The enduring images from the Battle of the Somme are of soldiers climbing out of the trenches to face the onslaught of machine gun fire and barbed wire in No Man's Land. Yet the battle, which waged over 141 days in 1916, was a pivotal moment for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the predecessor to the Royal Air Force.
The airmen of the RFC, tasked with reconnaissance of German lines, the direction of artillery fire, the bombing of German assets both on and behind the front line, and the rapid relay of information from the battlefield to headquarters, took on these missions with simple aircraft and at great risk.
The skills the RFC airmen developed and advanced over the battlefields of the Somme by the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 are the cornerstone of today's RAF activities. Learn more about the RFC's involvement in the Battle of the Somme.
Reconnaissance – the ability to gather information on enemy forces – was catapulted into the modern era during the First World War with advances in aviation and photography.
Having paid for his own flying lessons just three years before the Battle of the Somme, Welshman Lionel Rees had no idea what lay ahead of him on the first day of the battle.
Serving as aircrew in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was one of the most dangerous roles in the First World War. Aviation was still a very new science, training was minimal, safety systems were basic to non-existent, and the aircraft themselves incredibly basic and fragile.