Photo of an Italian bomber aircraft.
This is a photograph of an Italian Caproni Heavy bomber during World War 1. The Caproni aircraft corporation was founded in 1911 and produced the first airplane of Italian design and manufacture. During the war it designed and built a number of successful daylight bombers, of which this photo is an example.
The aircraft features an open cockpit (which would have limited the operation efficacy of the aircraft during bad weather and limited it to relatively low altitudes), two motors and heavy double wheels to support the weight of large (by the standards of the day) bomb payloads.
I am not sure which variant of the Caproni bomber this is, but it is likely the Caproni CA 1 developed in 1914. The Ca.1 entered service with the Italian Army in the middle of 1915 and first saw action on August 20, 1915, attacking the Austrian air base at Aisovizza. A total of 162 of these planes were built.
Général Araki, the Japanese Minister of War, inspects a new device for tracking aircraft by sound. The machine acted as a giant sound collector, amplifying the noise of aircraft engines and giving troops on the ground a chance to organize anti aircraft fire.
The trumpet shaped devices served to funnel the sound into an amplifier. The operator would scan the sky with the microphones trying to pick up the sound of approaching enemy aircraft.
Devices such as this represented early attempts to detect enemy aircraft before they came into visual range and were the best technology available until the development of radar. Similar devices, housed in large towers, were developed by the British after the war as a form of early warning system.
It is a testament to the speed with which warfare drives scientific and technical progress, that when the war started in 1914, airplanes were essentially a novelty. They were not armed, being used solely for reconnaissance. Soon both sides began using planes to drop bomb payloads. As these bombers became more effective, both sides developed newer and faster planes to act as interceptors. This was countered by improved bombers, and so on. As airplanes became more effective, so did anti aircraft defences. At first gunners relied on their eyesight but soon the war produced these early electronic detection and tracking devices, and, not long afterwards, radar.
French troops on the western front were issued with a plane spotting guide to help them tell friend from foe.
World War 1 Pilot
It has been said that war is the true mother of invention. The Wright Brothers had made their famous first flight only in 1903, just eleven years before the outbreak of World War 1, but all the major countries had been quick to recognize the value of the airplane as a weapon of war. Driven by an undeclared arms race between Germany, France and Britain, all of the future combatants worked to to improve the airplane, so that by the time war came airplanes were part of the arsenals of all the major warring nations. In the next four years, the airplane would be perfected even more, so that it could fly faster, climb higher and drop more bomb loads.
However even the relatively primitive airplanes that existed at the start of the war in 1914 posed a threat to soldiers on the ground; at first, in their role as spotters and reconnaissance planes, but soon also as ground attack aircraft and bombers. It was important that soldiers could identify enemy planes so they could take cover and or fire back at them, without of course hitting friendly planes.
For this purpose, French troops deployed in Belgium at the start of the war, where the infant German airforce was particularly active, were given cards printed with the silhouettes of enemy planes and zeppelin dirigibles.
The graphic below provided illustrations of various German bi-planes:
This graphic showed the outlines of German monoplanes. It is interesting how much these planes resembled birds in terms of their shape and wing design, as nature was still the best model for conquering the air.
Finally this illustration showed the silhouette of units of Germany’s deadly dirigible fleet. In the absence of an effective interceptor force, Germany’s zeppelins could roam far and wide, dropping bombs on cities and strategic points such as railways. They did not become obsolete until later in the war.
A French anti aircraft gun crew stationed on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower stands ready to fire on any German aircraft approaching Paris. The crew consists of three gunners, and several spotters scanning the sky for signs of enemy aircraft approaching.
A group of spotters in the background is manning a large search light to help pinpoint German fighters or bombers in the dark.
Machine Gun Crew Searching for Raiding German Aircraft
The weapon being used in an antiaircraft role is the unreliable French made made designed St. Etienne machine gun, which was withdrawn from active front line service after 1917.
On April 2, 1916, two German Zeppelin bombers were spotted making their way along the British coast.
They were part of a campaign of air raids targeting British installations, including dockyards, as well as civilian targets. The big, lumbering airships carried a big payload of bombs and while both sides had airships, none were as feared or as efficient as the German Zeppelins.
It was night time and the sky and the land were both dark. All the lights in town had been turned off to avoid giving the German bombers a way of getting their bearings, but the lights of a nearby railway station were still burning, which may have acted as a beacon for the airships. One could hear the engines of the big zeppelins but they were invisible amid the darkened sky.
The people of the town of Togston could see flashes in the distance, and the rumble of exploding bombs, as the zepellins dropped their bombs on nearby towns. Then it was their turn.
The machines passed over main street and dropped their loads before turning out to sea and returning to their bases across the channel. This time the people of Togston were lucky: the bombs did some damage, breaking windows and knocking down some ceilins but the bombs missed whatever the zeppelin bombardiers were aiming for. One bomb landed in parcel of open land, leaving a large crater, which became the center of excitement in this small town.