Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN-83105).

DA4 Attacked by a Fokker D75 [sic], by A. Ronald Gibbons.

 

The Canadian navy was small and saw no military action during the war. Only one major sea battle (near Jutland, Denmark, in May 1916) was fought between the British and the German fleets during the war.

National Archives of Canada (C-015366).

Dogfight, n.d.

 

In contrast, airplanes played an increasingly important role. Their first use was as observers, extending the eyes of the army commanders. Later, pilots began fighting each other in an effort to gain control of the skies. The Germans had more planes than the British and the French, which gave them an initial advantage in the air war. The common strategy was to engage in "dog fights" in which squadrons of planes would engage each other.

Life as a pilot was more glamorous than life in the trenches -- but such a life could be very short. Hundreds of pilots lost their lives, in part because they had no parachutes in case their planes were destroyed. The average lifespan of a pilot in 1916 was three weeks. Some pilots on both sides, though, emerged as "flying aces" because of the number of planes they shot down. Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the famous "Red Baron" of Germany, downed 80 planes before he was killed. Canadian flier Arthur Roy Brown was officially credited, although some evidence suggests that Richthofen may have been shot down from the trenches. Billy Bishop, the greatest Canadian ace, destroyed 72 enemy planes, and he and other pilots, such as Raymond Collishaw, became popular heroes back in Canada.

Glenbow Museum and Archives (NA-1258-123).

Colonel William "Billy" Bishop, 1917.

Colonel Bishop, Victoria Cross winner and war ace, is pictured here with his Nieuport 17C.
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A98-96, Box 4).

Launching a Dirigible, n.d.

One of the most dangerous assignments a pilot could have was to engage a dirigible. These airships flew at relatively low altitude, allowing attack planes to be fired upon both from the air and from heavily fortified guns on the ground.
 

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