World War I saw the first large-scale military use of aircraft as a weapons attack platform, prior to this observation balloons tethered to the ground were deployed in a number of wars. At the outset of the War to End All Wars aeroplanes were in its infancy as weapons deployment platforms during military conflicts, at first coming into service as reconnaissance platforms. Engineers and pilots collectively gained knowledge from both successful as well as failed experiences and experimental work, which soon led to specialised developments that were to be deployed as aerial fight attack craft, ground attack fighters, aerial bombers and later heavy bomber aeroplanes.
The first high-ranking officers were appointed to control and direct the air war effort of belligerent nations that ended up facing off in conflict. During WW I aircraft made their impact felt in a mainly tactical manner in comparison to the strategic effects air forces had on the outcome of the second global conflict, most importantly leading officers that the value of direct cooperation between air and ground forces, thus foreshadowing the strategic application of aircraft in all future conflicts. This world war gave rise to the world’s first Air Aces, heroes like:
German, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthoven aka The Red Baron, originally a cavalryman, in his favoured Fokker Dreidecker attributed with 80 confirmed victories, became a national hero and leader of Jagdgeschwader 1, the most accomplished ace of WW I – Killed In Action on 21 April 1918.
Frenchman, Rene Paul Fonck, flew a SPAD XII while serving as a squadron member that was the world’s first fighter wing, became an Officer of the Legion of Honour and later Commander of the Legion of Honour through his accomplishments, still holds the record as the all-time Allied Ace of Aces with 75 confirmed victories out of 145 claimed and survived the war. He was never shot down
World War II
These men took to the air on a daily basis to test themselves their machines and their opponents past the limit till one emerged victorious and one did not return to base. These men that flew the best technology available in their time, created legends far greater than the physical man or machine to create memories in our hearts and minds, legendary flying aces that melded man and machine into a living cohesive unit to perform unparalleled actions during aerial battle, one half of the unit included men to be remembered, some survived, some did not, while testing themselves in service of their country, men like:
German, Erich Alfred “Bubi” Hartmann aka The Black Devil remains the most accomplished fighter ace of all time with 352 air victories, during 1404 combat missions where he faced off against his country’s enemies in 825 aerial battles. He crash landed his fighter 14 times after taking damage from the enemy he shot down, but ironically never had to crash land his plane due to enemy fire damage.
German, Gerhard “Gerd” Barkhorn, walked away from wartime having racked up the title of second most accomplished air ace in history with 301 victories arriving from 1’104 combat missions, his achievements included becoming ace-in-a-day while piloting his favoured Focke –Wulf Fw 190D-9. He also attended the wedding of fellow ace Erich Hartman as Best Man
The legacy of these gifted flyers and their machines that made them great are now brought back in these pages. Their machines can be viewed at many history and war museums, many of the air fighters can still be seen live in action at most major air shows around the world.