Posts Tagged 'Air Power History'

A Forgotten Revolution? Army Co-operation Command and Artillery Co-operation

Jonathan Bailey has written that the First World War was the time of a true revolution in military affairs about the development of artillery firing.[i] One of the first major developments that took place was the creation and refinement of the ‘clock code’ system.[ii] Using this system, a pilot of the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner to the Royal Air Force, was able to correct the fall of shot of the artillery by passing to the artillery battery commander details of how far from the target the guns were. The pilot would correct the shooting of the artillery by pointing out how far away and in what direction the shells of the guns had landed. The distance would be passed on using numbers and the direction using the picture of a clock face. The target was placed in the middle of the clock face and shells that fell beyond the target and on a straight line to the target would be corrected with a call of twelve, if it fell short on the same line the call would be six, at ninety degrees left of the target nine and ninety degrees right three. Any other direction would be corrected by using the hour on the clock with which it corresponded. This system would prove to function perfectly well throughout the whole of the First World War and was the system that the RAF went to war with in 1939.

The system of correcting artillery fire remained unchanged until 1938. The Air Council of the Air Ministry were against making alterations to the clock code system as they felt that it was adequate to meet the needs that the army would face in future conflicts. They felt that light aircraft could not be kept in action close to artillery units, as had been the case in the First World War.[iii] The Air Council were also fearful of introducing a new, untried and unfamiliar system with the growing tensions in Europe at this time. The War Office were unimpressed with the Air Councils attitude and pushed for more to be done. The Air Ministry agreed to trials between the AOC-in-C 22 [Army Co-operation] Group and the Commandant of the School of Artillery in December 1938.[iv] The results of these trials and further trials conducted in order to test aircraft as well as procedure. The results were that light aircraft over the battlefield could observe fire with the ‘clock code’ system.[v] Spitfires conducted mock attacks on the aircraft and the Taylorcraft light aircraft observing the artillery fire had a good chance of dodging the fire of a modern fighter.[vi] There was, however, no training for pilots in registering targets for the artillery. If an artillery officer required an appraisal of a prospective target, the request would have to be sent along the command chain via an air liaison officer. When the artillery battery received the information, it was usually out of date.[vii] There was also pressure from within the War Office to establish a Flying Observation Post (Flying OP) and to begin plans to train Gunner Officers to fly. A Flying OP was to work in conjunction with Ground Observation Post (Ground OP) in establishing targets to be engaged and operating deep behind their own lines in order to be afforded the protection of friendly anti-aircraft guns.

The first of these Flying OPs was established in February 1940.[viii] This force was established ‘to determine in the light of practical experience obtained under war conditions the possibilities and limitations of the Flying OP, the most suitable type of aircraft and the most suitable organization [sic]’.[ix] The tests were to be conducted in three parts. The first was an initial training period. The second a practical training with the French, and a final test in the French Army area in conditions of actual warfare including shoots against German targets it was at this time that the term Air Observation Post (Air OP) was adopted.[x] The flight was sent to France on 19 April 1940.[xi] The first of the three tests were conducted after the flight had moved to the continent. The final of the three tests was due to be carried out in early May and the forces were established ready to conduct the tests on 9 May 1940.[xii] The following day the Germans began to implement Fall Gelb (Case Yellow): the invasion of France and the Low Countries.[xiii] The artillery designated for the tests were forced to move back to their formations leaving the Air OP Flight (D Flight) waiting for the campaign to stabilise, when it was clear that this would not happen D Flight was recalled to England.[xiv]

One of the first official moves at changing artillery co-operation policy was a letter regarding the subject sent from the Director of Military Co-operation Air Commodore Victor Goddard to Barratt at Army Co-operation Command. In this letter, Goddard states that the Air Staff were against the formation of ‘special air units for artillery observation or reconnaissance, unless it can be clearly shown that there is an urgent requirement for such units which cannot be met by Army Co-operations squadrons’.[xv] The School of Artillery recommended that a certain number of aircraft should specialise in artillery work and should be trained by the School of Artillery so that they had the same tactical knowledge and the same the understanding of gunnery as an artillery officer.[xvi] This was just one aspect to an idea by the School of Artillery to allow aircraft to have tactical control over the fire of artillery batteries. In order to facilitate this the school further advised that a multi-seater aircraft should be employed in this work to allow an artillery officer to conduct the shoot according to artillery methods without the need for the artillery officer learning to fly. Artillery officers were also to be seconded to army co-operation squadrons specifically for artillery work.[xvii] The co-operation between the School of Artillery and Army Co-operation Command is evident and is surprising given the general relations that existed between the army and RAF in the wake of the Battle of France and the fall out that it had caused between the two services.[xviii]

Barratt wrote in a letter to the Under-Secretary of State for Air that ‘I consider that in order to get a true and undistorted picture of this problem, it is first desirable to set out the problem as the Army [sic] sees it, and to show in this picture what they conceive to be their requirements…’[xix] Again the desire to see the problem from a view that would almost certainly be contradictory to the RAF shows that Barratt and his command were willing to adopt a different approach and attitude in co-operating with at least one part of the army. Barratt also voiced his concerns regarding the ability of the Air OP to operate in the face of enemy action. It was felt that ‘the Air OP must be entirely vulnerable to any enemy fighters which cares to shoot it down’.[xx] Barratt’s concern over the safety of his pilots who may be conducting shoots using the Air OP system was to be a recurring issue in the development of artillery reconnaissance.

Barratt also voiced his concerns regarding the ability of the Air OP to operate in the face of enemy action. It was felt that ‘the Air OP must be entirely vulnerable to any enemy fighters which cares to shoot it down’.[xxi] Barratt’s concern over the safety of his pilots who may be conducting shoots using the Air OP system was to be a recurring issue in the development of artillery reconnaissance. Barratt’s response to the trials was one of scepticism and he considered ‘that body of experience gained in the late war and since has all pointed to the advantages of the ‘Clock Code’ system’.[xxii] Barratt’s belief in the ‘clock code’ system stemmed more from the fear of false conclusions being drawn from brief experiments than from any sense of conservatism about changing the system used for artillery reconnaissance.[xxiii] This became a realisation when Barratt was forced to explain to the Under Secretary of State for Air about the lack of efficiency regarding artillery co-operation in Army Co-operation Squadrons. ‘I feel that much of the falling off in efficiency in this part of the Army Co-operation Squadron task has been due to the propagation of rumour as to other and better methods than those shown in AP 1176’.[xxiv] Further trials were conducted using the artillery method during April 1941 and the conclusions reached were similar to those seen previously. These were that the ‘artillery methods of ranging by corrections to line and range are simpler, quicker, and more efficient than any method based on the ‘clock code’.

The failures of the ‘clock code’ system in France combined with further problems faced in the fighting in Libya led to a loss of confidence in the system in the army.[xxv] Barratt’s response was that the ‘clock code’ system was not at fault in these operations but that the aircraft employed in it were operating in the face of intense enemy opposition. He was concerned that the trials had been too few and were skewed in favour of a positive result by the School of Artillery.[xxvi] Whilst these concerns may be interpreted as simply blocking a new development that had been shown to work in order to preserve the autonomy of the RAF whilst conducting army co-operation work. The evidence of co-operation between Army Co-operation Command and the School of Artillery, shown above, leads more to the conclusion that Barratt felt that the procedure could not be successfully carried out, and wished to see more trials conducted before it would receive his approval.

The procedure for artillery reconnaissance first developed during the First World War was only suitable for the conditions of that war. The lack of fluidity and almost stable front lines allowed a system to develop, quickly, this system, however, was only suited to those conditions. This was very quickly discovered during the first major test of this procedure against the relatively quicker and more mobile warfare of the German Wehrmacht in 1940. The attitudes of both the British Army and the RAF to co-operation during the inter-war period, in Britain at least, did little to improve the situation before the British Expeditionary Force was stationed in France. This left those charged with the responsibility of modifying the existing procedure with only the experience of the First World War to guide them and on which to base their expectations. Much co-operation between the School of Artillery and Nos. 70 and 71 Groups of Army Co-operation Command occurred, despite the general feeling of animosity still felt by both services in Britain.[xxvii] This co-operation was the most that had been seen between the army and RAF since the formation of the RAF as an independent force in 1918. Barratt’s move to block the adoption of the new procedure that was being trialled during 1941 can be interpreted in several ways. His reasoning for doing so, however, appears to be that of confirming the results already achieved through more rigorous and testing trials in order to confirm the results. Through further testing at a higher level the procedure, as well as those responsible for carrying it out, would be exposed to more stress and so a greater degree of authenticity could be achieved. Trials of this nature would also confirm if the procedure could be implemented with ease by the majority of pilots whose responsibility would be increased from observing the fall of shot to conducting shoots, potentially in the face of enemy opposition. Barratt’s major concern with the new system appears to be its increased complexity and he was rightly concerned after his experiences in France that pilots would be unable to conduct the shoot if they had to continually keep a lookout for enemy fighter activity.

By Matthew Powell, PhD Cadidate, Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham

[i] Jonathan Bailey, ‘Deep Battle 1914-1941: The Birth of the Modern Style of War’, Field Artillery Journal, (July-August 1998), pp.21-7.

[ii] Ralph Barker, A Brief History of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I (Constable & Co.: London, 2002), p.63.

[iii] H J Parham and E M G Belfield, Unarmed Into Battle: The Story of the Air Observation Post 2nd Edition (Picton Publishing: Chippenham, 1986), p.14.

[iv] Ibid., p.14.

[v] Ibid., p.14.

[vi] Ibid., p.14.

[vii] Darrell Knight, Artillery Flyers at War: A History of the 664, 665, and 666 ‘Air Observation Post’ Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Bennington, Vermont, Merriam Press: Bennington Vermont, 2010), p.27.

[viii] Parham and Belfield, Unarmed into p.15.

[ix] Ibid., p 15.

[x] Ibid., p.15.

[xi] Ibid., p.16.

[xii] Ibid., p.16.

[xiii] Karl-Heinz Freiser, The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West (Naval Institute Press: Annapolis Maryland, 2005), 79.

[xiv] Parham and Belfield, Unarmed into, 16.

[xv] The National Archives [TNA], AIR 39/47, Letter from Air Commodore Goddard, Director of Military Co-operation to Barratt regarding Artillery Co-operation Policy, 8 December 1940.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] For more information on the army’s reaction to the Battle of France see TNA CAB 106/220, Bartholomew Committee Final Report.

[xix] TNA AIR 39/47, Letter from Barratt to Under-Secretary of State for Air regarding co-operation with the Royal Artillery, 29 January 1941.

[xx] Ibid., Appendix A, 29 Jan 1941.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid., Letter from Headquarters Army Co-operation Command to Headquarters No. 70 Group, Artillery Reconnaissance Trials, 12 April 1941.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid., Letter from Barratt to Under Secretary of State for Air, 14 April 1941.

[xxv] Ibid., Letter from CGS on Artillery Reconnaissance, 5 May 1941.

[xxvi] Ibid., Letter from Barratt to Major-General Otto Lund, GHQ Home Forces, in response from letter from CGS on Artillery Reconnaissance, 10 May 1941.

[xxvii] Cf. David Ian Hall, Strategy for Victory: The Development of British Tactical Air Power, 1919-1943 (Praeger Security International: Westport, Connecticut and London, 2008), pp. 89-103.

Are you an Air Power Studies MPhil/PhD Student?

As I have mentioned previously one of my roles is that I am the Student Representative on the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Air Power Group Committee. In order to help me in this role it would be useful to establish a mailing list for postgraudate researchers working in the field of Air Power Studies so that we may discuss issues that may be taken to the committee. I am also interested in finding out who is currently engaged in doctoral research in order to illustrate the diversity of work that is ongoing. The list would also be a useful way of networking and providing you with information of events and publications that may be of interest. You do not need to be a member of RAeS for this, though membership does give you access to the publications such as the Journal of Aeronautical History.

If you wish to be added to the list, please email me at with the following details:


Working Thesis Title



Date of Completion


I would like to hear from as many scholars as possible. Air Power Studies, as a sub-set of the broader War Studies field, encompasses all aspects of History, Strategic Studies, Economics, Law, Ethics, Philosophy and International Relations.

What can the Royal Aeronautical Society do for you?

One of the many activities I undertake is that I am the Student Representative on the committee of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Air Power Group. The group is one of the specialist groups of the society and ‘it arose from the wish of the then President of the Society to promote interest in the study of air power and to enable the Society to offer views on air power topics.’ One of the great success of the group has been the establishment of the Senior Research Fellow in Air Power Studies at the University of Birmingham, which is held by Air Commodore (ret’d) Dr Peter Gray. This position has seen an expansion in the provision of the academic study of air power with the emergence of an MA in Air Power: History, Theory and Practice and numerous PhD students now studying the topic at Birmingham. Because of this increased provision, I ‘volunteered’ to act as a student representative.

Therefore, what I would like to know from those students at any institution studying air power related topics (this is broadly defined, and encompasses history, law, ethics, and strategic studies related topics) is what can the group do for you? What support can be provided? All ideas are welcomed. I cannot promise anything but I can take the ideas to the committee and raise any concerns or thoughts that you may have.

Air Power Seminar at the University of Birmingham

The next War Studies Seminar at the Centre for War Studies at the University of Birmingham is an Air Power Seminar and is being given by:

Ross Mahoney

(University of Birmingham)

‘Leadership Effectivness: Understanding a Key Metric of Operational Military History – The Case of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory

The event will be on 17 January 2012. The Seminar meets on TUESDAYS at 5.30 p.m. in Lecture Room 1, 1st Floor, Arts Building.

Shock and Awe: A Conference on the History of Aerial Bombing

Details of an interesting conference on bombing at the London School of Economics and Goldsmith College.

A Hundred Years of Bombing from Above

November 2011 marks the centenary of a world-historic event.

An Italian pilot, Guilio Cavotti dropped the first bombs from an aeroplane on to the oasis of Tagiura outside Tripoli.

The development of aerial bombardment was more than just a military revolution.

It changed both war and peace.

It redrew the legal and moral boundaries between civilians and combatants, spread the theatre of war into new environments and expanded the battlefield, making cities into places of mass death and taking warfare into private, domestic spaces.

The conference Shock And Awe: a hundred years of bombing from above will mark this anniversary and explore important elements of the century of bombing that followed the fateful attack on Tegura.

This multi-disciplinary event brings together internationally renowned critics, sociologists, geographers, philosophers and historians to reflect on all aspects of a hundred years of bombing from above.

It will develop a conversation between very different historical experiences and cases of bombing and establish a cosmopolitan conversation about these difficult issues.

The conference will be held at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Goldsmiths, University of London.

More details, including the registration details and programme, can be found here.

British Commission for Military History New Research in Military History Conference – Call for Papers

Call for Papers

New Research in Military History: A Conference for Postgraduate and Early-career Historians

18 November 2011

This conference, organised by the British Commission for Military History in association with the History of Warfare Research Group at King’s College London, intends to highlight the breadth and depth of research being undertaken by postgraduate and early career historians in the field of military history.

The British Commission for Military History’s New Research in Military History conference is a recently established forum for those are engaged in research in military history or related disciplines to meet other new and established scholars and to present a paper in a supportive environment. We aim to provide an opportunity for postgraduate and early-career historians to present their work to a wider audience of practising military historians. Papers on any aspect of military history, broadly defined, are welcomed. Proposals (c.300 words) for papers of 20 minutes should be submitted, using the form below, to the organisers at by 14 October 2011.

The conference will include a keynote lecture by Professor Brian Holden Reid. It will take place at the Strand Campus of King’s College London.

The British Commission for Military History is the pre-eminent association for professional military historians in the UK, dedicated to the promotion and discussion of military history in its broadest sense. This conference is designed to introduce younger scholars to the Commission, whose members will also be in attendance. Participants will be welcome to attend the Commission’s autumn conference to be held at the National Army Museum, Chelsea on Saturday 19th November, on the theme ‘The British National Service Army’.

Conference Organisers

Paul Harris

Ross Mahoney

BCMH new researcher call for papers

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.


Welcome to The Aerodrome, the unofficial blog of the Air Power Studies students at the University of Birmingham.

Please note all opinions expressed are those of the contributors and should not be taken to be those of the University of Birmingham, the Ministry of Defence or any other organisation or body.

Non-students will from time to time contribute to this blog.

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As an adjunct to this blog we have set up an Air Power Forum for students and academics working in the field of Air Power Studies.

You can find the forum here.

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