Marvel of Flight – Aerial Combat

A Centennial Action
Aerial Combat in 1917

While the marvel of flight was still relatively new and exciting at the turn of 1914, the technological advances of wartime now made it something to be feared and despised. For those at the front, enemy aeroplanes overhead often brought bombs, machine gun fire, and artillery bombardments. Ironically, aerial combat also served as a sort of entertainment and escape for the men watching the skies from the misery of the trenches.

Canadian crews scramble into action with their anti-aircraft guns in October 1916.  
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-000974.

While fighting on the outskirts of Lens, just prior to moving to the Souchez River area in May 1917, Canadian Sniper/Scout/Observer Frank S. Iriam witnessed the following account of aerial combat:

“We one day saw an aeroplane fall nearly all the way to the earth from an elevation of over 20,000 feet. The plane was a Farnum Pusher type… some of the controls must have jammed with him starting to fall over, and over endwise, sidewise head first, tail first, and spinning as a wheel, down, down, down. Men [in the trenches] ran, climbing up on any convenient elevation, to watch breathlessly what we thought was going to be another fatal tragedy played out before our eyes. He fell so near to the earth that he was hidden by our view by some tall buildings.

At the last possible moment the pilot succeeded in righting the plane, straightened it out and flew away… an exhibition of cool-headed bravery along with a few other things… You should have heard the roar that went up from the thousands of fighting men..” (Glenn R. Iriam, In The Trenches 1914-1918, p. 187).

 

A Canadian ration party visits an anti-aircraft crew armed with a Lewis gun (see the “stove-pipe” pointed skywards) in December 1917. 
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002300.