The first book in 90 years dedicated to the daring and courage of the airmen and mechanics of the Australian Flying Corps—a tale of a war fought thousands of feet above the trenches
"I half rolled, and there before my eyes was as perfect a target as I had ever seen in my life. A pressure of a thumb, a short burst, a puff of smoke, a flash of flame, a hole on the clouds—and it was over." —Lieutenant Robert McKenzie, No. 2 Squadron Australian Flying Corps
When World War I began in August 1914, airplanes were a novelty, barely a decade old. Despite this, Australia was one of just a few nations outside Europe to establish a military flying school and corps. From a first class of four student pilots the Australian Flying Corps would grow to number almost 4000 by the armistice. Its young volunteers were pioneers in a completely new dimension of warfare as they struggled for control of the skies over the Western Front and Middle East. Using private letters, diaries, and official records, historian Michael Molkentin reveals, for the first time in more than 90 years, the remarkable story of the airmen and mechanics of the Australian Flying Corps. It is a tale of heroism and endurance; of a war fought thousands of feet above the trenches in aircraft of timber and fabric—no radios, parachutes, or oxygen . Fire in the Sky takes readers up into this chaotic tumult and into the midst of a war from which only one in two Australian airmen emerged unscathed.
There are many books covering Australia's involvement in World War I, but not so many that concentrate on our involvement in the air war. This book fills that gap excellently.
The first half of the book covers the Middle East, which is where the first Australian squadron was based. The author combines a mix of action reports, and stories about some of the individuals involved. Through this story, the book presents the way that the air war developed as leaders gained a better understanding of the capabilities of aircraft, and as the capabilities of aircraft increased.
The second half of the book covers the western front, where Australian squadrons were involved later, but the conflict was far more intense.
Overall, this is an excellent book for anyone who has an interest in the air war in the First World War, and the beginnings of what would become the RAAF.
When the First World War began in August 1914, aeroplanes were a novelty, barely 10yo. Despite this, Australia was one of just a few nations outside Europe to establish a military flying school and corps. From a first class of four student pilots the Australian Flying Corps would grow to number almost 4000 by the armistice. Its young volunteers were pioneers in a completely new dimension of warfare as they struggled for control of the skies over the Western Front and Middle East.Historian Michael Molkentin reveals, for the first time in over 90 years, the remarkable story of the airmen and mechanics of the Australian Flying Corps. It is a tale of heroism and endurance; of a war fought thousands of feet above the trenches in aircraft of timber and fabric.The book takes readers up into this chaotic tumult and into the midst of a war from which only 1 in 2 Australian airmen emerged unscathed.In 1911,at the Imperial Conference held in London, it was decided that aviation should be developed by the various national armed forces of the British Empire.Australia became the first member of the Empire to follow this policy.The AFC was established in 1912, though it was not until 1914 that it began flight training. AFC units were made for service overseas with the AIF during WWI.They operated initially in the Mesopotamian Campaign.The AFC later saw action in Palestine and France. A training wing was established in the United Kingdom. The corps remained part of the Australian Army until it was disbanded in 1919.In 1921, it was re-established as the independent RAAF.The AFC operated a range of aircraft types.These types were mainly of British origin, although a number of French aircraft were also obtained. Over this period aircraft technology progressed rapidly and designs included relatively fragile and rudimentary types to more advanced single-engined biplanes, as well as one twin-engined bomber. The roles performed by aircraft evolved during the war and included reconnaissance, artillery observation, aerial bombing and ground attack,patrolling, and the resupply of ground troops on the battlefield by airdrop.
This is an unusual book for me to have read. My great uncle was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps and was killed in 1916. That's why I read this book. I found it interesting. I learned how typical of Australian pilots my great uncle was: he had fought in Gallipoli; he was in the Light Horse; he had a private school education - there was a class basis for accepting pilots - and he was killed within 2 weeks of entering the war - a higher percentage of pilots who were killed were inexperienced. The flying corps had a very high rate of death and injury and yet the myth existed - which my uncle told his sister - my grandmother - that it was safer than the trenches. This was absolutely false.
The first part of the book is about the battles in Palestine. I found it odd to read all this war story without any context. The British were there to secure the oil pipeline coming from Iraq and Iran. It was all part of the story that still goes on today. But there, I am a reader of history and recently read Peter Frankopan's Silk Roads. I couldn't put that aside in my mind, but this is a history of the Australian Flying Corps and doesn't concern itself with why they were even there.
And the other thing I couldn't get my head around was the glee and enjoyment the airmen took in slaughtering the Turks, the Germans. There are some really horrific scenes described here and words like 'good sport' are used. It is sad that in times of war people are capable to divorcing themselves from the horror of mass killing. I especially was disturbed by the idea of bombing trains and railway stations full of Germans who were retreating.
Still, I am glad I read this book. It did give me insight into my great uncle's life and the certainly brave men who risked their lives for what they believed was right.
A thoroughly enjoyable read covering the achievements of the AFC in the First World War. Readers will be surprised to learn just how much Australia was involved in flying during this period. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Australia aviation.
This was a great book, I enjoyed it and learnt a lot. It has many entries from the dairies of the pilots, mechanics and observers in the AFC. It's especially sad though because you often hear the story's of the men who die. A good read.