Schlasta - History


Traditionally some historians have considered the air forces of the First World War to have had relatively little direct effect on events on the ground with their CAS and tactical bombing efforts. It is certainly true that the effect of ground attack units during this period was not as great as it was during the Second World War, where ground attack aircraft could have a devastating effect on ground forces. (For example during the attacks launched by the air forces of the Second World War Allies on German troops in the Falaise pocket.)

The offensive power of the Schlastas should nevertheless not be underestimated, a mass ground attack operation conducted by several Schlastas could have a significant effect on enemy ground forces. During the battle of Cambrai, one of the first battles where Schlastas (or Schustas as they were still designated at the time of Cambrai) were used in large numbers for ground-attack operations, they played a key role in the success of German counter attacks by constantly harassing the defending British forces. They attacked both British reinforcements on their way to the front and the retreating British forces with machine-gun fire and bombs. The morale of the British soldiers suffered considerably as a result of these attacks . As the First World War dragged on the Schlastas suffered increasing losses, due to the increasing numerical advantage of the opposing Entente Powers fighter forces and as the Entente armies adapted their tactics and equipment to counter the Schlastas threat. After the initial shock following the mass deployment of Schlastas in the battle of Cambrai the Entente armies quickly enhanced low level air defences in rear areas using machine guns and shell firing Autocannon. Increased emphasis was also placed on low altitude fighter cover for ground forces.

The Schlastas nevertheless remained a force to be reckoned with. Their aircraft remained highly agile two-seat fighters fitted with rear firing gun turrets and were no easy target for an Entente fighter pilot. The Junkers J.I in particular acquired a reputation for being almost impossible to shoot down. Schlastas made substantial contributions towards the success of the Kaiserschlacht, the German Spring Offensive of 1918 and fought numerous defensive actions until the end of the war.

The experience gained from the Schlasta operations of the First World War was an important reason why the Second World War German Luftwaffe placed such emphasis on close air support operations.

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