XX. THE WAR PERIOD - II

Toward the end of the War, the Independent Air Force was formed as a branch of the R.A.F. with a view to bombing German bases and devoting its attention exclusively to work behind the enemy lines. Bombing operations were undertaken by the R.N.A.S. as early as 1914-1915 against Cuxhaven, Dusseldorf, and Friedrichshavn, but the supply of material was not sufficient to render these raids continuous. A separate Brigade, the 8th, was formed in 1917 to harass the German chemical and iron industries, the base being in the Nancy area, and this policy was found so fruitful that the Independent Force was constituted on the 8th June, 1918. The value of the work accomplished by this force is demonstrated by the fact that the German High Command recalled twenty fighting squadrons from the Western front to counter its activities, and, in addition, took troops away from the fighting line in large numbers for manning anti-aircraft batteries and searchlights. The German press of the last year of the War is eloquent of the damage done in manufacturing areas by the Independent Force, which, had hostilities continued a little longer, would have included Berlin in its activities.

Formation flying was first developed by the Germans, who made use of it in the daylight raids against England in 1917. Its value was very soon realised, and the V formation of wild geese was adopted, the leader taking the point of the V and his squadron following on either side at different heights. The air currents set up by the leading machines were thus avoided by those in the rear, while each pilot had a good view of the leader's bombs, and were able to correct their own aim by the bursts, while the different heights at which they flew rendered anti-aircraft gun practice less effective. Further, machines were able to afford mutual protection to each other and any attacker would be met by machine-gun fire from three or four machines firing on him from different angles and heights. In the later formations single-seater fighters flew above the bombers for the purpose of driving off hostile craft. Formation flying was not fully developed when the end of the War brought stagnation in place of the rapid advance in the strategy and tactics of military air work.