The growth of the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I was huge. At the start of the war, the RNAS had a total of 720 personnel attached to it. By the time of its amalgamation with the Royal Flying Corps towards the end of the war, it had personnel of 55,000. 93 aircraft had grown to just under 3,000 and 6 airships had become 103.
During the early part of the war, the Royal Flying Corps supported the British Army by artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance. This work gradually led Royal Flying Corps pilots into aerial battles with German pilots and later included the strafing of enemy infantry and emplacements, the bombing of German military airfields and the strategic bombing of German industrial and transportation facilities. The Royal Flying Corps was also responsible for the manning and operation of observation balloons on the Western Front.
To support the Battle of Arras, beginning on 9th April 1917, the Royal Flying Corps deployed 25 squadrons, totalling 365 aircraft, a third of which were fighters. The British lost 245 aircraft with 211 aircrew killed or missing and 108 taken as prisoners of war.
During the Battle of Messines in June 1917, they were ordered to fly low over the lines and strafe all available targets.
By the summer of 1917, the introduction of the next generation of technically advanced combat aircraft (such as the SE5, Sopwith Camel and Bristol Fighter) ensured losses fell and damage inflicted on the enemy increased.
Techniques for Army and Royal Flying Corps co-operation quickly evolved and improved during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele).
co-operated highly effectively with advancing columns of tanks and infantry during the Battle of Cambrai.
In 1917, 2,094 of the Royal Flying Corps aircrew were killed or missing, in action.
After starting in 1914 with some 2,073 personnel by the start of 1919 the RAF had 4,000 combat aircraft and 114,000 personnel.
During World War One, the RFC, RNAS and RAF lost a total of 9,378 men with 7,245 wounded. Some 900,000 flying hours were logged for the duration of the war and just under 7,000 ton of bombs had been dropped on enemy positions.
just two few examples being – Albert Ball, 1896 – 1917, (at the time of his death in May 1917, he was the United Kingdom's leading flying ace, with 44 victories) and James McCudden,1895 –1918, (an English flying ace who received more awards for gallantry than any other airman of British nationality serving in the First World War. He was also one of the longest serving.
Among the few Scottish Flying aces were Gordon Metcalfe Duncan DFC, 1899 – 1941. Born in Edinburgh, he joined the Royal Flying Corps aged 18, in 1917 and left in June 1919 after being transferred to the unemployment list. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 3 December 1918, his citation reading :
“Lieutenant Gordon Metcalfe Duncan. A courageous fighter and skilful leader who has accounted for seven enemy aeroplanes. On 5 September 1918, when on escort duty, he attacked a formation of five Fokker biplanes; one of these he engaged at close range and it was seen to break up in the air; he then drove down a second, out of control”.
Also Major John Inglis Gilmour, DSO, MC & Two Bars, 1896 – 1928, born in Helensburgh, Dumbartonshire, was the highest scoring Scotsman in the Royal Flying Corps, with 39 victories.
She married Wilhelm Westhofen in Leuchold in 1887. He was aged 44 and living in Forth View House, Dalmeny, she was aged 23 and living in Leuchold.
After the Forth Rail Bridge was finished, the family moved to Cape Town, South Africa, in 1891, so Wilhelm could supervise construction of the Gouritz River Bridge, (then one of the longest and highest in South Africa, work began to replace the old bridge in 1972). In 1892 he was appointed as engineer in the Public Works Department of the Cape Colony, a position he held until he retired on pension in 1904.