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By Williamson Murray

Struggle within the Air 1914-1945

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Five-view drawing of BE-2c 1914. THE FIRST WORLD WAR The initial problem confronting the Allies on the Western Front was twofold. On one hand the Germans held an important advantage in the fire-power that modern rifles and machine-guns provided, because they would largely be on the defensive for the next three years. Extensive use of barbed wire strung in front of the trenches reinforced that advantage. On the other hand, while the gunners already understood the principles of indirect artillery fire before the war, they did Bomb droppers at work, illustration from The Sphere, 10 October 1914.

Crews equipped with rifles and pistols took pot-shots at each other, any successes resulting more from luck than from skill. In spring 1915 the opponents were still struggling to come up with better methods of 33 WAR IN THE AIR attacking enemy aircraft. Captain L. A. Strange of the Royal Flying Corps took off on 10 May 1915 carrying 150 feet of cable to which he had attached a lead weight, in the hope of entangling the cable in a German aircraft's propeller. He was also carrying a machine-gun. At 8,000 feet he spotted a German aircraft making for Menin and, concluding the cable Max Immelmann, one of the fathers of fighter tactics.

A Dutch entrepreneur in Germany, Anthony Fokker, and his design team evolved a successful interrupter gear that prevented the machine-gun from firing when the propeller was directly in front of it. Offered the chance to test the mechanism, Fokker declined at the last moment and left it to German pilots to test the new technolog~ Beginning in August 1915 the Germans, flying the Fokker Eindekker, took an increasing toll of British and French aircraft in the west. Because the Germans were on the defensive in that theater, the Eindekkers remained over German-held territory and none fell into Allied hands.

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