Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Eyes All Over the Sky: Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War
reviewed by Terrence J. Finnegan

Eyes All Over the Sky: Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War

by James Streckfuss
Casemate, 2016

The basic element of war is uncertainty. The man who developed an organization to make a business of getting the latest information of the inevitable changes, and who then would act, was the man who created and conducted a successful war organization.
H.A. Toulmain, Jr., Air Service, AEF, 1918 
(Quoted in Eyes All Over the Sky)

Camera Mounted on
French MF-11 Aircraft
Dr. James Streckfuss believes that the real value of aviation in the Great War has only been acknowledged within the past decade, and his Eyes All Over the Sky makes a convincing argument that aerial reconnaissance well merits this belated recognition. The book is a very welcome addition to the growing library of aviation history, providing a broad view of how aviation contributed to the industrial production of information and intelligence that governed the way 20th-century battles were fought and evolved up to the present day. Also, the author provides a comprehensive overview of aviation's growth, culling from a vast array of sources that allow the reader to appreciate why aviation meant more to military leadership and the combatants as they acquired vital information that was successfully processed and disseminated.

Eyes All Over the Sky's primary sources are chiefly drawn from British and American archives. French and German insights are also introduced, however, which further reinforce the arguments made that aviation's evolution goes well beyond the ability to shoot down an enemy airplane. What the reader learns from Eyes All Over the Sky is that all combatants furthered aerodynamics, flying capabilities, techniques of information acquisition, and processes for getting the word out faster and more effectively.

Aviation's ability to conduct aerial reconnaissance greatly exceeded anyone's expectations prior to the war. Streckfuss's subject goes beyond the traditional review of aeroplanes at the front and provides an in-depth review of the important role played by airships and captive balloons. Additional insight on the role of maritime reconnaissance further complements the argument of how aviation benefited all facets of combat in the war.

Photographic Mosaic of No Man's Land, Early War Period

Eyes All Over the Sky reminds the reader that aviation's legacy from the First World War underwent realignment in the inter-war period. It is amazing to think that almost a century passed before proper attention was given to aerial reconnaissance from this most important of conflicts. This book is a must for any aviation enthusiast to further complement work on aerial reconnaissance in modern warfare!

Terrence J. Finnegan