Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat

Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat

Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat

Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat

Synopsis

According to Robin Higham and Stephen J. Harris, "Flight has been part of the human dream for aeons, and its military application has likely been the dark side of that dream for almost as long." In the twentieth century, this dream and its dark side unfolded as the air forces of the world went to war, bringing destruction and reassessment with each failure. Why Air Forces Fail examines the complex, often deep-seated, reasons for the catastrophic failures of the air forces of various nations. Higham and Harris divide the air forces into three categories of defeat: forces that never had a chance to win, such as Poland and France; forces that started out victorious but were ultimately defeated, such as Germany and Japan; and finally, those that were defeated in their early efforts yet rose to victory, such as the air forces of Britain and the United States. The contributing authors examine the complex causes of defeats of the Russian, Polish, French, Arab, British, Italian, German, Argentine, and American air services. In all cases, the failures stemmed from deep, usually prewar factors that were shaped by the political, economic, military, and social circumstances in the countries. Defeat also stemmed from the anticipation of future wars, early wartime actions, and the precarious relationship between the doctrine of the military leadership and its execution in the field. Anthony Christopher Cain's chapter on France's air force, l'Armée de l'Air, attributes France's loss to Germany in June 1940 to a lack of preparation and investment in the air force. One major problem was the failure to centralize planning or coordinate a strategy between land and air forces, which was compounded by aborted alliances between France and countries in eastern Europe, especially Poland and Czechoslovakia. In addition, the lack of incentives for design innovation in air technologies led to clashes between airplane manufacturers, laborers, and the government, a struggle that resulted in France's airplanes' being outnumbered by Germany's more than three to one by 1940. Complemented by reading lists and suggestions for further research, Why Air Forces Fail provides groundbreaking studies of the causes of air force defeats.

Excerpt

Robin Higham

Rather than being an exhaustive effort to examine the fall or defeat of every air force, this is a limited study in which we asked experts in the field to examine archetypal examples from which worthwhile conclusions could be drawn. This means, of course, that we had some ideas about what contributed to such failures before any of the authors put pen to paper. Admittedly, the notions of “defeat” and “fall” are applied very loosely here, and some might suggest that it would have been more useful to address the reasons why air forces failed to accomplish what their national command authorities asked them to do. Colleagues who were not involved in the project proffered many of their own generic causes for defeat (and victory) in air battles, campaigns, and wars. The ease with which such a priori conclusions were drawn led us to doubt the validity of our project more than once: if things were that clear, what could this book add to anyone’s understanding? For example, given the importance of technology, it is intuitive that, other things being equal, the technically more advanced—more modern—air force should beat the less advanced opponent almost every time, provided its personnel can sustain the effort. But it is the nuances of those qualifiers— “other things being equal,” “should,” “almost every time,” “provided” —that our authors address.

Defeats of air forces are both comparable and contrastable, and . . .

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