The Voisin III (or Voisin 3) was one of the first two-seat bomber and ground attack aircraft of World War I. It was a pusher biplane, developed by Aeroplanes Voisin of Gabriel Voisin in 1914 as a more powerful version of the 1912 Voisin I (Voisin 1) design. It also incorporated a light steel frame which made it survivable in the temporary airfields of wartime military aviation.
The Voisin III became the standard Allied bomber in the early years of the war. The main users were the French Air Force and the Imperial Russian Air Force. Russia ordered over 800 in France and built a further 400 under license at DUX in Moscow. Around 100 were built in Italy, and 50 in the United Kingdom, while smaller numbers were purchased by Belgium and Romania.
First armaments often included a machine gun (Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun) on the fuselage operated by a standing observer, later models had 37mm or 47mm guns for ground attack. It could carry up to 55 kg, 60kg or 150 kg of bombs (sources vary).
On October 5, 1914 Sgt Joseph Frantz and Cpl Louis Quenault of Escadrille VB24 scored the first air-to-air kill (not involving ramming - see Pyotr Nesterov) of the war, shooting down a German Aviatik B.II with machine gun fire from their Voisin III over Jonchery, Reims. This is believed to be the first air-to-air kill in any war.
The Voisin III is also notable in being one of the first dedicated bombers. The steel frame construction of the aircraft enabled a bomb load of approx. 150 kg (330 lb) to be carried. With development, the final variants of the type were able to carry twice this load.
France was the first country to organize dedicated bomber units on the Western Front, using the Voisin. Three Escadrilles (squadrons) of the aircraft comprised the first bomber group, GB1, formed in September 1914 under the leadership of Commandant de Goÿs. de Goys’ contribution both as a tactical leader and theoretician, in developing the theory and practice of long range bombing sorties, is significant. An almost unopposed bombing campaign was conducted by GB1 during the early months of 1915, culminating in a retaliatory attack against the Badische Anilin Gesellschaft at Ludwigshafen, Germany, on May 26, 1915, shortly after the German Army introduced poison gas in battle. Of the 18 aircraft which took part, only Goÿs himself failed to return, his Voisin being forced down by mechanical failure.
Following the success of GB1 other bomber groups were formed and successful daytime attacks on targets within Germany ensued throughout the summer and autumn of 1915 with as many as 62 aircraft involved. But by 1916 advances in design meant that Voisin III became increasingly vulnerable to new, better performing, German fighter aircraft; it was soon withdrawn from day operations, and successfully replaced by newer models. In the Voisin series it was succeeded by Voisin V (Voisin 5).
Published - July 2009
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