I don’t know about you, but I had never considered using the word “Aces” in a discussion of WWI Reconnaissance aircraft…or WWI bombers either for that matter. Then, I had the opportunity to read Osprey’s Aircraft of the Aces – 123, and learn much about WWI airmen other than fighter pilots who earned that title while flying in what many would consider slow and rather awkward aircraft. According to the book’s appendices, at least 134 reconnaissance and bomber pilots managed to do exactly that. And, their story is a compelling one that is long overdue.
Often overshadowed by the stories of the fighter pilots who either protected or threatened them, aircrews of two-seater reconnaissance aircraft went about their job of performing the oldest and most strategically vital aerial task of World War 1 - a task that required them to return from their mission with the intelligence they gathered at all costs. Aircrews flying bomber sorties that were equally important and dangerous were likewise required to go in harm's way each time they took off and defend against ever increasing numbers of aggressive defenders.
As I read Reconnaissance and Bomber Aces of World War 1, I found it remarkable that such a high number of British, French and German two-seater teams managed to attain or exceed the five victories needed to achieve the high honor popularly associated with their single-seat nemeses. In this book, with ninety-two period photographs of the men and machines, and first-hand accounts of these veterans, they receive their long-overdue recognition. Also included are 22 color profiles and plan views of significant aircraft described in the text. Full information is provided for each aircraft that is illustrated. It is worth noting that the story identifies many high-scoring single-seat fighter aces that we often read about who began their careers in two-seaters, particularly in the early stages of the conflict, and their exploits as either pilots or observers are well detailed here too.
The book is divided into six chapters that tell the stories of the aces of each country’s air force; allied and axis…and provides individual tallies in the appendices at the end of the narrative that make comparisons easy.
The Contents include:
- Chapter 1: Not Exactly Helpless
- Chapter 2: Britons in Harm’s Way
- Chapter 3: French Aces – Fighting Their Way Home
- Chapter 4: Germans Under Fire
- Chapter 5: Austria-Hungary’s Old Reliables
- Chapter 6: Aggressive Americans
- Appendices: List of all two-seater aces -Plates commentary
Author Jon Guttman has crafted an informative and easy-to-read narrative that fills a void in the study of WWI aerial warfare and pays credit to the aircrews that less well-researched histories have neglected. He has done a wonderful job of filling in those blanks in Osprey’s Reconnaissance and Bomber Aces of World War 1. Modelers and historians alike will benefit from adding this book to their libraries.
This book is highly recommended to those interested in WW I history in general and the history of the Great War in the air in particular. It is a very interesting and enlightening read that deserves a place in any WWI reference library. My thanks to Osprey Publishing for providing the review sample and IPMS/USA for the opportunity to review it.