The French Air Force in the First World War...


...a new Images of War book from Pen and Sword


Title: The French Air Force in the First World War

Author: Ian Sumner

Publisher: Pen and Sword Books

ISBN: 978-1-52670-179-4

Author Ian Sumner has come up trumps for me with his new addition to the Images of War series from Pen and Sword.  While there have been many books on the subject of WW1, this one covers a subject I knew little about beforehand.  While perhaps I knew a little about the fighters and the French fighter aces before, but this goes so much further in exploring the wider subject of French military aviation in WW1.

As pointed out in the introduction, it was only in 1903 that the Wright brothers made that first flight in a heavier than air machine and aviation was really still only in its' infancy by the time war broke out in 1914, and the military role of aircraft was still a subject of debate (and disagreements!) as well as development.  Then the book is split into 7 chapters, each of which has a couple of pages if text that sets the scene, followed by a selection of archive photos, each of which has even more information within their individual captions.  Chapter 1 deals with the pre-war period, the establishment of the French air force, pilot training and pictures showing not only the people involved but some of the flimsy machines they flew.  Chapter 2 tackles the roles of artillery spotting and reconnaissance, missions seen as the particular benefit of aircraft over balloons, and balloons and even man-lifting kites are among the photos.  In chapter 3, 'Giving them Something to Think About' tackles the bomber, including seaplanes.  Air to Air combat and he task of developing the Fighter comes in with chapter 4, before chapter 5, which concentrates on the efforts to defend Paris itself.  Defences pictured include high angle mountings for anti-aircraft guns, sound locators and even the use of the Metro as air raid shelters.  Chapter 6 goes under the title of 'Fit for Service', with the development of different aircraft types and the manufacturers and has some of my favourite pictures in the book, showing factories, parts stores, and maintenance parks along with some weird and wonderful looking machines.  The final chapter considers the state of the French Air Force in the last year of the war, and how it had learnt lessons and adapted over the war years.

Pretty much all of the photos in this one  are new to publication, and some of the machines we see I don't think I had seen before.  So lots to see in this one that were new to me.  For the aircraft enthusiast and particularly for modellers  lots of useful references and plenty of ideas for some dioramas as well.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.