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The Struggle in the Air 1914-1918

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The Struggle in the Air 1914-1918
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Author(s): Charles C. Turner
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 256
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-334-2
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-333-5

The first battles of the skies

The author of this overview and analysis of the Allied air campaign during the years of the First World War was eminently qualified for the task. He was one of the first aviators on the ‘British List,’ had been a balloonist before the war and, although he was not a combatant in the truest sense, flew during the conflict on reconnaissance over the battle lines of the Western Front and took part in night raiding with the Handley Page bombers of the RAF. His work considers the development and capabilities of aircraft in a military role and the early theories for their application in the Great War. This thorough history examines air to air combat as it progressed in each year of the conflict. Zeppelin and other air raids on England are considered together with the measures employed to counter them. Bomber operations at night and the roles of reconnaissance, artillery and balloon observation and the of the newly formed Royal Naval Air Service and the aircraft’s role at sea are also given consideration here. This is a fine perspective from one who was at the heart of the events he has written about. An essential total view for all those interested in the early days of the war in the air. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

start. The light waved; and the next instant the great machine lumbered forward, turned to the right, and rolled up the field. We made a half-circle turn, the throttles were opened out, and the machine plunged forward at good speed, and in a very few seconds was off.<br>
Below was the receding aerodrome, the row of landing lights still visible; and by turning round one could see the battle lines. Searchlights swept the sky; star shells blazed. One could pick out batteries firing at timed intervals, and could also see vertical, or almost vertical, stabs of flame as the “Archies” blazed away at our other machines ahead. From the sea to Ypres, and beyond, was a blaze of many-coloured fire.<br>
Higher and higher we flew, still circling; then the compass steadied as we settled on an easterly course. Our navigation lights were switched off, and we got nearer to the battle. At times great smudges of cloud swept past us; or, rather, we overtook them, on a following wind.<br>
Here was a searchlight lighting up the clouds close at hand, like a great lamp under a ground-glass floor. Every instant it seemed we must be caught in the beam, which swept to and fro seeking for the machine whose engines were so clearly audible below. Suddenly, after three or four minutes of vain seeking, the machine became a tangled mass of brilliant lights and black shadows. We were in the light; but it is extremely likely that through the cloud we were not seen.<br>
Occasionally the boom of explosions was heard, but whether caused by shells bursting in the air near us, or heavy guns just below, or by the bombs of one of our machines ahead, it was difficult to say. As we got into the battle, at a height of 8,000 feet, shrapnel burst into red fragments in the sky at a higher altitude than we were, but a long way off. There were veritable fountains of red, yellow, and white flame; star shells here and there along the line; great red flares illuminating sections of the trenches; and the jets of flame from British and also from the German guns.<br>
Some batteries fired in salvos, some singly. A sudden intense realization of the drama being enacted down there came over one, and a feeling of pity strong enough to check personal fear, although engine-failure might compel us to descend in German territory, or increase of wind or losing the way might mean that the dawn would find us at the mercy of a flight of Hun fighting machines, or at any moment a direct hit might settle our fate, or a shell fragment select one of us for its billet.<br>
Right away to the left at Ostend “green onions” were shooting up. These were long chains of green fire, each of many hundreds of links, reaching a height of nearly 10,000 feet, sent up by the Huns to catch hostile aircraft and set them on fire. Our people laughed at them. It was said that one day a R.F.C. pilot brought one home on his machine. He had caught it after the flames had died out! Quite close to our right a string of these “green onions” climbed above our machine and fell gracefully away and “went out.”<br>
Our ’bus often rocked and bumped, and one seemed to feel the thud of distant explosions. Two or three times the Huns fired something which made a huge ball of red flame, that hung for some seconds before it died out. The trenches below, also, were at times lit up by a dull red glow, and not by the ordinary star shells. We could see no men, only this amazing demonstration of the war of races.<br>
Over the German lines many searchlights were sweeping for us. Again we were caught in the beam, and it held us for a long time; but nothing hit us. We reached the dark country beyond, and changed direction two or three times, all the while dodging dangerous points and looking for Thourout, Then, suddenly, we plunged into rain and the profound blackness of clouds at night. Almost immediately we flew on a down slant, the rain cutting our faces, and the compass card spinning (for under these circumstances, at night especially, it was almost impossible to keep a straight course).<br>
We came down through, perhaps, 4,000 feet of it, and then suddenly emerged, and right below us were brilliant lights and searchlights, and the battle lines again in view. This was Westende, a hot corner; and, sure enough, they pom-pomed us, the shells bursting below the machine, and the thud, thud, being audible above the noise of the engines. We went off on another tack, and almost directly came towards Ghistelles aerodrome. Here we dropped our bombs, hearing them and seeing some of them burst. The enemy was firing at us all the time, probably mystified as to the direction whence we came, and whither we were heading.