Vimy and the Battle of Arras: The Evolution of the Air Campaign

  • Dr. Mike Bechthold Wilfrid Laurier University


The Battle of Vimy Ridge is almost exclusively considered a land battle where aircraft played minor roles in scouting and counter-battery work. Meanwhile, a parallel but separate air battle known as “Bloody April” was waged overhead where German pilots enjoyed significant technical and geographic advantages over their opponents resulting in very high losses for the British and French flying services. In reality, the ground and air battles were inextricably linked. The Royal Flying Corps under Major-General Hugh Trenchard made great strides towards the development of a modern air campaign. Prior to the battle, aerial reconnaissance provided crucial information for planning the battle, bombing raids were staged to interdict the battlefield, and attempts were made to blind the Germans by destroying their kite balloons. During the battle itself, contact flights ranged over the battlefield to provide communications from the front, continuous artillery patrols were flown which helped to direct artillery fire, and bombing missions were conducted against German targets in the communications zone. This was in addition to the fight for air superiority taking place over the battlefield. The RFC made a significant contribution to the outcome of the Battle of Arras though ultimately, there were major problems with this nascent air campaign. Nevertheless, it was an integral step in the development of air power in the First World War.

Author Biography

Dr. Mike Bechthold, Wilfrid Laurier University
Dr. Mike Bechthold holds a PhD in History from the Univeristy of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia and an MA & Honours BA from WIlfrid Laurier Univeristy. For 22 years, Dr. Bechthold was the Communications Director of the Laurier Centre for MIlitary Strategic and Disarmament Studies and the Managing Editor of Canadian Military History, an academic quarterly journal. He is the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles. His areas of specialization include military air power, the Canadian army in Normandy and Northwest Europe and the Canadian Corps in the Great War. Dr. Bechthold currently teaches history part time at Wilfrid Laurier University and works full time and WLU Press as production cooridnator and aquisitions editor in military history.
Vimy 2017: From Both Sides of the Ridge