The First Air War

November 1914The Great War and the Ascendency of Airpower

When my brother and I built the first man-carrying flying machine we thought that we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible. — Orville Wright, During the First World War

Once the command of the air is obtained by one of the contended armies, the war must become a conflict between a seeing host and one that is blind. — H. G. Wells, 1907

Aviation is fine as a sport. But as an instrument of war, it is worthless. — General Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, École Supériure de Guere, 1911

August 31, 1914: British aircraft confirm invading German First Army moving to east of Paris, exposing its flank; Battle of the Marne results.

October 5, 1914: Sergent Joseph Frantz and Sapeur Louis Quénault scored the first air-to-air victory when they brought down a German Aviatik B.I by hitting the pilot with carbine fire over Jonchery-sur-Vesle. Their Voisin 3LA was equipped with a Hotchkiss machine gun, but they switched to a carbine when they expended its ammunition.

December 25, 1914: First sea-launched air assault in history against Zeppelin sheds at Cuxhaven.

April 1, 1915: French pilot Lt. Roland Garros scores the first air-to-air “kill” by firing a machine gun through a propeller, when he shoots down an Albatros observation plane from his Morane Saulnier Type L.

Won’t it be nice when all this beastly killing is over, and we can enjoy ourselves and not hurt anyone? I hate this game. — Captain Albert Ball, Early British Ace and Popular Hero, KIA May 6, 1917.

January 19-20, 1915: First successful Zeppelin raids on United Kingdom.

August 1915 -1 June 1916: Period of “Fokker Scourge” as German Air Service dominates skies over Western Front

April 20 1916 – the Escadrille Américanne, later to be known as Lafayette Escadrille, is established as an American volunteer unit in France.

HMS Argus — World’s First Full-Deck Carrier,
September 1918

So stand by your glasses steady,
The world is a web of lies,
Then here’s to the dead already,
And hurrah for the next man who dies
— Lafayette Escadrille Mess Song

Verdun was to spell the end of the solitary ace and single combat. It was at Verdun that the word “Airforce” first began to have a meaning. — Alistair Horne, The Price of Glory

May 20, 1917: German submarine U-36 is sunk by a British flying boat.

Find the enemy and shoot him down, anything else is nonsense. — Hauptman Manfred Baron von Richthofen, a living legend called the “Red Baron” and “ace of aces”, 1917

April 21, 1918: Richthofen, himself, is shot down and killed near the River Somme.

September 12, 1918: 1481 French, British, Italian, and US aircraft of all types are brought together for the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. At the time, it is the largest force of aircraft assembled for a single operation.

The military mind always imagines that the next war will be on the same lines as the last. That has never been the case and never will be. One of the great factors on the next war will be aircraft obviously. The potentialities of aircraft attack on a large scale are almost incalculable. — Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch, 1926
(A considerable shift from his comments of 1911 above.)

Not to have an adequate air force in the present state of the world is to compromise the foundations of national freedom and independence. — Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 14 March 1933


Credits: Illustrations from the collection of Tony Langley,
contributing editor of Trip Wire


Learn More About Aviation in the Great War


Oswald Boelcke: Whatever Boelcke told us was taken as Gospel! — Richthofen


  1. The Aerodrome
  2. National Museum of the USAF: The Early Years
  3. Dicta Boelcke from the World War I Document Archive
  4. WWI Aces and Airplanes
  5. The Red Fighter Pilot by Manfred von Richthofen
  6. 100+ WWI Aviation Links from the WFA-USA
  7. Over the Front from the League of WWI Aviation Historians

Zeppelins — First Strategic Bombers


  1. Knights of the Air (Epic of Flight Series), Ezra Bowen, Time-Life Books, 1980
  2. The First Air War, Lee Kennett, Macmillan, 1990
  3. Naval Aviation in the First World War: Its Impact and Influence, RD Layman, Naval Institute Press, 1996
  4. Ghosts of the Great War: Aviation in WWI, Makanna and Arango, Ghosts Aviation Classics, 2005
  5. Flying Fury: Five Years in the RFC, James McCudden, Greenhill, 2000
  6. The Zeppelin in Combat, Douglas Robinson, Schiffer, 1994
  7. Ace of the Iron Cross, Ernst Udet, Arco Publishing, 1981

Lafayette Escadrille — Legendary Air Unit

Leave a Reply