Book Review: The RAF and Tribal Control: Airpower and Irregular Warfare between the World Wars


by Richard D. Newton.

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2019. Pp. xiv, 250. Illus., maps, tables, diagr. $34.95. ISBN: 0700628711

Airplanes vs. Insurgents

Newton, who teaches at the Joint Special Operations University, has written widely on the uses of air power in special operations. In this book, he gives us what is apparently the first scholarly treatment of British efforts to use the RAF to replace ground forces for colonial security operations, particularly in the Middle East and India, a strategy adopted by several other colonial powers, such as France, Spain, and Italy, with varying degrees of success.

The idea was developed by early air power mavens, who claimed air power could largely replace ground forces in maintaining security and countering unrest (not incidentally, also providing further justification for an independent air force). Newton finds that on the whole the approach worked, particularly in Iraq and even on the North West Frontier of India. But merely bombing insurgent bases or suspected insurgent-sympathizing villages was more likely to provoke further resistance than success.

Newton makes a good case that the most critical factor in British success with this approach to counter-insurgency were the SSOs – Special Service Officers – men on the ground with extensive knowledge of local conditions and contacts with local people, who could often resolve grievances and collect intelligence, which historically has always been an essential factor in internal security, insurgency, and counter-insurgency operations.

The RAF and Tribal Control is a good read for anyone interested in the development of air power, and one with considerable application to current security problems, where the apparent simple answer is not always the best.




Note: The RAF and Tribal Control is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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