Page:EB1922 - Volume 30.djvu/124

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.
90
AIR DEFENCE


raphy for directional and position-finding purposes would almost entirely neutralize any such work if it were attempted, on account of the size of the target. (See also CAMOUFLAGE.) ///. Forms of Attack. The effects of bombing are moral and material. There is no doubt that the moral effect is far greater than the material particularly in thickly populated districts where self-control, as a general rule, will be found lacking in the population to a greater degree than amongst armed forces in the field. No result decisive to a campaign has been brought about by a raid of any kind of itself alone. This fact will probably be true of aircraft bombing operations, provided that a country has taken suitable precautions in peace against the chance of an overwhelming attack at the very outbreak of war. Written evidence was found during the war of the nervous appre- hension reigning in a certain German town after the British special raiding force known as the " Independent Force, R.A.F.," had been operating for a comparatively short time. One of the inhabitants described a night of terror in which Allied aeroplanes had come in the early night and dropped their bombs and gone away. No sooner had the inhabitants come out of their shelters to go to bed than they were again summoned under cover, and the bomb dropping was repeated. Again they went to bed, and again they had to take cover the performance continuing in this manner for some three or four hours. As a matter of fact one solitary Allied aeroplane paid a single visit to the town that night ; the rest of the raid was purely imaginary, and the result of demoralization ! Over another large town six long air raids took place during eight nights. One effect was that the clothing output from that district was temporarily reduced by 80% a serious matter for the army, as a large proportion of the force was depending on the district for its clothing. Bombing operations over disciplined forces in the field consti- tute on the whole a form of annoyance rather than a potential danger, provided that store and ammunition dep&ts are so designed as to be separated from each other, and subdivided within them- selves, in such a way that a fire arising in one section may be prop- erly isolated and prevented from spreading to its neighbours. Inter- ference with movements of troops and stores by rail can be, and has been, caused by low-flying bombing machines. Airship Attack. Airships form targets of great size, and, if fiDed with inflammable gas as were those of the Central Em- pires during the war are objects of considerable danger to their crews. If and when a suitable non-inflammable gas is discovered which can be produced cheaply for commercial purposes, the airship will become a serious factor in air-defence considerations. It possesses greater endurance, radius of action, carrying capacity, accommodation, and facilities for observation than " heavier- than-air " machines. Meteorological conditions, however, will always militate more against the free use of airships than of aeroplanes, which possess higher powers of manoeuvre and performance. During the war bombing operations by airships were not intentionally undertaken by the Germans over land targets by day, but ships at sea were frequently made the objects of such attention between dusk and dawn. Airships intending to attack land objectives in the British Is. used to leave their sheds by day, and make their landfall . while still over the North Sea. There they would wait until it was dark enough to cross the coastline without prospect of serious interference, and make for their various objectives as a rule more or less independently, but sometimes in pairs. The return journeys were made in- dependently. It has been held that at night it is hardly necessary to attack with more than one airship at a time, but there is no doubt whatever that simultaneous attacks by two or more airships on the same course add enormously to the difficulties of the defence. The German raid on London during the night of Sept. 23-4 1916 affords a notable instance of airships setting out to attack in pairs, but failing to carry out their intention. L3I and L$2 sailed on the task in company and reached Dungeness together. Thence LSI, commanded by a bold and skilful pilot, set her course straight across London at high speed, and eventually won through. Her consort hesitated, and was lost. LSI passed over Purley and Croydon, and dropped a very brilliant flare as she turned on a northerly course. This undoubtedly had the effect of distracting the ground defences from herself; for she was scarcely seen as she passed over the metropolis, and bombed it heavily without damage to herself. She reached home in safety. L32 waited near Dungeness for about 40 minutes, and then flew north over Tunbridge Wells, instead of following LSI. She avoided London, and dropped her bombs between Westerham and Ocken- ham. Near Billericay she was destroyed by fire. Although there would appear to be much to commend such a course, " fleet " movements of airships in formation with the intention of bombing were not carried out by the Germans. However, it does not necessarily follow that a big attack of airships, either by themselves or convoyed by aeroplanes, will not form part of an extensive bombing operation in the future. The arrival of such an aerial flotilla over a capital city at the very outset of a war would do much to spread despondency and alarm; and if such a fleet succeeded in getting away unscathed, the attack might suffice to overturn all government in the state attacked. Aeroplane and Seaplane Attack. Bombing aeroplanes ' by reason of their speed, difficulty of destruction from the ground, and comparative ease of handling in unfavourable weather, form the most serious factor in air attack. The first aeroplane raid on London by day took place about noon on Nov. 28 1916. This was carried out by a two-seater machine carrying about half a dozen light bombs and flying at a high al- titude. It was a courageous effort. Engine trouble brought the pilot to the ground on French territory, where he was cap- tured with his observer. London was covered with clouds of dust which prevented all but a very few from ever seeing the machine. The success of the effort made it all the more surprising that it was never repeated; subsequent attacks in daylight were all made by machines flying together in considerable numbers and not singly. The most notable was that which took place on July 7 1917. Before Sept. 1917, only a single attack on London was made by aeroplane by night. In that particular case (May 6-7 1917) the attack was made by a solitary machine which dropped most of its bombs on Hackney Marshes. With these two exceptions, aeroplane and seaplane raids on Eng- land by day and night were limited practically to coastwise towns and shipping at anchor till the beginning of Sept. 1917, when aeroplane attacks on London by night were commenced seriously. These seem to have been made at first by machines in groups of three to five in number, but at the end of the same month, tne groups appear generally to have split up on reaching the English coast, each machine taking its own line independently from that time onwards. Machine-gun fire from low-flying aeroplanes and seaplanes will be encountered wherever targets present themselves: troops in action, in camp, or on the march, transport in movement, troops crowded on shipboard. But here again the principal effect will be moral rather than material. Where ships lie at anchor in open roadsteads, or in harbours which offer a direct line of approach from the sea of moderate length, seaplanes will find targets vulnerable by the marine torpedo. The launching of the torpedo involves a close approach by the torpedo- carrying machine to the surface of the sea, and complete occupa- tion for the crew of the machine. These facts render it necessary that such machines be escorted by one or more fighting machines, whose duty it is to protect them from attacks by air and if possible from fire from the shore and ships. Various methods of active pro- tection suggest themselves the destruction of the machine, harass- ing its aim, or deflecting the torpedo during the launching process. Photography of the ground for intelligence purposes forms a highly important feature in aircraft work. With good lenses, pho- tographic machines can do their work at immense heights, thus rendering their detection by the defence a matter of considerable difficulty. Aeroplanes on hostile patrol constitute an armed guard whose duty it is to seek for enemy machines. Such patrols form targets for air defence formations when they are within range and the air forces proper are not at hand to take up their challenge. Friendly machines acting as auxiliaries to ground operations especially artillery machines observing the results of gun fire are '.The paragraphs which follow are applicable also in the main to seaplanes. Nevertheless the typical differences between the two classes are not without importance from the point of view of the preparations against attack by one or the other. The principal difference is that seaplanes require no landing ground or special arrangements for landing on ships. They can also take in their fuel from ships. On the other hand they find difficulty in " taking off " in rough water. Their powers of manoeuvre are, however, com- paratively limited. They come chiefly into the consideration of coastal air defence, owing to the necessity they are under of landing on water. But amphibious machines are certain developments of the near future, and wide canals such as that between Bruges and Zeebrugge have served as landing places and enabled seaplanes to operate from a point inland and safe from interference from the sea.