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Brief History of Air Warfare

The very first world war saw the birth of military airpower and a great advance of the technology involved. At the beginning of the war, aircraft were primitive – having only been around for ten years. Airship technology saw a development of balloons into an insulting weapon with the famous Zeppelin raids. In 1925, the Zeppelins bombed London for the very first time that caused a number of deaths and injuries. Ultimately, slow machines proved too vulnerable and the British aircraft started to become armed with a range of explosives and incendiary bullets.

Aircraft technology grew rapidly, especially in weaponry. Early aircraft were unarmed then later defended by the crew with rifles or even thrown bombs. The development of smaller machine guns offered great weapons for aircraft but it wasn’t until the creation of a method to synchronise firing with a propeller to allow firing guns that the first fighter was born. This was the time of the fighter ace, larger than life attributes that captured the hearts of the public with their dashing tales of heroism. In contrast, the dirt and mud of the trenches were the cavalry ethos reborn.

The very first World War saw the development of early bombers, although payload was minimum it was a hint of what was coming. Bombers were designed to cross the channel and blow up the United Kingdom travelling at 15 000 far above the max ceiling of any fighter with a bomb load of around 500kg. Raids took place in the evening but eventually happened in the daytime. From 1917, the bombers were joined by a larger bomber group with a wingspan of 138ft which was far wider than many bombers in the second World War. The Germans use of large bombers forced the process of anti-aircraft guns and the use of barrage balloons.

Fighter tactics developed and towards the end of the war, large-scale air battles were witnessed. Most surviving aces were to go on senior commands in World War II and influence tactics during that battle. At the end of the war, the aircraft were far more advanced than the earlier versions.

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