19/5/1918 Gervais Lufbery’s fatal fall #1918Live

In 1916, before the USA entered the war, the Lafayette Escadrille of fighter pilots was formed by American volunteers to assist the French. Most of the Americans were new to flying but one who was not was Gervais Lufbery, a Franco-American who had previously worked as an aircraft mechanic before training to become a pilot. Lufbery proved to be a gifted pilot and soon achieved the 5 victories that qualified him as an ace. When the USA entered the war Lufbery transferred to the American air force, training new pilots in combat techniques but continuing to fly missions himself, achieving some 17 victories, mostly while flying with the Lafayette Escadrille.

Today Lufbery unfortunately meets his end. After intercepting a German reconnaissance aircraft near Nancy in France his own aeroplane flips over and he falls out, his seatbelt apparently unfastened. The fall proves fatal.

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Gervais Raoul Lufbery (Wikipedia)

19/5/1918 The last Gotha bombing raid on London #1918Live

Germany has followed its Zeppelin bombing raids on Britain with Operation Türkenkreuz, a series of attacks by giant Gotha aeroplanes. The Gotha raids have been more destructive than the Zeppelin attacks and have forced the British to deploy fighters in south east England that would otherwise be in place on the Western Front. But the bombing raids have taken their toll on the Germans too, with many of the Gothas shot down by enemy fighters or crash-landing on their return home (especially when missions are undertaken at night to avoid the British fighters). Today, after a terror bombing raid on London that killed some 49 people, German commanders decide that the strategic bombing campaign is not worth the resources that are being put into it. There will be no more bombing raids on London; instead the Gothas will be redeployed to attack targets behind enemy lines on the Western Front.

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Gotha bombers (Pinturas aviación Gran Guerra 1914-1918: Great London air raid scare (Tumblr))

21/4/1918 The Red Baron’s last patrol #1918Live

German efforts are concentrated now in Flanders, where Ludendorff still hopes to inflict a decisive blow on the British. However the Germans are still pushing at the British in the Somme sector, hoping to either take Amiens or advance close enough to it that the transport hub becomes unusable to the enemy.

In support of the ground war the Germans have deployed much of their air force to the Somme. Manfred von Richthofen and his Flying Circus are patrolling here, doing as much as they can to keep the skies clear of Allied aeroplanes. Only yesterday the Red Baron brought down two enemy planes, shooting down first a Sopwith Camel flown by Major Richard Raymond-Barker, who dies, and then three minutes later another Camel flown by David Greswolde Lewis, who is lucky enough to survive and be taken prisoner.

Today while on patrol Richthofen sees an enemy aeroplane attacking one flown by his cousin, Wolfram von Richthofen. The Red Baron attacks, saving his cousin and then pursues the enemy aircraft, flown by Canadian pilot Wilfrid May. Throwing caution to the wind, Richthofen is unrelenting in his pursuit of May and allows himself to be drawn across the Allied lines. He declines to break off the chase even when another Canadian, Captain Arthur Brown, comes to his compatriot’s aid.
As May desperately tries to escape, the Red Baron finds himself being fired upon by Brown and also by Australian troops on the ground. A bullet pierces his heart, fatally injuring him. He manages to roughly land his Fokker triplane but dies almost immediately afterwards, lasting just long enough for Australian soldiers to reach the crash site and hear him say “kaputt”.

Richthofen’s body is taken away and prepared for burial with full military honours. His aeroplane is less fortunate, being torn apart by souvenir hunters.

In his two-year career, Richthofen has brought down some 80 enemy aircraft and sent a similar number of enemy fliers to their graves. There will never be another more famous fighter pilot.

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Red Baron’s Last Patrol & Red Barons Last Flight (Barry Weekley studio: Aviation Galleries) follow link for more pictures of warplanes from the First World War and beyond

1/4/1918 Britain forms the RAF, the world’s first independent air force #1918Live

At the start of the war, aeroplanes were still something of a novelty, their role in warfare unclear. Since then they have proved their mettle, both in an observation role and increasingly in the attacking of enemy troops and positions on the ground. Both sides are also making efforts to use aircraft in a strategic role, attacking enemy cities and centres of production. Germany is using both aeroplanes and Zeppelin airships in this role but the British too have had a crack at bombing German factories, to limited success.

In recognition of the increasingly important role air power is playing in the war, Britain now takes the novel step of creating a single unified air force, independent of the army and navy from which it is taking aeroplane squadrons. The British hope that his new organisation, the Royal Air Force, will allow them to more effectively use the power of the aeroplane to prosecute the war to victory.

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Join the Royal Air Force (History Things: On this Day, April 1st)

21/3/1918 New German weapons #1918Live

As well as their innovative use of infiltration tactics, the Germans are also bringing some new weapons to bear in their spring offensive on the Western Front. Many of the stormtroopers spearheading the assault are armed with new submachine guns, portable weapons that can fire a burst of bullets, ideal for clearing enemy troops from a trench. The Germans have also deployed their airforce in support of the offensive. Concentrated German air power has wrested control of the skies from the Allies, making it hard for British observers to spy on German positions. But the Germans have also deployed ground attack aircraft in large formations known as Schlachtstaffeln (or Schlastas), as was done previously during the counterattack at Cambrai. In some respects these ground attack aircraft are fulfilling the role of cavalry in earlier battles, in that they are harrying retreating British troops and providing intelligence on enemy dispositions.
The Germans have also deployed tanks for the first time. There had been fears on the Allied side that a large number of German tanks would take part in the battle, but in the event only a few tanks are taking part in the offensive. Most of these are British-made vehicles that were captured at Cambrai, but a small number of German-made A7V tanks also take part. The A7V is a monster, weighing 30 tonnes and carrying a crew of 18 in its cramped interior. The German tank is more like a mobile pillbox than a vehicle optimised for crossing broken ground, with its heavy weight and high centre of gravity, but its terrifying appearance delivers the desired psychological effect to the enemy.
Unfortunately most of the German tanks break down before they come into contact with the enemy. However two vehicles do manage to assist German troops advancing in the area of the St. Quentin Canal.

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German stormtrooper with submachine gun (Wikipedia)

Brünhilde & Thea, German ground attack aircraft (Flickr: Wooway1)

German tank in action (fanciful) (Wikipedia)

20 February 1918 – Schlachtstaffeln?

German plans to use ground attack aircraft in support of Ludendorff‘s spring offensive.


Unlike tne famous Jastas, one of the lesser known German aerial formations is the Schlachtstaffeln (often abbreviated to Schlastas), which make up about 10% of german formations at this point. They had originated as security flights for the Fliegerabieilungen who carried out reconnaissance.

As the war progressed, their two-seaters transitioned into more of a ground-
attack role aircraft specially designed for that role were introduced.

With the preparations for the forthcoming German offensive in full swing, an entire section of the new German attack doctrine issued in January 1918 was devoted to air support for the ground

That doctrine was underlined by a document issued today specifically dealing with the and their control under divisional command in the initial stages of the attack. It lays out the role of the squadrons as “flying ahead of and carrying the infantry along with them, keeping down the fire of the enemy’s…

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8/3/1918 Bombing Paris, preparing for the spring offensive #1918Live

On the Western Front the Allies are waiting for Ludendorff‘s spring offensive, when the Germans will try to win the war before the Americans show up in strength. The British and French do not know where the blow will land or when the Germans will attack but they know the day is coming soon. The tension is mounting, with every soldier posted to the front knowing that the next day could be his last.

The Germans are doing their best to pile the pressure on the Allies, striking at the morale of not just the men at the front but also the civilians at the rear. Zeppelin raids on Britain continue, but the British also face intermittent attacks by giant Gotha aeroplanes, though the air raids have failed to cause the level of devastation and panic Germany’s leaders would like.

The Germans are also intermittently bombing Paris. Tonight in a particularly large attack the Germans drop 90 bombs on the city, causing much damage and apparently leading to some 200,000 people fleeing the city. Thirteen people lose their lives.

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Gotha G.IV bomber (Wikipedia: German strategic bombing during World War I)

Air raid on Paris, 30 January 1918 (Geographical Imaginations: Is Paris Burning?)