Posts Tagged 'First World War'

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.


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


The Forgotten Career of Major Trafford Leigh-Mallory, 1914-1918: A Leadership Perspective

[Cross-posted at Thoughts on Military History]

This past Friday I delivered a paper at a conference on ‘New Research in Military History’. The conference was organised by the British Commission for Military History, the History of Warfare Group at King’s College London and the University of Sussex. It was a great events and interesting to see lots of interesting papers covering a wide range of topics. I think it is fair to say that Military History in the UK is healthy at the moment.

My paper was based on some of my early research for my PhD into Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s leadership effectiveness. It actually examined his career from the First World War which is important in understanding the context of his development as a leader. Here is the abstract that I submitted for the conference.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory remains one of the greatest enigmas of the historiography of the Second World War: how did a leader with so many detractors reach the highest ranks and gain the most prestigious posts? This conundrum is further complicated when one examines his conduct in the First World War where he commanded a squadron and was involved in important developments in air-land co-operation especially with the Tank Corps in 1918. Indeed his success in the First World War has been largely forgotten and ignored as views of his competence have been distorted by his later career.

This paper seeks redress this by examining Leigh-Mallory’s development and experience as an officer in the First World War and as such provide some insights into his career development during the inter-war years and his subsequent elevation to high command. It will do this by utilising contemporary leadership theory in order to examine aspects such as his shared experience with other high commanders of the Royal Air Force and the role that he played in developing tactics to support tank operations while in command of No. 8 Squadron in 1918. In understanding Leigh-Mallory’s career we can start to answer some of the more pressing question surrounding his subsequent rise to high command such as why did an Army Co-Operation specialist end up in key positions and how effective was he as a commander at the tactical level of operations. Thus, this paper has several key aims; first, it will examine Leigh-Mallory’s leadership effectiveness and his impact on air power operations in 1918. Second, it will compare his experience with his fellow air power leaders of the Second World War. Finally, it shall show that expertise in air-land warfare was not a barrier to promotion in the inter-war Royal Air Force.

One of the more interesting aspects of the presentation for me was trying to explain and explore the pace of operations for No. 8 Squadron and that this provides and interesting context to Leigh-Mallory’s ability to manage his command. The graph that I used is presented below.

Roughly in the period from February 1918 to 11 November 1918 the squadron flew approximately 5000 sorties. As you can see they flew a variety of mission and it appear obvious but the peaks appears at period of intense action such of the German offensives in March/April 1918 and the Hundred Days campaign later in the year. Also of interest is the fact that a significant portion of flights were test flights. It is often forgotten that in the First World War air power is still highly experimental and that the aircraft required a high degree of maintenance and management in order to ensure that they were ready for operations. This would have required Leigh-Mallory to effectively manage his squadron in order to keep enough airframes available for high-tempo operation as occurred during the Hundred Days Campaign. This requires more thought…

By Ross Mahoney

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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