The Flying Men.
For ages man walked the earth.
To-day he is the only living creature
that can travel in the air by other than its own substance.
’Till the Great War the aeroplane
was a scientific curiosity. The Battle of the
Nations blooded it; and its wonderful utility in speeding
the end of the war has proved its right to be recognised
as a distinct factor in human movement.
When the war crash came there were
two aerial types; the lighter than air type, the dirigible
balloon; and the heavier than air machine, the aeroplane.
This is how the Powers stood in aerial furnishing when
the first shot was fired. Germany and Austria
had 25 airships, including 11 Zeppelins, as well
as 556 aeroplanes.
England, France, Russia and Belgium
had 33 airships and 1019 aeroplanes.
The English dirigibles had not made
long flights, and not being very dependable had not
received much attention from the military authorities.
A non-dependable factor in war is worse than useless.
A mistake may be made in tactics, but when ascertained
may be retrieved and, perhaps, turned to good account.
Non-dependability is fatal, as many a commander would
not know how to act, and in war, he who hesitates
The French had experimented a good
deal with the dirigible, but mostly of the non-rigid
type, which was a type “without a backbone”
and was as uncertain, so that its general non-dependability
turned French attention to the aeroplane.
The Germans, however, pinned their
faith on the balloon, and for long made it a feature
for observation purposes, so that when Zeppelin brought
out his rigid framework balloon, Germany fancied she
saw in it the command of the air.
The Zeppelin, however, had many disabilities
over the aeroplane. It had to have its own kennel.
It was almost impossible to get it into its shed if
the wind was against it. The kennels had, therefore,
to be either on wheels or floating. Furthermore,
not being able to replenish its gas, a Zeppelin had
always to return to its base for supplies. But
the gas balloon suited the smug character of the German.
Unlike the aviator who threw himself into the air
on a bundle of steel rods and rubber, a propeller
and a petrol engine, the phlegmatic German took no
risks with a balloon. He found, however, that
Zeppelins were expensive freaks. They had
a habit of catching fire in the air, because the tail
created a vacuum and sucked back some escaping gas
into the engine where the contact spark ignited it.
One recently alighted in a field and
a country bumpkin came over with the crowd to see
the fun. He had a pipe in his mouth. He was
told to go away. He wouldn’t for a while,
but he soon left in a hurry. After the explosion
they found bits of him and sixty-seven other people!
The Germans pinned their faith to
the Zeppelin because it could carry a heavy load of
explosives and would be an easy way of damaging an
enemy; and it was only a few months before the war
that considerable enthusiasm ruled Germany because
a Zeppelin had made a record trip from the southern
to the northern fringe of Germany, or, as “Vorwarts”
said, “as far as from Germany to England and
Here, then, was an easy way to fight.
Just rise up out of danger and drop bombs.
They tried it at Antwerp.
On 25th August, 1915, a Zeppelin flew
over the sleeping city, guided by flash lamps from
German spies on roofs. It was a night of terror a
bomb dropped to fall upon the royal palace, missed
and injured two women; a bomb aimed for the Antwerp
Bank missed and killed a servant; but one fell into
a hospital and another into a crowd in the city square.
Five people were blown to atoms.
It must have been an awful night,
for it is recorded that the city watchman of Antwerp
announced: “12 o’clock and all’s
On September 2nd (the anniversary
of Sedan), the Zeppelin came again to give its stab
in the dark, but finding it was recognised, retreated.
It did not rise higher to get out of danger of the
air guns and put up a fight. The German in the
air takes few risks. It is his temperament.
Not so with the Frenchman. He is by nature dashing
and volatile. The easy-going of the dirigible
little appealed to him. The risk, the speed,
the adventure of the aeroplane touched his soul, which
explained why France had 2032 military aviators, whilst
Germany had only 300 qualified military pilots.
The German lacks the dash, nerve,
vim and initiative essential to a successful flier.
He is moulded as a cog. He is part of a system out
of that he must not move. It has wrecked his
initiative, and the sneer of the greatest German in
history, Frederick the Great, has to-day grim significance.
“See those two mules,”
he said satirically to one of his officers, who lacked
initiative, “they have been in fifteen campaigns
and they’re still mules.”
The German training system has taken
all the humanity out of the men. They move like
machines, either destroying or rolling on to destruction,
and they often act with the dumb sense of the machine
to pain and suffering.
Lloyd George has very truly put it:
“God made man to his own image, but the German
recreated him in the form of a Diesel engine.”
No one questioned the efficiency of
the German machine. The Allies were disputing
its right to go on destroying.