Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

unassailable position must build a gigantic aerial fleet - as greatly superior to that of their neighbours as
was, and is, the British Navy.

Seven years - and the monoplane is on the scrap-heap; the Zeppelin has come as a giant destroyer - and
gone, flying rather ridiculously before the onslaughts of its tiny foes. In a recent article the editor of The

Aeroplane referred to the erstwhile terror of the air as follows: "The best of air-ships is at the mercy of a

second-rate aeroplane". Enough to make Count Zeppelin turn in his grave!

To-day in aerial warfare the air-ship is relegated to the task of observer. As the "Blimp", the kite-balloon,
the coast patrol, it scouts and takes copious notes; but it leaves the fighting to a tiny, heavier-than-air

machine armed with a Lewis gun, and destructive attacks to those big bomb-droppers, the British

Handley Page, the German Gotha, the Italian Morane tri-plane.

The war in the air has been fought with varying fortunes. But, looking back upon four years of war, we
may say that, in spite of a slow start, we have managed to catch up our adversaries, and of late we have

certainly dealt as hard knocks as we have received. A great spurt of aerial activity marked the opening of

the year 1918. From all quarters of the globe came reports, moderate and almost bald in style, but

between the lines of which the average man could read word-pictures of the skill, prowess, and ceaseless

bravery of the men of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service. Recently there have

appeared two official publications [1], profusely illustrated with photographs, which give an excellent

idea of the work and training of members of the two corps. Forewords have been contributed respectively

by Lord Hugh Cecil and Sir Eric Geddes, First Lord of the Admiralty. These publications lift a curtain

upon not only the activities of the two Corps, but the tremendous organization now demanded by war in

the air.

[1] The Work and Training of the Royal Flying Corps and The Work and Training of the Royal Naval
Air Service.

All this to-day. To-morrow the Handley Page and Gotha may be occupying their respective niches in the
museum of aerial antiquities, and we may be all agog over the aerial passenger service to the United

States of America.

For truly, in the science of aviation a day is a generation, and three months an eon. When the coming of
peace turns men's thoughts to the development of aeroplanes for commerce and pleasure voyages, no one

can foretell what the future may bring forth.

At the time of writing, air attacks are still being directed upon London. But the enemy find it more and
more difficult to penetrate the barrage. Sometimes a solitary machine gets through. Frequently the whole

squadron of raiding aeroplanes is turned back at the coast.

As for the military advantage the Germans have derived, after nearly four years of attacks by air, it may
be set down as practically nil. In raid after raid they missed their so-called objectives and succeeded only

in killing noncombatants. Far different were the aim and scope of the British air offensives into Germany

and into country occupied by German troops. Railway junctions, ammunition dumps, enemy billets,

submarine bases, aerodromes - these were the targets for our airmen, who scored hits by the simple but

dangerous plan of flying so low that misses were almost out of the question.

"Make sure of your objective, even if you have to sit upon it." Thus is summed up, in popular parlance,
the policy of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service. And if justification were heeded of

 

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