Aviation

Aviation played a decisive role in determining the course of World War I. This was a first in the history of European warfare, and marked an enormous evolution in aviation techniques. To this day, aerospace warfare remains a characteristic trade of World War I. Dominance in the air varied: in April of 1917, the Germans had the upper hand in the battle for air supremacy. Later referred to as “Bloody April”, the superior power of the German air forces caused the British side to suffer disastrously heavy casualties. The British, in turn, gained control over the skies in June 1917 and remained dominant until April 1918.

The BIE-region was an area of great strategic importance and held a lot of German infrastructure, including a number of airfields. One airfield was located in Beveren, south of the main road to Roeselare. There was another airfield near the Bollestraat in Lichtervelde, and one in Ingelmunster, close to the municipal border with Meulebeke. Most airfields did not remain operational for the entire duration of the war. When they threatened to fall within reach of the Allied forces or were repeatedly targeted by strategic air power, German airfields were relocated to a safer position, as was the case with an airfield in the town of Rumbeke. 

Initially, aircrafts in the BIE-region were merely deployed to scout out the front lines, as well as unoccupied areas of Belgium and France. In the course of such explorational flights, however, German and Allied forces often crossed flight paths, and it was not long before such encounters resulted in armed conflicts. Small-scaled at first, with aviators shooting at each other using hand held weapons, the increasing intensity of the air battles soon required aircraft to be converted into veritable fighter planes. One-on-one dogfights soon evolved to large-scale group confrontations, involving multiple planes on both sides.

Apart from aeroplanes, both sides employed weather balloons for information gathering and directing artillery fire. The observation balloons were tethered to a steel cable and attached to a winch that reeled the balloon in and out. In fair weather, the balloons were manned by observers in wicker baskets, who eyed activities on the front line through binoculars and communicated their findings over the telephone. Anti-aircraft guns typically defended the balloons from the ground; attacking them was a risky venture for enemy pilots. Nevertheless, fighter pilots often targeted weather balloons to prevent enemy observation. Observers frequently had to use a parachute to evacuate their balloon when it came under attack. 

As the war progressed, both sides started making use of aircraft for bombing. The BIE-region was often subject to bombardments, especially after 1917. Like other types of aerial warfare, aircraft bombing was a primitive business at first, mostly limited to pilots dropping grenades and steel arrows down on enemy troops below.