ALLENBY TAKES COMMAND

The victorious General Allenby dismounted, enters Jerusalem on foot out of respect for the Holy City, 11 December 1917.

General Archibald Murray’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force [EEF] was then ordered into Palestine where it fought two battles at Gaza (March 26, 1917, and April 17–19, 1917). However, both battles found Allied forces facing stiff resistance, and the attacks failed in the objective of seizing Gaza and driving the Central Powers’ forces out of the region. Nonetheless, with additional resources garnered and delivered by the new British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, London was soon able to generate new life into the EEF, including a change in leadership. Following Murray’s unsuccessful attempts at seizing Gaza in the spring of 1917, the British War Cabinet opted to replace him with General Sir Edmund Allenby, known as the “Bloody Bull,” who arrived in Egypt in June 1917.

Empowered with new resources and new staff, Allenby set about reinvigorating EEF troop morale before recommencing operations against enemy positions in Sinai and Palestine. Concerned with reports that Britain was preparing to commit additional resources and renewed focus in the Middle Eastern theater, including Mesopotamia and Palestine, at the end of April 1917, Germany dispatched a military delegation headed by General Erich von Falkenhayn to Turkey arriving in May. The initial concern of the German military delegation was the British occupation of Baghdad, and it advised that a new army should be constituted to address this threat. Consequently, the new Seventh Army was established and based in Aleppo to counter British moves in Mesopotamia (Iraq). However, by September 1917, the greater concern was for the Ottoman presence in Gaza and Palestine, as the EEF was making preparations for getting underway. As a result, operations by the Seventh Army against the British in Mesopotamia were cancelled as Falkenhayn advised for a rapid redeployment of the army from Aleppo to Beersheba in Palestine. While the theory was sound, the practical application of the plan proved problematic as the limited Turkish rail network hindered its implementation. As such, very few of the Seventh Army’s troops were in position before the British attacked during the Battle of Beersheba (October 31, 1917) and the Third Battle of Gaza (November 1–7, 1917).

Allenby brought a different style of leadership to Egyptian-Palestinian theater of operations than his predecessor. Unlike Murray, who had commanded the EEF from Cairo, Allenby frequently visited front line units and moved the Force’s headquarters from Cairo to Rafah nearer to the front lines at Gaza. Allenby also reorganized the Force into a three, primary corps order of battle: XX, XI, and the Desert Mounted Corps. He was also convinced by the Arab Bureau of Britain’s Foreign Office to utilize the Arab forces that had risen in revolt against the Ottomans and were then operating within Arabia. A remarkable British army officer detached to the Arab Bureau (British Intelligence), Major T. E. Lawrence, had found considerable success in working with Arab leaders in fomenting irregular operations, which ultimately caused the Ottoman and German leadership to station forces in response—forces which were badly needed elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Ottomans had called for jihad against the Entente Cordiale in the fall of 1914 in hopes of rousing support for the defense of the empire. Germany attempted to assist the Ottomans in this endeavor as it sent Kress von Kressenstein to Palestine, Oskar von Niedermayer to Afghanistan, Liman von Sanders to Turkey, and Wilhelm Wassmuss to southern Persia. Wassmuss, often referred to as the “German Lawrence,” incited tribes to attack British interests, particularly its Persian oil pipeline, northwest of Ahwaz.

The British government, ever mindful of the power this campaign might have should it be allowed to successfully proliferate, sought the help of the Sharif of Mecca, Emir Abdullah Hussein, in countering the Ottoman call for jihad. The tribe that Hussein led, the Hashemites, was relatively weak, particularly in relation to Ottoman forces. But the alliance with Hussein was much more than a military-oriented alliance. The Hashemites were politically important within the Middle East for a number of reasons, including the fact that Hussein was seen as a descendent of the prophet Muhammad and regarded as the guardian or custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Allenby was facing two defensive lines in Palestine, which were vital to the Ottoman defense of Gaza and Jerusalem. The first included entrenchments that stretched 30 miles from Gaza to Beersheba. The Gaza-Beersheba line was complemented by the Jaffa-Jerusalem line that extended more than 50 miles. Thus, rather than attacking Gaza in frontal assault, as had been the focus of operations by the EEF under Murray, Allenby, the old cavalry officer that he was, sought to maneuver for position through flanking attacks. Thus, he saw the key to taking Gaza would be to first feign a direct attack and draw the forces and attention of the defenders’ leaders at Gaza while sending a force in a flanking attack at unsuspecting Ottoman defenders that manned the lines in defense of Beersheba. Once Beersheba was in Allenby’s hands, he was then positioned to threaten the left flank of the Ottomans’ defensive line protecting its positions within Gaza. Once in such a position, Allenby could then move in three directions against Gaza itself.

Rumors circulated that the British were intent on attacking Gaza once again, but this time the operation would be centered on a naval amphibious landing north of Gaza and then descending down behind defenses. Additionally, British patrols routinely approached Beersheba every couple of weeks, expecting that when the actual attack was commenced, the Ottomans would at first believe it to be another scouting operation. Allenby wrote the following:

When I took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces at the end of June, 1917, I received instructions to report on the conditions in which offensive operations against the Turkish Army on the Palestine front might be undertaken in the autumn or winter of 1917 … The main features of the situation in Palestine were as follows: The Turkish Army in Southern Palestine held a strong position extending from the sea at Gaza, roughly along the Gaza-Beersheba Road to Beersheba. Gaza had been made into a strong modern fortress, heavily entrenched and wired, offering facility for protracted defense … I decided to strike the main blow against the left flank of the main Turkish position, Hareira and Sheria. The capture of Beersheba was a necessary preliminary to this operation, in order to secure the water supplies at that place and to give room for the deployment of the attacking force on the high ground to the north and north-west of Beersheba. It was, however, important in order to keep the enemy in doubt up to the last moment as to the real point of attack, and that an attack should also be made on the enemy’s right at Gaza in conjunction with the main operations.

The Ottomans had positioned nine infantry divisions and one cavalry division in the line protecting Gaza with a total force level of between 35,000 and 45,000 infantry, 1,500 cavalry, and 500 artillery guns. The British force was divided into three elements: the strike wing consisted of the Desert Mounted Corps, containing the Anzac and Australian Mounted Divisions and the 7th Mounted Brigade and XX Corps, with four infantry divisions and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade. In total, it was a force of 47,500 infantry, 11,000 cavalry, and 242 guns. On the left of this striking wing was the British XXI Corps, containing three infantry divisions and two brigades for a total of 35,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 218 guns. Between the two main bodies of the EEF and protecting the gap between them was the Yeomanry Mounted Division consisting of some 5,000 cavalry troopers.

In order to facilitate the deception, an artillery bombardment of Gaza began on October 27, four days before the actual attack at Beersheba was scheduled to occur. The bombardment would last for six days, which included naval gunfire and was the largest artillery barrage of World War I, outside of France. On October 31, the British commenced the actual attack as two infantry divisions moved against the well-entrenched and well-defended southwest defenses of the town. The key to the attack, however, was in the flanking maneuver conducted by the 4th Australian Light Horse led by General W. Grant, who, in dramatic fashion, conducted one of the last successful cavalry attacks in the modern warfare. By November 7, Gaza was under British control.

By November 14, the British took Junction Station, which effectively cut the Ottoman rail line into Palestine. From that point, the 75th Division—the last one formed during the war and consisting of Indian Gurkhas and British personnel from India—captured the road from Jerusalem to Jaffa. The key military geographic objective for the defense of Jerusalem, throughout history, has been the vital hill of Nebi Samwil, which from either defenders’ or attackers’ perspective was the key to the city. On November 21, the 75th captured Nebi Samwil, which then provided Allenby and the EEF the position from which the city of Jerusalem could be taken.

THE BRITISH AND THEIR ALLIES LIBERATE JERUSALEM

On December 8, 1917, Allenby dispatched the XX Corps for the final assault on Jerusalem. The following day, December 9, the Turkish army withdrew from Jerusalem and 400 years of Ottoman rule had come to an end. On December 11, Allenby made a dramatic and well-photographed entry into Jerusalem, choosing to walk instead of ride into the city through the Jaffa Gate. It was the first time since 1187 CE that Western forces controlled the historic city.

By the fall of 1918, the Ottomans fielded three armies with a total of 34,000 men defending a defensive line from the Eastern Mediterranean coast across the Judean Hills, the Jordan Valley, and to the Hejaz Railway. German General Liman von Sanders had replaced Falkenhayn and was in overall command. Under Allenby in Palestine were 69,000 men (57,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry). The Turkish front line defenses were 3,000 yards deep, well-constructed, and protected by thin, barbed wire. The second line three miles to the rear was less prepared and consisted of strongpoints but not adequately connected in a consistent defensive line and unprotected by wire.

The Battle of Megiddo, September 19–25, 1918, was the climactic battle of British operations in Egypt and Palestine against German-led Ottoman forces during World War I. The name applied to Allenby’s final offensive in Palestine was of course chosen for symbolic purposes, as scant fighting relative to other regions actually occurred in the vicinity of Megiddo. Symbolic, figurative, or literal, Allenby’s cavalry did in fact advance past the ancient site of Megiddo, which served as the first battle in recorded history (1457 BCE).

Arrayed in front of Allenby were the Ottoman Eighth, Seventh, and Fourth Armies, with the Eighth nearest the Mediterranean coast, the Seventh in the middle of the Ottoman order of battle, and the Fourth on Allenby’s right flank. Allenby’s main focus was on the Seventh and Eighth Armies, commanded by Mustafa Kemal Pasha and Jeved Pasha, respectively. Once again, Allenby’s ability to keep the enemy from ascertaining his striking plans forced Sanders to defend across the entire front, which left scant few troops in reserve.

By mid-September 1918, Allenby had positioned 35,000 infantry, 9,000 cavalry, and 383 guns on the western fifteen miles of the front line facing 8,000 infantry and 130 guns of the Ottoman Seventh Army. On the remaining 45 miles of the front, the British had 22,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, and 157 guns facing 24,000 men and 270 guns of the Eight and Fourth Ottoman Armies. However, 11,000 of those in the Fourth Army were east of the Jordan Valley, which when actual combat began effectively removed them from making effective contributions. Sanders had placed them guarding his left flank knowing that the “Bloody Bull” had a penchant for sweeping flanking maneuvers and often using his swift moving cavalry. Sanders, who had calculated so well in ascertaining British landing intentions during the Gallipoli campaign, now, with limited forces holding weaker positions, was a victim of British deception as to the actual plans of attack.

Allenby’s battle plan was for his XXI Corps of five divisions to attack along the Mediterranean coast and force Jeved Pasha’s Eighth Army to pull back along the line of the railway north to Tul Keram, followed by a move east to Messudieh Junction. Once this was accomplished, a gap would have been opened up along the coast through which Allenby planned on sending his Desert Mounted Corps. Once past the Ottoman lines it became incumbent upon them to ride north past the Judean Hills and arrive at the Plain of Esdraelon. Their objective was the capture of the Beisan and El Afule, which were key to controlling access to the rail link.

Once in control of Beisan and El Afule, the Desert Mounted Corps would have effectively blocked the escape route via rail for the Seventh and Eighth Ottoman Armies, at which point, the only alternative for retreat open to the Ottoman forces would have been east through the Jordan Valley. XX Corps was assigned the task of advancing parallel to the hills toward Nablus and in blocking the best passes into the Jordan Valley, thereby catching the retreating Ottoman units in a trap.

Allenby benefited from the British Air Corps’ ability to maintain air superiority and in keeping German aircraft from conducting scouting missions. In a preliminary operation, the Air Corps dropped ordnance on Ottoman positions in Deraa (city in present-day Syria), which lent weight to Sander’s opinion that Allied forces would conduct its main attack inland. Simultaneous to the air raid, Arab insurgent forces—among them T. E. Lawrence—cut the rail lines north, south, and west from Deraa, at which time Sanders transferred additional reserves east to address the rising threat. A second preliminary move occurred when the 53rd Division of XX Corps moved to engage Ottoman units east of the Judean Hills. This attack was to place the 53rd in position to maneuver once the actual main attack opened nearer the Mediterranean coast.

The main attack commenced at 4:30 a.m. on September 19, as Allied artillery opened fire for a brief, 15-minute barrage. The following infantry assault overwhelmed the outnumbered Ottomans in the first line. The 60th Division moving on the left of Allied advance gained 7,000 yards, nearly four miles, in the first two and a half hours shattering the first and second defensive lines and taking control of a bridge over the Nahr el Falik. The control of the bridgehead then allowed the cavalry to move forward.By the end of the first day’s operations, XXI Corps had managed to seize most of the railway north of Tul Keram. As the Ottoman Eighth Army was attempting to withdraw through Tul Keram, it was struck from the air and engaged by the rapidly advancing 5th Australian Light Horse as well as the 60th Division, which had pushed forward 17 miles and secured Tul Keram. All cavalry units had met their expected objectives for the first day’s operations and reached the outer perimeter of the Plain of Esdraelon and, by 2:30 a.m. on September 20, were advancing into the valley. The key objectives of El Afule and Beisan were captured later on September 20, securing the railroad in each region. Moreover, as the Allied cavalry swiftly advanced, it nearly succeeded in capturing General Sanders who had made his headquarters at Nazareth.

By close of the second day, the Turkish Eighth Army had essentially been destroyed and the Seventh was near collapse. With the railway blocked, its only chance of escape was east from Nablus down a road leading from Wadi Fara into the Jordan Valley. This position, however, was the objective of the Allied XX Corps, which had not enjoyed the same success as other Allied units. Thus, it was not where Allenby planned for it to be on the night of September 20 and morning of September 21, and the Ottomans began a successful evacuation from Nablus. However, they were then stopped by Allied airpower as Allenby’s aircraft caught Ottoman forces on the road east of Nablus at a gorge. Bombing soon served to block the Ottoman passage through the gorge, and survivors scattered into the surrounding countryside only to be captured piecemeal in follow-on operations. Advancing Allied forces captured over 1,000 vehicles and 90 guns, which had been abandoned along the road.

Allied forces took 25,000 prisoners during and following the Battle of Megiddo. Less than 10,000 Turkish and German soldiers escaped and made their retreat north. British and Allied forces pressed the advantage and continued the pursuit of the retreating Central Power troops through the month of October. The EEF moved north toward the ancient city of Damascus (in present-day Syria). Sanders had placed Ali Riza Pasha Rehabi, an Arab general serving in the Ottoman army, in command of Damascus. Unbeknownst to Sanders, Ali was also the serving president of the Syrian branch of the Arab Secret Society and had been in contact with T. E. Lawrence.

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BRITISH AND ARAB FORCES LIBERATE DAMASCUS

Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel commanding Desert Mounted Corps leads his corps through Damascus on 2 October 1918.

Prince Feisal leaving Chauvel’s Desert Mounted Corps Headquarters in Damascus.

With the Ottoman military position in Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia collapsing at late autumn of 1918, the Arab Secret Society seized control in Damascus. On October 1, in a sequence preplanned by the commander of the EEF, the first troops of the Arab Revolt rode into the city followed on October 2 by Allenby’s forces. During the month of October, Allied forces under Allenby seized Beirut (present-day Lebanon) on October 8; Tripoli on October 18, and the great trading city of northern Syria, Aleppo, on October 25. On October 30, 1918, with all lands outside of Anatolia (present-day Turkey) essentially lost in terms of the Middle East, Istanbul sued for peace and asked for an armistice. The Battle of Megiddo was certainly one of the best planned and executed British battles of the First World War and most certainly that which followed in the aftermath was historic in scale as Britain and France took positions of prominence across the Middle East in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

CRITICAL THINKING AND ADAPTABILITY IN MODERN WAR

Reforming the Ottoman military had been a pressing issue for successive Sultans for at least two centuries in the early modern era and in the lead-up to the First World War. An entrenched bureaucracy, backed by the powerful Janissaries and elite merchants who were quite content with the Ottoman status quo, successfully hindered the necessary reforms. Yet, the reforms needed for successful military operations in the modern, industrialized world went beyond the need to reorganize army units and train their leaders.

As was the case in many of the battles that took place during World War I, in any theater, battle communications with the front were generally broken in short order. Since nearly no battle plan survives, first contact with the enemy fully intact, those in the front lines are unable to receive new orders or benefit from new intelligence other than what they are generating on their own. Accordingly, while brilliant generals and field marshals construct plans that come from a career of experience and study, the original plan most often needs to be adjusted in the face of enemy action.

If, as was widely the case during the war, those at the front cannot communicate with the brilliance in the rear, they are then left to fend for themselves. It is the ability of these officers and men to adapt, adjust, and overcome. Conversely, it is their inability to do so that often factored significantly into the outcome of battle. It was, therefore, the intent of the Ottoman leadership to allow Germany to help develop Auftragstaktik at the general officer level and where appropriate, within its mid-level officer ranks. In the drill regulations of the infantry 1888, German commanders were told to tell subordinates what to do without insisting on how they did it. Due to the increased lethality of modern weapons, it was expected that greater force dispersion would be required. Given this, captains and lieutenants would often find themselves required to direct their units without orders from central command. As such, the nature of the decentralization of the modern battlefield created the necessity of developing initiative, critical thinking, and independent judgment at all levels.

Yet, the ability to think independently, critically, and accurately in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, violence, and danger requires a culture that fosters, over a lifetime, a culture of innovative and courageous behavior. Accordingly, in order to be successful militarily in modern battle-space, traditional and authoritarian societies are faced with a dilemma: continue insisting on a compliant and submissive population producing military leaders incapable of fast and independent thinking or launch societal-wide reforms in the nature of education, socialization, and training, which will empower their commanders and decision makers to adjust quickly and effectively in the heat of modern-era battle.

In essence, the centralized power of the typical autocratic political regime within the Middle East will not simply have to reform in order to create modern democratic societies, rather, and perhaps more importantly, it will have to embrace change in order to defend itself in the modern battle-space. The centralized command structure with initiative and independent thinking suppressed in many of the armies within the modern Middle East will have to be overcome in order to prosecute effective military campaigns in the modern era. The need for military security will require changes in traditional society, which will, in turn, create the conditions leading ultimately toward greater political participation and greater democratization across the region.

This is not to suggest that Ottoman officers, had they been better at operating independently, would have prevailed over Allenby’s forces during the campaign in Palestine during the First World War. It does suggest that given the realities of modern warfare, successful military officers will be forced to think in new and different ways and will benefit from being schooled in the science and art of critical and innovative thinking. The plight of the Mamluks in the face of a rising and technically proficient Ottoman army and their subsequent refusal to adapt to new weaponry and doctrine serve to illustrate the gravity of the situation for Middle Eastern cultures as the twenty-first century unfolds. Allenby’s Middle East operations were instrumental in driving Ottoman and German forces from the Levant, the liberation of Arab lands from Turkish rule, as well as laying the foundation for the arrival of the Jewish people and the ultimate establishment of the state of Israel. As such, Allenby, the EEF, and the Cairo-based Arab Bureau’s contributions to the creation of the modern Middle East are substantial.

MODERN WARFARE AND STRATEGIC ENDURANCE

In order to conduct modern, industrialized warfare at the great power level, the ability to generate and sustain strategic endurance had become, by the First World War, a prerequisite for success. Accordingly, the great powers, particularly Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, maneuvered for control of those elements that contributed to strategic endurance: people, resources, markets, and trade routes. These crucial elements or components of aggregated power and the direction of that power for the obtainment of political objectives were certainly not new or unique to the modern world having animated world politics for centuries. What was new were the nature of energy, electricity, machining, and mass production, coupled with an exponential rise in the levels of lethality, range, and accuracy of rapid fire small arms and large bore artillery.

Long lasting wars between great power coalitions in the modern age have been won by the side with the largest economic staying power and productive resources. In every economic category, the Anglo-American-French coalition was between two and three times as strong as Germany and Austria-Hungary combined—a fact confirmed by further statistics of the war expenditures of each side between 1914 and 1919: 60.4 billion dollars spent by the German-Austrian alliance as opposed to 114 billion spent by the British Empire, France and the United States together (and 145 billion if Italy and Russia’s expenditures are included).

Given the militarization of the various industrialized economies, as well as the mobilization of the entire populations for prolonged periods, the First World War came to be referred to as a “total war.”

The militarization of societies, economies, and politics was the consequence. In the end, the war proved a contest of productive capacities; and the Allied victory was due to their material superiority, which by 1918 was insuperable.

In order to form sufficient levels of aggregated power that would lead to a war-winning level of strategic endurance, Britain needed to borrow heavily (particularly from the United States and the banking syndicates in Europe) and was forced to make promises that were eventually difficult to honor. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and its Central Powers’ allies, the promises that Britain had made in order to cobble together the winning coalition were, by 1919, beginning to color its postwar Middle East policy. Sharif Ali Hussein and his sons, Faisal and Abdullah, called for the promises made during the Hussein-McMahon correspondences to be honored by establishing an independent Arab state and to be placed under Hussein’s control.

Bomber Command: To war

At the outbreak of war in September 1939, Bomber Command had an average daily availability of 500 aircraft (total aircraft establishment was 920 aircraft) organised in fifty-five squadrons controlled by five operational Groups. No. 1 and No. 2 Groups were equipped with light bombers – Fairey Battles and Bristol Blenheims respectively – and the other three Groups (3, 4 and 5) with twin-engined ‘strategic bombers’ – Handley Page Hampdens, Armstrong-Whitworth Whitleys and Vickers-Armstrongs Wellingtons respectively.

On 2 September all aircraft of the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) were ordered to deploy to France, the Battles of No. 1 Group duly crossed the Channel, one ditching en route but with the crew being rescued There were effectively four operational Groups left in the UK – Nos 2, 3, 4 and 5 – with No. 6 Group taking on the training role to administer the Group Pool squadrons. These latter units were squadrons within each Group which were given the task of training the crews arriving from Flying Training Schools to a standard whereby they were fit to join operational squadrons and of providing a pool of replacement crews. Any expansion of Bomber Command was faced with a number of hurdles, the most important of which were availability of aircraft, crews and airfields. Each of these aspects was to cause major problems in the early years of the war and in almost every instance the solution was, in some respects, a compromise. The overriding consideration throughout the expansion of the Command was that of maintaining the attack on Germany. Lead times required for new aircraft, airfield construction and the training of aircrew had an effect on the speed with which the expansion progressed.

Bomber Command was in action on day one of the war, a number of Blenheim reconnaissance sorties later followed by a Hampden/Wellington force in search of German shipping were conducted, whilst on the first night of the war Whitleys flew over the Ruhr dropping propaganda leaflets. The Ruhr was a most appropriate destination in Germany for this first, albeit only with paper, visit by Bomber Command as it was the Ruhr that was to receive a great deal of the Command’s effort once the bombing offensive was launched.

This pattern of activity of daylight searches for shipping and night leaflet dropping was to be the focus of Bomber Command’s war for the next few weeks; only small numbers of aircraft were involved and little action took place, although there were early indications of bomber vulnerability such as the loss of five Hampdens on a shipping sortie on 29 September. There appears to have been little reaction to this high level of losses from an attack with no result in terms of damage to the enemy. October and November were quiet months although in addition to limited operational flying a number of exercises were flown, such as that on 22 November to, ‘Investigate the factors of time and concentration of aircraft in attacks on targets situated in a relatively small area’ and that on 28 November on ships in the Belfast area to, ‘Give training and experience in the delivery of concentrated and rapid attack upon warships located in or near harbours.’ The latter exercise involved sixty aircraft from Nos 3 and 5 Groups. Despite losses and lack of success to date, the general opinion was still that aircraft could find and hit their targets and that they would be able to defend themselves. Indeed, the report on an attack on 3 December appeared to confirm this view: ‘Twenty-four Wellingtons carried out an attack upon enemy warships anchored in the vicinity of Heligoland. A total of sixty-three 500 lb semi armour piercing (SAP) bombs were dropped; a direct hit was obtained on a cruiser and probably on a second. At least three bombs were dropped so close to enemy warships as to make it likely that damage was caused and casualties were sustained. Heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered and some twenty enemy aircraft, including Me 110s, were seen, some of which attacked. One Me 109 was shot down and one appeared to have been hit. Three of our aircraft were hit but all returned safely to their bases.’ This report would seem to suggest that all was well and later that week the Air Ministry ordered attacks on naval forces in German estuaries ‘as soon as possible.’ On 14 December twelve Wellingtons from 99 Squadron were sent to patrol the Elbe Estuary and the Frisian Islands to attack shipping – and it was a disaster. Under fighter attack and in the face of heavy flak half of the attacking formation became casualties; not a promising start to the new campaign. Two days later the Commander-in-Chief presided over a conference of his Group commanders and senior staff to, ‘Examine the existing operating procedures with a view to making such modifications as might be considered desirable in the light of the experience gained in war conditions.’ The ink was hardly dry on the minutes of this meeting, which had reached no firm conclusions, when a second disastrous operation took place. On 18 December No. 3 Group sent twenty-four Wellingtons from three squadrons to patrol the Schillig Roads and Wilhelmshaven to report upon any enemy naval forces. ‘In Wilhelmshaven a battleship, two cruisers and four destroyers were seen in the harbour and alongside. They were not therefore attacked. There was heavy anti-aircraft fire and some twenty-five Me 109s and Me 40s (sic) attacked – at least twelve of which were shot down. Twelve of our aircraft failed to return, of these two are known to have descended into the North Sea on the way home.’ One initial reaction to this disaster was an Air Ministry order suspending attacks on naval forces until the armouring of the Wellington’s fuel tanks had been completed.

So with new aircraft types promised and a major growth in numbers, Bomber Command entered the first winter of the war. With a political injunction against attacks on land targets, the rationale for the strategic bombers had disappeared. The doctrine of bombing the enemy heartland and destroying his industrial capability had been removed at a stroke by the politicians. This was not so much on humanitarian grounds, although the American President had requested both sides to refrain from unrestrained bombing, but more because of a belief that the German bomb lift, i.e. weight of bombs to a target, was greater than that of the RAF.

 

Whilst the Wellingtons endeavoured to find and attack German shipping, the Whitleys were operating over Germany at night – but only dropping leaflets. This propaganda leaflet-dropping campaign (nickelling as it was called by Bomber Command) continued throughout the war. The first real test for the daylight bombing campaign came in December 1939 when, on a number of occasions, formations of Wellingtons were intercepted by fighters and suffered heavy losses. Another pillar of doctrine, that bombers flying in close formation using mutually supportive fire from their gun turrets could defeat fighter attack, was shattered. The number of sorties had been small and taken overall the losses were still seen as acceptable – and by no means an indicator that an offensive over the Ruhr would not succeed. Nevertheless, from January the Wellingtons and Hampdens joined the night leaflet campaign as there were no suitable bombing targets and it was an excellent way of giving crews practice in night operations. Losses from these sorties were low, as the Germans had not yet developed a night defence system.

One of the major dangers faced by the bomber crews was severe weather, icing being a particular hazard. The Whitley was prone to wing icing and, despite the use of anti-icing aids such as Kilfrost paste, the only real solution was to avoid the icing layers in the cloud. Given the poor performance of the aircraft and the often inadequate Met forecast this was easier said than done – once icing had been detected the only option was a descent in search of warmer air.

April/May 1940 brought a number of developments. The German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April gave Bomber Command a new set of targets, and on 11 April a small force of Wellingtons attacked the airfield at Stavanger in Norway – the first intentional bombing attack on a land target in Europe. The same month saw Hampdens fly the first of a new type of mission: minelaying. Gardening, as these sorties were code-named, was to become a major part of the Command’s work over the next five years. Finally, the German invasion of France in May led to a dramatic and short-lived tactical employment of the AASF Fairey Battles in attempting to stem the enemy armoured columns – with much heroism, and crippling losses among aircraft and aircrew.

The Blenheim squadrons were also heavily tasked in this period; indeed between 10 May (the date of the German invasion) and 25 June, the Blenheims operated on all but four days – flying 1,616 sorties for the loss of 104 aircraft.

By early June the battered remnants of the Bomber Command light bomber force had left France and returned to airfields in England; No. 1 Group had effectively ceased to exist.

The most significant event in May was the lifting of the ban on attacking targets in Germany; the first attack took place on the night of 15 May on oil and rail targets in the Ruhr area – the strategic offensive had started. As major industrial towns were concentrated in the relatively small geographic area of the Ruhr, this part of Germany was to be the focus of much of the bomber effort until the last months of the war. Italy’s entry into the war in June provided additional targets for the bombers.

With the launch of bombing raids on Germany the focus of attack on industrial centres was intended to, ‘Cause the continuous interruption and dislocation of industry, particularly where the German aircraft industry is concentrated.’ On 4 June a new directive had been issued to Bomber Command but with the rider that: ‘The initiative lies with the enemy; our strategic policy is liable to be deflected by the turn of events from the course we should like to follow. The Command was instructed to pursue its campaign against German industry but to be ready to assist in countering any invasion.

With the launch of the bombing offensive the Command endeavoured to attack industrial targets in the Ruhr, this being deemed the area most likely to produce results as it was a major industrial area, often referred to as the ‘weapon smithy’ of the Reich. It was a major mining centre for coal and produced large quantities of coke to feed its own industries and those of other areas. It was home to major industrial towns such as Bochum, Dortmund, Duisburg and Essen, the latter being home to the massive Krupps works. However, the very nature of this industrial centre meant that it had a permanent haze, which made it very difficult for bombers find targets visually. All of these places became regular targets for the Command, as did places such as Gelsenkirchen where the two hydrogenation plants of Gelsenberg-Benzin and Hydrierwerke-Scholvern between them produced 575,000 tons of aviation fuel a year. In addition to the actual industrial targets great importance was attached to the comprehensive rail and canal network that linked Germany’s industrial centres. Indeed, the importance of the rail network became one of the Command’s justifications for its area bombing of cities.

A new directive was issued on 13 July, which stated that the primary aim was to, ‘Reduce the scale of air attack on this country with the aircraft and oil industries being the priority targets’. The Air Staff directive also recommended concentration of effort against a limited number of targets rather than the widespread attacks that had been made so far. It listed ten aircraft factories and five oil installations as the main targets, and it also estimated that bombers would have to hit an aircraft factory with 140 of the standard 500 lb bombs in order to have any effect. Secondary targets included communications centres. However, Portal as AOC-in-C considered the directive too restrictive and sought, and received, authority to be more flexible in his choice of targets. A new target category was added on 30 July with the Command ordered to attack power stations, the experts having decided that these were key targets that if destroyed would seriously disrupt German industry. Power stations featured in the summary of operations over the next few years, some as daylight attacks by the light and medium bombers, others as an aiming point within an area attack on a city. A summary in August showed that the Command had expended 41 per cent of its effort, in terms of bomb tonnage, against Luftwaffe-related targets and a further 21 per cent against oil targets.

The decision to include Operational Training Unit aircraft on ops was in part based on the desire to increase the number of aircraft operating each night but more particularly to provide trainee crews in the latter stages of their course with easy and relatively risk-free operational experience, the favoured mission being night leaflet-dropping over France. The first such op was flown by three OTU aircraft on the night of 18/19 July.

The increased threat from U-boats brought Bomber Command into this aspect of the maritime war, the first specific attack being made against the U-boat pens at Lorient on 2/3 September by thirty-nine Hampdens. A directive of 21 September instructed the Command to allocate three squadrons employed on minelaying to be transferred to attacks on U-boat targets. The same directive dictated a continued focus on the oil industry and also mentioned Berlin: ‘Although there are no objectives in Berlin of importance to our major plans, it is the intention that attacks on the city and its environs should be continued from time to time when favourable weather conditions permit. The primary aim of these attacks will be to cause the greatest possible disturbance and dislocation both to the industrial activities and civilian population generally.’ By the end of September the immediate threat of invasion had receded and the bomber effort was able to focus once more on the strategic offensive, with the light bombers of No. 2 Group contributing to the night attacks, although Blenheims also flew cloud-cover and anti-shipping operations.

The weather in October frustrated the attempt to return to the offensive over Germany, although it was fog at the home airfields that caused the greatest number of losses. On a bad night the Command could lose 10–20 per cent of the bombers to crashes in England; of seventy-three bombers that operated on the night of 16/17 October, fourteen crashed because of fog over their bases (and only three were lost over enemy territory). There had been a similar situation the previous month, as recounted by Ken Wallis (103 Squadron Wellington L7586): ‘At this stage of the war we had orders only to drop bombs if we could identify a military target and so we brought ours back until we could drop them on a harbour target in Holland. This meant of course that we had used more fuel than planned. As we flew over the North Sea we received a message that all aircraft were being diverted to Scotland – not an option for us, we didn’t have the fuel. Using the Darkie system we eventually persuaded someone that we had to try to land at an airfield on the east coast and so made for Binbrook, not that far from our own base. The fog was extensive and despite pass after pass over the airfield, during which we could dimly see the Chance Light, a landing was impossible and each time I just glimpsed a building or obstruction at the last moment and put the Wellington into a steep climb. The petrol gauges had been reading empty for some time and I requested permission to bale out the crew. I was told to fly a little further north – at which point both engines stopped. All the crew were able to get out but I was pretty low when I jumped. It was impossible to see where you were going to come down and I landed heavily and was knocked out, also damaging my back.’ So much for the crash: the subsequent few hours are also worth recounting: ‘When I came to I was near a hedge and had no idea where I was, the fog was still thick and moisture was dripping off the hedge. A few shots from the Mauser pistol that I always carried with me and a Policeman found me. He took me to a nearby large house and the owner was persuaded, with some reluctance, to take pity on a poor pilot. The owner was making tea as he couldn’t sleep and he grudgingly offered me a cup. When I asked to use his phone to call my base and check on my crew he was less than happy – until I offered to reverse the charges. At 6.00 am the next morning the maid arrived and I was looking forward to a good breakfast, especially after I gave her the chocolate and orange I had not eaten from my flying rations. No such luck. The Squadron Commander picked me up in his car at 8.00 am and we then picked up the rest of the crew from some cottages – they had done somewhat better than I had and had been plied with brandy for much of the night!’ They went to the crash site but little survived of the aircraft except the tail, Ken acquired the fabric from the part of the fin with the mission marks painted on it and this now hangs in the hall of his house. After this incident he was given 10 days leave and then it was back to operational flying.

October was a quiet month for the Command because of bad weather but on the 24th it acquired a new commander when Portal moved up to become Chief of the Air Staff, his place being taken by Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse. The strategy for the winter offensive was laid out in a directive of 30 October; it was not new in that oil was to be the priority target, followed by aircraft component and aluminium factories. However, the overall stated aim was for, ‘Regular concentrated attacks on objectives in large towns and centres of industry, with the primary aim of causing very heavy material destruction, which will demonstrate to the enemy the power and severity of air bombardment and the hardship and dislocation which will result from it.’ This core doctrine remained with Bomber Command to the end of the war, although it is interesting to note that oil and the aircraft industry became the focus of the USAAF’s daylight bombing offensive from 1942 onwards, whilst Bomber Command concentrated on area bombing of cities of industrial and communications importance. The directive also called on the Command to continue its contribution to the maritime war; indeed it could only reduce this involvement with prior agreement from the Admiralty. Agreement was reached to reduce the minelaying force to one dedicated squadron.

It must be remembered that at this stage of the war Bomber Command’s nightly aircraft availability was limited, and a night when around 100 bombers operated was close to a maximum effort. The attack on Hamburg (16/17 November) was the largest to date but only comprised 130 aircraft; the raid was mounted in retaliation for the attack on Coventry the previous night. Only half the crews reported bombing the target and it is likely that if night photographs had been available from all of them that the true percentage would have been far lower. Evidence was beginning to mount that the bomber offensive was failing to have any major effect as bombers were unable to find or hit targets. Other developments in this first full year of war included consideration of tour length for aircrew – and the introduction to service of new bomber types. Discussions on tour lengths had been prompted by concern over the strain of continual operational flying; the ‘squadron commander’s discretion’ policy was gradually replaced by a fixed tour of 200 operational hours, which equated to thirty to thirty-five ops, the policy being circulated to Group commanders on 29 November. Although this calculation changed at various times during the war the basic tour length was generally around thirty ops, more for Pathfinder crews and with some targets only counting as half an operation.

CYRUS AND THE ACHAEMENIDS

Cyrus the Great wanted to use more mounted soldiers because he knew how important they were especially since two of his greatest enemies used cavalry or soldiers on horseback. The Persian army was organized in a new fashion. The cavalry flanked both sides of the army in the middle which comprised of archers who attacked first from a distance. Afterwards, the horsemen attacked anyone left standing in the opposing army by throwing javelins, which were light spears thrown by hand.

MEDES AND PERSIANS

The Iranian-speakers who migrated into the land of Iran and the surrounding area in the years before 1000 BC were not one single tribe or group. In time some of their descendants became known as Medes and Persians, but there were Parthians, Sogdians, and others, too, who only acquired the names known to us later in their history. And even the titles Mede and Persian were themselves simplifications, lumping together shifting alliances and confederacies of disparate tribes.

From the beginning, the Medes and Persians are mentioned together in historical sources, suggesting a close relationship from the very earliest times. The first such mention is in an Assyrian record of 836 BC—an account of an extended military campaign by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III and several of his successors that was waged in the Zagros mountains and as far east as Mount Demavand, the high, extinct volcano in the Alborz range. The accounts they left behind listed the Medes and Persians as tributaries—those paying tribute to the stronger Assyrians. The heartlands of the Medes were in the northwest, in the modern provinces of Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Hamadan, and Tehran. In the region of the Zagros south of the territories occupied by the Medes, the Assyrians encountered the Persians in the region they called Parsuash, which has been known ever since as Pars or Fars.

Within a century or so, however, the Medes and Persians were fighting back, attacking Assyrian territories. Later traditions recorded by Herodotus in the fifth century BC mention early kings of the Medes, called Deioces and Cyaxares, who appeared in the Assyrian accounts as Daiaukku and Uaksatar; and a king of the Persians called Achaemenes, who the Assyrians called Hakhamanish. By 700 BC the Medes—with the help of Scythian tribes—had established an independent state, which later grew to become the first Iranian Empire. In 612 BC the Medes destroyed the Assyrian capital, Nineveh (adjacent to modern Mosul, on the Tigris). At its height the Median Empire stretched from Asia Minor to the Hindu Kush, and south to the Persian Gulf, ruling the Persians as vassals as well as many other subject peoples.

CYRUS

Around 559 BC a Persian prince named Cyrus (modern Persian Kurosh), claiming descent from the royal house of Persia and from its progenitor Achaemenes, became king of Anshan upon the death of his father. Persia and Anshan, at that time, were still subject to the Median Empire, but Cyrus led a revolt against the Median king Astyages, and in 549 BC captured the Median capital, Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). Cyrus reversed the relationship between Media and Persia—he crowned himself king of Persia, making Persia the center of the empire and Media the junior partner. But he did not stop there. He went on to conquer Lydia, in Asia Minor, taking possession of the treasury of King Croesus, legendary for his wealth. He also conquered the remaining territories of Asia Minor, as well as Phoenicia, Judaea, and Babylonia. This created an enormous empire that stretched from the Greek cities on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea to the banks of the river Indus—in extent perhaps the greatest empire the world had seen up to that time.

Cyrus’s empire took on much of the culture of previous Elamite, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires, notably in its written script and monumental iconography. But without romanticizing Cyrus unduly, it seems that he aspired to rule an empire different from others that had preceded it in the region. Portentous inscriptions recording the military glory of kings and the supposed favor of their terrible war-gods were commonplace in the Middle East in the centuries preceding Cyrus’s accession. In the nineteenth century an eight-sided clay object (known since as the Taylor Prism, after the man who found it), measuring about 15 inches long by 5.5 inches in diameter, covered in cuneiform script, was discovered near Mosul. When the characters were eventually deciphered, it was found to record eight campaigns of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705 BC–681 BC). An excerpt reads:

Sennacherib, the great king . . . king of the world, king of Assyria, king of the four quarters . . . guardian of right, lover of justice, who lends support, who comes to the aid of the needy, who performs pious acts, perfect hero, mighty man, first among all princes, the flame who consumes those who do not submit, who strikes the wicked with the thunderbolt; the god Assur, the great mountain, has entrusted an unrivaled kinship to me . . . has made powerful my weapons . . . he has brought the black-headed people in submission at my feet; and mighty kings feared my warfare. . . .

In the course of my campaign, Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banaibarka, Asuru, cities of Sidka, who had not speedily bowed in submission at my feet, I besieged, I conquered, I carried off their spoils. . . . I approached Ekron and slew the governors and nobles who had rebelled, and hung their bodies on stakes around the city. . . .

As for Hezekiah the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke: 46 of his strong, walled cities . . . by means of ramps and by bringing up siege-engines . . . I besieged and took them. 200,150 people, great and small, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, cattle and sheep without number, I brought away from them and counted as spoil. . . .

The way the pharaohs of Egypt celebrated their rule and their victories was very similar to this, and although Hezekiah, the king of Jerusalem, appears on the Taylor Prism as a victim, some parts of the Bible describing the Israelites and their God smiting their enemies do not read very differently, either.

By contrast, another clay object, about 9 inches by 4 inches, also discovered in the nineteenth century and covered in cuneiform script, tells a rather different story. The Cyrus cylinder, now in the British Museum, was found where it had been deliberately placed—under the foundations of the city wall of Babylon. It has been described as a charter of human rights for the ancient world, which is an exaggeration and a misrepresentation. But the message of the cylinder, particularly when combined with what is known of Cyrus’s religious policy from the books of Ezra and Isaiah, is nonetheless remarkable. The kingly preamble from the cylinder is fairly conventional:

I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, rightful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters (of the earth), son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, great king, king of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan of a family that always exercised kingship. . . .

But it continues, describing the favor shown to Cyrus by the Babylonian god Marduk:

When I entered Babylon as a friend and when I established the seat of the government in the palace of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great lord, induced the magnanimous inhabitants of Babylon to love me, and I was daily endeavouring to worship him. My numerous troops walked around in Babylon in peace, I did not allow anybody to terrorize any place of the country of Sumer and Akkad. I strove for peace in Babylon and in all his other sacred cities . . .

and concludes:

As to the region . . . as far as Assur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna, the towns of Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to these sanctuaries on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which had been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned to them their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus had brought into Babylon to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former chapels, the places that make them happy.

Like the proud declarations of Sennacherib, this is propaganda—but it is propaganda of a different kind. It shows Cyrus in a different light, and according to a different scale of values. Cyrus chose to present himself showing respect to the Babylonian deity, Marduk. Perhaps it would have been different if Cyrus had conquered Babylon by force, rather than marching into it unopposed (in 539 BC) after its inhabitants revolted against the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus. Cyrus was a ruthless, ambitious man; no one ever conquered an empire without those characteristics in full measure. But we know that he permitted freedom of worship to the Jews, too. Cyrus and his successors permitted them to return home from exile and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. For those acts they were accorded in the Jewish scriptures a unique status among gentile monarchs.

The logic of statecraft alone might have suggested that it would be more sustainable in the long run to let subjects conduct their own affairs and worship as they pleased. But that policy had to be acceptable to the Iranian elite, including the priests—the Magi. Leaving aside the question of Cyrus’s personal beliefs, which remain unclear, it is reasonable to see in the policy some of the spirit of moral earnestness and justice that pervaded the religion of Zoroaster. The presence of those values in the background helps to explain why the Cyrus cylinder is couched in such different terms from the militaristic thunder and arrogance of Sennacherib. The old answer was terror and a big stick, but the Persian Empire would be run in a more devolved, permissive spirit. Once again, an encounter with complexity, acceptance of that complexity, and a response. This was something new.

Unfortunately, according to Herodotus, Cyrus did not end his life as gloriously as he had lived it. Having conquered in the west, he turned to campaign east of the Caspian. According to one account he was defeated and killed in battle by Queen Tomyris of the Massagetae, another Iranian tribe who fought mainly on horseback, like the Scythians.

The Massagetae are interesting because they appear to have maintained some ancient Iranian customs that may shed light on the status of women in Persian society under the Achaemenids. There are signs in Herodotus (Book 1:216) that the Massagetae showed some features of a matrilineal, polyandrous society, in which women might have a number of spouses or sexual partners, but men only one. Patricia Crone has suggested that this feature may resurface in men’s apparent holding of women in common as practiced later by the Mazdakites in the fifth century AD, and by the Khorramites after the Islamic conquest. Mazdaism certainly permitted a practice whereby an impotent man could give his wife temporarily to another in order to obtain a child; it also sanctioned the marriage of close relatives. But in general, Persian society seems to have leaned toward limiting the status of women, following practices elsewhere in the Middle East. Royal and noble women may have been able to own property in their own right—and even, on occasion, to exert some political influence. But this seems to have been an exception associated with high status rather than indicative of practices prevalent in society more widely.

Cyrus’s body was brought back to Persia, to Pasargadae, his capital, to rest in a tomb there. That tomb, which can still be seen (though its contents have long since disappeared), is massively simple rather than grandiose—a sepulchre the size of a small house on a raised, stepped plinth. This tomb burial has raised some questions about the religion of Cyrus and the other Achaemenid kings. Many of his successors were placed in tombs of a different type—rock tombs halfway up a cliff face. Tomb burial was anathema to later Zoroastrians, who held it to be sacrilege to pollute the earth with dead bodies. Instead they exposed the dead on so-called Towers of Silence, to be consumed by birds and animals. Could the Achaemenid kings really have been Zoroastrians if they permitted tomb burial?

Some have explained the inconsistency by suggesting that different classes of Iranian society followed different beliefs—different religions, effectively. As we have seen, there probably was some considerable plurality of belief within the broad flow of Mazdaism at this time. But it seems more likely that the plurality was socially vertical rather than horizontal—a question of geography and tribe rather than of social class. Perhaps an earlier, pre-Zoroastrian tradition of burial still lingered and the elevated position of all the royal tombs was a kind of compromise. Halfway between heaven and earth—itself a strong metaphor. Around the tomb of Cyrus lay a paradise, a garden watered by irrigation channels (our word paradise comes, via Greek, from the Old Persian paradaida, meaning a walled garden). Magian priests watched over the tomb and sacrificed a horse to Cyrus’s memory each month.

Cyrus had been a conqueror, but a conqueror with imagination and vision. He was at least as remarkable a man as that other conqueror, Alexander, whose career marks the end of the Achaemenid period just as that of Cyrus marks the beginning. Maybe as a youth Cyrus had a Mazdaean tutor as remarkable as Aristotle, who taught Alexander.

French Airpower 1918 Part I

World War One Aviation: French Two-Seaters 1918

World War One Aviation: French Fighters 1917

World War One Aviation: French Experimental Aircraft

World War One Aviation: French Bombers

In the 14 February La Guerre aérienne, former undersecretary of air Daniel Vincent advocated forming a doctrine for aviation, a “chain linking the past to the future.” Early in the war, he recalled, aviation had lacked organization and doctrine, and had thus fallen into the excessive individualism of “sporting” aviation, with “as many principles as chiefs.” At GQG Gen. Henri Pétain and Gen. Maurice Duval planned for the French air service to achieve a new level of organization, doctrine, and operations in 1918. With sufficient resources to form larger formations, it planned to annihilate enemy aviation and gain definitive aerial mastery in tactical offensive operations. GQG’s 11 February and 2 March orders prescribed aviation’s principal role to be the destruction of enemy aviation.

Pétain, emphasizing the importance of concentrating aerial forces, ordered the formation of combat and day- and night-bomber wings. The day bomber, however, with its relatively small bomb load, would serve mainly to force enemy aviation into battle with its fighter escort. Pétain wanted to wield aviation en masse against the coming German attack. “The action of the cannon will be extended by all disposable aviation,” he advised on 15 February. “With bombs and machine guns our planes will set upon columns in march, convoys, bivouacs, and parks day and night. . . . Army group commandants will assure the concentration of aeronautical means necessary to demoralize troops destined to lead and feed the attack.” Massive, concentrated, and precise bombing attacks on carefully selected military and industrial targets behind the front would aim primarily at material destruction, although GQG expected the attacks on troops to affect principally their morale. In the 2 March directive to combat aviation, Pétain advised that its concentrated assault on enemy aviation to secure aerial superiority and mobility over the battlefield would be one of the land operations’ conditions of success. Pétain’s air chief, General Duval, would serve under the direct orders of the general commanding the armies. By March GQG had thus formulated the doctrine and command arrangement for using mass aviation in future battles.

In late February French military intelligence noted a German aviation buildup in preparation for the coming battle. The French air service, which had increased aircraft supply 17 percent between November 1917 and March 1918, was equal to German aviation by itself. Since October 1917 the French had forced fighter and bomber production at a feverish pace, and by the beginning of the German offensive on 21 March they had 11 fighter groups, 5 day-bomber groups, and 7 night-bomber groups. Compared to the September 1917 2,870-plane program and the October 4,000-plane program, on 1 April the army had 2,750 planes at the front (1,400 observation and 1,350 combat planes), while the aviation reserve had 581 planes on 21 March. The fighter and day-bomber wings were equipped with Spad 7s and Spad 13s and Breguets, a combination that would simplify production, repair, and training.

In the March 1918 battle, Pétain used airplanes to deter the German offensive. In constant operations over the battle zone between 21 March and 12 June, 400 bombers dropped 1,200 tons of bombs, over 200 tons greater than in 1916 and 1917 operations combined. During the German assault from 21 to 31 March, fighter aviation supported the ground forces and did not seek air combat. From 1 April to 14 May, General Duval emphasized the aerial battle and would not let fighter reserves be used for the observation planes’ immediate protection. The wings entered action on 2 April, when a fighter wing and a bomber wing, named after their chiefs Philippe Féquant and Victor Ménard, formed a combat group. In the raids on the attacking German army, coordinating fighter escort with the bombers proved difficult, and Féquant’s fighters sometimes seemed disinterested in bomber escort. By 5 April complaints from the armies reminiscent of the 1916 and 1917 offensive abounded. The air reserve’s liaison with the armies lessened; sweeps behind enemy lines did not help the front; patrols were too high to attack low flying enemy aircraft and unable to protect reconnaissance airplanes near the lines.

The GQG’s next organizational measure, which marked a significant milestone in the concentration of French aviation, was forming the autonomous Aerial Division (Division aérienne) under General Duval on 14 May. The division was not a strategic arm, as GQG considered strategic aviation premature, but rather a tactical one. It included all the day bombers and half the fighters, the other half going to the armies. For bomber escort the division gradually replaced single-seaters with heavily armored and armed three-seat twin-engine Caudron R11s or Breguets, and it shortened the distance of the raids when German Fokker D7 fighters appeared. Ultimately, on 15 June the first and second aerial brigades were formed, the first under the command of Major de Goÿs, who had escaped from Germany after more than two years of imprisonment, the second under Féquant.

The Aerial Division’s critics, such as A. P. Voisin, judged that the airplane still lacked the offensive capacity to be more than an auxiliary to the ground forces. The division did not wreak much destruction on its land targets, while the Germans did not necessarily challenge the fighters. In general, the Aerial Division could not simultaneously fulfill the two contradictory demands of a combined fighter and bomber offensive and an air reserve to reinforce the armies’ air units. Voisin’s guiding assumption remained that the air arm serve as the army’s immediate auxiliary protecting army cooperation planes, while Pétain and Duval intended the Aerial Division for wider-ranging duties in support of the army.

Between the spring and summer the air arm and, more crucially, the proportion of its newer-model aircraft, grew. Sen. Gaston Menier, visiting Féquant’s second group at the front on 23 April, detected improvements since 1917: fewer unusable planes, reinforced frames and better motor-mount attachments that decreased the Spad’s engine vibrations, and better-trained pilots. On 25 April, however, Pétain noted that the implementation of the 5 April 1917 2,870-plane was not yet completed, while the 8 October 1917 4,000-plane program had not yet begun. He still needed more new fighters and observation planes, as Sopwiths and ARs still served in frontline squadrons. By the summer these circumstances improved. In April the air arm had 797 fighters, 1,605 artillery and army corps planes, and 413 bombers; in July it had 1,090 fighters, 1,733 artillery and army corps planes, and 438 bombers. The force in April comprised 1,723 modern and 1,092 obsolescent types, and in July it had 2,827 new types and 434 old models, an increase in modern types from 61 to 87 percent.

As the French army took the offensive that summer, in the 12 July Directive number 5 the air arm described its principles of attack, which emphasized simplicity, audacity, and rapidity to gain tactical surprise. After secret preparations, the preliminary artillery and bomber strikes would be as brief and violent as possible to enable tanks to rupture enemy lines. Aviation would thus assure aerial superiority. This document also emphasized the importance of air-artillery cooperation, but did not envisage liaison between tanks and airplanes. When Allied commander Gen. Ferdinand Foch stated the necessity for better communication between the Aerial Division and the army on 23 July, Duval blamed inadequate liaison on the army commanders, who had made no effort to improve communication with the division’s small staff, gave his officers no information, and did not respond to his liaison efforts. The army commanders did not understand the division’s purpose, General Duval concluded, and viewed it merely as a reservoir of reinforcements to protect their observation planes, rather than understanding its offensive mission in connection with the armies. General Duval believed that the army commanders wanted to control the division and use it to protect their observation planes. Army commanders also ignored the division’s efforts. In July Gen. Charles Mangin complained to a visiting parliamentary deputy about the insufficient use of bombers during the intensive bombardment of battlefield targets. Despite the criticisms and problems, the Aerial Division continued its offensives in 1918 and later formed the nucleus of Billy Mitchell’s 1,400-plane force in the fall Saint-Mihiel offensive.

If Commander Foch had concerns about Aerial Division liaison, he was pleased with the quality of aerial reconnaissance for the high command. The Weiller group—three squadrons of Breguets commanded by Paul-Louis Weiller—served directly under Foch as of 28 July. Each day they flew over the lines in groups of three at altitudes of nearly 8,000 meters to take a photographic map of enemy territory from 20 to 100 kilometers behind the rear. Every evening at GQG Foch used these photos to choose targets. For his unit’s work, Weiller was awarded the légion d’honneur, becoming one of its youngest recipients.

In August observation units theoretically comprised Breguets, Salmsons, and the Caudron R11. However, inadequate Salmson and Breguet-Renault engine production left Petain six squadrons short of the 2,870-plane program, while 24 of 53 Breguet squadrons were equipped with Fiat engines that were inferior to the Renault. Consequently, on 20 August, of 142 observation squadrons only 29 were equipped with Renault Breguets and 55 with Salmsons; two-seat Spads continued in service as a stopgap. During another visit to army corps squadrons on 13 August, Senator Menier observed that while army corps planes were supposed to protect themselves, they in fact required fighter protection over the German lines and did not always receive it; though pilots were skilled, gunners and mechanics tended to be inexperienced. At least the Breguets and Salmsons, valued for their strength and performance, gave army corps crews a chance against German fighters.

In bomber aviation, inadequate Breguet deliveries caused large gaps in the 15 day-bomber squadrons. Two Caproni night bomber squadrons needed refitting, while production of the Farman F50 night bomber, which already equipped two squadrons, needed to be stopped until the planes could be perfected. By September a Breguet with a 450-hp engine was under test. General Duval advised Dumesnil that the Caproni giant with 900 total horsepower was nose heavy, carried a small bomb load, and was not ready for wartime service. Most critically, exhaust flames from the engines threatened to set the gas tanks on fire. Night bombers remained a weakness of French aviation to the war’s end, but it was clear that the air arm was obtaining more and better tactical aircraft for daylight operations throughout 1918, though not as quickly as desired.

The emphasis on mass aviation required substantial expansion of training to increase aircrews and to replace losses. The French trained 6,909 pilots in 1918,21 and although they claimed that in 1919 they would be training 1,000 pilots a month, the number breveted annually from 1914 to 1918 (134 in 1914, 1,484 in 1915, 2,698 in 1916, and 5,609 in 1917) suggested that the rate of increase had peaked in 1917. French casualties in the war’s last six months, from May through October, totaled 2,327 killed, wounded, and missing at the front and in the rear. Combat casualties at the front reached 1,324, while 632 casualties were from accidents at the front and 371 were from accidents in the rear. Casualties peaked in June at 470, after which they declined steadily to the war’s end.

For massed tactics in aviation, the French fighter force had to relinquish some of its individualism to function effectively in 1918. In January Daniel Vincent advised that “the extreme individualism that gave aerial mastery in 1915 is no longer useful today.” This sentiment was echoed later by Jacques Mortane, editor of La Guerre aérienne, when he indicated that aviation was no longer a sport but an “arm” with rigid discipline and prepared operations similar to an infantry assault. Vincent attributed the change to the sense of discipline brought by newer recruits from other branches, although he might have acknowledged the importance of GQG’s leadership. However, individualism was too ingrained to be eliminated, and Mortane’s article was probably intended as much to remind pilots of the new order as to show the modification of tactics.

French ace of aces René Fonck exemplified the continued emphasis on individual tactics. In 1918 he firmly established himself as Guynemer’s heir in victories. He had 19 confirmed kills at the end of September 1917, 32 by the end of March 1918, and ultimately 75 by the war’s end, although he claimed 127. He twice shot down six planes in one day. Fonck continued to prefer individual combat, although at the war’s end he acknowledged that German group operations “compelled us to do one thing that was formerly exceptional, that is to fly in groups of generally four fighters. A lone encounter against ten would be too unequal.”24 In 1918 the Germans and English were operating in units of far more than 10 airplanes.

French bomber aviation emerged in 1918 as a tactical arm. At a conference with the British on 22 December 1917, General Duval had disagreed with the British policy of bombing enemy industrial centers and warned that the French did not intend to join British operations. He feared German reprisals and contended that neither Britain nor France had sufficient forces to conduct an effective strategic bombing campaign. The French revised their bombing scheme on 18 November 1917 and 5 January 1918, noting that their ideas were a “result of evolution during action, rather than a strategic plan.” Attempting to curtail railroad traffic in iron ore from the Saarbrücken and Lorraine basins, the French designated nine railroad stations within 45 miles of the line as targets. In January, following German simplification of their rail network into two independent traffic systems, economic and strategic, the French decreased the number of targets to four stations in the more vulnerable economic network to blockade the iron ore.

In May debates with the British, the French opposed both strategic aviation and aviation’s autonomy. General Duval commented on 31 May that “if we are defeated on land, the bombardment of Cologne is without interest.” Duval continued to judge Allied aviation insufficient to act both strategically and tactically at once and thus emphasized the tactical role in subordination to land forces. The French, though dismayed about Trenchard’s independent bomber force, were willing to provide it with airfields. However, when the Supreme War Council established an Inter-Allied Independent Air Force on 24 September, they insisted that requirements for land operations take precedence over any independent operations.

In 1918 French bomber crews in Breguets, usually carrying 24 10-kg bombs, aggressively raided across the lines in massed formations. Protected initially by single-seaters and later by a few heavily armed and armored Caudron R11 three-seaters or Breguet 14 escorts, the Breguets manned by skilled crews, their gunners armed with twin Lewis guns and carrying six circular drums of 97 cartridges for each gun, were not easy prey, even when alone. Gunner Sergeant André Duvau, at age 32 often called “Père Duvau” by squadron mates, had spent nearly 10 months in the back seat of Sopwiths and then Breguets. Returning from a raid in mid-July, he and his pilot lost their squadron in clouds. Duvau spotted five German fighters climbing to meet them, warned his pilot, who then did a climbing banked turn to give Duvau a clear shot at them. As German bullets struck the Breguet, Duvau fired only seven shots in two short bursts at the leader, who spun and then plunged earthward, while the others turned away. Duvau survived those raids without incident, but he recalled the risks—of frostbite, antiaircraft fire, German fighters, accidents—and the fears engendered by witnessing the fate of other aircrew, fears of crashing in flames just off the field and of being badly burned.

During the spring and summer Pétain and Duval apprised Undersecretary Jacques-Louis Dumesnil of their rapidly escalating goals for aviation. On 24 April, emphasizing the necessity for more and better airplanes, Pétain proposed a 6,000-plane air arm of new types, including 300-hp fighters, night bombers, two-seat fighters, three-seat battle planes, improved Breguet day bombers, and armored Salmson observation planes. They would require 26,000 personnel, including 800 officers and 9,000 trained technicians.

On 24 May Pétain asked for the following aircraft types: high- and medium-altitude single-seat fighters; a long-range reconnaissance plane to penetrate 200 kilometers into the enemy rear; a well-armed, fast, high-altitude, medium day bomber that could operate from unprepared airfields to extend the artillery by attacking railroads and troops; a medium night bomber; and a long-range heavy bomber to attack German industrial centers as far as the Ruhr. The last was intended to “paralyze the economic life of Germany and its war industries by methodical, massive, and repeated action against principal industrial cities, important marshalling yards, and to weaken the morale of its population by giving them a feeling of insecurity in a zone extending as far as possible into enemy territory.” Pétain’s priorities, in order, were to obtain new model two-seat combat planes, heavy and medium night bombers, armored assault planes, and three-seat combat planes, and to perfect present single-seat fighters and then day bombers.

On 24 August Pétain insisted, as “an absolute necessity,” that he have the 148 squadrons of Renault-Breguets and Salmsons with more powerful engines by 1919’s first trimester. He hoped to use the Breguet models and more powerful 200-hp Capronis as night bombers.

Fulfilling these requests depended on either unpredictable technological progress or increased production. For the latter, however, the French also had to consider the Allies’ air arms. Although the War Committee on 27 May determined to assure that Allied requests for materiel did not injure French interests, on 17 September Dumesnil contended that they would have been able to realize the 4,000-plane program if they had not had to deliver large amounts of equipment to the Allies. The United States, given the same priority as the French army, received 1,430 first-class planes (Spads, Breguets, and Salmsons) between 1 April and 16 September. If the United States were self-sufficient by early 1919, the French could achieve the 6,000-plane program, which they had initially intended for 1 April 1919.

Another reason for France’s failure to achieve the 4,000-plane program on schedule was the underestimation of aircraft losses. The expected 33 percent monthly wastage of bombers had reached at least 50 percent in recent battles, and replacements dominated the supply. By late September supplies sufficed to create the new units, since Renault-Breguet production increased.

French Airpower 1918 Part II

Close Quarters, by Russell Smith (SPAD XIII & Fokker DVII)

In 1918 German fighter aviation’s progress required simultaneously increasing craft quality and quantity. Several excellent 300-hp single-seaters were likely to appear in 1919. By mid-September 300-hp Nieuports and Sopwith Dolphins were in production; the prototype Spad Herbemont had recently completed “extremely brilliant” tests; and the Béchereau airframe showed great promise. The 2,870-plane program had stipulated 60 Spad squadrons by spring 1918; the 4,000-plane program required 84 by 1 October, which seemed unlikely since in mid-September fighter aviation had only 64 squadrons. Two-seat types were undergoing final tests in the fall. Two-seat fighters—the SEA (Société d’études aéronautiques) with a 375-hp Lorraine engine, the Breguet with a 450-hp Renault or Liberty, and the Morane with a Bugatti 420-hp engine—were under development, but in 1919 fighter aviation’s fate depended entirely upon future developments. Only in November would the army begin to receive the first Hanriot and Spad Herbemont two-seat fighters, with another (the first machine of the new firm SEA created by young designers Henri Potez and Marcel Bloch) offering further prospects. On 19 September GQG determined its needs based on a 4,200-plane program.

Aviation’s politics and administration stabilized considerably in 1918. Daniel Vincent’s February article posited that the press constantly raised public concern about aviation because the air arm lacked a doctrine of industrial production. Jacques Mortane followed Vincent’s editorial with a call for an air ministry, noting that Britain had an air ministry and Germany possessed a “dictator of the air” in Hoeppner. The call for an air ministry would make no progress during the war. The political clamor for change remained focused on the lack of strategic bombers, though some key air advocates implied the need for an air ministry by attributing all deficiencies to the absence of unified control.

While 1918’s battles confirmed the French high command’s use of bombers against battlefield objectives and enemy transport, the GQG still faced vigorous and persistent criticism in parliament and the public arena from advocates of strategic air power. Premier Georges Clemenceau and Minister of Munitions Louis Loucheur supported the high command before parliament. On 5 April Loucheur, emphasizing the importance of strafing enemy columns, asserted that French and British aviation had retarded the enemy’s arrival on the battlefield by one to two days, while Clemenceau on 3 June gave bomber attacks on the battlefield partial credit for halting the recent enemy advance. On 3 August, after the first summer offensive, Loucheur stressed the importance of demoralizing the Germans by bombing their rear.

Still, parliamentary deputy Pierre Etienne Flandin continued to advocate strategic bombardment in 3 July and 18 September reports. Clemenceau had written him that concentration of forces was essential to victory, and that operations against enemy cities, though possibly of economic and morale importance, were only secondary. Flandin criticized the limited scope of France’s military chiefs and the “narrow doctrine of conduct of the war” that attributed only moderate importance to attacking the industries that produced war materiel. All parliamentary deputies and the high command as well, as General Pétain’s requests indicated, regretted the industry’s inability to perfect a long-range bomber. The deputies, however, had placed top priority on the bomber, but for the high command the long-range bomber was only one of many desired types.

In the military administration of aviation technology and production, 1918 was the era of the technocrats. Martinot-Lagarde of the aero-engine section and Legras of the propeller service—both graduates of the École Polytechnique—were joined in 1918 by another polytechnician, 38-year-old Albert Caquot, whom Colonel Dhé and Dumesnil appointed director of the STAé on 11 January 1918. In 1914 Caquot, a bridge builder, specialist in reinforced-concrete construction and aviation, and an advocate of organizational solutions to problems, had designed a stationary observation balloon, whose streamlined form made it superior to the German Drachen in its ability to remain steady in high winds. After having created an observation balloon for the British fleet in 1916, Caquot had been sent to Britain in 1916 to direct the British fleet’s use of captive balloons against submarines. Caquot balloons formed barrages above London and Paris to protect against German bombers.

At STAé Caquot now dealt with airplanes, at a time when the inability to perfect new materiel threatened to compromise the Allies’ opportunities for aerial supremacy. The problem lay, as it had in 1917, in the Spad 13 and its 220-hp Hispano-Suiza engines. The prototype engine had passed its tests, but some 10,000 production engines had failed their 10-hour acceptance tests, usually through a seizure that left a “salad” of connecting rods or destroyed the crankcase. Caquot ordered the tests of 10 engines. He stopped the first after one hour, the second after two, and so on, to open the crankcase and dismantle the moving pieces. After four hours the cause of the problem became apparent. The oil pipe in the crankcase had broken under pressure, though the engine continued to run for a time.

Caquot attributed the difference in performance between the prototype and the series to weather. The prototype had been tested in warm weather, while the series appeared in the winter. The viscosity of the oils used in 1917 varied greatly with the temperature, and their thickening in the winter led to excessive pressure in the Hispano-Suiza’s oil-circulation system. Technicians had to decrease the oil flow to limit its pressure to a level that the pipe could withstand. After Caquot designed a simple, inexpensive safety valve for the end of the oil pump, Hispano-Suiza production continued.

Caquot’s solutions did not always work. His addition of bracing struts to correct the Morane fighter’s weakness in dives reduced its performance so that it was relegated to training. Yet in most crucial situations, his genius for diagnosing a problem and finding a simple solution benefitted the air arm. When the front complained about excessive Breguet 14 modification, Caquot settled on a mass production aircraft, which was then license produced by large manufacturers such as Michelin. Caquot’s transmission of U.S. propeller research to French manufacturers enabled them to improve their airscrews. Ultimately, Caquot generously surrendered all his rights to the French state at no charge and received medals from all the major Allied powers and gratitude from the French government.40

Caquot praised Minister of Munitions Loucheur’s further mobilization of aviation. Between three and five times a week the directors of the technical and production sections met with Dhé, Duval, and Loucheur or Loucheur’s adviser, engineer Ernst Mercier, to plan the air service’s development. They then met with the industrialists once a week to set production schedules. By May an editorial in La Guerre aérienne, “L’Arme à deux têtes” (the arm with two heads), praised the division of labor between the undersecretary and the munitions ministry. The undersecretary, as the client, selected and perfected types and then, in consultation with GQG, determined the quantity needed, while the ministry, as the supplier, managed serial production. From the spring to the war’s end La Guerre aérienne tended to praise the rear’s organization. An editorial in early June lauded the STAé’s efforts in converting theoretical programs from the front into technical specifications for engineers and builders and asserted that the STAé had clearly outdone its less organized German counterpart and a German industry that was more dispersed and less standardized than the French. In an early August editorial it recognized that fundamental to aviation’s “new phase of its evolution”—collective effort as opposed to individual action—was the French industrial effort, which enabled the new doctrine. In September the journal concluded that quality and quantity determined the command’s aerial tactics, which had left the realm of improvisation and had now become part of a methodical plan, in which aviation was indispensable as an arm of military intelligence and destruction.

In 1918 Loucheur and the aviation agencies attempted to control prices and increase licensed production. In mid-April he considered the aviation service’s contract justifications absolutely insufficient to determine whether prices were too high and insisted that the contract service under Commandant Guignard be placed under Colonel Weyl in the munitions ministry, who would collaborate with Guignard. The prices of Hispano-Suiza 200-hp engines dropped from 18,000 to 22,500 francs at the end of 1917 to 17,500 to 18,000 in mid-1918.

A report in October 1919 contended that the Hispano-Suiza should have cost 8,500 francs, allowing for a net engine cost of 4,500, 15 percent profit, a 10 percent allowance, and 150 percent for general costs and labor. Yet such postwar calculations appear unrealistic, and Dhé justified the prices with the state’s wartime need to develop aero engine production. Builders had used their profits to remunerate capital invested in the enterprise and to expand plant capacity, while continually rising material and labor costs made such calculations of net cost purely theoretical. The aviation service could not requisition engines or militarize factories because it lacked qualified technical personnel to assure production at commandeered factories, so the directorate had emphasized engine quantity and quality above all else. While the French airplanes lacked the finesse of the German Fokkers with their thick cantilever wings, Capt. Albert Etévé of the STAé emphasized the quality, officially called rusticité, characterized by the adoption of very simple construction procedures allowing numerous airframes to be built quickly and cheaply.

With further increases in licensed manufacture, in 1918 subcontractors played a decisive role in aviation production. They reaped 61.9 percent of the total business in 1918, up from 27.3 percent in 1916 and 35.1 percent in 1917. In airframe manufacture the subcontractors’ market share rose from 16.2 percent in 1916 to 43.7 percent in 1917 to 61 percent in 1918. In engine manufacture, it declined from 32.9 percent in 1916 to 27.2 percent in 1917, because of Hispano-Suiza’s introduction of its 200- to 220-hp engine and Salmson’s launching of its 200- to 260-hp series engine, but then it rose to 62.7 percent in 1918. Thus, in 1918 the dominant or parent manufacturers had 38.1 percent of the market: the aircraft producers and engine manufacturers had 39 percent and 37.3 percent of their markets, respectively.

Circumstances within the industry varied. Hispano-Suiza built 14.8 percent of its 25,741 engines in 1918; its 14 subcontractors, which included Peugeot, constructed 85.2 percent. The parent firms Spad and Blériot reaped 17 and 26 percent of the profits respectively on Spad production in 1918, and their subcontractors gained 57 percent. Breguet earned 13.7 percent of the profits from Breguet 14 production in 1918; its subcontractors, which included Michelin and Renault, obtained 86.3 percent. Firms like Renault and Salmson, however, did not subcontract their production.

The aircraft industry remained centered in Paris and its suburbs, where 90 percent of French planes were built, despite limited decentralization in 1918 during the German advances toward Paris. Among the largest factories were Farman, with some 5,000 workers, and Nieuport, with 3,600 workers. The general condition of the factories was good, and most of them were entirely or partially fireproof. The larger companies had assembly plants, and the smaller ones had assembly shops. Women painted, varnished, stretched cloth over frames, and did light woodwork. Assembly rooms were well ventilated to release varnish fumes that could cause eye inflammation, headaches, or stomach trouble, and employees who worked in the varnish room fortified themselves with milk. Large factories had surgical stations staffed by trained nurses. The ordinary working day was 10 hours. Employees were paid 1.5 to 3 francs an hour or by piece, while foremen and staffs were paid monthly. Generally, the number of engines obtainable determined production. French standardization and coordination of production impressed American attaché H. Barclay Warburton in July as offering the potential for large-scale inter-Allied standardization of Spad production, despite enormous difficulties with political and industrial interests.

In 1918, of 41,336 engines manufactured in France through November, 29,461 were stationary engines (V types or in-lines), 5,526 were radials, and 6,349 were rotaries, a dramatic change from the 1917 proportions, in which rotaries and stationary-engine deliveries were nearly comparable (10,757 to 11,395) and radials were relatively scarce (1,223). As orders for rotary engines declined, Gnome and Rhône shifted to producing the Salmson Canton-Unné radial.

In August it took an average of 6.29 workers per month about 250 hours to manufacture a Hispano-Suiza engine. The Hispano-Suiza was one of the most easily constructed wartime engines, since in its parts design Birkigt had been preoccupied with ease of production and had created special machine tools and machines to produce complicated and delicate parts. In 1918 15,108 Hispano-Suiza 200- to 220-hp engines were delivered, only 956 by the parent company; the largest numbers, 4,451, 2,239, 1,784, 1,470, and 1,410, were delivered by Peugeot, Mayen, Brasier, Fives Lille, and Delaunay, respectively. Another 2,166 300-hp engines were delivered in 1918, 814 by the parent company.

In 1918 Renault doubled its engine production from 2,470 in 1917 to 5,050 and nearly trebled its aircraft production from 290 to 870 in its second year of aircraft assembly. From 1 October 1917 to 30 September 1918 Renault’s sales of aero engine and airframes came to 29.3 and 5.5 percent respectively of its total business.

Even with the most successful aviation production apparatus in the world, the French still needed imports in certain categories. France needed more Breguets than Renault could deliver engines and secured Fiat A12bis 300-hp engines from Italy, although the Fiat Breguet was inferior to the Renault-Breguet. France received some 2,200 Fiats. The undersecretary in late August was still seeking a firm agreement on an order of 1,800 Fiats placed the previous month, although France had only delivered 800 of the promised 4,200 tons of raw materials to Italy in return. English and U.S. competition for the Italian engines, since Italian firms were already preparing for peacetime, made arrangements difficult. In September Martinot-Lagarde was in Italy to secure more Fiat A12bis engines as quickly as possible and to remedy the engine’s defects. Aircraft expert Dorand looked to Italy and England as potential sources for Caproni and Handley Page night bombers respectively.

Yet the search for engines indicated a temporary decline in powerful-engine production, not a lack of their development. At the Armistice the French were introducing the next generation of lighter, more powerful, mostly water-cooled engines: the 300-hp Hispano-Suiza V8, 450-hp 12-cylinder Renault, and the 400-hp Lorraine-Dietrich, as well as a 16-cylinder, 450-hp Bugatti, and a 500-hp Salmson twin-row radial.

In 1918 the French aviation industry produced 24,652 airplanes and 44,563 engines. Its monthly aircraft production rose from 1,714 in January to 2,362, its peak, in October. Its monthly aero engine production increased from 2,567 in January to a high of 4,196 in October. In November 1918 it employed 185,000 workers. Twenty-three percent were women, who were most numerous as textile workers in the airframe factories, where they composed a third of the work force. At the Armistice the production service, which had grown from fewer than 20 officers before mobilization to 540 officers and 3,000 personnel, was delivering a plane, completely equipped, armed, and with replacement parts, every 15 minutes, day and night, and a motor, complete with all accessories, every 10 minutes.

On 19 November parliamentary deputy D’Aubigny assessed the state of French aviation at the Armistice. He charged that France had not fulfilled its promises to the United States, which had only 642 planes in line at the Armistice, 50 percent fewer than promised for 1 July. In October France had only 2,639 planes at the front, all of them what he termed obsolete Spad 7s and Spad 13s and obsolescent Breguet 14s. The absence of heavy bombers to perform reprisal raids on German territory particularly annoyed him, since the army subcommission had long advocated them. The quality of French observation planes was inferior, with no hope for improvement in 1919. The new Nieuport and Sopwith fighters did not fully benefit from the 300-hp engine, while the Béchereau frame was still not ready. His previous 3 May report had criticized the absence of unified direction for aviation, and he now attributed all of aviation’s problems to its lack of guidance. The politicians of the aviation commission, still dissatisfied with France’s failure to develop strategic airpower, thus ended the war on a negative note.

Yet D’Aubigny’s assessment was excessively negative. Perhaps the service lacked unified leadership, perhaps its aircraft were not as modern as the politicians and General Pétain desired. Still, its procurement apparatus had obtained more materiel from its industry than any other country. At the 11 November Armistice, French aviation comprised 247 squadrons with 3,222 aircraft on the Western Front (France’s Northeastern Front): 1,152 fighters, 1,585 observation planes, 285 day bombers, and 200 night bombers. The Aerial Division had 6 combat groups of 432 Spads, 5 bomber groups of 225 Breguets, and 4 squadrons of 60 long-range escort Caudron RIIA3s, for a total of 717 planes. Independent combat units comprised 42 squadrons of 720 Spads, 5 night bomber groups totaled 200 bombers, mostly Voisins, and 148 squadrons of 1,585 observation planes included 645 Breguets, 530 Salmsons, 305 two-seat Spads, 30 Caudrons, and 75 Voisins. The air arm had fallen 348 fighters and 575 bombers short of the 4,000-plane program, which anticipated having 1,500 fighters, 1,000 bombers and 1,500 observation planes at the front. Yet in depots there were nearly 2,600 airplanes waiting in the General Aviation Reserve. On all fronts the French air service had 336 squadrons, operated by 6,417 pilots, 1,682 observers, and 80,000 nonflying personnel. In air strength it was the world’s largest air force.

Before the Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse I

Admiral Sir Tom Phillips (centre)

William G. Tennant of Repulse, shown later as a Vice Admiral. (Imperial War Museum)

Three days after Rear-Admiral Sir Tom Phillips arrived in Singapore to begin talks with Air Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, the C-in-C Far East, and the Army’s GOC, Lt-General Arthur Percival, the Prince of Wales and Repulse entered the Johore Strait and proceeded towards their berths in the new dockyard. The fact that the two capital ships had passed down the potentially dangerous Malacca Strait without fighter protection from shore-based squadrons in western Malaya did not appear to disturb the Admiral’s equanimity, although both Captain Tennant of Repulse and, somewhat surprisingly, the Army’s General Percival had some scathing remarks to make about the RAF’s failure to provide even routine air cover.

Phillips’ apparent lack of concern reflected his deeply held conviction that ships’ guns alone would defend the fleet from even the most determined air attack. In addition he shared Churchill’s low opinion of Japanese air power and had, some months earlier, expressed the view that ‘the Japanese air forces, both naval and military, were of much the same quality as the Italian and markedly inferior to the Luftwaffe’. For a man without first-hand experience of attack by either of the latter and who was, in common with everyone else, totally ignorant of the capabilitites of the former, it was a somewhat rash statement.

The arrival of the two capital ships meant that the Eastern Fleet – a grandiloquent mockery so far as the title was concerned – could now be constituted as planned. But even on paper it was a less than impressive force. Prince of Wales was not yet fully worked-up; Repulse, although a crack fighting ship in her own right, was, nevertheless, a First World War veteran and had only been partially modernized; the vintage cruisers Danae, Dragon and Durban were slow and woefully lacking in anti-aircraft defences, while the more recently built Mauritius was undergoing a refit; and of the Fleet’s eight destroyers: Vampire (RAN), Tenedos, Electra, Express, Encounter, Jupiter, Stronghold and Vendetta (RAN), the four last-named ships were out of service refitting or under repair. Simultaneously with the creation of the new fleet, and in accordance with the decision already made in London some months earlier, Phillips was promoted to the rank of Acting Admiral to give him the necessary precedence over Vice-Admiral Layton whose China Squadron headquarters had been transferred from Hong Kong to Singapore on 12 September.

At the opposite end of the social scale few of the sailors manning the Repulse showed any interest in the pecking order of their superiors. But they continued to be concerned by their own apparent anonymity. For, once again, the Repulse had not been named in the Admiralty’s latest communique and the announcement of the squadron’s arrival in Singapore referred only to ‘Prince of Wales and other heavy units’ – an unnecessary zeal for secrecy that could have easily affected morale aboard the battle-cruiser had she been commanded by a less understanding and persuasive officer than Captain William Tennant.

In the course of his whirlwind round of talks and conferences, and following a meeting with the AOC Malaya, Air Vice-Marshal Pulford, Phillips had discovered a number of disquieting and unpalatable facts about the Colony’s air defence. The RAF, he learned, had only forty-three Brewster Buffalo fighters – a machine obsolete by European standards – together with thirty-four obsolescent early marks of the Bristol Blenheim bomber, twenty-seven antiquated Vickers Vildebeeste torpedo-bombers, and a handful of Australian Lockheed Hudsons, with which to defend the whole of British Malaya. Of these a full squadron of Buffalo fighters was being held back for the specific defence of the island and city of Singapore, while most of the remainder had been dispersed up-country to recently constructed jungle airfields with few facilities and inadequate, often non-existent, ground defences.

Nevertheless at dinner that night Pulford assured Captain Tennant that he would be able to provide the Fleet with adequate air cover should a Japanese attack take place. Unfortunately he did not make use of the opportunity to correct Phillips’ mistaken view that, providing he kept his ships more than 200 miles from Japan’s newly-built airfields in Indo-China, his fleet would be safe from attack.

Rigged out in their regulation tropical uniforms with knee-length shorts and long white socks, Admiral Phillips and senior members of his Staff boarded an RAF Sunderland flying-boat in Johore Strait on Thursday, 4 December, to fly to Manila for a conference with General Douglas MacArthur and the C-in-C of America’s Asiatic Fleet, Admiral Thomas Hart. Talks between Britain and the United States on the subject of naval co-operation in the Far East had been first held in January, 1938, when it was agreed that, in the event of war, the US Pacific Fleet would operate from Pearl Harbor while the British Eastern Fleet – that beloved myth of the politicians – would concentrate at Singapore.

In May, 1939, however, the Admiralty warned the Americans that Britain could no longer guarantee the despatch of a full-scale fleet to the Far East if hostilities broke out and suggested that the United States should assume responsibility for the sea-defence of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. Although the Americans made no comment on this unsubtle piece of kite-flying, the Pentagon prudently began drawing up an entirely new war plan – Rainbow One – which was based on the assumption that there would be no Royal Navy battle-fleet in Asian waters. It proved to be a realistic forecast.

Further staff conversations took place in London 15 months later and these were followed, in January, 1941, by formal talks in Washington. It was at this meeting that Britain came out into the open and urged the United States to divide its fleet and take over the defence of Singapore – a proposal which held little appeal for the Americans who viewed the so-called ‘island fortress’ as an outmoded bastion of Colonial power which was, in any case, indefensible. In the end it was agreed that a joint Australian and New Zealand naval force would protect the vital Australasian trade routes and that Britain would send six battleships to Singapore if the United States would provide assistance in the Mediterranean – a highly unlikely scenario as America was still neutral and was showing a marked reluctance to become involved in a European war.

By contrast, Anglo-Dutch talks at local level proved to be decidedly more fruitful, particularly after Hitler’s occupation of the Low Countries in May, 1940. And by February, 1941, the Dutch had agreed that, in the event of a Japanese attack, they would provide naval forces to help hold Malaya until the Royal Navy could despatch reinforcements. Finally, and not before time, British, Dutch and American discussions – known as the ADB Conference – were held in Singapore from 21 to 27 April, 1941.

This latter meeting was bedevilled by political uncertainties, for none of the participants knew the intentions of their respective governments should Japan assault only one of them in isolation. And while Churchill had pledged British support if the United States or its possessions were attacked by the Japanese there had been no reciprocal commitment from the American side. In fact many senior United States officers including Admiral Stark and General Marshall strenuously opposed the joint plan that emerged from the ABD Conference because its focal point was Singapore. And so great was American opposition that, at one point, the permission granted earlier to Admiral Hart to place his Asiatic Fleet under British strategic direction if the Philippines became untenable was withdrawn. Fortunately, the Dutch stuck loyally by their part of the bargain agreed in February and on 1 December, 1941, submarines of the Royal Netherlands Navy began operating under British control. It was a small but significant step towards the concept of a unified command structure. Nevertheless, such was the disarray of the three potential allies that they did not even share a common signal book – the first requirement for any successful joint operation.

The Manila talks opened on 5 December, 1941, and got off to a good start. The two Admirals quickly became friends and, somewhat to their surprise, found that they saw eye-to-eye on many aspects of Far Eastern strategy. Phillips, for example, agreed with Hart’s view that Singapore was indefensible and that Manila would be a more suitable base for fleet operations. Each, however, accepted that, as the British squadron had been sent to the Far East to protect Singapore, it must, for political reasons and at least for the time being, remain in Malayan waters. Both men also recognized that Manila could not be regarded as a viable alternative base until the air defences of Malaya were strengthened and the RAF could take over the Navy’s seaward defence role.

Admiral Hart entertained no illusions about the current situation in South-East Asia and, aware of the vulnerability of the Philippines, had already begun dispersing his forces. The destroyers Whipple, Alden, John D. Edwards and Edsall were despatched to Balikpapan on the east coast of British North Borneo on 24 November, while another group of four destroyers, led by the cruiser Marblehead, had been ordered even further south to Tarakan. During his talks with Phillips at Manila, Hart agreed to send the Balikpapan force to Singapore as a much-needed reinforcement for the British fleet, although he insisted, as a quid pro quo, that Phillips should recall the three old destroyers, Scout, Thanet and Thracian from Hong Kong – a bargain to which Phillips readily assented for the presence of American warships in Singapore would almost certainly lead to the involvement of the United States if the Japanese attacked. The years he had spent in the corridors of power at the Admiralty had made Tom Phillips very much aware of such political considerations and was, indeed, one of the more cogent reasons why he had been picked to command the Eastern Fleet.

The two Admirals also confirmed the decision taken at the ABD Conference eight months earlier that the defence of the antipodean trade routes should be left in the hands of a combined Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) squadron. This particular unit, under the command of the Australian Rear-Admiral John Crace, had been originally formed to combat German surface raiders and it was both suitably placed and adequately armed to protect the seaward frontiers of the Australian continent. It was a powerful force comprising the 8-inch gunned cruiser Canberra, acting as flagship, plus four 6-inch gunned ships – the New Zealand Navy’s Achilles and Leander and the Australian Perth and Adelaide – together with three destroyers: the Free French Le Triomphant and the Australian Stuart and Voyager, although these two latter ships were refitting and out of service. Three sloops, Swan, Warrego and the French Chevreuil, completed the squadron. Had these well-armed and modern vessels been sent to join Phillips at Singapore the Eastern Fleet, together with the four US destroyers from Balikpapan, would have been a formidable surface fighting force capable of smashing the Japanese invasion armada at sea although the absence of an aircraft carrier must cast considerable doubt on its ultimate effectiveness in the face of Japan’s air power.

But despite the spirit of friendly co-operation engendered at Manila the inability of the politicians to act in similar harmony meant that the uncertainties remained. And, unable to pledge themselves to support each other until such time as their respective governments undertook formal treaty obligations, it was impossible to appoint an overall commander capable of welding the three navies – British, American and Dutch – into a single cohesive unit. It was a failure that was to dog the Allies throughout the first six months of the Pacific war.

Even before Phillips had arrived in Manila the military situation in South-East Asia was a cause of increasing concern to the Western powers. The number of Japanese troops, ships and aircraft arriving in Indo-China had been building up steadily for several weeks and it was clear that some form of attack was imminent. The only element of doubt was its likely objective – the choice resting primarily between Siam, Malaya, or the islands of the Dutch East Indies. And even when the main landing force of 26,640 troops aboard eighteen transports and accompanied by Vice-Admiral Ozawa’s close escort of two cruisers and twelve destroyers left Hainan on the morning of 4 December its ultimate destination remained obscure.

The concentration of aircraft in Indo-China should have warned the authorities that Japan was contemplating something considerably more ambitious than the invasion of a ‘soft’ target such as Siam. Indeed all the evidence pointed to a major assault on a far more formidable objective. And the arrival in Saigon of Rear-Admiral Sadaichi Matsunaga’s 22nd Air Flotilla, or Koku Sentai, was clear confirmation that the Japanese were preparing for an important operation.

The 22nd Air Flotilla, as originally constituted, comprised the Genzan Kokutai with thirty-six twin-engined Mitsubishi Navy Type 96 G3M2 (Nell) bombers which had flown to Saigon from Formosa; the Mihoro Kokutai with a further thirty-six Mitsubishi Navy Type 96 machines, also from Formosa, and which was now based at Tu Duam, an airfield to the north of the capital; and a further thirty-six fighter aircraft and six reconnaissance machines at Soc Trang south of Saigon. The Japanese evaluation of the threat posed by the Prince of Wales and Repulse is apparent from the fact that the arrival of the two ships in Singapore led to the 22nd Air Flotilla being reinforced by twenty-seven Mitsubishi Navy Type 1 G4M1 (Betty) bombers from the Kanoya Kokutai – a unit forming part of the 21st Air Flotilla in Formosa previously ear-marked for operations in support of the invasion of the Philippines. Yamamoto thus contemptuously rated Britain’s two capital ships – Churchill’s much-vaunted deterrent – as being worth no more than twenty-seven extra aircraft – an increase of only 25% in the original number of machines allocated to the assault on Siam and Malaya. It was a piece of arithmetic that Phillips would have dismissed out of hand.