The Birth of the Royal Airforce

B1927

The author has provided a history of the development of air power in Britain that was tested in a global conflict in its earliest days and achieved considerable capabilities. The well-researched text is ably supported by an excellent selection of photographs and drawings. The result is a book that is essential to any library of air power and combat aircraft. The author has also written two books that cover the years between WWI and WWII when the RAF was developing against the traditional background of political parsimony. Highly recommended

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NAME: The Birth of the Royal Airforce
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
DATE: 180113
FILE: R1927
AUTHOR: Ian Philpott
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 96
PRICE: £35.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: RNAS, RFC, RAF, air power, strategic bombardment, tactical support, interception, air superiority
ISBN: 1-78159-333-2
IMAGE: B1927.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/06q2dra
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: As a retired RAF officer, the author is naturally biased to the RAF view of events, but he presents a carefully researched history that includes a great deal of information on early British combat aircraft that built the heritage that the RAF was to inherit.

The RAF has been very good at politics and propaganda, frequently at the expense of the Army and the Royal Navy. This has led to much controversy about the need for the RAF and the neglect of British Forces by politicians who still expect British war fighters to respond magnificently in dealing with the messes left by the politicians.

The Royal Navy is not only the Senior Service, but can also claim to be the Senior Air Service. Consideration of the use of aircraft as effective weapons systems for aerial bombardment with explosives and chemical weapons dates back to a Napoleonic War frigate captain who was no dreamer by an effective naval officer bringing pain to the French. British naval officers, who were sent to the US during the American Civil War as observers, took the opportunity to go aloft in Union Army balloons that were employed for artillery spotting. RN gunnery officers later made regular use of British Army balloons in South Africa to spot for RN guns landed to support the Army. The famous RN/FAA field gun competition is based on the use of naval guns in South Africa, where they were often disassembled and man handled across difficult country.

In 1903, the RN undertook a period of testing of man-carrying kites. These were considered more suitable than balloons for use by ships and the tests, which continued until 1908, saw kites towed by open whalers, torpedo boat destroyers, light cruisers, armoured cruisers and battleships in conditions up to Gale Force. The RN experience of testing kites, built by the Wild West Showman Cody, led to RN interest in Cody’s powered kite which in 1908 became the first British-built powered aircraft to fly successfully.

In 1909, the Admiralty included funds in its annual budget to pay for the design and construction of its first airship. HM Airship 1 Mayfly. In 1911, with the help of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the RN began selecting and training its own pilots. These pilots wrote the first tactical and strategic air combat papers, recommending the use of aircraft with the Fleet and specifying bombs, depth bombs and torpedoes.

The advanced thinking of the RN was rewarded by the politicians who moved the RN aviation assets under Army control in 1912 as the Navy Wing of the Royal Flying Corps. The RN did not accept this and continued to train its own pilots and plan for the use of aircraft at sea. Weeks before the outbreak of WWI, the RN regained control of its air assets and celebrated by making the first successful torpedo drop from an aircraft. The RNAS fought through almost all of the Great War, only to be transferred into the newly formed RAF in 1918. This new service prevented the use of airpower to destroy German warships in port, by means of a carrier attack, although when the RN recovered control of its air assets again, in 1938, it began the process of making up for all the wasted years since 1918 and in 1939 dusted off the plans for a surprise carrier assault on an enemy fleet in harbour that was to result in an attack on the Italian Fleet that gave the RN a six month period of supremacy, without which the Army might not have been able to eventually defeat German and Italian forces in North Africa.

The RAF was built on the basis of a belief that future wars would be fought in the air and that strategic aerial bombardment could win without soldiers being placed on the ground. This mindset has proved a disaster. The belief in air power, at a time when RAF aircraft were slower than civil aircraft, and fighters were little faster than WWI biplanes, resulted in politicians neglecting the Army and Navy before 1938 and led to the ejection of the BEF at Dunkirk and the need to fight off the German Air Force in the Battle of Britain.

The Navy has been particularly badly hit by the ascendancy of RAF politics even through to today where the RAF were happy to connive with politicians to scrap newly built Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft before they entered RAF service, leaving the RN without effective patrol air cover, while the RAF concentrated on bringing into service the EuroFighter that had been built to fight the Cold War of the 1980s. Even worse, RAF assurances that the RN no longer needed its own aircraft, led to the scrapping of the entire Harrier fleet, including RAF Harriers. The RAF was never entirely thrilled with VSTOL/STOVL aircraft and preferred to divert funds to the EuroFighter.

The justification for founding the RAF in 1918 was destroyed when the RN took over the responsibility for strategic bombardment with the Polaris and Trident missiles and then expanded that bombardment capability with cruise missiles.

The above is an alternative view to the view expressed by the author but that in no way reduces the value of his careful research and able presentation. No country has yet discovered a perfect way of managing the various forms of weapon and warfare developed through the 20th Century. Some have tried combining all arms under a single title and management, others have introduced new organizations including air forces and homeland defence, alongside established forces. The US has continued to provide its Navy and Marines with their own air services, including transport aircraft, although the US Coast Guard has been transferred into the Department of Homeland Defense. However a country decides to shape the structure of its Armed Forces, there will be conditions where several or all must work closely together to defeat an enemy and during the Battle of Britain naval aviators served in RAF squadrons to make up the numbers of trained fighter pilots.

The author has provided a history of the development of air power in Britain that was tested in a global conflict in its earliest days and achieved considerable capabilities. The well-researched text is ably supported by an excellent selection of photographs and drawings. The result is a book that is essential to any library of air power and combat aircraft. The author has also written two books that cover the years between WWI and WWII when the RAF was developing against the traditional background of political parsimony. Highly recommended

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