[Cross posted from Birmingham “On War”]
Created in October 1941, RAF No. 201 (Naval Co-operation) Group existed as an independent unit until February 1944, with a complex mechanism of control shared between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. This article examines British aero-naval co-operation in the Mediterranean during the Second World War and the role of 201 Group within this. It incorporates the conflicting policies and strategies of both services, along with the roles of the major personalities involved from each of them, in what was yet another aspect of friction between the junior and senior services.
By taking the debate over the establishment of an overseas RAF Coastal Command, and the subsequent formation of 201 Group, as a case study, it demonstrates that British aero-naval co-operation in the theatre was a compromise between strategies that satisfied neither party. The group itself did make an immediate contribution to relations between the services in the Mediterranean and had an impact upon the maritime war there. Successes were limited though, and the Group could potentially have achieved much more with greater priority in the allocation of resources. However, the greatest innovation regarding 201 Group was not its creation and subsequent operations, but rather its legacy. The article will conclude by showing how it laid the foundations for important innovation in aero-naval co-operation overseas, influencing later and much larger multi-national commands and operations, in both the Mediterranean and elsewhere.
By Dr Richard Hammond, University of Exeter
(This is an abstract from our forthcoming book on transformation and innovation in the British Military)