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Beardie

Did keeping allied scouts drab give a real advantage?

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Hi all,

 

While I am a WWI aviation buff I am no expert and was wondering if I could ask my question of more informed WWI aviation boffins.

 

While the Germans encouraged their 'scout' pilots to exercise their artistic talents in giving their mounts a knightly look, while their reconnaissance, bombers and ground attack aircraft were camouflaged, the allies chose to employ drab and camouflage for all types. Did this actually give allied pilots an advantage. I would imagine any advantage would be reflected in success rates and losses between Allied and German scouts.

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Not really an expert from what I have read in the air-to-air realm it didn't really what matter the aircraft was painted because after a certain distance everything looks like a black speck.  Natural metal aircraft and those that were experimentally covered in a clear covering material (one of the WW I combatants, I think it was the Germans who tried it) show up a little earlier from the sun reflecting off of their surfaces.  In an air-to-ground scenario a camouflage finish would be of greater advantage for the aircraft down in the weeds.  Of course nowadays nearly everybody likes to go with grays so who knows for sure.

Later,

Dave

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The camo was more for hiding on the ground.

Allies flew from fields a short distance from the front-line, in visual range of the German balloon spotters who could direct artillery fire right onto the field.

The Germans flew from fields much further back from the front line. They had better Archie and the distance to protect them on the ground

Also; the British never encourages any form of showing off on the aeroplanes [even today strike record markings are small and temporary] or by the pilots themselves, unlike the French, Italians and to a certain extent the USAS who all allowed a certain and variable amount of personalistation of the aeroplanes

British squadrons were numbered in the same way as the infantry regiments were. Squadrons did not get official badges till after WW1. But the French gave their squadrons numbers but also named their squadrons after birds and beasts and things favoured by French stories, the Germans numbered theirs too and then named their squadrons after top pilots or leaders thus the Germans encouraged individuality within the squadron unit, and this was shown through the garish markings they used

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Thanks Black Knight, I didn't think of the difference in how close the combatants airfields were to the front line. I do agree about that typically British aspect of not allowing showing off although I think this was probably a negative aspect in terms of the effect on the oppositions' morale. I would imagine that the outcome of many a battle was influenced by the sight of a well publicised aces particular scheme.

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FWIW I have read that the British authorities discouraged recognition of individual airmen until very late in the war, and thus personal markings were disallowed.  British newspaper reports tended not to identify pilots by name in accounts of various actions. In the latter stages of the war this changed when the value of making 'heroes' for public consumption was recognized.

Off on a slight tangent, I've also read that one of the reasons that the German side had a larger number of high scoring aces was that they were equipped with parachutes, and they tended not to venture very far over the allied lines. Coupled with the prevailing winds, it meant that they were more likely to recover their 'shot down' pilots who would drift down back behind the German lines under a chute, and able to return to combat. It's an interesting theory anyway, and probably has some merit.

It's things like this that provide some of the fascination of this era of aviation!

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Indeed it does John. The lack of use of flying aces for propaganda always struck me as very short sighted by the allies in WWI. The positive effect for the morale of German troops from the reports on Richthofen, Voss, Boelcke etc. make it clear that it was a very useful propaganda tool- possibly the effect for the morale of the troops was even greater than the actual impact of the airborne action.

 

The same effect, I seem to recall hearing, was also seen in the second world war with Montgomery becoming frustrated by the awe and regard that the allied troops had for Rommel in North Africa.

 

I think the parachute issue was a great shame during the First World War. From what I have read interest in and research on the subject was woeful on the Allied side, although not that much better on the German side. Workable parachutes could have been developed much earlier in the conflict but were largely ignored. Hundreds of pilots could have been saved from horrendous deaths if the parachute had undergone even basic development.

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The drab was a side effect of the true purpose, which was to develop a protective coating that stopped the fabric degrading

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i can think of one time when it made a big difference: Ace Henry Woollett painted the fuselage of his Camel a pretty blue. nearly got his tail feathers shot off.... by his own side. 

so if nothing else, it had the advantage of your plane *not* looking German. 

 

that said, from the point of view of a modeller with a thing for aces, the prospect of building a dozen biffs who only differ in the letter painted on 'em is pretty grim... 

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I guess that the protective coating aspect was an important point although I don't know if many aircraft lasted long enough in frontline service for fabric degradation to be an issue.

 

There is certainly a huge visual disparity in the display case between all those gaudy German birds and the drab dull British ones.

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Planes that lasted more than a couple of months would need their fabric replacing as it got saggy.  Didn't matter so much on the fuse but vital on flying surfaces.  

RFC planes were part of the army so were army coloured ( once they were no longer just clear doped).  It's a surprise the RNAS went more brown rather than battleship grey!

The lack of publicity for Empire aces was a source of discussion at the time; the official reasons centred around the fact that everyone was in a team with the PBI and other less glamorous troops - also the loss of an ace would be bad for morale / propaganda (which was true for the Germans).

Basically the Germans tried to portray their flyers as Knights whereas the Empire was a team.  Even Ronaldo wears the same shirt as the rest of the team.

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32 minutes ago, Beardie said:

I guess that the protective coating aspect was an important point although I don't know if many aircraft lasted long enough in frontline service for fabric degradation to be an issue.

In use doped lined fabric degrades faster than you think

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That leads me to wondering what the Germans did to combat degradation, anyone know?

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Because of their situation the Germans have always been on the look for alternative supplies. Often they have looked to producing by chemical means.

By WW1 they were a major producer of Viscose; aka artificial silk, which when interwoven at the thread level with linen strengthens it and gives it more longevity, it also allows the resultant material to take chemical dye better. Viscose which became known as Rayon post WW1 is produced from the cellulose of trees, of which there are a great many in Germany and Austria. Germany/Austria does not have a history of great linen production. Rayon degrades much more slowly than pure linen

The British relied on the great output of linen from Ireland. Up to 1940 Ireland produced 97% of the UK's linen requirements. In 1940 100% of the linen needed by the UK military came from Ireland. Thus they had no need to invest in chemically made fibres

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Ah so the cunning German engineers and scientists had been at work on creating a better, more resistant material. Doesn't surprise me.

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the Woollett story may have been apocryphal. i can't find another source to back it up, and most have the "Emily the Strange" blue camel as a former 1 Naval kite that was painted fancy in a training squadron. which makes more sense. 

 

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On 30/07/2017 at 15:36, Beardie said:

Ah so the cunning German engineers and scientists had been at work on creating a better, more resistant material. Doesn't surprise me.

German chemists were world beaters from the late C19 onwards.  At one time, pretty much up to the 39-45 war, being able to get by in written German was pretty much a prerequisite for any chemist wanting to do advanced work and even into the 1980s a lot of the lit. still seemed to be in German.

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The problem with building up aces for morale is that morale drops when they are shot down.  As far the the British not publicising success, I though that Ball was made into a popular hero?

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On the question of degredation of covering materials I was very surprised to read that most WWI aircrafts life span was measured in hours and not weeks.  It varied between 20 to 40 hours, and so there would be virtually no weathering.  

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Indeed some were very shortlived although, studying some of the histories of aces their aircraft could last considerably longer although I don't know just how long fabric survived before recovering was required.

 

One interesting thing I have come across a few times is reference to aircraft being scrapped because they were considered 'jinxed' although I can't recall the exact term used. Apparently, if a particular aircraft suffered a number of unrelated or 'odd' failures it was considered better to junk it as pilots just wouldn't trust it.

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Hello

Bear Paw, this sounds a bit short. At the time rotary engines had about 30 hours between overhauls, and inline and V-engines lasted for about 50 (mostly Allied engines) to 100 (mostly German engines) hours. Given that the engine usually costed more than the rest of the airplane combined it would hardly make sense to design it to last longer than a kite it powered. Cheers

Jure

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WW1 introduced to the RFC/RAF the Gremlin.

WW1 aircraft were more hand-made than later machines; thus they needed more fettling before flight. Trim tabs on flying surfaces had not been invented so they could not be used to fine tune the flying qualities of an aeroplane. In fact builders were only beginning to learn the affects of ailerons and rudders separate from fins

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As to aircraft life, I think this figure of 20 to 40 hours is probably an average operational life with some aircraft  being totalled within minutes of running down the field, some being knocked down early in their first sortie etc. while others lasted much longer. It is not a figure of how long the airframes were designed to last for but how long they lasted in the face of accidents and combat.

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That seems a very short lifespan for the airframes. That could be as little as eight or so patrols. John Inglis Gilmour seems to have gotten between one and two months out of each machine he used and his combat record shows that the machines were in very regular use during their working life.

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Interesting addition to the durability question.

 

Major William Barkers Camel B6313 racked up 404 flying hours including 46 victories. More than any other single RFC/RAF machine of the period.

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