Barely 10 years after the Wright brothers had first managed to get a heavier-than-air structure to move under its own power for a short distance at Kitty Hawk in the US, the great powers in Western Europe had developed a range of aircraft to assist in land warfare and to aid in reconnaissance at sea.
France and particularly Germany had developed their air capabilities much further than Britain.
Perhaps, given Britain’s focus on maritime defence and the relatively short range of fixed-wing aircraft, we did not feel the need to develop this emerging branch of military capability.
However, by 1914, in response to a number of achievements by the German military and concerns expressed in the British press, the UK had a fleet of aircraft, but it had not looked to develop the dirigible aircraft (Zeppelins) in which Germany had pre-eminence.
These massive structures, filled with hydrogen and capable of long-distance incursion into enemy territory, posed a threat for which no immediate defence was available.
As the war progressed, the Zeppelin would prove an effective but expensive offensive aircraft, but in air defence and later for reasons of cost and speed, fixed-wing aircraft would supercede the dirigibles and airships would come to be a more localised device for observation and artillery ranging near to the front lines.
The ability to take the war over long distances to the enemy’s civilian installations and population was the great innovation of aerial warfare.
The development of aircraft capable of delivering bombs targeted to specific objectives would be the outcome of the First World War without being a decisive factor in the final phases of the war.
However, it would be wrong to think that air warfare and mass bombing capability only arrived during the Second World War.
The Army’s Royal Flying Corps, reformed as the independent Royal Air Force in April 1918, would emerge from the Great War as the largest and most powerful airborne unit in the world.
Peter Coppack, of the Northumbria World War One Commemoration Project, will be giving another of our free public talks at the Low Lights Tavern, on Brewhouse Bank, North Shields Fish Quay, at 7.30pm on Tuesday next week.
Peter’s talk, entitled ‘Bomber: The aeroplane from toy to terror weapon’, will cover the development of this new form of offensive warfare.
By 1918, bombing posed a major threat to London, with air raids just as terrifying for the population then as 20 years later.
Tickets are now available for a re-run of Peter Mortimer’s award-winning play Death at Dawn.
Telling the story of William Hunter, a North Shields man executed for desertion in 1916, the play will be staged at Wallsend Memorial Hall, in Frank Street, from Friday, February 19, to Tuesday, February 23, at 7.30pm nightly and at the Discovery Museum, in Blandford Square, Newcastle, from Friday, February 26, to Wednesday, March 2, also at 7.30pm, but not on Sundays.
Customer first centres and libraries in Wallsend, North Shields and Whitley Bay have tickets, priced £10 and £8 for concessions. They can also be bought online via www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk and at the Discovery Museum and Newcastle Central Library.
Anyone with information about anyone from North Tyneside killed by the First World War is asked to contact the project.
The project workroom at Linskill Community Centre, in Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and for anyone interested in learning more about the project or how to get involved.
The memorial garden is open for public visits from 9am to 5pm every day at the Linskill Centre. Royal British Legion poppy crosses can be obtained at the project workroom to place in the garden in memory of casualties of the Great War.
Our address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.