About This File
New missions, flak. 917(1) covers the period from January through to April 1917 : the withdrawal of the German army to the Hindenburg Line, the diversionary Battle of Arras and Nivelle's great offensive in the Champagn. It was a period in which an Allied numerical superiority in the air was pitted against a technologically superior and increasingly well organised but still outnumbered German opposition, as the expansion in the RFC and RNAS saw hundreds of the older machines and under-trained air crew flooding into France. In the first months of 1917 the German army took the strategic initiative, following a period of poor weather that hindered the Allied recon. activity, with a well planned 'scorched earth' withdrawl to a prepared defensive line. British recon. and photo recon. resources were stretched to the limit, with scouts being drafted in to take on some of the work, as they desperately photographed and mapped the new German trench systems, whilst other two-seater units covered the advancing troops with low level contact missions. The advance was harassed in many places by German two-seater aircraft doing the same, and by aggressive but sporadic attacks by the German Jastas (although many of these were now in the south, to cover French preparations in the Champagn region). So much British effort was going in to recon., and on escorting the recon. aircraft, that Allied bombing switched to night bombing, of rail and communication centres, with little in the way of day bombing. The British then launched their attack on the Arras front at the beginning of April. The Art.Obs., particularly counter-battery work, now had the highest priority, along with tactical recon. and photo recon. missions along the front, with some scouts once again being drafted in to do some of the recon. work and also to attack the balloon line. Heavily escorted day bombing now resumed, mostly against rail centres, to try and stop the Germans bringing forward reinforcements. As the British threatened to break through at Arras the Germans drew in air resources from the south of the region, and the now numerically strengthened German fighter force (including new types such as the Albatros D.III) started to take a heavy toll on the British Corps machines, bombers, long recon., and their escorting scouts. On 14th April the French launched Nivelle's long awaited offensive in the Champagne, but the Germans had advance knowledge of the detailed planning for this and it ground to a halt, after very heavy losses that tore the heart out of the French army. By the end of April the French were back on the defensive and fighting at Arras was winding down. But new British aircraft types such as the SE5 and the Bristol Fighter, deployed too little and too late to have a significant impact, were already in France, and others such as the Camel and the DH4 were on the way...the pendulum was about to swing again as the British, having survived 'Bloody April' with the offensive doctrine intact, and despite heavy losses in the air, prepared for a major offensive in the north.