The Role of Aircraft
In war there has always been the need to see the enemy behind the hill; reconnaissance became a role of cavalry. Eventually observation balloons played a part as well. By the First World War, it was apparent that aircraft, being able to get above and well behind the enemy’s lines, could do it so much better. This work was further enhanced by the development of aerial photography. Observers in aircraft could also direct artillery fire onto targets. Soon armed single-seat fighters were hunting the reconnaissance planes and it became necessary to arm them and to protect them with escorts.
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' fire with the revolutions of the engine enabled pilots to fire through the propeller arc. By 1917 fighters were operating in teams or large formations. Some heavier planes including the twin-engined Handley Page 0/400, were also developed to drop bombs; civilians in Paris, London, and several German cities and towns were amongst those to experience this emerging form of warfare.