Aviation Militaire

Nieuport 11

The French General Headquarters had little enthusiasm for single-seat fighter aircraft before Verdun but within a few week’s steadfast aerial defence by French pilots swept away all doubts. The aviation militaire began grouping their fighting aeroplanes into units (escadrilles) the number of which grew as the Verdun offensive ground on. French pilots went on the offensive, small groups entering German airspace with RFC support. Their confidence and morale was boosted thanks to the Nieuport 11, a light and handy little rotary-engined biplane with a Lewis machine gun mounted above the upper wing, its muzzle well clear of the spinning airscrew blades. It was superior to the Eindeckers and by April, the defiant French had wrested control of the skies from the Germans over Verdun. Escadrille pilots began to notch up respectable scores: emergent ‘hot-shots’, the likes of Georges Guynemer, Charles Nungesser and, particularly Jean Navarre (The Sentinel of Verdun) would later number among their country’s leading air aces.  Now increasingly outnumbered, German airmen went on the defensive, conserving their strength by restricting attacks to Allied aeroplanes which ventured over their lines. Important lessons were learnt over Verdun: the utility and indispensability of single-seat fighter aeroplanes had been proven beyond question, whilst there was an increased esprit de corps between British and French air services which would be sustained until the Armistice.