S.E. 5a

The origin of the British Air Force

The weakness of the Ottoman empire at the beginning of the 20th century gave rise to Italy’s colonial claims towards Libya. The conflict between Turkey and Italy soon turned into war. At its very beginning, the press reported:
“...having seen that airplanes are of great use in war since Caps Piazza and Moiso had brought crushing defeat on the Arabs by dropping bombs on their troops, Italian High Command decided to invite independent airmen to take part in the war. The Italian volunteers were 23, French 2...”
“...35 airmen reported at the announcement by H. Bloom, an agent of the Turkish Ministry of War and the director of the “Aviator Society”, offering military service for 6,000 franks per month exclusive of apparatus...”
It is difficult to determine how much Italy offered to hired airmen, but the sums offered to those employed by the Turkish government were substantial for those times.
The attempt to form air personnel from mercenaries failed to prevent Turkey from defeat – also in the air. Apart from political reasons, it was probably of particular importance that for some time at the Italian airfield of Turin had existed the “Battaglione Aviatori”. Many of the airmen that participated in the conflict served in it, including the famous Francesco Baracca. These men proved that air combat should be pursued by professionals, and not amateurs...

The Tripolitan War of 1911-1912 showed that not only could aircraft carry out reconnaissance but also be directly employed in combat. The awareness of this fact caused much anxiety in military circles in Britain. These circles saw it not only as a threat to the British interests in the Middle East, but also as a threat to the isolationism that the Isles themselves enjoyed. These fears were nothing new, for they had for the first time been realized on July 25, 1909, after Bleriot’s crossing of the English Channel. The then “Daily News” journal reported on July 26:

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“...The flying man’s having crossed the ‘silver strip’ just when our great fleet was stationing at Dover – and having done it high above the masts of our greatest man-o-wars – induces gloomy forecasts. A new threat comes to the mind that will result in the future in addition to the undisputable benefits of aviation. It is one more proof of the irrationality of our civilization: our first thought on the aircraft is about the possibility of using them for warfare...”
These were prophetic words, indeed, but the idea of creating a British air force was then scornfully rejected. The minister of war, Lord Haldane, told the aerial pioneers that the Ministry of War had no grounds to promote aviation, considering it “entirely unsuitable for military purposes”.
This conviction changed quickly following the above-mentioned events. As a result, an aircraft detachment was created on November 1, 1911 inside the balloon battalion at Farnborough. With this regard, Cap. Cody was ordered to design the first English military aircraft.
At the end of that year the British government made decisions about the structure of the air force as an independent unit of the army. This was specified in 1912, the following units being created: Royal Naval Air Service based at Farnborough (Naval Wing) and Royal Flying Corps based at Eastchurch (Military Wing)

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The aforementioned isolation of the British Isles and specific attitude towards it caused the advancement of the work to be slightly delayed here compared to France or Germany. The British traditionalism did not indulge the aviation pioneers, while the Red Flag Act considerably delayed the development of the automobile industry, the latter being the background for engine designers.
However, just prior to WW1 Britain had a range of aircraft companies (e.g. Avro, Sopwith, Handley Page, Bristol or Vickers) pro­ducing airplanes for the air force. Additionally, French planes were imported, while the Caudron and Bleriot-Spad companies opened branch factories in Britain, which indicated that practicality made the British forget, at least in this domain, their traditional dislike of the French.
The outbreak of WW1 immediately created two basic tasks for the British air force to fulfill:
– defense of the isles from bombing raids. These raids, carried out by the Germans with airships and heavy bombers, caused great panic and brought an air of threat;
– support for Sir Douglas Haig’s Expeditional Corps fighting in the mainland since April 1917.