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Tau Beta Pi 
University of Maryland 
College Park, - - - Maryland 

September 4, 1942 

Hugo G-. Sheridan, Jr. 



Today, aviation is playing an important part in the 
battle for democracy and freedom. Yet the first successful 
"balloon ascension took place only a little over two hundred 
and fifty years ago, and it was not until the "beginning of 
the twentieth century that man conquered the air with the 
heavier than air craft. 

Scarcely less than a week had elapsed after Rozier 
made his famous "balloon ascension before it was suggested 
that it be used in warfare. The balloon was given several 
trials in war during the nineteenth century but with little 
success. It was not until the first World War that the use- 
fulness of the balloon became apparent. Closely coupled 
with the balloon is the rigid airship. Ko other person in 
history was more closely connected to the military develop- 
ment of the dirigible than Count Zeppelin of the German 
army. It was through his efforts that the dirigible reached 
its highest stage of development, and it was only because of 
the fact of the high inflammability of hydrogen that led to 
its eventual downfall. 

The first large scale development of heavier than air 
craft was brought on by World War I. It was during this war 
that the military value of the airplane was fully realized. 
Both sides were quick to adapt the airplane, and through their 


efforts it developed rapidly and was, destined to have a great 
bearing on military tactics. This has been amply demonstrated 
by Hitler in his use of military tactics, mobility, and speed 
in which the airplane has played a major role. 

This thesis attempts to trace the history of aircraft 
in warfare and to show the influence that each has had one 
upon the other. 

Hugo G. Sheridan, Jr. 
Hyattsville, Maryland 
September, 1942 



War, perhaps more than any other factor* has influenced 
the development of aviation. And aviation in turn has had its 
effect on the art of waging war. It was through the desires 
of nations to produce a weapon more formidable than their 
enemies that men were able to obtain the funds necessary to 
make the rapid advancement that was made during war time. 
We are witnesses to the fact that aviation is the greatest 
single development in creating total war and making it not 
a war of armies but a war of peoples. 

Shortly after the historic balloon ascension in 17B.3 
of Francois de Rozier, who was the first human being to rise 
from the earth, Girond de Villette proposed that the bal- 
loon could be adapted to war for the use of reconnaissance. 
However, Villette was unable to convince Prance of his idea, 
and nothing was done. It was not until the outbreak of the 
French Revolution and the wars which followed that the bal- 
loon was actually given a trial in warfare. It was used 
against the Austrians by the French in 1794 with what was 
recorded as a great success. After the defeat of Napoleon 
Bonaparte, however, no further attempts were made to use 
the balloon in warfare until it was revived by Napoleon III 

in 1859, He used it in the Italian campaign where the bal- 

loon had little, if any, A on the outcome of the battles in 

which it was used. The outbreak of the American War Between 


the States provided the first large scale adaptation of the 
military balloon. Most of the work was done by Thaddeus 
S. C. Lowe in the employ of the Union forces. The Union 
side did practically all of the aerial observation, al- 
though the Confederates did, on a few occasions, use bal- 
loons in battle. However, the use of balloons was aban- 
doned by both sides after 1862 because of the difficulties 
of transportation. 

Although the balloon was recognized by the leading na- 
tions of the world in 1883 as valuable in warfare, it was not 
until the first World War that the balloon was really devel- 
oped as a military asset. The Germans built their balloons 
in long cylindrical shapes, popularly known as sausage bal- 
loons. On this balloon the Germans devised a successful 
method for stabilizing them. It consisted of a pair of small 
sails and a large inflated bag placed in the rear which acted 
as a rudder and kept the nose of the balloon in the wind. 
This type was followed by other types, the best being the 
Gaquot balloon. It was more stable than the sausage balloon 
and was soon adopted by both sides of the conflict. While 
they were used for observation and direction of artillery fire, 
they were also used to combat the submarine menace around the 
British Isles. During the air raids against England they 
were used by the English in combatting the bombers. Also in 
the present World War the balloon barrages have played an im- 
portant part in the defense of English cities against German 
bombing attacks. However, in the present war the airplane 


has taken the place of the balloon for the purpose of aerial 

Up until the time of World War I the rigid airship or 
dirigible was never used in warfare. Although work had been 
done on the rigid airship, it was not until the time of Count 
Zeppelin that the dirigible reached its highest peak of suc- 
cess. Zeppelin and his associates constructed 120 success- 
ful airships, 72 of which were used by the Germans in the first 
World War. They were often used in raids in the North Sea 
against English shipping. The few raids that were made 
against English cities while they did not do great material 
damage did have great effect on the morale of the population. 
The great stresses set up in the structures and the limited 
supply of helium have brought about the rapid decline of the 

The development of heavier than air craft as a military 
weapon covers a period of less than forty years as compared 
with a period of development of lighter than air craft of 
over two hundred and fifty years. And yet, today, the im- 
portance of heavier than air craft has increased tremendously 
while that of the lighter than air craft is declining. Soon 
after the successes of men such as the Wright brothers, Curtis, 
Bleriot, and others, the major powers began developing the 
airplane as a means of observation for military purposes. 
The first use of the airplane in warfare was made by the 
Italians in 1912 against the Turks. Also during this cam- 


paign aerial "bombing and aerial mapping were attempted. 

When the first World War began the airplanes of both 
sides were built with the trend towards stability. However, 
this made them very slow. The Germans, and the Allies as well, 
soon recognized the desperate need for speed and began to re- 
vise their designs. Anthony Fokker, who offered his services 
to the Allies and was refused, created a new type of warfare. 
First, he produced airplanes that were both speedy and ma- 
neuverable. Second, he included a machine gun on the fuse- 
lage of his craft. And, third, he invented a synchronizing 
control mechanism which allowed the machine gun to be fired 
through the propeller. These gave the Germans an initial ad- 
vantage over the Allies and which, coupled with Germany s 
production methods, were never fully overcome. 

When the United States entered the war in 1917, mili- 
tary aviation was practically nil. The air force consisted 
of but 60 airplanes, 65 officers, and 1120 enlisted men. 
But through generous appropriations by Congress the air force 
was expanded rapidly. At the time of the Armistice the 
United States had increased its air arm to 14,230 officers 
and 124,760 enlisted men. America had built 3,291) airplanes 
and 13,386 aircraft engines. This clearly shows the impetus 
that World War I gave to aviation in the United States. 

While World War I had an important effect on the de- 
velopment of aviation, the airplane did not alter greatly the 
general plan of battle. However, this is not true of the 


present World War. The efforts of the Germans in this war 
have shown the influence that aircraft have already had on 
modern warfare. The development of the dive bomber and me- 
dium "bomber in large quantities has changed the tactics of 
battle from the slow trench fighting of 1918 for which the 
French, Belgians, Poles, and other nations were prepared to 
a rapid war of movement. Aircraft played a definite role in 
the blitzgreig by Germany of many of the subjected countries. 
Also with the development of the long range bomber, no coun- 
try is now safe from attack. This is shown by the bombing 
of London, Tokyo, and Pearl Harbor. In naval warfare air- 
craft, especially the torpedo airplane, has lessened the im- 
portance of the battleship and has increased the importance 
of the aircraft carrier. This is witnessed by the sinking 
of the Price of Wales and the Repulse which were sunk en- 
tirely by airplanes. Also the fact that the United States and 
Great Britain are building more aircraft carriers in propor- 
tion to battleships than ever before substantiates this state- 

The desires of men to produce a weapon that is more deadly 
and effective than any in use by their enemies have played an 
important part in the development of aviation. Aviation is 
now paying back man threefold for his efforts. The devel- 
opment of aviation for war purposes has been positive and 
quick which gives to the victor a powerful weapon but gives 
to the vanquished death and destruction of, unfortunately, 


the irreplaceable monument of civilization and culture. 


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