The Great War Society

The First Air War

The Great War and the Ascendency of Airpower

  • When my brother and I built the first man-carrying flying machine we thought that we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible.
    Orville Wright, During the First World War

  • Once the command of the air is obtained by one of the contended armies, the war must become a conflict between a seeing host and one that is blind.
    H. G. Wells, 1907

  • Aviation is fine as a sport. But as an instrument of war, it is worthless.
    General Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, École Supériure de Guere, 1911

  • August 31, 1914: British aircraft confirm invading German First Army moving to east of Paris, exposing its flank; Battle of the Marne results.

  • December 25, 1914: First sea-launched air assault in history against Zeppelin sheds at Cuxhaven.

  • April 1, 1915: French pilot Lt. Roland Garros scores the first air "kill" when he shoots down an Albatross observation plane from his Morane Saulnier Type L.

  • Won't it be nice when all this beastly killing is over, and we can enjoy ourselves and not hurt anyone? I hate this game.
    Captain Albert Ball, Early British Ace and Popular Hero, KIA May 6, 1917.

  • January 19-20, 1915: First successful Zeppelin raids on United Kingdom.

  • August 1915 -1 June 1916: Period of "Fokker Scourge" as German Air Service dominates skies over Western Front

  • April 20 - the Escadrille Américanne, later to be known as Lafayette Escadrille, is established as an American volunteer unit in France.

  • So stand by your glasses steady,
         The world is a web of lies,
    Then here's to the dead already,
         And hurrah for the next man who dies

    Lafayette Escadrille Mess Song

  • Verdun was to spell the end of the solitary ace and single combat. It was at Verdun that the word "Airforce" first began to have a meaning.
    Alistair Horne, The Price of Glory

  • May 20, 1917: German submarine U-36 is sunk by a British flying boat.

  • Find the enemy and shoot him down, anything else is nonsense.
    Hauptman Manfred Baron von Richthofen, a living legend called the "Red Baron" and "ace of aces", 1917

  • April 21, 1918: Richthofen, himself, is shot down and killed near the River Somme.

  • September 12, 1918: 627 French and 611 US fighters are brought together for the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. At the time, it is the largest force of aircraft assembled for a single operation.

  • The military mind always imagines that the next war will be on the same lines as the last. That has never been the case and never will be. One of the great factors on the next war will be aircraft obviously. The potentialities of aircraft attack on a large scale are almost incalculable.
    Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch, 1926
    (A considerable shift from his comments of 1911 above.)

  • Not to have an adequate air force in the present state of the world is to compromise the foundations of national freedom and independence.
    Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 14 March 1933

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    Illustrations from the collection of  Tony Langley,
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