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How the War Crates Flew: Aerial Armament

Link - Posted by David on November 7, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the May 1934 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing Lt. Edward McCrae to conduct a technical department each month. It is Lt. Mcrae’s idea to tell us the underlying principles and facts concerning expressions and ideas of air-war terminology. Each month he will enlarge upon some particular statement in the stories of this magazine. Lt. MaCrae is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot, but also because he is the editor of this fine magazine.

Aerial Armament

by Lt. Edward McCrae (Sky Fighters, May 1934)

NOW if you featherless kiwis will perch yourselves on the back of those chairs across the room, I’ll tell you some things you didn’t know about how all of this aerial warfare started. It would almost make you laugh, but don’t try it while I’m talking.

A few pre-war aviators had been preaching the virtues of the flying machine as a weapon of war, but the lawmakers with their customary brilliance laughed at the idea and dismissed it. However, they got wise to themselves pretty quickly when the guns started booming.

Airplanes, even though they were winged box-cars, proved invaluable for scouting, dropping bombs by hand, and dropping propaganda literature in enemy territory. And during the first months of the war you couldn’t knock down one of these machines either from the ground or from other airplanes! You dodged ’em and liked it.

He Thumbed His Nose At ’Em

You’ll remember that the German, Immelmann, flew low over Paris every afternoon at cocktail time during a certain period early in the war, and dropped small bombs on the Frenchmen’s conks. People in the street fired millions of shots at him with rifles and pistols. Even taxi drivers stopped their machines while they and their passengers got out and peppered away at the old boy, but he just thumbed his nose at them and showed them his tail.

That’s what we had to buck up against. And then Roland Garros got mad and changed the whole show. Here’s how:

Now if your brains aren’t too dusty you’ll remember that old-time French aviator Garros had already become a hero. But the Germans in the air were interfering with his business of diving down upon enemy factories and bridges, etc., so he decided to interfere with them for a change.

Some InventionI

Up until that time the nose of an airplane was the safest blind spot of all, for if any solid substance touched the whirling propeller, the blade was more than likely done for.

But that old pal of mine, Garros, made it about as safe as the action end of a mule. He invented a machine-gun that would fire through the propeller, and on that day on the nose of a ship ceased being a blind spot and became its business end—the opposite one from that of a hornet.

Before the Germans could realize what had happened, little Roland had tickled five of them in the ribs with bullets.

The Boche Took It Over

And while we’re on the subject of mules—the Germans got the horse laugh on him. While Garros was on one of his famous raids his motor conked, and he and his machine fell into the hands of the Germans before he could destroy it. Thus he delivered to his enemy the very device he had perfected for the purpose of destroying them.

They took over his invention and put it to good use, as you will see.

Now stay awake a little longer, sister, and see why this most famous of French flyers made the greatest of all single contributions to aerial warfare.

When the war broke out in 1914 we heroes were armed with a short rifle. Some of us even carried shotguns!

This sounds rather silly, but they were better than no weapons at all. And don’t I know it! They were of very little value, however, because you couldn’t hit the side of a barn with them. The wind blew against the extended barrel when you aimed them and the ship vibrated so much that you couldn’t have hit your own wing with them from your cockpit.

Did you say that carrying a shotgun was silly, Mabel? Well, listen to this:

Why, you dumb chicks—we carried brick-bats—and that’s no kidding.

Silly? The French brought down two German airplanes with these alley apples!

A Brick-Bat Hero

The idea was to get close enough to the other ship to drop or hurl a piece of this Irish confetti through the other man’s propeller and shove his nose in the mud. Your Uncle Dudley was a brick-bat hero.

Then just a month before Garros invented his gun, the French armed their fighting Nieuports with twenty-pound Lewis guns on their upper wings. Take a squint at Figure 1. The gun was mounted parallel with the line of flight and fired over the top of the propeller. It was aimed by pointing the airplane itself, and was fired by the flyer in the cockpit pulling a string. It was a great improvement over brick-bats, and the Germans quickly adopted it. But a magazine held only forty-seven cartridges and when the flyer had used them up he had to make a landing to reload.

Then up pops our hero Mr. Garros! He mounted his new invention on the engine hood so you could get your hands on it. The gun shot through the arc of the propeller blade. He learned by experimenting that only seven per cent of his bullets would hit his propeller. So he protected the propeller blades with steel bands and let ’em hit.

What a Gun!

The bands reduced the efficiency of his propeller but, “Voila!” He had a gun that was a gun. And he sighted it much to the misery of the Germans, until they got their hands on him.

Six months later the Germans, using the Frenchman’s invention, improved it by synchronizing the action of the trigger with the propeller shaft. From that day to this there hasn’t been much picnicking in the air. Now, my little hollow-heads, take out your slates and listen to some arithmetic. You ought to know this without being told.

A Simple Principle

The principle of the synchronising of the machine-gun is very simple. If a single two-blade propeller revolves before the nose of a gun at the rate of 1,500 revolutions a minute, a blade of the propeller will pass the muzzle 3,000 times. But there are also 3,000 empty spaces where there is no propeller blade in front of the gun. Now, if the gun fires 500 shots a minute it is a simple mechanical problem to operate the weapon mechanically from the motor, so that the gun fires once through every sixth of those empty spaces.

The Germans’ well known Fokker was the first ship to blossom out with one of these new-fangled weapons. But the same thing happened to one of Tony’s ships that happened to Garros’. A Fokker sat down to rest among the Allies, and very soon Spads, Camels and all manners of Allied planes adorned themselves with this new decoration. And today it is more in style than ever.

A New Toy For Peelots

It was more than two years before anybody could think of a new toy for the flyers to play with. Again it was a French Ace, who was later to die with fifty-three victories to his credit, second in France only to Rene Fonck, who thought up this cute little gadget.

Georges Guynemer converted the front end of his crank shaft into a hundred-and-fifty-pound cannon! It fired one-pound shells of several types.

Guynemer worked a long time on this gun and did much to perfect it. With it he brought down his forty-ninth, fiftieth, fifty-first and fifty-second antagonists. The shell was too large to be safely fired between the propeller blades, so it was designed to shoot through the hub itself. Look out for it in Figure 2.

The gun was built into the crank case, and its breech and shootingmechanism were within easy reach, while the muzzle of the gun protruded through the hollow propeller shaft for a distance of two inches beyond.

Semi-Automatic

To begin with, it was semi-automatic, the gun ejecting the empty shell, but the pilot reloading. This work required several seconds, and an airplane traveling at 150 miles an hour could be hopping out of tne range at the rate of 220 feet a second. By the time a flyer got his gun loaded he might find positions reversed and his enemy in charge of the situation.

So they worked this out and eventually developed an arm that would fire 120 shells a minute, each weighing a pound and a half. The catch in the use of this gun, however, was that it would shoot 180 pounds of ammunition a minute and itself weighed 150 pounds. It would take a flying freight train to carry enough ammunition to last it very long. Also, all this weight naturally slowed down the machine. A man with a light ship, a twelve-pound gun shooting rifle cartridges could fly circles around him. But when you hit a ship with your cannon that ship stayed hit.

So it was that as soon as the airplane had established itself as a supreme weapon of war, more attention was given to the effectiveness of its guns.

The Hague Convention had agreed that no explosive projectiles of size less than one-pounders should be used in civilized warfare in order to avoid unnecessary human suffering. But very early in the fighting, two American boys in the famous Lafayette Escadrille were shot with explosive machine-gun bullets! The Germans claim that the British first started breaking the rule and that they used them in retaliation. Naturally!

A Strange Weapon

Thus it was that there was a constant search for the best and most destructive weapon. I once tried out the strangest gun that ever perched on a war crate. It was a one-pounder for seaplanes, and it shot a charge out of both ends of the barrel at the same time! And my name is not Ripley! Nor Baron Munchausen!

The barrel was extremely long (see Figure 3) and the shell was inserted in the side at the middle of its length. The regular projectile was aimed downward at an angle while the other one was discharged backward over the ship. The latter consisted of a mixture of heavy grease and very small shot and was for the sole purpose of offsetting the recoil of the gun. On its flight through the air the grease caught fire and destroyed the tiny shot.

Now you kiwis can hop down off your perches and go out and chirp about your knowledge of gunnery. And try to get through talking before I get back next month.

P.S.—You might be interested to know that the Germans had such a hard time holding Roland Garros prisoner that they made him sign a book in the prison office every thirty minutes for two years. But he finally escaped and went back to fight some more.

“Immelmann’s Last Flight” by Paul J. Bissell

Link - Posted by David on October 23, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we present another of Paul Bissell’s covers for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the November 1931 cover Bissell put us right in the action as Lieuntenat George McCubbin downs the incomparable Max Immelmann!

Immelmann’s Last Flight

th_FA_3111IMMELMANN! Probably the most colorful name in aviation. He is the man who first attempted the earliest form of aerial warfare tactics, which is still used today in flying schools all over the world.

The man who invented the crafty Immelmann turn was one of the first acknowledged aces of the Imperial German Air Service. He came and went before Richthofen was ever heard of. He went in 1916 while flying a Fokker monoplane of an early type at the hands of one Lieutenant McCubbin, a British Vickers Fighter pilot. Do not confuse this ace with McCudden, who Later won the V.C. while flying S.E.fis. McCubbin was doing a patrol one day in company with another two-seater, when he was jumped on by Immelmann. In the fight that resulted, Immelmann was shot down and McCubbin got credit for it, although both he and his observer fired many rounds at the German airman.

The ship shown in the picture is a Vickers Fighter, one of the Fee types of pushers. The observer in the front had a movable Lewis gun and the pilot could use the observer’s rear gun in a pinch.

The Ships on The Cover
“Immelmann’s Last Flight”
Flying Aces, November 1931 by Paul j. Bissell

“Famous Sky Fighters, August 1935″ by Terry Gilkison

Link - Posted by David on March 13, 2019 @ 6:00 am in

STARTING in the October 1933 issue of Sky Fighters and running almost 5 years, Terry Gilkison’s “Famous Sky Fighters” was a staple of the magazine. Each month Gilkison would illustrate in a two page spread different Aces that rose to fame during the Great War.

Although Gilkison was probably better known for his syndicated newspaper work, he also provided black and white story interior illustrations for pulp magazines. His work appeared in Clues, Thrilling Adventures, Texas Rangers, Thrilling Mystery, Thrilling Western, and Popular Western. Gilkison provided similar features in a few other Thrilling Publications—there was “Famous Soldiers of Fortune” and later “Adventure Thrills” in Thrilling Adventures, Famous Crimes” in Thrilling Detective, and the fully illustrated air adventure stories of Buck Barton “The Flying Devil” in The Lone Eagle! He signed most of this work with only his initials “T.G.” to maintain a low profile and preserve his reputation as a syndicated newspaper cartoon artist.

The August 1935 installment, from the pages of Sky Fighters, features Lt. Col Bill Thaw, Billy Bishop, Lt. Max Immelmann, and East Indian prince turned R.A.F. sky hellion—Sidor Malloc Singh!

Next time in “Famous Sky Fighters”, Terry Gilkison features Italian Ace Major Barracca, Canadian flyer Captain W.W. Rogers, America’s Lt. Norman Prince, and Germany’s own Manfred von Richthofen! Don’t miss it!

“Famous Sky Fighters, November 1934″ by Terry Gilkison

Link - Posted by David on October 10, 2018 @ 6:00 am in

STARTING in the October 1933 issue of Sky Fighters and running almost 5 years, Terry Gilkison’s “Famous Sky Fighters” was a staple of the magazine. Each month Gilkison would illustrate in a two page spread different Aces that rose to fame during the Great War.

Although Gilkison was probably better known for his syndicated newspaper work, he also provided black and white story interior illustrations for pulp magazines. His work appeared in Clues, Thrilling Adventures, Texas Rangers, Thrilling Mystery, Thrilling Western, and Popular Western. Gilkison provided similar features in a few other Thrilling Publications—there was “Famous Soldiers of Fortune” and later “Adventure Thrills” in Thrilling Adventures, Famous Crimes” in Thrilling Detective, and the fully illustrated air adventure stories of Buck Barton “The Flying Devil” in The Lone Eagle! He signed most of this work with only his initials “T.G.” to maintain a low profile and preserve his reputation as a syndicated newspaper cartoon artist.

The November 1934 installment, from the pages of Sky Fighters, Features General William Mitchell, Lieut. Colonel Pinsard, Lt. George Madon, and the incomparable Max Immelmann!

Next time in “Famous Sky Fighters,” Terry Gilkison features Lieut. Joseph Wehner, Major Gabriel D’Annunzio, and shout outs to Napoleon and Belgium’s Willy Coppens! Don’t miss it!

“Famous Sky Fighters, August 1934″ by Terry Gilkison

Link - Posted by David on August 29, 2018 @ 6:00 am in

STARTING in the October 1933 issue of Sky Fighters and running almost 5 years, Terry Gilkison’s “Famous Sky Fighters” was a staple of the magazine. Each month Gilkison would illustrate in a two page spread different Aces that rose to fame during the Great War.

Although Gilkison was probably better known for his syndicated newspaper work, he also provided black and white story interior illustrations for pulp magazines. His work appeared in Clues, Thrilling Adventures, Texas Rangers, Thrilling Mystery, Thrilling Western, and Popular Western. Gilkison provided similar features in a few other Thrilling Publications—there was “Famous Soldiers of Fortune” and later “Adventure Thrills” in Thrilling Adventures, Famous Crimes” in Thrilling Detective, and the fully illustrated air adventure stories of Buck Barton “The Flying Devil” in The Lone Eagle! He signed most of this work with only his initials “T.G.” to maintain a low profile and preserve his reputation as a syndicated newspaper cartoon artist.

The August 1934 installment, from the pages of Sky Fighters, Features Lt. Quentin Roosevelt and Capt. Albert Heurteaux!

Next time in “Famous Sky Fighters,” Terry Gilkison features Lt. Frank Baylies, Lieut. Charles Nungesser, and Capt. Bruno Loezer—”The Swordsman Ace”! Don’t miss it!

My Most Thrilling Sky Fight: Lieutenant Paul Marchal

Link - Posted by David on January 10, 2018 @ 6:00 am in

AMIDST all the great pulp thrills and features in Sky Fighters, they ran a true story feature collected by Ace Williams wherein famous War Aces would tell actual true accounts of thrilling moments in their fighting lives! This time we have Lieutenant Paul Marchal of the French Flying Corps!

Paul Marchal joined the colors on the first day war was declared, and it was he that answered the challenge of that bold German, lieutenant Max Immelmann, when the latter bombed Paris with leaflets calling for surrender. Immelmann had to fly a matter of but a hundred kilometers, or less, to get over the city of Paris. But when Marchal answered his challenge with an identical flight to Berlin, he had to fly 8QO kilometers.

The fact that Marchal succeeded in bombing Berlin with leaflets proves his unusual courage and daring. Marchal was the first sky fighter to be captured by the Germans. Likewise he was the first to make his escape from a German prison camp and rejoin his squadron after a trek through hostile Germany that reads like a page from epic literature. Before his flaming career on the front was inadvertently halted, young Paul Marchal was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the Medal Militaire, and the Cross of the Legion d’Honneur. He told the story below upon his return to France after escaping from Germany.

 

BOMBING BERLIN

by Lieutenant Paul Marchal • Sky Fighters, April 1936

THE idea of a flight over Berlin bloomed suddenly in my dumb brain. Of course, if my motor should fail, or the avion falter, or should I run into contrary winds and had weather, I was doomed to failure. But I was willing and anxious to try.

Finally mon-commandant reluctantly consented. Then began the period of preparation. I had charted my course over Germany, intending to fly down the valley of the Moselle into the Rhine, then along the Rhine until it veered off suddenly to the left. After reaching Berlin, and dropping my leaflets, I was going to bend off to the right and make a try for Poland, the terrain of our Russian allies.

To lessen weight, I dispensed with all guns except a small pistol with a single full cylinder of ammunition. The day was just dawning, when my avion was wheeled from the hangar and faced toward the east. I shook hands all around, then took my place in the cockpit. After a long run I got into the air, and headed straight for the trenches, waving back over my shoulder as I left my comrades behind. Would I ever see them again? I did not know.

Over the trenches I was fired at. Some of the bullets made holes in my wings. One or two enemy avions I spied, or thought I did. But in the half light they did not see me. When it was fully light, I was far behind the enemy lines.

Over Unknown Terrain

The winding Moselle heaves into view. I course along it until it empties into the Rhine, then I follow up the Rhine. It is a splendid day.

I have been hours in the air it seems when I must leave the Rhine and strike out over terrain unknown to me. But I have studied my carte Taride well, and I recognize the cities as I fly over them.

Finally Berlin looms beneath me. I am very high now. Over the Unter den Linden I fly, tossing my leaflets out on both sides. They flutter down like snowflakes.

But I am not to get out of Berlin without being shot at, and enemy avions come up, too. But I am so high that I run far from Berlin before they can reach my elevation . . . and they give up the chase.

Flight Toward Poland

Kilometer after kilometer, I fly in a straight line for Poland. I think I am going to make it when I see the Polish villages across the border line far ahead of me. But no, I am still 30 kilometers or so away, when my engine starts to spit.

I am still 20 kilometers from the Polish border when I am forced to spiral down and light on a plowed field. Being so near the border, there are many soldiers, and they run towards my avion as it volplanes down. I consider if I should use my pistol and make a fight of it. But I decide not to. There are too many against me.

That is all there is to it. I was taken prisoner and sent to a prison camp in Silesia, but I have made the longest flight in the war. And I have scattered French leaflets over the German capital. I had delivered my answer, France’s answer to Max Immelmann and the Imperial Army. The people of Berlin knew now that they were no longer safe from attacks by air.

Next Time: LIEUTENANT NORMAN PRINCE

My Most Thrilling Sky Fight: Lieutenant Max Immelmann

Link - Posted by David on January 25, 2017 @ 6:00 am in

Amidst all the great pulp thrills and features in Sky Fighters, they ran a true story feature collected by Ace Williams wherein famous War Aces would tell actual true accounts of thrilling moments in their fighting lives! This time we have Lieutenant Max Immelmann’s most thrilling sky fight!

LIEUTENANT Max Franz Immelmann was the first of the great German Aces. Immelmann scored victory after victory over the Allied flyers until his total score mounted higher than that of any of the Allied Aces.

He was an excellent gunner and as a flyer had no peer during his time. He was the first to use the quick Climbing reverse turn, which was the fastest method of changing direction while in full flight. The maneuver first demonstrated by Immelmann in his sky battles over the Western front has since been named after him, the Immelmann turn. It was a very effective maneuver and enabled him to gain many victories. He and Oswald Boelke served in the same Squadron. When he was killed Boelke went on to surpass his records, only to be surpassed himself after he was killed, by Baron von Richthofen.

None of the American flyers, except those flying with the French, ever encountered Immelmann in the air. He was killed in 1918 before America entered the war. The account below was told to a newspaper correspondent.

 

TWO OUT OF THREE

by Lieutenant Max Immelmann • Sky Fighters, January 1934

AIR fighting is like any other kind of fighting. Victory goes usually to the strongest and best prepared. The French have tried to make it more romantic, like the fighting of the knights of old, man to man in bold, open fighting on mounted chargers. That is spectacular and picturesque. I do not believe it the best method. The object in war is to down as many of the enemy planes as is possible without losing any of your own. Thus you may obtain the mastery of the air, which is necessary in this modern war, if the ground troops are going to win success.

For that reason I have adopted tactics which seem on the surface prudent. I aim to destroy the enemy without letting them destroy me. My methods are best explained by giving an example. Three days ago, I was out cruising the lines with my patrol. We were in layer formation. One was far below, leading. Two others were further back of him and higher up, one on either side. I brought up the rear, directly behind the leader, and higher up than any of them.

While flying in that formation, the leader encountered a patrol of three Frenchmen. His instructions were to fly on until attacked, which he did. My patrol never even let on that they saw the approaching formation. They flew along parallel with the lines in steady flight without changing elevation. I throttled down my machine and dropped back, until the rest of my patrol was just mere specks. Then I shoved on full throttle and climbed for the sun.

The Frenchmen drove in for the attack on the three German planes below. My men kept their formation until the bullets began to get too close, then they returned the fire and adopted defensive tactics. At the same time, they retreated back over our lines, to draw the enemy over our territory. They were making a running fight of it, according to instructions, diverting the attackers’ intentions all to themselves; but knowing all the time that I would be diving down unawares from the disc of the sun behind to pounce upon the enemy in surprise.

And I did. I dived straight down from the well of the sun, my fingers poised over the gun trips. At one hundred yards I opened up on the first Frenchman. My tracers bored through his cockpit and he went spinning down. But not before I had dived underneath him to zoom up again with my guns pointed at his nearest comrade.

I opened up on him, saw my tracers eating into his belly. One plane was down now. I had the position on the second, and the first shots in. My comrades then, all banked and raced in for attack on the third Frenchman. He fought them bravely, I must admit, returning burst for burst. But he was doomed from the first with three against one.

My opponent slipped from my tracer stream, and nosed down towards his own lines. I zoomed up, half-rolled (Immelmanned—Ed.), changed direction and went streaking after him, still pouring tracer. Glancing back over my shoulder I saw the second enemy break apart beneath the guns of my mates. His plane fell to pieces and went fluttering down.

When I looked forward again, my opponent had dived and won away from me. I nosed down and went after him, but he went even faster for a forced landing just on the other side of his own lines where his ship upended in a shell crater and smashed one wing.

That was the end of the fight. Two French ships had been destroyed in our own territory. The other had been forced down to a crash landing just out of our reach. That was poor strategy on my part. I should have headed him off, making him land on our side. However, my patrol was still intact. Next time, I vowed I would not make such a slip. With perfect strategy and tactics properly executed, we would have accounted for all three enemy ships over our own territory.