AEROPLANES AND DIRIGIBLES OF WAR
AEROPLANES AND DIRIGIBLES OF WAR
FREDERICK A. TALBOT
Ever since the earliest days of the great conquest of the air
first by the dirigible balloon and then by the aeroplane their
use in time of war has been a fruitful theme for discussion. But
their arrival was of too recent a date their many utilities too
unexplored to provide anything other than theories many
obviously untenable others avowedly problematical.
Yet the part airships have played in the Greatest War has come as
a surprise even to their most convinced advocates. For every
expectation shattered they have shown a more than compensating
possibility of usefulness.
In this volume an endeavour has been made to record their
achievements under the stern test of trial as an axiom of war
and to explain in untechnical language the many services to
which they have been and may be applied.
In the preparation of the work I have received assistance from
many sources--British French Russian and German--from official
reports and from men who have played a part in the War in the
Air. The information concerning German military aircraft has
been obtained from Government documents most of which were
placed at my disposal before the outbreak of war.
The use of aircraft has changed the whole art and science of
warfare. With its disabilities well in hand with its strength
but half revealed the aerial service has revolutionised strategy
and shorn the unexpected attack of half its terrors. The Fourth
Arm is now an invaluable part of the complex military machine.
F. A. TALBOT.
CHAPTER II. The military uses of the captive balloon
I. The introduction of aircraft into military operations
III. Germany's rise to military airship supremacy
IV. Airships of war
V. Germany's aerial dreadnought fleet
VI. The military value of Germany's aerial fleet
VII. Aeroplanes of war
VIII. Scouting from the skies
IX. The airman and artillery
X. Bomb-throwing from air-craft
XI. Armoured aeroplanes
XII. Battles in the air
XIII. Tricks and ruses to baffle the airman
XIV. Anti-aircraft guns. Mobile weapons
XV. Anti-aircraft guns. Immobile weapons
XVI. Mining the air
XVII. Wireless in aviation
XVIII. Aircraft and naval operations
XIX. The navies of the air
THE INTRODUCTION OF AIRCRAFT INTO MILITARY OPERATIONS
It is a curious circumstance that an invention which is hailed
as being one of the greatest achievements ever recorded in the
march of civilisation should be devoted essentially to the
maiming of humanity and the destruction of property. In no
other trend of human endeavour is this factor so potently
demonstrated as in connection with Man's Conquest of the Air.
The dogged struggle against the blind forces of Nature was waged
tenaciously and perseveringly for centuries. But the measure of
success recorded from time to time was so disappointing as to
convey the impression except in a limited circle that the
problem was impossible of solution. In the meantime wondrous
changes had taken place in the methods of transportation by land
and sea. The steam and electric railway steam propulsion of
vessels and mechanical movement along the highroads had been
evolved and advanced to a high standard of perfection to the
untold advantage of the community. Consequently it was argued
if only a system of travel along the aerial highways could be
established then all other methods of mechanical transportation
would be rendered if not entirely obsolete at least antiquated.
At last man triumphed over Nature--at least to such a degree as
to inspire the confidence of the world at large and to bring
aerial travel and transportation within range of realisation.
But what has been the result? The discovery is not devoted to
the interests of peace and economic development but to
extermination and destruction.
At the same time this development may be explained. The airship
and aeroplane in the present stage of evolution possess no
economic value. True cross-country cruises by airship have been
inaugurated and up to a point have proved popularly if not
commercially successful while tentative efforts have been made
to utilise the aeroplane as a mail-carrier. Still from the
view-point of the community at large aerial travel is as remote
as it was centuries ago.
It is somewhat interesting to observe how history is repeating
itself. When the Montgolfiers succeeded in lifting themselves
into the air by means of a vessel inflated with hot air the new
vehicle was hailed not so much as one possessed of commercial
possibilities but as an engine of war! When the indomitable
courage and perseverance of Count von Zeppelin in the face of
discouraging disasters and flagrant failures at last commanded
the attention of the German Emperor the latter regarded the
Zeppelin craft not from the interests of peace but as a
military weapon and the whole of the subsequent efforts of the
Imperial admirer were devoted to the perfection of the airship in
this one direction.
Other nations when they embarked on an identical line of
development considered the airship from a similar point of view.
In fact outside Germany there was very little private
initiative in this field. Experiments and developments were
undertaken by the military or naval and in some instances by
both branches of the respective Powers. Consequently the aerial
craft whether it be a dirigible airship or an aeroplane can
only be regarded from the military point of view.
Despite the achievements which have been recorded by human
endeavour in the field of aerial travel the balloon per se has
by no means been superseded. It still remains an invaluable
adjunct to the fighting machine. In Great Britain its value in
this direction has never been ignored: of late indeed it has
rather been developed. The captive balloon is regarded as an
indispensable unit to both field and sea operations. This fact
was emphasised very strongly in connection with the British naval
attacks upon the German forces in Flanders and it contributed to
the discomfiture of the German hordes in a very emphatic manner.
The captive balloon may be operated from any spot where
facilities exist for anchoring the paying out cable together with
winding facilities for the latter. Consequently if exigencies
demand it maybe operated from the deck of a warship so long as the
latter is stationary or even from an automobile. It is of small
cubic capacity inasmuch as it is only necessary for the bag to
contain sufficient gas to lift one or two men to a height of about
500 or 600 feet.
When used in the field the balloon is generally inflated at the
base to be towed or carried forward by a squad of men while
floating in the air perhaps at a height of 10 feet. A dozen men
will suffice for this duty as a rule and in calm weather little
difficulty is encountered in moving from point to point. This
method possesses many advantages. The balloon can be inflated
with greater ease at the base where it is immune from
interference by hostile fire. Moreover the facilities for
obtaining the requisite inflating agent--hydrogen or coal gas--
are more convenient at such a point. If the base be far removed
from the spot at which it is desired to operate the balloon the
latter is inflated at a convenient point nearer the requisite
position advantage being taken of the protective covering
offered by a copse or other natural obstacle.
As is well known balloons played an important part during the
siege of Paris in 1870-1 not only in connection with daring
attempts to communicate with the outer world but in
reconnoitring the German positions around the beleaguered city.
But this was not the first military application of the aerial
vessel; it was used by the French against the Austrians in the
battle of Fleurus and also during the American Civil War. These
operations however were of a sporadic character; they were not
part and parcel of an organised military section.
It is not generally known that the British War office virtually
pioneered the military use of balloons and subsequently the
methods perfected in Britain became recognised as a kind of
"standard" and were adopted generally by the Powers with such
modifications as local exigencies seemed to demand.
The British military balloon department was inaugurated at
Chatham under Captain Templer in 1879. It was devoted
essentially to the employ ment of captive balloons in war and in
1880 a company of the Royal Engineers was detailed to the care of
this work in the field. Six years previously the French military
department had adopted the captive balloon under Colonel
Laussedat who was assisted among others by the well-known
Captain Renard. Germany was somewhat later in the field; the
military value of captive balloons was not appreciated and taken
into serious consideration here until 1884. But although British
efforts were preceded by the French the latter did not develop
the idea upon accepted military lines.
The British authorities were confronted with many searching
problems. One of the earliest and greatest difficulties
encountered was in connection with the gas for inflation. Coal
gas was not always readily available so that hydrogen had to be
depended upon for the most part. But then another difficulty
arose. This was the manufacture of the requisite gas. Various
methods were tested such as the electrolytic decomposition of
water the decomposition of sulphuric acid by means of iron the
reaction between slaked lime and zinc and so forth.
But the drawbacks to every process especially upon the field of
battle when operations have to be conducted under extreme
difficulties and at high pressure were speedily recognised.
While other nations concentrated their energies upon the
simplification of hydrogen-manufacturing apparatus for use upon
the battle-field Great Britain abandoned all such processes in
toto. Our military organisation preferred to carry out the
production of the necessary gas at a convenient manufacturing
centre and to transport it stored in steel cylinders under
pressure to the actual scene of operations. The method proved a
great success and in this way it was found possible to inflate a
military balloon in the short space of 20 minutes whereas under
the conditions of making gas upon the spot a period of four
hours or more was necessary owing to the fact that the
manufacturing process is relatively slow and intricate. The
practicability of the British idea and its perfection served to
establish the captive balloon as a military unit.
The British military ballooning department has always ranked as
the foremost of its type among the Powers although its work has
been carried out so unostentatiously that the outside world has
gleaned very little information concerning its operations.
Captain Templer was an indefatigable worker and he brought the
ballooning section to a high degree of efficiency from the
military point of view.
But the British Government was peculiarly favoured if such a
term may be used. Our little wars in various parts of the world
contributed valuable information and experience which was fully
turned to account. Captive balloons for reconnoitring purposes
were used by the British army for the first time at Suakim in
1885 and the section established its value very convincingly.
The French military balloon department gained its first
experience in this field in the previous year a balloon
detachment having been dispatched to Tonkin in 1884. In both the
Tonkin and Soudan campaigns invaluable work was accomplished by
the balloon sections with the result that this aerial vehicle
has come to be regarded as an indispensable military adjunct.
Indeed the activity of the German military ballooning section was
directly attributable to the Anglo-French achievements therewith.
In this work however the British force speedily displayed its