When did pilots experience blackouts and redouts for the first time?

When did pilots experience blackouts and redouts for the first time?

I'm working on a semi-historical novel right now. There's an interesting dogfight inside, between two 1914-era planes.

While writing it I wondered if at the time, planes were fast enough for pilots to suffer from blackouts when diving, or from redouts when gaining heights very fast. It then led me to ask myself when these two phenomena were first experienced and if pilots of that time knew about it.

I remember Stuka pilots had a device to make their bomber regain altitude should they lose consciousness when diving, so at least in the 1930's it was a well known phenomena.

When did pilots experienced for the first time blackouts and redouts?

The table on the Wikipedia page for G-force shows that WWI fighter planes could pull 4.5-7G's.

Typical human tolerance on the body's vertical (up-down) axis is said to be in the neighborhood of 5G (and 9G for modern pilots with G-suits). Much less for redouts. So yes, this is something an experienced WWI fighter pilot likely encountered. However, it would have meant not only their bodies but their airframes were reaching their tolerance limits.

Acceleration of Blackout in Fighter Pilots

In itself, high speed does not produce harmful symptoms. What can be dangerous are high accelerations expressed as multiples of gravity, or g's. In pulling out of a dive, for example, a pilot may be subjected to an acceleration as high as 9 g. If a force of 4 to 6 g is sustained for more than a few seconds, the resulting symptoms range from visual impairment to total blackout. Protection is provided by a specially designed outfit, called an anti-g suit, which supplies pressure to the abdomen and legs, thus counteracting the tendency for blood to accumulate in those areas. Proper support of the head is essential during extreme acceleration in order to avoid swelling of the sinuses and severe headaches. While facing backward in a seated position, properly supported human test subjects have been able to tolerate a deceleration force of 50 g without severe injury. [The first paragraph of this student's essay is entirely plagiarized from the Aerospace Medicine entry in Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedia. I did not discover this until a year after it was submitted.]

The acceleration that causes blackouts in fighter pilots is called the maximum g-force. Fighter pilots experience this force when accelerating or decelerating quickly. At high g's the pilots blood pressure changes and the flow of oxygen to the brain rapidly decreases. This happens because the pressure outside of the pilot's body is so much greater than the pressure a human is normally accustomed to. One human body handles g's different then another. The areas that are under investigation of the maximum g-force are:

  1. seat back angle,
  2. layoff (time away from the cockpit), and
  3. comparison of female to male tolerance/endurance.

Work on a special suit to increase the g's a human body can handle had started during World War Two. Pilots at that time experienced blackouts when coming out of fast turns or when dropping altitude quickly. The work on special g-suits still continues today. Modern fighter pilots can handle g's that a human body would never have been able to tolerate previously.

Phillip Andriyevsky -- 1998

"As the g forces climb up toward 7 g's, you sink further still in the seat. You can no longer see color. Everything appears in black and white. An instant later, the passenger next to you disappears from view. Your field of vision is shrinking. It now looks like you are seeing things through a pipe. The front corner of the car disappears from view as your peripheral vision disappears. The visual pipe's diameter is getting smaller and smaller. You sink into the seat further still as the number of g's climb further. In a flash you see black. You have just "blacked out." You are unconscious until the number of g's are reduced and the blood returns to your brain."


The first strategic bombing in history was also the first instance of bombs being dropped on a city from the air. On 6 August 1914 a German Zeppelin bombed the Belgian city of Liège. Within the first month of the war, Germany had formed the "Ostend Carrier Pigeon Detachment", actually an airplane unit to be used for the bombing of English port cities. [1] During the First Battle of the Marne, a German pilot flying aerial reconnaissance missions over Paris in a Taube regularly dropped bombs on the city. [2] The first raid dropped five small bombs and a note demanding the immediate surrender of Paris and the French nation. Before the stabilisation of the Western Front, the German aircraft dropped fifty bombs on Paris, slightly damaging Notre Dame Cathedral. [3]

The first extended campaigns of strategic bombing were carried out against England by the German Empire's fleet of airships, which were then the only aircraft capable of such sustained activities so far from their bases. [2] This campaign was approved on 7 January 1915 by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who forbade attacks on London, fearing that his relatives in the British royal family might be injured. These restrictions were lifted in May, after British attacks on German cities. The first attacks on England were on 19 January, and struck the Yarmouth area and King's Lynn. [3] In Britain, fear of the Zeppelin as a weapon of war preceded its actual use: even before the war the British public was gripped by "zeppelinitis". [2]

The Zeppelin proved too costly compared to airplanes, too large and slow a target, its hydrogen gas too flammable, and too susceptible to bad weather, anti-aircraft fire (below 5,000 feet) and interceptors armed with incendiary bullets (up to 10,000 feet) for the Imperial German Army (Reichsheer), which abandoned its use in 1916. The Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine), whose airships were primarily used for reconnaissance over the North Sea, continued to bomb the United Kingdom until 1918. In all, fifty-one raids on Great Britain were carried out, the last by the Navy in May 1918. [2] The most intense year of the airship bombing of England was 1916. [3] In December 1916, two Zeppelins of the R Class took off from Wainoden in an attempt to bomb Saint Petersburg. One was forced down by adverse weather conditions and damaged beyond repair, while the other, hampered by engine problems, turned back before it reached the target. No further attempt to bomb Saint Petersburg was made. [4] Germany employed 125 airships during the war, losing more than half and sustaining a 40% attrition rate of their crews, the highest of any German service branch. [3]

In May 1917 the Germans began using heavy bombers against England using Gotha G.IV and later supplementing these with Riesenflugzeuge ("giant aircraft"), mostly from the Zeppelin-Staaken firm. The targets of these raids were industrial and port facilities and government buildings, but few of the bombs hit military targets, most falling on private property and killing civilians. Although the German strategic bombing campaign against Britain was the most extensive of the war, it was largely ineffective, in terms of actual damage done. Only 300 tons of bombs were dropped, resulting in material damage of £2,962,111 damage, 1,414 dead and 3,416 injured, these figures including those due to shrapnel from the anti-aircraft fire. [5] In the autumn of 1917, however, over 300,000 Londoners had taken shelter from the bombing, and industrial production had fallen. [2]

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) undertook the first Entente strategic bombing missions on 22 September 1914 and 8 October, when it bombed the Zeppelin bases in Cologne and Düsseldorf. The airplanes carried twenty-pound bombs, and at least one airship was destroyed. [2] [3] On 21 November 1914, the RNAS flew across Lake Constance to bomb the Zeppelin factories in Friedrichshafen and Ludwigshafen. [3] On 25 December the Cuxhaven Raid was the first attack by sea-based airplanes launched from ships against a strategic target. The RNAS also attacked Constantinople in 1915 and 1917. The aviator John Alcock was captured when he was forced to ditch on one of these missions. On 18 October 1917, the British hit a mosque and killed 54 Ottoman civilians. By the end of the war, assisted by Germany, the Ottomans had implemented an air defence system in Constantinople. [6]

When William Weir, the President of the Air Council in 1918, told Hugh Trenchard that it was not necessary to worry about accuracy during strategic bombing raids, the general replied that "all the pilots drop their eggs into the centre of town generally." [3] After the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised to repay Germany for its air raids "with compound interest". [3] On 19 July, the first aircraft carrier-based air raid in history, the Tondern raid, was launched against the German Zeppelin base at Tondern.

On 6 June 1918 the British formed the Independent Force under Major General Hugh Trenchard to engage in long-range bombing directed at industrial targets deep in German territory. Missions were undertaken with De Havilland DH9s and Handley Page O/400s, but the war ended before Britain's four-engined Handley Page V/1500 bomber, designed to drop 7,500 lbs on Berlin, entered service. Ultimately, retaliatory bombings on German cities provoked German retaliation against not British but French cities, which led to disagreement between British and French leadership concerning the strategy of such bombing and allocation of resources away from the Western Front. [2] The British dropped 660 tons of bombs on Germany, more than twice what Germany had managed to drop on England. [3] The first raid against Berlin, scheduled for November, was cancelled with the armistice. [6]

France formed a strategic bombing unit, the Groupe de Bombardement No. 1 (GB1), in September 1914. The French were reluctant to bomb targets on their own soil, even if occupied by the Germans, and were more wary of German retaliation than the British, [ citation needed ] because French cities were within range of German bombers. Nevertheless, GB1 raided far behind the front, concentrating on the German supply network and troop concentrations, a strategy designed to directly aid the French Army on the Western Front. The French favoured light bombers, often modifying reconnaissance craft for the purpose. The Breguet 14 of 1917 remained in production until 1926. [2]

On 4 December 1914 French pilots carried out the first Entente bombing of a city when they dropped bombs on Freiburg im Breisgau. [2]

On 1 November 1911, during the Italo-Turkish War, the Kingdom of Italy had carried out the first aerial military mission in history, when Giulio Gavotti dropped bombs by hand on Turkish positions in the Libyan desert. During World War I Italy, like France, did not wish to bomb centres of civilian population, because many of the obvious targets had a high number of Italian residents or were in territories Italy had plans to annexe after the war. Like Russia, Italy possessed heavy bombers before its entry into the war, Giovanni Caproni having built the multi-engine Caproni Ca.1 in 1914 which carried four modest bombs. [2]

In August 1915, the Ca.1s were placed in the 21° Squadriglia of the Corpo Aeronautico Militare. In October–November 1915, the Ca.1s attacked Austro-Hungarian railroads and supply depots. [3] Later in the war, photographic reconnaissance and offensive actions were conducted by Ansaldo SVA aircraft, which launched a four-aircraft strike from Ponte San Pietro against Innsbruck on 28 February 1918, strafing and bombing railroad marshalling yards. [7] Innsbruck, along with Bolzano, was again the target of an air strike by SVA bombers on 29 October 1918. [8]

Gabriele D'Annunzio's flight over Vienna in August 1918 dropped only leaflets threatening to return with bombs. No second raid occurred before the end of the war. [6]

The Russian Empire possessed the only long-range heavy bomber to be operational in the first year of the war, the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets (IM). This could carry 1,100 lbs of bombs, and remain in the air for up five hours with a reduced bomb load. In August 1914 the Russians grouped their four Sikorskys in a unit dedicated to strategic bombing and based them near Warsaw in December. Cities were not the main targets on the Eastern Front: the principal targets were supply depots, troop concentrations and transportation networks, especially railway yards and stations. [2] [3] By March 1918, when Russia left the war, around seventy Ilya Muromets had been constructed, and they had flown over 350 bombing or reconnaissance missions along the entire Eastern Front.

In August 1915, Russian aircraft bombed Constantinople, killing 41 Ottoman citizens. [6]

Strategic bombing by Austria-Hungary was limited, mostly confined to Italian targets on the Adriatic. Nonetheless, Austro-Hungarian pilots based at Pula flew forty-two bombing missions over Venice after the Italian Front had advanced to within a few miles of the city. [2] The Chiesa degli Scalzi, near the Ferrovia train station, was damaged, including two ceiling frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. A particularly severe raid was carried out on 27 February 1918, hitting central Venice and sending many Venetians to take refuge in Giudecca and the Lido. [9] A letter from Ralph Curtis to Isabella Stewart Gardner written in September 1915 explains how the Venetians instituted blackout during the bombings:

The mosquitos from Pula come buzzing over nearly every fine night, and drop bombs for half an hour or so. . . . Venice is like a lovely prima donna in deep mourning. All the gilded angels wear sack-cloth painted dirty grey. Anything that shines is covered. At night all is as black as in the dark ages. "Serrenos" call out "all is well" every half-hour. But when danger is signalled the elec[tric] light is cut off, sirens blow, cannon firebombs explode and the whole city shakes on its piles. All the hotels but the Danieli's are hospitals. [9]

The Venetian writer Alvise Zorzi attributes "the final rupture of the continuity of Venetian customs and culture" to the Austro-Hungarian bombing campaign. [9]

What Is the Smart Grid?

On August 14, 2003, shortly after 2 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, a high-voltage power line in northern Ohio brushed against some overgrown trees and shut down&mdasha fault, as it's known in the power industry. The line had softened under the heat of the high current coursing through it. Normally, the problem would have tripped an alarm in the control room of FirstEnergy Corporation, an Ohio-based utility company, but the alarm system failed.

Over the next hour and a half, as system operators tried to understand what was happening, three other lines sagged into trees and switched off, forcing other power lines to shoulder an extra burden. Overtaxed, they cut out by 4:05 P.M., tripping a cascade of failures throughout southeastern Canada and eight northeastern states.

All told, 50 million people lost power for up to two days in the biggest blackout in North American history. The event contributed to at least 11 deaths and cost an estimated $6 billion.

So, five years later, are we still at risk for a massive blackout?

In February 2004, after a three-month investigation, the U.S.&ndashCanada Power System Outage Task Force concluded that a combination of human error and equipment failures had caused the blackout. The group's final report made a sweeping set of 46 recommendations to reduce the risk of future widespread blackouts. First on the list was making industry reliability standards mandatory and legally enforceable.

Prior to the blackout, the North American Electricity Reliability Council (NERC) set voluntary standards. In the wake of the blackout report, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which expanded the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by requiring it to solicit, approve and enforce new reliability standards from NERC, now the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation.

FERC has so far approved 96 new reliability standards.* These cover the three Ts&mdash"trees, training and tools"&mdashidentified by the blackout task force but are not limited to them, says Joseph McClelland, director of FERC's Office of Electric Reliability, which was established last September. Standard PER-003, for example, requires that operating personnel have at least the minimum training needed to recognize and deal with critical events in the grid standard FAC-003 makes it mandatory to keep trees clear of transmission lines standard TOP-002-1 requires that that grid operating systems be able to survive a power line fault or any other single failure, no matter how severe. FERC can impose fines of up to a million dollars a day for an infraction, depending on its flagrancy and the risk incurred.

If the standards have reduced the number of blackouts, the evidence has yet to bear it out. A study of NERC blackout data by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that the frequency of blackouts affecting more than 50,000 people has held fairly constant at about 12 per year from 1984 to 2006. Co-author Paul Hines, now assistant professor of engineering at the University of Vermont in Burlington, says current statistics indicate that a 2003-level blackout will occur every 25 years.

He says many researchers believe that cascading blackouts may be inherent in the grid's complexity, but he still sees room for improvement. "I think we can definitely make it less frequent than once every 25 years."

The U.S. power grid consists of three loosely connected parts, referred to as interconnections: eastern, western and Texas. Within each, high-voltage power lines transmit electricity from generating sources such as coal or hydroelectric plants to local utilities that distribute power to homes and businesses, where lights, refrigerators, computers and myriad other "loads" tap that energy.

Because electricity in power lines cannot be stored, generation and load have to match up at all times or the grid enters blackout territory. That can result from a lack of generating capacity&mdashthe cause of the 2000 California blackouts&mdashor because of one or more faults, as in the 2003 blackout. The interconnectedness of the grid makes it easier to compensate for local variations in load and generation but it also gives blackouts a wider channel over which to spread.

Transmission system operators scattered across some 300 control centers nationwide monitor voltage and current data from SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems placed at transformers, generators and other critical points. Power engineers monitor the data looking for signs of trouble and, ideally, communicate with one another to stay abreast of important changes.

One of the realizations since 2003 is that "you can't just look at your system. You've got to look at how your system affects your neighbors and vice versa," says Arshad Mansoor, vice president of power delivery and utilization with the Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, Calif.

Until recently, there was no one place to view information from across the grid. McClelland says FERC is working with industry and other government agencies to pull data into a prototype coast-to-coast real-time monitoring system at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. "We have put the system together and it is functional," he says, although "some parts are better than others": FERC has full coverage of the western U.S. and good information from the Southeast, he says, but data from Texas and other areas is still spotty.

Gathering the data is only the beginning.
The holy grail is a smart grid capable of monitoring and repairing itself, similar to the way air traffic control systems are used to coordinate aircraft routes. Mansoor says that dream is still a good 20 years away because it depends on better data, a reliable communications network and computer programs capable of making decisions based on the data.

One promising tool for collecting better data is called a phasor measurement unit (PMU), which measures voltage and current on power lines and uses GPS (global positioning system) connections to time-stamp its data down to the microsecond. That level of resolution across a network of PMUs could reveal an important electrical property of power lines called phase, which tells whether power generators are rotating in sync with respect to one another, Hines says.

When a blackout approaches, that difference, called the phase, is believed to grow rapidly. "A lot of people have conjectured that if we could have seen that the [phase] distance between generators was increasing [on August 14, 2003], we could have prevented the blackout," Hines says.

There are currently about 100 PMUs installed in the eastern interconnection, up from zero in 2003, as part of the North American SynchroPhasor Initiative based at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. "We still need a couple of hundred more [PMUs] to get a full coverage," Mansoor says, but he adds that they are already helping local utilities diagnose the causes of blackouts much faster than they could before.

Another challenge for keeping the grid balanced is the growing demand for electricity&mdashincreasing load, in other words&mdashas consumers buy more computers, air conditioners and rechargeable handhelds. The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration projects a load growth of 1.05 percent a year from now until 2030, which means transmission capacity will have to keep pace.

The main obstacle to building new transmission lines is siting, better known as the "not in my backyard" effect: Nobody wants power lines near them. One potential way of getting around that is so-called smart metering&mdashhourly readouts of electricity usage that allow utilities to offer price discounts on power during off-peak times. Pilot smart-metering programs are under way in Idaho, California and other states.

Mansoor notes that advanced metering tools might become useful given the potential for increasingly intermittent power sources. Wind power, for example, stops and starts with the breeze, which means system operators would have to adjust the load to compensate. Although wind energy accounts for 19.5 gigawatts of power in the U.S., or less than 2 percent of total power generation, it represented 35 percent of new generating capacity installed in 2007, up from 5 percent in 2003.

An alternative to power lines in cities and other urban areas is power cables based on high-temperature superconductor (HTS) technology. When chilled to &ndash321 degrees Fahrenheit (77 kelvins, or &ndash196 degrees Celsius) the composite material yttrium barium copper oxide begins to carry a current with almost zero resistance. HTS power cables can therefore be made smaller than the copper kind.

In a concept called the secure supergrid, would bolster existing transmission lines and would resist the stresses that can cause blackouts, because the lines shut down when the current spikes (reflecting the "almost" in an HTS cable's "almost zero resistance"). Some researchers have proposed combining an HTS supergrid with a coast-to-coast hydrogen pipeline to suppy fuel cells for cars and homes.

The Long Island Power Authority switched on a $50-million, 69-kilovolt HTS system in April to supply power to up to 300,000 homes. Consolidated Edison Company of New York and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have commissioned cables for a $40-million supergrid system in downtown Manhattan known as Project Hydra, scheduled for operation in 2010.

None of these tools would guarantee the extinction of large blackouts. When researchers study very complex systems, whether they be power grids or sandpiles, they often find a simple relationship: The frequency of larger and larger catastrophes&mdashsuch as blackouts or avalanches&mdashremains relatively high. "If you look at all the steps that have been taken since 2003, I think overall the risk is less today than it was in 2003," Mansoor says. "But the risk is always there."

*Correction (8/14/08): This article originally stated that FERC has approved 83 new reliability standards that number refers to the first standards to take effect in June 18, 2007.

1914 in aviation

This is a list of aviation-related events from 1914.

Years in aviation: 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917
Centuries: 19th century · 20th century · 21st century
Decades: 1880s 1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
Years: 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917

The outbreak of World War I accelerates all aspects of aviation which in turn changes war in a twofold way. The aeroplane turns the sky into a new battlefield and eliminates the distinction between frontline and hinterland, with the civilian population far behind the frontline also becoming a target. The war results in the deaths of approximately 20,000 flyers, most of them trained pilots.


As aviation developed in unheated open cockpits, the need for warm clothing quickly became apparent, as did the need for multiple pockets with closures of buttons, snaps, or zippers to prevent loss of articles during maneuvers. Various types of flight jackets and pants coverings were developed and, during World War I, leather two-piece outfits were common among pilots to ward off the chill caused by propwash and the cold of low-oxygen high-altitude flying. Leather quickly became the preferred material due to its durability and the protection it offered against flying debris such as insect strikes during climb-outs and landings, and oil thrown off by the simple rotary and inline motors of the time. Australian aviator Frederick Sidney Cotton's experience with high level and low-temperature flying led Cotton in 1917 to develop the revolutionary new "Sidcot" suit, a flying suit which solved the problem pilots had in keeping warm in the cockpit. [1] This flying suit, with improvements, was widely used by the RAF until the 1950s.

By the time World War II started in earnest, electrically heated suits were introduced by Lion Apparel in conjunction with General Electric for patrol and bomber crews who routinely operated at high altitudes above 30,000 feet, where air temperatures could get so cold that flesh could freeze instantly to any metal it touched. As enclosed and pressurized cabins came into operation, the necessity of bulky leather and shearling jackets and pants began to fade. For example, pilots, navigators, and bombardiers of a B-17 operating in Europe in 1944 comfortably wore their officer's uniforms under an A-2 flight jacket, due to the enclosed and heated cabin but the waist gunners needed electrically heated suits, as they fired their guns through open window gunports. When the B-29 Superfortress was introduced in the fight against Japan, along with remote-controlled coordinated gun turrets, the fully pressurized crew cabin made bulky flight gear obsolete.

Where bomber pilots could wear their service uniforms as flight gear, fighter pilots needed a uniform that functioned in the tight confines of the typical fighter plane cockpit. The AN-S-31 flight suit was developed for the US Army Air Corps and featured two button-down breast pockets and two button-down shin pockets that could be accessed from the sitting position. The US Navy used a slightly different model that featured slanted pockets with zippers. The material used was either wool or tight-weave cotton for wind resistance and fire protection.

The need for short-duration fire protection was demonstrated early during that war. As technology advanced, the fire-protective flight suit, helmets, goggles, masks, gloves and footwear were designed and used. The footwear often could be cut to appear like civilian shoes in the country where the crew member would land if shot down.

Flak jackets were also developed to give bomber crews some protection from flying shrapnel, though these increased the overall weight of the airplane and reduced the effective bombload that could be carried.

With the era of jet flight and improved focus on safety however, fully fire-retardant materials were required. It was also simpler to make a one-piece suit when it would potentially have to fit over existing clothing or various types of under-garments.

Also, with the coming of jet flight came the development of the G-suit, a special kind of flight suit (worn alone or in combination with a traditional flight suit) that protected the wearer from the physical stress of acceleration by compressing the body to keep blood from pooling in the legs. As the pilot executed high-G combat maneuvers, his blood would literally be pulled from his head and shift downwards into his lower body, starving the brain of oxygen and causing a blackout. The G-suit was designed to allow some retention of blood in the pilot's head, allowing him to execute high-G turns for sustained periods of time.

In the 1950s and 1960s, even more specialized suits needed to be developed for high-altitude survelliance (such as with the U-2 and SR-71 aircraft) and space flight. These would include full pressurization, and would be the precursor to today's space suits.

The current flight suit that is standard for most air forces and navies is made of Nomex, a fabric made from spun aramid that is lightweight and fire-resistant. The flame-retardant capabilities of this material make it ideal for protecting aviators in case of a fire. The suit is often green or desert tan in color, with multiple pockets for specific pieces of gear (such as a clear plastic pocket on the thigh intended to house a map of the aircraft's planned flight path), but color, style, and cut vary greatly from country to country. The current model flight suit for the US military is the CWU 27/P and is available in sage green and desert tan. Commercial flight suits for civilian flying are also available, and are frequently used by helicopter crew (including non-pilots such as flight engineers, paramedics, and nurses), aerobatic pilots, and others who desire a practical "uniform".

Although there are multiple pockets on the current CWU 27/P flight suit, all pockets are placed on the front of the flight suit or on the arms or legs. There are no pockets on the back of the flight suit. This design allows easier access to the pockets while the wearer is sitting (such as in the cockpit of an aircraft), and ensures that the wearer in a seated position does not have to sit on any items in a back pocket (such as a wallet).

Members of the United States Marine Corps wore flight suits during most vehicle patrols and ground combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, because their standard camouflage utilities were not flame-resistant. Flight suits have now been phased out among ground personnel with the introduction of the Flame Resistant Organizational Gear, or "FROG" suit, which resembles the standard camouflage utilities.

NASA astronauts have worn one-piece flight suits when in training or on flights in their NASA T-38s. The current flight suit worn by astronauts is royal blue, made of Nomex. The now-common "shirt-sleeve environment" of the orbiting Space Shuttle and International Space Station has resulted in much more casual attire during spaceflight, such as shorts and polo shirts.

From STS-5 to STS-51L, crews wore light blue flight suits and an oxygen helmet during launch/reentry. Apollo crews wore white 2-piece beta cloth uniforms during non-essential activities and the full A7L pressure suit during launch, trans-lunar injection, lunar ascent/descent, and EVAs. Mercury and Gemini crews wore their space suits for the duration of the mission, with the exception of Gemini 7.

Pilots and flight crews use several colors of flight suit. NASA crews, for example, wear blue flight suits as a sort of functional dress uniform during training. The orange suits that they wear during launch and re-entry/landing are designed for high visibility, should there be an emergency recovery. White suits are worn during space walks to control temperature. NASA non-astronaut flight crew at Langley Research Center wear blue, and crew at the Dryden Flight Research Center wear either green or desert tan, and all newer suits issued are desert tan.

Life during the blackout

"I stood on the footway of Hungerford bridge across the Thames watching the lights of London go out. The whole great town was lit up like a fairyland, in a dazzle that reached into the sky, and then one by one, as a switch was pulled, each area went dark, the dazzle becoming a patchwork of lights being snuffed out here and there until a last one remained, and it too went out. What was left us was more than just wartime blackout, it was a fearful portent of what war was to be. We had not thought that we would have to fight in darkness, or that light would be our enemy."

Daily Herald journalist Mea Allan wrote those words in 1939 as she witnessed the introduction of universal blackout. From Thurso to Truro, from Hastings to Holyhead, Britain was plunged into darkness at sunset on 1 September, two days before war was declared. Street lights were switched off at the mains, vehicle headlights were masked to show only a crack of light, and stations were lit by candles. The nation endured this enforced darkness until 23 April 1945, 10 days after the liberation of Belsen, when the allied armies were advancing rapidly towards Berlin in a final pincer movement.

This was not Britain's first brush with the blackout: a limited version had been introduced in 1915 during the first world war, when German zeppelins began to drop bombs on their enemy. But then the lights were subdued or dimmed rather than dowsed, and only when a zeppelin was known to be en route. This time there were no half-measures. Preparations had begun as far back as 1937, as Hitler looked increasingly threatening and a war from the air was predicted. The Germans had held their first blackout exercise in Berlin in March 1935, an event comprehensively reported in the British press.

To police the new blackout, in March 1937 the Home Office appealed for 300,000 "citizen volunteers" to be trained as air raid precautions (ARP) wardens, rather unfairly immortalised in the television series Dad's Army officiously telling householders to "put out that light". Blackout rehearsals became routine from early 1938. Householders were urged to check for light leaks at ground level, while RAF bombers flew overhead to check from above. During an exercise in Suffolk in April 1938, the illuminated clock at Ipswich town hall stood out like a beacon as no one could discover how to switch it off. These experiments, monitored by the RAF, showed that traffic was the main problem – even cars driven on sidelights glittered like a string of beads from the air, revealing street patterns below.

This was the real significance of the blackout – it masked points of reference on the ground. Luftwaffe pilots identified targets using pre-war maps coupled with up-to-date reconnaissance photographs, but they needed to correlate these with landmarks on the ground. Tests by the RAF revealed the extent to which lack of lights on the ground confused even British pilots attempting to find landmarks.

Blackout was not the only defensive measure employed on the home front, however. Pilots' vision was impaired by smokescreens, created by burning barrels of tar near strategic targets such as reservoirs, while enormous barrage balloons filled with hydrogen formed visual and physical barriers to bombers. The Luftwaffe also had to deal with the vagaries of the weather, as well as searchlights and anti-aircraft guns.

In the months leading up to the declaration of war, women made and hung blackout curtains and blinds, and sealed any gaps round the edges with brown paper. Not only did houses no longer leak light they no longer let in air. The Times carried adverts for "ARP curtaining", available not only in black but in brown, green and dark blue. When London's Gaiety theatre closed, its brown velvet curtains bagged a high price at auction to be converted into superior blackout curtains.

Ordinary blackout curtains could not be washed, as this was apt to make them let through light. The government, therefore, issued a leaflet telling people to "hoover, shake, brush then iron" – the latter to make them more light-proof.

By the time war broke out, blackout at street level was more complete than from above, as Londoner Phylllis Warner described in her diary: "For the first minute going out of doors one is completely bewildered, then it is a matter of groping forward with nerves as well as hands outstretched."

Even after four years of war, fitter's mate Frank Forster found it easy to become disorientated walking round his hometown of Chester, as he wrote in his diary in1943: "Every journey one makes across the city during the blackout, especially on a very dark night, is a great adventure – although one is aware of certain landmarks, many of them are no use whatever, unless one is possessed of a good torch. One never knows what is in front of one beyond a distance of about three feet."

By the end of the first month of war there had been 1,130 road deaths attributed to the blackout, and coroners urged pedestrians to carry a newspaper or a white handkerchief to make them more visible. A coroner in Birmingham told old people to keep off the streets after dark, suggesting routine visits to the pub in the evening had to be relinquished for the war effort, as so many were killed when they stepped from pub into darkened street.

White paint was the main safety measure, and stripes were painted on kerbs, street refuges and round the doors of tube trains. Even with a 20mph speed limit, car crashes were frequent. A Lancastrian man painted his car white, and found other motorists gave him a wide berth. An Essex farmer even painted white stripes on his cattle so that they wouldn't be run over. Ghostly policemen controlled traffic with whistles, their capes and tunics dipped in luminous paint, and traffic lights were reduced to tiny crosses of red, amber and green. Sales of walking sticks, torches and batteries rocketed, as collisions even between pedestrians were common.

Rail travel, too, was made more difficult by the blackout. In darkened railway goods yards, porters struggled to read labels on freight travelling by train at night, which led to increasing delays for passengers. When they did travel, people had to sit in carriages shrouded by blinds, lit by cold blue lights, and patrolled by new lighting attendants whose job was to check the blackout.

Thousands struggled to work on gloomy winter mornings on buses whose numbers were now unlit, and therefore of uncertain destination unless announced by a conductor. Seventeen-year-old Monica McMurray worked at a Sheffield engineering factory and recorded in her diary for 1941: "This eternal smell of oil combined with next to no ventilation and artificial light at work is suffocating, I think I shall have to try to get on the land."

Ernie Britton, an office worker, expressed similar feelings to his sister Florrie, who lived in the United States. "In the factories . it's not so healthy never to see a bit of daylight except perhaps a snatch at midday break. During the past few weeks we've had fluorescent lighting (daylight) in our office and it makes a world of difference."

Elsewhere, stevedores drowned, knocked into harbours by cranes filling and emptying cargo holds. They were encouraged to wear white gloves to make themselves stand out. Even making a telephone call from a phonebox was no simple task, because it was so difficult to see the numbers on the dial. Burglary and mugging increased, and looters took advantage of deep blackout and bombed-out houses.

Did the blackout have any beneficial effects? Shops did at least allow staff to leave early so they could travel home safely, while the BBC Home Service urged people to look on the bright side, broadcasting talks to encourage them to look at the stars, which were "all the better for the blackout". Home-based hobbies such as indoor photography grew in popularity, and people made music rather than venturing out in the evening to hear it played.

It must have been some compensation to know that blackout was a common experience throughout the world. Three months after the outbreak of war, British newspapers reported that the Germans had developed luminous blackout paint in the colours of the rainbow to highlight kerbstones and pillars at railway stations. Neutral Switzerland had introduced blackout in November 1940, but debated its efficacy throughout the war. Unlit Swiss cities could be bombed in error, while blazing urban lights would act as a beacon to pinpoint targets across the border. There were protests in neutral Ireland, where compulsory blackout was considered to breach neutrality.

When blackout was lifted in April 1945, Scottish schoolboy Donald Gulliver wrote to his father who was away serving in the forces: "The light is on at the corner, and I was playing under it last night, and the night before."

In 1941 doctors had diagnosed a new condition among factory workers on the home front: blackout anaemia. Just as seasonal affective disorder is recognised today as being linked to a lack of natural light in winter, so depression was a recognised consequence of the blackout during the second world war. No wonder the Vera Lynn song When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World had such resonance on the home front.

Felicity Goodall is author of The People's War, published by Reader's Digest

John McCain in the Military: From Navy Brat to POW

American Navy Lieutenant, and future U.S. Senator John Sidney McCain III, circa 1964.

When John McCain made his first bid for public office in 1982, running for a House seat in Arizona, critics blasted him as a carpetbagger, pointing out that he𠆝 only lived in the state for 18 months.

“Listen, pal, I spent 22 years in the Navy,” the exasperated candidate reportedly shot back at one event. Then, after explaining that career military people tend to move a lot, he delivered a retort that made the attacks against him seem ridiculously petty: 𠇊s a matter of fact… the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”

McCain won the election, launching a political career that earned him two terms in the House, six in the Senate, and his party’s presidential nomination in 2008. But even after four decades in public life, McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam continued to define him in the minds of many Americans, admirers and detractors alike. While he ultimately made his name on the national political stage, the scion of two four-star admirals was, at his core, a lifelong military man. He followed into the family business, becoming a decorated, if at times reckless, fighter pilot who conducted nearly two dozen bombing runs in Vietnam before being shot down, captured and tortured.

In both his military and political careers, McCain earned a reputation for being feisty and combative. 𠇊 fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed,” he declared in his 2018 memoir The Restless Wave, written with his longtime collaborator Mark Salter, and published after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that took his life on August 25, 2018. 

Below, a timeline of his military life:

1936: To the Navy born

John Sidney McCain III is born on August 29 at a U.S. Navy base in the Panama Canal Zone. His father, John S. McCain, Jr., is a submarine officer who will later rise to the rank of admiral and become commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific during much of the Vietnam War. His grandfather, John S. McCain, Sr., also an admiral, would come to command the Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force in the Pacific during World War II. “They were my first heroes, and earning their respect has been the most lasting ambition of my life,” McCain would later write in a 1999 memoir, Faith of My Fathers.

Prior McCains had opted for the Army rather than the Navy and fought in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War. Several were West Point graduates, including his grandfather’s uncle, Major General Henry Pinckney McCain—sometimes called the �ther of the Selective Service” for his role in organizing the World War I draft.

1936-1954: Peripatetic life of a ‘navy brat’

McCain and his two siblings, an older sister and a younger brother, move frequently, following the trail of their father’s military career. He attends some 20 different schools by age 18, according to USA Today’s later count.

Future US Senator John S. McCain III (center) as a young boy, with his grandfather Vice Admiral John S. McCain Sr. (left), and father Commander John S. McCain Jr., circa 1940s.

Terry Ashe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

1954: An indifferent Naval Academy student

John McCain enters the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1954 and graduates with the class of 1958. He’s the third generation in his family to attend the Academy his father had been class of 1931 his grandfather, class of 1906.

By all accounts, especially his own, the young McCain is an indifferent and rambunctious student, prone to pranks and occasional disobedience to authority. He graduates fifth from the bottom of his class. “My four years here were not notable for individual academic achievement but, rather, for the impressive catalogue of demerits which I managed to accumulate,” he admitted to the graduating class of 1993 in a commencement speech.

1958: Birth of a maverick

After graduation, McCain goes on to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, and later Corpus Christi, Texas, to train as a pilot. “I enjoyed the off-duty life of a Navy flyer more than I enjoyed the actual flying,” he will remember. “I drove a Corvette, dated a lot, spent all my free hours at bars and beach parties, and generally misused my good health and youth.”

1960-1965: A series of crashes

McCain develops, by his own telling, a reputation for being undisciplined and fearless. During his early years as a naval aviator, he is involved in three flight accidents.

While training in Texas in March 1960, he narrowly escapes when his AD-6 Skyraider crashes into Corpus Christi Bay and he’s knocked unconscious. After the plane settles on the bottom of the bay, he comes to, then manages to free himself and swim to the surface, where he is rescued by a helicopter. After an investigation, the official Navy report attributes the accident to operator error: "the preoccupation of the pilot coupled with a power setting too low to maintain level flight."

During his early years as a pilot, McCain serves on aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean and Caribbean as well as at several stateside bases. In December 1961, he flies another Skyraider too low into electrical wires in Southern Spain, causing a local blackout. “My daredevil clowning had cut off electricity to a great many Spanish homes and created a small international incident,” he would later write in his autobiography.

In November 1965, McCain has a third accident in a T-2 jet trainer, suffering an engine flame-out that causes him to eject from the aircraft over the Eastern Shore of Virginia. According to his official Navy biography, the Naval Aviation Safety Center was unable to pinpoint the accident’s cause.

"John was what you called a push-the-envelope guy," Sam H. Hawkins, who flew with McCain&aposs VA-44 squadron in the 1960s, told The Los Angeles Times in 2008.

October 1966: Combat deployment

In late 1966, he joins a squadron of A-4E Skyhawk pilots that will deploy on the U.S.S. Forrestal, a carrier that soon heads to the Tonkin Gulf, off the coast of North Vietnam. They arrive at the peak of President Lyndon Johnson’s Operation Rolling Thunderꃊmpaign of massive sustained aerial bombardment.

July 1967: The deadly Forrestal fire

On the morning of July 29, 1967, McCain has another brush with death. As he awaits his turn for takeoff from the USS Forrestal, for a bombing run over North Vietnam, another plane accidentally fires a missile. It strikes਎ither his plane or the one next to him (accounts differ), igniting a raging fire on the ship’s deck. McCain manages to extricate himself from his plane, only to be hit in the legs and chest by hot shrapnel.

𠇊ll around me was mayhem,” he would recall years later. “Planes were burning. More bombs cooked off. Body parts, pieces of the ship, and scraps of planes were dropping onto the deck. Pilots strapped in their seats ejected into the firestorm. Men trapped by flames jumped overboard.” By the time it’s over, more than 130 crew members are dead.

A 1967 photograph showing U.S. Navy Air Force Major John McCain in a Hanoi hospital as he was being given medical care for his injuries after his Navy warplane was downed by the Northern Vietnamese army and was captured. 

October 1967: Shot down and badly injured

Three months later, on October 26, McCain takes off on his 23bombing run over North Vietnam, reportedly on a mission to destroy Hanoi’s thermal power plant. Just as he releases his bombs over the target, a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, described as looking like 𠇊 flying telephone pole,” strikes his plane, ripping off its right wing. McCain ejects, breaking both arms and one knee, and parachutes into a shallow lake.

After briefly losing consciousness, he wakes up to find himself �ing hauled ashore on two bamboo poles by a group of about 20 angry Vietnamese. A crowd of several hundred Vietnamese gathered around me as I lay dazed before them, shouting wildly at me, stripping my clothes off, spitting on me, kicking and striking me repeatedly…. Someone smashed a rifle butt into my shoulder, breaking it. Someone else stuck a bayonet in my ankle and groin.”

Soon, an army truck arrives, taking McCain as a prisoner of war. He will remain one for five and a half years.

1967-1973: POW hell

North Vietnamese soldiers bring the badly injured McCain to a prison that American POWs have nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton.” He receives no medical attention but is repeatedly interrogated and beaten. Some days later, after his captors discover he’s the son of an American admiral and realize his potential propaganda value, they transfer him to a hospital, where he receives blood transfusions and injections but little other treatment for his injuries. After six weeks, he has lost 50 pounds and weighs barely 100. He’s told he isn’t getting any better and sent to a prison camp, presumably to die.

With the help of fellow prisoners, McCain slowly regains some strength and is eventually able to stand up and walk with the aid of crutches. He won’t enjoy the camaraderie for long, however in April 1968, he’s put into solitary confinement, where he’ll stay for the next two years.

In June 1968, however, McCain’s captors make an unexpected offer: They will let him go home. McCain suspects that they will force him to sign a last-minute confession in exchange, that they want to embarrass his father, and that they believe giving him special treatment will demoralize other POWs whose fathers don’t happen to be Navy admirals. He would also be violating what he calls a standard policy among officers to remain behind until those who’ve been held longer are released.

McCain ultimately refuses the offer, telling a North Vietnamese officer that his decision is final. “Now it will be very bad for you, Mac Kane,” the officer tells him.

The beatings and interrogations continue, and McCain makes two attempts to hang himself, earning further beatings as punishment. Unable to take it any longer, he says, he signs a confession dictated by his captors. Told the following day to make a tape recording of the confession he at first refuses but is soon beaten into complying.

𠇊ll my pride was lost, and I doubted I would ever stand up to any man again,” he recalled years later. “Nothing could save me. No one would ever look upon me again with anything but pity or contempt.” The confession would haunt McCain for years to come.

1973: Released from captivity

McCain remains a prisoner until the U.S. and North Vietnam sign a peace accord in late January 1973, ending the conflict. He is released in March, along with 107 other POWs, and boards a U.S. transport plane headed to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.

A New York Timesreporter describes McCain’s arrival at the air base: “His hair was gray, almost white in patches, after almost five and a half years as a prisoner, and as he limped off the plane he held the handrail.” The men, the Timesnotes, were taken to the base hospital and given a dinner of “steak, eggs, fried chicken, corn on the cob, vegetables, salads, fruits and ice cream.”

Ten days later, the returned POWs are honored at a White House reception. McCain is photographed shaking hands with President Richard M. Nixon, while standing with the aid of two crutches. In the coming months Navy surgeons will attempt to repair his arms and knee and he’ll endure what he describes as 𠇊 difficult period of rehabilitation” with a “remarkably determined physical therapist.” Eventually he’s fit enough to pass the physical exam required of Navy pilots, but he’ll never regain the full use of his arms or injured leg.

Later, during his run for president in 2008, he’ll joke that he has “more scars than Frankenstein.”

Navy Lieutenant Commander John McCain arrived at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, after his release from Hanoi during the Vietnam War in 1973. Richard Nixon personally welcomed him home after McCain&aposs five and a half years as a P.O.W.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

1973-1981: Back on the homefront

After his return to the States, and while he’s still undergoing therapy for his injuries, McCain requests assignment to the National War College in Washington, D.C. 𠇋y the time my nine months at the War College ended, I had satisfied my curiosity about how Americans had entered and lost the Vietnam War,” he later wrote. “The experience did not cause me to conclude that the war was wrong, but it did help me understand how wrongly it had been fought and led.”

In late 1974, after he manages to pass the physical exam to qualify for flight status, he’s sent to Cecil Field, a naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida. A few months later, he’s promoted to commanding officer of a replacement air group, responsible for training carrier pilots.

McCain’s third and final assignment, however, may be the most influential in setting his future course. In 1977, he’s assigned to a liaison office in the United States Senate in Washington, where he serves as the Navy’s lobbyist and gets to see the workings of Congress from the inside. The job marked “my real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant,” he later recalls.

In 1981, McCain retires from the Navy with the rank of captain. His decorations include, among others, a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

1986: A political career with a military bent

On November 4, 1986, after two terms in the House, McCain is elected to the U.S. Senate, where he becomes an unusually visible freshman senator, with a focus on military and foreign-policy issues. In a 1988 profile, The New York Timescalls him “the Senate’s young man in a hurry,” adding that, 𠇌heated of five and a half years of his life by the North Vietnamese… John McCain runs a little faster, pushes himself a little harder than most people.”

Drawing on his POW experience, he also becomes the Senate’s most vocal and credible opponent of the use of torture on prisoners, particularly in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

More than a dozen years into his Senate career, McCain observes in his 1999 memoir that his public image is still “inextricably linked” to his POW experience. “Whenever I am introduced at an appearance, the speaker always refers to my war record first.”

Although he didn’t want Vietnam to “stand as the ultimate experience of my life,” he writes, he was also grateful for it. “Vietnam changed me, in significant ways, for the better. It is a surpassing irony that war, for all its horror, provides the combatant with every conceivable human experience. Experiences that usually take a lifetime to know are all felt, and felt intensely, in one brief passage of life.”

Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain, 2017. 

Joshua Fulton/U.S. Navy/Getty Images

1994: The McCain family destroyer

The U.S. Navy commissions the USS John S. McCain, a destroyer named for both McCain’s father and grandfather. It is the second such honor for the grandfather another destroyer bearing his name was in service from 1953 to 1978.

2015: A hawk in the Senate

McCain becomes chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, after being the committee’s ranking Republican. He had joined when he was first elected to the Senate in 1986.

2018: Honors for the son

On March 23, John McCain is honored with the Naval Academy Alumni Association’s Distinguished Graduate Award. Unable to attend because of his illness and treatment, he’s represented by a longtime friend and Senate colleague, former Vice President Joe Biden. “John wouldn’t say it, but I will,” Biden remarks. “John is an American hero who has lifted all of us up, lifted his nation up.”

On July 12, the Navy announces that the name of the destroyer USS John S. McCain will now honor Senator McCain as well as his father and grandfather. 𠇊s a warrior and a statesman who has always put country first, Sen. John McCain never asked for this honor, and he would never seek it,” Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer says. 𠇋ut we would be remiss if we did not etch his name alongside his illustrious forebears, because this country would not be the same were it not for the courageous service of all three of these great men.”

The Zeppelin Raiders

T he year of 1915 was marked by the heavy attacks on London and other British cities by raiding German Zeppelins. It was the first time in history that this type of warfare on helpless civilians was perpetrated, and there was little to be done about these giant gasbags, since practically nothing had been accomplished toward developing a high-angle anti-aircraft gun, and the existing aeroplanes were not capable of rapid climb. There was no radar, and all the Germans had to do was to take off from their sheds in occupied Belgium, climb to a favourable wind level late in the afternoon, and cut their engines. The wind would carry them in silence over the North Sea, so they generally arrived over Britain in the early darkness. Once they had released their racks of high explosives, they simply soared to a greater height and turned their noses for home.

As may be surmised, the prospects were not cheerful. For months the Allies had suffered reverse after reverse. The British still remembered Mons, as they were to remember Dunkirk a quarter of a century later. They had won at Neuve-Chapelle, but at what a cost! The Germans had staged their first poison-gas attack, and the British were still searching for a reliable gas mask.

This new atrocity, only tersely announced, aroused fresh suspicions. At home they had experienced the general blackout for the first time. Raiding Zeppelins, blackouts, and censorship? What next? The Germans must be at the Channel ports! What could be believed? If the gas attack at Ypres was censored, how much could be credited concerning the reported damage inflicted by the Zeppelin raids? What was to stop the Germans from bombing London clean off the map or drenching the chief cities with his poison gas?


By June of that year the British were as near morale disintegration as they have ever been. Fortunately confidence was restored by a schoolboyish youngster, Reginald Alexander John Warneford. The searching finger of Fate could not have selected a more British candidate for the hero's role of this early war drama.

Reg Warneford was a lively composite of the Commonwealth of Nations. His parents were cheery Yorkshire types who rattled about the Empire on various missions and pretexts, and Reg was born in India, educated at the English College in Simla, at Stratford on Avon Grammar School in England, and at an unnamed lyceum in Canada. Although his formal education was devoted to the arts and classics, Reg appears to have shown a marked preference for motor cycles, odorous chemical experiments, and mountain climbing.

When the news of the war reached him in Canada he broke out of the lyceum and raced for England. First he joined the much-publicized Sportsmen's Battalion, an infantry unit made up of well-known sporting and athletic figures, but the Sportsmen's Battalion was slack in unfurling its battle flags, and Reggie discovered that headlined athletes are usually physically attuned only to sport -not war. Fearing the conflict would end before the athletes were whipped into combat condition, he put in for an immediate transfer to the Royal Naval Air Service. He made a good selection, for by June 1915, less than eleven months after the opening of hostilities, he was a Flight Sub-Lieutenant with No. 1 Squadron at Dunkirk.

Half a dozen solo flights on a Morane Parasol, and young Warneford was tabbed for honour and glory. It must be admitted that World War I seemed to be designed for men who wanted fast action. Like Warneford, most flyers were afraid it would peter out any minute-and they'd all have to go back to school or work again.

First Raid over London

On the evening of May 21, 1915, Hauptmann Karl Linnarz, a noted Zeppelin commander, carried out the first successful raid on London. He had taken off from an airship base located at Evere just north of Brussels, gained operating altitude over his field, and then allowed a friendly breeze to drift him in silence over the British Capital.

London watched the inadequate defences go into action. The searchlights lanced the skies but were unable to pick up the raider. The ineffective pom-poms grunted and growled but only showered the suburbs with jagged shrapnel. A few Home Defence flyers took off to do battle, but as usual nothing happened. The warning sirens shrieked and died down. The pungent smoke pall seeped across the Thames, and hurriedly organized rescue teams clambered through the wreckage, cursing a government that had failed to anticipate this form of warfare.

However, at a secluded airstrip across the Channel something new had been added, a special anti-airship Squadron at Dunkirk. A hundred feet below the homeward-bound Zeppelin-dramatically highlighted by the yellow-blue exhausts of its four Maybach engines- cruised a tiny high-wing monoplane flaunting the new red, white, and blue of the British service. A series of smudged flame flicks spat out from the oval cockpit below the centre-section cutout. Gunfire! They were single shots of desperation from a cumbersome shoulder weapon, but alarming and disconcerting, nevertheless. After all, LZ.38's ballonets were filled with hydrogen, and it took only a single bullet to produce a spark.

Hauptmann Linnarz rushed to his control board and bellowed for emergency measures. As soon as his gasbag had lifted to safety he became the militant Prussian once more. He took a neatly engraved calling card from his wallet and on it scrawled: "You English! We have come and we will come again soon to kill or cure! Linnarz." He snatched a weighted message streamer from a flag locker and inserted the card and message in the stitched pocket. "See that this is dropped as near the Dunkirk aerodrome as possible. We will fly over it on crossing the coast line."

Four thousand feet below. Lieutenant R.H. Mulock of No. I Naval cut his gasping Le Rhône engine and eased into a gentle glide. He'd given it a try, but the little Morane Parasol was unequal to the task.

"There's no use trying to swat one wasp with a wisp of straw," Mulock later reported to his C.O., Commander Spenser Grey. "A wise man would pour a kettle of hot water down the hole and scuttle the lot. That's what we've got to do. Blast them out of their bloody sheds." From that night on. No. I Naval planned a new strategy and, to add a dash of personal competition and squadron animosity to the proceedings, a wandering navy artificer beachcombing along the Dunkirk dunes the next day came across Hauptmann Linnarz's insulting message. He turned it over to Commander Grey, and the boys at No. I Naval accepted the challenge.

When the Royal Naval Air Service first took over its base at Dunkirk, Spenser Grey decided to disperse the few machines allotted to him. Dunkirk was too obvious a target, but Furnes, just across the French-Belgian border, was less conspicuous.

One three-ship flight under Lieutenant J. P. Wilson was therefore accommodated in three single canvas hangars set on the edge of a lush meadow, and there Wilson and Sub-Lieutenants Mills and Reg Warneford made up the duty roster.

Their mounts were stripped- down versions of the French Morane-Saulnier observation planes. The high wing was given a sharper angle of attack for climbing, one seat was covered over, and a primitive form of bomb rack was bolted beneath the fuselage. Because of its weird wing arrangement, the British pilots had long dubbed it the Parasol. This Morane machine was as flighty as its name, tricky on the controls and devilish to land. It was relatively fast as a single-seater and powered with an 80-h.p. Rhone engine. Other than the six so-called fire bombs and a light carbine borrowed from the Belgian Army, she carried no offensive armament.

The Night of June 6-7

On the afternoon of June 6 Wilson's Furnes flight reported to Dunkirk, where Spenser Grey had set up a council of war. The C.O. explained Mulock's abortive brush with the Zeppelin that had bombed London and impressed his flight leaders with the obvious impossibility of engaging Zeps in the air. Then Grey fluttered Linnarz's message streamer and belligerent calling card.

"The man who dropped this challenge played merry hell over London less than a week ago. Mulock did his best, but this Hun Linnarz returned to his shed at Evere unscathed."

"You are sure this calling-card bloke and his gasbag are located at Evere?" Wilson broke in.

"That, we know. Keep thinking along those lines, Wilson. Just one night attack might be very useful." It was pretty obvious what Spenser Grey and J. P. Wilson were considering.

On the way back to Furnes young Warneford explained to Wilson that be had never been off the ground at night, but Wilson insisted they were taking off as soon after midnight as possible.

True to his word. Lieutenant Wilson had his flight ready and waiting on the oil-stained turf by midnight, the racks were glutted with fire bombs, and the Belgian carbines rested in the brass prongs beside the cockpits.

Warneford was flagged off first, and before he realized what he had signed up for his Morane was well off the ground. He stared wide-eyed and then peered, trying to find the small grouping of instruments. A length of scarlet worsted knotted to a centre-section strut was flicking insistently at his nose, and he quickly realized this very primitive indicator was warning him that he was already in a dangerous sideslip. Gradually his eyes became accustomed to the yellow-grey nothingness below his Triplex windscreen, and he fixed his gaze on the white needle of the altimeter. He was already at 3,000 feet.

He looked around for some evidence of Wilson and Mills. There was nothing anywhere but the exaggerated roar of the Le Rhône and the drip-drip-drip of condensation off the centre-section that needled his cheeks like a fretsaw blade. Below hissed a poisonous glow that he had never encountered before-it was the blue-yellow flame of his exhaust. His indistinct compass float, dancing in a small window placed, in the bulge of the centre-section, showed something that looked like the letter W. Encouraged by this, he risked a turn, hoping to pick up his flight mates.

He circled and circled for some minutes, but no sign of Wilson or Mills rewarded his patient patrol. Meanwhile he was becoming adjusted to his strange experience and as the area remained fairly clear he wondered whether, regardless of his failure to contact his flight leader and companions, he might make himself useful. He had about decided to search for the Berchem-

Sainte-Agathe airship shed, which he remembered was located just west of Brussels, when something caught his eye a few miles to the north. He blinked and looked again. That something was emitting the same blue-yellow flame as his Le Rhône. If that was Wilson and Mills, what the devil were they doing up there toward Ostend? And what in heaven's name was that long black mass floating above them?

Wilson and Mills had made immediate contact with each other and soon cleared the fog around Fames to head east for Brussels, 75 miles away. On finding clear sides, Wilson decider to fly direct for Evere on the north side of the old Flemish city, and together they hit their objective on the nose. Circling the shed area once, Wilson went in first, mainly to start a fire and give Mills a pathfinder target. He released three of his bombs but only created a billowing smoke pall. By then the German defence gunners woke up and began plastering the sky with high-angle gun explosive, at which point Wilson discovered his last three bombs had become hung up in the primitive rack. Young Mills finally went in. Parasol wings fluttering, to dare the ground fire and pulled his bomb plug. All six of his 20-pounders slid clear, and he was rewarded with a gigantic explosion that illuminated the sky for miles around. Wilson, who had conceived and planned the raid, had to return with little to show for his effort.

Two weeks later British Intelligence, working out of Antwerp, reported that Hauptmann Linnarz's LZ.38 -- the same airship that had first bombed London -- had gone up in flames during the raid on Evere. Thus the R.N.A.S. scored revenge for that caustic calling card.

That same night the LZ.37, commanded by Oberleutnant von de Haegen, had been ordered to carry out a routine patrol stretching from Ghent to Le Havre. There was nothing particularly offensive about the flight, for it was originated mainly to give a number of airship designers, specialists, and technicians from the Zeppelin factory first-hand knowledge of the various problems experienced by the crews on active service.

The LZ.37 was 521 feet in length and her eighteen main gas ballonets carried 953,000 cubic feet of hydrogen. She was powered by four new 210-h.p. Maybach engines and manned by a select crew of twenty-eight highly skilled airshipmen. For defence her designers had provided four machine-gun posts built into the out- board engine gondolas. These positions provided good visibility, a fairly wide arc of fire, and complete defence along both sides of the airship.

Unequal Midnight Duel

After Warneford had been flying north for a few minutes he stared in amazement at what he had stumbled onto-a Zeppelin that seemed half a mile long! He had to twist his head from west to east to take in its leviathan proportions. From its underside were hung several glistening observation cars, and the gleam from fantail exhausts indicated that the rubberized covering was daubed a yellow-ochre colour. Warneford wondered what the devil kept a thing that big in the air at all. But there was no time for reflection as the Zeppelin's machine guns opened up and the slugs clattered through the frail wings of Morane Parasol No. 3253.

Warneford wisely heeled over and cleared off out of range. He glanced around and saw that the fog was breaking up below and he could see the Ostend-Bruges Canal. The big gasbag was apparently headed for Ghent. The observation cars seemed twice as large as his Parasol fuselage.

Then, to his amazement, the big snub-nosed gasbag shifted course and came roaring on toward him. Two more streams of tracer-flickering machine-gun fire snapped from the forward gondolas and converged only a few yards from the Parasol. He gave the Le Rhône all she could gulp and tried to climb, but the crisscrossing tracers pencilled in a definite warning, and he had to peel off and dive. He sat and studied the situation and wondered what his carbine would do if he could hit something particularly touchy. After all, hydrogen burns.

He flailed the little Morane back and took the carbine from its prongs. Manoeuvring to a point under the mighty elevator and ladder framework, he gripped the control stick between his knees, and then, sublimely confident that he had not been. seen, he began triggering off a few .303 shells at the massive target above and ahead. the first clip of cartridges was soon spent and nothing untoward had happened.

For the next few minutes he stalked the LZ.37 and popped away with his carbine, but it was like aiming at a cyclone-propelled haystack with an air rifle. Whenever he came within range or within view, the German gunners sprayed the sky about him with generous bursts of Parabellum fire, and time after time the impudent young Englishman was driven off.

Warneford's Pursuit

Von de Haegen then played it safe and dumped some water ballast over Assebroek and left Warneford still potting away impotently at 7,000 feet. From there the Zep commander upped his speed and roared away for Ghent.

Warneford realized what had happened but refused to admit defeat. Instead he settled back to keep the Zeppelin within view and gain some valuable height.

It was a race for safety for the LZ.37, and while von de Haegen maintained his altitude Warneford was helpless but this was not an ordinary mission. The German commander began to worry about his V.I.P. passengers when he should have concentrated on maintaining his safe tactical procedure.

By 2.25 a.m. the Morane Parasol pilot, still stalking and trying to get. above the Zeppelin, was delighted to see the big airship suddenly nose down and apparently head for a break in the 7,000-foot cloud layer that spread toward Ghent. He had browbeaten his plane up to 11,000 feet, hoping he might get into a position where he could use his fire bombs, since he had expended all his carbine ammunition. Now the LZ.37 was actually below him and for the first time he realized that the upper cover was painted what seemed to be a dark green and that there was nothing resembling a gun turret on the top that could harass him. The other guns were in the underside gondolas and he was shielded from them by the bulging sides of the main framework.

She looked so big as he moved into position for his run-in, he felt he could make a landing on her topside. The ground smear that was Ghent lay below and slightly to the east when the gnat-like Morane nosed down for the 500-foot top panel of the LZ.37. He must have chuckled to himself as his wheels passed over the high elevator and rudder structure.


One . .. two . . .three! he counted as the Morane jerked with the release of each bomb.

He said later that be had fully expected the Zeppelin to explode immediately when his first bomb pierced the envelope.

Four . . . five! He continued to count, and then a gigantic explosion ripped through the upper panel covering, baring the indistinct details of the framework.

Completely spellbound, he continued his run-in until the little Morane was swept up on a savage belch of flaming concussion. It whipped over with a violence that would have catapulted Warneford out of his cockpit had it not been for his safety belt. He gasped in astonishment, rammed the stick forward, and tried to get her into a dive. Chunks of burning framework hurtled by as he gradually floundered out of the aerial convulsion and streaked down through a great pall of choking smoke. The next few minutes were devoted to skimming clear of the debris, getting back on even keel, and frantically adjusting his air and gas mixture to overcome a series of warning pops from his Le Rhône.

A few seconds later the doomed airship fell on the convent of Saint Elizabeth in the Mont-Saint-Amand suburb of Ghent. One nun was killed outright and several women were badly burned, but the helmsman of the Zeppelin had a most remarkable escape. According to eye-witnesses, he actually jumped clear of the tumbling wreckage at about 200 feet, landed on the root of the convent, crashed through it as though it had been made of matchwood, and landed in a unoccupied bed. He suffered only minor injuries and was the only crew member or passenger of the ill-fated LZ.37 to live.

Warneford's Escape

At 7,000 feet above this widespread carnage Warneford sat waiting for his wings to part company with the fuselage. The Le Rhône snorted its wrath and contempt, and quit cold! The gleaming wooden prop wig-wagged to a halt as he calculated that he was at least 35 miles inside the German lines. There was nothing else to do but accept the bitter inevitable and go down. In spite of the darkness and the lack of ground flares, the young flyer landed the battered machine safely in an open field that was shielded on one side by a long patch of woods. There was a darkened farmhouse nearby, but no one appeared to question his unscheduled arrival.

His first impulse was to destroy the plane but an investigation of the tank disclosed there was ample fuel to get him back across the line to Furnes, and further probing indicated that his violent acrobatics had broken the fuel line. He figured there was still a chance to escape. A quick search through his pockets produced a cigarette holder. The outer end was just what he needed, so he broke it off, fitted it to form a journal at the original break, and bound it secure with strips of a linen handkerchief. An experimental tug on the prop assured him that sufficient fuel was reaching the carburettor, so he decided to start the engine himself. The Le Rhône, of course, was still warm, and after two complete revolutions of the prop to suck in petrol he cut in the switch and snapped her over. The engine caught immediately and it was something of a scramble to get into the cockpit, but he managed it and roared away.

Approaching the coast again, he encountered more fog so he tooled up and down until he found a hole and dropped through. At 3.30 a.m. he checked in at Cai Gris-Nez, 10 miles below Calais, where he picked up more fuel and called his squadron headquarters at Dunkirk.

He sat out the bad weather and finally returned to Furnes at 10:30 a.m. By that time the jubilant news was widely known and within hours his name was ringing from one end of the Empire to the other. All that week his photograph was flashed on hundreds of theatre screens to the delight of cheering audiences.

That afternoon, in keeping with the traditions of the Silent Service, Commanding Officer Spenser Grey of No. I Naval Squadron posted a notice which read:

Though weather has been extremely unsettled, our pilots have been active and busy

The next day King George V recognized Warneford's victory by awarding him the Victoria Cross, and the French government followed that decoration with their Cross of the Legion of Honour.

England tightened its belt from that day on and took a brighter view of the Zeppelin menace. Many more raiders would come and more devastation would be wrought, but now there was assurance that some young Britisher would mount the sky and take them on. Many more Zeppelins were destroyed before the Kaiser capitulated, and many other young men - Leefe-Robinson, Tempest, Cadbury, Sowrey, Leckie and Pyott - came along to take up Warneford's torch. All of them were great names in those days.

But Flight Lieutenant R. A. J. Warneford lived only ten more days to enjoy the laurels of his victory. He went to Paris on June 17 to receive his Legion of Honour and after the ceremony was ordered to pick up a new Farman biplane at the Buc aerodrome outside the French capital. The machine was brand new - so new in fact that much of its standard equipment had not been fitted - but most important, there were no safety belts in either seat.

An enthusiastic American newspaperman named Needham had asked to go along to Furnes, where he planned to write a story about Warneford and his Zeppelin victory. Warneford cheerfully agreed and they climbed in the biplane and took off. Almost immediately, for some unknown reason, the Farman pitched and bucked and both Warneford and Needham were thrown out in mid-air and killed. And so ended the brief but illustrious record of the first British airman to destroy a German zeppelin in the air.


Following the Warneford Zeppelin triumph, there were dozens of fabulous reports of other gasbag conquests. One of the most fantastic that persisted for weeks was that Roland Garros, the French ace, had tried to down a Zeppelin over Paris with his new gun, but when he failed with ordinary gunfire he boldly rammed the raider, flying his Morane Bullet straight through the massive framework and coming out the other side, leaving a jagged outline of his machine. After that, the Zeppelin folded in the middle and dropped in a French cornfield. There was, of course, nothing to the report, but faked photographs of this astounding adventure were on sale all over France for several weeks. The myth of the Allied pilot who flew through a Zeppelin persisted for some time, but no more Zeppelins were downed for more than a year when a B.E.2c pilot of No. 39 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, Lieutenant W. Leefe-Robinson, repeated Warneford's performance. In this case, however, he scored his victory on the evening of September 2-3, 1916, in sight of a million pairs of British eyes, and piled up the wreckage for all to see near the little village of Cuffley in Middlesex, whereas Warneford's action took place over the other side of the North Sea. Strictly speaking, the airship brought down was not a Zeppelin. It was a dirigible of the old Schutte- Lanz type. It had a maximum speed of about 60 miles an hour, but for purposes of fuel conservation this speed was seldom used the cruising speed of 40 miles per hour was more usual. Its maximum altitude, by jettisoning its war load, was about 15,000 feet.

Leefe-Robinson was also born in India of British parents, in 1895, and when the family returned to Britain he was educated at St. Bee's School in Cumberland, a small academy that produced three Victoria Cross winners. After considerable travelling in France and Russia he entered Sandhurst military college in August 1914. The following December he was gazetted to the Worcester Regiment, but by March 1915 had transferred to the Royal Flying Corps where he served as an observer. On May 9 he was wounded in the right arm on a patrol near Lille, and when he had recovered he was posted to a flight training school at Farnborough, England, and took his ticket the following September. He was eventually assigned to No. 39 Squadron, a Home Defence unit located at Sutton's Farm.

By this time, while no longer in dread of the Zeppelins, the people of Britain were looking askance at the anti- aircraft defences the politicians and War Office martinets were bragging about. The Zeppelins were again raiding Britain almost nightly, and the civilian casualty roll mounted. Month after month passed and no one bad emulated Reg Warneford's feat. In truth, the gasbag invaders were enjoying some immunity, but by the same token they were not scoring on important military points.

As in World War II these raids, although spectacular and damaging from the point of view of the general population, were not seriously hindering the over-all war effort.

The population was suffering mainly from sleepless nights. Then on September 3, 1916, in full view of the Metropolis a giant raider fell in a roaring mass of flame. It struck the ground at Coffley, Middlesex, and the entire crew of sixteen died as millions of Londoners cheered the unknown hero who had sent it to its fate. In an hour all roads leading to Cuffley were thronged with the curious who rushed to see the remains of the first raider shot down on English soil.

Shortly after eleven o'clock on September 2 the Maybach engines of these dirigibles, were first heard over the keeping countryside. It was a beautifully clear night with few clouds floating across the sky. The stars looked down with cool aloofness. Gradually the higher-pitched notes of the Home Defence B.E.2c's screeched across the skies in search of the raiders. Just after one o'clock a probing searchlight picked out a long, glowing pencil of light as it approached Woolwich Arsenal. There was no mistaking it, and other searchlights swept across the war-stricken sky and joined the first. Lieutenant Leefe-Robinson saw the dirigible held aloft on a tripod of blinding silver, and, although he was in danger of being hit by his own shells, he raced in to the attack.

This is his story as he scrawled it on a sheet of patrol report paper:

From: Lieutenant Leefe-Robinson,
Sutton's Farm.
To: The Officer Commanding
No. 39 H. D. Squadron.
I have the honour to make the following report on night patrol made by me on the night of the 2-3 instant. I went up at about 11.08 p.m. on the night of the second with instructions to patrol between Sutton's Farm and Joyce Green.

I climbed to 10,000 feet in fifty-three minutes. I counted what I thought were ten sets of flares - there were a few clouds below me, but on the whole it was a beautifully clear night. I saw nothing until 1.10 a.m., when two searchlights picked up a Zeppelin S.E. of Woolwich. The clouds had collected in this quarter and the searchlights had some difficulty in keeping on the airship. By this time I had managed to climb to 12,000 feet and I made in the direction of the Zeppelin - which was being fired on by a few anti-aircraft guns - hoping to cut it off on its way eastward. I very slowly gained on it for about ten minutes. I judged it to be about 800 feet below me and I sacrificed some speed in order to keep the height. It went behind some clouds, avoiding the searchlight, and I lost sight of it. After fifteen minutes of fruitless search I returned to my patrol.

I managed to pick up and distinguish my flares again. At about 1.50 a.m. I noticed a red glow in the N.E. of London. Taking it to be an outbreak of fire, I went in that direction. At 2.05 a Zeppelin was picked up by the searchlights over N.N.E. London (as far as I could judge).

Remembering my last failure, I sacrificed height (I was at about 12,900 feet) for speed and nosed down in the direction of the Zeppelin. I saw shells bursting and night tracers flying around it. When I drew closer I noticed that the anti- aircraft aim was too high or too low also a good many shells burst about 800 feet behind-a few tracers went right over. I could hear the bursts when about 3,000 feet from the Zeppelin. I flew about 800 feet below it from bow to stem and distributed one drum among it (alternate New Brock and Pomeroy). It seemed to have no effect I therefore moved to one side and gave them another drum along the side - also without effect. I then got behind it and by this time I was very close - 500 feet or less below, and concentrated one drum on one part (underneath rear). I was then at a height of 11,500 feet when attacking the Zeppelin.

I had hardly finished the drum before I saw the part fired at, glow. In a few seconds the whole rear part was blazing. When the third drum was fired, there were no searchlights on the Zeppelin, and no and-aircraft was firing. I quickly got out of the way of the falling, blazing Zeppelin and, being very excited, fired off a few red Very lights and dropped a parachute flare.

Having little oil or petrol left, I returned to Sutton's Farm, landing at 2.45 a.m. On landing, I found the Zeppelin gunners had shot away the machine-gun wire guard, the rear part of my centre section, and had pierced the main spar several times.

I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) W. Leefe-Robinson, Lieutenant
No. 39 Squadron, R.F.C.

Once again the hero of the hour did not long survive his victory. On April 5, 1917, Leefe-Robinson was posted to No. 48 Squadron, the first R.F.C. outfit to fly the new Bristol Fighter. Flying as a flight commander (captain), he saw his six-plane flight attacked by a Fokker circus. Instead of breaking up and flying as fighter scouts, Leefe- Robinson's flight tried to fly the old two-seater Lufbery circle (nose to tail) formation and were badly cut up. It was the first and last time that the Bristol Fighter was so misused. Leefe-Robinson's engine was damaged and he had to land in enemy territory, where he was taken prisoner, spending most of the war in various German prisons including the infamous Holzminden, where for a time he was kept in solitary confinement. His health became undermined - he was hardly the rugged physical type - and shortly after being returned to his home in England fell a victim to one of the influenza epidemics. This courageous young man who gave London its most dramatic war spectacle made no spectacular exit himself. He died in bed on January 31, 1918.

Summary of Zeppelin Raids

London was the principal objective of the First World War Zeppelin raids, and between 1915 and 1918 no less than 208 airship sorties were carried out against Britain, a total of 5,907 bombs were dropped, 528 people were killed (mostly civilians), and more than 1,000 were wounded. The peak of the Zeppelin's threat was during 1915 and 1916, for during those two years 168 sorties were carried out against Great Britain, killing 115 people and wounding 324 in London. In the rest of England, 361 were killed and 692 wounded. In 1917 and 1918 the airship threat practically came to an end only thirty sorties were made in 1917, and ten in the last year of the war. The explanation is that Great Britain greatly improved her anti-aircraft gunnery, searchlights, and her warning system. A seldom-published item of interest is that many of the ground observers employed along the British east coast to detect the oncoming airships and aircraft were blind people, selected because of their acute hearing. It was probably the most rewarding task any such afflicted person has undertaken.

Late 1916

After Leefe-Robinson's success against S.L.II the Home Defence squadrons seemed to be inspired. On September 23, 1916, eleven airships, including three new super-Zeppelins, left their sheds in Belgium and headed for the Essex coast.

About midnight L.33 was over East London and had dropped twenty bombs. This time, however, the defence reacted fast and almost immediately L.33 was caught on a cone of searchlights and was riddled by the ground guns. One of her engines was damaged and she began to fly a very erratic course, and to add to her miseries a Lieutenant A. G. Brandon of the R.F.C. hove out of the night and for twenty minutes slugged her with machine-gun fire. As she laboured her way back to the North Sea the crew jettisoned everything that could be tossed overboard, but she never reached the Belgian coast line and was lost in the sea.

The famous Commander Mathy, aboard L.31 in company with L.32, crossed the English Channel and cruised over toward Kent, flying boldly on to the centre of London. Mathy dumped bombs on northern London and escaped. The L.32, however, was not so bold and spent some time circling the Romney marshes and finally crossed the Thames at Dartford, where it was picked up by searchlights. At this point Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey attacked with a machine gun and sent it down in flames near the village of Billericay. He had to be content with the Distinguished Service Order.

The bold Captain Mathy lived a charmed life. He seemed bullet-proof, and night after night, weather permitting, he would invade Britain from one direction or the other. He did not always float over to drop bombs sometimes he would simply drift about making an important reconnaissance. One never knew whether he would come to London from the industrial north or appear suddenly over the Isle of Wight and fly inland from the English Channel.

On board the L.31 on the night of October 1, 1916, Mathy led a formation of eleven dirigibles and this time he first appeared over Lowestoft on the east coast at about eight o'clock and as usual steered a deliberate course for London. Soon after passing Chelmsford, he discovered that the outer London defences were ready for him, so he turned north-east until the furor died down. Then with a quick decision he turned south-west with the idea of getting into position for another dash across London. After drifting quietly in the vicinity of Ware, he started his engines again and headed for the northern fringes of the capital.

The ground defences had been just as wary, and the minute his engines opened up, the guns below responded and Mathy had to turn away, but unfortunately for him Second Lieutenant W. J. Tempest had struggled up to 12,700 feet while stalking the Mathy airship. He attacked resolutely in the face of heavy gondola machine-gun fire, and the L.31 went down in flames, piling up on the outskirts of Potters Bar. This was the last time a German dirigible attempted to attack London, After that the Germans gave their attention to the industrial areas in the north.

Then on the evening of November 27, 1916, eight dirigibles reached the British coast line, one being immediately destroyed on the coast near Hartlepool by Captain J. V. Pyott of the R.F.C. Another raider, L.21, was caught by anti-aircraft fire as she was leaving the coast of Yarmouth. This airship broke up at 8,000 feet and fell into the sea and sank at once.

The next year, 1917, on September 24 Captain Peter Strasser led a ten-airship raid against northern England, and Hull was successfully bombed. On October 19-20 of the same year a true "silent raid" was carried out when eleven airships rendezvoused over the Yorkshire coast for an attack on the industrial centres of the Midlands. It turned out to be the most disastrous experience of the airship war. While over Britain the Zeppelins flew at well over 16,000 feet and at this level the efficient of the crews was apparently impaired by altitude sickness and intense cold, and the weather conspired to outwit them.

Near the ground the air was misty and there was little wind, but at 16,000 feet a strong gale was blowing in from the north and the Zeppelins drifted blindly south. One airship passed over London without recognising the city, but somehow dropped a 50-kg. bomb, which fell in Piccadilly Road and caused some casualties.

The London ground-defense officials played a cat-and- mouse game with Captain Strasser's dirigibles. Realising their searchlights could not pierce the low mist, they kept them doused, and the raiders floundered helplessly, unable to find the British metropolis. The raid ended in almost total disaster. Only one airship managed to get back to Germany over the usual route. Six had to risk the neutrality of Holland or cross the Allied battle-lines in France. The remaining four were destroyed the next day by gunfire as they floated about France.

This tragic climax provided one of the heart-rending incidents of World War 1. As these four doomed aircraft drifted for hours over hostile territory, French and British observers listened to wireless appeals to their bases begging for advice, air protection, and for some reliable information as to their whereabouts. These messages and appeals were monitored and later transcribed and printed for general distribution. Several years later a Hollywood studio wrote much of them into a war film based on the Zeppelin raids.

Airship raiding was not resumed until the night of March 12-13, 1918, but the attack was ill-planned and made from such a height that the damage was negligible. The end of the Zeppelin as a raider occurred on August 5-6 when five dirigibles flew up the coast of Norfolk. No bombs were dropped on any land target, but the L.70, the latest in airship construction, was destroyed by the ground forces.

The Stuka Terror

Simultaneously, like some birds of prey, they fall upon their victim and release their load of bombs upon the target. … Everything becomes blended together along with the howling sirens of the Stukas in their dives, the bombs whistle and crack and burst.”

The time was May 1940. The diarist was one Sergeant Pruemers who, as part of Germany’s 1st Panzer Division, was at that moment buttoned down and waiting to strike westward across the Meuse River and into the heart of France.

The German air attack went like clockwork. Luftwaffe historian Williamson Murray, describing the event that unfolded on that day, wrote, “Continuous Stuka attacks on French reservists holding the line had a devastating effect.” France’s infantrymen, according to a French general who witnessed the scene, “cowered in their trenches, dazed by the crash of bombs and the shriek of dive bombers.”

The bridgehead across the Meuse was secure by nightfall. German tanks crossed the next day. The blitzkrieg into France was on.

This was not the Stuka’s first successful operation in World War II. Nor would it be the last.

The Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber lingers in the mind as one of the icons of Nazi Germany’s military machine. “Stuka” was the diminutive of Sturzkampfflugzeug, German for “diving combat aircraft.” It was unique. Although its time of dominance lasted only four years—the period 1939-43—its low-altitude attacks were witnessed by millions.

From train sidings in Poland to the beaches of Dunkirk, from the head of Rommel’s columns in North Africa to the vast steppes of Soviet Russia, the Stuka rained down terror on enemy soldiers, sailors, airmen, and civilians alike. This left a deep impression that has persisted to this day.

The Stuka was the war’s pre-eminent dive bomber. It scored hits on targets ranging from artillery to aircraft carriers. Its deadly cluster munitions tore through troop concentrations herded together by the lightning-fast drives of the Panzer infantry and tanks. Stukas sank ships from the English Channel to the Black Sea. On the Eastern Front, the German aircraft’s 37 mm cannon ripped up Soviet armor at a prodigious rate.

Two Ju 87 Stukas during the fateful summer of 1940.(Photos from the collection of John Weal)

The Stuka was probably the most terrifying warplane of the war. For all that, though, it was not a quest for terror that lay at the root of its design it was technical ingenuity.

In Hitler’s stealthy rearmament effort in the 1930s, the German Air Ministry had no choice but to commit to bomber types that could be put into production relatively quickly. A precision dive bomber fit the bill, and Junkers had one—a prototype called the K 47. This mono-wing attack airplane boasted a diving envelope ranging from zero to 90 degrees. Due to treaty restrictions, the Junkers K 47 was assembled in Sweden.

In the period 1931-34, the Junkers design team members experimented with K 47 configurations. Early trials demonstrated that a dive bomber could be very precise—but the aircraft gave up a lot to get that precision. The design trades would earn the Stuka its reputation, but also sow the seeds of its undoing.

A Stuka prototype—powered, strangely enough, by a Rolls Royce engine—began flight tests in September 1935 and was almost canceled in 1936. It was saved by the timely intervention of World War I German ace Ernst Udet, who pressed for its continued development. Udet was heading up the Technical Office. Though he was no great shakes of an administrator, he saw great potential in the dive bomber for precision attack.

By this point, the Stuka prototype was outperforming its competition. One of the most remarkable features of the Stuka was its automatic dive bombing system. Pilots set a predetermined release altitude for their bombs. As they peeled off from formation and pitched over into their dives, the system engaged as soon as the dive brakes extended.

Stuka pilots dove at close to 90 degrees and adjusted position with aileron control while watching target indicator lines painted on the canopy. At release height, the contact altimeter triggered a cockpit light and the pilot would release the bombs. This release would re-engage the elevator trim tab, bringing the tail down and pulling the Stuka out of its dive. Aircrews experienced about six Gs at the dive’s completion.

That Howl Overhead

The Stuka soon had reached a service ceiling of 26,000 feet and a range of more than 370 miles.

The attack aircraft sported two wing-mounted machine guns along with a third gun installed in the rear cockpit. Typically, the early Stukas carried either one 500-pound-class bomb or one 250-pound bomb on the centerline bomb crutch and two 50-pound bombs on each wing. Often, these smaller bombs were filled with cluster-type munitions.

Later Stuka models were equipped with a 37 mm cannon for low-altitude attacks on tanks on the Eastern Front. Another variant, the Ju 87R, had underwing fuel tanks to extend its range so that it could reach out and strike Allied ships at sea.

How did the Stuka create its trademark—that terrifying howl? It was purposely designed into the aircraft. When the Stuka went into its dive, a powerful rush of air would push through a specially built siren, activating the blood-curdling scream. The idea was to maximize the panic on the ground below, and it worked.

It wasn’t long before the Stuka made its combat debut. A handful of Ju 87 variants saw action in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s as part of the Kondor Legion. However, it was not until Sept. 1, 1939 that the world got unforgettable exposure to the Third Reich’s extraordinary dive bomber. On that day, no fewer than nine Stuka groups comprising more than 330 aircraft struck Poland with devastating surprise dawn attacks.

In the beginning, Stukas tried and failed to prevent Poland’s forces from blowing a bridge over the Vistula. After that failure, though, the Stukas racked up success after success. Attacks against encircled Polish forces and on Poland’s cities stunned the world.

Above all, it was the fine-tuned coordination of Stuka air attacks with ground maneuver that impressed. The Luftwaffe had learned the value of coordination with the ground forces during operations in Spain.

“By the time war engulfed Europe, this German close air support system set the standard for its time,” wrote historian John Schlight. Chief architect of this air-ground coordination system was Gen. Wolfram F. von Richthofen, a cousin of Manfred, the famed Red Baron of World War I. Richthofen had seen much action in Spain as a combat commander and staff officer for the Kondor Legion. He took command of the force in May 1939 and led them into action against Poland.

Next on the list for the Stukas was the invasion of Norway. Airborne paratroops relied on it as true flying artillery. Stukas also claimed Norwegian, British, and French warships in the few short weeks of the northern campaign.

Then came Case Yellow—Germany’s conquest of France.

On May 10, 1940, Hitler launched his attack westward in Europe. German Army Group B attacked Belgium in the Ardennes to draw in the Allies, while Army Group A crossed through Luxembourg and southern Belgium. Their plan was to drive in a wedge, cross the Meuse, then sweep through open country to encircle and roll up Allied forces. “All depended on gaining the open country on the other side, where speedy maneuver would bring total victory,” wrote historian Matthew Cooper.

The Stuka attacks were a big part of this effort to gain speed. German infantry began to cross the Meuse on the afternoon of May 13, 1940. The Stuka barrage watched by Pruemers was part of a coordinated air-ground offensive against the sparse defensive positions on the other side. On the Meuse, the Stukas pummeled French artillery and infantry, while the German infantry performed an astonishing river crossing.

According to historian Murray, Panzer commander Lt. Gen. Heinz Guderian carefully devised a plan with Fliegerkorps II commander Lt. Gen. Bruno Loerzer. They organized Luftwaffe support to come in waves while their infantry made the crossing. Luftwaffe fighters kept the French Armee de l’Air and forward RAF at bay.

Richthofen’s tight coordination of air and ground operations paid off. More than 1,500 German aircraft were used in continuous offensives. Stukas attacked, rearmed, and attacked again. According to one source, Stuka pilots flew up to nine sorties per day during the drive across and beyond the Meuse.

The noise of the low-altitude dives ensured that everyone knew what the Stukas were doing. Tactics called for loitering then diving in succession, making the attack aircraft highly visible and fearsome. Stukas worked just ahead of ground units. Some found a French tank regiment under the command of Col. Charles de Gaulle, who was trying to organize a counterattack on May 17, and repeatedly attacked the unit.

Luftwaffe fighters succeeded in keeping the airspace clear for the relatively slow Stukas. “The enemy fighters appeared less and less, so that the Stukas could fly without fighter cover and could themselves hunt freely,” recorded one German officer, Lt. Dieter Peltz. “Sometimes it was sheer target practice.”

Ten days later, retreating Allied Forces were falling back on the last remaining open Channel port—Dunkirk. Stuka attacks shattered Dunkirk’s port facilities, then terrorized Allied ships attempting to rescue the remains of the force from the beaches. One British merchant captain wrote of how the concussion from Stuka bombs roiled the waters as they attempted to load evacuees. Stukas sank several ships during the evacuation and unleashed cluster munitions on troops jammed together. Since the Stuka dove and released at low altitude, the shrieking dive bomber and its effects were easy for all to see.

The Stukas were not the most plentiful of Germany’s light and medium bombing force, rarely numbering more than 300 or 400 aircraft for any campaign. Other Luftwaffe medium bombers did as much or more damage, but the Stuka was the prime platform for precision and terror.

The Ju 87R, pictured here in the Norwegian campaign, was equipped with underwing fuel tanks to extend its range—all the better to terrorize shipping lanes.(Photos from the collection of John Weal)

Failure Over Britain

The effectiveness came with a price. Nearly 30 percent of the dive bomber force was destroyed in operations in May and June 1940. Often the Stukas were dispatched with a covering force of fighters, but the RAF quickly learned to pick off the Stukas first. Ground anti-aircraft fire also took its toll.

The Stukas were a key part of Nazi Germany’s plan to knock out the RAF fighter force for an invasion of England, but the slow-flying Stukas suffered when they tried to step out of the battlefield support role and move up to a more strategic task.

Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering wanted especially to use the Stuka’s pinpoint accuracy against RAF radar stations and masts called the Chain Home system. It had proved nearly impossible to take down.

By Aug. 13, the Battle of Britain was raging at its peak. The biggest Stuka success of this campaign came late that day.

At around 5 p.m., a hundred Me 109s flew ahead of 80 Stukas. The bombers decimated the airfield at Detling, in Kent, hitting workshops, mess halls, and more than 20 aircraft on the ground. Yet, no RAF fighters were destroyed in the raid, and the British were about to get rich revenge on the Stukas.

As flying pinpoint bombers, the Stuka needed undefended airspace to operate. When the slow and highly vulnerable Stukas met fighters, it was all over. The top speed of the early Stukas was around 190 mph, compared with a 336 mph for the Hawker Hurricane and 408 mph for the Supermarine Spitfire.

On Aug. 18, British ace Flight Lt. Frank R. Carey led nine Hawker Hurricane fighters head on into a large formation of Stukas attempting to attack the radar station at Poling on the southeast coast of England.

“I fired at one ahead of me—it stood straight up on its nose with flames coming out of it,” said Carey. The British destroyed 16 Ju 87Bs in that attack alone. Carey went on to bag 25 kills and become the RAF’s second highest-scoring Hurricane ace.

Despite Goering’s ambitions, the Stuka did not play a significant role in the Battle of Britain after August. Without air superiority, the audacious dive bombing never got going. Fifty-nine of the dive bombers were lost to enemy action from July through September 1940.

The Luftwaffe soon gave up on attempts at precision and switched to night bombing of London and other cities.

Conditions were soon more favorable for the Stuka in the East. Free to operate without facing enemy fighters, the Stuka was a major part of Hitler’s punishment attacks on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941. Raids on Belgrade etched the screaming bomber deeper into the European psyche.

Ruth Mitchell, sister of Brig. Gen. William Mitchell, was a photographer on assignment in Belgrade in April 1941. She later wrote about the Stuka and her experience in the bombings in her 1943 book The Serbs Choose War.

As many as 74 Stukas took part in first wave of the bombing of Belgrade. Mitchell hid under the stairs of her house. Explosions followed and then “with a weird smooth sound, like the tearing of silk, the neighboring houses started to collapse,” she later wrote.

Then came the second wave. “Again the bombs were falling, thick and fast, and on and on,” wrote Mitchell. “Now far, then near, the Stukas shrieked.” Bombing went on for two days.

Soon after that, the Stukas helped knock the British out of Crete. The RAF had only a few fighters to oppose the aerial onslaught and paratroop landings. A Stuka unit under the command of veteran pilot Col. Oskar Dinort sank three cruisers and eight destroyers and damaged 13 other British ships in the week following the seizure of Crete’s airfield.

Next the Stuka—along with the cream of the German Army—moved on Russia.

Operation Barbarossa began on June 22, 1941. The Luftwaffe destroyed 1,200 aircraft, most on the ground, in a mere eight hours.

Against land armies left with no air cover, the Stuka excelled. The Germans had just 424 Stukas out of a total of over 4,000 aircraft, but again their terror outstripped their numbers. (The overall production run for the Stuka was small by World War II standards at just 5,752 aircraft.)

On the Eastern Front, the Stuka would earn a new battlefield reputation.

At first, the Stukas reveled in the lack of Soviet air opposition. Soviet soldiers called it “the screecher.”

Stuka pilots helped bring Germany’s 66 divisions to within 25 miles of Moscow. When winter set in, however, things changed dramatically. “Engines no longer start, everything is frozen stiff, no hydraulic apparatus functions to rely on any technical instrument is suicide,” wrote a young Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel, a standout Stuka tactician.

By 1942, the Soviet Air Force was recovering, and dive bombing at nearly a 90 degree angle was turning just as suicidal as flying with frozen instruments.

As a result, the Stuka now went through a major change in tactics that turned it into a tank killer. The Stuka was rigged with removable 37 mm cannon mounted under the wings. Instead of dive bombing, the Stuka came in at treetop height to blast Soviet T34 tanks. These sniper-style tactics paid off handsomely for the Germans. The modified Stuka took on a new designation, the Ju 87G-1.

Veteran Stuka pilots would tally armor kills numbering in the thousands. German pilots on the Eastern Front racked up massive kills in the Stuka because of their skill and the plentiful targets—but also because they had no chance of going home, a fact that undoubtedly led the pilots to take more chances.

On the deck, the gun pods added weight to its already sluggish performance. By 1944, it took standouts such as Rudel, who was soon to be known as the Stuka ace, to compensate for the Stuka’s by now well-known limitations. Other fighter aircraft, such as as an armored variant of the FW 190, took on more of the close support role. Some Stuka units shifted to night operations.

The Stuka reign of terror was over, but the gull-wing bomber stayed in action until the bitter end as the Allied militaries slowly but relentlessly rolled back the Germans to bring World War II to an end.

The Ultimate Stuka Pilot

In the beginning, Hans-Ulrich Rudel was just another Stuka pilot, flying his first missions as the invasion of Russia began on June 22, 1941. He soon became special. Part of an elite unit, Rudel learned fast and distinguished himself in September 1941 when he sank the Soviet battleship Marat near Leningrad harbor using a specially designed 2,000-pound bomb.

On another occasion, he hit more than 70 landing craft in the water. Rudel would go on to fly 2,350 missions, most in the Stuka. Official Luftwaffe records credited him with destroying more than 1,000 ground vehicles, including a mind-boggling 519 tanks.

“Think about that number. It’s nearly three entire tank divisions. Wiped out by one man,” noted one commentator.

The score for the Luftwaffe’s No. 2 tank killer? Sixty tanks.

Rudel and the Stuka were the perfect match. He was a phenomenon who relished flying on the deck. His scores mounted when Ju 87Gs were delivered to the Russian front in numbers in 1943. Rudel’s style was to fire a single 37 mm round into the vulnerable rear turret area of the T34 with the aplomb of an assassin.

His toughness was the stuff of legend. Rudel was shot down many times but repeatedly evaded capture. After being hit in the thigh in November 1944, he flew with his leg in a cast. Late in the war, he also flew the FW 190 and was credited with 11 aerial victories.

Rudel’s luck almost ran out in February 1945. He was again hit, this time in the foot, and crash-landed within German lines. A doctor stopped the bleeding but Rudel’s leg was amputated below the knee.

He was fitted with an artificial leg and resumed flying in late March 1945.

Under the sympathetic guidance of the Nazi propaganda machine, Rudel became a popular hero and was lauded as the “Eagle of the Eastern Front.” By the end of the war, he was the most decorated German combatant of any discipline—land, sea, or air.

Rudel flew his final sortie on May 8, 1945, the day the war in Europe ended. A mixed flight of Stukas and FW 190s escaped by air to the American lines to surrender, avoiding the Soviets, who had put a price on his head.

He was also a Nazi to the core. He fled to Argentina in 1948, but soon returned to start a business career in Germany. The success of Rudel’s memoir Stuka Pilot extended his reputation and stands out as a firsthand technical account of the Stuka in low-altitude ground attack. Rudel died in Bavaria in 1982.