In the last episode we looked at the development of the world’s navies during the interwar period. To compliment that I thought we’d do something similar with aerial warfare. It is easy to forget in 1939 aviation was still very much in its infancy, and especially aerial warfare.
Theorist such as Giulio Douhet had highlighted the importance of controlling airspace, Douhet also advocated that idea that a nation could bomb its way to victory. Other countries such as Germany envisaged the plane in tactical roles, supporting the army. So at the outbreak of WWII each air force was prepared to a fight a war, just not necessarily the war their enemy was expecting to fight.
Aerial warfare has dominated western war-making for over 100 years, and despite regular announcements of its demise, it shows no sign of becoming obsolete. Frank Ledwidge offers a sweeping look at the history of air warfare, introducing the major battles, crises, and controversies where air power has taken centre stage, and the changes in technology and air power capabilities over time. Highlighting the role played by air power in the First and Second World Wars, he also sheds light on the lesser-known theatres where the roles of air forces have been clearly decisive in conflicts, in Africa, South America, and Asia.
Along the way, Ledwidge asks key questions about the roles air power can deliver, and whether it is conceptually different from other forms of combat. Considering whether bombing has ever been truly effective, he discusses whether wars can be won from the air, and concludes by analyzing whether there is a future for manned air power, or if it is inevitable that drones will dominate twenty-first century war in the air.
Joining me today is Frank Ledwidge.
Frank is a senior fellow in Air Power and International Security, at the Royal Air Force College – Cranwell. Not only does he teach this stuff, he’s written a book on the subject ‘Aerial Warfare: The Battle for the Skies’.