The First World War was the first conflict in which aviation played a major role.
At first, balloons, aircraft and airships were used for reconnaissance and dropping bombs. Increasingly, aerial duels were fought to gain air superiority.
This was despite the fact that the aeroplane had only been demonstrated eleven years earlier in America in 1903 by the Wright brothers. Initially the usefulness of heavier-than-air machines had been met with scepticism from Britain’s army and navy.
At the outbreak of the war in August 1914 the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had 146 officers and around 100 aircraft. The Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) had over 700 personnel, 93 aircraft, two balloons and six airships.
One hundred years ago today (1 April 1918) the two rivals merged to form the Royal Air Force (RAF) under the control of the new Air Ministry.
By the end of the war November 1918, the Royal Air Force had grown in strength to 27,000 officers and 260,000 other personnel operating more than 22,000 aircraft. But the casualty rate was very high: 14,166, of whom around 9000 died or were missing in action. A further estimated 8,000 were killed in training accidents.
In commemoration of their bravery and sacrifice, Historic England is newly listing eleven memorials associated with the air war – eight to individual aviators – and upgrading three others.
The memorials help tell Britain’s wartime aviation story:
Memorials to pilots killed in accidents and combat
Second World War memorials