Posts Tagged 'Military Innovation'

British Aero-Naval Co-Operation in the Mediterranean and the Formation of RAF No. 201 (Naval Co-Operation) Group

[Cross posted from Birmingham “On War”]

Created in October 1941, RAF No. 201 (Naval Co-operation) Group existed as an independent unit until February 1944, with a complex mechanism of control shared between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. This article examines British aero-naval co-operation in the Mediterranean during the Second World War and the role of 201 Group within this. It incorporates the conflicting policies and strategies of both services, along with the roles of the major personalities involved from each of them, in what was yet another aspect of friction between the junior and senior services.

By taking the debate over the establishment of an overseas RAF Coastal Command, and the subsequent formation of 201 Group, as a case study, it demonstrates that British aero-naval co-operation in the theatre was a compromise between strategies that satisfied neither party. The group itself did make an immediate contribution to relations between the services in the Mediterranean and had an impact upon the maritime war there. Successes were limited though, and the Group could potentially have achieved much more with greater priority in the allocation of resources. However, the greatest innovation regarding 201 Group was not its creation and subsequent operations, but rather its legacy. The article will conclude by showing how it laid the foundations for important innovation in aero-naval co-operation overseas, influencing later and much larger multi-national commands and operations, in both the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

By Dr Richard Hammond, University of Exeter

(This is an abstract from our forthcoming book on transformation and innovation in the British Military)

Operation JUBILEE and the Transformation of Air Support for Combined Operations: The Case of Command and Control and Aerial Bombardment

[Cross posted from Birmingham “On War”]

Operation JUBILEE, the raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942, has remained an area of intensive and divisive debate amongst historians. Debate remains over questions relating to the reasons for the operation, authorisation for the raid, and the argument over lessons learnt. One area of the operation that has received scant attention from historians is the question about the performance of the RAF during the operation. What attention has been paid to the role of air power has concentrated on the issue of the lack of air bombardment in support of the raid. Brain Loring Villa has remarked that ‘There was a degree of callousness in Portal’s allowing a largely Canadian force to go in without the bomber support they needed.’ However, this concentration on the issue of bombardment ignores the state of Combined Operations doctrine in the early years of the Second World War, which stressed the importance of ‘Control of the Air’.

In addition, Operation JUBILEE has been criticised for Earl Mountbatten of Burma‘s claim over the ‘Lessons Learnt’ from the raid and the impact this had on Operation OVERLORD. However, a careful examination of sources illustrates that the raid did have an impact on future operation, albeit not in the direct way that Mountbatten suggested. Therefore, this chapter examines the ‘Lessons Learnt’ thesis with reference to the transformation of air support for Combined Operations. It contends that JUBILEE formed an important catalyst to changing thoughts over the use of air power in Combined Operations. It will do this by examining the development of Command and Control systems and the use of aerial bombardment. It will illustrate that Dieppe formed an important element of the experience gained in 1942/43. This chapter argues that while there may not be a direct link to Operation OVERLORD in 1944 operations at Dieppe had an impact during 1943 and needs to be considered as one line of development in parallel with those from other theatres of war.

By Ross Mahoney, PhD Candidate, Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham

(This is an abstract from our forthcoming book on transformation and innovation in the British Military)

‘Despised and Neglected’: Transformation and Innovation in British Air Defence, 1922-1935

[Cross posted at Birmingham “On War”]

The conventional wisdom is that British air defence was, in A. J. P. Taylor’s words, ‘despised and comparatively neglected before the war’ and that victory in the Battle of Britain was the result of innovations: of radar, the Spitfire and the Hurricane, and their combination in the ‘Dowding System’. This chapter examines British air defence transformation and innovation from the creation of the Home Defence Air Force in 1922 until the formation of Fighter Command in 1936. Counter-revisionist interpretations of appeasement recognise the government’s wholly defensive military strategy abandoned France and failed to deter Hitler, despite Britain’s relative military strength. Yet air defence is somewhat neglected in the historiography of British interwar air power, which focuses on Trenchard’s strategic bombing doctrine and its failure in 1939-42. This chapter challenges the conventional wisdom by arguing that successive interwar governments comparatively prioritised air defence, which was seen as a continuation of Britain’s long-standing maritime strategy, shaped by the need for economy, and the public fear of the bomber and of bloody land conflict. Furthermore, though successive Chiefs of the Air Staff favoured strategic bombing as a means of deterrence and to reinforce the RAF’s independent strategic role, there remained a strong commitment to, and expertise in, air defence throughout the Service. In contrast to its blind faith in strategic bombing, the RAF transformed its air defence scheme following cabinet direction in 1922-23, because of the French air menace, and again in 1934-35, following the identification of Germany as the long-term threat to Britain. On each occasion, the RAF further developed the innovative system of early warning, centralised control and co-ordinated fighter and anti-aircraft gun engagement zones devised to defend London in 1917-18, and which was fundamental to the Service’s formation. The transformation of air defence used objective evaluation, bespoke aircraft design and scientific advice to both drive and incorporate innovation.

By John Alexander, PhD Candidate, Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham

(This is an abstract from our forthcoming book on transformation and innovation in the British Military)

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

A New Book – A Military Transformed?

As I have noted over on Birmingham “On War” I have just signed the contracts for my first book. It is a collection of essays from the symposium from April on Transformation and Innovation in the British Military. I will be editing it with Stuart Mitchell and Dr Michael LoCicero. It is to be entitled, A Military Transformed? Transformation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792 to 1945. You can follow updates to it over on the War Studies blog. However, there will be several interesting air power chapters that will be of interest to readers. Here are the air power chapters:

  1. James Pugh (University of Birmingham) ‘Naval Wing Good, Military Wing Bad? An Orwellian inspired analysis of British Aviation Doctrine, 1912-1914’
  2. John Alexander (University of Birmingham) “Despised and Neglected’: Transformation and Innovation in British Air Defence, 1922-1935’
  3. Ross Mahoney (University of Birmingham) ‘Operation JUBILEE and the Transformation of Air Support for Combined Operations: The Case of Command and Control and Aerial Bombardment’
  4. Richard Hammond (University of Exeter) ‘British Aero-Naval Co-Operation in the Mediterranean and the Formation of RAF No. 201 (Naval Co-Operation) Group

These were really interesting papers so should be excellent papers. The book will be published by Helion and Company and will be out in 2013.


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