This interesting book, which includes photographs and diagrams, describes the early years of man's attempts to gain mastery of the air. It chronicles the first, rudimentary attempts at flight in balloons to their ultimate development including their use during the Great War. Next came the age of the dirigible including, of course, the mighty Zeppelin. Allied dirigibles of the First World War are also considered. Most significant, however, was the development of powered, heavier than air, winged, machines and in this account they are described from their genesis with the Wright brothers to their use in the first great conflict which led to the creation of the air forces of the world. German and Allied aircraft are discussed, together with their various uses, applications and the deeds of the intrepid young men who flew them. There are not many accounts of the early days of aviation in peace and war so any addition to their number is welcome. This book was written before the potential of the aircraft had been fully realised and is an interesting perspective on how the first pilots, aircraft designers, manufacturers and visionaries saw them and their future in the opening decades of the twentieth century. An essential addition to any library of early aviation, this book is recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The night bomber is the giant of the sky. The greatest genius of the cleverest designers has been expended upon its construction. More and more its tremendous importance is being recognized. Its activities precede every great offensive movement, for it flies over the enemy’s country, leaving a trail of terrible destruction in its wake, and “preparing the soil” for the infantry advance. Deep in the territory of the foe it searches out the great supply centres and railway terminals and there it unloads its cargo of bombs.<br>
If the Allies had possessed a sufficient number of these huge bombing planes they could have carried on an aerial warfare against Germany which would have defeated her without nearly so great a sacrifice of the lives of the infantry. The work is dangerous, but a single bombing plane could have wreaked more vengeance upon the Hun than perhaps a whole regiment of the bravest fighters. Consequently its use would have meant economy of human lives.<br>
These fearful shadows that walk by night require pilots of the utmost skill to navigate the sea of darkness, as well as bomb droppers and gunners whose training has been perfect. The largest of them are equipped with either two or three powerful engines, each working a separate propeller. Such a machine can carry as much as five tons of explosives, with fuel for a twelve hours’ flight.<br>
The night bomber is very often a huge triplane, for the extra wing surface gives greater lifting power. At the same time the triplane has greater stability and has a fair chance of reaching home even when one of its planes has been badly damaged. It is the same with a machine which has two or more engines: even when one of these has been put out of order by the shots of the enemy the airplane can still reach home. The night bombers must travel long distances, carry great cargos, bomb their objectives and make their escape, and so in the construction of their machines as much stability, lifting power and speed as possible has been the aim.<br>
Usually it is some important munition base or factory centre that is supplying the German troops, which the airmen set out to bomb. They travel in squadrons not only for safety, but because in this way an almost unlimited number of bombs can be carried and dropped simultaneously. Often a second squadron follows the first at a short distance. By the light of the terrible fires that the first set of explosives dropped are bound to start, this second squadron can drop its bombs with greater precision directly on important buildings that must be destroyed.<br>
Moving slowly under their great load of explosives, and flying low, these two squadrons of destroyers start for some point in the heart of the German Empire. Like ghosts they “feel their way” mile after mile. They are not anxious to invite detection, for under the great weight of their “messages” to Germany, they would not be able to manoeuvre quickly or to climb to safety.<br>
Once those tons of explosives have been released and the noise of their dreadful havoc has aroused the anti-aircraft gunners of the enemy, those bombing planes will find the earth an uninviting sort of region and they will be glad to spring into the protecting silence and darkness of the upper air. And this they can do easily, for, rid of their load, they possess unusual climbing powers. The second squadron of bombers, flying over the same territory may expect a warm reception, and they will need to do their work quickly and beat a hasty retreat.<br>
Such are the mysterious doings of the night. When the early dawn appears, gray and heavy eyed, it will find the bombing planes tucked away drowsily in their hangars, scarcely knowing themselves whether the journey up the Rhine was a reality or merely a terrifying dream.<br>
And with the dawn their daylight sisters will take up the work near home. Word has just come that enemy reinforcements are moving up to the front along certain roads. “Fine,” sings out a young lieutenant, appearing unexpectedly on the field from a small, carefully camouflaged office. “We will make them dance for us this morning!” He talks quickly and determinedly with a group of pilots, giving instructions, charging all to keep the formation. Machines are gone over to make sure that everything is in perfect condition. Then the first bombing plane, bearing the flight leader, “taxis” across the field, appearing to stagger under its great burden. Suddenly it takes to the air, and like a large graceful bird, its clumsiness all gone, it soars up into the blue. Rapidly the other big birds follow suit, and at a signal they are off, the flight commander heading the group, and the others following in close formation, like a huge flock of wild geese.<br>
On and on they fly, until beneath them appears the winding ribbon of road that is their objective. It is crowded with marching troops, gun wagons, supplies. As they swoop close to the earth they catch a swift glimpse of white faces turned up at them with terror. Then panic falls upon the marching column and, helter-skelter, every man tries to break away to a point of safety. In another moment guns are turned upon the bombers, but they dodge the flying shells and let go their heavy explosives, which crash to earth with dreadful uproar. Where a few moments before the Huns were following their way undisturbed there is now a road in which great furrows are ploughed; huge holes gape open and a hopeless mass of débris covers the earth. The columns of the enemy will be blocked for many hours while the mass is being cleared away. Satisfied with the results of their exploit the bombing squadron turns swiftly toward home.<br>
How simple a matter it seems at first glance to release a bomb and hit a given point below. Actually it requires the very highest skill. To begin with, the airplane is moving at tremendous speed, and the bombardier (as the man who drops the bombs is called) has to know exactly how the forward motion of the airplane will affect the direction that the bomb takes on its course toward the earth. Moreover the bomb has a speed at starting equal to the speed of the airplane, and this beginning speed is increased by the action of gravity drawing it down. It may be aided in its journey by the wind or retarded, according to the wind’s direction, and this too must be taken into account, if the target is to be hit. Bomb dropping can only be carried out successfully with the aid of the most delicate and complicated range-finding mechanism, with which every bombing plane is equipped. The Germans have led the way in inventions for this purpose, and their Goertz range finder is perhaps the best in the world.