Naval Wing Good, Military Wing Bad? An Orwellian inspired analysis of British Aviation Doctrine, 1912-1914

Here is the first of the air power related abstract to our fortcoming book, A Military Transformed? Transformation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792-1945.

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In light of the historiographical consensus regarding the innovative dominance displayed by the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps (NW), this essay sets out to readdress this position and stress at least one aspect of innovation in which the Military Wing of the Royal Flying Corps (MW) took the lead: the production of doctrine. Undoubtedly, it was not the nature of the doctrine being produced that was innovative; rather it was the philosophy behind its production, reflecting a modern and progressive understanding of the nature and functions of doctrine.

This exploration of British aviation doctrine between 1912 and 1914 begins by briefly examining the historiography before moving to analyse the specific doctrine produced by the separate Wings of the Royal Flying Corps. The diverse approaches of the Wings are then set in the wider context of military and naval attitudes in relation to doctrine. It is argued that, prior to the First World War; the British Army was an organisation possessing a culture that was positive in its attitudes to doctrine. This had a direct impact on the manner in which the MW produced its doctrine. In contrast, the Royal Navy, with its focus on the technical and material, embraced a culture that rejected the production of formal doctrine. Again, this affected the nature of NW attitudes to doctrine.

A concluding section then evaluates the effectiveness of the particular approaches adopted by each Wing. On reflection, there is significant evidence to re-evaluate the historiography and, in particular, it is possible to offer some profound criticisms of Naval Wing policy prior to 1914. It is argued that, as a direct consequence of these differing approaches to doctrine, the MW was better able to integrate air power, materially and philosophically, within its parent service.

Whilst the focus of the essay is aimed at an examination of formal doctrine – i.e. official manuals etc., informal doctrine is not neglected and an assessment of demi-official lectures, essays and articles is also a feature.

By James Pugh, PhD Candidate, Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham

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