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Biplanes and Bombsights: British Bombing in World War I

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BerichtGeplaatst: 08 Jan 2006 12:19    Onderwerp: Biplanes and Bombsights: British Bombing in World War I Reageer met quote
Field Marshal Haig and General Trenchard opposed the
scheme. They based their formidable dissent on the grounds
that, since no surplus of aircraft existed, implementing the
Admiralty plan would commit machines and'crews needed
elsewhere to an endeavor of secondary importance. This dissipation
of resources, they said, would seriously hinder their
The army's demands for flying machines at the expense of
No. 3 Wing began in late spring 1916 and continued until the
Wing was disbanded a year later. In July 1916, when the
Luxeuil force had been expected to consist of 55 serviceable
bombing and escort . aircraft, its actual strength had been
whittled to fewer than a dozen machines and pilots. On one
occasion, when Brig Gen Sir David Henderson, director-general
of military aeronautics for the army, needed a minimum
reinforcement of 72 planes but could only comb out 12 suitable
machines from the home establishment, he sought aid
from the RNAS. But, as the official history notes, "The Admiralty
could only respond at the expense of their new bombing
wing." By mid-September 1916, a total of 62 Sopwith twoseaters
had been transferred to army squadrons. These War
Office requests significantly delayed expansion of the Luxeuil
wing and reduced its strength below that necessary to conduct
effective bombing.
Even after No. 3 Wing commenced active operations in the
fall of 1916, it never recouped its logistical losses. It was able
to expand somewhat, but on a more modest scale than originally
calculated. For the period of peak bombing activity,
October 1916 to March 1917, an average of 43 pilots and 35
serviceable machines were available for operations. On 25
March 1917, the Admiralty acquiesced to War Office pressure
and began to disband the Luxeuil force in order to reinforce
the Royal Flying Corps .
By May, the remnants of No . 3 Wing had been transferred to
No. 10 (Navy) Squadron for support of the armies in the British
sector of the Western Front.24 Even duringits decline, the
wing managed to fly four bombing missions, including one in
April with the French,' before its withdrawal from action.2s

The Admiralty planners hoped the Luxeuil wing, in cooperation
with the French, could damage enemy industrial centers
and depress civilian morale sufficiently to affect German combat
power on the Western Front. That hope never reached
fruition .
The preeminence of long-range bombing was by no means
universally acknowledged. The War Office in particular looked
askance at the Admiralty's preoccupation with what seemed to
the soldiers to represent a peripheral mission for airpower.
The army chiefs emphatically asserted that flying machines
would best be employed in ground support, with squadrons
tied to a subordinate, cooperative role. Additionally, the War
Office argued there was no surplus of aircraft that could be
committed to strategic bombardment. The struggling British
aviation industry had yet to fulfill Field Marshal Haig's requirements
for tactical aviation and seemed unlikely to do so
in the foreseeable future.
These two interservice issues were initially aggravated by
the Admiralty's attempt to organize and deploy the Luxeuil
force without informing the War Office. The consequent uproar
at the Air Board; combined with the necessity to reinforce
the Royal Flying Corps for the Somme, kept No . 3 Wing well
below its planned rate of expansion. Finally, No. 3 Wing was
disbanded in order to bring RFC squadrons in the British
sector up to strength. The high-level dissension over roles and
priorities seriously affected the scale and pace of No. 3 Wing's
operations. Even if the Admiralty had been able to carry out
its original program of expansion for the unit, the Luxeuil
wing would probably not have developed into a decisive strategic
The Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter, when configured as a single-seat
day bomber, took 24.6 minutes to reach 10,000 feet. Carrying
a pilot'and four 65-pound bombs, it cruised at 98.5 miles per
hour. Its service ceiling was 13,000 feet and it could remain in
the air for three and three-fourths hours." These characteristics
restricted its combat radius to less than 15:0
miles-assuming that its- pilot prudently chose to climb to at
least 10,000 feet before crossing the lines. The small size of its
bombs made them useless unless a direct hit could: be 'at-.

tained. As a fighter escort, the 11/2 Strutter carried a pilot and
an observer/gunner to a service ceiling slightly in excess of
15,000 feet. The aircrew, in addition to the stress induced by
flying in marginal weather conditions and the threat of enemy
countermeasures, faced a number of physiological obstacles
as well. In their open cockpits, they spent extended periods
well above the level at which the average healthy individual
begins to suffer from oxygen deprivation (anoxia typically commences
between 8,000 and 12,000 feet). They were also subjected
to ambient temperatures that varied from plus 15 degrees
Fahrenheit to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, summer to
The ratio of serviceable machines to the number available
stood at around 20 percent, and the average number of sorties
per assigned aircraft stood at a very low 1 .4 percent.28 Even
under ideal conditions of equipment and weather, No. 3 Wing
would have found it extremely difficult to meet the ambitious
goals set by its Admiralty advocates. The operational record of
the Luxeuil force must be analyzed against this background.
Although Captain Elder's newly created unit was anxious to
attack enemy industrial targets in the Saar valley, it was not
equipped with sufficient machines to launch a major strike
until October 1916. In the interim, No. 3 Wing cooperated with
six French aircraft in a raid on the benzine stores at Mulheim
on 30 July. The Wing's contribution apparently consisted of
two bombers and one escort machine, or one-third of the
Allied force that dropped 1,450 pounds of bombs.29 The
Luxeuil wing participated in no further operations for nearly
two and one-half months.
The first large raid in October encountered spirited enemy
resistance, an unwelcome phenomenon that underscored the
necessity for fighter escort to protect bombers in daylight attacks.
On 12 October, German fighters attacked the Anglo-
French force (31 bombers and numerous escorts, including 15
navy bombers and six navy fighters), both inbound and outbound,
shooting down six French and. three British aircraft
against no losses . The Luxeuil componentdropped 3,780
pounds of bombs on the Mauser arms factory at Oberndorf,
with unreported results.

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