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Beardie

Did keeping allied scouts drab give a real advantage?

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There is an appendix in Kenneth Munson's Fighters 1914-19 by Ian Huntley, whose credentials as an expert on the issue are provided.

 

He states that experiments to find a good protective finish for service aircraft started in 1909 and resulted in 'PC10' being specified for RFC aircraft: he says the colour was primarily chosen for its protective qualities, with camouflage being a happy byproduct.  When it was specified for all service aircraft, their short life span would not have been known and in any case military culture generally requires things to be well looked after as a matter of discipline.

 

Certainly the RFC did resist publicising their aces' work, Ball and McCudden being contrary examples.  Ball was of course killed in early May 1917 just weeks after becoming famous, and McCudden's publicity caused him great angst according to his writings, being also by this time against the culture of the pilots themselves.  It was the media itself that campaigned against the policies of the RFC, one newspaper publishing a story in around February 1918 telling its readers it could not name a certain heroic flyer and thus give him recognition and credit.... and also noting the Germans and French were happy to hold up their aces for public adulation. 

 

I am not sure but assume this policy was partly because flying in the RFC was so dangerous and the pilots could be killed, and partly because Trenchard tended to emphasise the importance of the less 'romantic' work the RFC did: the artillery spotting and photographic missions that contributed so much to the ground war and cost so many lives.

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On 30/08/2017 at 05:34, Peter Lloyd said:

 

 

I am not sure but assume this policy was partly because flying in the RFC was so dangerous and the pilots could be killed, and partly because Trenchard tended to emphasise the importance of the less 'romantic' work the RFC did: the artillery spotting and photographic missions that contributed so much to the ground war and cost so many lives.

Do not forget that a lot of the so called artillery spotting and photographic missions took place to keep the casualty list high. Trenchard wanted to show that the RFC were pulling their weight and the service wasn't an easy option. The intentional high casualty rate was his way of showing it.

On the point of parachutes, the British ran an offensive campaign so they were mainly over enemy lines. A Pilot/Observer with a parachute would therefore most likely land in enemy territory and almost certainly be captured. In this case they're of no further use so why bother with the parachute. Deaths look better on the loss list too.

 

Nowadays thankfully, we have a very different view of our combatants' survival.

Edited by FredG

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The high casualty rate was an accepted by-product, but the evidence that Trenchard set out to get his men killed or captured simply doesn't stack up, I'm afraid. The thinking on parachutes was muddled - were they likely to diminish offensive spirit? Were they any good? What to make of the fact that when the matter was raised - despite some of the commentary by Arthur Gould Lee -  there were complaints from some pilots and observers that those which were available were too bulky (and reliability was open to question). The casualty rate was inextricably linked to your point about going deep behind the German lines on offensive patrols - designed to dominate the airspace and to keep the Germans away from the army cooperation machines - with all the risks of being shot down and mechanical failure which attended.

 

Look at the work of James Pugh, Tom Bradbeer, Syd Wise, et al, and the commentary on Trenchard in the latest bio by Russell Miller and the book chapters by Jordan and McKercher (in different edited volumes) and the picture is a bit more complicated. Oliver Stewart observed that many of the pilots felt that Trenchard could've tried to do more to reduce the casualty rate, but the point is that Trenchard took a 'if you want to make an omelette...' approach: the high casualty rate was, in his eyes, a regrettable necessity, but one which - as you say - he could at least use to show that his men were pulling their weight.

 

The loss of Richthofen caused considerable angst - Herbert Sulzbach made a particular point of recording how upset everyone was when the news broke: "No words will suffice to...describe the grief every German feels at the loss of this national hero" Even allowing for hyperbole, it does make one think that Henderson, Trenchard et al had a point when it came to not lionising the 'aces' too much...

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19 hours ago, XV107 said:

The high casualty rate was an accepted by-product, but the evidence that Trenchard set out to get his men killed or captured simply doesn't stack up, I'm afraid. ............. but the point is that Trenchard took a 'if you want to make an omelette...' approach: the high casualty rate was, in his eyes, a regrettable necessity, but one which - as you say - he could at least use to show that his men were pulling their weight.

Nuff said

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There are better experts than I, but my feeling is that Trenchard was no Haig (and I know there's controversy there, but nobody can doubt Haig's solid indifference to casualties).  Trenchard did push men out in obsolete machines to fly spotting and photographic missions, knowing they'd die in droves.  BUT he accepted that those missions were the raison d'etre for the RFC: to dominate the front lines and provide the best information on what was going on in the trenches, and to direct artillery. 

 

It must be remembered that the Germans usually had the high ground and best fighting positions on the Western Front, as their lines were usually places to which they retreated either in 1914, or during their voluntary pull-back in early 1917.  This meant that the British relied more heavily on their air service, and although the 1917 offensives were mostly ill-conceived slaughter, it was not because of blindness caused by a failure of the RFC.  In 1918, RFC efforts were essential to the co-ordinated barrages that held the Spring Offensive and that smashed the Germans at Amiens and elsewhere. Indeed, at Amiens the German artillery barely fired as it was completely destroyed by pre-registered artillery using an elaborate and detailed fire plan.

 

Just as damaging, and much less necessary, were the policies of the Royal Aircraft factory in keeping abysmal designs in production and service, and their replacement by designs that were little better (in some categories).

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Interesting topic. To go back to the original question. I would say yes the colour would help in making aircraft less visible. But as someone pointed out there comes a point when an aircraft is but merely a dot in the distance and it might just as well be dayglow orange as PC10. But it does help disguise an aeroplane which is travelling over a green or brown background. I can attest to personal experience of that. I remember being advised by ATC that a military Cessna, which happens to be painted olive green quite comparable to PC10 was just below me. I couldn't see it at all and that was knowing it was there on a bright sunny day. Similarly on another occasion I was climbing to altitude in a white painted light aircraft. My colleague who had taken off just after me called and asked my position. I replied something like '6500 feet, three miles west of the field. What's your position? His reply shook me, 'The same.' This in an aircraft not encumbered by masses of struts and wires or two wings blocking the view. 

 

So camouflage is useful but a small aeroplane is all but invisible at even short distances. Which makes the achievements of the aces all the more remarkable. Chuck Yeager referred to it as 'combat vision'. It's a truth that many pilots never saw the one that shot them down. I remember reading about one new pilot who was told to stick with his leader at all costs. They ran into an enemy formation and the leader shot one down. After landing the other pilots were discussing the fight. But the new pilot was puzzled. He'd seen nothing and had no idea they'd met the enemy. 

 

So yes and no, camouflage works but it's a big sky and until the advent of radar you could be mere yards away and see nothing of the enemy.

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As a commercial pilot for a small commuter airline I often see targets on the Garmin g1000 screen but never see the aircraft, even if they're no more than 500 feet vertically and less than a mile from me. More than a few times I've said to myself "I'd have been shot down if this was serious"......

 

Ian

 

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17 minutes ago, limeypilot said:

As a commercial pilot for a small commuter airline I often see targets on the Garmin g1000 screen but never see the aircraft, even if they're no more than 500 feet vertically and less than a mile from me. More than a few times I've said to myself "I'd have been shot down if this was serious"......

 

Ian

When I used to fly aerobatics on a Chipmunk from Farnborough, we used to operate about 10 miles West of the aerodrome, to remain clear of as much traffic as possible. Farnborough Radar used to keep an eye out for nearby traffic: Odiham's Chinooks, other light aircraft, bizjets, etc and I generally got quite good at spotting aircraft from unusual attitudes, but as you say, sometimes you just don't see them. The ones that used to scare me were the sailplanes from Lasham: those things are nearly invisible head-or tail-on and I would usually only see them if they banked in the sunlight.

 

Kevin

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Don't forget the reconnaissance aircraft camouflage of PINK.

Example (and yes I know its WW2)

63-58367-obr16-1393029520.jpg

 

Not exactly drab is it.

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I can't recall who the pilot was but I do recall reading someones WWI memoirs many years ago and he talked about how quickly you could loose your flight members with even a few seconds of allowing yourself to be distracted and, if caught up in a combat, it was far from unusual to find an apparently empty sky in all directions by the end of your personal duel.

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