5 October 1914 - French Voisin III two seat Ground Attack and bomber Airplanes

5 October 1914 - French Voisin III two seat Ground Attack and bomber Airplanes

One of the first two seat ground attack/ bombers of WWI, the Voisin III was the aircraft that managed to win France's first arial victory on October 5th, 1914. Advances in design soon made these aircraft out of date.

The Voisin III was a French two-seat bomber and ground attack aircraft of World War I, one of the first of its kind. It is also notable for being the first Allied aircraft in the war to win an aerial fight and shoot down an enemy aircraft.

It was a pusher biplane, developed by Voisin in 1914 as a more powerful version of the 1912 Voisin I design. It also incorporated a light steel frame which made it more durable when operating out of the temporary wartime military aviation airfields.

On the morning of October, 5, 1914, French Sergeant pilot Joseph Frantz and mechanic Corporal Quenault in their Voisin biplane spotted a German Aviatik flying at about 3500 ft. He closed on until Quenault found the range and opened fire with a light machine gun. The Aviatik dove away, but Frantz followed, Quenault firing intermittently. The Voisin overshot the quarry; the Aviatik pilot banked and tried to run; Franz reversed and got behind him.

As he tried to climb away, Quenault poured rounds into the German. The Aviatik, riddled with bullets, fell into a dive. Plunging into a copse of trees, it exploded. Thus ended history’s first recorded air duel. The unlikely-looking Voisin had prevailed.

Somewhat resembling a baby stroller with gigantic wings, the Voisin bomber was the standard French bomber in World War One. Developed incrementally during the war, its variants (identified by numbers, e.g. 1, 3, 8) outwardly resembled each other; mainly differing in the engine used. The Voisin 1, a pre-war design, was powered by an 80-horsepower Le Rhône 9C. The Voisin 10, introduced in 1918, had a 280-horsepower Renault 12Fe, with commensurate increases in speed, range, and payload.

Gabriel and Charles Voisin were two of Europe’s pioneering aviators. Gabriel formed the first commercial aircraft manufacturing company in Europe with Louis Blériot in 1905, buying out Blériot the next year. Re-formed with his brother Charles, the new company, Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin, delivered its first airplane in 1907, the distinctive Voisin pusher biplane.

Flown by many of Europe’s leading aviators, on January 13, 1908, Henri Farman made the first one-kilometer circuit in Europe in a Voisin. By 1912, Les Frères Voisin had scores of airplanes based on their 1907 design.

In 1912, they developed a military version, and subsequently focused on military contracts. The Voisin 1, also known as the Voisin 1912 Type, was the model for all Voisin aircraft developed during WWI. It was an equal-span biplane with no dihedral, a short nacelle for a crew of two in front, and an 80-horsepower Le Rhône 9C engine at the rear. A four-wheeled landing gave it the “baby-carriage” look.

Even though obsolete by August 1914, the reliable Voisin aircraft enabled them to form the backbone of the French night bomber force for most of the war.

Voisin was conservative in its design philosophy, only making incremental design changes. The successive types were marked by progressively more powerful engines and consequently longer wings. The first wartime version, the Voisin 3, powered by a 120-horsepower Salmson M9 engine, had a range of 200 km (125 mi), carrying a bomb load of 150 kg (330 lb). The 1918 Voisin 10 by comparison, which in outward appearance looked much like the Voisin 3, had a range of 350 km (220 mi) with a bomb load of 300 kg (660). The 280-horsepower Renault 12Fe engine of the Voisin 10 gave it a maximum speed of 135 kph (84 mph) at 2,000 m (6,562 ft) altitude, 37 kph (23 mph) faster than the Voisin 3 at the same altitude.

Typical armament included a Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun up front for the observer; later models had 37mm or 47mm guns for ground attack.


The first Voisin III was powered by a single 120 horsepower Salmson M9 engine, later the 150 hp P9 and R9. It had a range of 200 km, top speed of 105–113 km/h and ceiling of 3,350 m–6,000 m (sources vary).

Earlier aircraft were armed with a Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun on the fuselage operated by a standing observer, later models had 37 mm or 47 mm guns for ground attack. It could carry up to 55 kg, 60 kg or 150 kg of bombs (sources vary).

Operational history

Early in the war, the Voisin III became the most common Allied bomber. Significant numbers were purchased by the French Air Force and the Imperial Russian Air Force. Russia ordered over 800 from 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.

Like many other aircraft of its era, Voisin III was a multi-purpose aircraft. Its missions included reconnaissance, artillery spotting, training, day and night bombing as well as ground attack.

Fighter role

On October 5, 1914, over Jonchery, Reims, Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault 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. Quénault fired two 48-round magazines at the Germans. The Germans returned fire with rifles. When the Frenchman's 8 mm Hotchkiss M1909 machine gun jammed, he successfully returned fire with his rifle. Oberleutnant Fritz von Zangen and Sergeant Wilhelm Schlichting of FFA 18 fell to their deaths. This is believed to be the first air-to-air kill in any war.

Bomber role

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 26 May 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. By 1916, advances in aircraft design made the Voisin III increasingly obsolete, as it became vulnerable to better performing German fighter aircraft. With mounting losses and better designs being introduced, a decision was made to withdraw Voisin III from day operations. Among other types, it was replaced by the Voisin V (Voisin 5).

Voisin 3 Operations:

The Voisin pushers performed a variety of missions in the war: reconnaissance, artillery spotting, training, day and night bombing, and ground attack. They were slow and with their pusher configuration, defenseless from the rear. Nonetheless, these rugged and reliable aircraft played a role throughout the war, used as trainers and for night missions after they became obsolete for front-line daytime missions. Voisins were supplied to, or built under license by, twelve countries, including Britain, Russia, Italy, and the United States.

The world’s first dedicated bomber group, GB1, was organized in September, 1914, comprising three Escadrilles of Voisin III airplanes. Commandant Goÿs, GB1′s leader, developed the theory and practice of long range bombing sorties. Bomb aiming techniques progressed from three nails in the cockpit floor, to glass panes, and then to bombsights. GB1 prepared target dossiers which were used for their bombing raids. In early 1915, Goÿs led his Voisin III bombers almost without opposition, on May 26, bombing a poison gas factory, Badische Anilin Gesellschaft at Ludwigshafen. Of the 18 machines taking part, only Goÿs himself failed to return.

Following the success of GB1 other bomber groups were formed. The French continued to make large daylight bombing raids – with as many as 62 aircraft – throughout 1915, but they began to suffer losses as the Germans gained control of the air during Boelcke and Immelmann’s “Fokker Scourge”. When accompanied by Nieuport Bebe fighters the Voisins were safer, but this limited their range.

Later Development

By 1916 advances in design rendered the Voisin III increasingly vulnerable to new German fighters; it was withdrawn from day operations, and replaced by the Voisin V (Voisin 5). The Voisin Type 4 was similar to the Type 3, but was fitted with a 47 mm cannon and used primarily for ground strafing. The Types 5 and 6 were virtually the same as the Type 3, except that they had more powerful Salmson engines. The Type 7 was a transitional model of which only about a hundred were built. The Voisin Type 8 entered service with French night bombing squadrons in November 1916.

Country: France
Manufacturer: Aeroplanes Voisin
Designer: Gabriel Voisin
Type: Bombing, Ground Attack
Role: Biplane
Primary user: Aéronautique Militaire
First Service: 1914
Retired before: 1918
Number Built: over 800
Engine(s): 130 hp Canton-Unne
Wing Span: 52 ft 6 in
Length: 31 ft 6 in
Empty Weight: 3030 lb
Gross Weight: 4022 lb
Max Speed: 68 mph
Ceiling: 19,500 ft [5944 m]
Crew: 2
Armament: Guns: 1× .303 in Lewis machine-gun,, Bombs: 1 up to 91 kg (200 lb) of bombs
Developed from: Voisin I

Belgium: Belgian Air Force
France: French Air Force, French Navy
Romania:Royal Romanian Air Force
Russia: Imperial Russian Air Force
Ukraine: Two aircraft only.
United Kingdom: Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service