XIX. THE WAR PERIOD - I
Full record of aeronautical progress and of the accomplishments of pilots in the years of the War would demand not merely a volume, but a complete library, and even then it would be barely possible to pay full tribute to the heroism of pilots of the war period. There are names connected with that period of which the glory will not fade, names such as Bishop, Guynemer, Boelcke, Ball, Fonck, Immelmann, and many others that spring to mind as one recalls the 'Aces' of the period. In addition to the pilots, there is the stupendous development of the machines - stupendous when the length of the period in which it was achieved is considered.
The fact that Germany was best prepared in the matter of heavier-than-air service machines in spite of the German faith in the dirigible is one more item of evidence as to who forced hostilities. The Germans came into the field with well over 600 aeroplanes, mainly two-seaters of standardised design, and with factories back in the Fatherland turning out sufficient new machines to make good the losses. There were a few single-seater scouts built for speed, and the two-seater machines were all fitted with cameras and bomb-dropping gear. Manoeuvres had determined in the German mind what should be the uses of the air fleet; there was photography of fortifications and field works; signalling by Very lights; spotting for the guns, and scouting for news of enemy movements. The methodical German mind had arranged all this beforehand, but had not allowed for the fact that opponents might take counter-measures which would upset the over-perfect mechanism of the air service just as effectually as the great march on Paris was countered by the genius of Joffre.
The French Air Force at the beginning of the War consisted of upwards of 600 machines. These, unlike the Germans, were not standardised, but were of many and diverse types. In order to get replacements quickly enough, the factories had to work on the designs they had, and thus for a long time after the outbreak of hostilities standardisation was an impossibility. The versatility of a Latin race in a measure compensated for this; from the outset, the Germans tried to overwhelm the French Air Force, but failed, since they had not the numerical superiority, nor - this equally a determining factor - the versatility and resource of the French pilots. They calculated on a 50 per cent superiority to ensure success; they needed more nearly 400 per cent, for the German fought to rule, avoiding risks whenever possible, and definitely instructed to save both machines and pilots wherever possible. French pilots, on the other hand, ran all the risks there were, got news of German movements, bombed the enemy, and rapidly worked up a very respectable antiaircraft force which, whatever it may have accomplished in the way of hitting German planes, got on the German pilots' nerves.
It has already been detailed how Britain sent over 82 planes as its contribution to the military aerial force of 1914. These consisted of Farman, Caudron, and Short biplanes, together with Bleriot, Deperdussin and Nieuport monoplanes, certain R.A.F. types, and other machines of which even the name barely survives - the resourceful Yankee entitles them 'orphans.' It is on record that the work of providing spares might have been rather complicated but for the fact that there were none.
There is no doubt that the Germans had made study of aerial military needs just as thoroughly as they had perfected their ground organisation. Thus there were 21 illuminated aircraft stations in Germany before the War, the most powerful being at Weimar, where a revolving electric flash of over 27 million candle-power was located. Practically all German aeroplane tests in the period immediately preceding the War were of a military nature, and quite a number of reliability tests were carried out just on the other side of the French frontier. Night flying and landing were standardised items in the German pilot's course of instruction while they were still experimental in other countries, and a system of signals was arranged which rendered the instructional course as perfect as might be.
The Belgian contribution consisted of about twenty machines fit for active service and another twenty which were more or less useful as training machines. The material was mainly French, and the Belgian pilots used it to good account until German numbers swamped them. France, and to a small extent England, kept Belgian aviators supplied with machines throughout the War.
The Italian Air Fleet was small, and consisted of French machines together with a percentage of planes of Italian origin, of which the design was very much a copy of French types. It was not until the War was nearing its end that the military and naval services relied more on the home product than on imports. This does not apply to engines, however, for the F.I.A.T. and S.C.A.T.
were equal to practically any engine of Allied make, both in design and construction.
Russia spent vast sums in the provision of machines: the giant Sikorsky biplane, carrying four 100 horsepower Argus motors, was designed by a young Russian engineer in the latter part of 1913, and in its early trials it created a world's record by carrying seven passengers for 1 hour 54 minutes. Sikorsky also designed several smaller machines, tractor biplanes on the lines of the British B.E. type, which were very successful. These were the only home productions, and the imports consisted mainly of French aeroplanes by the hundred, which got as far as the docks and railway sidings and stayed there, while German influence and the corruption that ruined the Russian Army helped to lose the War. A few Russian aircraft factories were got into operation as hostilities proceeded, but their products were negligible, and it is not on record that Russia ever learned to manufacture a magneto.