Aircraft of World War I
The start of World War I in August 1914 coincided with the commencement of military flying training in Australia.
Australian pilots and mechanics from Point Cook were soon to take part in the campaign against German colonial forces in New Guinea. However, the rapid capture of Rabaul in November 1914 by Australian naval and land forces left the small Australian Flying Corps (AFC) contingent with little to do and it returned to Melbourne with two aircraft still packed in crates.
On 20 April 1915, four officers and forty-one airmen commanded by Captain Henry Petre sailed from Melbourne for Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Known as the Half Flight, the Australians were to operate with British forces against the Turkish Army with aircraft supplied from India.
Flying primitive aircraft in a harsh climate, the Half Flight fought until almost all of the original aircraft were destroyed and three of the four pilots were dead or captured. Lieutenant George Merz was the first Australian airman to be killed in action when his Caudron aircraft force-landed in the desert and hostile tribesmen killed him and his New Zealand observer. Turkish forces later captured nine Australian mechanics after the siege of Kut, and seven of these men later died as prisoners of war.