Author & Context

Richard Overy is Professor of Modern History at King’s College, London.


The generalized air strategy embraced by the Allies allowed for flexible airpower application, while the Axis strategy was excessively tethered to ground forces. This was decisive in the establishment of Allied air superiority before D-Day, which fueled victory for the Allies. Considerable effort was used to maintain Air superiority over the battlefield.


- Until 41’ no knockout blow could be delivered from the air (no strategy, not the equipment, production and training)

- Uncertain Nature of Airpower Entering the War: doctrinal instability led to guess-making at the outset; moral effect of offensive airpower

- Battle of Britain: British air defense overcame numerical disadvantage; German failure prevented recognition of Luftwaffe as a strategic asset

- Leadership: Hitler takes over the Luftwaffe without any knowledge of airpower; V1/V2 programs not realistic, Hitler unsatisfied; overreliance on political allies in lieu of experts

- Grand Strategy: Opening of the Russia front gave western powers breathing space to develop AFs; Use of airpower in a delaying/softening capacity in Pacific before invasion resources were available made the strategic difference. Air closely associated with sea power in the Pacific.

- JP needed oil, has non-aggression w RU until 41’(avoid two front). JP lacked resources and was out produced in all areas.

- USA poor rdr, intelligence, perception and prep led to the surprise at Pearl Harbor.

- Politics and airpower: Hitler used it to effect at Munich; led to a second arms race; Hitler’s alleged promise to limit attacks to military targets; element of the unknown and power of imagination made it an interwar political tool. Combined armes for rapid/economic way to victory (strat bomb took too long….) Had to fight two different air wars; AD in the west against bombers, and gorund/CAS in the East (RU used air fairly similar to GE)

- General versus Limited Strategies: US, RAF wanted general strategies allowing for theater flexibility; GE, JAP conceived airpower as a limited arm supporting others; France and Norway lessons led to generalized strategy for Britain; LW didn’t realize Britain would adopt a generalized strategy; 2-sided coin argument of generalized AF strategy…had its limitations but was strategically decisive. In the East; CAS and support, in West bombing and all spectrum. Strat bombing was the least expensive way to get to GE, and placed a ceiling on GE output (but they didn’t have all mobilized into war production before late in the war around 44’)

- RAF Air Defense: fighters are for destroying bombers, not fighters; theories of Douhet & Mitchell, theory of the offensive, and refusal to acknowledge a counter to the bomber slowed the rise of air defenses. ENG bombed out of desperation.

- Economy of Force & Bombing Debate: destroying will to war without setting foot on the continent; Debate unresolved by advent of nukes; Relationship of civilians to war changed by interwar airmindedness; USAAF lack of independence created evangelical defense of the bombing mission; USAAF settles on industrial web theory; LeMay says airpower can do the job alone; little effect on German populations; no top-down capitulation

- War of Economies: aircraft production; large quantity production plus the maintenance of technical parity; capitalization versus fascism

Applications to Strategy

- Generalized airpower strategy built on an independent airpower service is decisive in achieving theater advantage over an enemy who fails to develop and field such a service

- Forms of economy and civil governance are determinant in the ability to field airpower effectively

- Air was not decisive, but important

- JP/GE had strong will and ‘ideals’, but lacked US and ENG material, A/C and pilots to fight. (You need both)

- A/C and associated production is essential. Access to raw materials too. Lack of centralization and direction of war efforts hampered GE too. GE had a DELTA of capacity that they ‘never’ exploited, thankfully. Involvement of the entire society of research, science and intelligence to deliver a best possible output was done best by ENG and US. GE and JP missed an opportunities here.

- COG in GE? Maybe the top 5-6 leaders in a totalitarian system are the COG. In a Clausewitzian absolute war, one COG might work, but in real war there are probably more (Trinity; People, Leaders, Commander)

- The cumulative effect of simultaneity attack on a broad scale led to undermining of GE war capacity.

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