by Anthony J. Cumming
Annaopolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 226.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1612518346
Debating the Air Defense of Britain
The Battle for Britain, by British naval historian Cumming, takes an interesting look at the somewhat sad evolution of British military aviation policy and strategy from its inception to the Battle of Britain. Cumming usefully begins with a look at the earliest days of British military and naval aviation, a subject often ignored, even in histories of air power in World War I. He demonstrates that by the middle of the Great War, the British Army and Navy had both developed rather effective air services, and essentially defined all the primary missions of military and naval aviation, reconnaissance, maritime patrol, air supremacy, tactical and strategic bombing, and so forth. But German airship and bomber raids on London, despite their relative ineffectiveness, sparked panic in public and political circles, which led to a forced merger of these the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps into the new Royal Air Force (RAF). This new service was thenceforth in control of all aviation development, and was supposed to also provide for the aviation needs of both the Army – ground attack, combat support, etc. -- and the Navy – maritime patrol, carrier aviation, anti-submarine operations, etc.
Unfortunately, for nearly two decade the aviation needs of the older services were largely neglected by the RAF, which viewed its mission as strategic bombardment, a myopia that not only hampered development of ground support for the Army and the air arm for the Navy, but also the development of fighter aircraft for the defense of Britain, with bitter consequences during the Hitlerian War.
The Battle of Britain covers a great deal of politicking, inter-service squabbling, technical issues in the development of aircraft, some operation matters – notably the use of air power in colonial conflicts – and has some interesting comments not only on the development of air power in Britain in the period, but also in the U.S. and some other countries. In addition, there are short profiles of many notable and not so notable persons who played a role in these events, most famous among them Hugh Trenchard and Winston Churchill.
Although in need of much better maps, this is an insightful assessment of the often negative role of the RAF in the development of British air power.
Note: The Battle of Britain is also available in several e-formats.