Welcome to The Air Power Delusion, the website that I am using to launch my book, The British Air Power Delusion 1906-1941, my answer to a question which has been almost totally ignored by historians: why, in 1918, did the British decide to establish the world's first independent air force?
In Britain we are now so used to the idea that we should have three armed services we that we never stop to question it. Why, in the midst of the First World War did the British think that taking air power away from the army and the navy would be a good idea? Both services were striving to build their own air arms, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, and both wanted to keep them. How could taking them away and building a new service from the ground up possibly help the nation's war effort?
Well, the politicians decided that the soldiers and the sailors couldn't be trusted with aeroplanes, and they decided that the air force should be 'independent'. But independent of who exactly? The French aviation general Maurice Duval posed the obvious question: 'Independent of what? Of God?'
In the long run there can be no doubt that the decision weakened the British Army and - rather more important given Britain's traditional dependence on sea power - the Royal Navy.
Given that the British - through the use of that navy - had so successfully exploited their geographical location in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it can now be seen as a historically critical decision. 'Great power' status does not come naturally to a small island nation with a small population; that it was achieved, however briefly, is starting to look increasingly like a historical curiosity.
The decision to hollow it out by taking away its air arm, before that air arm was even approaching maturity, was surely critical in hastening the end of the British Empire.
To go to the starting point of this improbable story, read the introductory chapter of The British Air Power Delusion 1906-1941 by following the link below:
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
Combining extensive research and sharp analysis, Neil Datson’s book gives a thought-provoking description of the RAF’s concentration on strategic bombing after 1918, ignoring the vital air needs of the other Services. Some of the things he reveals are shocking, including quotations from a conference held in 1940 to discuss anti-invasion measures. The Senior Naval Officer present asked for RAF fighters to defend warships as they intercepted German invasion forces. The RAF representative replied that its role was defence of Britain, not ships. Datson concludes with the observation that Churchill mistook air power for a weapon of strategic value that could be separated from the realities of sea and land warfare, a mistaken view he substantiates with numerous examples. This important addition to the historiography of British strategy deserves to be widely read.
Author of The Royal Navy's Air Service in the Great War and The Dawn of Carrier Strike
Neil Datson is a farmer and historian.
He was born in a farmhouse in Kent and was educated at Lord Williams’s School, Thame, and Magdalen College, Oxford. He has travelled widely, including overland along the ‘Hippy Trail’ to India, in those far-off days when that journey was a practical and common rite of passage for European youth.