Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…

Plane Crashes and Air Casualties in World War I

Air crashes and pilot fatalities were a commonplace occurrence during the First World War. Historians will cite many reasons for the high crash and fatality rate during the war, but the most common explanations all reference back to rushed aviation development and pilot inexperience. Most aircraft and planes introduced during the war had not been thoroughly tested in battle and were not ready to withstand the intensity of a war in the skies. Pilots were still learning the ropes of offensive flying too, and many found themselves ill-equipped to handle the stress and unpredictability of this new type of warfare. Finally, the original structure of these planes was not designed to withstand massive artillery attacks while in flight. As a result of all these things, hundreds of soldiers lost their life in battle while manning or attacking these steel birds.

Early Dangers of Air Warfare

Air warfare was a dangerous assignment throughout the entire First World War, but the first few years of battle proved particularly brutal and ruthless for many pilots. The original military planes were barely more than prototypes since there had been little to no testing in real warfare scenarios. As such, the first pilots were forced to navigate aircraft made of flimsy wood, linen and wire. Navigating was no easy feat either, given that most pilots had never received formal or proper training for this modern type of warfare.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, many pilots were not even permitted to use parachutes in the event of a crash or collision. Apparently, military officials were worried that parachutes would encourage pilots to abandon burning planes instead of trying to navigate them back to the ground. Pilots wouldn’t be issued parachutes until 1919, when the US military finally realized that skilled pilots were actually more expensive to replace than airplanes.

In the beginning of WWI, pilots had a life expectancy rate of a few weeks while active in air combat. During some battles, and in various geographic areas, this total could go as low as eleven days. This averaged out to be around 40 or 50 hours of flying and was not considered a very long time at all.


When you look at the amount of plane crashes, failures and collisions during the First World War, it becomes evident why pilot death tolls were so high.

The first aerial combat between two airplanes emerged as early as 1914 with forced collisions between British, Russians and Germans. Following these crashes, dogfighting (warfare between two aircraft) became an increasingly popular form of battle as the war waged on. As the aviation technology pendulum swung back and forth between Britain and Germany, each side began developing their own strategies for handling the war in the skies.

The German Fokker

At first, the Germans seemed to be a step ahead with their dreaded Fokker fleet. The unrivaled Fokker model was able to fire machine gun rounds through the front propeller, effectively allowing them to knock many a lesser aircraft out of the sky. The “Fokker Scourge” was short-lived, however, as the British reclaimed aerial dominance with their use of strategical air fleet formations–a tactic which had never been used before.

The most famous dogfight of the First World War followed shortly after in 1916 with both the British and Germans using tactical formations. In this attack, one of the most famous flying aces during the war, Lanoe Hawker, attempted to take down German aircraft over Achiet. Hawker was able to take them on for a lengthy period of time, before being shot in the head and crashing out of the sky. For the rest of the war the amount of dogfights would only increase with the death tolls following shortly behind due to aviation crashes and explosions.

By the time the war ended in 1918, the participating countries had lost a combined total of more than 100,000 aircraft. These losses were not in vain though, as they only forced each participating country to advance their aviation technology more rapidly. The effects of which would inspire further improvements in aircraft safety and longevity for the next century.


Famous WW1 Airplane Crash Pictures