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Aerial warfare of First World War in rare photographs, 1914-1918


Air warfare was by no means an invention of World War I. Already during the Napoleonic Wars and the Franco-Prussian conflict of 1870–1871, balloons were used for observation and propaganda distribution.

The planes were used for bombing missions during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912. Nevertheless, aerial warfare during World War I marked a break with these previous examples. This was the first conflict during which aircraft were extensively involved and played an important role.

At the start of the war, the usefulness of air machines was met with a certain amount of skepticism by senior officers on all sides. In fact, airplanes were mostly involved in observation missions during the first year of the conflict.

However, rapid progress enhanced the performance of the airplane. In 1915, Dutch aircraft maker Anthony Fokker, who was working for the Germans, perfected a French invention that caused machine-gun fire through a propeller.

This discovery had a revolutionary result: the creation of fighter planes. This type of aircraft gave the Germans an edge during 1915.


Their air superiority lasted until April 1916, two months after the start of the Battle of Verdun. Subsequently, Allied dominance was achieved through the creation of French fighter squadrons and the expansion of the British Royal Flying Corps.

Control of the sky was to change hands again in the first half of 1917 when the Germans reformed their squadrons and introduced modern fighters. During April 1917, nicknamed 'Bloody April', the British suffered four times more casualties than the Germans.

But things were progressing from the Allied side. Successful reorganizations in France and Britain brought air control back for good until the armistice.

During 1915, another important step was taken when the Germans conducted strategic bombings of Britain and France by Zeppelin airplanes. In 1917-18 'Gotha' and 'Giant' bombers were also used.

This new type of mission, targeting logistics and manufacturing centers, predetermined the strategy generally adopted later in the century. Inevitably, the bombing of ports and factories was quickly adopted by all sides and resulted in civilian casualties.


Although the number of civilian casualties by air machines remained low during the war, these air strikes caused widespread panic.

Nevertheless, planes were sometimes welcome. Indeed, aircraft and balloons were used from 1915 to 1918 by the Allies to drop propaganda leaflets captured over France, Belgium and Italy to counter the German psychological warfare. Propaganda was also dropped on German soldiers in an attempt to discourage them.

In 1915, aviation attracted the attention of the press both in Germany and in the Allied countries. Fighting pilots credited with at least five victories are known as 'aces' and admired as celebrities on home fronts until the end of the conflict.

The incident illustrates the ability of war culture to permeate all aspects of society, but also underscores a paradox: Heroes of the air became glamorous because they were considered clean and noble, while their infantry counterparts were in the trenches. An anonymous mass trapped in the soil remained. This romantic appreciation by the public of the flying aces was the cause of tension and jealousy between the Army and the Air Force.


By the end of the war, the impact of air missions on ground warfare was mainly tactical-strategic bombing, in particular, was in fact still very rudimentary. This was partly due to its restricted funding and use, as it was a new technology.

On the other hand, artillery, which probably had the greatest impact of any military arm in this war, was destructive in large part because of the availability of aerial photography and aerial "spotting" by balloons and aircraft.

Strategic air support had a major impact on the morale of the army and during 1918 when coordinated with the actions of ground forces proved helpful to both the Allies and the Germans.

But such operations relied too much on the weather to have considerable effect. Meanwhile, fighter aircraft had a significant impact in facilitating other air activities.

Aviation made a huge technological leap during the conflict. War in the air also proved to be an area of ​​experimentation where tactics and theories were conceived and tested.

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