Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945

By Tami Davis Biddle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
The Beginning: Strategic Bombing
in the First World War

THE history of strategic bombing in the twentieth century is a history of the tension between imagined possibilities and technical realities. In seeking the roots of this tension, it is necessary to turn to World War I, where combat aircraft made their first serious appearance in both tactical and strategic roles—from short-range battlefield reconnaissance to long-distance bombing of enemy cities. In the end, tactical aviation received a fuller test than did strategic flying: the latter's demands on plane and pilot were more onerous, and armies, unsurprisingly, prioritized their tactical forces since they were of greater immediate use to the war effort. The result was that, by 1918, strategic bombing had received only a brief trial. Because its possibilities seemed far-reaching, however, this experience left a legacy with an important impact on postwar thinking; it formed a foundation for extrapolation, speculation, and zealous advocacy. 1 But the perception and interpretation of the experience itself had been shaped by expectation.


AERIAL BOMBING AND PUBLIC EXPECTATION

The First World War commenced only eleven years after the Wright Brothers made their first successful but brief ascent over the windy dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The airplanes of 1914 were frail machines constructed mainly of wood, cloth, and wire; their capabilities were speculative at best. Military experts had varying expectations for these craft, but even the most conservative understood that an aerial perspective would facilitate observation and reconnaissance. Indeed, the aerial perspective quickly proved so valuable that it was aggressively sought and fought for, prompting the development of purpose-built fighter aircraft. Throughout the war, increasingly capable fighters sought control of the air to allow other aircraft to carry out reconnaissance work, including trench mapping and artillery spotting. Other tactical missions evolved, such as contact patrol (for tracking ground troops), close air support, and battlefield interdiction bombing.

The role aircraft might play beyond the battlefield had long been the

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Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare *
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - The Beginning: Strategic Bombing in the First World War 11
  • Chapter Two - Britain in the Interwar Years 69
  • Chapter Three - The United States in the Interwar Years 128
  • Chapter Four - Rhetoric and Reality, 1939–1942 176
  • Chapter Five - The Combined Bomber Offensive: 1943–1945 214
  • Conclusion 289
  • Notes 303
  • Bibliography of Archival Sources 387
  • Index 391
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