Monday, April 7, 2008

Air Power

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed on April 1, 1918 by the consolidation of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. With over 20,000 aircraft at its inception, the RAF was the most powerful air force in the world.

Comments made by British Air Minister Lord Rothermere on the creation of the RAF were published three days later:

The performances of our flying men to-day and the aerobatics which form part of their daily routine were undreamed of even eighteen months since. Only human beings of perfect physique, of matchless bravery or of extraordinary quickness of brain can have any chance of distinguishing themselves in aerial warfare in 1918. And here is the miracle—the British Empire possesses thousands, not hundreds, of these 'supermen.' Our pilots come from all sections of the British Empire ; from our public schools and universities ; from the counting house and office desk in London, Manchester and Glasgow; from the wheat farm in the Canadian North-West; the sheep station in Australia and New Zealand ; from the gold mines on the Rand—in fact, from every section of His Majesty's Dominions these boys have come to "strafe the Hun." [source]

Little did Lord Rothermere realize that within a few months, the "flying men" of the RAF would also be sent to North Russia to "strafe the Bolshevik." In the U.S. Army Signal Corps photo above, an RAF Sopwith equipped with skis is readied for take-off from the aerodrome in Archangel, North Russia on March 6, 1919.

Red Army pilots in North Russia

Nearly two months after the creation of the RAF, the U.S. Army would reorganize its growing Aviation Section by transferring it from the Signal Corps to the newly-created U.S. Army Air Service. By Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the Army Air Service would have a total of 740 airplanes on the Western Front, which represented only 10% of the total Allied air power in the Great War.