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627 History of Air Power I

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From the syllabus:

Purpose and Scope: SAASS 627 examines the development of airpower in the crucible of two World Wars. The course is not intended to present a comprehensive overview of all aspects of airpower development in the period between 1914 and 1945 or a complete review of the wars themselves. Instead, SAASS 627 highlights and explores several key issues dealing with airpower development and employment during this period.

Employing a thematic approach, the course begins with Lord Arthur Tedder's brilliant views on the key air campaigns of World War II, several of which he planned, and all of which, he says, must be viewed through joint-force and combined-force lenses. This examination of airpower's fundamentally joint nature and high degree of operational flexibility then gives way to a look at the airpower experience during the Great War. John Morrow's book gives us an outstanding overview of airpower developments during World War I, while the first portion of Tammy Davis Biddle's book provides a very worthwhile cautionary tale about doctrine and the fact that it often diverges from operational reality in the crucible of war. Her argument is the same for World War II, as we will see when we read the latter portion of her book later in the course. The course then considers the work of early airpower theorists, including Giulio Douhet, William Sherman, William "Billy" Mitchell, Hugh Trenchard, and John Slessor. These men combined their World War I experiences with their beliefs in the potential of airpower as they developed their theories. The course also traces Germany's theorists and the development of the Reich's air arm during the interwar period from a different direction--a study of the development of anti-aircraft artillery (FLAK) in Germany from 1914 to 1945 and its impact on both theory and operations. The story of each of these theorists and theoretical constructs, and their respective air forces during the interwar period and World War II, offer insights for the contemporary strategist concerning the implications of emerging technology, the process of developing and adapting doctrine, the influence of resource constraints, ideological impacts, and other factors. It also demonstrates how these factors affect the way an air force chooses to organize and employ its assets in battle.

Because many of the greatest advances in military aviation occurred during the interwar period--including theory, doctrine, organization, technology, and the amalgamation of all four into the air forces that fought World War II in the air--the interwar lessons are of vital importance. Short studies in Millet's and Murray's work on military innovation in the interwar period, including the development of strategic bombing, close air support, and radar, provide a lens for understanding just how vibrant interwar airpower developments were. Hone's and Peattie's works on interwar aircraft carrier development take airpower beyond the ambit of the air forces to address it in its broader, multiservice, context.

Our look at airpower during World War II begins with Richard Overy's overview of the war in the air, giving us the conceptual tools to study nearly every element of airpower as the major combatants employed it in this global cataclysm. Overy allows us to see how the interwar thoughts and actions of the various major powers translated into effective - or ineffective - air strategy, doctrine, operations and technologies, among other key topics. He helps us to understand why the Luftwaffe's brilliant victories early in the war--with the notable exception of the Battle of Britain--nonetheless ended in abject defeat. How an air force with such great operational capabilities and potential at the start of the war ultimately failed the test against the Allies provides one of the more important points for consideration during the course. One of the early German failures--and one of the most decisive--was the Battle of Britain, a lone bright spot in an otherwise bleak time for the British, who by August 1940 faced the might of Nazi Germany alone. Richard Overy's short book tells us much about how the British won, and it also offers an ideal venue for discussing what comprises "success" for an air campaign. The same is true for the latter portion of Biddle's book, which we will discuss along with Overy's short work to put Allied bombing in a comparative context from the perspective of campaign planning and execution, and operational effectiveness. Look for ways in which the two works complement one another.

Our next two lessons explore why the Allies proved so effective in the Pacific theater. Clark Reynolds' book on carrier operations in the Pacific demonstrates why naval aviation proved decisive in the Central Pacific campaigns and to victory in the Pacific. In his insightful look at General George Kenney's exploits in the Southwest Pacific, where Army air assets were preponderant, Colonel Thomas Griffith helps us understand how a combination of factors, including outstanding intelligence, allowed Kenney to stay one step ahead of the Japanese and inflict devastating and irreplaceable losses. Griffith's examination of Kenney, "the first JFACC," also demonstrates the importance of leadership and the need for close personal relationships between subordinate staffs and the theater commander. This work also details the key role played by Kenney in the formulation of air strategy in the Pacific and his ability to adapt doctrine and technology to enhance aerial operations. From there, we turn back to Europe and the decisive campaigns in Northwest Europe, focusing on the role of tactical airpower in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Thomas Hughes' superb work on General Pete Quesada and his role in developing and honing tactical air capabilities to a fine edge combines nicely with the latter portion of Biddle's book on the gap between rhetoric and reality in the heavy bomber campaigns. Together, these works help us to understand how a relatively sophisticated--if inevitably and slightly flawed--employment of Allied airpower made a major contribution to Allied victory over the Reich. Hughes' work in particular brings us back to a fundamental truth: Ground and air commanders must trust one another, work together effectively, and maximize joint-force effectiveness. The costs of failure in this arena are very high.

Finally, A.C. Grayling's study of the moral implications of Allied bombing efforts against the Reich and Japan bring the course to a close on a sobering note, but an important one for Airmen. What are the implications of collateral damage for air campaign planning and execution? Will they always be as stringent as they are now? Grayling's work offers a few possible answers to these questions and several other related ones.

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