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Sherman, Air Warfare

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William C Sherman, Air Warfare (1926)

Author & Context

Sherman (1888-1927) was present when the foundations were laid and played a major role in the construction of the United States (US) Army Air Corps until his tragic death in 1927—a year after his book was published. Sherman was more intellectual in his advocacy and less zealous, which may account for his lack of notoriety. Although not as well known as Mitchell’s Winged Defense, Sherman’s book was more rigorous in its approach and balanced in its argument. In that light it is interesting to note that the only American work quoted by marshal of the Royal Air Force, J.C. Slessor, in Air Power and Armies, was Air Warfare. His motto was, "If anything is worth doing at all it is worth doing well." The first chapter capitalizes on Sherman’s command of military history, revisiting the moral dimension of war and linking the established principles of war to the emergent character of modern air warfare. The remaining chapters address technical and tactical details regarding the primary aviation missions of the time (observation, pursuit, attack, and bombardment) but also include a discussion of antiaircraft defense (generally dismissed by other airpower theorists of the time) and air logistics, as well as arguably the finest treatment of naval aviation to emerge during the interwar period. The book was published in 1926 and was groundbreaking in many ways, amounting to a synthesis of Sherman’s experience and thinking on the subject of airpower, analyzing the full spectrum of tactical and strategic applications of aviation, and thus marking Sherman as one of the more intellectually flexible of the early airpower theorists. The year that Air Warfare was published, Sherman was struck by an unspecified painful illness. On 22 November 1927, only six months after Charles A. Lindbergh made his famous solo flight across the Atlantic and ushered in a new age of aviation, Sherman died at the age of 39 and was buried in the National Cemetery at Fort Leavenworth. Thus, the life of Bill Sherman spanned the genesis of heavier-than-air flight in the United States to the creation of the US Army Air Corps. Along the way, Sherman served with and under the command of some of the truly outstanding figures in American military aviation history. The culmination of his thinking on the subject of airpower on the eve of his sudden death can be found in his book, Air Warfare.


Air Warfare is a comprehensive work of aviation warfare theory, holistically placing air warfare within the contemporary character of war and thoroughly treating the major air missions of its time in tactical detail and paying respect to anti-aircraft, logistics, and naval air warfare as well. Sherman offers a synthesis of his thinking on the subject which had a pronounced if quiet influence on Spaatz, Arnold, and others when they took aviation to war.

--Principle of mass, offensive, surprise, security and simplicity is still valid. Reduce fog by better observation, intelligence on troop movement. In offensive time is of the outmost essence; A/C gave timely info.

Applications to Strategy

- Conception of airpower is much more broad and inclusive than Mitchell’s theories in the Winged Defense time period

- Hides his argument about strategic airpower, but essentially holds the standard ACTS convictions about its efficacy

- Also believes in pursuit, reconnaissance, attack, logistics, AAA, and naval airpower

- Sherman is the American Slessor…a moderate who would have looked radical without Mitchell’s shadow cast over him. (Operationalized Mitchell)

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