A pilots' war
The Royal Flying Corps in France 1914-18
At the commencement of the war Britain had some 113 aircraft in military service. The French Aviation Service had 160 aircraft and the German air force 246. By the end of the war each side was deploying thousands of aircraft.
When the RFC deployed to France in 1914 it comprised some four Squadrons (No.s 2,3,4 and 5) with 12 aircraft each, which together with aircraft in depots, gave a total strength of 63 aircraft supported by 900 men. The aircraft were a mixture of BE2s (No 2 & 4 Sqns), Bleriot monoplanes & Farmans (No 3 Sqn) and Farmans, Avro 504s & BE8s (No 5 Sqn).
By September 1915 and the Battle of Loos, the strength had increased to 12 Squadrons and 161 aircraft. By the time of the first Battle of the Somme, July 1916, there were 27 Squadrons (12 pilots each) with 421 aircraft plus a further 216 in depots. The RFC expansion plan for 1916, to take the front line strength to 32 Squadrons with 18-20 pilots each by September, was almost achieved with 31 squadrons deployed.
The statistics for air operations during the first Battle of the Somme demonstrate the magnitude of "air power" deployed, compared to the initial RFC deployment which had undertaken reconnaissance and artillery observation:
At the second Battle of the Somme, the German offensive of 21 March 1918, the RFC lost 1,000 aircraft in four weeks. German bombing and shelling of RFC airfields contributing significantly to these losses. By this stage of the war, aircraft production was able to keep pace with these losses. German Western Front losses in this period were 659 aircraft.
As the war turned against the Germans through 1918, RAF losses continued at a high level. In August, 847 aircraft were lost and on one day alone (8 August), 100 aircraft were lost.
In the final stage of the war the RAF had a front line strength of 1,782 aircraft, the French over 3,000 and the Americans 740. German aircraft strength had peaked in March 1918 at over 4,000 aircraft.
The Great War in the Air, John H Morrow, Jr
The Airmans War 1914-18, Peter H Liddle
Aces High, Alan Clark