Britain and Douhet’s influence pre-1914?

It is difficult to establish conclusively if Gulio Douhet’s notion of the command of the air, the title of his famous treatise, had any influence upon the creation of a specialist aviation language in Britain during the period under study.[1] Eric Ash’s reference to the influence of Douhet upon Frederick Sykes is interesting although the similarity of their taxonomy could be explained as being largely coincidental.[2] In contrast, Higham abhors the suggestion that Douhet had any influence over the development of British air power theory. At most, he concedes that Douhet may have been having similar thoughts to other practitioners of air power but that his direct influence was negligible.[3] In keeping with the conclusions of Robin Higham, Tony Mason offers a similar critique.[4]

However, Michael Paris stresses the similarities between the thinking of Sykes and Douhet whilst conceding that evidence for the influence of the latter over the former is circumstantial. Paris is rather persuasive in his argument, noting the closeness of the aviation community and the ease at which ideas were able to travel through this group. Moreover, Paris, along with Ash, notes Sykes’s links to Italy during the period.[5] In general, the term ‘command of the air’ had been in common circulation since at least 1909 whilst Paris traces the origins of such language to the late Ninetieth Century.[6]

By James Pugh


[1] For an abridged copy of The Command of the Air, see D. Jablonsky, ed., Roots of Strategy: Book 4 (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999). This work contains a useful introduction and commentary upon Douhet’s text.

[2] E. Ash, Sir Frederick Sykes and the Air Revolution, 1912 – 1918, pp.223 – 224. More generally, see P. Meilinger, Airmen and Air Theory: A Review of the Sources (Alabama: Air University Press, 1988), pp.103 – 106.

[3] See R. Higham, The Military Intellectuals in Britain, 1918 – 1939 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1966), p.132, pp.257 – 259.

[4] T. Mason, Air Power: A Centennial Appraisal, pp.44 – 45.

[5] See M. Paris, Winged Warfare, pp.114 – 115, pp.189 – 190.

[6] M. Paris, Winged Warfare, p.185. For example, an article in Flight in May 1909 discussed the importance of establishing the ‘command of the air.’ See ‘Command of the air,’ Flight, Vol.1, No.20 (May 15 1909): p.272. The article used the term in the general sense, with reference to establishing ascendency over Britain’s global rivals, in a similar manner as Britain strived for command of the sea.

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