From Balloons to Drones – 5 Years On

From Balloons to Drones – 5 Years On

By Dr Ross Mahoney

Five years ago, on 15 June 2016, From Balloons to Drones was launched. From Balloons to Drones was established with the simple vision of providing an open access online platform for the analysis and debate of air power history, theory, and contemporary operations in their broadest sense, including space and cyber power. Since establishing From Balloons to Drones, we have published 195 posts of various types ranging from articles to book reviews. More recently, in 2019, we started producing a popular podcast series with interviews with leading air power specialists. Overall, the site has received over 130,000 hits since 2016.

None of the above would have been achieved without the support of our editors, contributors, and readers. Personally, I am grateful to all the members of the From Balloons to Drones editorial team for their continuing hard work, especially as it is all done voluntarily. Indeed, when the site was established, it was run by one person, our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney. However, over time, the editorial team has grown and evolved. In 2018, long-time contributors Dr Brian Laslie, Dr Michael Hankins, and Alex Fitzgerald-Black came onboard as editors. While Alex has moved on, we have continued to build and strengthen the editorial team with the addition of Victoria Taylor and Dr Luke Truxal to the team. As we look forward to the next five years of From Balloons to Drones, I am pleased to announce the addition of two new editors to the team: Dr Maria Burczynska and Ashleigh Brown. Maria is a Lecturer in Air Power Studies at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK, while Ashleigh, a PhD student at UNSW Canberra, is a researcher for the Official History of Australian Operations in Iraq & Afghanistan and Australian Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor. The addition of Maria and Ashleigh will help strengthen the team in several areas, and we are looking forward to what the future holds with them.

I am also grateful to all our contributors and readers. Without our contributors, there would be nothing to publish and, as such, no website. However, we are always on the lookout for new contributions either from established authors or from new and emerging scholars within the air power studies community. If you are interested in contributing, then visit our submissions page to find out how to contribute.

So, what about the future? More of the same but better. We still hold true to our original vision of providing an avenue for debate and discussion about air power. We will aim to continue to refine what we offer in terms of content and build on the success of the past five years. We have more articles, book reviews and podcasts in the pipeline. However, we are always keen to hear your views on what we publish. If there is an area of research that needs to be given more coverage, please let us know.

Finally, as a bit of fun to celebrate our fifth birthday, here are the top five most-read posts since our launch in 2016:

  1. Michael Hankins, ‘Inventing the Enemy: Colonel Toon and the Memory of Fighter Combat in Vietnam’
  2. Michael Hankins, ‘A Discourse on John Boyd: A Brief Summary of the US Air Force’s Most Controversial Pilot and Thinker’
  3. Liam Barnsdale, ‘Royal Air Force ‘wings’ Brevets in Second World War Propaganda’
  4. Justin Pyke, ‘Blinded by the Rising Sun? American Intelligence Assessments of Japanese Air Power, 1920-41: Part 1 – The 1920s’
  5. Jeff Schultz, ‘Supporting the Secret War: T-28s over Laos, 1964-1973 – Part 1: Training’

Header image: Pilatus PC-21A aircraft from No 4 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown fly in formation on return from Sydney in support of an Air Force 2021 commemorative service held at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park. (Source: Australian Department of Defence)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (May 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (May 2021)

Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.

Chapters

Peter Elliott, ‘‘Flight without feathers is not easy’: John Tanner and the development of the Royal Air Force Museum’ in Kate Hill (ed.), Museums, Modernity and Conflict: Museums and Collections in and of War since the Nineteenth Century (London: Routledge, 2021).

The founding director of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum, John Tanner, was the driving force behind its creation and development between 1963 and 1987.

The RAF Museum’s successful opening at Hendon in 1972 – more than 40 years after the idea was first mooted – led to expansion, through museums dedicated to the Battle of Britain and Bomber Command. It managed the RAF’s Aerospace Museum at Cosford where Tanner, working with British Airways, built up a collection of airliners. His final collaboration created the Manchester Air & Space Museum – now part of the Museum of Science and Industry.

Tanner’s overarching aim was to create a national aviation museum for the United Kingdom, comparable with those in France, Canada and the USA. Negotiations in the early 1980s with government departments failed, ironically partly due to concerns similar to those that prompted calls for an RAF Museum in the 1930s.

This chapter details the tortuous birth of the RAF Museum, and examines the conflict between an air force museum and one covering all forms of aviation. Drawing on files in the National Archives, and the Museum’s own archive, I explain why Tanner’s vision was not realised, despite his passion, dedication and forthright advocacy.

Books

Daniel Jackson, Fallen Tigers: The Fate of America’s Missing Airmen in China during World War II (Lexington, KT: The University Press of Kentucky, 2021).

Mere months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a volunteer group of American airmen to the Far East, convinced that supporting Chinese resistance against the continuing Japanese invasion would be crucial to an eventual Allied victory in World War II. Within two weeks of that fateful Sunday in December 1941, the American Volunteer Group – soon to become known as the legendary “Flying Tigers” – went into action. Audaciously led by master tactician Claire Lee Chennault, daring airmen such as David Lee “Tex” Hill and George B. “Mac” McMillan fought enemy air forces and armies in dangerous aerial duels despite being outnumbered and outgunned. Aviators who fell in combat and survived the crash or bailout faced the terrifying reality of being lost and injured in unfamiliar territory.

In Fallen Tigers: The Fate of America’s Missing Airmen in China during World War II, historian Daniel Jackson, himself a combat-tested pilot, sheds light on the stories of downed aviators who attempted to evade capture by the Japanese in their bid to return to Allied territory. In gripping detail, he reveals that the heroism of these airmen was equaled, and often exceeded, by the Chinese soldiers and civilians who risked their lives to return them safely to American custody. His comprehensive research shows the drive to aid these airmen transcended ideology, as both Chinese Communists and Nationalists realized the commonality of their struggle against a despised enemy.

Fallen Tigers is an incredible story of survival that insightfully illuminates the relationship between missing aircrew and their Chinese allies who were willing to save their lives at any cost. Based on thorough archival research and filled with compelling personal narratives from memoirs, wartime diaries, and dozens of interviews with veterans, this vital work offers an important new perspective on the Flying Tigers and the history of World War II in China.

Ben Kite, Undaunted: Britain and the Commonwealth’s War in the Air – Volume 2 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021).

Undaunted is the second volume of Britain and the Commonwealth’s War in the Air 1939-45. It combines detailed studies into the tactics, techniques and technology that made British air power so effective, together with the personal accounts of the aircrew themselves. Undaunted includes chapters on air intelligence, photographic-reconnaissance and Special Duties operations. It then covers how the British Commonwealth Air Forces supported ground operations in the Western Desert, Italy, NW Europe, Burma and the SW Pacific. The book contains a number of chapters on the development of airborne forces from an air perspective and covers the use of air transport in support of General Slim’s operations in Burma. Undaunted concludes with poignant chapters on the ‘Guinea Pigs’, Prisoners of War, Air Sea Rescue and the efforts of aircrew to escape and evade when shot down. Exceptionally well-illustrated with over 150 photographs and 15 maps and diagrams, this book will undoubtedly appeal to the general reader, as well as the aficionado, who will find considerable new information.

Brian Laslie, Air Power’s Lost Cause: The American Air Wars of Vietnam (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021).

Filling a substantial void in our understanding of the history of airpower in Vietnam, this book provides the first comprehensive treatment of the air wars in Vietnam. Brian Laslie traces the complete history of these air wars from the beginning of American involvement until final withdrawal. Detailing the competing roles and actions of the air elements of the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force, the author considers the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war. He also looks at the air war from the perspective of the North Vietnamese Air Force. Most important for understanding the US defeat, Laslie illustrates the perils of a nation building a one-dimensional fighting force capable of supporting only one type of war.

#Podcast – The Bomber Mafia

#Podcast – The Bomber Mafia

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

The recent publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia has generated much interest in the topic of strategic bombing during the Second World War. In our latest podcast episode, three of the editors at From Balloons to Drones, Dr Mike Hankins, Dr Brian Laslie, and Dr Luke Truxal, discuss the book and go beyond it to talk about various issues related to bombing during the Second World War.

Dr Michael Hankins is the Curator of US Air Force History at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He is a former Professor of Strategy at the USAF Air Command and Staff College eSchool, and former Instructor of Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He earned his PhD from Kansas State University in 2018 with his dissertation, ‘The Cult of the Lightweight Fighter: Culture and Technology in the U.S. Air Force, 1964-1991.’ He completed his master’s thesis at the University of North Texas in 2013, titled ‘The Phantom Menace: The F-4 in Air-to-Air Combat in the Vietnam War.’ He has a web page here and can be found on Twitter at @hankinstien.

Dr Brian Laslie is a US Air Force Historian and currently the Command Historian at the USAF Academy. A 2001 graduate of The Citadel and a historian of air power studies, he received his Masters’ from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his PhD from Kansas State University in 2013. He is the author of three books with his most recent being Air Power’s Lost Cause: The American Air Wars of Vietnam (2021). His first book, The Air Force Way of War (2015) was selected for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s 2016 professional reading list and the 2017 RAF Chief of the Air Staff’s reading list. He can be found on Twitter at @BrianLaslie.

Dr Luke Truxal is an adjunct at Columbia State Community College in Tennessee. He completed his PhD in 2018 from the University of North Texas with his dissertation ‘Command Unity and the Air War Against Germany.’ His previous publications include ‘Bombing the Romanian Rail Network,’ in the Spring 2018 issue of Air Power History. He has also written ‘The Politics of Operational Planning: Ira Eaker and the Combined Bomber Offensive in 1943’ in the Journal of Military Aviation History. Truxal is currently researching the effectiveness of joint air operations between the Allied air forces in the Second World War. He can be reached on Twitter at @Luke_Truxal.

Header image: Boeing B-29 Superfortresses drop bombs over Rangoon, Burma in 1945. The nearest aircraft is a B-29-25-BA of the 871st Bomb Squadron, 497th Bomb Group, 20th Air Force. (Source: Wikimedia)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (April 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (April 2021)

Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.

Articles

Jayson Altieri, ‘Minutemen and Roentgens: A History of Civil Air Patrol’s Aerial Radiolomcal Monitoring Program,’ Air Power History 68, no. 1 (Spring, 2021).

When one thinks of U.S. Air Force Cold War era aircraft, images of the Strategic Air Command’s B–52 Stratofortress, B–58 Hustler, and B–36 Peacemaker, made famous by classic Hollywood films like Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, and Strategic Bomber Command, usually come quickly to mind. What is less well known are the roles that smaller aircraft like the Cessna L-19/0-1 Bird Dog, Cessna 172/T-41 Mescalero, and Stinson L-5 Sentinel played in helping prepare and respond to a possible nuclear attack on the American homeland by actively measuring radioactivity levels in roentgens, mostly through the efforts of the volunteers of the U.S. Air Force’s Auxiliary, known as the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). While today, CAPs primary operational missions concentrate on inland air search and rescue, aerial disaster assessment, and flight training for the organization’s Cadet program, CAP’s earlier roles following the Second World War involved supporting the nation’s Civil Defense through Aerial Radiological Monitoring (ARM) and post-attack damage assessments of cities and key economic infrastructures. Founded on December 1,1941, with the help of American airpower proponent Gill Rob Wilson, Texas Oilman David Harold Byrd, and New York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the latter in his capacity as the Director of the Office of Civilian Defense, the CAP was originally formed to help supplement American military operations as an Auxiliary of the United States Army Air Forces in the early stages of the Second World War. Early in the war, as part of America’s Civil Defense coordinated by the Council of National Defense, civilian non-combatant volunteers were asked to help supplement local governments and military commands based across the country with Air Raid Wardens, Auxiliary Firemen, Road Repair Crews, and Civil Air Patrols along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Initially using privately owned aircraft and equipment and operating from local private and publicly owned airfields, CAP volunteers became known as the Flying Minutemen, performing a number of wartime missions include Antisubmarine patrols, border patrols, target towing, and messenger services. By the end of the war and with the formation of an independent U.S. Air Force, President Harry Truman, signed in 1946 the congressionally approved Public Law 79-476 establishing the CAP as both a Federally charted corporation and later in 1948, Public Law 557 making CAP the U.S. Air Force’s Auxiliary. By this time, both the United States and CAP were now engaged in another war, though involving less actual conflict, none-the-less still presented an existential threat to the nation-The Cold War.

Troy Hallsell, ‘Building Malstrom’s Minuteman Missile Fields in Central Montana. 1960-1963,’ Air Power History 68, no. 1 (Spring, 2021).

In September of 1960, the Air Force Association held its 14th annual convention at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California. This grand event demonstrated to the American public (and the world) the best aerial hardware the Air Force had to offer. On display was a Bell X-1B rocket plane, North American Aviation’s Hound Dog air-launched standoff missile, a Titan intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and the Thor-Able missile that promised to reach the moon. While this display of weaponry sought to allay Americans’ fears about a supposed missile gap in favor of the Soviet Union (USSR), the Air Force’s unveiling of the Minuteman ICBM was the main attraction. On September 22, at 7:00 PM Gen Thomas D. White, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, San Francisco mayor George Christopher, and NBC producer Roy Neal took to the podium to introduce the United States’ newest weapon system. As General White pushed a button, the “gleaming dummy missile rose to a vertical static display, where it would remain through the weekend.” Never underestimating the power of an image, White understood that the Air Force had to convince the American public to embrace the Minuteman as the “ultimate deterrent force.” The future of missiles depended on their good graces.

This study explores why the Air Force deployed the Minuteman to Malmstrom AFB in central Montana, how the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Air Force built the weapon system’s infrastructure, and their experience bringing the first flight of missiles to alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War was an international political contest that pitted the west, led by the United States, against the east as represented by the USSR. The ICBM emerged as an integral weapon system in waging the Cold War. While the Air Force trotted out the Atlas and Titan ICBMs, the Minuteman became the weapon system of the future. The Air Force selected Malmstrom AFB in central Montana as home for the first Minuteman strategic missile wing. Shortly after construction began in 1962, the U.S. and USSR engaged in the Cuban Missile Crisis following the Soviet Union’s installation of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. During this confrontation Strategic Air Command (SAC) ordered the 341st Strategic Missile Wing (341 SMW) to bring its first flight of Minuteman ICBMs to alert and entered into an unprecedented state of readiness. In the nuclear posturing that followed, the USSR agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba as long as the U.S. made some concessions of its own.

Phil Haun, ‘Foundation Bias: The Impact of the Air Corps Tactical School on United States Air Force Doctrine,’ Journal of Military History 85, no. 2 (April 2021).

For over seventy years, the continued belief in the efficacy of strategic bombing has dominated United States Air Force thinking in times of war and peace. In addition, the core principles of air power articulated by the Air Corps Tactical School continue to reside in USAF doctrine. Despite the outcomes of the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars, which have all demonstrated the effectiveness of joint operations and the limitations of strategic bombing, the ACTS tenets remain embedded in the very DNA of airmen and continue to influence how the United States Air Force views the modern air, space, and cyber domains.

Bryan Hunt, ‘Lost in Space: The Defeat of the V-2 and Post- War British Exploitation of German Long-Range Rocket Technology,’ Air Power History 68, no. 1 (Spring, 2021).

Battle of London is over … sort of

On the evening of September 7, 1944, Duncan Sandys MP (1908-1987), chair of the government rocket and flying bomb countermeasures ‘CROSSBOW committee, confidently announced that the Battle of London, comprising the V-l flying bomb attacks, was now over and that the public could now relax, and because of Allied advances through northern France, discounted the apocalyptic predictions of ‘rocket’ (ballistic missile) attacks. The fear of these attacks had caused the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison (1888-1965), grave concern because of alarmist intelligence assessments of the size of warheads and predicted scale of attacks. Starting in August 1943, Bomber Command and the U.S. Eighth Air Force had bombed research sites in Poland and dropped 120,000 tons of bombs on the monumentally large reinforced-concrete ‘large sites’ and ‘rocket projector’ sites on the Cherbourg Peninsula in northern France and in Belgium that were believed to be crucial to the operational deployment of long-range rockets. Allied forces had now overrun the distinctive, curved assembly and launch ‘ski site’ buildings where V-l flying bombs had been launched at Britain. The Chiefs of Staff Committee also believed that all potential rocket launch sites were now in Allied hands.

However, a scant 24 hours later on September 8, 1944, a mysterious explosion occurred in Chiswick, west London, killing three people and injuring a further 20. A second similar explosion occurred a few seconds later in Epping, though with no casualties. Described officially as ‘gas leaks’, these explosions heralded the first ballistic missile attack on the United Kingdom. The weapon was the A4, a 46 ft/14 m high single-stage liquid-fuelled rocket carrying a one ton high-explosive warhead. The A4 – Aggregat (experimental) Bombardment Rocket and later renamed by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry and universally known as the V-2 (Vergeltungswaffen – vengeance or retaliatory weapon) – had been launched from a mobile position in The Hague, in the occupied Netherlands. It took just under five minutes to travel the 200-odd nautical miles to southern England. Although the British Government maintained the story of gas leaks for two months on security grounds, it was recognised across Whitehall that this was the commencement of a ballistic missile (code word: ‘BIGBEN) bombardment that had been expected – and feared – from late 1943s.

David Messenger, ‘Local Government, Passive Defense and Aerial Bombardment in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9,’ Journal of Contemporary History, (April 2021). doi:10.1177/0022009421997898

The bombardment of civilians from the air was a regular feature of the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. It is estimated some 15,000 Spaniards died as a result of air bombings during the Civil War, most civilians, and 11,000 were victims of bombing from the Francoist side that rebelled against the Republican government, supported by German and Italian aviation that joined the rebellion against the Republic. In Catalonia alone, some 1062 municipalities experienced aerial bombardments by the Francoist side of the civil war. In cities across Spain, municipal and regional authorities developed detailed plans for civilian defense in response to these air campaigns. In Barcelona, the municipality created the Junta Local de Defensa Passiva de Barcelona, to build bomb shelters, warn the public of bombings, and educate them on how to protect themselves against aerial bombardment. They mobilized civilians around the concept of ‘passive defense.’ This proactive response by civilians and local government to what they recognized as a war targeting them is an important and under-studied aspect of the Spanish Civil War.

Cole Resnik, ‘Silent Saviors: Gliders for American Resupply Operations in Normandy, June 1944,’ Air Power History 68, no. 1 (Spring, 2021).

Historians devote much attention to the glider assault missions on D-Day morning, but resupply missions thereafter contributed more to the success of the airborne divisions and require a closer evaluation. While awaiting the construction of airstrips or the arrival of armored reinforcements following the initial invasion of Normandy, the artillery pieces and ammunition delivered by combat gliders helped outgunned paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division hold the surrounding area of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Airborne commanders trusted gliders more than airdrops in the aftermath of D-Day because of their ability to deliver heavier equipment behind enemy lines in a precise, cohesive, and timely manner. In the morning hours of June 6, the 82nd dropped in and around Sainte-Mere-Eglise. The average paratrooper landed with an M1 Garand, an M1911 pistol, a knife, extra ammunition, three days of rations, a few explosives, and other personal gear if their leg bag remained attached after the jump. Some dropped with mortar tubes and bazookas, but these soldiers lacked the firepower necessary to compete with an armored enemy on a consistent basis. The British glider could fly with 7,380 pounds stuffed in its fuselage. That equaled twenty-five infantrymen with gear, four motorcycles complete with eight troops and equipment, or a one-ton supply trailer attached to a quarter-ton Jeep. The resupply mission, nicknamed “Elmira,” was simple: the 176 gliders hooked to C-47s would depart England, fly to the coast of France, and disconnect from their tow planes near the beaches at Normandy.

#Podcast – An Interview with Dr Gregory Daddis

#Podcast – An Interview with Dr Gregory Daddis

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

In the latest episode of our podcast series, we interview Dr Gregory Daddis about his latest book, Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men’s Adventure Magazines (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Before and during the Vietnam War, some of the most popular magazines among those who served were pulp fiction men’s adventure magazines. In this interview, Daddis unpacks the relationship between fiction and reality, how we talk about wars and choose to remember them, and how constructions of gender really matter when we analyse war.

Dr Gregory A. Daddis is a Professor of History and the USS Midway Chair in Modern US Military History at San Diego State University. A retired US Army colonel, he has served in both Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. He has authored four books, including Withdrawal: Reassessing America’s Final Years in Vietnam (2017).

Header image: Company E, 2/9 Marines, being re-supplied by a Sikorsky CH-34 during Operation Harvest Moon, 10 December 1965. (Source: Wikimedia)

#BookReview – The Royal Flying Corps, the Western Front and the Control of the Air, 1914-1918

#BookReview – The Royal Flying Corps, the Western Front and the Control of the Air, 1914-1918

James Pugh, The Royal Flying Corps, the Western Front and the Control of the Air, 1914-1918. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. Figures. Charts. Bibliography. Index. Hbk. xviii + 190 pp.

Reviewed by Dr Heather Venable

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The so-called Father of the Royal Air Force Lord Hugh Trenchard looms large in the historiography of air power, perhaps most infamously for his assertion – seemingly wrought out of thin air – that the moral effect of air power outweighed the material by a factor of twenty to one. To many students of air power, this statement epitomises how much the interwar pursuit of strategic bombardment rested on flights of fancy more than carefully reasoned analysis of the lessons of the First World War because airmen like Trenchard intended to have a moral effect on civilian populations in future wars.

By contrast, James Pugh’s The Royal Flying Corps, the Western Front and the Control of the Air, 1914-1918 pushes back at a significant portion of the historiography of First World War air power concerning the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Unlike many other scholars, Pugh insists that before the First World War, British airmen anticipated how to use air power effectively and demonstrated creativity and flexibility in applying it during the war. Pugh’s revisionist approach depends on the compelling claim that historians have teleologically read aspects of the interwar period into the First World War experience. Pugh thus wants to rescue some airmen from unfair and overwrought reputations for dogmatism (p. 52). Perhaps most importantly, Pugh seeks to validate the RFC’s overwhelmingly offensive approach as fundamentally sound while showing change over time during the war concerning offensive air strategy. Pugh argues that the offensive approach taken by airmen primarily echoed that of the ground war. Moreover, airmen shifted from seeking decisiveness to pursuing attrition and pursued more sophisticated approaches to achieving control of the air during the First World War.

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Prime Minister Herbert Asquith watches a squadron of aeroplanes returning to RFC Headquarters at Frevillers. With him is Major-General Hugh Trenchard, commander of the Royal Flying Corps. (Source: © IWM Q 4192)

Pugh’s first chapter establishes convincingly that airmen properly appreciated the importance of air superiority before the First World War. He also shows how vital missions, such as fostering battlefield communication and observing artillery fire, were anticipated before the First World War. However, limited technology and other factors impeded greater experimentation with these roles before the war (p. 33). These roles, moreover, reflected how aviators considered themselves to be part of the British Army. Their embrace of offensive thinking particularly reflected the powerful influence of British Army culture on the RFC. Pugh offers this helpful corrective in response to his belief that historians have traced the origins of airmen’s offensive proclivities too unilaterally to Trenchard (p. 14). Indeed, Pugh generally stresses the extent to which other airmen deserve more credit for developing air power thinking, continually deemphasising Trenchard (p. 51). In a similar vein, Pugh not only challenges widely held views on Trenchard’s emphasis on morale but also offers competing explanations for why the RFC stressed it so much. According to the author, the emphasis on diminishing an opponent’s morale owes much to the ‘fragility of aircraft’ (p. 24, 52). This point is not entirely convincing.

Still, Pugh argues that the RFC did not acquire ‘effective’ fighters until 1916, which were increasingly sent to the Western Front organised in squadrons responsible for different roles (p. 49). While awaiting improved aircraft, the RFC revised doctrine and improved organisational practices. When updated in 1915, RFC doctrine denoted reconnaissance as air power’s primary purpose, although it also increasingly recognised the requirement for ‘fight[ing]’ to obtain that information (p. 46), thereby placing more emphasis on controlling the air. Still, the RFC Training Manual diminished its emphasis on reconnaissance from 75 to 36% of the manual while increasing its coverage of artillery support most dramatically (p. 47).

‘Rules of the air – meeting another machine’. An air technical diagram of a Sopwith Dolphin and two Sopwith Camel biplanes meeting in the air and turn to the right. (Source: © IWM Q 67829)

The RFC’s views on how to control the air grew increasingly expansive, especially after learning valuable lessons about airpower employment at Verdun. Thus, the British now stressed seeking control of the air ‘far away’ from those aircraft providing direct support to the battlefield (p. 52) as well as reaffirming the importance of ‘maintaining an offensive posture’ (p. 56), which resulted in a theatre-wide emphasis as airmen sought to control the air in ‘breadth and depth’ (p. 81).

Pugh’s revisionist account largely depends on assuming the best about many of the airmen he describes, resulting in a somewhat Whiggish and rosy account of the RFC’s achievements in the First World War. Pugh valuably attempts to explode accepted thought in multiple areas. This approach is the work’s greatest benefit and failing. Regarding the extent to which airmen embraced an attrition-based strategy over the course of the war, for example, Pugh never fully makes an argument. Describing the phrase ‘relentless and incessant offensive’ as the ‘most profound evidence’ of this strategic shift ultimately falls short of proving one of the work’s key themes (p. 62). In a related vein, Pugh’s argument depends on separating out the rhetoric of airmen like Trenchard, who he claims made much of offensive air power for political reasons, meanwhile arguing that in actuality, airmen pursued an ‘increasingly nuanced and sophisticated approach to controlling the air’ (p. 71), such as using ‘concentrated and coordinated’ groups of fighters (p. 82). These contrasting interpretations cause the reader to wonder how Pugh determines when to accept evidence as rhetoric and when to accept it as representing airmen’s authentic thinking. These potential problems epitomise how Pugh is trying to do too much, such as when he mentions studies of First World War land power being importantly focused more systematically on ‘learning, transformation, or adaption’ yet preserves that approach for future airpower researchers (p. 91, 71). Using the methodology from some studies more systematically to explore British thinking about air control could offer more value.

Despite these critiques, all students of air power should read Pugh’s work for its argument-driven and revisionist analysis of the Royal Flying Corps. While adding significant complexity to widely accepted views of First World War airpower, Pugh ultimately concludes that the RFC’s offensive mindset represented the ‘most sensible course of action’ to pursue (p. 163). Even for those not necessarily interested in the RFC, his discussion of how to best employ air power will provide much of value to ponder for readers interested in any era of air power.

Dr Heather Venable is an Associate Professor in the Department of Airpower at the United States Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College. She received her PhD in Military History from Duke University. Venable’s first book, How the Few Became the Proud: Crafting the Marine Corps Mystique, 1874-1918, was published by Naval Institute Press in 2019.

Header image: A group of pilots of No. 32 Squadron RFC at Beauval in 1916. Behind them is an Airco DH.2 biplane. (Source: Wikimedia)

#DesertStorm30 #Podcast – An Interview with Lieutenant General David Deptula, USAF (Ret.)

#DesertStorm30 #Podcast – An Interview with Lieutenant General David Deptula, USAF (Ret.)

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

In the latest episode of our podcast series, we interview Lieutenant General David Deptula, USAF (Ret.). Deptula was the principal attack planner for the Operation DESERT STORM coalition air campaign in 1991. Today, 30 years after the Gulf War, he joins us to talk about that air campaign – planning it, executing it, and evaluating it.

Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.) is the Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. He is a world-recognized leader and pioneer in conceptualizing, planning, and executing national security operations from humanitarian relief to major combat. He was the principal attack planner for the Operation Desert Storm air campaign; commander of no-fly-zone operations over Iraq in the late 1990s; director of the air campaign over Afghanistan in 2001; twice a joint task force commander; and was the air commander for the 2005 South Asia tsunami relief operations. He served on two congressional commissions charged with outlining America’s future defence posture. He is a fighter pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours – 400 in combat – Including multiple command assignments in the F-15. His last assignment was as the Air Force’s first deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), where he transformed America’s military ISR and drone enterprises—orchestrating the largest increase in drone operations in Air Force history. He retired from the Air Force in 2010 after more than 34 years of distinguished service. He has BA and ME degrees from the University of Virginia and a MS degree from National War College. In addition to his duties as Dean of the Mitchell Institute, he is the RisnerSenior Military Scholar at the US Air Force Academy; a board member at a variety of organizations; an independent consultant; and sought after commentator around the world as a thought leader on defence, strategy, and ISR.

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (March 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (March 2021)

Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.

Articles

Jan M. Waga and Maria Fajer, ‘The Heritage of the Second World War: Bombing in the Forests and Wetlands of the Koźle Basin,’ Antiquity, 2021, pp. 1–18, doi:10.15184/aqy.2020.154.

The Koźle Basin in Poland was radically transformed by aerial bombardment during the Second World War. Today, the region has approximately 6000 well-preserved bomb craters with diameters ranging from 5–15m and depths often exceeding 2m. Combining remote-sensing data and fieldwork with historical accounts, this article analyses these craters, demonstrating that their varied morphologies derive from the weight of the bombs that created them, and on the type and moisture content of the soil on which the bombs fell. Based on their results, the authors issue a call for the official protection of the Koźle landscape, which has particular historical, educational and ecological value.

Books

Krzysztof Dabrowski, Tsar Bomba: Live Testing of Soviet Nuclear Bombs, 1949-1962 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021).

On 30 October 1961, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR/Soviet Union) conducted a live test of the most powerful nuclear weapon ever created. Codenamed ‘Ivan’, and known in the West as the ‘Tsar Bomba’, the RDS-202 hydrogen bomb was detonated at the Sukhoy Nos cape of Severny Island, Novaya Zemla archipelago, in the Barents Sea.

The Tsar Bomba unleashed about 58 megatons of TNT, creating a 8-kilometre/5-mile-wide fireball and then a mushroom that peaked at an altitude of 95 kilometres (59 miles). The shockwave created by the RDS-202 eradicated a village 55 kilometres (34 miles) from ground zero, caused widespread damage to nature to a radius of dozens of kilometres further away, and created a heat wave felt as far as 270 kilometres (170 miles) distant. And still, this was just one of 45 tests of nuclear weapons conducted in the USSR in October 1961 alone.

Between 1949 and 1962, the Soviets set off 214 nuclear bombs in the open air. Dozens of these were released from aircraft operated by specialised test units. Equipped with the full range of bombers – from the Tupolev Tu-4, Tupolev Tu-16, to the gigantic Tu-95 – the units in question were staffed by men colloquially known as the ‘deaf-and-dumb’: people sworn to utmost secrecy, living and serving in isolation from the rest of the world. Frequently operating at the edge of the envelope of their specially modified machines while test-releasing weapons with unimaginable destructive potential, several of them only narrowly avoided catastrophe.

Richly illustrated with authentic photographs and custom-drawn colour profiles, Tsar Bomba is the story of the aircrews involved and their aircraft, all of which were carefully hidden not only by the Iron Curtain, but by a thick veil of secrecy for more than half a century.

Ken Delve, How the RAF and USAAF Beat the Luftwaffe (Barnsley: Greenhill Books, 2021).

“The Luftwaffe had to be used in a decisive way in the Battle of Britain as a means of conducting total air war. Its size, technical equipment and the means at its disposal precluded the Luftwaffe from fulfilling this mission.” Adolf Galland

How did the RAF beat the Luftwaffe during the Second World War? Was it actually the fact that they did not lose which later enabled them to claim victory – a victory that would have been impossible without the participation of the Americans from early 1943?

This groundbreaking study looks at the main campaigns in which the RAF – and later the Allies – faced the Luftwaffe. Critically acclaimed writer Ken Delve argues that by the latter part of 1942 the Luftwaffe was no longer a decisive strategic or even tactical weapon.

The Luftwaffe was remarkably resilient, but it was on a continual slide to ultimate destruction. Its demise is deconstructed according to defective strategic planning from the inception of the Luftwaffe; its failure to provide decisive results over Britain in 1940 and over the Mediterranean and Desert in 1941–1942; and its failure to defend the Reich and the occupied countries against the RAF and, later, combined Allied bomber offensive.

Delve studies numerous aspects to these failures, from equipment (aircraft and weapons) to tactics, leadership (political and military), logistics, morale and others.

Bojan Dimitrijevic, Operation DELIBERATE FORCE: Air War over Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-1995 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021).

Operation Deliberate Force describes the air war fought over the former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992-1995.

Based on extensive research and with the help of participants, the first part of this book provides a detailed reconstruction of the emergence of three local air forces in 1992; the emergence of the air force of the self-proclaimed Serbian Krajina in Croatia, the Croat Air Force, the Bosnian Muslim air force, and their combat operations in 1992-1995.

In reaction to the resulting air war, in 1992 the United Nations declared a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Codenamed Operation Deny Flight, the resulting military operations culminated in the summer of 1995, when NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force against the Serbian forces – and which forms the centrepiece of this story.

Operation Deliberate Force was NATO’s first active military operation, yet to date it has only been covered from the Western point of view: this volume is the first authoritative account providing details and analysis from both sides – that of NATO and of the Serbs. For example, it remains essentially unknown that the local Serbian air force continued flying strikes almost a month after Operation Deliberate Force was over, as late as of mid-October 1995.

Untangling an exceptionally complex conflict, Operation Deliberate Force is illustrated with a blend of exclusive photography from local sources and from official sources in the West. As such it is a unique source of reference about the air war fought in the centre of Europe during the mid-1990s.

Dimitry Khazanov, Air Battles over Hungary, 1944-45 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021).

Air Battles over Hungary 1944-45 is dedicated to the fighting over Hungary during the course of the Debrecen (6 October – 27 October 1944) and Budapest (29 October 1944 – 13 February 1945) offensives, as well as the Balaton Defensive Operation (6 – 15 March 1945), which the Red Army carried out from autumn 1944 until the spring of 1945. The conduct of these operations preceded an attempt by the Regent of Budapest, Miklos Horthy, to pull his country out of the war. This attempt however was unsuccessful – Vice Admiral Horthy was replaced under Hitler’s orders by the pro-Nazi henchman Szalasi, after which fierce and desperate battles broke out both on the ground and in the air. 

The Red Army Air Force enjoying numerical superiority, the quality of Soviet aircraft and high level of aircrew training having improved signifcantly by the time of the fighting. Conversely, it appeared there were almost no air aces left in the ranks of the Luftwaffe. Thus it appeared Soviet airmen would have no difficulty securing a victory. This, however, was not the case. Erich Hartmann, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, Gerhard Barkhorn, and many others fought here. Amongst the Hungarians the highest scoring ace, Dezso Szentgyorgyi, stood out, as did the outstanding Aladar de Heppes. Amongst their Soviet opponents were Kirill Yevstigneyev, Grigoriy Sivkov, Aleksandr Koldunov, Nikolai Skomorokhov, and Georgiy Beregovoy.

The fact that from time to time the aerial combat took place directly over Budapest – one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – could be considered a distinguishing feature of this fighting. Bristling with anti-aircraft artillery, Budapest was frequently subjected to bombing raids, and from the end of December to the beginning of January, certain areas in the Hungarian capital were transformed into improvised airfields and landing strips for German and Hungarian transport aircraft and gliders. Despite all the efforts to set up an air bridge, the German high command never succeeded in achieving this. This forced the besieged to attempt a breakout, after which the remaining garrison surrendered. The subsequent long drawn out battle near Lake Balaton ended in the ultimate defeat of the German troops, and their allies.

Michael Napier, Korean Air War: Sabres, MiGs and Meteors, 1950-53 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021).

Often overlooked, the time is now right for a new account of the Korean War (1950-53) given recent political events and, in particular, the aerial aspect. With a paucity of major accounts that go beyond one side or aspect of the conflict, Michael Napier has written this meticulously-researched new volume. The war proved a technological watershed as the piston-engined aircraft of WW2 seceded to the jet aircraft of modern times, establishing tactics and doctrine that are still valid today.

This wide-ranging study covers the parts played by the forces of North Korea, China, the former Soviet Union, the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and South Africa in a volume rich with combat reports and first-person accounts. This lavishly illustrated hardback will appeal to aviation enthusiasts and those with a fascination for the Korean War as we enter the 70th anniversary of the conflict.

Amaru Tincopa, Air Wars Between Ecuador and Peru: Volume 3 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021).

The series of sharp clashes between Ecuador and Peru of 1981 left the dispute between the two countries unresolved as there was still no definitive delimitation of the border. During the following years, both parties had to deal with a series of internal and external issues and, ultimately, these affected the planning and operational capabilities of their respective armed forces. While Peru underwent a severe economic crisis including hyperinflation caused by poor management of its economy, and a leftist insurgency, Ecuador underwent a transition from a centrally-controlled economy to a free market: in turn, it was one of countries in Latin America least affected by the precipitous fall in regional economic indices of the 1990s. These factors had an immediate impact upon the armed forces of both countries: they proved decisive for the development of their defensive and offensive planning, and would exercise direct influence upon the decisions taken by field commanders of both countries during the final, third war between Ecuador and Peru in 1995.

Drawing upon extensive research in the official archives from both the Fuerza Aérea del Ecuador and Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP), with documentation from multiple private sources in both countries, Air Wars Between Ecuador and Peru Volume 3 completes the history of the aerial operations launched by the forces of both nations in the brief – but also the most violent – engagement between these two countries.

By accessing details from both parties to the conflict, this volume avoids biased and one-sided coverage of the conflict, while providing detail of the military build-up, capabilities and intentions of both of the air forces involved, their training, planning, and the conduct of combat operations.

Illustrated by nearly 200 exclusive photographs, maps and 15 authentic colour profiles, Air Wars Between Ecuador and Peru Volume 3 provides the first authoritative account of the air warfare between Ecuador and Peru in early 1995.

Wolfgang W.E. Samuel, Flights from Fassberg: How a German Town Built for War Became a Beacon of Peace (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2021).

Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, Colonel, US Air Force (Ret.), interweaves his story and that of his family with the larger history of World War II and the postwar world through a moving recollection and exploration of Fassberg, a small town in Germany few have heard of and fewer remember. Created in 1933 by the Hitler regime to train German aircrews, Fassberg hosted Samuel’s father in 1944–45 as an officer in the German air force. As fate and Germany’s collapse chased young Wolfgang, Fassberg later became his home as a postwar refugee, frightened, traumatized, hungry, and cold.

Built for war, Fassberg made its next mark as a harbinger of the new Cold War, serving as one of the operating bases for Allied aircraft during the Berlin Airlift in 1948. With the end of the Berlin Crisis, the airbase and town faced a dire future. When the Royal Air Force declared the airbase surplus to its needs, it also signed the place’s death warrant, yet increasing Cold War tensions salvaged both base and town. Fassberg transformed again, this time into a forward operating base for NATO aircraft, including a fighter flown by Samuel’s son.

Both personal revelation and world history, replete with tales from pilots, mechanics, and all those whose lives intersected there, Flights from Fassberg provides context to the Berlin Airlift and its strategic impact, the development of NATO, and the establishment of the West German nation. The little town built for war survived to serve as a refuge for a lasting peace.

Rick Tollini, Call-Sign KLUSO: An American Fighter Pilot in Mr. Reagan’s Air Force (Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2021).

Eagle pilot Rick “Kluso” Tollini’s life has embodied childhood dreams and the reality of what the American experience could produce. In his memoir, Call Sign KLUSO, Rick puts the fraught minutes above the Iraqi desert that made him an ace into the context of a full life; exploring how he came to be flying a F-15C in Desert Storm, and how that day became a pivotal moment in his life.

Rick’s first experience of flying was in a Piper PA-18 over 1960s’ California as a small boy, and his love of flying through his teenage years was fostered by his pilot father, eventually blossoming into a decision to join the Air Force as a pilot in his late twenties. Having trained to fly jets he was assigned to fly the F-15 Eagle with the “Dirty Dozen,” the 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron, at Kadena AB, Japan before returning Stateside to the 58th Tactical Fighter Squadron “The Gorillas.” Throughout training, Reagan’s fighter pilots expected to face the Soviet Union, but Rick’s first combat deployment was Desert Storm. He recounts the planning, the preparation, and the missions, the life of a fighter pilot in a combat zone and the reality of combat. Rick’s aerial victory was one of 16 accumulated by the Gorillas, the most by any squadron during Desert Storm.

Returning from the combat skies of Iraq, Rick continued a successful fulfilling Air Force career until, struggling to make sense of his life, he turned to Buddhism. His practice led him to leave the Air Force, to find a new vocation, and to finally come to terms with shooting down that MiG-25 Foxbat in the desert all those years before. Most importantly, he came to a deeper understanding of the importance of our shared humanity.

Expressions of Interest – Editor, From Balloons to Drones

Expressions of Interest – Editor, From Balloons to Drones

Job title: Editor

Reports to: Dr Ross Mahoney, Editor-in-Chief

Established in 2016, From Balloons to Drones has successfully developed into a well-regarded online scholarly platform dedicated to analysing and debating air power history, theory, and contemporary operations in their broadest sense, including space and cyber power. Our outputs include various article types ranging from scholarly pieces to book reviews and a successful podcast series.

The role
To help us develop further, From Balloons to Drones is currently looking to recruit an emerging and passionate air power specialist to join our editorial team. This voluntary role’s primary purpose is to work with the editorial team to peer-review submissions while supporting the aims and objectives of From Balloons to Drones in other areas.

What do we offer?
The From Balloons to Drones team comprises experienced and knowledgeable air power scholars and editors who will mentor, advise, and assist the successful applicant in undertaking their role. This role will allow you to develop your editing skills and experience of engaging with the broader air power studies community.

Team Structure
The From Balloons to Drones editorial team

You can find out more about the From Balloons to Drones editorial team here.

Who are we looking for?
Are you passionate about the study of air power? Are you interested in the contest of ideas? Do you want to be involved in publishing new and exciting research? Then this role is for you.

From Balloons to Drones welcomes and encourages applications for this new role from applicants working in a wide range of fields, including but not limited to military history, international relations, strategic studies, law, and archaeology. The role is open to postgraduates, academics, policymakers, service personnel and relevant professionals involved in researching the subject of air power.

From Balloons to Drones actively encourages and promotes diversity within the field of air power studies. We particularly encourage applications from those underrepresented within the air power studies community.

Role functions

  1. Contribute to the peer-review of submissions.
  2. Contribute to building a core community of interest using social media that furthers the aims and objectives of From Balloons to Drones.
  3. Contribute to content creation for From Balloons to Drones across all platforms.
  4. Professionally represent From Balloons to Drones at conferences and other events.
  5. Undertake additional duties as required by the Editor-in-Chief.

Applications
To apply, contact Dr Ross Mahoney (airpowerstudies@gmail.com) with a copy of your CV and a brief covering letter (c. 500 words) explaining why you wish to join the team. After reviewing all applications, we aim to inform applicants of the outcome by mid-to late-May.

Closing date: 16 April 2021

#DesertStorm30 – The Ghosts of Vietnam: Building Air Superiority for Operation DESERT STORM

#DesertStorm30 – The Ghosts of Vietnam: Building Air Superiority for Operation DESERT STORM

By Dr Michael Hankins

Editorial Note: 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of Operation DESERT STORM. To mark this anniversary, during 2021, From Balloons to Drones will be publishing a series of articles that examine various aspects of DESERT STORM’s air campaign. We will be publishing pieces throughout 2021, and if you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here. The official call for submissions can be found here.

I think to understand the success of Desert Storm, you have to study Vietnam.

Lieutenant General Chuck Horner, Joint Force Air Component Commander during Operation DESERT STORM[1]

This reflection applies to many aspects of the 1991 Gulf War, undeniably so in the realm of air-to-air combat. As in most wars, air-to-air combat played a relatively small role, certainly not a decisive one. However, the differences between air combat during the Vietnam War and DESERT STORM are stark. In the skies above Southeast Asia between 1965 and 1973, the United States shot down approximately 200 enemy aircraft while North Vietnamese MiGs claimed about 80 US fighters.[2] During DESERT STORM, coalition pilots shot down 42 Iraqi aircraft and only lost one to a MiG.[3] There is no single reason why air-to-air efforts were so much more successful in DESERT STORM than in Vietnam. However, several factors synergistically combined to contribute to a considerable shift in air superiority efforts: training, situational awareness, technology, and the nature of the enemy being faced. These factors were interconnected. Technologies that had first appeared in Vietnam had matured and became more reliable. These technologies were also more interwoven with training and doctrine, drastically increasing their effectiveness in situations like those faced in the Gulf in 1991.

What went wrong in Vietnam

The 1970s and 1980s constitute a second interwar period. As with the period between the First and Second World War, the years between the Vietnam War and DESERT STORM was a time of massive technological, doctrinal, and organisational change within the US military. It was also a time of competing theories and visions regarding what the future of warfare might look like. These debates centred on the idea of fixing the perceived problems of Vietnam. However, there was little agreement over what exactly the problems were and even less about how to fix them.

Regarding the air-to-air realm, clearly, there had been problems in Southeast Asia. To avoid fratricide, restrictive rules of engagement prevented most missiles from being fired in the conditions for which they were designed. At the same time, the jungle environment compounded issues from transport and maintenance that frequently damaged delicate sensor equipment. North Vietnamese MiGs often did not stick around to fight. However, their agility was effective against the larger, heavier American interceptors when they did. US pilots often had little – if any – air combat training and rarely (if ever) against aircraft that mimicked the MiGs capabilities and tactics.

An F-4C Phantom II of the 559th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, September 1967. Front to back: Captain John P. Flannery, 1st Lieutenant Lewis M. Hauser. (Source: US Air Force)

To fix these problems, two main camps emerged: the self-described ‘Fighter Mafia’ that later evolved into the larger Defense Reform Movement (Reformers) was led by former fighter pilots, analysts, engineers, and journalists linked to Colonel John Boyd.[4] They argued in favour of new aircraft that they were simple and cheap. The poor performance of missiles in Vietnam frustrated the ‘Fighter Mafia,’ who argued that the key to winning air battles required small, lightweight aircraft that emphasised maneuverability and gunnery. In their argument, aircraft did not need to be burdened with long-range radars. Countering these views was the defence establishment – the service leaders in the Pentagon, the USAF Air Staff, and other analysts, including the commander of Tactical Air Command, General Wilbur ‘Bill’ Creech. This group argued that a high-tech approach was necessary to counter the Soviet threat. They argued that although weapons may be expensive, they were not only effective but could protect more American lives and reduce casualties.[5]

These debates occurred in a context of larger doctrinal changes within all the US military services during a second interwar period of heavy debate and significant technological changes. Nonetheless, the Reformers had a large influence on the direction of air war planning in those years. However, ultimately, few of their proposed reforms truly took hold as the defence establishment had the advantage of being established and in power. However, in having to defend themselves against the Reformers’ frequent critiques, the defence establishment was forced to confront important issues, particularly regarding readiness and weapons testing procedures.

Train How We Fight

Even the most significant changes in technology would be of limited use without equal changes in training. This was something even the revered ace pilot Brigadier General Robin Olds realised. Speaking of his experience flying F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam, Olds lamented, ‘If only I’d had a gun!’ However, Olds opposed adding a gun pod to the F-4s in his unit because, as he recalled:

[o]ut of all my fighter guys, only a precious few have ever fired a gun at an aerial target, let alone learned how to dogfight with guns. Hell, they’d pile into a bunch of MiGs with their hair on fire and be eaten alive.[6]

Some US Navy officers realised the importance of air combat training, instituting the Navy Fighter Weapons School, also called TOPGUN, specifically to train F-4 and F-8 pilots how to defeat MiGs in air-to-air encounters. The school’s graduates began having success in the air battles of 1972. The US Air Force (USAF) was slower to institute similar training but did create the Red Flag exercises in 1975. The key to both programs was ‘dissimilar air combat training’ (DACT): training in mock combat against different aircraft types than one’s own. Said another way, DACT means to train how you fight.[7]

That meant that F-8, F-4, and F-105 pilots needed to square off against smaller, nimbler planes that could simulate the MiGs. T-38s, F-5s and F-86s were perfect for that. Pilots flying as these pretend adversaries became known as ‘aggressor’ squadrons. Eventually, captured MiG fighters of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (nicknamed the ‘Red Eagles’) could give coalition pilots mock combat experience against actual MiGs.[8]

We Have the Technology

The new DACT training programs were not all about maneuvers and volleyball. The programs incorporated a wide array of new tactics emerging from rapid evolution in new technologies both in new airframes and the new generations of missiles that were far more capable than their Vietnam-era ancestors. These included new fighters like USAF’s F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the US Navy’s F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet. A far cry from the interceptors designed in the early Cold War, these new generations of planes emphasised air combat capability as their first priority, with multi-role functions like ground attack as an add-on. In other words, these planes were agile, born to mix it up in dogfights, but could still perform the vital missions of strategic and tactical bombing, close air support, and interdiction. Like the F-16’s fly-by-wire controls, their new control systems maximised the pilot’s command over their aeroplanes. At the same time, head’s up displays enabled pilots to see vital information and keep their eyes on the skies instead of looking down at their instruments and switches.[9]

The prototypes of the YF-16 Fighting Falcon (left) were smaller, lighter, and held less electronics, optimized for the day fighter role. The production model F-16A (right) was larger to incorporate all-weather and ground attack capabilities, among other modifications. (Source: US Air Force)

One of the most significant upgrades was a new model of the heat-seeking Sidewinder missile, the AIM-9L. Unlike previous versions, the ‘L’ (nicknamed ‘Lima’) could be fired from any direction. No longer did pilots need to maneuver behind an enemy after the ‘merge’ (in which two fighters flying head-on zoom past each other before beginning a maneuvering dogfight). This new weapon complimented the new AIM-7F Sparrow missile – a radar-guided missile with improved range and look-down capability. These missiles, combined with the Hughes AN/APG-63 radar housed in the F-15 Eagle’s nose, allowed the new generation of fighters to identify their targets from far beyond what the human eye could see. It also meant they could coordinate with other coalition pilots and “sort” their targets. Maneuvering was still crucial, but as former F-15 pilot Colonel C.R. Anderegg noted:

The cycle of counter vs. counter vs. counter continued, but the fight did not start at 1,000 feet range as in the days of ’40 second Boyd.’ The struggle was starting while the adversaries were thirty miles apart, and the F-15 pilots were seriously intent on killing every adversary pre-merge.[10]

Pilots in previous decades had often decried the lack of a gun on the F-4 and were sceptical of claims that missiles were the way of the future. Missiles were problematic in Vietnam, but in the Gulf War, they dominated. Of the 42 official coalition aerial victories, three were due to ground impact. The only gun kills were two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs that shredded Iraqi helicopters with their infamous GAU-8 cannon. In one case, an F-15E Strike Eagle dropped a laser-guided GBU-10 bomb onto a helicopter and received an aerial victory credit. The remaining 36 – almost 86 per cent – were the result of a guided missile. Of the AIM-7 kills, 16 (44 per cent of the total number of missile kills) were beyond visual range attacks.[11]

Even the best-trained and equipped pilots in the world cannot use their advantages if they are unaware of the threats around them. Effective situational awareness and early warning have proven crucial to air combat success. Throughout Vietnam, several long-range radars provided this capability. Airborne radar and surveillance programs like College Eye and Rivet Top and US Navy ship-based radar-like Red Crown became invaluable to pilots during Vietnam. Bringing the variety of systems together into Project Teaball in the summer of 1972 provided an even more powerful aid to pilots aiming to take out MiGs. Nevertheless, these systems (and the many other similar efforts) had limitations. The invention of pulse-Doppler radar systems enabled a reliable way of distinguishing airborne threats from ground clutter when looking down. This innovation led to the USAF’s E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). The Navy used a similar concept in their E-2 Hawkeye. These systems gave operators a view of aircraft operating in the entire airspace, allowing them to pass on the word to coalition fighter pilots where the MiGs were from very long ranges. Almost every single aerial encounter during the Gulf War began with a call from AWACS or an E-2.[12]

Know Your Enemy

The US and its allies prepared for a conventional war against the Soviet-style threat that Iraq seemed to be. As the saying goes, the enemy always gets a vote. In the Gulf War case, as one General Accounting Office report put it: ‘the Iraqi air force essentially chose not to challenge the coalition.’[13] Of course, that is not entirely true, as some intense air battles did occur, and a few Iraqi pilots proved quite adept. Nevertheless, overall, the Iraqi Air Force had not invested in air-to-air combat preparedness. There was no Iraqi equivalent of Top Gun or Red Flag, and air-to-air training was lacking. One US Navy Intelligence report stated: ‘Intercept tactics and training [were] still predominantly conservative, elementary, and generally not up to western standards.’ Culturally, while US fighter pilots tended to prize aerial combat, the Iraqi Air Force culture did not, viewing ground attack as a more desirable assignment. As historian Williamson Murray argued, Iraqi pilots ‘did not possess the basic flying skills to exploit fully the capabilities of their aircraft.’[14]

F-15C Eagles of the 58th Tactical Fighter Squadron takeoff on deployment to Saudi Arabia during Operation DESERT SHIELD. (Source: US Air Force)

As F-15s flew combat air patrol missions during the opening strikes, searching for possible MiG threats, infrared cameras revealed one MiG-29 crashing into the ground. At the same time, another launched a missile that destroyed a friendly MiG-23 crossing ahead of it. In some cases, when coalition pilots obtained radar locks, Iraqi pilots made little to no attempt to maneuver before missiles destroyed their planes. When coalition planners began targeting the hardened shelters protecting Iraqi aircraft, many pilots attempted to flee to Iran. Reiterating the Iraqi fighter pilot force’s lack of competence, many of them did not have enough fuel for the trip and crashed. Coalition pilots seized the opportunity to destroy the enemy in the air as they fled.[15]

Conclusion

The lives lost in air combat during the Vietnam War are tragic. Many aircrew members died, others became prisoners, and many suffered lifelong psychological trauma. Every single loss affected the families and loved ones of those crews, creating ripple effects lasting generations. If some strands of hope can be pulled from those tragedies, one of them is that allied airmen’s struggles in the Vietnam War planted the seeds of change that led to the massive increase in air-to-air combat effectiveness in Operation Desert Storm. Technologies, training methods, and tactics first introduced in Southeast Asia continued to mature throughout the 1970s and 1980s, strengthened further by the heat of intellectual debate during those years. The coalition’s effectiveness in air-to-air combat alone did not win the Gulf War, of course. However, it did undoubtedly save many lives and contributed to the US achieving its objectives.

As Horner recalled: ‘Vietnam was a ghost we carried with us.’ One way to exorcise that ghost was by gaining control of the air in Iraq from the outset, which had not happened in Vietnam. It worked. As Horner recalled:

[e]very time the Iraqi interceptor planes, their best defences, took off, it was take off, gear up, blow up, because we had two F-15s sitting on every airfield, overhead every airfield, and so we never gave them a chance.[16]

Dr Michael Hankins is the Curator of US Air Force History at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and is an Editor at From Balloons to Drones. He is a former Professor of Strategy at the USAF Air Command and Staff College eSchool, and former Instructor of Military History at the US Air Force Academy. He earned his PhD from Kansas State University in 2018, and a master’s from the University of North Texas in 2013, He has a web page here and can be found on Twitter at @hankinstien.

Header image: An F-15C Eagle of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing during Exercise Gallant Eagle, 1986. (Source: US Air Force)

[1] ‘Oral History: Charles Horner,’ Frontline, 9 January 1996.

[2] Sources differ on exact numbers. The best work on the air-to-air aspect of Vietnam to date is Marshal Michel, Clashes: Air Combat over North Vietnam, 1965-1972 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997).

[3] Lewis D. Hill et al, Gulf War Air Power Survey: Volume V: A Statistical Compendium and Chronology (Washington D.C.; US Department of Defense, 1993), p. 637, 641, pp. 653-4; hereafter cited as GWAPS. The one loss was US Navy Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher. Information about that event can be found here: CIA, FOIA Electronic Reading Room, ‘Intelligence Community Assessment of the Lieutenant Commander Speicher Case,’ 27 March 2001.

[4] For a precis of Boyd’s career, see: Michael Hankins, ‘A Discourse on John Boyd: A Brief Summary of the US Air Force’s Most Controversial Pilot and Thinker,’ From Balloons to Drones, 22 August 2018.

[5] For a pro-reform view, see Grant Hammond, The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001); and James Burton, The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard (Annapolis, MD, Naval Institute Press, 1993). The defense establishment view is best represented by Walter Kross, Military Reform: The High-Tech Debate in Tactical Air Forces (Fort McNair: National Defense University Press, 1985); and James C. Slife, Creech Blue: Gen Bill Creech and the Reformation of the Tactical Air Forces, 1978-1984 (Maxwell AFB: Air University Press, 2004).

[6] Robin Olds, with Christina Olds and Ed Rasimus, Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010), p. 304, 317.

[7] The best overview of the origins of the Red Flag program is Brian Laslie’s The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam (Lexington, KT: University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

[8] Gaillard R. Peck, Jr., America’s Secret MiG Squadron: The Red Eagles of Project Constant Peg (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2012)

[9] For a history of the development of both aircraft, see Steven A. Fino, Tiger Check: Automating the US Air Force Fighter Pilot in Air-to-Air Combat, 1950-1980 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017); and Michael Hankins, ‘The Cult of the Lightweight Fighter: Culture and Technology in the U.S. Air Force, 1964-1991’ (PhD thesis, Kansas State University, 2018).

[10] C.R. Anderegg, Sierra Hotel: Flying Air Force Fighters in The Decade After Vietnam (Washington D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2001), p. 163.

[11] GWAPS Summary Report, p. 60; GWAPS V5, pp. 653-4; Daniel Haulman, ‘No Contest: Aerial Combat in the 1990s,’ Presentation, Society for Military History annual meeting, May 2001, 6; Craig Brown, Debrief: A Complete History of U.S. Aerial Engagements, 1981 to the Present (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2007), pp. 23-149.

[12] Kenneth P. Werrell, Chasing the Silver Bullet: U.S. Air Force Weapons Development from Vietnam to Desert Storm (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2003), pp. 187-205; Michael Hankins, ‘The Teaball Solution: The Evolution of Air Combat Technology in Vietnam, 1968-1972,’ Air Power History 63 (2016), pp. 7-24; Michael Hankins, ‘#AirWarVietnam – Making a MiG-Killer: Technology and Signals Intelligence for Air-to-Air Combat in Vietnam,’ From Balloons to Drones, 15 August 2019. For details of individual encounters, see Brown, Debrief.

[13] GAO/NSIAD-97-134, ‘Operation Desert Storm: Evaluation of the Air Campaign,’ United States General Accounting Office Report to the Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Commerce, House of Representatives, June 1997, p. 66.

[14] Williamson Murray, with Wayne M. Thompson, Air War in the Persian Gulf (Baltimore, MD: The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1995), 67, 92.

[15] Brown, Debrief, pp. 51-73; Murray, Air War, pp. 110-1, p. 162, 180.

[16] ‘Oral History: Charles Horner,’ Frontline, 9 January 1996.