Throughout August, the Military Trials - competitions for military aeroplanes took place at Larkhill - this was the most searching test to which flying machines had ever been subjected to in Great Britain. Altogether 31 different types were entered in what was the most searching test for both British and foreign aircraft constructors to which flying machines had ever been subjected to in Great Britain.
One test involved the assembly of aircraft and their subsequent first flight. An aircraft was presented to the judges still in its packing case. Against the clock, the crew removed the aircraft components, assembled them together for the pilot who then had to fly the machine around the aerodrome. At the end of the flying test, the aircraft had then to be dismantled again, folded up, driven with a vehicle a few miles, then re-erected and flown once more. Out of 19 aircraft taking part, only eight survived the test.
On the outbreak of war, a detachment of the RNAS was sent to Belgium and airship and seaplane patrols were instituted between the East Coast of England and the Belgian coast. All available pilots and aircraft of the RFC proceeded to France with the British Expeditionary Force.
All available pilots and aircraft of the RFC proceeded to Farnborough. Here the squadrons were made up to full strength with aeroplanes and transport from many sources including the CFS, before moving to the embarkation points. RFC squadron aircraft types on strength at the outbreak of WWI was as follows:
December 1915 to February 1916 - The War Office took over from the Admiralty the function of home defence against enemy aircraft. By February, the War Office had established a Home Defence Scheme with aircraft, anti-aircraft guns and searchlights.
Under Sir David Henderson, two BE2C’s manned by specially trained pilots in night flying were to be maintained on a ring of ten aerodromes encircling London:
Each had six mechanics and a RE party operating a searchlight. Pilots slept in shifts and communication was provided from the War Office by telephone.
At a conference between officials of the Post Office, Home Office and the Railway Executive Committee, Lieut-Colonel Philip Maud, had suggested an early warning system based on the existing telephone organisation should be implemented. His idea was that eight Warning Control Centres, each with a Warning Controller should be located at one of the main centres of the telephone system.
The Warning Controller would be responsible for collecting and passing on information and for issuing warnings of an impending air-raid. Each Control Area was to be sub-divided into Warning Districts of 30-35 miles square with a system of observer posts. Information from these posts were to be passed to the local Warning Controller for plotting the progress of the path of Zeppelins. A system of girls Christian names was used for German airships and boys names for British airships.
Home Defence stations placed along a line between Dover and Edinburgh to form a Barrage-Line of searchlights from the London Anti-Aircraft Defence Zone to Blyth. Interlaying Barrage-Lines also established in Kent, Essex and Norfolk. Searchlights were placed under the direction of the local Squadron Commander - communication was by telephone.
The close defence of Vulnerable Points was now altered to a system of defensive bands across the line of the enemy’s approach. Searchlights under the direction of the squadron commander, were situated along the patrol line of aeroplanes and the searchlight crews were connected with the squadron headquarters by telephone. When news was received that enemy aircraft were approaching, the normal practice was to send up two or three aeroplanes from each flight to patrol the specified areas.
After the success in August 1917 of the balloon barrage defence apron erected for the protection of the important steelworks at Neuve-Maisons, Nancy, it was decided to provide similar defences for Paris and London. A scheme was therefore put forward by Major General Ashmore, GOC London Air Defence Area. His idea was that a balloon barrage consisting of several balloons of the Caquot type connected together by a cable with weighted wire streamers could form an ‘apron’. Also, small balloons, each on a single light cable, could be suspended over the rivers Medway and Thames.
The scheme was approved in principal and trials took place at Richmond Park, but unfortunately the five Caquot balloons, joined at the top by a cross cable, broke away from their moorings killing two operators. Further trials with just three balloons proved very successful and on 22 September, an order was issued to pilots that balloon aprons were to be established along the following route: On a line east of Lewisham, east of Plumstead, one mile east of Barking, the east edge of Ilford, the east edge of Wanstead and the north edge of Tottenham.
No aircraft were to fly across the lines during operations at a height less than 10,000ft. Each one contained three Caquot balloons joined together by a horizontal wire and suspended from this were 1,000ft long wires set apart by 25yds. The first apron started operating on 6 October 1917 and a request was made for more; by the end of the First World War, ten aprons were in operation. The aprons had considerable moral effect on the German pilots and in March 1918, General von Hoeppner made a report that ‘the aprons had increased enormously, and that they added greatly to the difficulties of the attack. If they were increased and improved much more, they would make a raid on London almost impossible’ (Ashmore).
Home Defence Brigade became 6th Brigade, consisting of:
The Air Council reviewed the system of command and administration prevailing in Home Commands. As a result the ADGB, with its three sub-ordinates, the Wessex Bombing Area, the Fighting Area, and No. 1 Air Defence Group, Coastal Area and Inland Area, were all disbanded. Instead, the first four new commands, each with an Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief were formed. Training Command, Bomber Command, Fighter Command and Coastal Command.