This is an unusual book in that it ties a period of the fighting in the air over the Western Front very firmly to events on the ground. Often accounts of the air war in the First World War take place almost in a vacuum, often with a great deal of focus on the clashes between the fighter aces and on the technology of the scout aircraft. That isn't the case here. Instead Hart focuses on how the fighting in the air related to the battle of the Somme - what the RFC was attempting to achieve and why, and how that related to the various battles in the air. We still do get the key technological developments, and the stories of the main fighter aces involved in the battle, but here they form part of a wider picture and don't dominate.
The RFC had two main tasks during the battle of the Somme - first to fly reconnaissance missions over the German lines, supporting both infantry attacks and artillery bombardment, and second to prevent the Germans from flying their own reconnaissance. Throughout the battle the RFC successfully performed both tasks, and the technological and tactical details had more impact on the cost of the fighting rather than its course. For much of the battle the RFC had the better aircraft, but by the autumn of 1916 that had changed. The Germans were able to inflict heavy losses on the RFC, but were unable to prevent the RFC from carrying out its tasks.
This is a fascinating book, looking at the air war over the Western Front in a far more relevant way than is often the case. Most air operations were planned around the fighting on the ground, but that aspect is rarely given enough emphasis in books on the aircraft of the First World War, so the clear connection between the two that is made here is of great value.
1 - In the Beginning…
2 - An Aerial Offensive
3 - A Perfect Summer Day
4 - July: Masters of the Air
5 - August: The Fight Goes On
6 - September: The Tide Turns
7 - October: Clinging on…
8 - November: Full Circle
Author: Peter Hart
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2012 edition of 2001 original