The 1st World War in the air (World war one in the air)

In 1903, the first powered aircraft took off for just a few seconds. Only 11 years later, with the onset of World War I, were the first air forces confronting history, whose technological development and experience had a decisive influence on the air war.




Beginning of aviation:

At 10:35 am on December 17, 1903, the world's first powered airplane of all time rose in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The biplane aircraft was developed by aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright (also known as the Wright brothers) and flown 4 times that day. Thus the brothers ushered in a new era of aviation. The technical development until the beginning of the 1st World War in 1914, however, was limited. Although the aircraft were built a little more stable and the engines improved, but big technical leaps do not get.


Biplane pressure propeller aircraft of the Wright brothers


Also the interest of the military of the big European states in the construction of an air force was rather small. The military leaders were in their concepts for warfare until the Great War, almost completely backward, not only in terms of the army but also in the introduction of new technologies. This way of thinking should quickly avenge itself at the expense of hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers on the fronts and lead to big leaps in the development of new weapons and the improvement of existing weapons.




The beginning of the 1st World War:

The first use of airspace for military purposes already took place in 1793 during the French Revolution, in which a hot air balloon was used for reconnaissance purposes. With the beginning of the First World War, the focus of the motorized aircraft was mainly in the enlightenment of enemy positions for their own artillery.

Inventory of aircraft at the beginning of the war:

Aircrafts Airships
England 155 7
German empire 246 7
France 132 15
Russia 24 12
Austria-Hungary 36 1


The aircraft used were still pretty primitive in their design. So there were no locked cockpits, hardly instruments and the navigation was still on compass and map. It was not uncommon for the pilots to get lost and orientate themselves to city signs or station names. Also, the aircraft were not armored, so they could be shot down at low altitude by the enemy infantry with their weapons.

The equipment with weapons was rather improvised at the beginning of the war. So the pilots, or in the early 2-seater machines the 2nd man, shot out of the cockpit with their handguns during the flight or simply threw bombs and hand grenades by hand. A few aircraft later had a mounted machine gun which was operated by the second man and was aligned to the rear, but not infrequently, the shooters shot in the fight their own rudder and had to cancel emergency landing or the fight. Only with the introduction of the forward-looking fixed machine gun by the French pilot Roland Garros and the further development by Fokker with the interrupter gear for the airscrew synchronous release of the machine guns, weapons could be used with airplanes crucial.




At the beginning of the war, the air forces were not an independent force but subordinated to the army. Exceptions here are the English naval aviators, who were placed separately next to the airmen of the army. Even a division into different aircraft classes was missing at the beginning. Only the French began to divide their aircraft into reconnaissance aircraft, fighter pilots, bombers and so on. The air forces of other countries took over shortly after this classification.




During the war:

The main task of the aircraft remained the Enlightenment throughout the war. Therefore, the largest part of the aircraft used also consisted of reconnaissance aircraft. With the development of aerial photography cameras, the images of the images were getting better, so that it could be used more and more for the military leadership to carry out plans. The reconnaissance flights were also a decisive advantage for the artillery, as the enemy's position could therefore be more closely attacked.


German "machine gun camera" from the First World War in use

German "machine gun camera" from the First World War in use


With the development of more powerful engines, the operational capability of the reconnaissance aircraft has increased considerably. Since the military leadership of both parties recognized early the benefits of the Enlightenment, but also the danger of enemy reconnaissance, the air force began with the construction of the first fighter aircraft whose main task was the launch of reconnaissance aircraft. For example, over half of the kills of the most famous German airman Manfred von Richthofen at the expense of reconnaissance aircraft.



The use of aircraft for bombardment was rather provisional in the first half of the war. Thus bombs and hand grenades were thrown out of the aircraft by hand, whereby the accuracy of targeting left much to be desired. For strategic bombardments, the German Reich initially relied on zeppelins. The advantages over airplanes were at the beginning of the war in the larger range, the higher bomb load and the longer time in which the airships could remain in the sky. Thus, on 6 and 24 August 1914, the two cities of Liège and Antwerp were attacked by German Zeppelins. On December 24, 1914, an English city was first bombed. As it turned out in the course of the war, the big drawback of the Zeppelins was their great vulnerability to attacks from emerging fighter planes. Thus, Zeppelins were used less and less and it began the development of large aircraft used as bombers.




Aircraft production during the war:

1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 total
England 245 1.933 6.099 14.748 32.036 55.061
German Empire 1.348 4.532 8.182 19.746 14.123 47.931
France 541 4.489 7.549 14.915 24.652 52.146
Russia 535 1.305 1.870 1.897 0 5.607
Austria-Hungary 70 238 931 1.714 2.438 5.391
Italy 0 382 1.255 3.871 6.532 12.031
USA 0 0 83 1.807 11.950 13.840



Flying ace and knight of the skies:

The image of the pilots in World War I was already marked at the beginning of the war by French newspapers in that the pilots would still behave gallantly in their battles. Also, after the French pilot Adolphe Pégoud had shot down 6 enemy aircraft, the term flying ace became treatable. According to Aces were therefore referred to fliers who have shot down more than 5 enemy aircraft, it did not matter whether they were reconnaissance aircraft, bombers or fighter planes. Even by the domestic propaganda such pilots were collected to promote them in their countries as heroes.




The flying races included:

German Empire:
- Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen 80 kills
- Oberleutnant d. R. Ernst Udet 62 kills
- Oberleutnant d. R. Erich Loewenhardt 54 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Josef Jacobs 48 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Werner Voß 48 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Fritz Rumey 45 kills
- Hauptmann Bruno Loerzer 45 kills
- Hauptmann Rudolf Berthold 44 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Paul Bäumer 43 kills
- Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke 40 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Franz Büchner 40 kills
- Oberleutnant Lothar Freiherr von Richthofen 40 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Heinrich Gontermann 39 kills
- Oberleutnant d. R. Carl Menckhoff 39 kills
- Leutnant Carl Bolle 37 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Emil Thuy 36 kills
- Leutnant Max Ritter von Müller 36 kills
- Hauptmann Eduard Ritter von Schleich 35 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Julius Buckler 35 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Gustav Dörr 35 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Josef Veltjens 35 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Heinrich Bongartz 33 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Otto Könnecke 33 kills
- Oberleutnant d. R. Heinrich Kroll 33 kills
- Oberleutnant Kurt Wolff 33 kills
- Leutnant d. R.d.M.A. Theodor Osterkamp 32 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Paul Billik 31 kills
- Leutnant z. S. Gotthard Sachsenberg 31 kills
- Leutnant Karl Allmenröder 30 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Carl Degelow 30 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Ulrich Neckel 30 kills
- Leutnant Karl Emil Schäfer 30 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Hermann Frommherz 29 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Walter Blume 28 kills
- Leutnant Walter von Bülow-Bothkamp 28 kills
- Oberleutnant d. R. Friedrich Ritter von Röth 28 kills
- Oberleutnant Otto Bernert 27 kills
- Offizierstellvertreter Otto Fruhner 27 kills
- Leutnant Hans Kirschstein 27 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Karl Thom 27 kills
- Hauptmann Adolf Ritter von Tutschek 27 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Kurt Wüsthoff 27 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Arthur Laumann 26 kills
- Hauptmann Oskar von Boenigk 26 kills
- Oberleutnant Eduard Ritter von Dostler 26 kills
- Leutnant Oliver Freiherr von Beaulieu-Marconnay 25 kills
- Oberleutnant Robert Ritter von Greim 25 kills
- Leutnant Georg von Hantelmann 25 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Max Näther 25 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Fritz Pütter 25 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Erwin Böhme 24 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Herrmann Becker 23 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Georg Meyer 23 kills
- Hauptmann Hermann Göring 22 kills
- Oberleutnant d. R. Hans Klein 22 kills
- Leutnant d.L. Hans-Martin Pippart 22 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Werner Preuß 22 kills
- Vizefeldwebel Karl Schlegel 22 kills
- Leutnantd. R. Rudolf Windisch 22 kills
- Leutnant d.L. Hans Ritter von Adam 21 kills
- Vizefeldwebel Friedrich Altemeier 21 kills
- Kapitänleutnant d. R.d.M.A. Friedrich Christiansen 21 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Fritz Höhn 21 kills
- Oberleutnant Hans Bethge 20 kills
- Leutnant Rudolf von Eschwege 20 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Walter Göttsch 20 kills
- Hauptmann Wilhelm Reinhardt 20 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Wilhelm Frankl 19 kills
- Offizierstellvertreter Gerhard Fieseler 19 kills
- Oberleutnant Max Immelmann 15 kills
- Hauptmann Hans-Joachim Buddecke 13 kills
- Oberleutnant Ernst von Althaus 9 kills
- Leutnant Maximilian Ritter von Mulzer 9 kills
- Leutnant d. R. Willy Rosenstein 9 kills
- Hauptmann Franz Josef Walz 7 kills




- Major Edward Mannock 61 kills
- Major James McCudden 57 kills
- Captain George McElroy 47 kills
- Captain Albert Ball 44 kills
- Major Tom F. Hazell 43 kills
- Air Commodore Philip F. Fullard 40 kills
- Squadron Leader Charles George Gass 39 kills
- Major John Inglis Gilmour 39 kills
- Captain James Ira Thomas Jones 37 kills
- Squadron Leader Henry Winslow Woollett 35 kills
- Captain Geoffrey Hilton Bowman 32 kills
- Captain Samuel Frederick Henry Thompson 30 kills
- Major Charles Dawson Booker 29 kills
- Flight Lieutenant Percy Jack Clayson 29 kills
- Leonard Henry Rochford 29 kills
- John Everard Gurdon 28 kills
- Dennis Latimer 28 kills
- Captain Thomas Percy Middleton 27 kills
- Second Lieutenant Ronald Malcolm Fletcher 26 kills
- Captain William Frederick James Harvey 26 kills
- Gerald J. C. Maxwell 26 kills
- Air Vice Marshal William Ernest Staton 26 kills
- Major Robert J. O. Compston 25 kills
- Lieutenant Arthur Rhys-Davids 25 kills




- Colonel René Fonck 75 kills
- Capitaine Georges Guynemer 52 kills
- Lieutenant Charles Nungesser 43 kills
- Capitaine Georges Madon 41 kills
- Lieutenant Maurice Boyau 35 kills
- Lieutenant Michel Coiffard 34 kills
- Lieutenant Léon Bourjade 28 kills
- Capitaine Armand Pinsard 27 kills
- Sous-Lieutenant René Dorme 27 kills
- Sous-Lieutenant Gabriel Guerin 23 kills
- Sous-Lieutenant Marcel Haegelen 22 kills
- Capitaine Alfred Heurtaux 21 kills
- Lieutenant Petar Marinovich 21 kills
- Capitaine Albert Deullin 20 kills




- Captain Edward Rickenbacker 26 kills
- Captain Frederick W. Gillet 20 kills
- Captain Wilfred Beaver 19 kills
- Captain Howard A. Kullberg 19 kills
- Captain William C. Lambert 18 kills
- 2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke 18 kills
- Captain August T. Iaccaci 17 kills
- Lieutenant Paul T. Iaccaci 17 kills
- Lieutenant Eugene S. Coler 16 kills
- Major G. Raoul Lufbery 16 kills
- Captain Oren J. Rose 16 kills
- Captain Elliot W. Springs 16 kills







You can find the right literature here:


Aircraft of World War I 1914-1918

Aircraft of World War I 1914-1918 (Essential Identification Guide) 2nd Edition

Illustrated with detailed artworks of combat aircraft and their markings, Aircraft of World War I: The Essential Aircraft Identification Guide is a comprehensive study of the aircraft that fought in the Great War of 1914–18. Arranged chronologically by theatre of war and campaign, this book offers a complete organizational breakdown of the units on all the fronts, including the Eastern and Italian Fronts. Each campaign includes a compact history of the role and impact of aircraft on the course of the conflict, as well as orders of battle, lists of commanders and campaign aces such as Manfred von Richtofen, Eddie Rickenbacker, Albert Ball and many more. Every type of aircraft is featured, including the numerous variations and types of well- known models, such as the Fokker Dr.I, the Sopwith Camel and the SPAD SVII, through to lesser-known aircraft, such as the Rumpler C.1, and the Amstrong Whitworth FK8. Each aircraft profile is accompanied by exhaustive specifications, as well as details of individual and unit markings. Packed with more than 200 color profiles of every major type of combat aircraft from the era, Aircraft of World War I 1914–1918 is an essential reference guide for modellers, military historians and aircraft enthusiasts.

Click here!



Fighting the Flying Circus: The Greatest True Air Adventure to Come out of World War I

Fighting the Flying Circus: The Greatest True Air Adventure to Come out of World War I Paperback – September 4, 2001

In Fighting the Flying Circus, Captain Rickenbacker recounts his combat missions against the Germans in the skies over Europe during WWI.

Click here!



No Parachute: A Classic Account of War in the Air in WWI

No Parachute: A Classic Account of War in the Air in WWI Hardcover – 2013

Collects letters written by a young pilot with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War to his wife that convey the immediacy of air fighting and address issues that include why the British did not use parachutes.

Click here!



Winged Victory

Winged Victory Paperback – January 12, 2017

Winged Victory is a 1934 novel by English World War I fighter pilot Victor Maslin Yeates that is widely regarded as a classic description of aerial combat and the futility of war. The novel concerns World War I, the existence pilots lead and the fear involved in flying early biplanes. Its protagonist, Tom Cundall, plans to leave the Royal Air Force when his service is up and live on a West Country farm with his friends. However, by the time he is due to leave the Air Force, all his friends have "gone west". This leaves him a broken man. The narrative combination of action, pathos, humour and humility set against the huge casualties of the RAF in 1918 makes Winged Victory one of the classics of Great War literature. The book is semi-autobiographical, V. M. Yeates having served with 46 Squadron flying Sopwith Camels in 1918 and also having lost all his friends in the war. T. E. Lawrence praised it on its release with the words "Admirable, admirable, admirable. One of the most distinguished histories of the war ... masterly". However, it went out of print due to a lack of a publisher and was soon forgotten. Yeates died in 1934 from tuberculosis.

Click here!






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