In "War Wings: Films of the First Air War", Philip W. Stewart has written a wonderful book that is a must read for any World War I aviation enthusiast. In fact, it's probably a must-read for any World War I enthusiast in general. Stewart's book is the culmination of two decades of research pouring through National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) archives in College Park, MD.
Over the years, the millions of linear feet of motion camera footage taken by the US Signal Corps as well as its counterparts in other combatant countries has attrited due to waste and decay to the point that only a small percentage of the original footage still survives. The National Archives and Records Administration's archives in College Park, MD holds a fascinating collection of what is left. The US Army Signal Corps documented the work of the United States Air Service and the equally nascent United States Navy's air operations and United States Marine air operations.
Stewart has literally story-boarded 108 reels of material which he further categorizes into A List (67 reels) and B List (41 reels) films. The A List films are primarily about American air operations. B List films are films that are either primarily about other countries (e.g. France) or other services (the American Expeditionary Force - meaning the US Army), but still show American air operations to some extent. His scene by scene descriptions are prefaced by a simple legend:
LS: Long Shot, for photography of subjects far away from the camera.
MS: Medium Shot, for subjects that are closer.
CU: Close Up subjects.
AV: air-to-air or air-to-ground shot.
TTT: Tell-Tale-Title and denotes a descriptive title graphic.
Stewart's story-boarding makes the films come alive, as in this example:
ACTIVITIES OF THE AIR SERVICE IN FRANCE
PRODUCED BY: Signal Corps
LENGTH: 3 reels, 30 minutes
This film provides an overview of A.E.F. Air Service activities in France during 1918. It documents pilot training, gunnery practice, Red Cross activities, building and repairing airplanes, balloon operations, the 94th Aero Squadron, and the first flight of the American made DH-4 "Liberty" plane in France.
REEL No. 3
1. MS: Solider carries ammunition through trench up to the artillery.
2. MS: Another solider gives hostile airplane signal.
3. LS: Large AAA guns in action.
4. TTT: Formation flying under Command of Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt.
5. LS: Planes flying in formation.
6. TTT: Zooming.
7. LS: Airplanes zooming low over the airfield.
8. TTT: Major E.N. Huffer, Commander 94th Aero Squadron.
9. MS: Major Huffer, in front of a Nieuport 28 smoking a cigarette.
10. TTT: Major Raoul Lufbery of the 94th Aero Squadron.
11. MS: Major Lufbery stands in front of a Nieuport smoking.
12. MS: Two French officers in front of a Nieuport smoke cigarettes.
13. TTT: 1st Lieutenant Douglas Campbell, one of the American Aces.
14. MS: Lieutenant Campbell sits in the cockpit of a Nieuport.
15. MS: French Officers lean against fuselage.
16. TTT: 2nd Lieutenant Allen Winslow.
17. MS: Lieutenant Winslow leans against the fuselage of a Nieuport smoking.
18. CU: Lieutenant Winslow sits in a Nieuport 28 cockpit.
19. TTT: Officers of the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron.
20. LS: Officers of the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron pose in front of a Nieuport 28.
21. TTT: Commandant De la Forest decorates Lieutenant Douglas Campbell and Lieutenant Allan Winslow with the Croix de Guerre.
22. MS: French General decorates Lieutenants Campbell and Winslow.
23. MS: Lieutenants Campbell and Winslow after receiving the Croix de Guerre.
24. TTT: The arrival of the first shipment of Liberty Motors and Planes at the Test Field.
25. LS: 15 May 1918: Officers stand beside railroad track as train with first delivery of U.S. made airplanes and motors comes in.
26. TTT: Officers of the Production Department supervise the unloading of the first Liberty Motors and Planes.
27. LS: Officers supervise the unloading of the planes.
28. TTT: American and allied Officers attend the Christening and first official flight of the Liberty Plane.
29. LS: The first American DH-4 Liberty plane in France ceremony.
30. TTT: Miss Edith Normant presents Captain Osborne with a bouquet of flowers on behalf of the French Government.
31. MS: Miss Normant presents a bouquet to Captain Osborne.
32. MS: Mrs. Florence H. Kendall, of New York City, christens the first Liberty plane; L to R are: Captain Pullinger, H.M.S.; Major Bates, U.S.A. and General de L'Espee of the French Army.
33. TTT: Tying 'Old Glory' to the strut of the first Liberty Plane.
34. MS: Officer ties small American flag to the strut of the plane.
35. TTT: The Liberty Plane in its first official flight.
36. LS: The Liberty plane taxis for take off.
37. LS: DH-4 Liberty plane makes it first take off.
END OF REEL
Note not only the detail, but the factual narrative of many details that do not appear to have been published in any other work to date (at least to the best knowledge of this reader). The Appendices include the NARA catalog numbers to easily locate each film and a brief, but detailed comprehensive chronicle of key events in US military aviation in 1917-1918. In summary, the book serves as an invaluable tool for going to the archives to quickly find the film that one wants to see. But for those of us who can't afford the trip there, it is an armchair aviator's dream.
Reviewed by Narayan Sengupta.
War Wings: Films of the First Air War
Philip W. Stewart
World War I Aviation
World War I Book Reviews
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
US Army Signal Corps
United States Air Service
94th Aero Squadron
Lieutenant Allan Winslow
Lieutenant Douglas Campbell
Lieutenant Eddie Rickenbacker