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Kings of the Air (Hardback)

French Aces and Airmen of the Great War

Aviation > WWI WWI > Battles & Campaigns > Verdun

By Ian Sumner
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 238
ISBN: 9781783463381
Published: 7th April 2015



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In comparison to their British and German counterparts, the French airmen of the Great War are not well known. Yet their aerial exploits were just as remarkable, and their contribution to the war effort on the Western Front was equally important. That is why Ian Sumner's vivid history of the men of the French air force during the war is of such value. He tells their story using the words of the pioneering pilots and observers themselves, drawn from memoirs, diaries, letters, and contemporary newspapers, magazines and official documents. The recollections of the airmen give an authentic portrait of their role and their wartime careers. They cover recruitment and training, reconnaissance and artillery spotting, aerial combat, ground strafing and bombing, and squadron life. They also highlight the technical and tactical innovations made during those hectic years, as well as revealing the airmen's attitude to the enemy - and their thoughts about the ever-present threat of injury and death.

... a great addition to the field of First World War history. Its many details and accuracy should
reveal a new side of the conflict previously reserved to those able to read French.

Oxford University Press Journal - reviewed by Bernard Wilkin

Full of quotes and stories available only in archives, old books and periodicals, all in French. Nearly all of the accounts are by ordinary airmen--the opposite of ace-driven narratives. This really is the starter narrative for French aviation in WW1.

The Aerodrome.com - Tom Cervo

This book is simply superb! Am 82 pages into it, and it is easily the best book (in English) available on the French Air Service. ... The book is a gem. For anyone who has an interest in obtaining a broader understanding of the air conflict, a much better appreciation of the role and importance of the Aéronautique Militaire, and the exposure to a whole host of new men who fought in the skies over France; this book is a must read.

The Aerodrome,com - Pips

​Sumner, Ian. Knights of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War. Pen and Sword Books. Maps; ill.; appendices; bib.; index. 248p. ISBN: 978-1-7834-6338-1. $49.95. July, 2105.

The wonderful dust jacket art featuring two of France’s leading World War I aces, George Guynemer and Rene Fonck above a French Spad would definitely entice any reader to pick up Kings of the Air. Those who then own the book are in for a real treat.
At first glance this looks to be the story of the French airmen that everyone has heard of – not so. This is an informative, entertaining history of the French Air Service during World War I, encompassing fighter, observation, cooperation and bombardment squadrons and balloon units; the development of the service itself, including tactics, strategy, aircraft and equipment.
The work is arranged chronologically, with each chapter’s theme describing the evolution of the aeroplane from the last decade of the nineteenth century to the close of the war in 1918. There is a lot of information here in just over two hundred pages but the pace is at just the right speed for the reader to keep up. The author relates the story using the words of the participants themselves through their letters, diaries, memoirs, official documents, contemporary newspapers and magazines.
No stone unturned, well researched and well written, Kings of the Air should become the “go to” title for information about the French contribution to the air war of the Great War.

The Past In Review

Aficionados of the air operations of WWI will wish to read this book.

Aerospace Dec 2016

This new book is a superb narrative history of the French Air Force during the First World War...

... The narrative provides a complete overview of developments in technology, service organisation, naval aviation and the principle missions of the French Air Service, all lace with first-person accounts...

... Kings of the Air should be in the collection of any student of the first air war.

Over The Front - David Layton

This is a vivid account of the leading French Aces and is a very valuable addition to the information on the first aerial war in history. Excellent.


The title of this book (Kings of the Air) led me to expect a colourful tale of the new knights of the skies, full of anecdotes recounting their deeds and outlandish behaviour. However, these occupy just a small part of Ian Sumner's book. The rest covers, for example, the development of military aircraft, problems of strategy and tactics, pilot training and the realities of daily life (and death) in combat. The detailed description of the use of captive balloons, often overlooked in historical accounts, is just one of the fascinating chapters in this book. Highly recommended to anyone interested in French military aviation during the First World War.

Amazon Customer Review

About Ian Sumner

Ian Sumner is a prolific writer and researcher who specializes in local and military history. He has made a particular study of the French army during the First World War, his many books on the subject including French Army 1914-18, French Poilu 1914-18 and First Battle of the Marne 1914. He is the author, with François Vauvillier, of French Army 1939-45, and has also published books on the Royal Navy, the British army, the Indian Army, the Anzacs, the German air force and the history of Yorkshire.

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