Posts Tagged 'Royal Flying Corps'

Some more thoughts on an Air Force Records Society

[Cross posted from Thoughts on Military History]

I have written elsewhere there has been some discussion of whether there is a need for an Air Force Records Society. I have prepared a briefing paper that has been sent round to various people working in the field. However, I thought I would post part of it here to try and gain further ideas on this project. I am interested in any thoughts people may have on this.


Both the Royal Navy and Army have a Records Society. To date the Naval Records Society, founded in 1893 by leading figures including Professor Sir John Knox Laughton, has published over 150 volumes. The Army Records Society has published thirty-one volumes to date. Both organisations have been successful in promoting the history of their respective services by bringing together collections of documents to highlight the past.

The history of British air power is now more than one hundred years old. An important question exists, should there be a records society that deals with the Royal Air Force. The RAF and its predecessors, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, have a rich documentary heritage that should be preserved. The society would provide a valuable source for serving officers, scholars and all those interested in British air power history and the development of air power generally.

As noted below publications could include a variety of strands. However, to begin with there are several obvious sources that could be explored. These included the papers of Lieutenant General Sir David Henderson or Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Trenchard. Possible unpublished memoirs include the fascinating work written by Air Marshal Sir Edgar Kingston-McCloughry, which is a refreshing honest and critical work that was never published, and languishes in his papers at the Imperial War Museum. There is also the possibility of publishing significant works that are now out of copyright. In addition, it may be worth looking into the possibility of publishing key volumes from the Air Historical Branch Narrative collection.

Aim of the Society

The object of an Air Force Records Society would be to edit and publish manuscripts relating to the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm, and their antecedents’, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, and to reprint works of military interest.


The society will require a council in order to run it effectively. It should consist of a:

  • President
  • Vice-President
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary
  • Editor
  • Councillors’

Members should come from leading figures in the field of air power history. Terms of service and responsibilities will be laid out in a constitution that can only be revised at an annual general meeting.


Membership should be drawn from anyone who has an interest in the history of the RAF and FAA and their antecedents’. It is hoped that membership will be drawn from members of academia, the Ministry of Defence the heritage sector, students, serving and retired members of the RAF and FAA.

Possible Volumes

As with the NRS and ARS, the society would look to publish one volume per year. The society would aim to publish volumes that deals with the following areas:

  • Personal Papers
  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Unpublished Memoirs/Autobiography
  • Themed Documents Collections
  • Miscellany


There are several challenges that will need to be surmounted in order to see an Air Force Records Society come to fruition:

  • Setting up a committee
  • Produce a constitution for the society including terms of service for council members
  • Advertising the society
  • Developing a relationship with relevant archival collections
  • Developing a relationship with a relevant publisher in order to produce volumes
  • Receiving proposals for future publications
  • Developing a website

Thoughts welcomed


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.

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

Air Power Seminar at the University of Birmingham

Next weeks War Studies Seminar at the Centre for War Studies at the University of Birmingham is one of the Air Power Seminars and is being given by:

James Pugh

(University of Birmingham)

‘Early British Air Power Doctrine and the Influence of the Staff College, 1908-14′

The event will be on 11 October. The Seminar meets on TUESDAYS at 5.30 p.m. in Lecture Room 1, 1st Floor, Arts Building.

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.

Transformation and Innovation in the British Military from 1642 to 1945

I have been working on this event with a couple of fellow PhD student for the past few months. We are now in a position to start advertising it. As you can see there are a f ew air power related papers being delivered on the day…Keep an eye on the blog for similar events. The main web page for the event is here.

Transformation and Innovation in the British Military from 1642 to 1945

A Symposium for Postgraduate and Early Career Historians

13 April 2011

This symposium, organised by the Centres for First and Second World War Studies at the University of Birmingham, intends to give postgraduate and early career historians the opportunity to examine the process of transformation and innovation in the British military as recent literature on the subject has highlighted a need to evaluate the process from 1642 to 1945. The symposium will be held at the Edgbaston campus of the University of Birmingham.

The symposium will also give delegates the opportunity to present aspects of their research to a wider audience and engage with the academic community in military history. The symposium programme is attached;  it includes eighteen papers on aspects of transformation and innovation in the British military from the early modern period to the  early twentieth century and from a range of perspectives. Professor John Buckley, Chair of Military History at the University of Wolverhampton, will deliver the keynote lecture. Professor Gary Sheffield, Chair of War Studies at the University of Birmingham, will deliver the symposium’s closing address.

The symposium fee, which includes tea & coffee and lunch on the day, is £10 for postgraduate students and Friends/Members of the Centres for First and Second World War Studies and £20 for other interested parties.

If you wish to attend the symposium please print out and return the Symposium Booking Form below and send it by Monday 4 April to:

Ross Mahoney

C/O School of History and Cultures

College of Arts and Law

University of Birmingham



B15 2TT

For informal enquiries please email us at or post a comment below.

Provisional Conference Programme:

8:45 – Registration

9:15 – Introduction and Welcome – Ross Mahoney, Stuart Mitchell and Michael LoCicero

9:30 – Panel 1: Transformation and Innovation in the Early Modern Era, 1642-1815

Chair: Victoria Henshaw (University of Birmingham)

Sara Regnier-Mckeller (University of Essex) – Honour and Manhood in the Armies of the British Civil Wars

Britt Zerbe (University of Exeter) – Amphibious Brotherhood: 1664 or 1755? What Foundation and Establishment mean to Marine Identity

11:00 – Tea

11:15 – Panel 2A: Transformation and Innovation in the 19th Century

Chair: Aimée Fox (University of Birmingham)

Peter Randall (University of Reading) – The Influence of the Napoleonic Wars upon the British Military, 1815-1854

Andrew Duncan (University of Birmingham) – British Army Medicine, 1854-1914 (Title TBC)

Edward Gosling (University of Plymouth) – The Cardwell-Childers Reforms, 1868-1881

11:15 – Panel 2B: Transformation and Innovation at the Fin de Siècle

Chair: Michael LoCicero (University of Birmingham)

Dr Spencer Jones (University of Wolverhampton) – Countdown to the ‘Mad Minute’: The Reform of British Musketry, 1899-1914

Dr Peter Grant (Cass Business School, City University) – Learning to Manage the Army: The Army Administration Course at the London School of Economics

Martin Gibson (University of Glasgow) – The Royal Navy’s Conversion from Coal to Oil, 1900-1914

12:45 – Lunch

13:30 – Keynote Address by Professor John Buckley, Chair of Military History, University of Wolverhampton

14:30 – Panel 3A: Transformation and Innovation in the First World War

Chair: Stuart Mitchell (University of Birmingham)

Paul Harris (King’s College London) – Soldier Banker: Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Lawrence as the BEF’s Chief of Staff in 1918

Simon Justice (University of Birmingham) – Vanishing Battalions: The Reorganisation of British Infantry prior to, and as a result of, the German Spring Offensives of 1918

Dr Jonathan Boff (King’s College London) – Innovation and Victory: The British Army during the Hundred Days Campaign, 1918

14:30 – Panel 3B: Transformation and Innovation in the Second World War

Chair: James Pugh (University of Birmingham)

Neal Dando (University of Plymouth) – From ‘Jock Column’ to Armoured Column: Transformation and Change in British and Commonwealth Unit Tactics in the Western Desert, January 1941 to November 1942

Sarah McCook (University of Durham) – Wartime Communications: British Dispatch Riders and the need for reliable communications during the Second World War

Dr Matthew Ford (University of Hull) – Learning the Lessons of Battle: Organisational Learning, Small Unit Tactics and the Problems with the Force Transformation Literature

16.00 – Coffee

16:15 – Panel 4: Transformation and Innovation in the Third Dimension

Chair: Ross Mahoney (University of Birmingham)

James Pugh (University of Birmingham) – Oil and Water: Military and Naval approaches to Air Power Doctrine and Technological Innovation, 1911-1914

John Alexander (University of Birmingham) – Transformation and Innovation in British Air Defence, 1922-1936

Richard Hammond (University of Exeter) – British Aero-Naval Co-Operation in the Mediterranean and the Formation of RAF No. 201 (Naval Co-Operation) Group

17:45 Closing Address by Professor Gary Sheffield, Chair of War Studies, University of Birmingham

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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