The Role of Aircraft
Aircraft 1914 - 1918
Reconnaissance was once the role of the cavalry. In the First World War, aircraft being able to get above and well behind the enemy’s lines, could do it so much better. This role was further enhanced by aerial photography. Observers in aircraft could also direct artillery fire onto targets. Soon armed single-seater fighter-scouts were hunting the reconnaissance planes, and it became necessary to protect them.
From 1915 nations were racing to produce the best aircraft and weapons to dominate the skies. In one early break-through, mechanical synchronisation of machine-guns enabled pilots to fire through the propeller arc. By 1917 fighters were operating in teams or large formations. Some larger planes including the twin-engined Handley Page 0/400, were also developed to drop bombs; civilians in Paris, London, and several Germans towns were among those to experience this emerging form of warfare. The dominance of the air by one or other side shifted as improved machines became available in quantity.