View Full Version : British Air Strategy Between the Wars

20th October 2009, 03:36
Malcolm Smith's volume on British planning for air war between 1919 and 1939 was written in 1984 and so is not new but. having just read it, I can recommend it as an interesting and detailed explanation of how Bomber Command came to be the powerful force of heavy bombers that it was.

Smith tracks the tortuous discussions about theory and strategy beginning with the birth of the RAF amid inter service rivalries and the restraints that Britain faced in those difficult years, through to the drastic changes brought on by the failure of Munich. He gives a balanced description of Chamberlain and Churchill's role in the debates about air policy and outlines the practical considerations, both diplomatic and economic, that shaped the policy that gave us both Heydons and Hampdens as well as Halifaxes and Lancasters.

What I found most interesting was his explanation of why certain types, like the Fairey Battle, continued to be produced in great numbers even though it was known they were obsolete. The same thinking that gave us the Battle and the Whitley also saved the Wellington from being cancelled before its usefulness was discovered. Smith's argument is that, despite all the bumbling and arguing, despite the woeful state of preparedness brought about by the economy, fear of another war and the policy of appeasement, somehow, the Air Ministry got it right and stole a march on the Luftwaffe by emphasizing heavy bomber production. He sees this as an accomplishment given the great pressure from many quarters for a more defensive strategy and competition from the navy and army for scarce resources.

Smith, Malcolm, British Air Strategy Between the Wars, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984 ISBN 0-19-822767-1