Bloody April
During the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the month of April 1917
1917 in aviation
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1917:- Events :* During her 30 November 1916-24 February 1918 cruise, the Imperial German Navy commerce raider Wolf carries a Friedrichshafen FF.33e seaplane nicknamed Wölfchen , which during 1917 singlehandedly captures at least four of the 37 enemy...

 was known as Bloody April by the Royal Flying Corps
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 (RFC). The RFC suffered particularly severe losses — about three times as many as the Imperial German
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte
The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte , known before October 1916 as Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches , or simply Die Fliegertruppen, was the air arm of the Imperial German Army during World War I...

) over the same period — but continued its primary role in support of the ground offensive.


In April, the Allies launched a joint ground offensive, with the British attacking near Arras
Arras is the capital of the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France. The historic centre of the Artois region, its local speech is characterized as a Picard dialect...

 in Artois
Artois is a former province of northern France. Its territory has an area of around 4000 km² and a population of about one million. Its principal cities are Arras , Saint-Omer, Lens and Béthune.-Location:...

, northern France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, while the French Nivelle Offensive
Nivelle offensive
The Nivelle Offensive was a 1917 French attack on the Western Front in the First World War. Promised as the assault that would end the war within 48 hours, with casualties expected of around 10,000 men, it failed on both counts. It was a three-stage plan:...

 was launched on the Aisne
Aisne River
The Aisne is a river in northeastern France, left tributary of the river Oise. It gave its name to the French département Aisne. It was known in the Roman period as the Axona....

. Their air forces were called on to provide support, predominantly in reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

 and artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...


The Battle of Arras
Battle of Arras (1917)
The Battle of Arras was a British offensive during the First World War. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British, Canadian, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and Australian troops attacked German trenches near the French city of Arras on the Western Front....

 began on 9 April 1917. In support, the RFC deployed 25 squadrons
Squadron (aviation)
A squadron in air force, army aviation or naval aviation is mainly a unit comprising a number of military aircraft, usually of the same type, typically with 12 to 24 aircraft, sometimes divided into three or four flights, depending on aircraft type and air force...

, totalling 365 aircraft, about ⅓ of which were fighter
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

s (or "scouts
Scout (aircraft)
The term scout, as a description of a class of military aircraft, came into use shortly before the First World War, and referred to a light reconnaissance aircraft, initially unarmed. "Scout" types were generally adaptations of pre-war racing aircraft – although at least one was specifically...

" as they were called at the time). There were initially only five German Jasta
The Jagdstaffeln were specialized fighter squadrons in the Luftstreitkräfte during World War I.-Background:...

(fighter squadrons) in the region, but this rose to eight as the battle progressed (some 80 or so operational fighter aircraft in total).

Since September 1916, the Germans had held the upper hand in the perpetual contest for air supremacy
Air supremacy
Air supremacy is the complete dominance of the air power of one side's air forces over the other side's, during a military campaign. It is the most favorable state of control of the air...

 on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

, with the twin-lMG 08 machine gun-armed Albatros D.II
Albatros D.II
|-See also:...

 and D.III
Albatros D.III
The Albatros D.III was a biplane fighter aircraft used by the Imperial German Army Air Service and the Austro-Hungarian Air Service during World War I. The D.III was flown by many top German aces, including Manfred von Richthofen, Ernst Udet, Erich Löwenhardt, Kurt Wolff, and Karl Emil Schäfer...

 outclassing the British and French fighters charged with protecting the vulnerable B.E.2c
Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2
The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 was a British single-engine two-seat biplane which was in service with the Royal Flying Corps from 1912 until the end of World War I. The "Bleriot" in its designation refers to the fact that, like the Bleriot types it was of tractor configuration, with the...

, F.E.2b
Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2
The Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2 was a two-seat pusher biplane that was operated as a day and night bomber and as a fighter aircraft by the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War...

 and Sopwith 1½ Strutter
Sopwith 1½ Strutter
The Sopwith 1½ Strutter was a British one or two-seat biplane multi-role aircraft of the First World War. It is significant as the first British-designed two seater tractor fighter, and the first British aircraft to enter service with a synchronised machine gun...

 two-seater reconnaissance and bomber machines. The allied fighter squadrons were equipped with obsolete 'pushers
Pusher configuration
In a craft with a pusher configuration the propeller are mounted behind their respective engine. According to Bill Gunston, a "pusher propeller" is one mounted behind engine so that drive shaft is in compression...

' such as the Airco DH.2
Airco DH.2
|-DH.2 aces:Distinguished pilots of the DH.2 included Victoria Cross winner Lanoe Hawker , who was the first commander of No 24 Squadron and ace Alan Wilkinson. The commander of No. 32 Squadron, Lionel Rees won the Victoria Cross flying the D.H.2 for single handedly attacking a formation of 10...

 and F.E.8
Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.8
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps . London: Putnam, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X.* Bruce, J.M. British Aeroplanes 1914–18. London: Putnam, 1957....

, and other outclassed types such as the Nieuport 17
Nieuport 17
|-Specifications :-See also:-Bibliography:* Bruce, Jack. "Those Classic Nieuports". Air Enthusiast Quarterly. Number Two, 1976. Bromley, UK:Pilot Press. pp. 137–153....

. Only the SPAD S.VII
The SPAD S.VII was the first of a series of highly successful biplane fighter aircraft produced by Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés during the First World War. Like its successors, the S.VII was renowned as a sturdy and rugged aircraft with good climbing and diving characteristics...

, Sopwith Pup
Sopwith Pup
The Sopwith Pup was a British single seater biplane fighter aircraft built by the Sopwith Aviation Company. It entered service with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service in the autumn of 1916. With pleasant flying characteristics and good maneuverability, the aircraft proved very...

 and Triplane
Sopwith Triplane
The Sopwith Triplane was a British single seat fighter aircraft designed and manufactured by the Sopwith Aviation Company during the First World War. Pilots nicknamed it the Tripehound or simply the Tripe. The Triplane became operational with the Royal Naval Air Service in early 1917 and was...

 could compete on equal terms with the Albatros, but these were few in number and spread along the front. The new generation of Allied fighters were not yet ready for service, although No. 56 Squadron RFC with the S.E.5
Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 was a British biplane fighter aircraft of the First World War. Although the first examples reached the Western Front before the Sopwith Camel and it had a much better overall performance, problems with its Hispano-Suiza engine, particularly the geared-output H-S...

 was working up to operational status in France. The Bristol F2A also made its debut with No. 48 Squadron
No. 48 Squadron RAF
No. 48 Squadron was a Royal Air Force squadron that saw service in both World War I and World War II.-First World War:No. 48 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps was formed at Netheravon, Wiltshire, on 15 April 1916. The squadron was posted to France in March 1917 and became the first fighter...

 during April, but lost heavily on its very first patrol, with four out of six shot down in an encounter with five Albatros D.IIIs of Jasta 11
Jasta 11
Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 11 was founded on 28 September 1916 from elements of 4 armee's Keks 1, 2 and 3 and mobilized on 11 October as part of the German Air Service's expansion program, forming permanent specialised fighter squadrons, or "Jastas"...

, led by Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen , also widely known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service during World War I...



During April 1917, the British lost 245 aircraft, 211 aircrew killed or missing and 108 as prisoners of war. The German Air Services lost 66 aircraft from all causes. As a comparison, in the five months of 1916's Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme (1916)
The Battle of the Somme , also known as the Somme Offensive, took place during the First World War between 1 July and 14 November 1916 in the Somme department of France, on both banks of the river of the same name...

 the RFC had suffered 576 casualties. Under Richthofen's leadership, Jasta 11 scored 89 victories during April, over a third of the British losses.

The month marked the nadir of the RFC's fortunes. However, despite the losses inflicted, the German Air Service failed to stop the RFC carrying out its prime objectives. The RFC continued to support the army throughout the Arras offensive with up-to-date aerial photographs, reconnaissance information and harassing bombing raids. In spite of their ascendancy, the German squadrons continued to be used defensively, flying for the most part behind their own lines. Thus the Jastas established "air superiority", but certainly not air supremacy
Air supremacy
Air supremacy is the complete dominance of the air power of one side's air forces over the other side's, during a military campaign. It is the most favorable state of control of the air...


Within a couple of months the new technologically advanced generation of fighter (the SE.5
Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 was a British biplane fighter aircraft of the First World War. Although the first examples reached the Western Front before the Sopwith Camel and it had a much better overall performance, problems with its Hispano-Suiza engine, particularly the geared-output H-S...

, Sopwith Camel
Sopwith Camel
The Sopwith Camel was a British First World War single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Manufactured by Sopwith Aviation Company, it had a short-coupled fuselage, heavy, powerful rotary engine, and concentrated fire from twin synchronized machine guns. Though difficult...

|-See also:-Bibliography:* Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps . London: Putnam, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X.* Sharpe, Michael. Biplanes, Triplanes, and Seaplanes. London: Friedman/Fairfax Books, 2000. ISBN 1-58663-300-7....

) entered service in numbers and quickly gained ascendancy over the over-worked Jastas. As the fighter squadrons became able to once more adequately protect the slower reconnaissance and artillery observation machines, RFC losses fell and German losses rose.

This was essentially the last time that the Germans possessed real air superiority for the rest of the war — although the degree of allied dominance in the air certainly varied.
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