By John Terraine
|RFC BE2 Equipped with Camera
In general, 1915 was a miserable year for the BEF, with every kind of equipment in short supply. On the other hand, it was also a period of experiment and incubation of what, in some cases, turned out to be priceless new techniques. As one novelty breeds another, photo reconnaissance, having appeared, was much in demand—and so, on both sides of the line, was prevention of enemy photography, leading quite naturally to air combat, in turn calling for specialized aircraft . . . the necessity to seize and hold air supremacy was perceived [by] 1915.
1915...saw the first step taken toward the ultimate war-winner. In the artillery war...in the words of two Royal Artillery brigadiers, who have researched firepower with such authority...the "starting point" and pivot was the Royal Flying Corps pilot.
The artillery war was, from the first, almost entirely conducted by "indirect fire," i.e. the gunners of all armies were normally shooting at invisible targets. This made possession of an accurate map essential—accurate, that is to say, to within 15 to 20 yards. No such thing existed in 1915, so the decision was taken to have one made by the newly formed Field Survey Companies of the Royal Engineers, working closely with the RFC. From this derived many hours of tedious but highly dangerous photographic flying for the RFC, but for the artillery the opportunity came to restore surprise and precision to battle—which it duly did at Cambrai in November 1917. And this technique, in the hands of [both] the Germans and Allies in 1918, supplied the key to unlocking the trench-bound front.
|Effective Artillery Broke the Trench Stalemate in 1918
[For the British Army] this could not have been done without the RFC, and in conjunction with the rest of its day-in, day-out cooperation with the Royal Artillery. This constituted in my opinion the most important contribution of the Royal Flying Corps to winning the war.