Bloody April Revisited: The Royal Flying Corps at the Battle of Arras, 1917


  • Mike Bechthold


The Battle of Arras, 1917 is generally 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, enjoying significant technical and geographic advantages, inflicted very high losses on 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. Local and distant bombing raids and air superiority missions made it possible for near continuous reconnaissance, artillery spotting, and contact patrol flights providing invaluable support to the ground forces. As a result, the RFC made a significant contribution to the outcome of the Battle of Arras though 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.