw its first time in action during the battle of Verdun.

In the hunters, the French also installed mobile machine guns to prevent back attacks. This meant that the shooter was behind the pilot, and the screw that had existed before had ceased to exist. These planes also had increased their cargo capacity. Their main purpose was to bomb and escort military personnel by air.

Aircraft of World War I

Let’s look at at World War I airplanes from their respective producer countries.

US Aircraft of WW1

We must bear in mind that, as a result of the country’s subsequent intervention in the conflict, the US Air Force developed rather slowly. At the time of 1917, American aircraft development was lower than the other major countries involved in the war. At that time, the United States dropped bombers and hunters. The US Army used the aircraft solely for caller missions.

German Aircraft of WW1

We should consider that the German Air Force was the second-largest aircraft manufacturer in the First World War. The total number of their fleets reached about 230 aircraft. They were widely used for transport operations because they couldn’t handle a lot more than that. However, we can not assume that most of their aircraft were outdated models.

During the war, however, the Germans were the first to modernize their aircraft fleet, allowing them to control the air in Western Europe in 1915 and 1916. The Germans, too, were the first to lead in an aerial bombing. Germany did not hesitate to use aircraft to bomb enemies at all. This strategy was effective and caused the feared air force branch of the Luftwaffe to form in 1939 during World War II.

German Albatros D.IIIs of Jagdstaffel 11 and Jagdstaffel 4 parked in a line at La Brayelle near Douai, France
German Albatros D.IIIs of Jagdstaffel 11 and Jagdstaffel 4 parked in a line at La Brayelle near Douai, France

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Russian Aircraft of WW1

The Russian Empire had the largest fleet of warplanes in the world at the time of World War I’s declaration: about 260 aircraft. However, the quality of Russian aircraft was much lower than in most other countries of the world. Airplane materials and modules were out of date, and aviation suffered at the start of the war.

Despite their size, their air fleets did not save the Russian empire from defeat in the war. Still, the most outdated, the situation worsened in 1916. It was then that the Italians and the Austrians built their fleets against Russia, and they were victorious.

During this period, due to financial difficulties, Russia could not produce enough new warplanes. Due to the imminent crisis, obsolete technology was not allowed to deal with serious developments. As a result, Russian aviation remained in the shadows.

operational B.E.2c of the RFC in 1916
operational B.E.2c of the RFC in 1916

British Aircraft of WW1

Britain was the first foreign country in the world to have chosen the aviation industry as its military branch. The British were waiting and experimenting with the events of WWI. In 1915, by waiting and watching the enemy, they managed to create the world’s first hunter. In 1918, the British Air Force was the largest in the world and had over 3,000 aircraft.

The United Kingdom had already distributed its many warplanes for a variety of tasks. They include bombing, close air support, landing, destruction of enemy aircraft, etc. They were the founders of many tactics for the use of fighter planes; the rest followed. In this way, the United Kingdom greatly stimulated the development of aviation.

Bristol Scout C aircraft
Bristol Scout C aircraft

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French Aircraft of WW1

At the start of the war, French aviation was not the largest but was defined by its novelty and perfection. Until 1918, the French had used only hunters and almost the best reconnaissance aircraft in the world, but they had no bombers. The first bomber was first produced in 1918 and had no time to enter German cities: Kaiser Germany had surrendered earlier.

De Havilland Airco DH-4

Formation of Airco DH-4 in flight
Formation of Airco DH-4 in flight

One aircraft, in particular, was crucial to the success of modern airplanes. The English model had reached a speed of 190 km / h and could carry 250 kg of pumps. Also, the flight time of this fighter plane without landing was 4.5 hours and the altitude was 6000 m. The need to support ground forces and take high-altitude photographs in the air led to its arrival.

They used improved versions of conventional aircraft for this type of aviation. British aviation specialists installed metal-coated cabins, fuel tanks, and more powerful engines to increase capacity. The firepower of these warplanes consisted of two Lewis machine guns and two 230 lb bombs. They were all capable of firing hand grenades and bombs.


Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aviation_in_World_War_I
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/fokker.htm
https://www.worldwar1centennial.org/1181-timeline-of-wwi-aviation-history-demo.html

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