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"You hit them. We must go home. No petrol"

WWI aircraftWith these simple lines, dropped in a bottle from a biplane to gunners of the 87th Royal Field Artillery, No. 6 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps pioneered cooperation between the Army and airpower, and ushered in airpower as an element in the First World War.

It was less than a year before, on 31 January 1914, that No. 6 Squadron was formed with just four biplanes: two BE's and two Maurice Farmens, all with 70 hp Renault engines.  It was part of the nascent Royal Flying Corps, which at the time was less than two years old and previously consisted of four aeroplane squadrons and one squadron of airships and kites. 

From its inception, No. 6 Squadron was innovating as it housed experimental work on airborne wireless telegraphy and photography. 

When the war broke out, only five squadrons were operational, numbers two through six, and all were short of pilots and planes.  Nonetheless, No. 6 Squadron flew across the Channel. By 6 October they were in Bruges and had advanced to Poperinghe for the first Battle of Ypres that commenced on 19 October. 

The next day, after seeing shells fall on a German gun battery, a No. 6 Squadron pilot dropped the famous message in a bottle, providing the first instance of close cooperation between Air and Army in the First World War.

This type of cooperation proved to be a major development in the First World War, as did No. 6 Squadron's pioneering work in wireless telegraphy and photography. By spring 1915, great progress had been made in telegraphy and No. 6 Squadron provided extensive aerial photography of enemy trenchwork, assisting in the March offensive on Neuve Chappelle. 

That same month, Captain Strange of No. 6 Squadron rigged his aircraft with bomb racks mounted under the wings. By pulling a rope that was strung into the cockpit, Captain Strange deployed the bombs on railway junctions vital to reinforcing the German army’s hold on Neuve Chappelle.

As the war continued, the role of airpower continued to evolve and No. 6 Squadron's activities and tactic followed suit. Aeroplanes flew at higher altitude, now reaching 12,000 feet. As enemy aircraft attacks increased, they began to work in pairs. And they dramatically increased their reconnaissance work in reporting enemy troop positions to aid artillery with targeting, in addition to their own strafing and bombing runs.

While many squadrons were disbanded after the war, No. 6 Squadron deployed to the Middle East in 1919, the start of many years’ posting in the region.

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