German Observation Ladders, c.1914

German Observation Ladders, c.1914

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German Observation Ladders, c.1914

Here we see two German observation ladders, complete with armoured shields for the observers. This picture was probably taken during peace time exercises, and these devices can't have been of much use once the fighting started in 1914. They would quickly be replaced with giant periscopes, leaving the observer safely on the ground.

These Fake Trees Were Used as Spy Posts on the Front Lines of World War I

Two unidentified Australian officers examining a tree trunk which was used as an observation post at German House. The opening to the post is located at the base of the trunk. The color patches indicate the officers are members of the 3rd Division Army Services Corps. Note behind the post a dugout (center, right) and trenches. (Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial)

As a result of World War I, we now count among our military innovations the likes of tanks, flamethrowers, tracer bullets…and fake trees. Amid the war, they were called observation trees and were tucked into the woods along the front lines—faux wooden housing for soldiers to ascend and gain an otherwise unseen advantage.

The French, the British, and the Germans used these trees throughout Great War. The French were the first to use one, in 1915, and they then tutored the British on the approach—which was adopted by the Germans soon thereafter. Creating the trees was a lengthy and detailed process since, with such close proximity to the front lines, everything needed to be carried out in secret.

First, engineers would find a dead tree near the front that had (ideally) been blasted by a bomb. They would then take extensive photos, measurements, and sketches of the dead tree. From there, work commenced behind the scenes. All of the detailed information would be brought back to a workshop, where artists would create an exact replica of the tree: life-size, with the same dead and broken limbs, and with expertly crafted “bark” made from wrinkled, painted iron. To make the bark appear more real, the artists would often cover it with a rough textured concoction made from materials like pulverized seashells.

The most important part of the tree, though, was the interior. Each replica tree was hollow, with fake bark surrounding an inner armored tube that would protect whichever soldier was inside. Soldiers would climb a narrow rope ladder through the middle of the tree and sit on a metal seat (in many cases, with a wooden cushion) at the top. Sections of the outer bark were cut away and replaced with metal mesh to disguise viewing holes for the soldier. For protection, though, the soldier faced a solid metal wall and had to use a periscope or telescope to see outside the tree. They would then communicate what they could see to the troops below, who would handle the situation from the ground.

After construction came the real challenge. Since the front lines were very visible, the fake tree had to be installed at night, under the noisy distraction of gunfire. The engineers would come in, tear out the original tree, dig a hole in place of its roots, then install the fake tree. When everyone woke up in the morning, the tree would still be there and still looked the same—except now it was a hollow, armored vessel concealing a soldier at the top.

As part of the 2014 to 2018 centenary of World War I, visitors to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia, can see one of these trees on display. The tree featured in this memorial was actually used in battle by German forces from the 3rd Division Army Services Corps. It was used as an observation post camouflage tree, or Baumbeobachter, which translates to “tree observer,” and it stood in Oosttaverne Wood in Belgium. A number of soldiers and 3rd Division members had signed the tree, either in pencil or by scratching their initials into the metal itself. One of the soldiers who signed the tree, Private Frederick Augustus Peck, was killed in battle just three months after he inscribed his name on the bark.

Aerial warfare of First World War, 1914-1918

A French SPAD S.XVI two-seat biplane reconnaissance aircraft, flying over Compeign Sector, France ca. 1918. Note the zig-zag patterns of defensive trenches in the fields below.

At the beginning of the war, the usefulness of air machines was met with a certain amount of skepticism by senior officers on all sides. In fact, aeroplanes were mostly involved in observation missions during the first year of the conflict. However, rapid progress enhanced aeroplanes’ performance. In 1915, the Dutch aircraft manufacturer Anthony Fokker, who was working for the Germans, perfected a French invention allowing machine-gun fire through the propeller. This discovery had a revolutionary consequence: the creation of fighter aircraft. This type of plane gave an edge to the Germans during 1915.

German pilot Richard Scholl and his co-pilot Lieutenant Anderer, in flight gear beside their Hannover CL.II biplane in 1918.

Their air superiority was to last until April 1916, two months after the beginning of the battle of Verdun. Thereafter, Allied dominance was gained through the creation of French fighting squadrons and the expansion of the British Royal Flying Corps. The control of the sky was to change hands again in the first half of 1917 when the Germans reformed their squadrons and introduced modern fighters. During April 1917, nicknamed ‘bloody April’, the British suffered four times more casualties than the Germans. But things were on the move on the Allied side. Successful reorganisations in France and Britain brought back air control for good until the Armistice.

During 1915, another important step was taken when the Germans organised strategic bombing over Britain and France by Zeppelin airships. In 1917-18 ‘Gotha’ and ‘Giant’ bombers were also used. This new type of mission, targeting logistic and manufacturing centres, prefigured a strategy commonly adopted later in the century. Inevitably, bombardments of ports and factories were quickly adopted by all sides and led to civilian deaths.

British Handley-Page bombers on a mission, Western Front, during World War I. This photograph, which appears to have been taken from the cabin of a Handley-Page bomber, is attributed to Tom Aitken. It shows another Handley-Page bomber setting out on a bombing mission. The model 0/400 bomber, which was introduced in 1918, could carry 2,000 lbs (907 kilos) of bombs and could be fitted with four Lewis machine-guns.

Although the number of civilians killed by aerial machines remained small during the war, these air raids nonetheless caused widespread terror. Yet, planes were on occasions a welcome sight. Indeed, aircraft and balloons were used by the Allies from 1915 to 1918 to drop propaganda leaflets over occupied France, Belgium and Italy in order to combat German psychological warfare. Propaganda was also dropped on German soldiers in an attempt to demoralise them.

In 1915, aviation caught the attention of the press both in Germany and in the Allied countries. Fighting pilots credited with at least five victories became known as ‘aces’ and were admired as celebrities on Home Fronts until the end of the conflict. This phenomenon illustrates the ability of war culture to penetrate all aspects of society, but also underlines a paradox: heroes of the air became glamorous because they were clean and deemed noble while their infantry counterparts remained an anonymous mass, stuck in the mud of the trenches. This romanticized admiration by the public of flying aces was a cause of tension and jealousy between army and air force.

German soldiers attend to a stack of gas canisters attached to a manifold, inflating a captive balloon on the Western front.

By the war’s end, the impact of air missions on the ground war was in retrospect mainly tactical – strategic bombing, in particular, was still very rudimentary indeed. This was partly due to its restricted funding and use, as it was, after all, a new technology. On the other hand, the artillery, which had perhaps the greatest effect of any military arm in this war, was in very large part as devastating as it was due to the availability of aerial photography and aerial “spotting” by balloon and aircraft.

Tactical air support had a big impact on troop morale and proved helpful both to the Allies and the Germans during 1918 when coordinated with ground force actions. But such operations were too dependent on the weather to have a considerable effect. Meanwhile, fighting planes had a significant impact in facilitating other aerial activities. Aviation made huge technological leaps forward during the conflict. The war in the air also proved to be a field of experimentation where tactics and doctrines were imagined and tested.

A German Type Ae 800 observation balloon ascending.

A captured German Taube monoplane, on display in the courtyard of Les Invalides in Paris, in 1915. The Taube was a pre-World War I aircraft, only briefly used on the front lines, replaced later by newer designs.

A soldier poses with a Hythe Mk III Gun Camera during training activities at Ellington Field, Houston, Texas in April of 1918. The Mk III, built to match the size, handling, and weight of a Lewis Gun, was used to train aerial gunners, recording a photograph when the trigger was pulled, for later review, when an instructor could coach trainees on better aiming strategies.

Captain Ross-Smith (left) and Observer in front of a Modern Bristol Fighter, 1st Squadron A.F.C. Palestine, February 1918. This image was taken using the Paget process, an early experiment in color photography.

Lieutenant Kirk Booth of the U.S. Signal Corps being lifted skyward by the giant Perkins man-carrying kite at Camp Devens, Ayer, Massachusetts. While the United States never used these kites during the war, the German and French armies put some to use on the front lines.

Wreckage of a German Albatross D. III fighter biplane.

Unidentified pilot wearing a type of breathing apparatus. Image taken by O.I.C Photographic Detachment, Hazelhurst Field, Long Island, New York.

A Farman airplane with rockets attached to its struts.

A German balloon being shot down.

An aircraft in flames falls from the sky.

A German Pfalz Dr.I single-seat triplane fighter aircraft, ca. 1918.

Observation Balloons near Coblenz, Germany.

Observer in a German balloon gondola shoots off light signals with a pistol.

Night Flight at Le Bourget, France.

British reconnaissance plane flying over enemy lines, in France.

Bombing Montmedy, 42 km north of Verdun, while American troops advance in the Meuse-Argonne sector. Three bombs have been released by a U.S. bomber, one striking a supply station, the other two in mid-air, visible on their way down. Black puffs of smoke indicate anti-aircraft fire. To the right (west), a building with a Red Cross symbol can be seen.

German soldiers attend to an upended German aircraft.

A Sunday morning service in an aerodrome in France. The Chaplain conducting the service from an aeroplane.

An observer in the tail tip of the English airship R33 on March 6, 1919 in Selby, England.

Soldiers carry a set of German airplane wings.

Captain Maurice Happe, rear seat, commander of French squadron MF 29, seated in his Farman MF.11 Shorthorn bomber with a Captain Berthaut. The plane bears the insignia of the first unit, a Croix de Guerre, ca. 1915.

A German airplane over the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

Car of French Military Dirigible “Republique”.

A German pilot lies dead in his crashed airplane in France, in 1918.

A German Pfalz E.I prepares to land, April 1916.

A returning observation balloon. A small army of men, dwarfed by the balloon, are controlling its descent with a multitude of ropes. The basket attached to the balloon, with space for two people, can be seen sitting on the ground. Frequently a target for gunfire, those conducting observations in these balloons were required to wear parachutes for a swift descent if necessary.

Aerial reconnaissance photograph showing a landscape scarred by trench lines and artillery craters. Photograph by pilot Richard Scholl and his co-pilot Lieutenant Anderer near Guignicourt, northern France, August 8, 1918. One month later, Richard Scholl was reported missing.

German hydroplane, ca. 1918.

French Cavalry observe an Army airplane fly past.

Attaching a 100 kg bomb to a German airplane.

Soldiers silhouetted against the sky prepare to fire an anti-aircraft gun. On the right of the photograph a soldier is being handed a large shell for the gun. The Battle of Broodseinde (October 1917) was part of a larger offensive – the third Battle of Ypres – engineered by Sir Douglas Haig to capture the Passchendaele ridge.

An aircraft. crashed and burning in German territory, ca. 1917.

A Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter biplane aircraft taking off from a platform built on top of HMAS Australia’s midships “Q” turret, in 1918.

An aerial photographer with a Graflex camera, ca. 1917-18.

14th Photo Section, 1st Army, “The Balloonatic Section”. Capt. A. W. Stevens (center, front row) and personnel. Ca. 1918. Air Service Photographic Section.

Aerial photo of a cratered battlefield. The dark diagonal lines are the shadows of the few remaining tree trunks.

A British Commander starting off on a raid, flying an Airco DH.2 biplane.

The bombarded barracks at Ypres, viewed from 500 ft.

No. 1 Squadron, a unit of the Australian Flying Corps, in Palestine in 1918.

Returning from a reconnaissance flight during World War I, a view of the clouds from above.

Air force units were reorganized on numerous occasions to meet the growing need of this new weapon. Crucially, aerial strategies developed during the First World War laid the foundations for a modern form of warfare in the sky. During the course of the War, German Aircraft Losses accounted to 27,637 by all causes, while the Entente Losses numbered over 88,613 lost (52,640 France & 35,973 Great Britain).

(Photo credit: Bundesarchiv / Bibliotheque nationale de France / National World War I Museum, Kansas City, Missouri, USA / Text: Bernard Wilkin).

German 'Camouflage Tree' Observation Post made to resemble a pollarded willow

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The Art of Homemaking in a World War Dugout

It all started with one photograph that caught my interest, and then through the course of today, I think I’ve easily gone through about 10,000 photographs, searching through various archives for another glimpse into how soldiers made a home for themselves on the front line.

Above: A French WWI dugout called “The Chalet” (c) Denise Follveider/Reuters

Even amidst the unimaginable horrors of war, there’s just something so relatable about bringing the comforts of home into such an unlikely setting, especially as someone who has always had a thing about personalising my own environment, whether it was the backyard forts I built with my brother as a kid or my workspace today.

Pictured above: German troops reading “The Daily Mail” in a dugout at Wieltje, East of Ypres, 1915.

To see these men customise their dreary dugouts with make-shift furniture, decorative accents, window frames, flower pots and other feminine touches, it gives you an entirely different perspective on war, regardless of which side the soldiers in the photographs were fighting for. With every unfamiliar image I found of these rare moments in the trenches, I was sent deeper down the rabbit hole…

World War 1. Mustard gas-proof dugout, “Bungalow for Two (Wipe your Feet” (c) Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Dugouts came in all shapes and sizes, from the elaborate and creative to the most basic, but somehow cozy. Some were several stories deep, almost like small hamlets, while others made do with the little resources they had to make the best of an impossible situation.

A German observation post on the Yser Front in Belgium in 1917 (c) REUTERS/Archive of Modern Conflict London

In sifting through what seemed like a good chunk of imagery available on the internet, I found that the German front seemed to have the most sophisticated dugouts, if you will, as if making a more permanent home for themselves during wartime was somehow more instinctive to them than the other troops. However, this could also be down to the fact that the Germans were better at documenting everything they did during both world wars.

One of the most extensive archives I found of war dugouts was on a Flickr account of nearly 7,000 rare postcards, mostly German, scanned at high resolution by an Australian collector called Drake Goodman who writes in his profile that his wife “keeps threatening to put me in concrete boots if I don’t stop buying postcards”. His postcard above, of a Commander Rumpf, writing at a desk outside his WWI German-built dugout, was the image that first started me on this fascinating journey and his Flickr account is well-worth digging through. Each submission has been meticulously labelled, scanned on both sides and translated to share the letters written by soldiers on the back.

Take a look at this one, photographed on the German front, where soldiers built miniature dioramas of Lilliput and Blefuscu, the two fictional island nations from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, in the front yard of their dugouts. See it in a larger format here. Goodman had the letter on the postcard translated dated June 1915, in which the sender asks his cousin for his opinion on how the war is progressing.

“Now what is your opinion about peace. I think that if the two forthcoming months do not bring success at Warsaw and Verdun and pending any other setbacks, then we will still be sitting in the trenches of France for the next year.”

What war? All the comforts of home in a medical officer’s dugout. The elaborate “garden” is extraordinary, particularly the decorative snake and wicker sun chair. Location unknown, Maschinengewehr-Kompanie 1917. (c) Drake Goodman

Landwehr Regiment Officers and NCOs seated around a table on which sits a portrait of a Saint Nicholas and a vase of flowers. Possibly a special occasion such as an award presentation, 1915. (c) Drake Goodman.

“Headquarters”, Kgl. Sächsisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 351 (c) Drake Goodman.

Two postcards from 1. Landsturm Infanterie Bataillon ‘Rastatt’. Probably somewhere in the Vosges, circa 1917 or later. (c) Drake Goodman.

Men of Reserve Infanterie Regiment 31 mooch about in a small annex adjoining their dugout. Their digs have been spruced up with some items no doubt liberated from a ruined church or farmhouse. A stuffed pheasant sits on one corner of the shelter, decorated with piece of ornately carved timber, perhaps once part of the altar of a church. In the background we see a statue of the Madonna, from a graveyard? The author of the letter, Friedrich Sommer mentions a “big offensive”. He is referring to the Battle of the Somme. German-built by the 1st Company of Reserve Infantry Regiment 31. (c) Drake Goodman

The company commander’s bullet-proof (“kugelsicher”) bunker or hut is called “Zur Wildsau” (the name of a pub “The Boar’s Head”) to match the stuffed wild boar’s or sow’s head above the entrance. Not sure what is stuck in the animal’s mouth. (c) Drake Goodman.

I hope you won’t find my choice to include this one too distateful, but I found it pretty eye-opening to see just how extensively the Germans documented their life in the trenches.

The postcard is captioned, “Schwere Artillerie im Osten”/ Heavy artillery in the East. (c) Drake Goodman.

They even had a theatre in their trenches!

Pagliacci on the Eastern Front 1918. Letter on reverse dated 22.7.1918 with Einheitsstempel from Kgl. 11. Komp. Landw. Inf. Regt. Nr. 21. Landwehr infantrymen enjoying an outdoors performance by a mobile theatre company and military band. (c) Drake Goodman.

What looks like a German communication trench with phone wires running into the house. (c) Drake Goodman.

Although this one doesn’t necessarily demonstrate the comforts of home in a dugout, I couldn’t help but notice the writing in the top left hand corner. Sure enough, this postcard found by Goodman is a rare photograph of Adolf Hitler and his colleagues from Bayer of the Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 16 in a pleasant garden setting during WWI.

He is wearing the Iron Cross Second Class which he was awarded in 1914 and would later go on to receive the Iron Cross First Class in 1918, after being recommended by a German-Jewish Leutnant, Hugo Gutmann. (c) Drake Goodman.

The interior of an officer’s digs at Christmas time. No doubt well appointed by comparison with the lodgings of the men under his command. (c) Drake Goodman.

There is a photograph of Hindenburg in the background.

A Field Artillery Regiment communications bunker dubbed “Villa Georg” by it’s occupants. A field telephone can be seen close to hand as an artilleryman enjoys the sun with a good book and some bread. (c) Drake Goodman.

A popular commercial postcard printed and published by Verlag von Gustav Liersch & Co. of Berlin, taken near Avricourt, France. (c) Drake Goodman.

Bavarian NCO outside his digs in a well established WWI trench system (c) Drake Goodman.

This photograph of German soldiers playing cards next to a garden built in the trenches comes from a collection of over a unseen thousand photos taken from 1914-1918 by Lt. Walter Koessler. The officer’s great grandson has taken on the task of preserving and printing the collection which was saved by his family for over a century. You can view the full project here, an extensive personal look into World War I through a German officer’s photos.

I also found a rather large selection (48 pages) of photographs and postcards from the French front on the Del Campe archives. Above, the soldiers bring the amenities of the Parisian metro to war, 40 meters from the German trenches.

French WWI dugout (c) Del Campe

Showertime in the French trenches, 1914, 600 meters from German lines. (c) Del Campe

On the American and British fronts, I found less photographs of “home sweet home” in the trenches, although I’d certainly welcome any recommended resources. The above photograph comes from a collection of 250 photographs belonging to a young doctor who smuggled his camera onto the frontline. Fred Dickinson is pictured right with the 1st Cameronians, part of the British Expeditionary Force inside a dugout in France. According to his grandson who shared the story with the Telegraph, the snap was taken at a time when it was expressly forbidden, under Army orders, to use a camera while serving at the front.

From the British Library, a British officer is pictured in his hut dug into the side of a trench, 1915. The hut has walls reinforced with sandbags, hay bales to protect against shell attacks, and a brick floor.

Fast-forward to 1943, I think we’ll end with a more fitting portrait of a soldier’s lodgings during wartime…

Two US marines in Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, November 1943 have named their dugout “The Lousy Lousy Lounge.”

< Previous - 1915 - Next >

Fokker Scourge

The "Fokker Scourge" continues into January with Oswald Boelcke being transferrred to the Verdun Front and Max Immelmann remaining in Flanders. The RFC and French have no answer to the Fokker Eindecker monoplane and its syncronized machine guns.

RFC Night Fighter Aircraft Crash

On a single evening, 10 of 16 RFC night fighter aircraft crash in England, killing three pilots. They had taken off to defend England against German air attack. By May, RFC night flying skills will have improved to the point that 10 aircraft take off on a single evening, and all land safely.

First Pilots win the "Blue Max"

German aces Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann, each with eight victories, are the first pilots awarded the Pour le Mérite ("Blue Max").

RFC orders reconnaissance planes to have escorts

In response to high losses that German Fokker Eindecker fighters are inflicting on Allied reconnaissance aircraft flying over the Western Front, RFC Headquarters orders that reconnaissance planes have an escort of at least three fighters flying in close formation with them, and that a reconnaissance aircraft must abort its flight if even one of the three fighters becomes detached from the formation for any reason.

Last Zeppelin raids on Paris

The second and last Zeppelin raid on Paris inflicts 54 casualties.

German airships resume bombing raids against the U.K.

German airships resume bombing raids against the United Kingdom, as nine Imperial German Navy Zeppelins led personally by the chief of the German Naval Airship Division Peter Strasser, attempt to attack Liverpool. None do, and they scatter their bombs widely around the English Midlands. Zeppelin L.19 (LZ 54) and her entire crew are lost in the raid she is last seen on February 3 when the British trawler King Stephen finds her floating in the North Sea, speaks with her crew, and then leaves them to their fate.

German Air Service establishes Kampfeinsitzer Kommando

The German Air Service takes the first step toward forming separate fighter squadrons by establishing Kampfeinsitzer Kommando ("single-seat battle unit," abbreviated as KEK) formations consisting only of fighter aircraft. KEK units form in France at Vaux-en-Vermandois, Avillers, [disambiguation needed], Jametz, Cunel, and other strategic locations along the Western Front.

Defense of London Consolidated

Britain consolidates command of all pilots, airplanes, and searchlights devoted to the defense of London under a single commander, Major T. C. Higgins, of the RFC '​s No. 19 Reserve Squadron at Hounslow.

Largest ship sunk by air attack in WWI

Aircraft from the Imperial Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet '​s seaplane carriers Imperator Nikolai I and Imperator Aleksandr I sink the Ottoman collier Irmingard (4,211 grt). Irmingard is the largest ship sunk by air attack in World War I.

RFC's first single-seat fighter squadron

Major Lanoe Hawker’s 24 Squadron arrives in France flying DH-2 pushers, the RFC’s first single-seat fighter squadron.

Germany launches Battle of Verdun

The German army launches a battle of attrition at Verdun. To support the morale of French troops defending against the German offensive, the future French ace Jean Navarre begins daily aerobatic flights over the front line in a Nieuport 11 Bébé ("Baby") fighter with its fuselage painted in French red, white, and blue.

Jean Navarre has first known two-victory day in history

Jean Navarre, merely by appearing behind a German two-seat aircraft over the Verdun battlefield, induces its crew to land in French-held territory and surrender without ever firing a shot. Later that morning he shoots down a German bomber for his fifth victory. This is the first known two-victory day in history.

German Air Superiority Challenged

The French introduction of the Nieuport 11 "Bene" with a forward-firing machine gun, and the British deployment of the de Havilland DH-2 affect the air battle. Both are better than the Fokker Eindecker, and the balance of air superiority begins to tip to the Allies.

RFC obtains sole responsibility of the U.K.'s air defense

Air defense of the United Kingdom becomes solely the responsibility of the RFC previously, it had shared the responsibility with the Royal Naval Air Service, RNAS. The RFC also is authorized to form its first ten Home Defense squadrons.

Aircraft moved closer to front at Verdun

Oswald Boelcke moves his small section of two o Eindeckers, KEK Sivry, closer to the front at Verdun to respond quickly to intercept opposing aircraft incursions.

1st Aero Squadron begins operations against Pancho Villa

The 1st Aero Squadron, Curtiss JN-3s, begins operations with General John J. Pershing in a punitive expedition against Mexico and Pancho Villa.

First Victory for Leutnant Ernst Udet

German Leutnant Ernst Udet scores his first victory. He will end the war with 62 victories to becme the second highest German ace and the fourth ranking of all World War I aces.

Group of American volunteers authorized to form squadron within French Air Service

The Escadrille Americaine is officially authorized to organize a group of American volunteers to form squadron N124 within the French Air Service. The Escadrille is formally activated on April 17. The numbers of American volunteers are so great that only some of them can be accommodated in the original Escadrille, but are assigned and fly with over 100 different French squadrons. Later, the name is changed to the Lafayette Escadrille. All the Americans who passed through the system are members of the “Lafayette Flying Corps,” but only some are members of the Lafayette Escadrille itself.

Birth of the US Coast Guard aviation

Captain-Commandant of the US Coast Guard Ellsworth P. Bertholf orders experimentation with the use of aircraft and directs Third Lieutenant Elmer F. Stone to begin flight training. It is the birth of US Coast Guard aviation.

"First Yale Unit" enlists

The “First Yale Unit” enlists in the US Naval Reserve Flying Force.

First Bristol Scout arrives in France

The first Bristol Scout, a rotary-engined, tractor biplane arrives in France with 24 Squadron. From this point on, all British single-seat fighters will be called “scouts,” meaning fast reconnaissance.

Zeppelins attempt to bomb London

Seven German Navy Zeppelins attempt to bomb London overnight. Two turn back with engine trouble, and L 15 is so badly damaged by British fighters and antiaircraft guns that she crash-lands off the coast of England and her crew is captured.

British control the air over Somme

Beginning in April, the British increasingly control the air over the Somme battlefield, aided by the German Air Service’s concentration at Verdun.

Nieuport 17

The French introduce the Nieuport 17, a fast, nimble, rotary-engined biplane that is superior to the Fokker Eindecker.

Le Prieur rocket

The French Le Prieur rocket, a new Allied "balloon-busting" weapon, is used for the first time.

German Air Service Goals

The German Air Service sets a goal of having 37 new Jagdstaffeln (fighter squadrons) in service by April 1917.

RFC Home Defense Sqdn

The RFC establishes its first Home Defense squadron, No. 39 Home Defense Squadron, at Hounslow.

Kokutai established

The Imperial Japanese Navy establishes its first land-based air group (Kōkūtai), the Yokosuka Naval Air Group.

First U.S. Coast Guard aviator

United States Coast Guard Third Lieutenant Elmer F. Stone begins flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida. He is the first U.S. Coast Guard aviator.

England raided 5 nights straight

German Navy airships raid England for five more nights straight.

Biplane world altitude record

Navy Lt. R.C. Saufley, flying a Curtis pusher biplane, sets a world altitude record of 16,072 feet.

First German aircraft captured

The Allies capture their first German intact aircraft with a synchronizing mechanism.

First aircraft deliver stores

RFC and Royal Naval Air Service RNAS aircraft deliver 13 tons of stores into Kut el Amara, Mesopotamia, while it is besieged by the Turks. It is the first time aircraft are used for such a purpose. Despite this herculean effort, the British forces are forced to surrender on April 29.

Zeppelins raid coast of England

Eight German Zeppelins raid the east coast of England, causing 39 casualties. The Zeppelin LZ 59 (L 20) is wrecked in a storm off Stavanger, Norway. on the return journey.

The "Great Arab Rising" British Air Board

The Sherif of Mecca and his family lead a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The British government establishes the Air Board in a first attempt to coordinate RFC and RNAS procurement.

Leutnant Josef Jacobs scores first victory

Leutnant Josef Jacobs, flying a Fokker Eindecker D. III scores his first official victory over an enemy aircraft when he shoots down a two-seater French Caudron. On September 19, he upgraded to a Fokker D. II biplane, and two months later he transferred to Jasta 22, where he was introduced to the Fokker Dr. I triplane. His second victory was in January 1917, and he achieved three officially confirmed and eight more unconfirmed victories while at Jasta 22, where he remained until August 2, 1917.

Lafayette Escadrille flies first patrol

The Lafayette Escadrille flies French Nieuport 11s on its first patrol over Mulhouse on the Verdun Front, led by Corporal Kiffin Rockwell.

Parasite fighter experiments begin

Parasite fighter experiments to launch a Bristol Scout from a Porte Baby airship begin in the United Kingdom.

Lafayette Escadrille's first victory

Kiffin Rockwell shoots down a German two-seater aircraft, the first aerial victory claimed by the Lafayette Escadrille.

French ace credited with 10th victory

French ace Jean Navarre shoots down a German Aviatik C aircraft over Chattancourt, France, becoming the first Allied ace credited with 10 victories.

Oswald Boelcke promoted

Boelcke scores victory number 17, and the Emperor promotes him to Captain (Hauptmann). At 24 years old he becomes the youngest Captain in the Prussian army.

Albert Ball scores first aerial victory

Albert Ball of No. 11 Squadron scores his first of 44 aerial victories.

French shoot down 5 German balloons

French pilots shoot down five German observation balloons with La Prieur rockets.

Baggers rearguard in Sudan bombed

2/Lt John Slessor, RFC, bombs the Baggers rearguard in the Sudan, thereby insuring a British victory in the Battle of Geringiya.

Battle of Jutland aerial recon by British

Flight Lt. F. J. Rutland, flying a Short Type 184 from the Royal Navy seaplane carrier Engadine achieves the only British aerial reconnaissance flight of the Battle of Jutland, reporting the sighting of three cruisers and ten destroyers of the German High Seas Fleet before a broken fuel pipe forces it to end the mission.

British Gain Air Superiority

Immelman's death is symbolic of end to the "Fokker Scourge." The real reason was the introcution of the superior French Nieuport "Bebe" and the British

American naval aviation pioneer killed in flight

American naval aviation pioneer Richard C. Saufley is killed on Santa Rosa Island on a flight out of the Naval Aeronautic Station, Pensacola, Florida, when his Curtiss Model E hydroplane AH-8 goes down at the 8-hour-51-minute mark of his flight.

French ace shot down

The French ace, Jean Navarre, is shot down and wounded, ending his combat career with 12 confirmed kills.

German ace Max Immelmann dies

German ace Max Immelmann dies when his Fokker Eindecker E. III crashes. A German investigation determines the aircraft came apart in flight the British credit DH-2 pilot James T. B. McCudden with the victory. Immelmann had scored 15 victories.

German ace writes first air combat tactics manual

Oswald Boelcke, the leading German ace, is immediately grounded and ordered on an inspection trip to Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. However, before he departs Boelcke writes his famous “Dicta” and scores his 19th victory. The “Boelcke Dicta” becomes the first air combat tactics manual.

First American airman killed in action

Victor Chapman of the Lafayette Escadrille becomes the first American airman to be killed in action, flying a Nieuport 16, shot down near Verdun-sur-Meuse.

First flight of all-metal skin aircraft

The first flight of an aircraft with all-metal stressed skin construction, the Zeppelin-Lindau Rs. II, takes place.

British shoot down German airship

Since January 1, 46 German airship sorties have crossed the coast of England between Yorkshire and Kent, and German airships have attacked London twice. British aircraft defending England have contributed (with antiaircraft guns) to the shooting down of only one German airship.

Britain's first strategic bombing unit

The Royal Naval Air Service RNAS '​s No. 3 Wing becomes Britain '​s first strategic bombing unit, equipped with Sopwith 1½ Strutters.

Battle of Somme begins

The British and French launch the Battle of the Somme begins. The British maintain air superiority over the battlefield for three months, but then lose it to the Germans, led by Boelcke’s Jagdstaffel 2. In the five months of the battle, the RFC loses 782 aircraft and 576 pilots and lose air superiority over the battlefield.

First aircraft launched by catapult

The United States Navy armored cruiser North Carolina becomes the first ship to launch an aircraft by catapult while underway, launching a Curtiss flying boat piloted by Lieutenant Godfrey Chevalier.

Boeing Airplane Company founded

William Boeing founds the Pacific Aero Products Company. In 1917 it will be renamed Boeing Airplane Company.

Special paint job used to identify aircraft

Morane-Saulnier monoplanes in French service have all their metal parts (spinners, struts, and cowlings) painted red to avoid confusion with German Fokker monoplanes, the first time markings are used to identify a type of aircraft.

Somme Battle enters second phase

The second phase of the Battle of the Somme begins.

Raoul Lufbery scores

American Raoul Lufbery scores his first victory over a German two-seater. Lufbery is credited with 16 total victories and transfers to the US 94th Pursuit Squadron in early 1918,

Russian Seaplane Force

The Imperial Russian Navy '​s Black Sea Fleet raids Varna, Bulgaria, employing a seaplane carrier-battleship force.

First interception of an airship by carrier-based aircraft

A Bristol Scout C from the Royal Navy seaplane carrier Vindex unsuccessfully attacks the German Zeppelin L 17. It is the first interception of an airship by a carrier-based aircraft.

French ace gains first victory

French ace Capitaine René Fonck gains his first confirmed victory. With 75 victories, He will become the highest-scoring Allied ace and second-highest-scoring ace overall of the War.

Kastas and Jastas formed

The Imperial German Air Service orders its two-seater units to consolidate its permanent bomber units, “Kastas,” and its single-seat fighter squadrons into, or Jagdstaffeln or Jastas.

Jasta 1 receives commander

Jagdstaffel (Jasta) 1 is officially formed with Hauptmann Martin Zander as commander.

Jasta 2 receives commander

Jagdstaffel (Jasta) 2 is officially formed, waiting for Oswald Boelcke to take command.

Three German aircraft shot down

Albert Ball of 60 Squadron shoots down three German aircraft in one day.

Prince scores first victory

Norman Prince, principal organizer of the Escadrille Americaine, scores his first victory over Verdun.

Jasta 1 formed

Jasta 1 is formed at Bertincourt with Martin Zander as commander. Their aircraft include the Albatros D. I, the first true fighter aircraft with two forward-firing machine guns.

Brazil creates naval aviation school

The Brazilian Navy establishes a naval aviation arm with the creation of a naval aviation school.

German naval ships attack England

Led by the commander of the Imperial German Navy '​s airship force, Peter Strasser, aboard the Zeppelin L 32, 13 German naval airships attack England overnight. Several are damaged by British antiaircraft fire and a British seaplane and most of their bombs miss their targets widely, but L 31 under Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy bombs southeast London, inflicting £130,000 in damage, including damage to a power station at Deptford, and killing nine and injuring 40 civilians.

Boelcke takes command

Oswald Boelcke takes command ofreports t Jasta 2, also at Bertincourt.

Romania enters WWI

Romania enters World War I on the Allied side, declaring war on Austria-Hungary.

Four aircraft downed in one day at Somme

Albert Ball downs four aircraft in one day in the Battle of the Somme.

Field Marshal von Hindenburg

Field Marshal von Hindenburg replaces General von Falkenhayn as Chief of the General Staff. His first decision is to terminate the offensive at Verdun and concentrate forces to defend the Somme.

Wright-Martin Corporation formed

The Wright Company and the Glenn L. Martin Company merge to form the Wright-Martin Corporation.

German heavy bombers destroy railway bridge

A formation of German Gotha G.III heavy bombers destroys the railway bridge over the Danube River at Cernavodă, Romania.

Bulgaria enters war

Bulgaria declares war on Romania.

Largest ship raid of WWI lasts two days

12 German Navy and four German Army airships raid southeast England in the largest airship raid of World War I they drop 823 bombs totaling 38,979 pounds, killing four people and injuring 12. RFC Lieutenant William Leefe-Robinson, flying a BE-2c, shoots down the German Army airship SL 11, which falls spectacularly in flames near London, killing her entire crew of 16. The German Army Airship Service withdraws from future bombing raids on England, leaving the bombing campaign to German naval airships. This is considered the turning point in the defense of the United Kingdom against German airship raids.

Boelcke scores victories 20-26 throughout September

Oswald Boelcke, Jasta 2, Germany’s leading ace, flies a Fokker D. III biplane and scores victories 20-26.

Victoria Cross awarded

Britain awards Lieutenant William Leefe-Robinson the Victoria Cross for shooting down SL-11.

Third phase of Somme begins

The third phase of the Somme begins with the Battle of Flers-Coiurcelette.

First submarines sunk by aircraft

Two Austro-Hungarian Lohner flying boats, led by Fregattenleutnant Zelezny, sink the British submarine B-10 and the French submarine Foucault. B10 is the first submarine sunk by aircraft, and Foucault is the first submarine sunk at sea by aircraft

"Red Baron" scores first kill

Boelcke leads Jasta 2 flying the new Albatros D. II, gets his 27th victory. Leutnant Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron,” in Boelcke’s flight, scores his first kill shooting down an FE-2B of 11 Squadron. He will go on to become the highest-scoring ace of World War I, with 80 victories.

Kiffin Rockwell killed in flight

Kiffin Rockwell is killed flying a Nieuport 17 in combat with a German two-seater.

French ace downs three German aircraft

French ace Georges Guynemer, flying a SPAD 7, downs three German aircraft in one day.

12 Zeppelins attack England

Twelve German Navy Zeppelins attack England over two days. Most scatter their bombs widely, and bombs strike Nottingham and Grimsby. L 33 bombs central London with 42 high-explosive and 20 incendiary bombs, hitting several warehouses and setting fire to an oil depot, a lumber yard, and several groups of houses, with 10 people killed and 12 seriously injured. L 31 under Heinrich Mathy also bombs London, destroying a tramcar, damaging houses and shops, and killing 13 and injuring 33 people. Two of the newest Zeppelins are shot down, L 33 by ground fire and L 32 by RAF Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey L 33 '​s crew is captured and L 32 '​s is killed.

German ace shot down and killed by French

German ace Kurt Wintgens flies to the aid of a two-seater observation plane under attack from French SPADs. In the ensuing air battle, he is shot down and killed by French 7-victory ace Alfred Heurtaux. Wintgens is credited with either 18 or 19 victories, depending on how his July 1915 claims are scored.

Zeppelins attack England overnight

Nine German Navy Zeppelins set out to attack England. L 22 bombs an armament factory complex in Sheffield, killing 28 and injuring 19 people, and L 21 drops several bombs on Bolton. Others turn back, and the rest scatter their bombs widely over the countryside and sea.

More Zeppelins attack

Eleven German Navy Zeppelins set out to attack England overnight. Three turn back, and the others fail to drop their bombs or scatter their bombs widely. RFC Second Lieutenant W. J. Tempest in a B.E.2c shoots down L 31 in flames outside London, killing its entire crew, including the famed airship commander Heinrich Mathy, who leaps to his death from the burning Zeppelin.

Boelcke shoots down nine planes throughout October

Oswald Boelcke continues to lead Jasta 2 and fly his Albatros D. II prototype 386/16. He shots down nine more between October 1 and the 24th.

Imperial German Air Service renamed

The Imperial German Air Service (Fliegertruppen des Deutschen Kaiserreiches) is reorganized and renamed the German Air Force (Luftstreitkräfte).

Boelcke and Richthofen get victories

Jasta commander Oswald Boelcke and Manfred von Richthofen each get a victory. It is Boelcke’s 39th and von Richthofen’s sixth.

Boelcke scores 40th victory

Oswald Boelcke scores number 40, a BE-2D from RFC 5 Squadron.

Boelcke killed in flight

Oswald Boelcke is killed in an aircraft accident when he and his wingman, Erwin Böhme, collide. Boelcke’s Albatros spins out of control. Boelcke’s death is a great blow to the German Air Force as he was a fabled leader, honored and respected by friend and foe alike. He is Germany '​s leading ace with 40 victories at the time of his death. He is considered by history to be the "father" of the German Air Force and the father of air combat. World War I will end with him tied with Oberleutnant Lothar von Richthofen and Leutnant Franz Buchner as the 10th-highest-scoring German aces of the conflict.

SPADS VIIs deployed

SPADS VIIs begin to be deployed in this month.

First Black Pilot

Cpl. Eugene Bullard of the United States, flying for the French, becomes the world's first black pilot.

Battle of Ancre

The Battle of the Ancre begins, the last significant phase of the British Somme Offensive.

End Battle of Somme

The British end the Battle of the Somme, which resulted in 1,265,000 casualties.

New record for cross-country flight

Ruth Law sets a new distance record for cross-country flight by flying 590 miles non-stop from Chicago to New York State. She flies on to New York City the next day.

Lanoe Hawker shot down and killed

After a lengthy dogfight, British ace Lanoe Hawker, VC, flying an Airco DH.2, is shot down and killed by Manfred von Richthofen in an Albatros D.II. Lanoe '​s score stands at seven kills at the time of his death, and he is von Richthofen '​s 11th victory.

L 34 shot down

RFC Second Lieutenant Ian V. Pyott of No. 36 Squadron shoots down L 34 in flames over Castle Eden, killing her entire crew including her famed commander Max Dietrich. Later that night, three Royal Naval Air ServiceRNAS BE-2cs, one of them flown by Flight Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury, shoot down L 21 off Lowestoft.

First bombing of central London

The first bombing of central London by a fixed-wing aircraft takes place when a German LVG C.II biplane flown by R. Brandt drops six bombs near Victoria Station.

RFC plans for expansion approved

The British government approves plans to expand the RFC to 106 regular and 95 reserve squadrons.

Jasta 2 renamed "Boelcke"

The German Emperor renames Jasta 2, Jasta “Boelcke,” the first such honor to be bestowed on a German Air Force unit.

Verdun battle ends

The Battle of Verdun ends with nearly 1,000,000 casualties.

Operation Iron Cross

In Operation Iron Cross, the Imperial German Navy dirigibles L 35 and L 38 attempt the first bombing of Petrograd, Russia. Neither bombs the target due to clouds and bad weather, and L 38 makes a forced landing at Seemuppen, Courland, in German-occupied Russia, where strong winds eventually destroy her on December 29.

Jasta Boelcke's record

Jasta “Boelcke” in the first four months of its existence, September-December 1916, achieves a record of scoring 86 victories while losing only 10.

British men deployed for home air defense

17,341 officers and men are deployed in the United Kingdom for home air defense. Among them are 12,000 officers and men manning antiaircraft guns and 2,200 officers and men assigned to the 12 RFC squadrons operating 110 aeroplanes.S

German Observation Ladders, c.1914 - History

The Royal Flying Corps 1914-18

This site provides an introduction to the history of the Royal Flying Corps and its aircraft during the First World War, together with links to other related sites and suggestions for further reading. Subsidiary sites look in more detail at four squadron histories and the experiences of a number of RFC officers links to these are on the page "A Pilot's War" tab above.

AM2 Charles Carter's photos of fellow drivers in the RFC and RAF 1918 (possibly MT Base Depot, Rouen, France)

Updates on the RFC/RAF Personnel List of those mentioned on this site.

The Royal Air Force celebrates its 100th anniversary on 1st April 2018. See link for the Air Ministers remarks in 1918 regarding "our Flying Men" together with contemporary comment and background.

A brief history of the RFC

A BE2c of No 2 Squadron prepares to start off on a reconnaissance mission, Summer 1915, Hesdigneul, France.

At the commencement of the First World War Britain had some 113 aircraft in military service, the French Aviation Service 160 and the German Air Service 246. By the end of the war each side was deploying thousands of aircraft.

The RFC was formed in April 1912 as the military (army and navy) began to recognise the potential for aircraft as observation platforms. It was in this role that the RFC went to war in 1914 to undertake reconnaissance and artillery observation. As well as aircraft the RFC had a balloon section which deployed along the eventual front lines to provide static observation of the enemy defences. Shortly before the war a separate Naval Air Service (RNAS) was established splitting off from the RFC, though they retained a combined central flying school.

The RFC had experimented before the war with the arming of aircraft but the means of doing so remained awkward - because of the need to avoid the propellor arc and other obstructions such as wings and struts. In the early part of the war the risk of injury to aircrew was therefore largely through accidents. As air armament developed the dangers to aircrew increased markedly and by the end of the war the loss rate was 1 in 4 killed, a similar proportion to the infantry losses in the trenches.

For much of the war RFC pilots faced an enemy with superior aircraft, particularly in terms of speed and operating ceiling, and a better flying training system. The weather was also a significant factor on the Western Front with the prevailing westerly wind favouring the Germans. These disadvantages were made up for by determined and aggressive flying, albeit at the price of heavy losses, and the deployment of a larger proportion of high-performance aircraft. The statistics bear witness to this with the ratio of British losses to German at around 4 to 1.

When the RFC deployed to France in 1914 it sent 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. By September 1915 and the Battle of Loos, the RFC strength had increased to 12 Squadrons and 161 aircraft. By the time of the first major air actions at the first Battle of the Somme, July 1916, there were 27 Squadrons with 421 aircraft plus a further 216 in depots. The RFC expansion continued rapidly thereafter putting considerable strain on the recruiting and training system as well as on the aircraft supply system.

At home, the RFC Home Establishment was responsible for training air and ground crews and preparing squadrons to deploy to France. Towards the end of the war the RFC provided squadrons for home defence, defending against German Zeppelin raids and later Gotha bomber raids. The RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had limited success against the German raids largely through problems of locating the attackers and reaching the operating altitude of the Zeppelins.

The RFC was also deployed to the Middle East, the Balkans and later to Italy. Initially the Middle East detachments had to make do with older equipment but were eventually given more modern machines. The RFC (in relatively small numbers) was able to give valuable assistance to the Army in the eventual destruction of Turkish forces in Palestine, Trans Jordan and Mesopotamia (now Iraq).

In the final days of the RFC, over 1200 aircraft were deployed in France and were available to meet the German offensive of 21 March 1918 with the support of RNAS squadrons. From 1 April these forces combined to form the Royal Air Force as an independent armed service. From small beginnings the air services had grown by the end of the war to an organisation of 290,000 men, 99 Squadrons in France (with 1800 aircraft), a further 34 squadrons overseas, 55 Home Establishment squadrons and 199 training squadrons, with a total inventory of some 22,000 aircraft.

Major General HughTrenchard as Commander of the RFC in France for much of the war was the driving force behind the expansion of the air service supported by the Director General of Military Aviation Major General Sir David Henderson. General Trenchard was strongly committed to supporting the ground forces and sharing their burden of attrition. He convinced the Army Commander-in-Chief, General Haig, of the contribution of the air service and won his support for the expansion of the RFC in France (against the competing pressures for home defence and a long range bombing force, which ironically, Trenchard was later to command).

A Pilot's war gives a more detailed insight into life in the RFC from the perspective of a number of officers.

232 Destroyers

The yards have not rested during the conflict and cranked up 230 ships, often responsible for ensuring convoys protection. These were the twelve “M” (1914), seven destroyer leaders of the Lightfoot (1915-1916) class, four Faulknor (1914-1915), and later six Parker, five Valentine and eight Shakespeare/Scott, who served as a model later for the new interwar British destroyers, but also of international standard after the Treaty of Washington.

They were also the four Medea class, former Greek orders requisitioned in 1914 and completed in 1915, the 4 Talisman, former Turkish DDs (1915-1916), the “M” for “mobilization”, 89 units strong, the first major series of the war, followed by 62 “R” (1916-1917), 26 “V” (1917-1918), 28 “W” (1917-1918), the 69 “S” of which 24 saw the war. Following were in 1919-20, 15 destroyers type “W-bis” which served in the interwar period.

Many who are cited as S, V and W were of great help during the Second World War as escort ships in the Atlantic. All these destroyers will form the bulk of the British fleet to the mid 1930s. The most singular of these destroyers was not built in Great Britain (although inspired largely of “Rivers”), the HMS Arno, built by Ansaldo in Genoa for Portugal under the name of Liz and bought in March 1915 to serve as an escort ship in the Mediterranean. She was also used in the Dardanelles.

The time an American battleship flooded itself…on purpose

Unless it’s a submarine, you generally don’t want your ship filling with water. Of course, all ships have some amount of ballast water held in ballast tanks and cargo holds. This provides stability and maneuverability on the sea. In combat though, extreme and unconventional measures are sometimes necessary to accomplish the mission.

Launched on May 18, 1912 and commissioned on March 12, 1914, USS Texas (BB-35) sailed almost immediately into action. In May 1914, she steamed for Mexico in response to the detention of an American gunboat at Tampico. Despite skipping the usual shakedown cruise, Texas remained on station off the coast of Mexico in support of American forces on shore for just over two months.

During WWI, Texas fired the first American shots of the war. On April 19, 1917, while escorting the merchant ship Mongolia, one of Texas’ batteries opened fire on a surfaced German U-boat. Although the enemy vessel wasn’t sunk, the attack on the merchant vessel was deterred. For the remainder of the war, Texas sailed with Britain’s Grand Fleet escorting convoys and minelayers.

Crewman aboard USS Texas pose on one of the ship’s main 14-inch gun batteries (U.S. Navy)

Texas again made history during the inter-war period when she became the first American battleship to launch an airplane on March 10, 1919. She was also overhauled with a new powerplant and given additional guns at the sacrifice of her torpedo tubes. She briefly served as the flagship of the Pacific Fleet before returning to the Atlantic just before the outbreak of WWII.

Before America’s entry into WWII, Texas conducted neutrality patrols and escorted lend-lease convoys across the Atlantic. Additionally, in February 1941, the legendary US 1st Marine Division was activated aboard the Texas. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Texas escorted allied convoys to a variety of Atlantic destinations like Panama, Sierra Leone, and the United Kingdom.

During Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, Texas broadcasted Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Voice of Freedom” speech imploring the Vichy French not to oppose the allied landings. During the invasion, Texas fired less than 300 shells in supporting fire, a number that would be quickly dwarfed during her next major operation.

Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, D-Day. Texas sailed with the Western Taskforce for Normandy on June 3, 1944. On June 6, she took up her station off of Pointe du Hoc and began her bombardment of the coast in support of the 29th Infantry Division, 2nd, and 5th Ranger Battalions. In 34 minutes, Texas had fired 255 14-inch shells into Pointe du Hoc. Afterwards, with the help of aerial observers, she shifted her main batteries to fire on German reinforcements, artillery batteries, and other strong points further inland.

USS Texas fires a salvo from her 14-inch guns (U.S. Navy)

As allied forces pushed off the beach, Texas moved closer to shore to support them. Originally stationed 12,000 yards offshore, she moved to just 3,000 yards from the beach. On June 7 and 8, she continued to bombard German positions. She was forced to return to England to rearm and was on station off of France again on June 11. By June 15 though, allied forces had pushed so far inland that their targets were now out of Texas’ range. In order to fulfill the requested fire missions, Texas’ crew had to get creative.

The ship’s massive 14-inch guns did not have the elevation required to lob their shots as far inland as the invasion forces needed. So, if the guns facing port couldn’t be raised any further, then the starboard side needed to be lowered. The starboard torpedo blister, a sponson on the hull below of the waterline, was flooded with water. This listed Texas two degrees to starboard and gave her main batteries enough elevation to complete the fire mission. Talk about improvise, adapt, overcome. However, the next day, the designated targets were too far for the flooding solution to work and Texas retired to England on June 18.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and combat has proved this time and time again. The next time someone pitches you a solution that sounds crazy, remember that it might be just crazy enough to work.

German Observation Ladders, c.1914 - History

The border trace between the two German states in the 2/11 ACR sector ran along the old German boundaries between the former principalities of Bavaria and Prussia until the very northern end of sector. Here, the border states changed to Hesse and Prussia. The Kingdom Stones, as they were called, were very visible, usually painted blue on the Bavaria side, this was the state distinctive color. In the northern reach of our sector, the stones were marked with yellow on the Hessian side. Deeply carved in these markers were the initials of the states, KB, Kingdom Bavaria and KP, Kingdom Prussia.

The modern state name for the former region of Prussia along our sector was Thuringia. This name was adopted after Germany was first unified into a modern state in 1871. During the Cold War years, to insure the exact location of the border, joint survey parties determined the true line and marked it with traditional stone reference point markers. German newspapers noted the few occasions when the actual modern survey moved the boundaries five or ten meters in either direction.

There was an amazing array of signage and visual indicators associated with the border, almost all of which were designed to keep West German civilians and US military personnel from accidentally crossing into the east. Most signs were found along West German public roads running directly to the border and at vantage points look into the DDR that were popular with West German tourists. Over the years, the design and language of the signs became minor points of contention between East and West. Early signs noted East Germany as the "Soviet Occupied Zone ", as these signs were replaced, the language became less political.

Entry into the West German side of the border was completely open to all West German civilians and US civilian tourists. Military dependents and active duty personnel were restricted from the area unless on active border patrol or a sanctioned and accompanied tour. In the forests and fields, generally the survey stones and the Bavarian blue and white poles were the only western indicators prior to the East German barrier system.

The DDR [East Germany] as if to enforce the notion of national sovereignty, placed these concrete markers with aluminum crests of the national seal all along the border, back from the actual line by about two meters. Clearly visible but just out of reach, they were placed even in the deep woods or swamps.

DDR stone with crest

Detail of seal

Official East German spec sheet discussing the official dimensions and
placement of the concrete markers.

Needless to say, the national seal would have made a great souvenir. Within our sector, I can recall one marker, in the woods and otherwise not apparently under direct observation of the east, where the seal had been pried out with great effort.

Apparently, the back of the plaque had two very large bolts welded on that ran several inches into the concrete.

The actual East German barrier system was built six to ten meters inside of the DDR. This allowed the Border Troops to come through the fence gates for maintenance and still be on East German soil. This small strip of land between the barrier and the actual border line was known as the margin strip. The East Germans routinely cut back vegetation, conducted maintenance and worked on fence upgrades from the margin area. When fence construction was underway, the elite East German GAKs heavily patrolled along the margin strip.

The first generation was simple barbed wire strung along wooden then concrete poles. As the barrier evolved, the amount of wire increased.

The second generation showed the early evolution of the deep barrier system with towers, Hinterland fence, bunkers and land mines. The actual barrier fence consisted of parallel fences of wire on concrete posts with a mined strip between them. As of 1978, about 35% of the Eaglehorse sector was still "second generation".

The third generation fence was a single barrier with land mines removed. The vast improvements in other security measures allowed the single fence method. The land mines were removed for a number of reasons they were difficult to maintain and not fully reliable. The third generation fence carried anti-personnel mines on the eastern side of the fence. They were fused to go off on command or if the fence was touched. The photos show the evolution of the barrier system

There was near constant activity by Border Troop engineers and civilian contractors to make the system more secure. The third generation barrier fence was a single fence carried by concrete posts. The fence was about 3.2 meters high. The actual fence seemed to be die cut from sheet material rather than a woven wire pattern. This made it very strong and almost impossible to cut with wire or bolt cutters. This pattern also made it almost impossible find hand or foot holds to assist in climbing.

Along the barrier fence, gates had been built to allow access to the margin zone. Some gates corresponded to where previously existing roads once ran. Others were built at where Border Troop engineers felt necessary.


The anti-vehicle ditch was designed to keep vehicles from trying to crash through the barrier fence system. Located between the plowed control strip and the barrier fence, it featured a deeply dug ditch, sloping gently towards the border. Opposite the slope were a series of pre-cast concrete slabs set at about a seventy degree angle. If a car attempted to crash through the barrier system, first it would be slowed by the soft soil of the plowed strip, then trapped in the anti-vehicle ditch. In this photo, one can see the construction of the ditch as the Border Troops continuously worked to improve security. The ditch has been dug and a group of slabs placed. Survey markers will guide the creation of the plowed strip and patrol road.


The control strip featured deeply plowed soil that would slow any car trying to crash through the border fence going from East to West as well as indicate the footprints of unauthorized personnel. As shown here, the strip was constantly maintained. As the border barrier first began to evolve in the 1950s and early 1960s, these soft soil strips were one of the first features employed by the East Germans.

--Erwin Ritter

The concrete slab trail consisted of precast concrete pads laid in the soil to create the patrol road used by the East German Border Troop, foot and light vehicle patrols.

Within our sector, the only major external lighting by the East Germans was at Eussenhaussen . The legal crossing point on highway 19 was heavily illuminated both on the road and for several hundred meters to the left and right of the crossing check point. In the photo, we are looking through the fence into East Germany.

--Erwin Ritter

All of the towers and bunkers in the barrier system were wired into a telephone system. In many ways this was more reliable, less expensive and more secure than FM radio.

Along the control road, at periodic intervals were telephone jack points through which a patrol could establish contact. The Border Troops carried a special phone on their belt for this purpose


The report is received in the Command Tower.

The round observation towers represented the second generation of observation towers placed along the border. They replaced the wood frame and steel frame towers that were built when the barrier system first began. The round towers were constructed of modular concrete sections, brought in on flat bed trucks and assembled with the help of a large crane. It took only a few days to set a new tower in place, however, the minimal site preparation led, on occasion, to disaster with more than one toppling in high winds. The towers were linked together and to the command tower by a hard line telephone system. A white light search light was placed on the roof but could be aimed from inside. In general, towers were placed to insure that a high level of visible control could be maintained over the barrier system. If the terrain would not allow this, blind spots were covered by bunkers, dog runs and remote sensing systems. To avoid creating a pattern, not every tower was staffed every day. Rather, within a give East German sector, the daily patrol and observation plan was varied.

--Erwin Ritter

--Jack Tartella

Erwin Ritter had the chance to closely study the tower system after the border opened. Shown here are details of a second generation round tower from our sector that had a command bunker located at it's base. Note the heavy doors and concrete parking pad next to the entrance.

These photos detail the interior space of the bunker and the ladder running into the tower.

Although also built of modular sections, this new generation was larger, heavier and more care was taken to insure they were built on a firm footing. Construction could take up to two weeks depending on the specific location. Access to the roof was gained by a hatch, communication and overall living conditions were improved. When they first appeared in the 2/11 sector, these towers seemed to be filling in gaps in the visual coverage as time and funds allowed, perhaps the plan may have been to actually replace the round towers although this would have been expensive.

--Erwin Ritter

As noted, the Border Troops divided the responsibility for their patrolling and control of the border into regiment -- then battalion -- and finally company areas of responsibility. Not all towers were manned at all times to avoid creating a pattern, however, through the tower and bunker system assisted by vehicle and foot patrols, dog runs and remote sensors plus air coverage, a very tight control was maintained. The command towers, shorter and wider than the standard observation towers were manned at all times and were the control center of each border company in their security efforts. Some were closer to the actual border trace than others they maintained a full array of both land line and fm communications plus the ability to react and marshal forces as necessary should a potential escape to the West be detected.

There were certainly more towers in our sector than bunkers. I can only remember three or four locations with any certainty and they were staffed only periodically. There was a joke it was more of a punishment to the troops than an actual method to control the border.

Nevertheless, bunkers were another option for the East German border troop commander. They appeared to have a fairly large underground space, based on the air vent pipes seen in the photos. After the border opened, it was learned that several additional bunkers were located at controlling points associated with the Eussenhausen Crossing Point.

The dog on leash and cable system was a "point" defense / alert mechanism. The dog is tethered to a leash, the leash is then attached by a truck to the overhead wire that represented the limit of the dog run. This wire can only be suspended at the ends anything intermediate would block the travel of the " truck ". At best, a 20 meter run before the sag effect of the overhead cable would set in. We had a few of these in the Eaglehorse sector. The East Germans provided a dog house to allow the animal an escape from the weather. In our sector, dog runs were seen but were not a key part of the security system. It appears as though they were used in areas outside the normal field of view from the towers. If a stranger approached, the barking of the dog would alert the guards.

A dog "runway" is a narrow, fenced on both sides, long course in which the dog is otherwise free to roam and bark. This is more of an "area" alert mechanism because the runway can be much longer than a wire run. In a runway, however, the dog can only alert by barking, the dog on tether system actually allowed for the possibility of an intercept if one tried to cross in his small area. The "dog runways" in our sector were located deep in the security zone, well back from the actual border. In other parts along the dividing line in Germany, dog runways were integrated into the barrier plan much closer to the actual border.

The border system used thousands of trained dogs, both for sentry work with a handler or alone on runs and run ways. The trained position of Dog Handler was highly sought after by the Border Troops. When the border collapsed in 1990, there was much concern over the fate of these animals. Active adoption programs found civilian homes for the vast majority.

BTs training with dogs --Erwin Ritter

The Hinterland Fence, also called the Signal Fence, did not have land or fence mounted mines, but there were a variety of measures to alert Border Troops to any attempted crossing. The fence was wired with a variety of motion detecting sensors and trip wires. Some would signal silent alarms at the Border Troop command towers, others would trigger flashing warning lights and loud horns at the point where motion was detected.

Warning lights mounted high on poles above the Hinterland Fence

The Hinterland fence, control zone, Border Troop installations and barrier fence with high voltage lights and sensors all required a constant supply of electricity. The supporting power grid was built to insure that even in the harsh German winter, the supply would be uninterrupted, even at the expense of blacking out near by areas outside of the security zone.

Entry points at the Hinterland fence were closely controlled. Seen here, an open automated barrier in the lower right of the photo, on a road leading to the Hinterland fence. The second photo is a detail of an actual entry gate at the Hinterland / Signal Fence.


When either the Hinterland fence or the barrier fence passed through an East German town, rather than using the standard fence materials, a concrete wall reinforced with metal plates was used. This was because the town streets and population were more difficult to observe and control by the Border Troops. The wall was strong enough to withstand the impact of any civilian car or truck authorized in or near the security zone.

--Erwin Ritter

Before one would even see the "Hinterland" fence, road control points began to carefully monitor traffic heading into the border region. Anyone without correct credentials or a pass would be turned away. Once past this check point, monitoring continued to insure the stated destination was reached.

The East German civil police, Volkspolizei, had responsibility for control of access leading to the Hinterland fence. Control points on the civil roads such as this one were located approximately five kilometers from the actual border. Passage was granted only to people either living in the Hinterland area or having specific business in the area. Once reaching the gates at Hinterland fence, the East German Border Troops would carefully check all traffic prior to allowing entry.

In the Eaglehorse border area, the East German barrier system was manned by personnel from two different border regiments. The northern and central portion of our area was staffed by Border Troops of the 2nd battalion, Grenzregiment 3, HQ located in the town of Kaltennordheim. This regiment carried the honor title of " Florian Geyer ". The southern portion of our sector was manned by Border Troops of Regiment 9, honor title " Konrad Blenkle ". Regimental HQ and the 3rd battalion were at Drachenberg Kaserne in Meiningen. The 3rd battalion, however, was responsible for the security at the Hinterland fence and the internal restricted area. The barrier fence in the southern zone was staffed by men of the 1st battalion, HQ in Roemhild, a small town very close to our southern patrol boundary.

Typically, the line companies of the Border Troop battalions occupied their own separate barracks located inside the restricted zone in a village within their patrol area. The barracks consisted of billets for the soldiers, a motor pool and shop as well as an administration building. Married officers and higher level NCO's typically lived in private dwellings in or near the same village. Each company consisted of about 120 men at full strength, three regular platoons and the GAK (Grenzaufklarer) platoon. The GAK's were those Border Troops seen at close range, on the western side of the barrier fence, either providing security during construction or observing the West. The GAK's were the elite of the Border Troop units.

Although half of the Border Troops were conscripts and had a high replacement rate as their tour of duty ended, the career soldiers, NCO's and officers provided a stable and well trained cadre. Much of their training was similar to the soldiers of the East German Army and in fact, they had heavy equipment to include tanks and artillery located outside of the border area. Border Troop regiments were part of a command subordinate to the Ministry of Defense but outside of the command structure of the Army. In the event of war, they had missions inside the border area extending into West Germany.

The pay and benefits for the Border Troops was comparable to that given to members of the East Germany Army. Each pay grade had a salary rate, soldiers serving in technical or command positions received extra pay while serving in those capacities. Longevity in pay grade led to an increase. In 1980 East German Marks, a private in his second year of service would receive about 180 marks monthly. A mid level NCO, about 350. This same NCO, if serving as a squad leader could receive as much as a 100% increase. If on "career status" he could also be entitled to up to 38 days of leave. Small deductions were made for living in the barracks and for meals .

Duty days were long and the six day work week common. Off duty time was restricted to the immediate area of the company barracks or nearby village. When not on actual border duty, there were normal military and security training events as well as mandatory organized sports. No civilian clothes were allowed for the junior enlisted men. Any attempt at contact with the West or possession of Western media was a highly punishable offense. Internal security in the barracks to include peer monitoring was stressed to insure anyone giving thought to an escape to the West was identified.

Barracks friends were not assigned to the same duty patrols to prevent collusion.

There were extensive training programs to include schools and academies for both NCO's and officers. Both political education and on going security training were stressed at all levels it was a professional organization with a sworn honor code to protect the security of the East German state. In this capacity, they had " shoot to kill orders " to prevent escape from East Germany. During the history of the barrier fence system, nearly 1000 deaths due to gun fire, mines or injuries received while attempting to escape were recorded.

After Germany reunified, a long legal battle led to indictments of senior Border Troop commanders as well as rank and file soldiers as the new government in Berlin struggled with the legacy of the barrier system. In certain cases, manslaughter convictions resulted with prision terms of up to ten years for the guilty.

Within the Eaglehorse sector, the former regimental headquarters at Drachenberg in Meiningen is now a civilian police academy. Of the company size barracks scattered along the former trace, some have been redeveloped into low income housing, others partially converted to industrial space and some are vacant and in decay.

Border Troop awards ceremony at Eishausen, 1989.
--Erwin Ritter

The Frankenheim Border Troop company barracks in our
northern patrol sector. --Ritter

Company size barracks at town of Erbenhausen central
part of Eaglehorse patrol sector.

Award being presented to departing Border Troop
company commander, 1979.
--Stefanowicz / GT der DRR Heft

The companies of Border Troops, to secure the border barrier system, used a variety of mobile patrols. Often seen on the control road were any number of light wheel vehicles and trucks. Dismounted patrols carefully checking the plowed strip as well as motorcycle patrols were also common. These images, both of actual events seen on our border and scans from Border Troop manuals and recruiting brochures reflect typical scenes.

The East German Border Troops covered the barrier system from the air with military utility helicopters flying from an airfield near Meiningen. At least in the late 1970's, flights did not appear to be a daily occurrence and, in comparison to the Cav flights which hugged the actual border trace at low altitude and high speed, the East German flights were higher and somewhat back from the border. Normally seen were NATO named ' Hoplites ' and less frequently, the larger 'Hip'. Starting in the mid 1980's, even the very capable MI - 24 'Hind" was occasionally seen from the Eaglehorse sector. As the border opened but before the DDR collapsed, Erwin Ritter had the chance to get some close photographs.


--Erwin Ritter

--Pilots, 4/11 ACR

An MI - 24 Hind above a command tower
as seen from OP Tennessee.--Erwin Ritter

The East Germans laid over 1.3 million anti personnel mines along the border from 1961 until 1985. Their only purpose was to prevent crossing from East to West. Along the border, to include the Eaglehorse sector, the mines fell into two groups, the buried land mines found between the two close running fence lines of the second generation barrier system and the fence mounted " shot gun " mines found on the single fence lines of the third generation barrier.

Interestingly, as of 1985, the West German government was offering financial aid to the DDR linked specifically to the clearing of the ground mines. Even after the reunification of the two Germanys with the great economic and technological assistance of the former West Germany, it was not until late 1995 that the Federal Government certified that the last areas of the former border region were free of land mines. The final section cleared was by Hof, not too far to the southeast of the Eaglehorse sector. In 1995 US dollars, the final cost of clearing the border region in Germany of mines and barriers was put at over 142 million. For more information on mines and East German engineer troop activities, please see the " Engineer Troops " tab.

This sign, from the Eaglehorse sector in 1977, " Attention . Mines . Barrier . Danger to Your Life " found on a run of 2nd generation barrier fence. The sign faces to the West, of no help to a potential escapee. --Tartella

Seen in the center of the frame, an anti personnel mine, pulled to the surface and rolled on it's side by the frost. A common scene along the second generation fence lines.--Erwin Ritter

Border Troop engineers on a dangerous hunt for mines in the area between the two fences of a second generation barrier run. They wear padded uniforms, special helmets and carry wooden poles to prod for ground mines. --Erwin Ritter

Searching for mines by hand, a group of engineer troops clears a run of second generation fence prior to upgrade. Note ambulance in upper right corner of photo. --Tartella

In this photo, we are standing in West Germany but looking along the back of a run of third generation fence line. Two SM 70 mines can be seen they appear as small, gray rectangular boxes attached to the fence. Metal outriggers that maintain the position of the trip wires can clearly be seen. --Erwin Ritter

As the barrier evolved to the third generation, single fence, the East Germans retired the unreliable ground mines in favor of the SM 70 " hot gun" mine, mounted to the concrete support posts of the inside runs of the new style fence. Clearly seen in this photo, the mine could be triggered by a trip wire or by signal from a command tower. On occasion, West German civilians would toss stones at the fences to try and trigger the mines. --Erwin Ritter

Although from the same Border Troop companies, there was a significant distinction between those BT's seen on the Eastern side of the fence, in the towers and on the roads, and those seen at close quarters on the Western side of the barrier . usually providing security when the fence was being worked on.

This latter groups, called GAK's (Grenze Aufklarers) (border reconnaissance) represented a specific sub set of the Border Troops. They had received additional training in security and reconnaissance skills and gone through a very carefully screening and selection process. They were considered the elite of the Border Troop ranks. Nevertheless, over the history of the inner German border, well over 100 of these specialized troops defected to the West.

All photos courtesy of Erwin Ritter

Both East and West saw the border as a rich area for signals intercept. Within the Eaglehorse sector, just visible to the naked eye was the " Bee Hive " antenna array by Ellenbogen. This was an East German state intelligence service signals intercept point. Featured are four fotos showing the Ellenbogen complex at various distances. Once the border opened and East Germany began to fall apart, Erwin Ritter drove to the site and took several close ups of the antennas.

Also visible from the Eaglehorse sector was the Soviet Army radio intercept base at "Grosse Gleichberg", near the East German town of Rhomhild. This could be seen in the distance from the vicinity of Breitensee, in the southern portion of our responsibility.

A standard US patrol area of concern were the temporary Soviet signals collection points established a few kilometers back from the barriers during periods of large NATO maneuvers. This image of Hill 805 shows just such a collection point.

[All photos courtesy Erwin Ritter]

Also stationed in Meiningen in support of Grenzregiment 9 was a separate engineer company. They provided barrier related maintenance and construction support to include such tasks as third generation barrier transitions of both towers and fence systems. The barrier fence evolution from the parallel fences to the new style single fence was a simple enough procedure. The de- mining of the center strip posed many problems. The mines shifted in position due to frost heaves and erosion they were not always stable. Although the smallest anti - personnel mines had been placed, recovery or detonation proved to be dangerous work for even highly trained soldiers. A variety of methods were used to include mine rollers and flails built on T54 chassis. On occasion, it was necessary for soldiers to search for mines with wooden or fiberglass poles. One tracked utility vehicle had a large screen built into the side to protect the engineers as they searched with long poles. At certain times, it was necessary for the soldiers to dismount and rely on the protection afforded by special body armor and head - face shields.

The DDR devoted enormous resources to build, staff and upgrade the border barrier system. There were, however, a few legal crossing points one of which was located in the Eaglehorse sector, by the village of Eussenhausen, just to the east of OP Sierra / OP Tennessee.

Overhead view of the East German control and inspection point at the Eussenhausen Crossing point. --Erwin Ritter

As the border evolved from a simple wire fence to a deeply echeloned barrier system, the East Germans began to add guard towers to more fully control the area. The first generation towers were built of wood. In the Eaglehorse sector, these had all been replaced by the second generation concrete towers by the early 1970's.

Rules and agreements developed over the years help to partially defuse potential flash points along the East - West German border. Members of the US Army, unless they were part of the border surveillance mission, were prohibited from being within one kilometer of the border. The Bundeswehr was also prohibited from this region. In East Germany, the Volks Armee, the regular military, and the Soviet Army likewise were not allowed into the 1 kilometer zone.

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