This morning I finished reading Lee Kennett's The First Air War, 1914-1918. Here's one of my favorite passages:
If aerial combat was admittedly an affair of great complexity, still there were rules to the game, and if a pilot learned them and applied them, then he should have victory within his grasp-- this was the reassuring message of the tactical manuals and the flight school lectures. Then came the reality of combat. One must wonder how well the precepts were applied in one air battle a German captain described after the war. It came toward the end and it was fought in appalling conditions. There were perhaps 100 planes contending in limited airspace, flying at less than 3,000 feet under a ceiling of thick cloud; antiaircraft fire, particularly threatening at that altitude, was constantly arching up from below. On the ground the German and British armies were locked in combat. The pilots caught occasional glimpses of the battlefield with its drifting clouds of gas and the bright streaks made by flamethrowers. Above, the airplanes twisted and climbed and plunged "like wild things." The captain continued: "In the rain and mist the danger of midair collision was added to all the other hazards. Other planes would suddenly appear like phantoms. An adversary would emerge as a shadow for a fraction of a second, then vanish into the black clouds. There was something uncanny, sinister, about this flying in rain and storm, cloud and mist." The pilots, German and British alike, were "half-dead, exhausted and worn to tatters by the inhuman strain and the nerve-shattering tumult." It was eery and unearthly, like some "frantic witch's sabbath in the air." Such was the recollection of Captain Hermann Goering.
I enjoyed the book immensely and am desirous of continuing to learn more about WWI flying aces and the period in general. Kennett recommends as good reads the memoirs of airman Cecil Lewis, entitled Sagittarius Rising and Red Knight of Germany, a fictionalized account of the Red Baron written by a fellow named Floyd Gibbons. I have Richthofen's autobiography, but Kennet warns that the arrogance of the man grates on some readers.
I'd also like to read a short overview of the political events leading to the war and maybe another text otulining the war itself.