Blog: Aircraft 1914 - 1918
It is not unusual for servicemen and women to carry with them good luck charms while on overseas service. However one particularly superstitious serviceman was Aircraft Mechanic 2nd Class Henry James Marston, of No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC). Marston wore a wrist chain with an identity tag and three lucky charms – a boomerang, a black cat and a doll.
The aircraft of the 1914-18 period were visibly frail and delicate and quite unlike the capable machines we know today. First World War aircraft were prone to structural or mechanical failures and could easily catch fire. Armament was limited to rifle-calibre machine guns and protection for the crew through armour and parachutes were only beginning to be used in the closing stages of the war. Aircrew operated with few aids to navigation, and were usually exposed to the elements while in flight.
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.
Four Australian squadrons flew operationally. No.1 Squadron AFC had a unique role, serving in Egypt, Palestine and Syria. Its airmen undertook reconnaissance and bombing and were often drawn into aerial combat. Lieutenant Frank McNamara won the Victoria Cross for rescuing a downed comrade under fire; it was the first to an Australian airman.
The bold exploits of the fighter pilots caught the attention of the public. Aerial duels fought by young men in the clear skies satisfied the heroic notion of warfare; something that the bloody trench fighting could no longer do. Each nation had its air heroes, although many of them had only short lives. Those who destroyed five enemy aircraft were referred to as ‘aces’. The greatest of these, of any side, was the German, Manfred von Richthofen, who shot down 80 opponents. The top British ‘ace’ was Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock.
Thursday 6 December 2007 by Amanda Rebbeck. No comments.
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.
Australian airmen served overseas from the earliest days of the First World War. Two pilots were sent to New Guinea in 1914, but were not needed. The following year a group, to become known as the Mesopotamian half-flight, went to the Middle East and were absorbed into the Royal Flying Corps. Here, in a disastrous campaign for the British against the Turks, the Australian Flying Corps suffered its first casualties and some of the men were taken prisoner.
On 21 February 1919 Captain Edgar J. McCloughry wrote a review of his experiences in France whilst serving with No. 4 Squadron AFC. This review, in the form of a thirteen page letter, covered the period from June-September 1918 and was written in response to a request from the Officer in Command of the Australian War Records Section. It is rare to come across a document such as this; there are only a handful held amongst the approximately one hundred Australian Flying Corps Private Record Collections stored in the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre.