Shooting the Front. Terry Finnegan on the role of observers over the Western Front during ‘War One’ (sic)

Posted: June 21, 2012 in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, Bristol Fighter, Royal Air Force, Royal Flying Corps
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Fig. 1.  Shooting the Front.

Terry Finnegan gave a presentation based on his book ‘Shooting the Front’ to an audience, largely of Friends of the Imperial War Museum at the IWM on Wednesday 20th June.

He wondered how the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Flying Corps could have been missed, yet we got behind the 100th of Titantic.

Fig. 2. The author taking us through the standard set of cameras used.

The presentation was revealing on a number of counts.

I’d never heard it called ‘War One’ yet this is clearly how American’s refer to the First World War.

I wasn’t aware that the techniques used to record the flash and roar of enemy artillery fire used the earliest form of computing to ‘spot’ the gun and retaliate.

I’ve heard before how war ‘progresses’ technology. Terry put it like this, ‘it takes a military event to put you in the  21st century’.

He described trench warfar as  he ‘positional’ war or stationary war.

Every inch of the Western Front was scrutinised every day we are told (not enough to prevent the folly of attempting an attack though(, but rather to plot a way through for tanks and troops.

The role or observers in planes was:

  • air space management
  • division to corps
  • protecting the air above you about 20 miles forward

The Germans had better lenses, the Zeiss.

With the automation of photography the Observer became a fighter defending the plane.

Fig 3. An RAF Observer 1918

Because of the nature of the single-winged emblem on their tunics Observers became known as ‘Flying Arse-Holes’. The response was to retitle them ‘Navigators’.

Apologies to this individual whose name I don’t have. My grandfather, a flight cadet at the time, provided a length memoir which I am yet to transcribe from the interviews I conducted in his 97th year.

Nicholas Watkis, author ‘The Western Front from the Air’.

Suggested that for much of the time the front was dry and dusty and not a great deal happened.

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