A collection of first-hand accounts and reports of the air in the war
Compared to accounts of conflict on land and sea, the library of accounts of the war in the air during the First World War is quite small. Many of the books written about the subject (which holds an abiding fascination for students of the earliest period of aviation and aerial combat) are published by Leonaur, including those written by the airmen themselves. This book is quite different. Its contents have been drawn from the many periodicals and part works which were published during the Great War for an eager domestic audience. This unique book contains numerous first-hand reports written by the aviators themselves, as well as those written by journalists who wrote about the war in the air. Many if not all of these have never appeared in book form before. Taken from French, German and British sources, these accounts cover many interesting aspects of the battle in the clouds. Readers will discover what the air war like from the perspective of a Zeppelin crew member, accounts of airmen above the Desert Campaign, of the bomber raids, sea-plane exploits, the German raiders over Paris and London, a view of the aerial attack on Ravenna and much more of interest on warfare in the early days of military aviation. Illustrated.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
Few young men enlisted for the war more frankly in the spirit of adventure than did Lieutenant E. M. Roberts, an American boy, born in Duluth, and seemingly born with the unrest of the winds of the Northwest in his blood. When he was but ten years old he ran away from home in obedience to the restless longing to fare for himself, go whither he listed, and taste the ruggedness of nature in experience. He tried lumbering in the Northwest. He crossed the border into Canada and successively turned his hand to many things—mining, automobile repair, railroad construction, cow-punching, sheep-raising, etc.—getting a liberal education in the “University of Hard Knocks,” as he expressed it, but never finding just the excitement he vaguely yearned for.
He was in Calgary in October, 1914, and by chance learned from a newspaper in which he had wrapped a purchase, that there was war doing in Europe. It struck him that the thing sought, the desired excitement, was now ready to hand. He met an old friend and talked the news with him. The friend told him that there had been a call that morning for men for service in Europe. “Let’s join!” Both were of the same mind; both were ready for adventure. Next morning, he enlisted as a member of the 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion. But the officer in charge of the barracks knew Roberts, and recalling that he was familiar with mechanics, transferred him to a mechanical transport section, not at all to his liking, mechanics being but a tame affair.
In time, he went with the battalion to France as driver of a lorry. He got a dose of gas at Ypres and was sent back to England for hospital treatment. On recovery, he was returned to France as Section Sergeant, his duty being to scout the roads ahead on a motorcycle. He found that he was getting very little out of the war but hard work, plodding knee deep in mud much of the time while up there the flyers were having a jolly, enviable time.
Ambition to get into the Royal Flying Corps seized him and never let go of him, but it was long before the opportunity to join came to him. Much experience of many kinds came his way, despatch riding among the rest, before the happy day when he was attached to an air squadron as gunner on probation, the getting of which position was in itself an adventure, as is duly set forth in A Flying Fighter, the intensely interesting story of his career told by Roberts himself.
Though on the way he was yet far from his goal. He had first to go into the trenches to learn what infantrymen had to go through. He got a thorough lesson, which included prowls in No Man’s Land, charging enemy trenches and plunging in to prod with the bayonet and fling hand grenades and much like matter rather adapted, one would imagine, to disqualify an aspirant for service in the air, for rising above ground. But he arrived in due time at the dignity of an accepted aviator, and made his first flight. Then came the excitement of shooting down his first Hun, but we pass that and many other arresting incidents and exploits of his apprenticeship to come to his account of an exceptional sort of encounter with hostile planes that has in it all the elements of dramatic surprise.
He was assigned to pilot duty with a scout and fighting squadron doing service in France, and his first turn of service consisted of patrol duty for three days running. It was an uneventful start, nothing occurring in the three days. On the fourth day, he went up again on patrol to 20,000 feet. He was looking for Huns up there but found none. As it was very cold he decided to go down a way, and shut off power. He says:
At the level of 18,000 feet, I found myself sweeping along a very large peak of cloud. Intending to spoil its pretty formation I dived into it, and coming out on the other side, found myself alongside of a Hun plane of the Albatross type. (Roberts was in a Spad.) I had no intimation at all that a Hun was present, and I guess he was in the same position.
“The Hun Waved at Me and I Waved at Him”
I suppose he was as much surprised as I was when he saw me emerging from the cloud. Neither of us could shoot at the other for the reason that the guns of the machines we were flying were fixed to the machine so that the machine itself has to be pointed.
We were so close together that this could not be done without our ramming one another, which both of us had to avoid if we did not wish to crash to the earth together.
The Hun waved at me and I waved at him.
We found ourselves in a very peculiar situation. I was so close to him that I could see with the naked eye every detail of his machine. His face also I could see quite clearly, even to the wrinkles around his mouth.
There was something odd in our position. I had to smile at the thought that we were so close together and yet dared not harm one another. The Hun also smiled. Then I reached down to feel the handle on my pressure reservoir to make sure that it was in its proper place, for I knew that one of us would soon have to make a break.
I had never before met a Hun at such close quarters in the air and though we flew parallel to one another for only a few minutes, the time seemed like a week. I remembered some of the tactics told me by some of the older and best fighters in the corps, and was wondering how I could employ them. Finally, a thought occurred to me. Two machines flying at the same height are not necessarily on exactly the same level, as they keep going up and down for about 20 feet.
I was flying between the Hun and his own lines and I had fuel for another hour and a quarter anyway. I wanted to make sure of this bird, but decided to play a waiting game. We continued our flight side by side.
After a while, however, much sooner than I expected, the Hun began to get restless and started to manoeuvre for position; like myself he was utilising the veriest fraction of every little opportunity in his endeavour to outmanoeuvre the antagonist. Finally, the Hun thought he had gotten the lead.
I noticed that he was trying to side-slip, go down a little, evidently for the purpose of shooting me from underneath, but not far enough for me to get a dive on him. I was not quite sure as yet that such was really his intention, but the man was quick. Before I knew what had happened he had managed to put five shots into my machine, but all of them missed me.