Douhet, Command of the Air:

- The Command of the Air, Part I – 1921

- The Command of the Air, Part II – 1927

- Probable Aspects of Future War – 1928

- Recapitulation – 1929

- The War of 19-- -- 1930 (not read for class)

Context: Italian aviation pioneer, 1869-1930. Commissioned into artillery and then excelled in engineering studies at graduate school. Took interest in aviation when Italy built its first dirigible in 1905. In 1911, Italy went to war against Turkey for control of Libya – the first wartime use of aircraft. Douhet was tasked to write a report on the Libyan war’s meaning for aviation. In 1912, assumed command of the Italian aviation battalion at Turin. Then began publishing ideas on aviation that others saw as radical. During WWI, Douhet was shocked by the Italian army’s poor performance and began writing increasingly inflammatory letters that resulted in his court-martial and imprisonment (for one year) in September 1916. Retired in 1918, more disgusted than ever, and had his conviction overturned in 1920. This allowed him to be re-retired as a Brigadier General. Member of the Italian Fascist Party and approved of Mussolini in 1922. Writings influenced by Austria-Hungary’s use of strategic bombing in WWI against NE Italian cities (Venice, Padua, etc).

Thesis: Command of the air is the only means of victory. Without it, military and naval operations are doomed, along with the nation. Command of the air lets you target the most important COG of the enemy – the will of the people. Don’t waste resources on defense – go offensive big time. Chose to ignore limited impact of Austria-Hungary's bombing on Italy. Writings can be considered basis for deterrent theory and served as foundation for Billy Mitchell and airpower’s “cult of the offensive.”


- Future war (after WWI) will be total war between nations, not just relegated to battlefields.

- Little can be learned from WWI in terms of air power- (the genesis of rhetoric vice reality).

- Auxiliary aviation (army and navy) is “worthless, superfluous, harmful”

- An independent air force is the only way to achieve command of the air.

- Defense against air attack is impossible. Air battles are useless, bomb the enemy’s airfields to gain command of the air. Wars will now be quick and decided in the enemy mind, not the battlefield.

- With command of the air, target the enemy’ people with HE, incendiary, and gas bombs.

- Strength of the air force is directly tied to the strength of civil aviation, so government should take an active role. Build an air-minded public that will be ready for the effects of strategic bombing.

- The Italian military needs a single, joint command structure

- Meilinger: Douhet recognized the “key to airpower is targeting”, Douhet identified 5 basic target systems as vital centers: industry, transportation infrastructure, communication nodes, government buildings, the will of the people (this is the most important).

- Meilinger makes a good point that “one must note the existence of three incarnations of the theorist who wrote about airpower over a 20-year period.”

Implications for Strategy

- Compelling the enemy to submit to our will is a constant theme in strategy, and Douhet continued this theme. But measuring the effect of air power on the enemy’s will is much harder than measuring physical effects.

- Douhet was a brilliant engineer – and he wrote like an engineer. His interest in precision and so-called deductive reasoning ignored the fog and friction of war.

- Like other airpower theorists of the 1920s, Douhet based thoughts on potential impact of aircraft, not reality or history. This caused Italy to build a large air fleet in 1927 that was obsolete by the beginning of WWII based on pace of technology. Could argue that Douhet’s writings are a nascent attempt of tying airpower to deterrence theory.

- Parallels to space today. Started writing prior to WWI; did not write due to trench warfare.

- Emphasized Total War – long drawn out struggle between nations; physical and moral factors.

- Nat’l War Ministry: to control all services, civil portions, and industry. Better prepared country would be winner.

- Airpower equated to "modern" and "progress."

- War: Conflict between two wills basically opposed one to the other.

- Believed in Offensive, Mass, Speed of attack, One time only, against Vital Centers.

- Command of the Air: Prevent use by the enemy, retain the capability for your own nation.

- - Exploit after command of the air with physical and moral attacks. Auxiliary forces can function if anything's left.

- Types of aircraft: Combat, Bomber, Reconnaissance; then Battleplane and Reconnaissance.

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