I just finished the book, Open Cockpit by Arthur Gould Lee and found it was more than the normal romp of wartime exploits in the air. Much more. This book talks of training, technology process and the costs of war. It is a read that sets the stage for aerial combat and what was involved in The Great War.
The last of these three easily touches all of us as we hear on the news or the BBC the casualties from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. These losses are not insignificant; each has a meaning to his or her friends and family. Yet as the author looks back on The Great War, he remembers squadron losses in the scores, while the infantry losses were in the tens of thousands. Losses at the opening of battles were greater than US losses in the whole Vietnam.
Captain Lee, latter Air Vice Marshall, looked at the million British and Empire forces that were not there to make the Empire what it had been, a force for peace and stability. And of the other seven million lost, how would Russia, Germany, France and Italy of been with their youth restored.
Were these losses worth it? The only ones that can answer that question are gone, buried in the cemeteries of Belgium and France.
The technology interested me as I cut my teeth on working with electronics as tubes were going out (but still used) and cheap circuit boards were available. It was at a time when you could actually fix something and it was very hands on.
Think of Captain Lee and his fellow pilots. They were flying fourteen years after the Wright Brothers first flight. In 1903 the aircraft was barely off the ground. In 1917 Lee’s Pup was flying at 17,500 feet and it was considered out of date. Aircraft were designed, built, used in combat and retired often in less than eighteen months.
Proper training was what was an issue for the RFC. It was of little fault to the trainers or pilots. In the corps no one had a handle on the science of flight able to impart it to the pilots. New pilots ended up at their squadrons to do battle with less than fifteen hours in the air. Training was done on the job. And a pilot’s first job was not to get killed. This was counter intuitive for the pilots. Were they not there to fight Germans? Their daring unfortunately led them to become the numbers associated with the great German aces. Once again another loss.
It was only through flight and squadron leadership that the men were able to keep going. Learning together how to conduct operations and not get shot down.
I want to thank Richard Clarke of TOOFATLardies for pointing this gem out to me.