Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat

By Kane, Robert B. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat


Kane, Robert B., Air & Space Power Journal


Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat edited by Robin Higham and Stephen J. Harris. University Press of Kentucky (http://www.kentucky press.com), 663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008, 2006, 416 pages, $39.95 (hardcover).

Historians have well documented the defeats of armies and navies but have paid far less attention to the defeat of air forces. What does exist is usually in histories of the greater conflict of which the air campaigns were a part. In Why Air Forces Fail, perhaps the first study of its kind, 11 well-known historians of aerial warfare take on this noteworthy task with short but detailed and engaging essays. The contributors consider the defeats of the air forces of Poland (1939), France (1940), Arab countries (1967), Germany and Austria-Hungary (1914-18), Italy (1939-43), Imperial Japan (1942-45), Germany (1940-45), Argentina (Falklands War, 1982), Russia (1941), United States (1941-42), and Britain (1941-42). Through these essays, the book explains the complex, often deep-seated foundations for these catastrophes.

The book's editors are well versed in military history. Robin Higham, professor emeritus of military history at Kansas State University and editor of the journal Aerospace Historian from 1970 to 1988, has written and edited many books on varied aspects of military history. Currently chief historian at the Directorate of History and Heritage, National Defence Headquarters, Canada, Stephen Harris coauthored the official history of the Canadian air force. The two editors asked prospective contributors to examine "archetypical examples from which worthwhile conclusions could be drawn" (p. 1) and provided them with numerous questions to stimulate their thinking. They especially wanted the contributors to go beyond technical, tactical, and political reasons for the defeats of the subject air forces.

Thus, the essays are both overviews and analytical narratives that examine more than the specific air campaign. In addition to the typical reasons for these catastrophic defeats, the contributors provide doctrinal, logistical, and cultural reasons to show why these air forces failed in their respective historical air campaigns. Each also discusses the industrial and economic capability of each country to produce/obtain the quantity and quality of aircraft (airframes and aircraft engines) needed to counter prospective enemies effectively. Most also discuss an important but often overlooked aspect-the quality of aircrews and maintenance personnel.

Guided by the editors' initial request, each contributor came up with the same basic reasons for the defeat for these air forces despite differences in time, place, economic status, and culture. …

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