Australian Military History: An overview of The Australian Flying Corps

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by spidge, Nov 10, 2007.

  1. spidge

    spidge Active Member

    Australian Military History: An overview

    The Australian Flying Corps


    Warfare in a new dimension: the Australian Flying Corps in the First World War

    In 1914 Australia's only military aviation base, the Central Flying School, newly established at Point Cook, was equipped with two flying instructors and five flimsy training aircraft. From this modest beginning Australia became the only British dominion to set up a flying corps for service during the First World War. Known as the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) and organised as a corps of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), its four-line squadrons usually served separately under the orders of Britain's Royal Flying Corps. The AFC's first complete flying unit, No. 1 Squadron, left Australia for the Middle East in March 1916. By late 1917 three more squadrons, Nos 2, 3, and 4, had been formed to fight in France. A further four training squadrons based in England formed an Australian Training Wing to provide pilots for the Western Front. ​
    Before No. 1 Squadron made its journey to the Middle East, Australian airmen had been in action in Mesopotamia. A Turkish threat to the Anglo-Persian oil pipeline and the strategically important area at the head of the Persian Gulf (the Shatt-el-Arab) convinced British strategists of the need to open a second front against the Turks. The Australian Government was asked to provide aircraft, airmen, and transport to support the Anglo-Indian forces assigned to the campaign. It responded by dispatching four officers, 41 men, and transport – called the Mesopotamian Half Flight – in April 1915. Arriving too late to help secure the Shatt-el-Arab and the oil pipeline, the Half Flight joined the British advance on Baghdad, an operation intended to exert additional pressure on the Turks in the east. The attempt to reach Baghdad failed, and some 13,000 British and Indian troops found themselves besieged by superior Turkish forces in the city of Kut, about eighty miles south of their objective. Attempts to relieve the siege failed; in April 1916 the garrison at Kut, including members of the Half Flight, surrendered. Taken prisoner by the Turks, few survived captivity. The defeat on the Tigris marked the end of Australia's first experience of military aviation.
    Mechanics with a Caudron aircraft in Mesopotamia, 1916.
    AWM A04131
    The Mesopotamian Half Flight and No. 1 Squadron were both formed early in the war, when military aviation was in its experimental stages, and both contained some of Australia's aviation pioneers. Throughout 1916 and much of 1917 No. 1 Squadron flew inferior aircraft, such as BE2cs, against German opponents who, supporting the Turkish armies in the Middle East, were equipped with more advanced Fokkers and Aviatiks. However, newly equipped with Bristol Fighters, the allied airmen began to gain the ascendancy by the end of 1917.
    It was different for AFC members who served in the Western Front squadrons. Arriving in England between December 1916 and March 1917 and doing eight-months' training before being sent to the front, Nos 2, 3, and 4 Squadrons began their active service at a time when the use of aircraft in war was far more developed. The days when enemy airmen waved to each other on reconnaissance flights were long gone. Aircraft now carried machine-guns as standard equipment, and interrupter gears, developed in 1915, enabled pilots in single-seat fighters to fire straight ahead through their propellers. By 1918 aircraft were being used in a variety of roles: some as fighters, others for reconnaissance or artillery spotting, and others for bombing operations inside enemy territory.
    The AFC's best aircraft in the final year of the war were among the most technically advanced of the day. Bristol's BF2b, a two-seat fighter-bomber known as the Bristol Fighter, could climb to 10,000 feet in 11 minutes and fly at 113 miles an hour when it got there. The famous Sopwith Camel could reach 12,000 feet in 12 minutes, fully loaded with weapons and ammunition, and fly as quickly as the Bristol Fighter. Pilots and observers sat exposed to the elements in noisy open cockpits.
    The view from the cockpit of a Sopwith Camel.
    AWM E02659
    Not everyone was suited to this new field of military operations. Light horsemen or "bushmen" were thought to be physically fitter and have quicker reflexes and a better "character" than other men; they were common in No. 1 Squadron. Many of its later recruits came from the ranks of the Light Horse; most of these already had years of active service. The Squadron also drew men from other backgrounds: the AFC's only Victoria Cross winner, Captain Frank McNamara, had been a schoolteacher.
    Two AFC Bristols in flight.

    Read more at the links.

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