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RAF at the Crossroads (Hardback)
The Second Front and Strategic Bombing Debate, 1942–1943
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The events of 1942 marked a pivotal year in the history of British air power. For more than two decades the theory that long-range bombing could win wars had dominated British defence policy. The vast majority of warplanes ordered for the RAF were designed either to bomb enemy cities or stop the enemy from bombing British cites. Conventional armies and the air forces that supported them were seen as an outmoded way of waging war.
During 1941 evidence began to mount that British policy was wrong. It had become clear the RAF’s bomber offensive against Germany had, until that point, achieved very little. Meanwhile, the wars raging in Europe, Africa and Asia were being decided not by heavy bombers, but by armies and their supporting tactical air forces. Britain had never had the resources to build a large army as well as a strategic bomber fleet; it had always had to make a choice. Now it seemed the country might have made the wrong choice.
For the first time since 1918 Britain began thinking seriously about a different way of fighting wars. Was it too late to change? Was a strategic bombing campaign the only option open to Britain? Could the United Kingdom help its Soviet ally more by invading France as Stalin so vehemently demanded? Could this be done in 1942?
Looking further ahead, was it time to begin the development of an entirely new generation of warplanes to support the Army? Should the RAF have specialist ground attack aircraft and air superiority fighters?
The answers to these questions, which are all explored here by aviation historian Greg Baughen, would help shape the development of British air power for decades to come.
[An] excellently researched and written volume. Baughen covers in great detail the political, industrial and technological aspects of the bomber campaign and its impact in terms of resources and outcomes for land operations, the Atlantic Battle and Coastal Command operations and the Air Defence of Great Britain. There are insights into the minds of key players including Portal, Tedder, Harris, Douglas, Conningham, Leigh-Mallory, Brooke, Eisenhower and Churchill to name just a few. The book stimulates thought on questions such as “When does doctrine become dogma?”Martin Willoughby, Chairman of the Wessex Branch of the Western Front Association
I thoroughly recommend this book to those with an interest not only in the Bomber Offensive but also in the more diverse aspects of war strategy and its conduct.
30th May 1942
On the night of 30/31 May 1942, for the first time the RAF put more than 1,000 bombers over a single German city. The city was Cologne. Nearly 500 people were killed and 13,000 homes destroyed. The raid was a huge media success for Arthur Harris and the bomber strategy. But was it the best way of winning the war?
Long before the start of the Second World War it had been believed that strategic bombing would be the deciding factor in any future conflict. Then Hitler launched the Blitzkrieg upon France and the Low Countries in 1940, and the much-vaunted French Army and the British Expeditionary Force were swept away in just six weeks. This new form of warfare shook the Air Ministry, but the expected invasion never came and the Battle of Britain was fought in the air. It seemed that air forces operating independently could determine the course of the war. An Army scarcely seemed necessary for the defence…By Greg Baughen
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