Book Review – Bailout Over Normandy: A Flyboy’s Adventures with the French Resistance and Other Escapades in Occupied France

Book Review – Bailout Over Normandy: A Flyboy’s Adventures with the French Resistance and Other Escapades in Occupied France

By Luke Truxal

Ted Fahrenwald, Bailout Over Normandy: A Flyboy’s Adventures with the French Resistance and Other Escapades in Occupied France. Philadelphia, PA: Casemate, 2012. Pbk. Editor’s Note. 288 pp.


The Second World War is littered with stories of downed airmen and their experiences behind enemy lines. Throughout the European air war, thousands of Americans found themselves on the run in German-occupied territory. Each of their experiences provides an opportunity to analyse these cross-cultural interactions. Ted Fahrenwald’s account as a downed American fighter pilot in occupied France gives historians an insight into many of the experiences of an American airman on the run. Fahrenwald, who was shot down and later rescued by the French resistance, or the Maquis. Later, German soldiers captured Fahrenwald as he tried to make his way back to the American lines. Before being sent to a prison camp, the downed fighter pilot escaped and once again found himself on the run. Eventually, American troops of the US Third Army found Fahrenwald after he had taken up residence in the home of a French family.

Readers are introduced to Fahrenwald as a fighter pilot. He jumps right into the action and describes the daily grind of flying missions as a part of the US Eighth Air Force. Each of his daily briefings takes place long before sunrise. Fahrenwald is frank in his descriptions of his combat experience shortly before he was shot down. The author describes himself as a pilot who had been exhausted by the greater demands of supporting the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944.  Before one take off, his ‘fingers had developed a tremor.’ (p. 13) The wear and tear of his previous ninety-nine missions are prevalent throughout the first pages of the book.

Pilots of the 486th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, in front of a P-47 Thunderbolt named “Sweetie” at Bodney air base in March 1944. Left to right, top row: Lieutenant Woodrow W. Anderson, Lieutenant Stanley G. Miles, Lieutenant Frank A. Cutler, Lieutenant Martin E. Corcoran, Lieutenant Donald Y. Whinnem. Left to right, middle row: Lieutenant-Colonel Luther H. Richmond, Captain Stephen W. Andrew, Lieutenant Thomas W. Colby, Lieutenant Henry J. Miklajyck, Captain Edward J. Gignac, Lieutenant Alfred L. Marshall, Lieutenant Alton J. Wallace, Lieutenant Robert C. Frascotti, Lieutenant Donald H. Higgins, Major Willie O. Jackson. Left to right, front row: Lieutenant Lloyd A. Rauk, Lieutenant Warren H. Brashear, Captain Franklyn N. Green, Lieutenant Donald W. McKibben, Lieutenant Theodore P. Fahrenwald, Lieutenant Robert C. MacKean, Lieutenant Edwin L. Heller, Lieutenant Joseph L. Gerst. (Source: (c) IWM (FRE 333))

Throughout the text, we see Fahrenwald rapidly adapt to his surroundings. Fahrenwald’s relationship with the Maquis evolves from that of a foreigner to a full-fledged member of the group. After he bailed out a family took Fahrenwald in and gave him clothes. He admits during this time that he spoke little French and had difficulty understanding those who were helping him (p. 25). After he was sent to the Maquis, he began to assimilate. Weeks later when American soldiers discovered Fahrenwald at the home of another family, the soldiers mistook him for a French citizen. Fahrenwald spoke, dressed, and acted French. After several minutes he informed the American soldiers who he was in English. Still not convinced, he was interrogated by a ‘Captain Ford’ of the 90th Infantry Division. After successfully answering several questions to prove he was not a spy, Ford sent Fahrenwald back to the American camp (p.258-60). In a matter of weeks, Fahrenwald had successfully adapted to his new environment.

Fahrenwald also noted the distrust of outsiders amongst the Maquis. Despite aiding him, there are several points at which his loyalties are questioned. In one instance Fahrenwald stated that one Frenchman, Canoe, believed Fahrenwald to be a German in disguise. He said that Fahrenwald ‘was too thin and too blond’ to be an American (p. 35). Over time members of the Maquis began to trust Fahrenwald. Once other downed pilots joined his group, the relationship soured. He wrote, ‘[N]ow, instead of being one of them as of old, I was one of a tight little clique of English-speaking fliers’ (p. 73). After his escape from a German prisoner camp, he hid with a family that had ties to the Maquis. One of the members, Robert, yelled at Fahrenwald about a failed supply drop that cost him most of the members of his group (p. 229). While willing to help, French fighters preferred to keep their distance from Fahrenwald and other outsiders.

P-51 Mustangs of the 486th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, come to Debden to fly with the 4th fighter Group the following day on the first 8th Air Force ‘Frantic’ mission – England to Russia, and return via Italy. 20 June 1944. (Source: (c) IWM (UPL 14325))

While Fahrenwald provided a detailed account of his time in France, these memoirs are incomplete. The author writes very little about his missions before when he was shot down. This book begins with Fahrenwald’s final missions as a fighter pilot. He left out his training and months of flying as a fighter escort prior. Readers and historians alike miss out on valuable information such as the learning curve from training into combat. Readers are also left to speculate as to Fahrenwald’s interactions with civilians in the United Kingdom. As a fighter pilot based in the United Kingdom, he spent more time interacting with British civilians than time with the French. This likely had some effect on his experiences while he was on the run in France. By jumping right into the action, the author left out elements that detract from the book and leave the reader wondering.

Historians will find this text useful as a primary source. Fahrenwald examined his time with the Maquis as a foreigner. Those writing about the Maquis during Operation OVERLORD should examine this book. The author records both the actions and the thoughts of the Maquis well during this period. Fahrenwald’s account also adds to the history of the air war. He provides an excellent first-hand account of his time escaping and invading capture.  Historians will find Fahrenwald’s account useful as a primary source.

Luke Truxal is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas. He is currently writing his dissertation ‘Command Unity and the Air War Against Germany.’ Truxal completed his master’s thesis at the University of North Texas titled ‘The Failed Bomber Offensive: A Reexamination of the Combined Bomber Offensive in 1943’ in 2011. His current research focuses on the command relationships between the British and Americans during the air war in Europe from 1942 to 1944. Truxal is currently teaching at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, TN. He can be reached on Twitter at @Luke_Truxal.

Header Image: Ground crew stand beside a P-47 Thunderbolt named “Sneezy”. This aircraft was flown by Lieutenant Donald McKibben of the 486th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group. Source: (c) IWM (FRE 327))

Book Review – The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory

Book Review – The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory

By Eamon Hamilton

Craig F. Morris, The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Notes. Bibliography. Index. 272 pp.

Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory

The strategic bomber has stood as one pillar of American military strength since the Second World War, and even today, the deployment of B-1s, B-2s and B-52s to forward bases across the globe sends a strong message to potential adversaries. Serving as a true ‘Book of Genesis’ chapter to this capability, The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory by Craig F. Morris covers the period of 1916 to 1942 and explores the growth of an idea within the United States Army, rather than deal primarily in technology or personalities. By recounting how air power theory matured (and was withheld) within the United States Army, he also delivers an excellent case study on how an organisation reacts to disruptive technology.

There is a stark comparison in air power capability that comes early from Morris. The book’s introduction begins with the arrival of United States Army Air Force B-17s in England in 1942. Operationally untested, their existence still spoke of the maturity of America’s investment in technology, organisation, and air power doctrine during the interwar period. Contrast that scene with the experience of the United States Army’s 1st Aero Squadron in Mexico in 1916, which Morris covers in his first chapter. There is obviously no suggestion that the 1st Aero Squadron’s Curtis JN-3 biplanes were to be used as bombers against Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa; what Morris does is illustrate the lack of intellectual depth the United States Army had with its heavier-than-air aviation capability. While the technology was relatively new, that lack of innovation remains surprising considering how the First World War had quickly illustrated the utility of aviation.

The Mexican adventure serves another purpose – it introduces several personalities from the 1st Aero Squadron who were sent to Europe when the United States entered the First World War. The most significant focus of The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory falls on 1917 to 1919, which stands to reason – it is here that the Aviation Section of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) first encountered the idea of strategic bombing from the Allied (and Central) powers. This transfer of ideas is explored mainly through the experiences of Edgar S. Gorrell, a veteran of the 1st Aero Squadron in Mexico who was sent to Europe to study how the United States would grow its aviation forces in the First World War. The AEF ground commanders wanted aviation to provide the battlefield reconnaissance and air defence, but Gorrell’s exposure to Allied air power theory led him to become a proponent of using bombers to open a ‘new front’ on an enemy’s warfighting infrastructure, effectively bypassing the war in the trenches on the Western Front.

Gorrell-Edgar-S (Harris & Ewing)
Lieutenant Edgar S. Gorrell studied aeronautical engineering at MIT following the Mexican campaign of 1916. (Source: US Air Force Historical Research Agency)

Gorrell is the personality most consistently covered in The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory, which is arguably a testament to the aviator’s recordkeeping and his early advocacy of strategic bombing. The First World War ended before Gorrell could successfully argue the case for an American strategic bomber force, but the Armistice allowed him to leave two critical legacies to the future of air power development. Gorrell was tasked with organising the official history of the AEF, an assignment which allowed him to draw together air power lessons from the AEF and Allied into an official post-War record. On top of this, he drove a post-war bombing survey that examined what impact Allied bombing made on Germany’s warfighting effort.

When dealing with the events of 1919 to 1942, The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory does not enjoy the singular narrative focus that Gorrell’s experiences during the First World War afforded it (Gorrell left the military as a Colonel in 1920 at the age of 28, worked in the motoring industry, and died in March 1945). In Morris’ defence, strategic bombing theory in the interwar period was driven by complex variables, from personalities such as Billy Mitchell and rapidly growing aviation technology; through to economic resources (like the Great Depression), along with shifting strategic and foreign policy. The main conflict affecting strategic bombing theory (and the introduction of a supporting capability) was between the US Army’s General Staff, and aviation proponents within the Air Corps, as the Air Service had become in 1926. As aviation technology grew and the Air Corps Tactical School developed its ideas for air power, the Army General Staff were justifiably worried that a strategic bombing capability would lead to an independent Air Force, and a competitor for government funding.

Air Corps Tactical School
The Air Corps Tactical School (created as the Air Service Field Officers School in 1920) went beyond its mandate of training officers to also become an engine for air power theory development in the interwar period. (Source: US Air Force Air University)

The examination of this conflict makes The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory an excellent study in how organisations react to disruptive technology (both positively and negatively). The parallels to modern disruptive technologies (for example, autonomous systems, or space-based systems) do not feel completely analogous, given the purely historical lens of this book. That being said, it gives numerous examples of both innovative and misguided thinking at different levels within the United States Army in dealing with aviation. While history arguably vindicated the strategic bomber concept, Morris does well explain Army’s reservations with this new field.

One of the most significant qualities of The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory is also the chief criticism – by covering 25 years in 207 pages, it is very concise. The narrative is clear, comprehensive, and does not feel like any essential facts have been left out. However, the quality of Morris’ writing would comfortably permit this to be a longer work, and the narrative could afford to provide further exposition to selected events, technologies and personalities (beyond Gorrell), that shaped and developed air power theory. On several occasions, this reviewer found himself looking for other resources to further his appreciation of the events in this book – especially about the limited performance of bomber aircraft during the First World War.

While remaining engaging to read, Morris’ work is academically well-presented. It both recounts history as well as briefly discussing the views of academics and historians on the subject matter where relevant. There is considerable inertia when it comes to people’s understanding of events from a century ago, and Morris is clear when he debates, debunks or reaffirms the established narratives of other authors. The introduction specifically accounts for early air power studies into strategic bombing by historians/academics including Mark Clodfelter, Stephen McFarland, I.B. Holley, and Maurer Maurer.

Martin_B-10B_during_exercises (National Museum of USAF)
First flown in 1932, the Martin B-10 was a revolutionary bomber not only for the United States Army Air Corps, but for the world. Design features such as all-metal construction, enclosed cockpit with rotating gun turrets, full engine cowlings and retractable landing gear would be standard design features for bombers over the next decade.  (Source: National Museum of United States Air Force)

Overall, The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory is clear and well-sourced and can be easily approached by anyone with no depth of knowledge of the central subject matter. This reader found it to be enjoyable and informative, providing a good account of early strategic bombing theory and American air power development. While being a self-contained work, it is likely to whet the reader’s appetite for reading works covering related subject matters.

Eamon Hamilton graduated from the University of Western Sydney with a Bachelor of Communications (Journalism). He works as a Public Affairs Officer for the Royal Australian Air Force. He lives in Sydney. He runs the Rubber-Band Powered Blog and can be found on Twitter @eamonhamilton.

Header Image: A Boeing Y1B-17 in flight. This aircraft would eventually be developed B-17 Flying Fortress. (Source: Wikimedia)

Book Review – Architect of Air Power: General Laurence S. Kuter and the Birth of the US Air Force

Book Review – Architect of Air Power: General Laurence S. Kuter and the Birth of the US Air Force

By Alexander Fitzgerald-Black

Brian D. Laslie, Architect of Air Power: General Laurence S. Kuter and the Birth of the US Air Force. Lexington, KT: The University Press of Kentucky, 2017. Notes. Bibliography. Index. 21 b/w Photos. Hbk. 236 pp.

Architect of Air Power Cover

With Architect of Air Power Brian D. Laslie, Deputy Command Historian at NORAD and US Northern Command and an Adjunct Professor at the US Air Force Academy had two mutually supporting goals. The first is to offer readers a biography of General Laurence S. Kuter, one of the select few US Air Force (USAF) officers to serve the majority of his 35-year career as a general officer (the others were Generals Curtis LeMay, Lauris Norstad, and Hoyt Vandenberg). The second is to acknowledge that Kuter’s

[c]areer dovetailed with the rise of an adolescent air power and ended with a fully grown and mature air force capable of global monitoring and response. (p. xi)

In other words, Kuter was an architect of the USAF. Many of the modern USAF’s principles and methods owe their origins to his work.

The biography is organised chronologically, beginning with Kuter’s adolescence and time at West Point and ending with his service as a four-star general commanding the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), retirement, and passing. Laslie has assembled an impressive array of sources to discuss Kuter’s life and career. He draws on Kuter’s incomplete autobiography, collections at the USAF Academy library (including Kuter’s papers and those of several his contemporaries), oral histories, diaries, and letters. One highlight of the book is how Laslie captures Kuter’s relationship with his high school sweetheart and wife, Ethel Kuter (née Lyddon). Ethel’s diary was slowly overtaken by references to Kuter beginning in 1922, and the pair wrote over 1,000 letters to each other during his time at West Point.

Laslie takes his readers on a mission to understand why so little has been written about Kuter. One reason is that Kuter did not make a name for himself with flying exploits or by leading air formations into battle. Kuter did not join the US Army Air Corps because of romantic visions of flight. Instead, he joined to be a better artillery officer. Only later did he become fully immersed in exploring a new kind of warfare – mainly at the operational rather than tactical level. In August 1941, Kuter became one of the authors of AWPD-1, the first comprehensive plan for winning the war against Germany through aerial bombardment. In the early months of America’s Second World War, Brigadier General Kuter (one of the youngest general officers in the US Army) was a go-between for General George C. Marshall and Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold. He also had a significant hand in setting up the latter’s Air Staff as the US Army Air Forces achieved autonomy. Kuter made a name for himself with his organisational skills rather than his combat command ability.

Recognising this, Arnold sent Kuter to Europe in late 1942 to gather command experience. Kuter commanded the Eighth Air Force’s 1st Bombardment Wing under Brigadier General Ira Eaker. One of Eaker’s assistants, James Parton, later claimed that Eaker had fired Kuter for declining to fly on combat missions. Laslie has proven these accusations to be unquestionably false. In fact, while Eaker gave Kuter the worst performance reviews of his career, he also tried to retain Kuter’s services. Laslie believes Eaker did this to provide Kuter with more time to prove himself; he had served under Eaker for only five weeks.

© IWM (CNA 408)
Senior Allied Air Commanders gathered at the Headquarters of the North African Tactical Air Force, Ain Beida, Algeria. Left to right: Air Marshal Sir Arthur “Mary” Coningham, Air Office Commanding, NATAF, Major General C A Spaatz, Commanding General, North-west African Air Forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Mediterranean Air Command, and Brigadier General L S Kuter, Deputy Commander, NATAF. (Source: © IWM (CNA 408))

This is another of the reasons for the lack of attention afforded Kuter. He never stayed in one place long enough to make a name for himself. Kuter’s next stop was North Africa. He would serve as the deputy to Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, commander of the Northwest African Tactical Air Force. He served in this position for only four months, but he still made immense contributions to the war effort and the future of the US air power. Kuter’s brainchild was FLAX, a well-planned and executed operation to destroy the Axis air bridge between Sicily and Tunisia. He also learned how to implement a proper ground support system in the field. When he returned to Washington to work under Arnold his experiences in North Africa were codified in Field Manual 100-20. This document is considered both the air force’s ‘declaration of independence’ and the basis for the USAF’s tactical air power concepts to this day.

Kuter’s next command opportunity overseas was in the Pacific. Now a Major General, Kuter was quickly replaced in a reshuffling of officers following the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945. He then moved to Air Transport Command, where he supported General Douglas MacArthur’s buildup in Japan following the island nation’s surrender. After less than a month, Kuter once again returned to Washington. As Laslie notes, ‘as soon as [Kuter] established and organized the flow of men and material, he was pulled from the theater.’ (p. 122)

Another reason Laslie offers us for Kuter’s relative obscurity is the man’s level-headedness. People want to write about innovators and controversial figures, not respectable architects. Laslie makes this observation early in the book: ‘If the famous early aviators – men like Curtis LeMay and Jimmy Doolittle – were cowboys, then Kuter represented the first-generation lawman who came to town to impose order.’ (p. 18) One of the arduous tasks Kuter had to handle while working under Arnold in 1942 were the requests from various theatre commanders for more and better aircraft and properly trained crews. At the time, there just were not enough aircraft to train crews in the United States and supply US Army Air Forces in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific. President Roosevelt had also promised the Royal Air Force a share of American aircraft production. This added strain was worth it since many British Commonwealth pilots already had combat experience. Although the theatre commanders could be quite forceful in their requests, Kuter never let it get the better of him, and his level-headedness set him apart from many of his contemporaries. Perhaps, therefore, when Arnold could not attend the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Kuter attended in his place. In doing so, Kuter jumped the queue in front of three-star generals.

Continental defense warning systems of the North America. (Source: Wikimedia)

Kuter’s Cold War career is equally fascinating. He never held or coveted the positions of Chief of Staff or Vice Chief of Staff of the USAF (perhaps another factor in his relative obscurity). His work establishing the USAF Academy and achieving accreditation for the Air University were architectural moves that produce new generations of air force officers that continue to mould the modern USAF. As a four-star general, Kuter commanded America’s aviation in the Pacific theatre, consolidating these forces under one command: PACAF. He also oversaw NORAD as it dealt with growing Soviet missile offensive capability in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In his preface, Laslie notes the difficulty associated with writing biography suggesting that:

Historians must tread the perilous course of being objective while at the same time proclaiming why subject needs individual attention in the first place. (p. xi)

Laslie has played this balancing act marvellously. He pulls no punches, willingly calling out Kuter when his ideas or actions were wrong, especially his belief in strategic air bombardment as a war-winning approach. Laslie carefully provides the reader with enough context so that he or she may understand why Kuter made these errors. In fact, it is these very moments, so well captured by Laslie, that make Kuter and the history of the USAF such a fascinating subject.

Alexander Fitzgerald-Black has a Master of Arts in Military History from the University of New Brunswick and is a Master of Arts in Public History candidate at the University of Western Ontario. Alex’s first book, Eagles over Husky: The Allied Air Forces and the Sicilian Campaign, 14 May to 17 August 1943, will be published in early 2018. His research interests include air power in the Second World War, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean, and Canadian military history. He operates his blog at and can be reached on Twitter @AlexFitzBlack.

Header Image: Republic of Korea Air Force Lieutenant General Cho Won Kun flies with the 35th Fighter Squadion out of Kunsan Air Base, c. 2009. The 35th Fighter Squadron forms part of the 8th Operations Group of the 8th Fighter Wing. The 8th Fighter Wing is assigned to the Seventh Air Force, which reports to PACAF. (Source: Wikimedia)

Call for Contributions – High-Intensity Warfare in the 21st Century

Call for Contributions – High-Intensity Warfare in the 21st Century

Since the end of the Cold War, the West’s militaries have been engaged in a series of protracted and persistent low-intensity counterinsurgency campaigns. For air forces, this has broadly meant involvement in campaigns where there have been few serious challenges to control of the air and air dominance was assumed. However, as we move further into the twenty-first century, that scenario is likely to change with the likelihood of peer-on-peer high-intensity conflict increasing. In such conflicts, air dominance will have to be fought for, and maintained, to utilise the full spectrum of capabilities afforded by the exploitation of the air domain.


The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones seeks to commission a series of articles that examine critical themes related to the challenge of preparing modern air forces for the possibility of high-intensity conflict as they transform into 5th generation forces. As well as informing broader discussions on the future of conflict, these articles will provide the intellectual underpinnings for a Williams Foundation seminar on the subject of the requirement of high-intensity conflict to be held in Canberra, Australia in March 2018.


The editors seek contributions that provide a variety of perspectives on the following key themes:

Strategy and Theory | Future Roles | Emerging Threats | Air Force Culture

Force Structure | Technology and Capabilities | Ethical and Moral Challenges

Doctrinal Trends | Education | Training

Articles can range from historical discussions of the above themes through to contemporary perspectives. Perspectives can also come from a number of related disciplines including history, strategic studies, international relations, law, and ethics.

Submission Guidelines

Articles framed around one of the above themes should be c. 2,000 words. Submissions should be submitted in Word format and emailed to the addresses below with ‘SUBMISSION – HIGH-INTENSITY WARFARE’ in the subject line. Also, please include a 50-100-word biography with your submission. Please be careful to explain any jargon. Publication will be entirely at the discretion of the editors. These articles will appear on the websites of The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones simultaneously. We will be publishing articles from the middle of February 2018 onwards.

Keen to write but need some guidance? Email us, and we can link you up with a mentor-editor who can assist you before formal submission.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact Wing Commander Travis Hallen (Co-editor, The Central or Dr Ross Mahoney (Editor, From Balloons to

Header Image: An RAF Harrier waits in a hangar at Kandahar, Afghanistan prior to departure, c. June 2009. (Source: Defence Imagery MoD)

“For you the war is (not) over”: Active Disruption in the Barbed Wire Battleground

“For you the war is (not) over”: Active Disruption in the Barbed Wire Battleground

By Kristen Alexander[1]

The popular perception of the prisoner of war is that, once captured, he was out of the battle. Rather than compliantly accepting a status of hors de combat, however, many captive allied airmen in Europe during the Second World War continued to be potent military operatives in a new theatre of conflict—the barbed wire battleground. Indeed, the airmen adopted a stance as prison camp combatants. To facilitate this, they actively managed their lives to demonstrate individual and collective agency. They strenuously mitigated the ill-effects of their circumstances by embarking on a program of active disruption. Importantly, they did not give in to, what at least one man termed, ‘the futility of existence’.[2]

Drawing on personal records in private and public collections, as well as official reports, this article provides a brief overview of some of the ways in which Australians and their fellow prisoners in Stalag Luft III, a Luftwaffe prisoner of war camp, established, maintained and promoted themselves as active airmen, on duty, in the barbed wire battleground.

‘Vacation at Stalag’, Cyril Borsht’s wartime log book, courtesy of the late Cyril Borsht (Source: Private Collection).

Many downed airmen spoke of the ‘shock’ of captivity and the shame they felt on capture.[3] These feelings were a common response to being taken from battle.[4] The airmen’s sense of disgrace was exacerbated when they heard the ‘usual taunt’, ‘für sie der Krieg is beendet’—‘for you the war is over’.[5] The realisation after their unwilling departure from the aerial arena that they had become prisoners of war was a serious blow to self-esteem and service pride.[6] However, rather than accept a situation defined by passivity and docility, they rejected it.[7] The war was not over for them. Moreover, so, they remained on active service as prison camp combatants.

‘I wanted wings’, Ronald Baines’ wartime log book, courtesy of the Baines family (Source: Private Collection)

However, before they re-attained operational readiness, they had to regain their fighting spirit. Humour was a significant means to that end as well as an almost universal morale booster.[8] Many, for instance, depicted their new accommodation as a holiday camp or sanatorium,[9] and tongues were firmly in cheek when they poked fun of the ignominious exits that landed them there.[10] Many illustrated themselves as Donald Duck behind bars.[11] ‘Winglessness’, like that of ‘Downed Donald’, was a shared state and the men gained strength through ridiculing their common plight.[12]

The armed forces have a long tradition of using language to distance themselves from the emotions associated with military action and death in service.[13] The men of Stalag Luft III were no different, and so, they too gained strength through language. While they were initially bemused at being called Terrorflieger, Luftgangster, and Terrorbomber, many filled their wartime logbooks with clippings from German newspapers that promoted Allied airmen as the Second World War version of terrorists.[14] In doing so, the downed airmen recognised that the propagandised terms highlighted their success. Consequently, they ignored the intended insults and willingly accepted—as tributes to their military prowess—their new designations.[15]

‘Escape’, Cyril Borsht’s wartime log book, courtesy of the late Cyril Borsht. (Source: Private Collection)

The airmen were not, however, so keen to be known as Kriegsgefangener—war prisonerbecause of the negative and shameful connotations surrounding the word ‘prisoner’ and its associated trappings, such as POW number, fingerprinting, and identification discs.[16] Accordingly, they spurned ‘prisoner of war’. In a canny example of linguistic reframing, they adopted the easier-to-pronounce and linguistically distancing abbreviation of ‘kriegie’—even those who were captured in the later months of the war.[17] Derived from the first syllable—the German word for ‘war’—it subconsciously indicated that they were still men of war with a fine fighting spirit and distanced them from the stigma of captivity. ‘Kriegie’ removed the sense of derogation surrounding captivity and turned an affront—and assault to their dignity—into a linguistic badge of inclusiveness and pride. ‘Kriegie’ declared that they were still men of war on operational service. It also became ‘a fun word’ to describe them.[18] Ultimately, their prison camp patois—terrorflieger, Luftgangster, kriegie and so on—became a language of agency and defiance.

‘Cutting from a Reich paper of a ‘typical’ ‘terrorflieger’ or ‘luftgangster”, Cyril Borsht’s wartime log book, courtesy of the late Cyril Borsht. (Source: Private Collection).

With self-esteem restored, confidence reasserted, and fighting spirit reinvigorated, the airmen turned to discipline and their strong sense of service duty to help negotiate captivity. Demonstrating collective agency, the kriegies institutionalised air force discipline in the camp.[19] They acknowledged that running Stalag Luft III along RAF station lines was best for the community—for the camp commonweal—and it was generally agreed that the senior officers ‘did an excellent job’.[20] As well as maintaining ‘a high degree of morale and discipline’,[21] there was much security in adhering to the familiar aspects of their former service lives.[22] Moreover, it afforded the airmen the support they needed to wage war as prison camp combatants.

One aspect of that war was the duty of active resistance. All new arrivals were interviewed by the Senior British Officer or, in the NCO compound, the Man of Confidence, who reminded the kriegie new boys of their continuing obligations as servicemen.[23] Importantly, they warned them not to comply with any German order ‘beyond what was necessary’.[24] The airmen welcomed their new responsibility of active resistance and defiance. Exemplifying personal and group agency they were deliberately disruptive.[25] They misbehaved during roll call.[26] They purloined German supplies.[27] They bribed guards.[28] Their favourite sport became goon-baiting.[29] Many embarked on covert operations. Some became code writers and sent secret messages to MI-9.[30] A major aspect of active resistance was escape, and the airmen embraced their moral right[31] and duty[32] to break out of the prison camp. If they were not on the exit list for a particular attempt, or not personally eager—or even physically or psychologically capable—they supported those who were by participating in the communal effort.


Active resistance, disruption, defiance, and escape work epitomised individual and collective agency. Significantly, they reinforced the airmen’s continuing identity as combatants. For many, such concerted agency ameliorated the mortification of becoming prisoners of war. Moreover, so, the escape or ‘X’ organisation became the overriding feature of life in Stalag Luft III.[33]

Each compound had its version of the ‘X’ organisation and Australians participated in almost every aspect of its work. ‘X’ rosters were drawn up disguised as participant lists for sports days, and sporty types created diversions.[34] The carpentry department commandeered bed boards to shore up the tunnels and other purposes and built cabinets and hidey holes to stow secret equipment.[35] Some men did metal work, made dummy rifles, and meticulously constructed compasses.[36] Scroungers obtained ink, radio parts and essential supplies.[37] Photographers took passport photographs.[38] Forgers replicated passes and identification papers.[39] Tunnellers dug, others carted dirt away, and gardeners disposed of it. Meanwhile, the majority joined the army of ‘watchers’ known as ‘stooges’, who kept a lookout for any sign of the Germans. So industrious were the tunnellers that, in East Compound alone, between 60 and 70 tunnels were started during the first six months.[40]

Despite such diligent ‘X’ work and prolific excavation, East Compound’s only successful getaway was that of October 1943—dubbed ‘the Wooden Horse’—where three men made a ‘home run’. The culmination of North Compound’s ‘X’ work was the mass breakout of March 1944. While seventy-six succeeded in fleeing the camp, only three made it home. Seventy-three were recaptured. Fifty were executed, five of whom were Australian.

The men regretted the tragic outcome, but not their part in it. Nor their determined demonstration of collective agency as prison camp combatants. They believed their large-scale resistance work had been worthwhile, not just because of the sustaining effect on morale, but because of the cost to the Germans in tying up resources during the ensuing Großfahndung which they considered ‘biggest manhunt of the war’.[41]


After the war, Paul Brickhill, an Australian journalist and former Stalag Luft III kriegie, was invited to write a book about the March 1944 escape.[42] That book proved influential in how captivity in Stalag Luft III has been portrayed. The mass breakout, for example, was not known as the ‘Great Escape’ until the publication of Brickhill’s The Great Escape in 1951.[43] From that time, the book’s title entered the lexicon as participants, bystanders and the public all appropriated it to describe an event that still resonates. So powerful is the book’s theme of triumph over the enemy through a communal agency, so exciting is the narrative, that most commercially published accounts of life in Second World War German POW camps—and Stalag Luft III in particular—feature the exciting high adventure and derring-do of major escapes.


While many of the former airmen were impressed with Brickhill’s book, many were not overly pleased with John Sturges’ 1963 film. They begrudge it the Americans, the motorbike, a truly appalling Australian accent, and other factual inaccuracies inserted in the interests of ‘good cinema’.[44] Despite their distaste, the film, along with Brickhill’s book, has left a substantial legacy which they, their descendants and popular culture have embraced.

They frame captivity in Stalag Luft III as an action-packed success story. They reinforce the kriegies’ personal and collective agency as active airmen, on operational service, in the barbed wire battleground. They deny any perception of passive, docile, humiliated prisoners of war. Just as the airmen themselves had done when they refused to accept that the war, for them, was over.

Kristen Alexander is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, researching the responses to captivity of Australian airmen prisoners of Stalag Luft III and their families. Specialising in Australian aviation history, she is published in Australia, Great Britain and Japan. She won the non-fiction category of the 2015 ACT Writing and Publishing Award and was highly commended in the 2014 and 2017 awards. Her books were included on the RAAF Chief of Air Force’s 2010 and 2015 reading lists. Her military essays won the Military Historical Society of Australia’s 2012 and 2013 Sabretache Writers Prizes. Her website can be found here and she is on Twitter as @kristenauthor.

Header Image: Australians of North Compound, 25 April 1943, courtesy of Ian Fraser. (Source: Private Collection)

[1] This article is based on a paper presented at the Don’t Drown Post Graduate Conference, UNSW Canberra, 4 October 2017, which was a shorter version of that given at Aviation Cultures Mark III Conference, University of Sydney, 27–29 April 2017.

[2] Shrine of Remembrance, James Catanach Collection, 2013. CAT050: Catanach, letter to William Alan Catanach, 28 March 1943.

[3] Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 24 June 1986, ‘The Complete Tour: Letters of Jaime Bradbeer and Bruce Lumsden, April 1985–October 1990’, unpublished manuscript; Calton Younger, No Flight From the Cage: The Compelling Memoir of a Bomber Command Prisoner of War during the Second World War ([No place]: Fighting High, 2013), p. 40; Rex Austin, Australians at War Film Archive (AAWFA) interview No. 0382, 5 June 2003; Alec Arnel, author’s interview, 29 October 2015.

[4] Aaron Pegram, ‘Bold Bids for Freedom: Escape and Australian Prisoners of Germany, 1916–18’ in Joan Beaumont, Lachlan Grant, and Aaron Pegram (eds.), Beyond Surrender: Australian Prisoners of War in the Twentieth Century (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2015), p. 25; Kate Ariotti, ‘Coping with Captivity: Australian POWs of the Turks and the Impact of Imprisonment during the First World War’ (PhD Thesis, The University of Queensland, 2014), pp. 55–57; Karl James, ‘“I hope you are not too ashamed of me”: Prisoners in the siege of Tobruk’, in Beaumont, Grant, and Pegram (eds.), Beyond Surrender, pp. 101–102; Adrian Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe 1939–1945 (London: John Murray, 2007), p. 41.

[5] ‘Usual taunt’, Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 24 June 1986, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript. Midge Gillies noted that it was a phrase the Germans favoured. Midge Gillies, The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (London: Aurum Press, 2011), p. 13. Examples of those who heard the phrase: Private collection: Ronald Baines, wartime log book, p. 8; Younger, No Flight From the Cage, p. 37; Geoffrey Cornish, AAWFA interview No. 1388, 2 July 2004; Kenneth Gaulton, AAWFA interview No. 1276, 3 February 2004; Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 24 June 1986, ‘The Complete Tour’ unpublished manuscript; Cyril Borsht, ‘A Life Well Lived. A Memoir’, unpublished manuscript, p. 18; Irwin John Dack, So you Wanted Wings, Hey!: An Autobiography – Part One (Moorabbin: the author, 1993), p. 74; ‘Tom Wood Diary’, unpublished manuscript, p. 26; Les Harvey, ‘Over, Down and Out: Recollections of an Airman Captured by the Germans in 1942’, unpublished manuscript, p. 6; Charles R. Lark, A Lark on the Wing: Memoirs World War II and 460 Squadron [No publication details], p. 64. Non-Australians also recorded the phrase. For example, B.A. (Jimmy) James, Moonless Night: The World War Two Escape Epic (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military), 2008, p. 17; Jack Rae, Kiwi Spitfire Ace: A Gripping World War II Story of Action, Captivity and Freedom (London: Grub Street, 2001), p. 116; Ken Rees, (with Arrandale, Karen), Lie in the Dark and Listen: The Remarkable Exploits of a WWII Bomber Pilot and Great Escaper (London: Grub Street, 2006), p. 111. Rees entitled the chapter dealing with his earliest captivity experiences, ‘“For you the war is over”’.

[6] Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 24 June 1986, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript.

[7] Stephen Garton, The Cost of War: Australians Return (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 211.

[8] Eric Stephenson, ‘Experiences of a Prisoner of a War: World War 2 in Germany’, Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health, 18:2 (2010), p. 34 (reprinted from Australian Military Medicine, 9:1 (2000), pp. 42–50); Karen Horn, ‘“Stalag Happy”: South African Prisoners of War during World War Two (1939–1945) and their Experiences and Use of Humour’, South African Historical Journal, 63:4 (2011), p. 537.

[9] Australian War Memorial (AWM) PR03211: Peter Kingsford-Smith, wartime log book, pp. 37, 54–55; Andrew R.B. Simpson research collection: Arthur Schrock, wartime log book, p. 1; private collection, Horace ‘Bill’ Fordyce, wartime log book, unpaginated section; private collection: Cyril Borsht, wartime log book, p. 5

[10] AWM PR03211: Peter Kingsford-Smith, wartime logbook, pp. 43 and 37; AWM PR88/160: James McCleery, wartime logbook, unpaginated particulars page (name/POW number/camp/compound) and p. 1.

[11] <; (accessed 14 December 2017); <;; Art and Lee Beltrone, A Wartime Log. (Charlottesville: Howell Press, 1994), pp. 60–61; <>(accessed 14 December 2017); <; (accessed 14 December 2017); AWM PR88/160: James McCleery, wartime log book, p. 58; AWM PR03211: Peter Kingsford-Smith, wartime log book, p. 25; AWM PR00506: John Morschel, wartime log book, unpaginated; private collection: Cyril Borsht, wartime log book, p. 3; private collection: Eric Johnston, wartime log book, p. 1; private collection: Ronald Baines, wartime log book, p. 93; Andrew R.B. Simpson research collection: Arthur Schrock, wartime log book, p. 11; Dack, So you Wanted Wings, Hey!, p. i; Rae, Kiwi Spitfire Ace, unpaginated photo block.

[12] Alexander Watson, Enduring the Great War. Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914–1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 90.

[13] Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of RAF Slang (London: Michael Joseph, 1945), pp. 25, 10, 25, and 52; Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare (London: Granta Books, 1999), pp. 231–232.

[14] AWM PR90/035: Torres Ferres, wartime log book, p. 41; AWM PR03211: Peter Kingsford-Smith, wartime log book, pp. 46–47; private collection: Cyril Borsht, wartime log book, pp. 55 and 68; Cyril Borsht, author’s interview, 28 January 2016; private collection: Horace ‘Bill’ Fordyce, wartime log book, pp. 100–101; private collection: William Kenneth Todd, wartime log book, unpaginated section; Richard Winn, AAWFA interview No. 1508, 4 March 2004.

[15] Cyril Borsht, author’s interview, 28 January 2016.

[16] Kate Ariotti, ‘Coping with Captivity’, p. 56; Annette Becker, ‘Art, Material Life, and Disaster: Civilian and Military Prisoners of War,’ in Nicholas J. Saunders (ed.), Matters of Conflict: Material Culture, Memory, and the First World War (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004), p. 28, 88; Joan Beaumont, Gull Force: Survival and Leadership in Captivity, 1941–1945 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988), p. 2.

[17] AWM PR05675: Guy Grey-Smith, diary, 26 January 1942; H.R. Train, ‘A Barbed-Wire World. The Diary of a Prisoner of War in Germany 1942–1945’, unpublished manuscript, 17 June 1942, pp. 9, 12; Colin Burgess research collection: Robert Mills, wartime log book, p. 31; H. Homer Ashmann, ‘Kriegie Talk’, American Speech, 23:3/4 (1948), pp. 218–219; Paul Brickhill and Conrad Norton, Escape to Danger (London: Faber and Faber, 1954).

[18] Alec Arnel, author’s interview, 29 January 2015.

[19] Ronald Baines, AWM 54, 779/3/129 Parts 1–30: [Prisoners of War and Internees—Examinations and Interrogations:] Statements by repatriated or released Prisoners of War (RAAF) taken at No 11 PDRC, Brighton, England, 1945; Robert Nightingale, AWM 54, 779/3/129; Alan Righetti, AAWFA interview No. 0984, 16 September 2003.

[20] Robert Nightingale, AWM 54, 779/3/129.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Walter A. Lunden, ‘Captivity Psychoses Among Prisoners of War’, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 39:6 (1949), p. 722.

[23] Private collection: William Kenneth Todd, wartime log book, p.11; AWM PR90/035, Ferres, ‘A POW in Germany’: Beecroft Probus talk, 3 February 1989; Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 8 April 1988, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript; Andrew R.B. Simpson, ‘OPS’ Victory at all Costs: On Operations over Hitler’s Reich with the Crews of Bomber Command. Their War – Their Words (Pulborough: Tattered Flag Press, 2012), p. 342.

[24] Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 8 April 1988, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript.

[25] Alec Arnel, author’s interview, 9 October 2014.

[26] Calton ‘Cal’ Younger, Imperial War Museum Sound Archive (IWMSA) interview, No. 23329, [no day] November 2002.

[27] Richard Winn, AAWFA interview No. 1508, 4 March 2004; Younger, IWMSA interview, No. 23329, [no day] November 2002; National Library of Australia (NLA) Justin O’Byrne, John Meredith folklore collection, 31 October 1986.

[28] Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’ segment, Radio 7LA, Launceston, undated, [c. July 1947]; Horace ‘Bill’ Fordyce, AAWFA interview No. 0523, 19 June 2003; Geoffrey Cornish, AAWFA No. 1388, 2 July 2004; Royle, IWMSA interview, No. 26605, 2 December 2012.

[29] NLA Justin O’Byrne, John Meredith folklore collection, 31 October 1986.

[30] The National Archives (TNA) (UK), WO 208/3283: Camp History of Stalag Luft III (Sagan) Air Force Personnel, April 1942–January 1945, Part I East (Officers) Compound, pp. 67, 69.

[31] John Herington, Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series Three. Air. Volume IV: Air Power Over Europe, 1944–1945 (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1963), p. 485.

[32] Air Publication 1548, Instructions and Guide to All Officers and Airmen of the Royal Air Force regarding Precautions to be Taken in the Event of Falling into the Hands of an Enemy, ([no publication details], 2nd Edition, June 1941). The duty was rescinded after the Great Escape but was still implied. Air Publication 1548, The Responsibilities of a Prisoner of War, (3rd Edition, April 1944), <; (accessed 14 December 2017). British and Australian soldiers had a similar, formal, obligation to escape. James, ‘“I hope you are not too ashamed of me” in Beaumont, Grant, and Pegram (eds.), Beyond Surrender, p. 110.

[33] NLA Justin O’Byrne, John Meredith folklore collection, 31 October 1986.

[34] Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’, [c. July 1947]; Robert J. Laplander, The True Story of the Wooden Horse (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2014).

[35] Private collection: Horace ‘Bill’ Fordyce, wartime log book, p. 140; TNA, WO 208/3283: Camp History of Stalag Luft III (Sagan) Air Force Personnel, March 1943–January 1945, Part III North (Officers) Compound, pp. 9, 25, 31; AWM ART34781.019: Albert Comber, drawing, ‘Flight Lieutenants (Mac) Jones and (Rusty) Kierath, RAAF at work, Stalag Luft III, Germany’; Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’, [c. July 1947]; H.P. Clark, Wirebound World: Stalag Luft III (London: Alfred H. Cooper & Sons Ltd, 1946), p. 8; private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 10 June 1988, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript.

[36] Stalag Luft III: An Official History of the ‘Great Escape’ POW Camp (Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2016), pp. 30–32; <; (accessed 14 December 2017).

[37] TNA, WO 208/3283: Camp History of Stalag Luft III (Sagan) Air Force Personnel, March 1943–January 1945, Part III North (Officers) Compound, pp. 23–24, 36; Geoffrey Cornish, AAWFA interview No. 1388, 2 July 2004.

[38] Geoffrey Cornish, AAWFA interview No. 1388, 2 July 2004.

[39] Ibid; Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’, [c. July 1947].

[40] TNA, WO 208/3283: Camp History of Stalag Luft III (Sagan) Air Force Personnel, April 1942–January 1945, Part 1 East (Officers) Compound, p. 36; private collection: George Archer, 1942 Diary, 5, 21 and 24 August 1942.

[41] Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’, [c. July 1947].

[42] Paul Brickhill, The Great Escape (London: Faber and Faber, 1951). A section on the mass escape was included in the earlier publication, Brickhill and Norton, Escape to Danger.

[43] Stephen Dando-Collins, The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill (North Sydney: Penguin Random House Australia, 2016), p. 198.

[44] Cath McNamara, author’s interview, 18 July 2016; NLA ‘Reminiscential conversations between the Hon. Justin O’Byrne and the Hon. Clyde Cameron’, 29 August 1983–28 July 1984; Alan Righetti, AAWFA No. 0984, 16 September 2003.

A Forgotten Revolution? RAF Army Co-operation Command and Artillery Co-operation

A Forgotten Revolution? RAF Army Co-operation Command and Artillery Co-operation

By Dr Matthew Powell[1]

Jonathan Bailey wrote that the First World War was the time of a true revolution in military affairs about the development of artillery firing.[2] One of the first significant developments that took place was the creation and refinement of the ‘clock code’ system.[3] Using this system, a pilot of the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner to the Royal Air Force (RAF), was able to correct the fall of shot of the artillery by passing to the artillery battery commander details of how far from the target the guns were. The pilot would correct the shooting of the artillery by pointing out how far away and in what direction the shells of the guns had landed. The distance would be passed on using numbers and the direction using the picture of a clock face. The target was placed in the middle of the clock face and shells that fell beyond the target and on a straight line to the target would be corrected with a call of twelve, if it fell short on the same line the call would be six, at ninety degrees left of the target nine and ninety degrees right three. Any other direction would be corrected by using the hour on the clock with which it corresponded. This system would prove to function perfectly well throughout the whole of the First World War and was the system with which the RAF went to war in 1939.

The system of correcting artillery fire remained unchanged until 1938. The Air Council were against making alterations to the clock code system as they felt that it was adequate to meet the needs that the army would face in future conflicts. They felt that light aircraft could not be kept in action close to artillery units, as had been the case in the First World War.[4] The Air Council were also fearful of introducing a new, untried, and unfamiliar system with the growing tensions in Europe at this time. The War Office was unimpressed with the Air Councils attitude and pushed for more to be done. The Air Ministry agreed to trials between the Air Officer Commanding No. 22 (Army Co-operation) Group and the Commandant of the School of Artillery in December 1938.[5] The results of these trials and further trials conducted to test aircraft as well as procedure. The results were that light aircraft over the battlefield could observe fire with the ‘clock code’ system.[6] Spitfires conducted mock attacks on the aircraft and the Taylorcraft light aircraft observing the artillery fire had a good chance of dodging the fire of a modern fighter.[7] There was, however, no training for pilots in registering targets for the artillery. If an artillery officer required an appraisal of a prospective target, the request would have to be sent along the command chain via an air liaison officer. When the artillery battery received the information, it was usually out of date.[8] There was also pressure from within the War Office to establish a Flying Observation Post (Flying OP) and to begin plans to train Gunner Officers to fly. A Flying OP was to work in conjunction with Ground Observation Post (Ground OP) in establishing targets to be engaged and operating deep behind their lines to be afforded the protection of friendly anti-aircraft guns.

H 27983
A Taylorcraft Auster Mark III of No. 655 Squadron dropping a message bag to a Royal Artillery wireless truck on the airfield at Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, during Exercise SPARTAN. (Source:  © IWM (H 27983))

The first of these Flying OPs was established in February 1940.[9] This force was established to:

[d]etermine in the light of practical experience obtained under war conditions the possibilities and limitations of the Flying OP, the most suitable type of aircraft and the most suitable organization [sic].[10]

The tests were to be conducted in three parts. The first was an initial training period. The second a practical training with the French, and a final test in the French Army area in conditions of actual warfare including shoots against German targets it was at this time that the term Air Observation Post (Air OP) was adopted.[11] The flight was sent to France on 19 April 1940.[12] The first of the three tests were conducted after the flight had moved to the continent. The final of the three tests was due to be carried out in early May, and the forces were established ready to conduct the tests on 9 May 1940.[13] The following day the Germans began to implement Fall Gelb (Case Yellow): the invasion of France and the Low Countries.[14] The artillery designated for the tests were forced to move back to their formations leaving the Air OP Flight (D Flight) waiting for the campaign to stabilise when it was clear that this would not happen D Flight was recalled to England.[15]

One of the first official moves at changing artillery co-operation policy was a letter regarding the subject sent from the Director of Military Co-operation Air Commodore Victor Goddard to Barratt at Army Co-operation Command. In this letter, Goddard states that the Air Staff were against the formation of:

[s]pecial air units for artillery observation or reconnaissance, unless it can be clearly shown that there is an urgent requirement for such units which cannot be met by Army Co-operations squadrons.[16]

The School of Artillery recommended that a certain number of aircraft should specialise in artillery work and should be trained by the School of Artillery so that they had the same tactical knowledge and the same the understanding of gunnery as an artillery officer.[17] This was just one aspect of an idea by the School of Artillery to allow aircraft to have tactical control over the fire of artillery batteries. To facilitate this, the school further recommended that a multi-seater aircraft should be employed in this work to allow an artillery officer to conduct the shoot according to artillery methods without the need for the artillery officer learning to fly. Artillery officers were also to be seconded to army co-operation squadrons specifically for artillery work.[18] The co-operation between the School of Artillery and Army Co-operation Command is evident and is surprising given the general relations that existed between the army and RAF in the wake of the Battle of France and the fall out that it had caused between the two services.[19]

Barratt, in a letter to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, wrote that:

I consider that in order to get a true and undistorted picture of this problem, it is first desirable to set out the problem as the Army [sic] sees it, and to show in this picture what they conceive to be their requirements.[20]

Again the desire to see the problem from a view that would almost certainly be contradictory to the RAF shows that Barratt and his command were willing to adopt a different approach and attitude in co-operating with at least one part of the army. Barratt also voiced his concerns regarding the ability of the Air OP to operate in the face of enemy action. It was felt that ‘the Air OP must be entirely vulnerable to any enemy fighters which cares to shoot it down’.[21] Barratt’s concern over the safety of his pilots who may be conducting shoots using the Air OP system was to be a recurring issue in the development of artillery reconnaissance.

TR 242
Air Marshal Sir Arthur Barratt in battledress and flying gear beside a Hawker Hurricane. He often flew this aircraft when visiting airfields of RAF Army Co-operation Command, which he commanded at the time of this picture. (Source: © IWM (TR 242))

Barratt’s response to the trials was one of scepticism, and he considered ‘that body of experience gained in the late war and since has all pointed to the advantages of the ‘Clock Code’ system’.[22] Barratt’s belief in the ‘clock code’ system stemmed more from the fear of false conclusions being drawn from brief experiments than from any sense of conservatism about changing the system used for artillery reconnaissance.[23] This became a realisation when Barratt was forced to explain to the Under Secretary of State for Air about the lack of efficiency regarding artillery co-operation in Army Co-operation Squadrons. Barratt wrote that:

I feel that much of the falling off in efficiency in this part of the Army Co-operation Squadron task has been due to the propagation of rumour as to other and better methods than those shown in AP 1176.[24]

Further trials were conducted using the artillery method during April 1941, and the conclusions reached were similar to those seen previously. These were that the artillery methods of ranging by corrections to line and range are simpler, quicker, and more efficient than any method based on the ‘clock code’.

The failures of the ‘clock code’ system in France combined with further problems faced in the fighting in Libya led to a loss of confidence in the system in the army.[25] Barratt responded that the ‘clock code’ system was not at fault in these operations but that the aircraft employed in it were operating in the face of intense enemy opposition. He was concerned that the trials had been too few and were skewed in favour of a positive result by the School of Artillery.[26] While these concerns may be interpreted as merely blocking a new development that had been shown to work to preserve the autonomy of the RAF while conducting army co-operation work. The evidence of co-operation between Army Co-operation Command and the School of Artillery, shown above, leads more to the conclusion that Barratt felt that the procedure could not be successfully carried out, and wished to see more trials conducted before it would receive his approval.

The procedure for artillery reconnaissance first developed during the First World War was only suitable for the conditions of that war. The lack of fluidity and almost stable front lines allowed a system to develop, quickly, this system, however, was only suited to those conditions. This was very quickly discovered during the first major test of this procedure against the quicker and more mobile warfare of the German Wehrmacht in 1940. The attitudes of both the British Army and the RAF to co-operation during the inter-war period, in Britain at least, did little to improve the situation before the British Expeditionary Force was stationed in France. This left those charged with the responsibility of modifying the existing procedure with only the experience of the First World War to guide them and on which to base their expectations. Much co-operation between the School of Artillery and Nos. 70 and 71 Groups of Army Co-operation Command occurred, despite the general feeling of animosity still felt by both services in Britain.[27] This co-operation was the most that had been seen between the army and RAF since the formation of the RAF as an independent force in 1918. Barratt’s move to block the adoption of the new procedure that was being trialled during 1941 can be interpreted in several ways. His reasoning for doing so, however, appears to be that of confirming the results already achieved through more rigorous and testing trials to confirm the results. Through further testing at a higher level the procedure, as well as those responsible for carrying it out, would be exposed to more stress and so a greater degree of authenticity could be achieved. Trials of this nature would also confirm if the procedure could be implemented with ease by the majority of pilots whose responsibility would be increased from observing the fall of shot to conducting shoots, potentially in the face of enemy opposition. Barratt’s major concern with the new system appears to be its increased complexity, and he was rightly concerned after his experiences in France that pilots would be unable to conduct the shoot if they had to keep a lookout for enemy fighter activity continually.

Dr Matthew Powell is a Teaching Fellow at Portsmouth Business School at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. He holds a PhD in Modern History from the University of Birmingham. His thesis investigated the development of tactical air power in Britain during the Second World War through a study of the RAF’s Army Co-operation Command. His first book, based on the PhD, The Development of British Tactical Air Power, 1940-1943: A History of Army Co-operation Command was published in 2016 by Palgrave Macmillan. He has also published in Canadian Military History, Air Power Review and the British Journal for Military History. He is currently researching the relationship between the British aviation industry and the Air Ministry during the inter-war period. He can be found on Twitter at @tac_air_power.

Header Image: An Auster Mark IV of an Air Observation Post squadron undergoes servicing at its base after being damaged by anti-aircraft fire while flying over the 8th Army Front in northern Italy. (Source: © IWM (CNA 3341))

[1] A longer version of this article can be found in Canadian Military History, 23:1 (2014), pp. 71-88.

[2] Jonathan Bailey, ‘Deep Battle 1914-1941: The Birth of the Modern Style of War,’ Field Artillery Journal, (1998), pp. 21-7.

[3] Ralph Barker, A Brief History of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I (London: Constable & Co., 2002), p. 63.

[4] H.J. Parham and E.M.G. Belfield, Unarmed into Battle: The Story of the Air Observation Post, Second Edition (Chippenham: Picton Publishing, 1986), p.14.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid

[8] Darrell Knight, Artillery Flyers at War: A History of the 664, 665, and 666 ‘Air Observation Post’ Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Bennington, VT: Merriam Press, 2010), p. 27.

[9] Parham and Belfield, Unarmed into Battle, p.15.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., p.16.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Karl-Heinz Freiser, The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005), p. 79.

[15] Parham and Belfield, Unarmed into Battle, 16.

[16] The National Archives (TNA), AIR 39/47, Letter from Air Commodore Goddard, Director of Military Co-operation to Barratt regarding Artillery Co-operation Policy, 8 December 1940.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] For more information on the army’s reaction to the Battle of France, see: TNA, CAB 106/220, Bartholomew Committee Final Report.

[20] TNA, AIR 39/47, Letter from Barratt to Under-Secretary of State for Air regarding co-operation with the Royal Artillery, 29 January 1941.

[21] Ibid., Appendix A, 29 January 1941.

[22] Ibid., Letter from Headquarters Army Co-operation Command to Headquarters No. 70 Group, Artillery Reconnaissance Trials, 12 April 1941.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., Letter from Barratt to Under Secretary of State for Air, 14 April 1941.

[25] Ibid., Letter from CGS on Artillery Reconnaissance, 5 May 1941.

[26] Ibid., Letter from Barratt to Major-General Otto Lund, GHQ Home Forces, in response from letter from CGS on Artillery Reconnaissance, 10 May 1941.

[27] For example, see: David Ian Hall, Strategy for Victory: The Development of British Tactical Air Power, 1919-1943 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008), pp. 89-103.


Research Note – RAF Centre for Air Power Studies Interviews

Research Note – RAF Centre for Air Power Studies Interviews

By Dr Ross Mahoney

Oral history is challenging. It is challenging to conduct and to use as a source. It takes a skilled oral historian, such as Peter Hart, to conduct an interview that brings the best out of an interviewee. Much of this has to do with the ability of the interviewer to put the interviewee at ease to allow them to discuss their experiences as openly as possible as well as having an understanding and empathy for the subject matter. As a source, arguably, the principal criticism of oral history remains the charge of viewing the past through ‘rose-tinted glasses.’ In short, the passage of time can distort the remembrance of the past; however, as someone with an interest in military culture, this is also a strength. Culture has as much to do with perception as it does with the archival record of the time so how people remember and reflect on their service is just as important as what happened at the time.

As such, it is great to see that the RAF Centre for Air Power Studies is currently making available a number of interviews that were conducted from the 1970s onwards. The first two were conducted at the RAF Staff College at Bracknell in the early 1990s. It was not unusual to have after-dinner speakers at Bracknell, and it formed part of the pedagogical process at the Staff College. In these cases, the interviewees were Group Captain Sir Hugh Dundas and Wing Commander Roland Beamont. The final interview was conducted in 1978 by the RAF’s first Director of Defence Studies Group Captain Tony Mason. The interviewee was Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, and this talk formed part of a series conducted by Mason, which included an interview with Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris. The unifying theme of the videos is leadership through the participants experience of their service in the RAF.

Here are the videos with their respective descriptions:

In this interview, Wing Commander Roland Prosper “Bee” Beamont, CBE, DSO*, DFC* talks about his experiences during the Second World War with Group Captain (Retd) J P (Phil) Dacre MBE DL RAF at the RAF Staff College, Bracknell (April 1991). Wing Commander Beamont served as a fighter pilot with Fighter Command from the start of the War until he was shot down and captured in October 1944 on his 492nd operational mission. After the War, Wing Commander Beamont went on to become a leading test pilot on aircraft such as the Meteor, Vampire, Canberra and Lightning as well as writing several books.

In the second of the RAF Centre for Air Power Studies rarely-seen before historic ‘leadership’ themed videos, Battle of Britain legend Group Captain Sir Hugh ‘Cocky’ Dundas CBE DSO* DFC presents his thoughts on ‘Leadership in War’ followed by an informal question and answer session at an after-dinner speech given circa 1991 at the RAF Staff College, Bracknell. Group Captain Sir Hugh Dundas joined the Auxiliary Air Force as an acting pilot officer in 1938 before being called up to active service early in the war. Initially, he served on 616 Squadron flying Spitfires during the Battle of Britain fighting ‘hard and fiercely’ throughout. He went on to serve as a squadron commander and then subsequently as wing leader and had, by 1944, become one of the youngest Group Captains the RAF at the age of just 24. He left the RAF in 1947 to pursue a successful career in the media. His autobiography, Flying Start: A Fighter Pilot’s War Years, describes his wartime experiences in more detail.

In the third of the RAF Centre for Air Power Studies rarely-seen before historic ‘leadership’ themed videos, inspirational wartime leader and world-renowned humanitarian, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire VC OM DSO** DFC is interviewed by Group Captain (later Air Vice-Marshal) Tony Mason CB CBE DL at the RAF Staff College, Bracknell, February 1978. During the interview Group Captain Cheshire discusses his now legendary record of achievements throughout his service during WWII.

Group Captain Cheshire received a commission as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 16 November 1937. Although he demonstrated considerable prowess in training as a single seat pilot, by a vagary of the system he was destined to be posted to Bomber Command. During the War, his command appointments included 76 Squadron, 617 Squadron, and RAF Marston Moor and he was, at one time, the youngest group captain in the RAF. By July 1944 he had completed a total of 102 missions, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation simply states: ‘Cheshire displayed the courage and determination of an exceptional leader’. After the war, Cheshire founded the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability and devoted the remainder of his life to pursuing humanitarian ideals. His obituary in the Independent (1992) declares that ‘LEONARD CHESHIRE was one of the most remarkable men of his generation, perhaps the most remarkable’.

Dr Ross Mahoney is an independent historian and defence specialist based in Australia. Between 2013 and 2017, he was the resident Historian at the Royal Air Force Museum, and he is a graduate of the University of Birmingham (MPhil and PhD) and the University of Wolverhampton (PGCE and BA). His research interests include the history of war in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, air power and the history of air warfare, and the social and cultural history of armed forces. To date, he has published several chapters and articles, edited two books, and delivered papers on three continents. He is a member of the Royal Historical Society and is an Assistant Director of the Second World War Research Group. He is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an Assistant Director of the Second World War Research Group. He blogs at Thoughts on Military History, and can be found on Twitter at @airpowerhistory.

Header Image: Flying Officer Leonard Cheshire, while serving his second tour of operations with No. 35 Squadron RAF, stands with his air and ground crews in front of a Handley Page Halifax at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. (Source: © IWM (CH 6373))