New Books on First World War Air Power

While browsing the shelves at my local Waterstones I have come across two new works on air power during the First World War that may be of some interest to readers. Air Power and the First World War is a an area that really needs some good scholarship to be produced. Peter Hart has done some useful work on it and there is some useful stuff in the pages of the Journal of Cross and Cockade but I think it still has some way to go.

The first book is by E R Hooton who was the author of Phoenix Triumphant: The Rise and Rise of the Luftwaffe. This new book, entitled War Over the Trenches: Air Power and the Western Front Campaigns 1916-1918, is published by Midland Publishing and on the glance that I have given it at the bookshop it appears to be a well researched work with good referencing and a full bibliography. I hope to pick up a copy soon and not to be disappointed. Here is the blurb about the book:

The colossal impact and effect of World War 1 has provided a historical watershed of which almost every aspect has been studied and revised. Yet there is one aspect which has remained an enigma – air power. This book helps resolve many unanswered questions. Ironically, less is known about the air war, especially over the Western Front, than the campaigns of the armies of ancient Rome. Yet the technological development of the aeroplane, in air power and in air power’s use as an offensive weapon between 1914-18, accelerated at a pace which has never been matched. Few histories of World War 1 air power have focused upon the strategic air campaign, especially against England – fewer still those based upon documentary evidence which describe the course of operations and the events which shaped them; but the events of 1916-18 have been so little studied that mythology has become accepted fact, including myths in many now famous ‘standard works’. “War over the Trenches” is the first internationally-researched study to portray how air power really evolved and how it was really used to support armies during the massive and devastating battles on the Western Front. E.R. Hooton examines how air power was deployed en masse for the first time over Verdun and its subsequent use over the Somme in the second half of 1916; how reconnaissance and measures of co-operation with artillery were developed and refined; and, the recovery of Allied air power during in the autumn and summer of 1917 following months of attrition and in the final, great German offensives of 1918. This could often be a grim war, whose participants were directed in the air – frequently to their deaths – by commanders on the ground. War over the Trenches is based on exhaustive research conducted in archives in France, Belgium, the UK, the USA and includes German material which has never before been published. It provides the most insightful, exciting and radical reassessment of First World War air operations ever published.

The second book I have seen is by John Sweetman. John is the former head of Defence and International Affairs at Sandhurst and wrote a book on the Dambusters Raid. This book, entitled Cavalry of the Clouds: Air War Over Europe 1914-1918, is published by the History Press and again from a quick glance appears to be a good work. The key difference to the above work is its more general focus as it concentrates on the developments of the whole war, however, this hopefully should not a problem with it. Again I hope to have a copy at some point. Here is the blurb for it:

In 1917, David Lloyd George declared that airmen were ‘the cavalry of the clouds – the knighthood of this war.’ This romantic image was fostered post-war by writers of adventure stories and the stunts of Hollywood filmmakers, and yet it was far from the harsh reality of life of an airman. From their baptism of fire in 1914 carrying out reconnaissance and experiencing the first dogfights, to the breakthrough in 1918 which claimed heavy casualties, the aerial defenders of Britain were continually tested. In Cavalry of the Clouds John Sweetman describes the development of British air power during the First World War on the Western Front, which culminated in the creation of the first independent air force, the RAF. By making use of the correspondence of airmen and ground staff of all nationalities, he illustrates the impact this new type of conflict had on those involved and their families at home. Extensively researched and handsomely illustrated with contemporary photographs, Cavalry of the Clouds is an essential reference work for any student of military history.

It is good to see some focus return to First World War air power.

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3 Responses to “New Books on First World War Air Power”


  1. 1 Jakob March 31, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I suppose John Morrow’s work is at least 20 years old now, but he still seems to be the standard authority cited. The only academic history I’ve seen recently was The Origins of Air Power by Robert Grattan, who is an ex-RAF Group Captain. I’ve had one or two other general histories recommended to me in the past, but I can’t remember the titles.

  2. 2 Ross March 31, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I forgot about Grattan. As you say Morrow is still very mich the standard work. There is a very good PhD thesis, done at Birmingham, on the RAF/RFC by Dr David Jordan who now teaches at the staff college. It is a shame that this has never been pucblished.

  3. 3 Ross April 1, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Jakob I managed to have a look at Grattan in Foyles today while I was in London today. As I always do I turned to the bibliography first and he did not have Morrow in there. Morrow is the standard work and you would have thought it would be in there. A major oversight if he has not used it.


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