To what extent did the aerial forces of the First World War impact the course of the war and its outcome?
“The day has passed when armies on the ground or navies on the sea can be the arbiter of a nation's destiny in war. The main power of defense and the power of initiative against an enemy has passed to the air.” -Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. November, 1918.
The Italo-Turkish war, which lasted from 1911-12 and was predominantly fought in Libya, was the first recorded event of a bomb dropped from an aeroplane onto the enemy. The 1912-13 Balkans also witnessed elementary aerial bombing executed against the opponent from aeroplanes and airships. However, World War One was the first major conflict to implement forces on a large
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Throughout the course of the war, roughly 30,000 officers and 300,000 enlisted men served in either the RFC or RNAS. This figure of men who served in the aerial branches of the British military made up only 6% of the 5,397,000 British soldiers mobilized in the Great War.Of the men who served in the RFC and RNAS, 6,166 were killed; 7,245 were wounded; 3,128 became missing or POWs; and 84 were interned. Therefore, the total number of casualties sustained by the RFC and RNAS was 16,623, which was only 5% of the total number who served in air services. Of the 2,367,000 British military casualties in the war, less than 1% of that figure was comprised of RFC or RNAS casualties. Similarly, of the 5,952,000 German war casualties, only 16,000 of those were members of the Luftstreitkräfte. We can gather from this statistical analysis that the British and German (similar trends for the air forces of other nations) air forces did not have a great quantitative presence in the war in comparison to the other military branches of WWI. Furthermore, because WWI was a war in which success and victory relied heavily upon the number of troops deployed, the combat contributions made by aerial forces cannot measure up to the combat contributions made by the armies and navies of WWI. Military aviation was still in its prototypical stage, which prevented it from making a serious impact on the