Eyes All Over the Sky: Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War by James Streckfuss
Published by Casemate on July 29, 2016
This is not only a good book, it’s an important book. Streckfuss argues convincingly that the least-studied segment of WW1 aviation, aerial reconnaissance, was also the most important. The landplanes, seaplanes, and captive balloons devoted to observation turned artillery into a dominant force on the battlefield by extending its range and accuracy to an extent unimaginable in past wars.
Aerial photography conducted by planes and balloons became the most important intelligence source by far for battlefield commanders at all levels. For the first time in history, commanders did not have to wonder what was over the next hill—weather permitting, they had photographs and photo-based maps, some of which were only hours old.
Despite its critical role, aerial reconnaissance aircraft ended up taking a back seat to the fighters and bombers then and since. The mystique of the fighter pilot is well known, but the offensive “air power” of bombers between the wars eclipsed everything.
This well-researched history belongs on the shelf of anyone with a serious interest in the air war or the ground war of 1914-1918.
Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA
Billy Bishop VC Lone Wolf Hunter: The RAF Ace Re-Examined by Peter Kilduff
Published by Grub Street on October 19, 2014
Peter Kilduff is recognized as an authority on WW1 aviation and the Red Baron (Manfred von Richthofen) in particular. As an expert on German records, Kilduff describes what the German records say and don’t say regarding each of Bishop’s 72 aerial victories.
The German aviation records are incomplete due to WW2 aerial bombing, others were lost or didn’t make it into WW1 records, and some are too vague for verifying particular aerial combats.
It quickly becomes clear, however, that no conclusions about the veracity of a victory claim by Bishop or anyone else is possible simply because of a lack of German records regarding that event. This is not a hagiography, however. Kilduff points out that Bishop “inflated” the drama of his combats in his private letters home and “embellished” his stories in later years.
Billy Bishop VC contains all of the qualities that have made Peter Kilduff’s biographies such outstanding works. This is an indispensable work for anyone seeking to understand Billy Bishop’s story.
Steve Suddaby, past president WW1HA
Bill Lambert: World War I Flying Ace by Samuel J. Wilson
Published by McFarland & Company on August 12, 2016
American born Lambert apparently went to Canada in late 1915 and tried to enlist, but instead became a chemist making explosives in a factory. Before the U.S. declared war, Lambert sought to join the British Royal Flying Corps that was recruiting in Toronto. He was accepted in June 1917 and received only four rather than the standard six to eight weeks of basic training. Wilson speculates that it was shortened due to the heavy losses suffered by the RFC during “Bloody April” of 1917. Surprisingly, he was sent home to Ohio for a brief visit before being sent overseas.
Lambert flew old Avros and the single-seat Sopwith Pup (“one of the nicest machines that any pilot could want”). He disliked the Sopwith Camel, and enjoyed the SPAD although “it would fall like a brick.” Lambert scored his 22 aerial kills flying the S.E.5a in No. 24 Squadron starting in March 1918. A nervous breakdown in August ended his WW1 career.
Wilson’s book is well written, entertaining, and covers Lambert’s post-WW1 experiences without ignoring his caustic personality.
Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI