tv World War I Aviation CSPAN February 24, 2017 7:49am-8:38am EST
wait for their big day. but i feel like it's harder to be elon musk than tom cruise. so many of these companies, instagram, uber, the people running them didn't just have a lucky break. the stories were just years and years and years of coding sxernlging. they have qualifications that i can't even imagine. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's "q&a." 100 years ago german, french, and british aircraft were battling for superiority in the skies over world war i trenches in northern france and belgium. next on american history tv u.s. army command and staff college history professor john curatola describes the technological and tactical race to dominate the skies. including germany's use of zeppelin airships to raid british cities. this 50-minute presentation was part of a two-day symposium
hosted by the national world war i museum and memorial in kansas city, missouri. i'd like to introduce our next speaker for the day. that is dr. john curatola. he is an associate professor of history at the united states army command and general staff college at fort leavenworth, kansas. prior to this position dr. curatola was an active duty marine corps officer and retired in 2009 as a lieutenant colonel after 22 years of service. today we have the honor of welcoming him for his talk that's going to explore ways allied and central forces battled for air superiority during world war 1. and listen truly for how he will emphasize how sky-fought battles lead to the modern development of the concept of total war. please join me in a warm welcome
to dr. john curatola. [ applause ] >> thank you, lora. i appreciate it. thank you, lora. i appreciate the introduction. if you noticed when she went down my biography, yes, i'm a marine officer who works at an army school who studies air power. i have kind of a schizophrenic background on that. today we're going to take a look at air power as it pertains to 1916 and i think first i'll have to walk you through a kind of development of how do we get to air power during this year because it bears some addressal because we don't know what the heck to do with airplanes. prior to the war. everybody's kind of interested in them in some way, shape or form but how are we going to use these funny machines in the future war? this is something ev's trying to come to grips with during this time.
as a matter of fact, let me give you a couple quotes here on the confusion that abounds about airplanes. here's doug haig and marshall foche. before the war these gentlemen have this to say. again, this underscores the idea of confusion with regard to airplanes and what they do. one of the things we have to take a look at is the historical context with regard to airplanes. and we start seeing these things or at least machines in the air as early as of course the american civil war. with thaddeus lowe. we see them with the uk in sudan and south africa. and as early as may of 1899 at the hague conference there's an international treaty that says, and i quote, there will be a prohibition of the discharge of any kind of projectile or explosion from a balloon. so we're already starting to think that maybe you can use these things as weapons of war
in an offensive manner. not just for observation. and as the turn of the century comes around the germans are already looking at the idea of the zeppelin as a potential weapon in war. all european countries are largely interested in aviation at the turn of the century. as a matter of fact, the french kind of grasp its importance after the wright brothers take off, which is why today you see terms like fuselage and empanage that had a french connotation because that's the people who started developing aviation to a much greater degree than we here in the u.s. by 1912 most european powers desire some kind of aerial armaments. and as early as 1911 you have the aircraft being used -- wars between the italians and the turks, by the french in morocco and in the balkan wars. but again, the question remains there's no precedent using these things so how will they be used
in the future? is the engine always going to be an issue? are these things vulnerable to ground fire? these are things we just don't know. as the war starts, the uk has around 80 aircraft. germany around 200. and france about the same number. so we have these things but we're not really quite sure what to do with them. but this idea of working in arguably the third dimension has some rather interesting applications to it. okay? one of the things that we see very interesting is this idea of aerial reconnaissance and observation. and it leads to some interesting solutions. so if you're looking for a man-flying kite, through go. there's your man-flying kite for observation. i'm not sure how he gets out of that, but there we go. so again, this idea of using airplanes for observation is really the primary role as we get into the war in 1914.
of course most of the way we're going to do this is by balloon. the french are going to make about 4,000 balloons during the war. the germans about 2,000. and operating from about an altitude of 4,000 feet you can see a good 15 miles. and if you have a trained observer who is familiar with his sector he can notice slight changes in the terrain. oh, there's a new position over here. oh, i see fresh dirt over here. oh, there's a new unit over here. and so there is a lot of value to be gained by having these balloons in a stationary position with the same people looking at this ground over time. so this actually works very well for many of the armies at this time. but then when you get to airplanes themselves think about the dynamic tasking that you can do with these things. instead of betion statiing state
a balloon is these things can be flown to various sectors of the front as the need arises. as a matter of fact, aerial observation starts very early in the war. in fact, it's airplanes that first noticed the split between the first and second german armies as they're heading south and they make that turn toward the southeast. they're also important when they notice the difference between the first and second russian armies during the tannenberg campaign there on the east. so aviation almost from the get-go is playing a significant role in the war as it unfolds. and this is going to become more and more important, this observation piece as time goes on. the mission of bombing is in the forefront even before the war begins. you can see here as early as 1908 h.g. wells puts together his book "the war in the air" where japan and china are in a confederation and germany's the aggressive power. the uk's a global power.
and the u.s. is split between the states and federal rights. and he talks about aerial engagements overt niagara, dogfights between what he refers to as orenthopters, fighter aircraft. there's already this idea about bombing and as early as 1914 both the italians and the russians already have built long-range strategic aircraft. the caproni ca-1 aircraft has a range of 3,044 miles and can fly up to 75 miles an hour. and this is at the beginning of the war. but you see here the picture of the russian ilya murmet built by igor sikorsky flies from kiev to moscow which is about 1400 miles and it can stay aloft as long as eight hours. we're already advancing military aviation to a large degree because of this interest in
bombing. the germans are also interested in this and they go the way of the dirigible, or zeppelin if you want to use that word. they see this as a way to counter the roim navy's presence. since britannia rules the waves and they have great power projection they build these large airships and look to negate that advantage. and the air ships are largely a german navy effort although not exclusively. okay? and these things are looked at to go long-range. 30 miles plus behind enemy lines. we're going to start developing the idea of strategic bombardment during this time as well. and here's how van wolke sees the use of zeppelins during -- or in a future conflict.
so already this idea of strategic bombardment is coming to the fore even before the war begins. now, let's talk about the zeppelins themselves. i find this fascinating. since zeppelins float due to hydrogen, which is highly flammable we all know from the hindenberg videos back in the 1930s, the thing is here at the turn of the century how do you build a membrane that can trap and hold hydrogen so it doesn't leak out? because hydrogen's a very small molecule. the best membrane they came up with is cow intestine. and what they do is they take the intestine of the cow and they cut it up into pieces. then they wet the intestine, they lay it on top of each other, and as it dries it creates a wonderful seal. now, these things are about 11 million square feet. so you need about a quarter
million cows to make one zeppelin. okay? now, given the paucity of food in the german homefront you can see there's a little bit of conflict here between making zeppelins and feeding germans. but i think that's an interesting statistic there. take that home and take it to the bar with your friends and see if they know what zeppelins are made out of. okay. this idea of long-range strategic bombardment with regard to the zeppelins as i said is largely a navy effort and captain peter strasser here is the head of the navy's zeppelin effort. and here's his perspective. and in coming with our theme regarding the ideas of total r war. killers and murderers of women and children. they're accepting these ideas early on, this idea of total warfare. ironically enough, he will be killed in the last zeppelin raid in 1918 over london.
now, this idea of zeppelins going long is also going to lay the framework for ideas regarding strategic bombardment and these ideas that it will create local panic. zeppelinitis. it will create such a panic within people at home and on the home front and in these cities that they will not be able to cope with this horror what is warfare. on january 29th, 1915 the first zeppelin raid appears over yarmouth and kills two people. not a lot of people but it does cause some deaths and some damage. and on may 31st the first zeppelin raid over london is going to kill about seven. so again, this is a small number of people but the effect they're hoping will be cascading. and we're laying the foundation for what happens in the second
world war. you can see most of these attacks are going to occur in 1916. the gentleman you see here, lieutenant william leif robinson, he will shoot down the first zeppelin over london and here's a photograph of it. in view of the londoners. this is a big morale booster on september 2nd, 1916. see, there's a problem shooting zeppelins down. i'm a historian, not a science. but i'll give a little science here. here's the problem. you have hydrogen and you have this big balloon. how do you shoot these things down? if you use a regular bullet, you create a hole. all right. well, that's not a big enough hole for all the hydrogen to leak out. so how do i destroy this thing? well, it's a science project and what they figure out is maybe we ought to put in high explosive rounds in there to make a big hole. we'll try that. well, they do, and it does work.
but you're still not bringing the zeppelin down. then they realize what if we put incendiary rounds in with these? because going back to your basic boy scout or girl scout, whose the fire triangle, right? source of ignition, okay? well, if you put an incendiary round in there with a high explosive round in there, we'll make a hole big enough with the high explosive round. then the incendiary round goes in and it will light off the hydrogen. so what they have to come to is the idea of intermixing h.e. rounds with incendiary rounds in their machine guns to take these things out. and it takes a while to finish this science project. here's a question i have for you. let's say you're flying at 5,000 feet and you're going to go to london and you're going to drop your bombs. what if there's a cloud layer at, say, 1,000 feet or 2,000
feet? and of course this is the days before gps. this is the days before you have innertial navigation things. so how do you know where you're at? well, we got a solution for that. the sky car. i will lower somebody down about 500 feet on a cable with a phone so he can talk to the people back up in the zeppelin itself. i'm sure this is probably the lowest man on the totem pole who is put in the sky car as it goes on. and there were instances where they went to pull the sky car back up and all they got was a bunch of cable. so that did happen. now, pursuit aircraft. this largely comes about because as we talked -- as we have seen this is largely an artillery war. most of the deaths coming from indirect fire and those kinds of
things. we want to prevent our enemy from seeing where our locations are. maybe we need to start shooting down or preventing observation aircraft from observing our lines. as early as august 22nd in 1914, guys are starting to bring up rifles and shoot at each other. yes, that's how air war begins. guys shooting at each other. one story i do like is somebody to scare his german counterpart he took off an old record player, the big megaphone part of it and he put it on the end of a rifle and he aimed it at the german to make him think he had a large-caliber weapon. i think that's a unique way of doing things. okay? but pursuit aircraft start to be born over time. in april 1915 a frenchman by the named of roland garros equips a more cellular as you see
aircraft with a machine gun and he downs three germans. but the problem is you have this big fan in front of you. how do you shoot through this propeller without shooting your own propeller off? and one of the things that they will come up with is a propeller guard, or a piece of metal they will attach onto the propeller to throw the round one way or the other as it strikes the propeller. the problem is ricochets tend to go wherever the hell they want to go. to include your own engine. also, in terms of aerodynamics it also reduces the efficiency of the propeller for about 30%, ballpark figure. okay? as pursuit aviation grows, we see more and more of these organization that's are purely designed just for fighters. at the battle of verdun the
germans are going to start consolidating their fighters into distinctive units. pursuit squadrons. and the french will return in kind with their own fighter squadrons. because we want to prevent enemies from seeing our locations we need units that are specifically designed to do the counterreconnaissance role. so we're going to see the advent of these kinds of organizations. the gentleman you see here, oswald boca, is a very famous german fighter pilot at this time and he's going to codify the first few rules of fighter combat that still exist today, quite frankly. many fighter pilots -- although the technology's changed, yes, i get that. but many of the ideas and concepts that he puts down on paper are still with us today and he's the first one to write these down and he shares these with the members of his squadron. he's a very innovative aviator during this time. and his legend still resonates
today. and here are some ideas that boecke puts forward for us. try to keep the sun behind you to blind your enemy. fire at close range. always keep your eye on your opponent because it's very easy to lose these airplanes. it's a small airplane but it's a big sky. he's the first to kind of codify some of these ideas. never forget your line of retreat. attack your opponent from behind. if your opponent dies on you, don't dive down p fly up to meet it. the germans will actually establish a fighter pilot school in 1916. three to four weeks to actually get guys up to speed on fighter tactics. this is something the british really lag. and the french to a certain degree. the germans have the best training of all the powers at this time. a german pilot's going to have about 60 hours of flight training before he goes into
combat. your british counterpart has about 20. and the quality of the instruction is a mixed bag if you're on the allied side. keep in mind these aircraft are not very stable. you have to fly these airplanes. what i mean by that, you just can't set the trim tabs, take your hands off and let it fly around like you can in a modern airplane. these things are very unstable. and as time goes on, in 1916 this really becomes a war about technology. engin engines, horsepower, aerodynamic characteristics of these airplanes is important. on a strategic level the british and the french are going to produce more aircraft engines by far than what the germans can possibly keep up with.
the germans as know it have a strategic shortfall in natural resources. they're going to stick with basically the same type of engine for most of the war. they have a few, but the same type of engine, the daimler benz 160 horsepower bmw engine. however, they'll make refinements to then gin and it will get more powerful up to about 200, 210 horsepower as the war goes on. however, by the end of the war the allies are producing 200, 300, 500-horsepower engines because they have the resources to do it. so it's interesting what you see in terms of aircraft development during the war is that the germans have innovations with regard to aerodynamics. because they have less powerful engines. while the allies build aircraft that are very powerful and less dynamic. so there's kind of a trade with regard to overall philosophy, the development of airplanes on both sides.
and of course airplanes are temperamental things. i love this quote. now, as early as 1911, depending on who you read, this idea of an interrupter gear to solve the problem of a propeller in front of a machine gun, is drawn up. who draws it up? there's lots of dispute about this. some say it's a swiss engineer by the name of franz schneider who's one-running for german aircraft companies. anthony fokker says he did it. so it depends on who you read and which side you want to take on this one. but the point is in may of 1915 the fokker eindecker makes its debut and it's the first true fighter aircraft. the pilot can aim the aircraft
along with the machine gun along an axis and shoot down an att k attacker as opposed to shooting off to the side or trying to have a ring mount on the back while somebody else flies and makes the aircraft heavier. but this is the first true fighter. it's the consummation here of machine gun and aircraft. and max immelman who's another famous german aviator-s going to score the first kill in augu191. but this at the time is top secret hush-hush. we don't want anyone to know about this thing. sought germans will actually keep all of their fighter aircraft, specifically the echo 1s and the echo 3s on their side of the lines early on. they don't want these things getting in the hands of the allies. also for most of the war the germans are going to fight a defensive air war. they're not necessarily going deep with their fighter observation aircraft. for the most part they're staying on their side of the lines, keeping the allies from
seeing their positions. so the interrupter gear is a huge advancement in terms of this air war and the technology associated with it. i love this story. before the interrupter gear gets established this gentleman right here, you can see him hanging on to his aircraft there, this unfortunate pilot is flying along one day and he takes on a german aviator. guy's name is lieutenant lewis strange. and his lewis gun which is on his top wing, he runs out of ammunition. sew decides that he needs to change the drum out. so he reaches up and he's trying to get the drum off of his gun. well, of course as he's doing this he's using both hands. as he's doing this the plain flips, inverted. he's not wearing his seat belt. so he is stuck holding on to the magazine that he was just trying to get off.
he is dangling underneath his aircraft with his magazine keeping him attached to the airplane. he's finally able to swing his feet into the cockpit and as he does that he damages some of the instruments but he gets himself back in there, rights his aircraft and he heads home. the rest of the story is he gets chewed out by his squadron ceo for damaging the cockpit. so there's that. but you can see how interrupter gears are important to the aircraft. here in this picture you can see the propeller guard there that's on that sollier aircraft there. again, it throws the rounds one way or another. this idea of this interrupter gear is going to begin what we call the fokker scourge, which gets us into 1969. i'm getting there folks. we're getting there. bear with me. and what happens is the germans now appear during this time to
have an invincible aerial weapon. and as most military men we tend to make our enemies look bigger than they actually are. and the fokker scourge begins. so during this time you're going to see the royal flying corps lose about 20 aircraft and 29 men. compared to what we see in the first war that's not a big number. but again, aviation is just coming into its own during this time. and the germans will own air superiority until the early parts of 1916 when the allies start producing the newport 11 and the d h2. they fly faster. they -- the fokker eindecker you can see it's a flimszy-looking machine, only flies about 80 miles per hour. and it's not nearly as maneuverable as some of the other planes that will come to succeed it. but this thing is such a threat
that it forces the allies to chap on some of their tactics. meaning they have to fly in formations now to protect each other. now, with verdun as we talked previously the germans were looking for an attritional fight. they were looking to bleed the french as much as possible. and what's important to them during this fight is the counterreconnaissance mission. the germans are going to throw much of their air power and support into the verdun sector. the german air service, or the fliegtruppe, headed by colonel thomason, is going to amass 168 aircraft, which is a large number at that time. it's going to divide them into field flyer detachments with four reconnaissance detachments and six spotting ones.
he's also going to throw in four zeppelins for deep recon and what we refer to today as battlefield air interdiction. looking for targets beyond the combat zone, rail-yards, road networks, supply depots, those kinds of things. at that time that's considered long range. the germans will also establish their specialized fighter squadrons, or kempf einzitser commandos. you've got to love the german language, the language of war. used specifically for keeping the allies off of the german lines. what's going to happen is oswald boelcke who i introduced you to before says we have a problem with the eindecker. he says keeping planes aloft, trying to keep at lies on their
side of the line has a fries pay in terms of aircraft and in terms of pilots. remember, these are not high-quality engines. they tend to swallow valves. they tend to have a lot of problems. instead of having aircraft aloft 24/7 what if i went to my forward observers and had a phone line and when they saw an allied aircraft taking off they call me up and then i could take off, so i could have planes ready without the wear and tear of keeping them aloft? what you're starting to see is this idea of advanced early warning. obviously rudimentary but it's a better way to manage your aviation assets. within these keks themselves you're going to have a number of fokkers there and they're going to do what's called luftwatcdienst or aerial guard
duty wp there's an air blockade to keep the british on their side of the lines. so the germans are starting to play not only with individual specific squadrons but also starting to refine missions. fighters, observers, and then of course bombers as the war goes on. the french will counter. and i said before they're going to start putting their newport 11s out there, the bebe, which is a very fast aircraft. it does not have an interrupter gear. the pln gun simachine gun sits the wing and shoots over it. but this plane flies about 100 miles an hour whereas your fokker flies about 80. it's got a significant advantage in terms of speed. and one of the things that the germans -- or the french realize is the germans' observation balloons are important to the artillery garages the germans are throwing at the french.
and one of the things the french will come up with is the modern -- or the first itdration of air to air missiles. they will put rockets on the support struts of 24r aircraft and shoot the rockets at the german observation balloons. so you're starting to have air to air conflict with rockets as early as 1916. and during may of 1916 you're going to have a coordinated attack between the french aviation assets.ground assets as they go to fort dumon by trying to not interrupt the balloons with the rockets as the ground forces go forward. so you're starting to see air-ground cooperation here in a way you've never seen it before.
so there's a maturation with regard to aviation. also, the french get on this idea of fighter squadrons and individual guys going out and hunting and killing as opposed to just observing or serving as spotters for the artillery. so you're seeing fighter squadrons for the french in a response to german developments. and also during the battle of verdun you see french officers leading americans in the lafayette espadrille during this operation as well. let's fast forward here to the som. the brits, again, started in 9 1916, had poor air frames.
but they're doing a lot better. they're going to start the somme campaign with a 3-1 ratio over german aircraft because where are most of the german air assets? they're sitting over at verdun. the rfc is also going to start tasking specific aircraft to support the ground forces. what i mean by this, we're going to have a recon wing in direct support of an army corps, a fighter wing, and a long-range recon wing in direct support of each army. the british are so effective here with their initial push that von bulow in the first army says the enemy aircraft give our troops a feeling of helplessness, such was their mastery of air. now, one of the things the germans realize is that they too need to have some kind of autonomy with regard to the aviation assets.
in october the germans will finally go ahead and establish the [ speaking foreign language ] or german air force. it's not as independent as we know the air forces today. but what you're seeing is a change here in the relationship between the ground forces and the aviation assets themselves. the [ speaking foreign language ] is headed by ernst von hopper. aviators on staff are no longer just advisers. they become commanders. and they're not necessarily wedded to the ground fight. the [ speaking foreign language ] is also commanded -- or excuse me, answers to the german high command. and so there's a change in the relationsh relationship between the aviators and the ground war. they're starting to become their
own entity. the germans are also starting to put together the [ speaking foreign language ] to clear the skies of enemy aircraft. this is another idea that comes from oswald boelcke. what he'll do is get the best german aircraft that are coming off the production lines at this time and put in some of the best pilots to include a young pilot by the name of manfred von rickethofen. the new al bra tros 1-d which the germans come out with which you see the pictures there, is superior to the d h2s and the newports that the allies have. and they start sweeping the skies of the royal flying corps's aircraft. as a matter of fact, the royal flying corps is going to lose a lot of men in the battle over the somme. and it's for a lost reasons. one is training. your german aviator is getting
60 hours. plus if he's a fighter pilot he's getting training on top. the raf corps is not getting that same kind of training. of course there's a perspective. everything's relative. let's talk about the men. since i harped on that a little bit here. as the war drones on into 1916, remember, this war's supposed to be short, quick, and we'll be victorious. wait a minute, now we're going on to two years. there is a public perception regarding the war. we need to bolster public support for this war, and we're going to start looking at this idea of knights of the air. individually popular heroes on both sides of the war. obviously rickethofen and a
number of other gentlemen will become famous. eddie rickenbacker for the americans when we get involved. albert ball and george gahnemeyer. this idea of knights of the air fighti fighting chivalrously and giving each other mercy is largely fiction. there is a fight between gainemar the french gentleman the second one next to richthofen and a famous german pilot. they do get into a scrap and gahnemeyer's gun jams and uda lets him go. that is the exception, not the rule during this time. and to give you a quote about this, here's the reality of the air war. one pilot accounts that one year
of air combat is equal to three years of normal living. because it drains it out of him. interestingly enough, the gentleman who makes this comm t comment, he has a penchant for inflating his claims in the first world war. but we'll leave that alone. as i talked about oswald boelcke earlier and the ideas he put together as a result of his experiences, he's awarded the blue max early in 1916 and here's a picture of oswald boelcke after receiving his award, looking like a very dashing night of the air. he's going to die in october of the mid-air collision with another squadronmate unfortunately. but just before he passes, that's what he looks like.
he's an old man. this talks to the human toll. granted, aviators are a very small toll given the large amount of deaths that we see. but it does extract a toll on these gentlemen who live relatively better than their ground counterparts. so as we start closing out, we see that technology is getting to be an issue. the introduction of the interrupter gear. the introduction of faster, more capable air frames. in 1917 you're going to start to see the fokker tridecker, the three-plane, snoopy kind of stuff coming about. we're going to see more and more powerful engines, better aircraft construction, more firepower. this is going to be a continuation for the next few years and, quite frankly, into the air war years we will see the air war years we will see the same thing.