Military Review

Heavenly host. World War I was the strongest impulse in the history of aviation

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Heavenly host. World War I was the strongest impulse in the history of aviation

Disputes about the primacy in the invention of a controlled aircraft have not yet been resolved, so the seemingly established fact that the first flight was made by the Wright brothers is still being questioned. American inventors were very secretive, conducting their first takeoffs and landings away from prying eyes in the desert corners of the prairie - while the Brazilian Frenchman Alberto Santos-Dumont tried to do this at the maximum concentration of the public in the center of Paris.


The range and duration of the first flights in stories world aviation were extremely insignificant. The score went hundreds of meters and for minutes. Miraculously, the very fact was perceived that a structure heavier than air was able to tear itself off the ground. But any business started “from scratch”, and even supported by many enthusiasts, tends to develop rapidly. A few years later, by the beginning of the second decade of the 27th century, the flights of Henri Farman from Chalon to Reims (1911 km) and Louis Bleriot through the English Channel made airplanes take seriously. The best indicator that flying machines began to be treated without fools was the attention of the military departments of the largest countries of Europe and the USA. In France in 200, 30 aircraft were adopted, in Germany in the same year - XNUMX.

The army of the Russian Empire also tried to keep up with progress - all the more so since serious reforms were carried out in it, which were the result of the failures of the Russo-Japanese war. The basis for the development of domestic aeronautics already existed: the theoretical basis was laid by the works of the creator of aerodynamics Zhukovsky, talented aircraft designers Sikorsky, Stenglau, Gakkel, Slesarev began to work. The first aviators Efimov, Utochkin, Popov “answered” for attracting the attention of the general public. Since 1908, flying clubs and voluntary aeronautical circles have been appearing all over Russia, and specialized magazines are starting to appear. By the beginning of 1909, the All-Russian Aero Club located in St. Petersburg numbered 400 people. In 1910, the first steps were taken to create the Russian Imperial Air Force fleetwhose patron became the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich. Seven airplanes bought by the treasury from private individuals appeared in the armada, among them there was only one - Russian-built. Looking ahead, we say that this trend continued in subsequent years: domestic-made airplanes were hardly adopted, and preference was given to foreign or licensed, while often outdated models.

Before the world thunderstorm

On the eve of the war in Russia, for about 25 years, a Training Aeronautical Park (UVP) operated, located on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Its purpose was the development of Russian military aeronautics, training, development and testing of combat use of balloons. In October, the UNP 1910 was reorganized into an officer aeronautical school (OVS) with two departments - an aeronautic on the Volkov field and a temporary aviation school in Gatchina, which was to annually train 10 pilots. Subsequently, the aviation department of the school was expanded several times and in July 1914 was reorganized into the Gatchina Military Aviation School. The school had a branch in Warsaw. In the autumn of 1910, the formation of a military aviation school began in Sevastopol. A year later, she had more than 40 aircraft of various types. In November 1911, the first graduation (30 man) of an officer-pilot took place. And in the spring of 1910, seven Russian officers and six lower ranks were seconded to France: the first for flight training, the second for training in engine mechanics. By the end of 1911, the Russian military department had at its disposal about 50 trained pilots, which made it possible to proceed with the formation of the first aviation detachments.

In the autumn of 1911, five Farman, five Blerios and a dirigible aircraft took part in the maneuvers of the Warsaw Military District. The air detachments were located in the immediate vicinity of the corps headquarters and, on their instructions, conducted reconnaissance of the rear of the "enemy". Pilots from a height of 600 m (this height was considered safe and unattainable for rifle and machine-gun fire) accurately determined the places of deployment and the number of troops. Airplanes made aerial photography, the results of which were found to be quite impressive. In addition to reconnaissance, aviators carried out communications between headquarters and large troop formations, mainly cavalry, operating in isolation from the main forces. These maneuvers confirmed the ability of aviation to perform combat missions. The effectiveness of the new kind of troops was indicated by the Chief of the General Staff, Yakov Zhilinsky, in a special memorandum “On the participation of the air detachments of the Department of the Air Force in the maneuvers of the Warsaw Military District troops”. In particular, he stressed that "... it was thanks to a well-organized aerial reconnaissance that the command of the" southern group of troops "received reliable information about the location of the" enemy "troops.

Feature set

Intelligence - that seemed to be the main and perhaps the only purpose of aviation at the time of the outbreak of war. Although there have been attempts to use airplanes in a more “aggressive” manner. In the Balkan war 1912, where a small detachment of Russian volunteer aviators went, the pilots tried to attack the enemy positions with small bombs, and the living force - later received widespread steel darts-flashsets. But these were only isolated cases of combat, rather than reconnaissance, use of aviation.

With the beginning of the great war, the situation has not changed radically. The list of tasks faced by the aviation of all armies, not too expanded. And this happened only when their primary task - reconnaissance - the heavenly host began to perform so efficiently that the enemy had no alternative but to search for ways to destroy annoying air spies, whose efforts threatened with almost inevitable heavy losses from the hands of the well-informed ground forces of the enemy. Only then, by the beginning of 1915, did the question of armed confrontation in the air come to the fore.

The methods offered were different, not all theories turned out to be applicable in practice. They were preparing to fight, but there was clearly not enough good, suitable means for this. First of all, at the beginning there wasn’t any built-in on-board aircraft weapons; it was recommended, “having noticed the enemy's plane, to fly towards him and, flying over him, to drop a shell on top of him”. A projectile at the same time could serve as darts, weights or just bars of metal, which they tried to damage the plane or kill the pilot. It was also suggested that “by a skillful maneuver near the flying plane, to form air whirlwinds, which would threaten it with a catastrophe.” In the first air battles were actively used rams. Nikolai Yatsuk, a Russian aviator, is the inventor of the air ramming. He suggested in the magazine “Bulletin of aeronautics” (No. XXUMX – 13, 14 year): “It is possible that in exceptional cases the pilots will decide to ram other people with their airplanes.” He also proposed the first method of air ramming, giving the pilot a chance of survival: hitting the top of his airplane on the wing of an enemy airplane. It was from Yatsuka that Peter Nesterov found out about the ram, who first used the air ram in practice in just this way. Many pilots usually tried to break the fuselage or wings of the enemy aircraft with the wheels of their own cars. Among aviators, a ram was called for a long time - “beating wheels on top”. Practiced and forcing the enemy to land. At the same time, they either tried to drive him too high to freeze the engine, or, conversely, to press the enemy to the ground in order to deprive him of the ability to maneuver. On the enemy's plane they tried to throw a lasso or a “cat” in order to stop the work of the propeller. Peter Nesterov, for example, practiced wielding weights on a long cable. Sometimes smoke or dynamite sticks were attached to the “cat”.

What and how to fight

It quickly became clear that fire from handguns was practically useless in aerial combat. Though attempts by an accurate shot from a carbine or Mauser to "take off” a enemy pilot were made. Most often this was done by the second member of the crew, the pilot-observer, whose hands were not occupied by control levers. At the beginning of 1915, the British and French were the first to start putting machine-guns on planes. Since the propeller interfered with the shelling, initially only machine guns were equipped with a pusher propeller located at the back and not obstructing firing in the nose hemisphere. The first fighter in the world was the British "Vikkers", specially built for air combat using a machine gun mounted on the turret. Nevertheless, the design features of the aircraft with the pusher propeller at that time did not allow the development of sufficiently high speeds, and the interception of high-speed reconnaissance aircraft was difficult. After some time, the French proposed a solution to the problem of firing through a screw - metal lining on the lower parts of the blades. Its author was a French ace, whose name is known to any sports fan, in particular tennis, - Sergeant Roland Garros. The bullets that hit the pads were reflected without damaging the wooden propeller. This decision turned out to be satisfactory, but no more: firstly, the ammunition was quickly wasted because of the part of the bullets in the propeller blades; secondly, the bullet strikes still gradually deformed the propeller. And soon a machine gun synchronizer was invented. This innovation allowed firing through the propeller's screw: the mechanism allowed the machine gun to fire only when there was no blade in front of the barrel. In April, 1915, the effectiveness of the solution was demonstrated in practice, but by chance an experimental aircraft with a synchronizer was forced to land behind the front line and was captured by the Germans. Having studied the mechanism, the Fokker company very quickly developed its own version, and in the summer of 1915, Germany put the first “modern type” fighter on the front - with a pulling screw and a machine gun firing through the propeller disk. The appearance of such aircraft squadrons turned out to be a complete surprise for the Entente: all its fighters had an outdated scheme and were inferior to Fokker vehicles. From the summer of 1915 to the spring of 1916, the Germans dominated the skies on the Western Front, ensuring a substantial advantage. The ratio of the losses of the allies and the German aviators was so indecent and not in favor of the first, that this position in the sky began to be called "Fokker Beach". Something similar, and again thanks to a technical novelty, it happened again - under the new 1917, Germany "brought to the scene" a fighter with a streamlined fuselage and again gained an advantage: April 1917 for the Entente aviation went down in history as "bloody" - the loss was about 250 English airplanes against all German 60.

In the interim, the Entente from time to time managed to level the position. The arrival at the front of the pivoting light biplanes of the British and French designers, who exceeded Fokker's early fighters in maneuverability, made it possible to change the course of the war in the air in 1916. And by the summer of 1917, the emergence of new fighters turned the tide of the air war. The main advantage of the Entente was the best condition of the Anglo-French engine-building. In addition, since 1917, Germany has begun to experience a severe shortage of resources. As a result, by the 1918, the Entente aviation achieved both qualitative and quantitative air superiority over the Western Front. German aviation was no longer able to claim dominance. In an attempt to reverse the situation, the Germans tried to develop new tactics (for example, during the summer offensive of 1918, air strikes on home-based airfields were first widely used to destroy enemy aircraft on the ground), but such measures could not change the overall unfavorable situation.

This is how the development of military aircraft in combat conditions went forward, in jumps, jerks, accelerations and wide strides. What can I say, if in the first months of the war no one had a clue about bomber aircraft, and by the end of the year military operations had to build its fake imitation near Paris with the intention of confusing the German bombers. The French considered the threat from their capital to be more than real.

Features of the national flight

In technical terms, domestic aviation was in the wake of the European, and its problems and difficulties were only a reflection or consequence of those that were on the Western fronts. Because Russian aviators almost never had to fight on domestic technology ...

To produce military aircraft in Russia were ready several companies, public and private, the most famous - Russian-Baltic plant in Riga with a branch in Petrograd, where they gathered the legendary heavy "Muromtsy". However, the Ministry of War actually eliminated the coordination of the construction of aircraft. In most cases, foreign-made airplanes were produced (16 foreign models were in serial production, and only 12 were domestic ones). And on the procurement, the military ministry officials made a profit, which is why the Russian designers resisted the construction of the aircraft. In addition, foreign firms were in no hurry to transfer their latest technical developments to the Russians. By the time they were still sold to Russia, they were already rather outdated. At the same time, the inventions of talented Russian designers - Sikorsky, Stenglau, Gakkel - were never put into mass production. The situation with engines for airplanes was the most difficult (it is interesting that in subsequent times, for example, during the Great Patriotic War, it was motor-building that was the weakest link in the aviation industry that slowed down the implementation of design ideas). Due to the lack of necessary engines, many interesting projects remained on paper, many airplanes were not tested, many undertakings were compromised due to the low power and excessively large weight of the engines that the designer, after long torment, got and put on his airplane, knowing that it was unsuitable motor, but at the same time aware that the other will not receive. We were not backward in the field of aviation science and technology. We were backward in production. What is the use of ingenious inventions if the industry cannot master their serial production?

Another important problem of wartime was the training of pilots. With an annual need of about 1 thousand people, all Russian schools could train no more than 500 aviators. The whole complex of problems was reflected in figures. Say, for the 1915 year, the pilots of the Russian army made almost 10 thousand sorties. At the same time, the main losses - 43% of the flight personnel were killed or seriously injured - occurred as a result of the failure of the materiel, another 22% of losses due to piloting errors. 33% were shot down by anti-aircraft artillery, and only 2% died in aerial combat. Problems with equipment and personnel continued. In the 1916 year, of all the dead, 52% became victims of equipment failures, 23% crashed due to piloting errors, 18% were hit by anti-aircraft artillery fire and 7% died in air battles.

And yet, the Russian aviators, as they were called then - “warriors”, had something to be proud of. One of the most striking pages of the entire war was the summer Russian offensive of 1916 of the year on the South-Western Front. During its preparation for the first time on a large scale, aerial photography of the fortified positions of the enemy was carried out. This work unfolded already in the first months of the year, and the materials received served as one of the main reasons for the command to make the best decisions on the choice of breakthrough areas. The aviators succeeded in revealing the enemy’s defense system to the smallest details, after which maps of its positions were compiled, which were received by army units using 80 – 100 copies of the corps. Thanks to aerial photography data, Russian artillery was able to fire at specific, precisely defined targets, which allowed, with a low density of guns at 1 km of front (20 – 25 units), to achieve good results in suppressing fire weapons and destroying engineering structures. In general, the widespread use of photography has increased the quality of air reconnaissance and the credibility of the command.

A separate chapter in the history of the First World War is the pride of our aviation industry, the four-engine airship Ilya Muromets. Russia was simply the only country that had long-range bomber aircraft at the beginning of the war. The designer Igor Sikorsky’s car showed its qualities back in the summer of 1914, when one of the Ilya Muromets-type airplanes made the famous flight Petersburg - Kiev. The 700-kilometer distance from Petersburg to Orsha was covered without landing in 8 hours. The return trip from Kiev to St. Petersburg was made in 13 hours, which was a world record at that time. It is interesting to note that it was for the first time in the world that the Ilya Muromets aircraft used devices that provide the crew with known comfort: the cabin was heated with air heated by hot exhaust gases from the engines, and electric lighting was provided to the crew seats. On the same plane, also for the first time in the world, the installation of heavy cannons was designed, for which the first project provided for a special “gun deck” in the bow. In total, 54 "Muromtsa" participated in the war. Could there be more? In hindsight, a positive answer suggests itself, but in reality, with the constant depletion of the economy with everyday military needs, the construction of expensive cars could hardly be an order of magnitude larger. The main objectives of the bombing of our "flying fortresses" were, first of all, the fortresses and the long-term fortified areas. In the 1915 year, in preparation for the assault on Przemysl, the Muromtsy dropped heavy bombs on the 200 fortress, and in 1917, the Russians managed to crush the German seaplane base on Lake Angern near Riga. Direct hits were destroyed warehouses, hangars and several airplanes (the rest left the base and never returned there). The bombardment of the advanced positions of the enemy, as well as close cooperation with ground forces in World War I, did not receive much development.

Not people - gold

The “flyers” of the great war were not just a “white bone” in the armies of the warring powers, it was simply the aristocratic stratum, the highest caste in the military hierarchy. Piece goods. Only one significant difference was in Russian pilots compared with their counterparts on the Western Front - in Russia, they did not even dream that the cars were not worse than abroad, but simply that they were. Outdated technology led to high losses among Russian pilots. The composition of some aviation detachments was renewed several times during the year ... And yet, in such conditions, the Ace pilots appeared in the Russian army. The name of Peter Nesterov - the author of the "dead loop" and the first (fatal to himself) ram - is also known to schoolchildren. But the heroic headquarters captain died in the second month of the war. Other pilots have achieved more. The first battering ram, after which the pilot returned alive, was carried out by the most productive Russian pilot of the First World War (17 victories) Alexander Kazakov. And Evgraf Kruten, who was, according to his colleagues, the pilot of God's grace, was the most famous among domestic aces ... He is rightly called the founder of the theory of fighter aviation in Russia, which has a bibliographic confirmation - Kruten wrote 27 brochures for his short 9-year life -tools on the basics and tactics of air combat. Already in the first of them, eloquently called “The Screaming Needs of Russian Aviation”, the young aviator throws a bitter but fair reproach to his comrades: “Our pilots are like moths blithely flitting from the device to the woman, from woman to bottle, then again to the device, then to cards. Ozharil combat flight - and belly up. There is no out-of-flight work. ” The reproach was heard, especially since the very logic of life - the need to confront a dangerous and experienced enemy, huge losses, personnel changes in the flight crew - made our pilots take the matter more seriously. And Kruten himself became the first commander of the fighter squadron in the country.

Many of the names of the heroes of the First World War have been forgotten for decades. First of all, because for a long time in our country the exploits of the “imperialist war” were not considered necessary to advertise. There is another reason, not for nothing that the “white bone” is mentioned in the first lines of the cupola. Those of the Russian Ases who did not lay down their heads in that war, almost without exception turned out after 1917 of the year or abroad, or, even worse, in the ranks of the White movement, as ace #1 Kazakov. Among the emigrants, those who were later famous in the United States, like Seversky, Sergievsky and Yanchenko, someone ended their days in France, someone in the Czech Republic or even Australia. But the documents remained. And in one of them there are words that seem to fit for a comprehensive description of how Russian aviators were able to fight. From the report of the 10 Army Headquarters to the Western Front Aviation Inspector of 25 in May 1917: “... The pilots, despite the technical backwardness of our vehicles, rushed into long-distance, extremely dangerous flights, and they had to be restrained all the time, recalling the need to take care of themselves and the vehicles for the future. Our pilots, flying even on the worst vehicles, when meeting with the enemy aircraft were almost always the first to attack them ... "
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  1. xetai9977
    xetai9977 2 September 2013 08: 25 New
    +5
    The speed of improvement and mass production of aircraft in those days was simply amazing! The first flight of a very "raw" specimen was in 1903, and by 1915-1916, hundreds, if not thousands, of machines that were already completely perfect and combat-ready at that time were already flying.
  2. shurup
    shurup 2 September 2013 09: 40 New
    +3
    Even on "Ilya Muromets" a machine gunner in the tail unit first appeared, which was a "pleasant" surprise for those wishing to get close to the airplane from the rear hemisphere.
    1. svp67
      svp67 2 September 2013 15: 29 New
      +1
      Quote: shurup
      Also on "Ilya Muromets" first appeared
      There, for the first time, the cannons appeared - in shock, for the fighters. Apparently that's why they were so few and shot down, they were afraid to "get involved" ...