Category Archives: Strategic Developments

21 February 1918 – £1000

In the first major debate on the Air Services since the Passage of the Air Force Act in December 1917, the House of Commons discussed the Air Force Estimates for the coming year. Under the guise of refusing to provide assistance to the enemy, the debate was over the nominal amount of £1000, and members were asked to refrain from certain lines of questioning.

The Undersecretary of State for the Air, Major John Baird, led the debate. He highlighted progress made in setting up the new Air Ministry, including the establishment of a Secretariat, Finance Branch, Works and Buildings Department and a General Branch of Statistics. Establishments for the service directorates and their staffs have been prepared, and the majority of pay and conditions of service questions had been addressed. Discussions are now ongoing between the Admiralty and the War Office about the practical transfer of the two services. The new Air Council has been established and is now developing its own programme of work.

The Minister came under pressure from Mr William Joynson-Hicks and Mr Noel Pemberton-Billing, both perennial thorns in the Governement’s side regarding Air matters, over the issue of:

  • poor training of pilots
  • the lack of standardisation of equipment hampering production and repair of aeroplanes
  • the failure to enact sufficient reprisal attacks against German cities for the air raids in England

An attempt to introduce an amendment to require reprisal attacks was defeated.

Mr Pemberton-Billing also called for a dedicated medical service for the air and castigated the house in general as so few MPs had turned up (no more than 25 at any time).

The whole debate can be read here.


20 February 1918 – Schlachtstaffeln?

Unlike tne famous Jastas, one of the lesser known German aerial formations is the Schlachtstaffeln (often abbreviated to Schlastas), which make up about 10% of german formations at this point. They had originated as security flights for the Fliegerabieilungen who carried out reconnaissance.

As the war progressed, their two-seaters transitioned into more of a ground-
attack role aircraft specially designed for that role were introduced.

With the preparations for the forthcoming German offensive in full swing, an entire section of the new German attack doctrine issued in January 1918 was devoted to air support for the ground

That doctrine was underlined by a document issued today specifically dealing with the and their control under divisional command in the initial stages of the attack. It lays out the role of the squadrons as “flying ahead of and carrying the infantry along with them, keeping down the fire of the enemy’s infantry and barrage batteries,” adding that the appearance of ground-attack aircraft over the battlefield “affords visible proof to heavily engaged troops that the Higher Command is in close touch with the front, and is employing every means to support the fighting troops.” It also directs the squadrons to “dislocate traffic and inflict appreciable loss on reinforcements hastening up to the battlefield.”

The new doctrine also stressed ground attack by multiple aircraft in formation, rather than by indi-
vidual planes. The Second Army air orders required an entire Schlachtstaffeln to attack in lines, two waves to a line. The first wave was to attack enemy artillery positions, and the second wave was to support the infantry attack.

2 February 1918 – 2 and 3 ring circus

The German High Command is getting ready for its spring offensive.

As part of this, following the success of Jagdgeschwader I under Manfred von Richthofen, they have decided to form two additional Jagdgeschwaders so that each of the three Armies on the Western Front will have their own dedicated air support.

Adolf von Tutschek

Jagdgeschwader II (JG III) comprises Jastas 12, 13, 15, and 19 under the overall command of Hauptmann Adolf von Tutschek. He has just returned to active service having been shot down in August 1917. Its four squadrons were ordered to concentrate in the vicinity of Marle, France. This placed them opposite the seam in the Allied lines where British and French armies met They were underequipped with Pfalz and Albatros scouts, but were beginning to receive Fokker Dr1 triplanes by 16 February.

Bruno Loerzer a caption

Jagdgeschwader III (JG III) comprises Jastas 2, 26, 27 and 36 under the overall command of Oberleutnant Bruno Loerzer.

Each has a nominal strength of 56 aircraft (14 in each Jasta).

16 January 1918 – “The employment of the Royal Flying Corps in Defence”

The British forces on the Western Front are preparing for a major offensive by the Germans in 1918. The RFC is no different. Towards the end of December 1917 Major-General Hugh Trenchard had submitted to General Headquarters a memorandum outlining his views on the employment of the Royal Flying Corps if the enemy began an offensive on a big scale.

This document, after discussion and minor emendation, was issued by General Headquarters to all armies today. It makes clear that, although the army was on the defensive, the air offensive must be maintained and the first and most important duty of the Royal Flying Corps, is to assist Army Commanders in detecting attacks.

The memorandum, entitles “The employment of the Royal Flying Corps in Defence” read as follows

1. The first and most important of the duties of the Royal Flying Corps in connexion with defence is to watch for symptoms of attack and to use the utmost endeavours to obtain and transmit at once all information which may assist responsible Commanders to determine beforehand when and where an attack is coming and by what force.

It is the duty of the Intelligence Branch of the General Staff to keep the Royal Flying Corps constantly instructed as to the information which is required, and of the suspected areas of hostile concentration.

Every detail observed should be reported. Points of apparent unimportance to an observer are often of great value in elucidating reports from other sources.

It is necessary to the Higher Commands to receive such information of the situation along the whole line of defence as will enable the Commander to determine where a real attack may be expected, from what parts of the front troops may be withdrawn without risk, and where feints or minor attacks are likely to be made.

It is seldom safe to draw conclusions from observations made in any one locality. Observers, therefore, should, as a rule, merely record as fully and accurately as possible what they have seen. It is for the Higher Commanders to draw deductions from the mass of evidence available from the whole front, and from the various sources of information at their disposal.

2. In order that early information of preparations for an attack may be obtained, the Royal Flying Corps will keep the whole of the enemy’s possible concentration areas under frequent observation. The indications to be looked for are as follows, stated in order of importance.

The construction of:

(a) Railways and sidings.

(6) Roads.

(6) Dumps.

(d) Aerodromes.

(8) Camps.

(f) Gun positions.

Photographs of the enemy’s possible concentration areas should also be taken at such frequent intervals as will ensure that the progress of any preparations may be followed.

The Squadron belonging to the G.H.Q. Wing will be used for reconnaissance beyond the Army Areas.

3. As soon as it has been established that preparations for an attack are in progress behind the enemy’s line, the next duty of the Royal Flying Corps is to interfere with them. The means available are :

(a) Co-operation with our artillery, the activity of which will probably be increased at this stage.

(b) Extensive bombing attacks, to hinder these preparations, inflict casualties upon his troops and disturb their rest

(c) An energetic offensive against the enemy’s aviation in order to permit of (a) and (b)

Information will also continue to be of vital importance to all Commanders

4. The next step will be the commencement of the enemy’s artillery preparation, though in the case of a surprise attack the opening of violent artillery fire may be coincident with the infantry advance, especially if tanks are employed. Whether the period of the preliminary bombardment lasts for days or only for a few hours, the artillery of the defence must endeavour to keep down the Fire of the enemy’s batteries, to hinder his preparations and to destroy his infantry and their places of assembly.

At the moment of assault every gun must be devoted to the annihilation of the enemy’s attacking troops and any tanks that may appear.

At this stage the primary duty of the Royal Flying Corps will be to render our artillery fire effective. If this object can be attained, it will be the most material help which can be rendered to the infantry although it may be invisible to them.

So far as may be possible after providing fully for the above primary duty the Royal Flying Corps will endeavour to prevent the enemy from pressing home the full weight of his attack. The means to be employed stated in their relative order of importance are

(a) Attacking the enemy’s reinforcements a mile or two behind the assaulting line with low-Hying aeroplanes

(b) Attacking the enemy’s detraining and debussing points, transport on roads, artillery positions and reserves

(c) Sending low-Hying machines, on account of their moral effect, to co-operate with the infantry in attacking the enemy’s most advanced troops

Every effort to gain and report information of our own troops, as well as those of the enemy, must also be made by the Royal Flying Corps during this phase of the battle, in order that the Higher Commanders may be kept constantly informed of the situation

5. The next stage will be the counter-attack. In the case of an immediate counter-attack it will be impossible, owing to lack of time, to co ordinate the infantry attack with that of any low-flying aeroplanes. Provided however, it is possible to know exactly where the enemy is, and where the counter-attack is to take place, every effort will be made to dispatch a flight of low~flying aeroplanes to assist the infantry by attacking the enemy’s troops with machine-gun fire.

In the case of a deliberate counter-attack. which takes the form of a carefully prepared attack, the same principles of co-operation between the Royal Flying Corps and other Arms will be followed as have been employed throughout the offensive operations of the past year.

During this stage, as at all times throughout the battle, information continues to be of vital importance and must be provided for.

6. During all the stages dealt with above, it lies with Army Commanders to instruct the Royal Flying Corps as to their requirements from day to day.

7. It may become necessary at any time to reinforce the Royal Flying Corps on a threatened front in order that our superiority in the air may be maintained. Schemes for the necessary re-allotment of Royal Flying Corps units to meet the situation will be drawn up by G.O.C., R.F.C., in order that it may be possible to reinforce the R.F.C. Brigade of any Army which may be suddenly called upon to meet an attack. A reserve of four fighting squadrons will be formed from new squadrons as they come out from England, and will be placed temporarily under the G.H.Q. Wing.

8. The successful performance of the role of the Royal Flying Corps in defence, as outlined above, must primarily depend on its ability to gain and maintain the ascendancy in the air. This can only be done by attacking and defeating the enemy’s air forces. The action of the Royal Flying Corps must, therefore, always remain essentially offensive, even when the Army, during a period of preparation for offensive operations, is standing temporarily on the defensive.

3 January 1918 – All change at the top

Yesterday an Order in Council passed in Parliament, defining the composition and duties of the members of the Air Council, and stating that the Air Council would come into being today.

Also today, Lord Rothermere took up his post as first Secretary of State for the Air Force

Hugh Trenchard also has a new job. Today he was appointed Chief of the Air Staff, having reluctantly accepted the job following consultation with Douglas Haig.

The other members of the Air Council, appointed at the same time, were:

  • Lieutenant-General Sir David Henderson, K.C.B. (Additional Member and Vice-President)
  • Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr, C.B. (Deputy Chief of the Air Staff)
  • Commodore Godfrey M. Paine, C.B. (Master-General of Personnel)
  • Major-General W. S. Brancker (Controller-General of Equipment)
  • Sir William Weir (Director-General of Aircraft Production in the Ministry of Munitions).
  • Sir John Hunter, K.B.E. (Administrator of Works and Buildings)
  • Major J. L. Baird, C.M.G., D.S.O., M.P. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State)

28 December 1917 –

Today 41 Wing RFC was upgraded to Brigade Status and will now be known as VIII Brigade. The Brigade’s purpose remains that of Long Range Bombing in Germany.

The move is entirely formal as the Wing still exists as a subordinate formation and consists of the same three squadrons (55 Squadron RFC (day), 102 Squadron RFC (Night) and 16 Squadron RNAS for long range). Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Louis Norton Newall, who has been in charge of 41 Wing since its formation, remains in charge but has been temporarily promoted to Brigadier General.

In fact the Brigade  did not begin work as such until 1 February 1918 when an independent head-quarters was opened in the Chateau de Froville, near Bayon. No new squadrons were added until May 1918.

16 December 1917 – Trenchard in London

After the Air Force Bill received was given Royal Assent on 29 November 1917, there followed a period of political manoeuvring and speculation over who would take up all the new posts.

Lord Rothermere had been appointed president of the Air Council on 26 November 1917, and will be the new Air Minister. Today, Hugh Trenchard, Commander of the RFC in France was summoned back to London.

At around 3 pm, Trenchard met Rothermere, who offered Trenchard the post of Chief of the Air Staff and before Trenchard could respond, Rothermere explained that Trenchard’s support would be useful to him as he was about to launch a press campaign against Sir Douglas Haig and Sir William Robertson, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

Trenchard flatly refused the job, being personally loyal to Haig and antipathetic to political intrigue. Rothermere and his brother Lord Northcliffe, who was also present, then spent over 12 hours acrimoniously debating with Trenchard. The brothers pointed out that if Trenchard refused, they would use the fact to attack Haig on the false premise that Haig had refused to release Trenchard. Trenchard defended Haig’s policy of constant attack, arguing that it had been preferable to standing on the defensive and he also had maintained an offensive posture throughout the War which, like the infantry, had resulted in the Flying Corps taking dreadful casualties. In the end, the brothers wore Trenchard down and he accepted the post on the condition that he first be permitted to consult Haig. After meeting with Haig, Trenchard wrote to Rothermere, accepting the post.