Looking Back at Iraqi Air Defences during Operation DESERT STORM

Looking Back at Iraqi Air Defences during Operation DESERT STORM

By Colonel Mandeep Singh

Iraqi forces stormed into Kuwait on 2 August 1990 and, after a seven-month occupation of its southern neighbour, was defeated by the United States-led coalition forces consisting of troops from 39 countries. A five-week air offensive preceded the ground offensive on 24 February 1991 to put down the Iraqi air defences and prepare the battlefield for a ground offensive. The air war during DESERT STORM is generally considered a resounding success, with the Iraqi air defences failing to offer any significant opposition. Thomas Withington’s recent insightful article ‘Electric Avenue: Electronic Warfare and the battle against Iraq’s air defences during Operation Desert Storm’ is similar but misses out on some crucial aspects.

This article aims to offer a counter view to Withington’s and put the performance of Iraqi air defences in perspective. It also must be noted that Iraq had the sixth largest air force globally, with about 915 aircraft.[1] However, it put up only minimal opposition, and only the ground-based air defences (GBAD) offered any real resistance to the coalition air forces. This article thus focuses mainly on GBAD and discusses three fundamental issues. First, were Iraqi air defences as lethal and effective as projected before the war? Second, how effective were the suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) operations conducted by the coalition air forces and did they achieve the stated goal(s)? Finally, how did the Iraqi air defences perform during the war?

The commonly held view is that the Iraqi air defences were lethal and ‘potentially ferocious.’[2] This was echoed in Withington’s article, who quoted the following from an official report by the US Department of Defence on DESERT STORM:

The multi-layered, redundant, computer-controlled air defence network around Baghdad was denser than that surrounding most Eastern European cities during the Cold War, and several orders of magnitude greater than that which had defended Hanoi during the later stages of the Vietnam War.

This claim about the lethality and ferocity of Iraqi air defences needs to be analysed to see if it has any merit. The Iraqi integrated air defence system (IADS) comprised a mix of Soviet and Western air defence systems. While the surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) were predominantly of Soviet origin, the heart of the IADS, called KARI, was built by the French defence contractor, Thomson-CSF. It was designed primarily to provide air defence against Israel and Iran and had a severe limitation: it could only manage 20 to 40 hostile aircraft. Iraq had over 500 radars located at about 100 sites, but the radar layout did not afford comprehensive coverage with a bias toward east and west. Most radars could not detect stealth aircraft barring the limited capability of the P-12 and P-18 radars and the six Chinese (Nanjing) low-frequency radars.[3]

Iraqi GBAD included SAM and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns. The missiles included the Soviet SA-2, SA-3, SA-6 and SA-8 and the Franco-German Roland I/II missiles. With a range limitation of about 40km, even SA-2s and SA-3s cannot be considered strategic air defence systems, while the SA-8s and the Rolands were purely tactical SAM systems. The SA-6 was used for the tactical role and to fill gaps in the strategic SAM layout. The 58 SAM batteries notwithstanding, Iraq had no strategic SAM system, and with the available SAM batteries, it was capable of limited and thin air defence cover over its strategic targets.

Sam Coverage
(Source: Barry Watts and Thomas Keaney ‘Effects and Effectiveness in Gulf War Air Power Survey – Volume II: Operations and Effects and Effectiveness (Washington DC: Department of the Air Force, 1993), p. 134.) 

With the country’s material assets widely dispersed; no attempt was made to defend all of them. Instead, the SAMs and AAA were concentrated on defending selected areas or sectors like Baghdad, Basra, the Scud-launching sites in western Iraq, and the northern oil fields only, with the defence of the capital given the foremost priority. With a concentration of the SAMs and AAA in select areas, Iraq had adopted a point defence system.

Fifty-eight SAM batteries, almost half the total 120 batteries, were deployed to defend Baghdad alone and 1,300 AA guns. The other areas with these missile systems were Basra with fifteen and Mosul/Kirkuk with sixteen batteries. In addition, the airfield complex of H-2/H-3 had 13 SAM batteries, and the Talil/Jalibah complex had three.[4]

Location SA-2 SA-3 SA-6 SA-8 Roland Total
Mosul/Kirkuk 1 12 0 1 2 16
H-2/H-3 1 0 6 0 6 13
Talil/Jalibah 1 0 0 0 2 3
Basrah 2 0 8 0 5 15
Baghdad 10 16 8 15 9 58
IR SAM
(Source: Williamson Murray, ‘Operations’ in Gulf War Air Power Survey – Volume II: Operations and Effects and Effectiveness (Washington DC: Department of the Air Force, 1993), p. 82.)

Even in Baghdad, the defence systems did not necessarily protect downtown Baghdad at a higher threat level than the rest of the overall metropolitan area, as the SAM sites were dispersed throughout the Baghdad area. The United States Air Force (USAF)’s claim that downtown Baghdad was where air defences are uniquely dense or severe was thus without merit.[5]

The SA-2s and SA-3s, being vintage missiles, were supplemented by the newer SA-6s with a battery deployed at essential sites. Although the presence of SA-6s at selected locations beefed up the air defences, it had an unintended effect that with the SA-6s moving back from the front-line units, the forward army units were left devoid of the most effective SAM in the inventory. The Iraqis captured several examples of the US HAWK missile system when they invaded Kuwait. The HAWK missile, with a comparable range, would have been an effective deterrent, but as the Iraqis did not have the technical expertise to operate it, it was never not used.[6] Another drawback of the Iraqi IADS was that the 8,000 or so anti-aircraft guns were reportedly not integrated with the overall air defence system and were designed to operate independently.[7]

KARI
(Source: Barry Watts and Thomas Keaney ‘Effects and Effectiveness’ in Gulf War Air Power Survey – Volume II: Operations and Effects and Effectiveness (Washington DC: Department of the Air Force, 1993), p. 132.)

The air defence network was thus far from lethal and was not designed to work against a massive air assault as it was subjected to during DESERT STORM. Instead, it had limited capabilities and was optimised only to take on threats from two axes. These were from Iran to the east or from Israel to the west and did not cater for any significant threat from the south or the north. Notably, only the overall assessment of the Iraqi IADS by the US Navy’s Strike Projection Evaluation and Anti-Air Research (SPEAR) Department was more realistic than other claims as it stated that:

[t]he command elements of the Iraqi air defence organisation (the interceptor force, the IADF [Iraqi Air defence Force], as well as Army air defence) are unlikely to function well under the stress of a concerted air campaign.[8]

The coalition forces launched DESERT STORM at 2:38 on 17 January 1991 when Task Force Normandy struck the two Iraqi radars codenamed Nebraska and Oklahoma, firing 27 Hellfire missiles, 100 rockets and 4,000 rounds of 30mm ammunition. A corridor 30 kilometres wide was now available for the follow-on missions. Next were the eight USAF F-15E Strike Eagles that targeted the local air defence command and control centre, further degrading the network and facilitating the strike by the F-117s preceded by three EF-111 Ravens. Seventeen F-117s were tasked to deliver 27 laser-guided bombs on 15 Iraqi air defence system-related targets. Contrary to initial claims related to the effectiveness of the F-117, only nine of the 15 targets were hit, and eight remained operational even after the air strikes.[9] One of the main targets, Baghdad’s central air defence operations centre was not damaged and remained operational.[10] The F/A-18 Hornets armed with AGM-88 high-speed anti-radar missiles (HARMs) fared not much better as about half of the 75 HARMs fired hit their targets.[11]

The performance of Iraq’s air defence system was effective on Day 1 as they shot down six aircraft: all except one by GBAD. The AAA shot down two aircraft (one F-15 and a Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado GR.1) while the SAMs claimed three. An Iraqi MiG-25 shot down one F/A-18.[12] GBAD damaged a dozen more aircraft.

The Coalition air forces lost three aircraft to ground fire over 2,250 sorties on Day 2 as one aircraft each was claimed by AAA (a US Navy A-6) and SAM (a US Marine Corps OV-10), while the cause of loss of an Italian Tornado GR.1 could not be ascertained.[13] The next day, several missions were called off due to bad weather though the strikes against Scud launchers continued during the day. The Iraqi SAMs shot down two United States F-16s over Baghdad and another F-15. The RAF and Royal Saudi Air Force each lost two Tornadoes, while a USAF F-4 crashed after being hit by AAA. The air operations on 20 January were scaled down due to continued bad weather, and with losses mounting, especially to AAA, the USAF imposed a minimum altitude to reduce attrition. The Iraqi air defences, for their part, shot down two Coalition aircraft; a United States Navy F-14, downed by an SA-2 and an RAF Tornado, besides damaging three more. The RAF lost a Tornado to ground fire, with a USAF F-15 also being hit by a SAM.

On 23 January, coalition air forces claimed to have destroyed 19 Iraqi aircraft thus far and achieved air superiority over Iraq. The losses to Iraqi air defences were 15 aircraft, and AAA and hand-held SAMs’ unexpected intensity of ground fire forced Coalition aircraft to adopt higher-altitude delivery tactics. During the second week, the Iraqi air defences could not put up any concerted opposition. It was not until 28 January that they claimed their next kill when a SAM shot down a US Marine Corps AV-8B, although several Coalition aircraft was hit by AAA fire. KARI was badly fragmented by the end of week two, and only three of 16 Intercept Operations Centres (IOCs) were reported to be fully operational. Coalition losses during week three were again relatively low, with only three aircraft (an A-10, an AC-130 and an A-6E) lost to Iraqi air defences. The following week, Iraqi air defences shot down only three Coalition aircraft – two AV-8Bs and a Saudi F-5E.

The radar-guided SAMs had been targeted repeatedly, but the Iraqis sparingly continued to launch them. In one such instance, an SA-3 shot down an RAF Tornado GR.1 on 14 February. The Iraqis managed to shoot down five aircraft during week five, including two A-10s on the same day (15 February) by SA-13s. This forced the restricted use of A-10s in high-threat areas. As the war entered its final phase with the Coalition aircraft attacking from lower altitudes, the losses went up with Iraqi air defences shooting down eight aircraft during this last week of the war: three AV-8Bs, one OV-10, one OA-10, one A-10, and two F-16s.[14] This marked the second-highest weekly loss rate since the beginning of the war.

During the ground offensive, Iraqi air defences did not fight as they folded up tamely against the coalition air forces. During the whole campaign, a total of 38 coalition aircraft were lost to Iraqi air defences. At the same time, a further 48 aircraft were damaged in combat, totalling 86 combat casualties. Most losses were to infra-red guided SAMs, which claimed 13 aircraft and damaged 15 more, while the radar-guided SAMs shot down ten aircraft and damaged four. AAA caused the lowest losses at nine aircraft, although it damaged 24 more. The remaining losses were to accidents or technical reasons, including, for example, electrical malfunction. Considering the ‘lost’ and ‘damaged’ aircraft, the maximum casualties were due to AAA as it claimed 33 aircraft (38 per cent of the total losses), with the infra-red guided SAMs accounting for 28 aircraft (31 per cent). Only 16 per cent of the casualties were attributed to radar-guided SAMs.

The low kill rate by the radar SAMs is attributable to several factors, the primary one being the SEAD missions conducted by Coalition air forces which forced the radar SAMs to shut down most of the operations. In addition, all the radar SAMs held by Iraq were vintage Soviet-era missiles that had been used in combat earlier – there were no new weapons, like the SA-6s in the Yom Kippur War, which could have posed difficulties for the Coalition air forces.

DESERT STORM
A close-up view of a damaged section of an A-10A Thunderbolt II of the 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing. The aircraft sustained damaged when an SA-16 missile exploded near it during Operation DESERT STORM, 15 February 1991. (Sorce: Wikimedia)

There was a significantly higher daily casualty rate in the first five days of the war, during which 31 aircraft casualties occurred (36 per cent of the total and an average of 6.2 per day), compared to the following 38 days, with a total of 55 more casualties (an average of 1.45 per day). Losses to radar-guided SAMs fell to nearly zero after day five, accounting for 29 per cent (nine out of 31) of total casualties by then. They accounted for just nine per cent (five out of 55) of all aircraft casualties in the remainder of the war. It is apparent, therefore, that by the end of day five of the air campaign, radar SAMs had mainly been eliminated as an effective threat to coalition aircraft. Moreover, in the first three days of the war, some aircraft (B-52s, A-6Es, GR-1s, and F-111Fs) attacked at very low altitudes, where they were more vulnerable to low-altitude defences. After the imposition of a minimum attack level of about 12,000 feet, the losses reduced, resulting in much less accuracy with unguided weapons.

Iraq managed to maintain a fair degree of air defence capability throughout the war. The primary reason for this was KARI, which expanded the responsibilities of various nodes and developed local back-up air-defence networks using different communication networks over combat phone lines and wire between multiple stations. These back-up networks could control local air defences, even when the communication to the central network was down. These back-up systems used ground observers passing information over voice and data channels for information on Coalition aircraft. Radars associated with the Roland or SA-8 would be used to gain information about the altitude of inbound aircraft. The radars would be brought online for short 15-second bursts to ensure survivability in a hostile environment. The SAMs were sometimes fired without using the target-tracking radars to prevent being targeted by the anti-radar missiles. Optical tracking mode was also used while firing the SAMs.

At the war’s end, Iraq’s air defence was far from finished. According to Anthony Cordesman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, Iraq retained at least 380 Soviet-made surface-to-air missile launchers, about 80 French-made Roland units and ‘large numbers’ of portable Soviet-made anti-aircraft systems, not counting the hundreds of AA guns.[15] After initially claiming almost the complete destruction of the Iraqi air defence network, the claims were revised as the operations progressed. As USAF Colonel David Deptula, one of the architects of the air campaign, put it in 1996, ‘We didn’t go in there to eviscerate the whole network. The aim was to suppress their defences.’[16]

The Soviet reaction to the Gulf War was significant as the entire Iraqi IADS consisted of Soviet SAMs. In an understatement, Marshal Dmitri Yazov, the Soviet Minister of Defence, admitted that Iraq’s air defences ‘failed in most cases.’[17] Commenting on the initial attack on the IADS, Lieutenant General V. Gorbachev, Dean of the faculty at the General Staff Academy, opined that:

‘The Iraqi air defence system was paralysed by powerful electronic warfare devices. Command and control of troops was overwhelmed in the first few minutes.’[18]

Gorbachev also added:

[a]s far as Soviet equipment is concerned, it is not so much a problem, I think, as the people operating it. Iraqi military professionalism is not, as we can see, up to the mark.’[19]

Reinforcing this view, the Soviets believed that, as the air defence systems employed by the Iraqis were able to down most types of Coalition aircraft used, it suggested that the problem was more one of staffing than technology. It also reinforced an emerging view that modern wars demand well-trained professional soldiers to man and maintain it, not a large conscript army.[20]

After DESERT STORM, Iraq’s air defence system continued to harass the Coalition aircraft, defying the restrictions imposed by the no-fly zone. During Operation DESERT FOX, Iraq engaged Coalition aircraft more than 1,000 times over three years and fired nearly 60 SAMs.[21] The Iraqis even fired unguided rockets at the aircraft to harass them. The Iraqi IADS remained operational throughout and was never ‘put down.’

The Iraqi IADS had limited capabilities and was not as lethal or effective as initially projected; however, its capabilities had been exaggerated in most of the assessments conducted before DESERT STORM. Considering its limited capabilities against a modern air force, aggravated by poor training standards, it performed reasonably well and inflicted a fair amount of attrition. On the other hand, the SEAD operations by coalition air forces were not as effective as claimed during the operations. Even as the surveillance network and radar-guided SAMs were suppressed, the Iraqi IADS continued to function, albeit with reduced efficiency and continued to attrite. It must be remembered that GBAD cannot be suppressed entirely and will continue to inflict losses. It was so during DESERT STORM and will remain so in future conflicts.

Colonel Mandeep Singh, a veteran air defence gunner, has a Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies. He has contributed several articles on air power and air defence for specialist journals. His books include Air Defence Artillery in Combat, 1972 to the Present: The Age of the Surface-to-Air Missiles (2020) published by Air World.

Header image: An Iraqi SA-6 Gainful low-to-medium altitude surface-to-air-missiles on its transporter-erector-launcher. This system was captured by US forces in 2006; however, during the first Gulf War, Iraq operated a number of these systems. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] The Iraqi Air Force had a mix of combat aircraft, ranging from 190 advanced Mirages, MiG-25s, MiG-29s, and Su-24s to about 300 moderate-quality MiG-23s, Su-7s, Su-25s, Tu-16s and Tu-22s. Most of the air force however comprised of older aircraft like the MiG-17s and MiG-21s.

[2] ‘Conduct of the Persian Gulf War,’ Final Report to the Congress (Washington, DC : Dept. of Defense, 1992), p. 15.

[3] The P-18 radar, which uses metre-length waves in the Very High Frequency (VHF) bandwidth, can detect targets at a greater range than centimetre or millimetre wave radar which stealth aircraft are optimised against. It was a P-18 radar of the Yugoslav Army that detected an F-117 Nighthawk during the Kosovo air war, which led to its shooting down by an SA-3 missile. Similarly, P-12 radar also operates in VHF and can detect stealth aircraft. Kenneth Werrell, in his book Archie to SAM, mentions that Iraq had low-frequency radars though this is not mentioned by any other source. See, Kenneth Werrell, Archie to SAM: A Short Operational History of Ground-Based Air Defense, second edition (Maxwell, AL: Air University Press, 2005), p. 218. Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, The Generals’ War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf (New York: Little Brown, 1995), p. 105; Williamson Murray, ‘Operations’ in Gulf War Air Power Survey – Volume II: Operations and Effects and Effectiveness (Washington DC: Department of the Air Force, 1993), pp. 77-82.

[4] Iraq had 7,000 SAM and 6,000 AA Guns with the Republican Guard had its own air defence System with about 3,000 AA Guns and 60 SAM Batteries. See: Anthony Tucker-Jones, The Gulf War: Operation Desert Storm 1990-1991 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2014), p. 40.

[5] United States Air Force, ‘Reaching Globally, Reaching Powerfully: The United States Air Forces in the Gulf War’ (United States Air Force, 1991), p. 5.

[6] Richard Blanchfield et al, Part I – Weapons, Tactics, and Training’ in Gulf War Air Power Survey – Volume IV: Weapons, Tactics, and Training and Space Operations, directed by Eliot Cohen (Washington DC: Department of the Air Force, 1993), p. 15.

[7] Tucker-Jones, The Gulf War, p. 40.

[8] ‘Iraqi Threat to U.S. Forces,’ Naval Intelligence Command, Navy Operational Intelligence Center, SPEAR Department, December 1990, p. 3-14.

[9] ‘Operation Desert Storm: Evaluation of the Air Campaign’ (Washington DC: General Accounting Office, 1997), p. 137.

[10] ‘Operation Desert Storm: Evaluation of the Air Campaign,’ p. 137.

[11] Jim Corrigan, Desert Storm Air War: The Aerial Campaign against Saddam’s Iraq in the 1991 (Guilford, CT: Stackpole Books, 2017), p. 59.

[12] Lon Nordeen, Air Warfare in the Missile Age, second edition (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2010), pp. 413-4.

[13] James P. Coyne, Air Power in the Gulf (Arlington, VA: Air Force Association, 1992), pp. 67-71.

[14] ‘Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress, April 1992,’ (Washington, DC: Dept. of Defense, 1992), p. 197.

[15] Bradley Graham, ‘Gulf War left Iraqi Air Defence Beaten, Not Bowed,’ Washington Post, 6 September 1996.

[16] Graham, ‘Gulf War left Iraqi Air Defence Beaten, Not Bowed.’

[17] Quoted in ‘Outgunned Weaponry is Under Fire in Kremlin,’ The Irish Independent, 2 March 1991, p. 6. See also Alexander Velovich, ‘USSR Demands Post-Gulf Air Defense Review,’ Flight International, 13-19 March 1991, p. 5.

[18] Benjamin S. Lambeth, ‘Desert Storm and Its Meaning: The View from Moscow,’ A RAND Report (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1992), p. 23.

[19] Lambeth, ‘Desert Storm and Its Meaning,’ pp. 23-4, fn. 10.

[20] Daniel Sneider, ‘Soviets Assess Their Arsenal After Iraq’s Defeat in Gulf,’ The Christian Science Monitor, 8 March, 1991, p. 1.

[21] Tucker-Jones, The Gulf War, p. 201.

#BookReview – An Officer, Not a Gentleman: The Inspirational Journey of a Pioneering Female Fighter Pilot

#BookReview – An Officer, Not a Gentleman: The Inspirational Journey of a Pioneering Female Fighter Pilot

Mandy Hickson, An Officer, Not a Gentleman: The Inspirational Journey of a Pioneering Female Fighter Pilot. London: Mandy Hickson, 2020. Images. Pbk. 294pp.

Reviewed by Mark Russell

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Women have long served in the Royal Air Force (RAF). Female service in the RAF began during the First World War when up to 25,000 women served until the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), disbanded in 1918. Approximately 180,000 then served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during the Second World War, followed by those who served in the re-formed WRAF, an administrative entity within the RAF from 1949. Finally, in 1994, the WRAF was merged into the RAF.  

Although 166 women flew during the Second World War as delivery and ferry pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary, it was not until 1991 that women began to serve as pilots, a decision approved in 1989. The first female pilot was Flight Lieutenant Julie Ann Gibson, who re-trained from her existing career as an RAF engineer before flying Andovers with No. 32 Squadron from RAF Northolt in 1991. However, the issue of allowing women to fly fast jets still raised questions. Nonetheless, in December 1991, it was announced that women were cleared to fly in combat roles. However, it was not until August 1994 that Flight Lieutenant Jo Salter breached the ‘holy of holies,’ the fast jet pilot role, when she joined No. 617 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth to fly the Tornado GR1B. She became the RAF’s first female fast jet pilot. As of 1 April 2019, there were 30 female fixed-wing pilots in the RAF, while as of July 2021, 15.1% of the RAF regulars were female. 

Mandy Hickson’s An Officer, Not a Gentleman, is the autobiography of only the second woman to fly the Tornado in the RAF. It documents her experience flying the Tornado and becoming an operational fast jet pilot. Some of what Hickson writes will also resonate with those working within large organisations that continue to grapple with issues of inclusion and equality. It must, however, be noted that the RAF of the 1990s comes out of Hickson’s recollections well – perhaps not as an organisation, but certainly in the attitudes of some of those individuals Hickson encountered during her service.

Hickson has said she did not feel like a pioneer: ‘no different to anyone else for being a woman’ (p. 161). The book describes Hickson’s life and her RAF career. Hickson’s description of her feelings. For example, Hickson describes her isolation on her first deployment to the Gulf in 2000 as the only female aircrew on the squadron (pp. 187-90). This type of insight sets this book apart from some of the more ‘traditional’ aircrew memoirs written by male aircrew. Indeed, to this reviewer’s knowledge; this is the first memoir written by a female RAF pilot.

Hickson’s story opens with her joining the Air Training Corps in 1986 before winning a Flying Scholarship and receiving her Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) in August 1991 at 18. As one of the first female pilots in the RAF, Hickson inevitably faced challenges. For instance, being six feet tall at 16, she was too tall for the RAF height to weight charts and was told she needed to lose weight to obtain the Flying Scholarship, although her doctor noted that she was a healthy weight. Having cleared that hurdle and obtained her PPL, she went to the University of Birmingham, where she joined the University of Birmingham Air Squadron (UBAS) in late 1991. During this period, Hickson appears to have had no problem fitting into the flying and social life of the University Air Squadron (UAS), and she does not describe any times when she felt that being a woman created additional challenges for her or saw her discriminated against in any way. This may have been because she was, as she describes, ‘a bit of a tomboy’ (p. 1) and ‘a sports-mad teenager’ (p. 2). 

The next hurdle Hickson faced was at the start of her third year at university, when, to remain in the UAS, she needed to demonstrate a more concrete commitment to an RAF career. In December 1992, the UAS was told women could train as fast jet pilots, which triggered Hickson’s application to become aircrew. Having attended Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre, she failed the pilot aptitude tests despite having flown over 100 hours with the UAS. Instead, she was offered a career as an air traffic controller. The Officer Commanding of her UAS, Squadron Leader Karl Bufton, allowed her to continue flying with UBAS and arranged two separate check rides with instructors from the RAF’s Central Flying School both of whom rated her as above average as a pilot. He believed ‘the tests are wrong. I have a feeling they are not designed for women’ (p. 13). Hickson had the support she needed to continue. 

Hickson joined the RAF, and in November 1994, a month into her initial training at RAF College Cranwell, she was told that her request to transfer to the General Duties branch had been approved so that she could train as a pilot. ‘My grin stretched from ear to ear’ (p. 26). Later Hickson discovered that she ‘had been taken on as a test case to see how far I would get before I failed’ (p. 27). Discovering this when qualified as a fast jet pilot can only have made the achievement all the sweeter, but at the time, her feeling was: ‘They’d opened the door. I was ready to barge through it’ (p. 27). 

However, she soon came up against some of the less enlightened aspects of the RAF’s expectations of women. Most notably, Hickson describes her first performance appraisal with ‘Flight Lieutenant Beige’ as she nicknamed him. Hickson was told she should ‘be more feminine’ (p. x) and not buy two half pints of beer in the Mess at a time so she could drink pints – despite, as she puts it, having ‘spent three years at university doing exactly that’ (p. x). Hickson describes this experience as being ‘the first of many encounters with more senior officers who had a problem with women taking on new roles in the RAF’ (p. 38). Being six feet tall, extroverted, and athletic, one suspects that Hickson may have struggled to meet the RAF’s definition of ‘femininity’ (as being described as ‘Amazonian’ by Flight Lieutenant Beige indicates). However, it would be interesting to know more about the experience of other female officer candidates through this period, who may have been more ‘feminine’ and to understand the extent to which the culture at Cranwell has changed since the mid-1990s.    

There is evidence throughout the book of just how male-centric the RAF was at this point in its history. In addition to the requests that she be more ‘feminine’, there were also comments which she believes were ‘undoubtedly […] all meant in humour’ (p. 88) from instructors along the lines of ‘Off to apply your lippy, are you’ which Hickson says she had not noticed until fellow male course mates raised them with her, saying they felt it was wrong. Her coursemates raised these comments with the squadron commander, who immediately resolved this and apologised to her. The instructors who had been making these comments also apologised. Hickson reflects on this: ‘It’s shocking how I had normalized this behaviour to simply ‘get through’’’. This is another insight into how far the RAF had to go to make the most of female talent and invite work on where it is now in terms of its culture and ethos. 

A more positive story is how Hickson’s coursemates rallied around to teach her the mechanics of ‘battle turns’, leading to her instructor saying he had ‘never heard of a course coming together like that’ (p. 97). This is interesting on two levels: firstly, the willingness to help a female coursemate, suggesting) that the new generation was rather more enlightened than the organisation, and, secondly, with fast jet seats likely at a premium, one might have expected a more ‘dog eat dog’ attitude from Hickson’s fellow students – one person failing means more chance of a fast jet seat for the remaining students. The collegiate attitude is a tribute to her coursemates and, perhaps, to the supportive ethos that the training had inculcated to date. 

mandy-hickson_edited-1-1
Mandy Hickson stood in front of a Panavia Tornado.

Her lowest point career-wise came on her first two-month operational tour in Kuwait in 2000. She says, ‘I don’t think they had any empathy for how hard it was being the only woman’ (p. 187). During this tour, Hickson had issues with more senior squadron members, although when she later discussed it with one specific individual, he was unaware of the stress he had placed her under with his attitude (p. 196). ‘I was their first female pilot, and they weren’t used to it’ (p. 187), and they either consciously or unconsciously were not including her in squadron life, to the point that she felt ‘bullied’ and ‘marginalised’ to the point where she was confused about ‘who – and what – I was trying to be’ (p. 187) and considered handing in her resignation (p. 190). ‘Do I try to fit in […] or do I stand out?’ – another conundrum that, 20 years later, minorities continue to face despite inclusion programmes in many workplaces. ‘I was just trying to fit into the mould of junior fast jet pilot, regardless of gender’ (p.188) without the benefit of role models or (understandably) feeling able, as the most junior pilot on the squadron, to have any real impact on the definition of what a junior fast jet pilot was expected to be.

Hickson also got used to being assigned rooms on postings whose walls were covered in porn. She was not sure if this was how all rooms were or whether they had been prepared as a special welcome for her. However, Hisckon recalls that she took this in her stride, ripping the pictures down and throwing them into the corridor with a shout of ‘Porn’s up, boys’ (p. 175). While such interior decoration was considered acceptable, concerns over the impact women would have on the RAF’s prevailing culture are highlighted by Air-Vice Marshal Roger Austin, the Director-General Aircraft. In March 1989, a mere five years before Hickson arrived at Cranwell, Austin lamented on the coming day when the RAF would be ‘powdering its nose as it admire[d] Robert Redford and Tom Jones on the Flight Safety calendar.’[1]  Austin went on to become Commandant, RAF College Cranwell later in 1989. Culture continues to be a challenge for women in the military in the UK.

Being six feet tall, Hickson did not have some of the practical problems documented by other early female aircrews in terms of flying clothing not fitting and simply being the right size and shape for the aircraft. This had been a critical part of the debate about opening up fast jet cockpits for women, and it was a genuine issue. However, Hickson does document the consequences of the RAF not having thought through how to allow female aircrew to urinate while strapped into an ejector seat. The options available meant unstrapping from the seat, which was not an option when Hickson was policing the no-fly zone over Iraq, for example (p.194-195). Hickson being grounded due to a kidney infection that resulted from being unable to urinate in the air shows the need to think through these things. The solution on offer – a form of nappy – was described by Hickson as ‘awful’. Other female aircrew concurred, recalling that ‘they tried to avoid using them.’[2]  

Hickson left the RAF in 2009, having had two children in 2003 and 2004. She left in part because she was unable to be promoted under the RAF rules of the time, which required her to take another flying job to be promoted to Squadron Leader. In addition, she felt this was incompatible with having two children and a husband who was an airline pilot. ‘If you’re on a flying squadron, you’re on a flying squadron’ is how she puts it, and ‘You can’t just say “Oh sorry, I can’t do this bit today”’ (p.275). 

One recent reviewer of Hickson’ book in The Journal of the Royal Air Force Historical Society has suggested that it ‘is not a major work of moment.’ While one day we might view memoirs of female aircrew as being ‘seen as nothing remarkable’ as there no longer anything unusual about that experience, that day has still yet to be fully realised. Indeed, this book is a work of the moment because it is a pioneer’s story. While it has many elements of what one might call the ‘standard aircrew memoir’ that chronicles the path from air cadet to operational flying, it also provides many insights into the culture and ethos RAF of the time – the early post-Cold War period – and how the Service adapted to the introduction of female fast jet aircrew. In doing so, both Hickson and the RAF emerge well from the telling. A highly recommended book on many levels that may provide valuable insights to future historians, especially those interested in the RAF, military culture, and the role of gender in the military.

Mark Russell graduated with a 2:1 in History in 1985 and has worked in professional services ever since. He returned to academia in 2015 and graduated with an MA in Air Power: History, Theory and Evolution from the University of Birmingham in December 2017. Since then, while working in professional services, he has published articles and reviews in various publications, including the RAF’s Air and Space Power Review, the Journal of the Royal Air Force Historical Society, The Aviation Historian and From Balloons to Drones. Longer term, he is interested in organisational culture and how the coming of unmanned aircraft might impact on the culture of air forces. He is currently researching a possible article on Squadron Leader Freddy Lammer DFC and Bar.

Header image: A Panavia Tornado GR4 in grey colour scheme and special markings for the 95th anniversary of No. 2 Squadron in 2007. This was the type flown by Hickson with No. 2 Squadron. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] Kathleen Sherit, Flying Roles for Women in the RAF, Journal of the Royal Air Force Historical Society 63 (2016), p. 63.

[2] Kathleen Sherit, ‘The Integration of Women in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Post-World War II to the Mid 1990s’ (PhD Thesis, King’s College London, 2013), p. 235.

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books

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

Kristen Alexander and Kate Ariotti, ‘Mourning the Dead of the Great Escape: POWs, Grief, and the Memorial Vault of Stalag Luft III,’ Journal of War & Culture Studies (2022), DOI: 10.1080/17526272.2022.2097774.

In March 1944 seventy-six Allied prisoners of war escaped from Stalag Luft III. Nearly all were recaptured; fifty were later shot. This article examines what happened in the period between recapture and the interment of the dead prisoners’ cremated remains at Stalag Luft III. It positions what came to be known as ‘the Great Escape’ as an event of deep emotional resonance for those who grieved and reveals the dual narrative they constructed to make sense of their comrades’ deaths. In discussing the iconography of the vault constructed by the camp community to house the dead POWs’ ashes, this article also suggests a dissonance in meaning between that arising from personal, familial grief and the Imperial War Graves Commission’s standardised memorial practice. Focusing on the Great Escape’s immediate aftermath from the perspective of the POWs themselves provides a more nuanced understanding of the emotional impact of this infamous event.

Susan Allen, Sam Bell and Carla Machain, ‘Air Power, International Organizations, and Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan,’ Armed Forces & Society (2022), doi:10.1177/0095327X221100780.

Can the presence of international organizations reduce civilian deaths caused by aerial bombing? This commentary examines this question in the specific context of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. We evaluate this based on interviews conducted with members of international organizations that were present in Afghanistan during the conflict, existing intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and government reports, and with quantitative data on civilian casualties between 2008 and 2013. We conclude that there is tentative evidence from Afghanistan that international organizations can in fact reduce the severity of civilian killings that result from the use of air power. However, there is much need for greater data sharing to more fully answer this important question.

Derek Lutterbeck, ‘Airpower and Migration Control,’ Geopolitics (2022), DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2022.2094776.

Migration scholarship has thus far largely neglected the role of aircraft in both (irregular) migration and state policies aimed at controlling migration. Drawing inspiration from the field of strategic studies, where ‘airpower’ has been a key theoretical concept, this article explores the role of aerial assets in states’ migration control efforts. The article discusses three main dimensions of the use of airpower in controlling migration: the increasing resort to aircraft for border enforcement purposes – or what can be referred to as ‘vertical border policing’ –, states’ tight monitoring of the aerial migration infrastructure, and the use of aircraft in migrant return operations. As a core element of state power, it is airpower’s key features of reach, speed and height which have made it a particularly useful migration control instrument.

Priya Mirza “Sovereignty of the air’: The Indian princely states, the British Empire and carving out of air-space (1911–1933),’ History and Technology (2022), DOI: 10.1080/07341512.2022.2079370.

Who owns the skies? Under British colonialism, the ownership of the skies of India was a contested matter. The onset of aviation presented a challenge to the territorial understanding between the British and semi-sovereign Indian princes, Paramountcy (1858–1947). Technology itself was a tricky area: roadways, railways, telegraphs, and the wireless were nibbling away at the sovereign spheres which Paramountcy had put in place. This paper looks at the history of aviation in princely India, from aviation enthusiasts such as the rulers of Kapurthala, Jodhpur and Bikaner to subversive princes like the Maharaja of Patiala who worked towards a military air force. The paper tracks the three stages of the journey of aviation in princely India, from individual consumption, to the historical context of World War One which aided its access and usage, and finally, the collective princely legal assertion over the vertical air above them in the position, ‘sovereignty of air’. The government’s civil aviation policy in India remained ambiguous about the princes’ rights over the air till 1931 when their sovereignty of the sky was finally recognised. The paper focuses on the Indian princes varied engagement with aviation, modernity and their space in the world.

Ayodeji Olukoju ‘Creating ‘an air sense:’ Governor Hugh Clifford and the beginnings of civil aviation in Nigeria, 1919-1920,’ African Identities (2022), DOI: 10.1080/14725843.2022.2096566.

This paper focuses on the neglected subject of the beginnings of civil aviation in Nigeria in the aftermath of World War I. Until now, the literature on civil aviation in British colonial Africa had focused largely on Kenya, Central and South Africa and on post-World War II West Africa. This paper, relying on previously unexploited archival material, examines policy debates and options considered by the Colonial Office, the Air Ministry and the Nigerian colonial government. The unique, pioneering aviation drive of Nigeria’s Governor Hugh Clifford took place in the context of immediate post-World War I dynamics: economic vicissitudes, Anglo-French rivalry in West Africa and the policy interface between London and the colonies. This paper demonstrates that aviation development in Nigeria had roots in the early 1920s, and that the initiative was not a metropolitan monopoly, thereby illustrating the extent of colonial gubernatorial autonomy vis-à-vis London.

S. Seyer, ‘An Industry Worth Protecting? The Manufacturers Aircraft Association’s Struggle against the British Surplus, 1919–1922,’ Journal of Policy History 34, no. 3 (2022), pp. 403-39.

The American aircraft industry’s important role in the economic, military, and cultural expansion of the United States over the past one hundred years has been well documented by historians. But America’s twentieth century aerial dominance was not preordained. After World War I, the nascent American aircraft industry faced a concerted British effort to dump thousands of war surplus machines on the U.S. market. With aircraft outside of the nation’s tariff regime, members of the Manufacturers Aircraft Association turned to Congress for emergency protections in the face of what they considered an existential threat. Despite efforts to equate a strong industrial base for aviation with the national defense, aircraft antidumping legislation became mired in partisan debates over tariff policy and accusations of wartime corruption. In the absence of relief from Congress, the Wright patent served as a barrier against the importation of foreign surplus machines.

Ameya Tripathi, ‘Bombing Cultural Heritage: Nancy Cunard, Art Humanitarianism, and Primitivist Wars in Morocco, Ethiopia, and Spain,’ Modernist Cultures 17, no. 2 (2022), pp. 191-220.

This article examines Nancy Cunard’s later writing on Spain as a direct legacy of her previous projects as a modernist poet, publisher and black rights activist. Cunard was a rare analyst of the links between total war, colonial counter-insurgency, and cultural destruction. Noting the desire of both the air power theorist and art collector to stereotype peoples, from Morocco to Ethiopia to Spain, as ‘primitive’, the article brings original archival materials from Cunard’s notes into dialogue with her journalism, and published and unpublished poetry, to examine how she reclaimed and repurposed primitivism. Her poems devise a metonymic and palimpsestic literary geopolitics, juxtaposing fragments from ancient cultures atop one another to argue, simultaneously, for Spain’s essential dignity as both a primitive and a civilised nation. Cunard reconciles Spain’s liminal status, between Africa and Europe, to argue for Spain’s art, and people, as part of a syncretic, universal human cultural heritage, anticipating the art humanitarianism of organisations such as UNESCO.

Books

Stephen Bourque, D-Day 1944: The Deadly Failure of Allied Heavy Bombing on June 6 (Osprey: Osprey Publishing, 2022).

D-Day is one of the most written-about events in military history. One aspect of the invasion, however, continues to be ignored: the massive pre-assault bombardment by the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF), reinforced by RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force on June 6 which sought to neutralize the German defenses along the Atlantic Wall. Unfortunately, this failed series of attacks resulted in death or injury to hundreds of soldiers, and killed many French civilians.

Despite an initial successful attack performed by the Allied forces, the most crucial phase of the operation, which was the assault from the Eighth Air Force against the defenses along the Calvados coast, was disastrous. The bombers missed almost all of their targets, inflicting little damage to the German defenses, which resulted in a high number of casualties among the Allied infantry. The primary cause of this failure was that planners at Eighth Air Force Headquarters had changed aircraft drop times at the last moment, to prevent casualties amongst the landing forces, without notifying either Eisenhower or Doolittle.

This book examines this generally overlooked event in detail, answering several fundamental questions: What was the AEAF supposed to accomplish along the Atlantic Wall on D-Day and why did it not achieve its bombardment objectives? Offering a new perspective on a little-known air campaign, it is packed with illustrations, maps and diagrams exploring in detail the features and ramifications of this mission.

Laurence Burke II, At the Dawn of Airpower: The U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps’ Approach to the Airplane 1907–1917 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2022).

At the Dawn of Airpower: The U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps’ Approach to the Airplane, 1907-1917 examines the development of aviation in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps from their first official steps into aviation up to the United States’ declaration of war against Germany in April, 1917. Burke explains why each of the services wanted airplanes and show how they developed their respective air arms and the doctrine that guided them.   His narrative follows aviation developments closely, delving deep into the official and personal papers of those involved and teasing out the ideas and intents of the early pioneers who drove military aviation   Burke also closely examines the consequences of both accidental and conscious decisions on the development of the nascent aviation arms.  

Certainly, the slow advancement of the technology of the airplane itself in the United States (compared to Europe) in this period affected the creation of doctrine in this period.  Likewise, notions that the war that broke out in 1914 was strictly a European concern, reinforced by President Woodrow Wilson’s intentions to keep the United States out of that war, meant that the U.S. military had no incentive to “keep up” with European military aviation.  Ultimately, however, he concludes that it was the respective services’ inability to create a strong, durable network connecting those flying the airplanes regularly (technology advocates) with the senior officers exercising control over their budget and organization (technology patrons) that hindered military aviation during this period.

Jim Leeke, Turtle and the Dreamboat: The Cold War Flights That Forever Changed the Course of Global Aviation (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2022).

The Turtle and the Dreamboat is the first detailed account of the race for long-distance flight records between the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy less than fourteen months after World War II. The flights were risky and unprecedented. Each service intended to demonstrate its offensive capabilities during the new nuclear age, a time when America was realigning its military structure and preparing to create a new armed service – the United States Air Force.

The first week of October 1946 saw the conclusion of both record-breaking, nonstop flights by the military fliers. The first aircraft, a two-engine U.S. Navy P2V Neptune patrol plane nicknamed the Truculent Turtle, flew more than eleven thousand miles from Perth, Western Australia, to Columbus, Ohio. The Turtle carried four war-honed pilots and a young kangaroo as a passenger. The second plane, a four-engine U.S. Army B-29 Superfortress bomber dubbed the Pacusan Dreamboat, flew nearly ten thousand miles from Honolulu to Cairo via the Arctic. Although presented as a friendly rivalry, the two flights were anything but collegial. These military missions were meant to capture public opinion and establish aviation leadership within the coming Department of Defense.

Both audacious flights above oceans, deserts, mountains, and icecaps helped to shape the future of worldwide commercial aviation, greatly reducing the length and costs of international routes. Jim Leeke provides an account of the remarkable and record-breaking flights that forever changed aviation.

Micheal Napier, Flashpoints: Air Warfare in the Cold War (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2022).

The Cold War years were a period of unprecedented peace in Europe, yet they also saw a number of localised but nonetheless very intense wars throughout the wider world in which air power played a vital role. Flashpoints describes eight of these Cold War conflicts: the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Congo Crisis of 1960-65, the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973, the Falklands War of 1982 and the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. In all of them both sides had a credible air force equipped with modern types, and air power shaped the final outcome.

Acclaimed aviation historian Michael Napier details the wide range of aircraft types used and the development of tactics over the period. The postwar years saw a revolution in aviation technology and design, particularly in the fields of missile development and electronic warfare, and these conflicts saw some of the most modern technology that the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces deployed, alongside some relatively obscure aircraft types such as the Westland Wyvern and the Folland Gnat.

Highly illustrated, with over 240 images and maps, Flashpoints is an authoritative account of the most important air wars of the Cold War.

David Nicolle and Gabr Ali Gabr, Air Power and the Arab World – Volume 6: World in Crisis, 1936-March 1941 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2022).

Volume 6 of the Air Power and the Arab World mini-series continues the story of the men and machines of the first half century of military aviation in the Arab world. These years saw the Arab countries and their military forces caught up in the events of the Second World War.

For those Arab nations which had some degree of independence, the resulting political, cultural and economic strains had a profound impact upon their military forces. In Egypt the Army generally remained quiet, continuing with its often unglamorous and little appreciated duties. Within the Royal Egyptian Air Force (REAF), however, there were a significant number of men who wanted to take action in expectation of what they, and many around the world, expected to be the defeat of the British Empire.

The result was division, widespread mistrust, humiliation, and for a while the grounding of the entire REAF. In Iraq the strains of the early war years sowed the seeds of a yet to come direct armed confrontation with the British.

Volume 6 of Air Power and the Arab World then looks at the first efforts to revive both the REAF and the Royal Iraqi Air Force (RIrAF), along with events in the air and on the ground elsewhere in the Arab world from 1939 until March 1941.

This volume is illustrated throughout with photographs of the REAF, RIrAF and RAF and a selection of specially commissioned colour artworks.

Adrian Phillips, Rearming the RAF for the Second World War: Poor Strategy and Miscalculation (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2022).

When the RAF rearmed to meet the growing threat from Nazi Germany’s remorseless expansion in the late 1930s, it faced immense challenges. It had to manage a huge increase in size as well as mastering rapid advances in aviation technology. To protect Britain from attack, the RAF’s commanders had to choose the right strategy and the right balance in its forces. The choices had to be made in peacetime with no guidance from combat experience. These visions then had to be translated into practical reality. A shifting cast of government ministers, civil servants and industrialists with their own financial, political and military agendas brought further dynamics into play. The RAF’s readiness for war was crucial to Britain’s ability to respond to Nazi aggression before war broke out and when it did, the RAF’s rearmament was put to the acid test of battle. Adrian Phillips uses the penetrating grasp of how top level decisions are made that he honed in his inside accounts of the abdication crisis and appeasement, to dissect the process which shaped the RAF of 1940. He looks beyond the familiar legends of the Battle of Britain and explores in depth the successes and failures of a vital element in British preparations for war.

John Quaife, Battle of the Atlantic: Royal Australian Air Force in Coastal Command 1939-1945 (Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2022).

At the outbreak of World War II, somewhat by accident — and just as the first shots of the war were fired — young Australian airmen from the Royal Australian Air Force were engaged in operations that would become known collectively as the Battle of the Atlantic. Arguably lesser-known than air campaigns in other theatres, large numbers of Australians who volunteered for service with Royal Australian Air Force, found themselves fighting in this battle. Australians were there at the outbreak and many would go on to fly some of the final missions of the war in Europe.

This book captures some of the experiences of the Royal Australian Air Force members who served with Coastal Command and, through the weight of numbers alone, stories of the Sunderland squadrons and the Battle of the Atlantic dominate the narrative. Being critical to Britain’s survival, the battle also dominated Coastal Command throughout the war but Australians served in a surprising variety of other roles. The nature of many of those tasks demanded persistence that could only be achieved by large numbers of young men and women being prepared to ‘do what it took’ to get a tedious and unrewarding job done. Over 400 did not come home.

Steven Zaloga, The Oil Campaign 1944–45: Draining the Wehrmacht’s Lifeblood (Oxford: OIsprey Publishing, 2022).

With retreating German forces losing their oilfields on the Eastern Front, Germany was reliant on its own facilities, particularly for producing synthetic oil from coal. However, these were within range of the increasingly mighty Allied air forces. In 1944 the head of the US Strategic Air Forces, General Carl Spaatz was intent on a new campaign that aimed to cripple the German war machine by depriving it of fuel.

The USAAF’s Oil Campaign built up momentum during the summer of 1944 and targeted these refineries and plants with its daylight heavy bombers. Decrypted German communications made it clear that the Oil Campaign was having an effect against the Wehrmacht. Fuel shortages in the autumn of 1944 forced the Luftwaffe to ground most of its combat units except for fighters involved in the defense of the Reich. Fuel shortages also forced the Kriegsmarine to place most of its warships in harbor except for the U-boats and greatly hampered German army campaigns such as the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944-45.

This fascinating book packed with key photos and illustrations examines the controversies and debates over the focus of the US bombing campaign in the final year of the war, and the impact it had on the war effort overall.

#BookReview – British Imperial Air Power: The Royal Air Forces and the Defense of Australia and New Zealand Between the World Wars

#BookReview – British Imperial Air Power: The Royal Air Forces and the Defense of Australia and New Zealand Between the World Wars

Alex M. Spencer, British Imperial Air Power: The Royal Air Forces and the Defense of Australia and New Zealand Between the World Wars. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2020. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Pbk. 307 pp.

Reviewed by Ashleigh Brown

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The First World War was a catalyst for the development of aviation. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the British Army and Royal Navy air arms, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), acted purely as auxiliaries to the British Army and Royal Navy. By 1918, although still predominantly considered a support function for the other services, aviation had taken on an increased level of importance, as illustrated by establishing the independent Royal Air Force (RAF) on 1 April 1918. The importance of aviation and air power was not lost on the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire. Inspired by the experience of the Australian Flying Corps and the creation of the RAF, Australia began looking toward an independent air force during the closing stages of the First World War. This vision was soon realised with the creation of the Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 31 March 1921 (the ‘Royal’ prefix was added in May). New Zealand, the smaller dominion, was understandably slower during the interwar period. The New Zealand Permanent Air Force came into being on 14 June 1923 and grew slowly, much to the frustration of the United Kingdom (pp. 70-1). It is the experience of these two forces that Alex Spencer, a Curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in the United States, discusses in his new book, British Imperial Air Power.

Focussing on the Australian and New Zealand experience, British Imperial Air Power, derived from Spencer’s 2009 PhD thesis from Auburn University, offers one of the few contributions about military aviation developments in the Pacific dominions during the interwar period. Although the Australian and New Zealand experience of air power during has been examined, the interwar period is decidedly less studied. This is unfortunate; a far more comprehensive understanding of the air war during the Second World War can be gained by understanding the many steps taken between the wars. The immense technological, tactical, and organisational developments made during this period, as a direct result of First World War experiences, undeniably affected how air power was used in the next war. As such, as well as being an essential contribution to the discussion over the development of air power in Australia and New Zealand specifically, Spencer’s work is more generally a vital contribution to air power history of the interwar period. Spencer takes a thematic approach to the topic, beginning with the imperial air defence schemes of 1918 and 1919, which leveraged the progress made in military aviation during the war (pp. 11-36). Other themes investigated include the Empire’s air defence, post-war air transport, airships, disarmament and eventual rearmament, and the final preparations for war.

Looking at the development of the air forces of Australia and New Zealand through the imperial lens, Spencer places the dominions within the context of the British Empire. This includes a discussion of the RAF’s own struggles, namely, its fight to remain an independent service and its battle for resources throughout the interwar period. Wider economic and political issues are also discussed, including the Great Depression and the Geneva disarmament discussions, which had the potential to make building and modernising air forces more difficult (pp. 173-94). Spencer’s analysis of the broader economic, political, and imperial context is valuable. The dominions’ air forces were not created and developed in a vacuum; external factors inevitably influenced them. Additionally, Australia and New Zealand faced problems in developing their air forces – including interservice rivalry, difficulty obtaining resources, and economic restrictions – which were not unique to these dominions. Rather, they were problems faced worldwide, not least in Britain itself. Therefore, the RAF’s imperial context and experience are valuable inclusions in Spencer’s work.

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Two unidentified Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircrew wearing flying clothing and standing in front of an Airco (de Havilland) DH9 two-seat light bomber. This is one of 29 DH9 models that the British government gave to the fledgling RAAF as an Imperial Gift to Australia in 1920. (Source: Asutalian War Memorial)

In addition to these broader considerations, Spencer discusses the emergence of a more immediate threat to Australia and New Zealand: Japan (p. 38). Given the dislocation of the Pacific dominions from Britain, it is not surprising that fears of attacks by Japan influenced their plans for local air defence (p. 149). Spencer also discusses the renewal of Britain’s alliance with Japan (the Anglo-Japanese Alliance), which occurred to the consternation of Australia and New Zealand (p. 52). This demonstrated some cracks that were beginning to form between Britain and the Pacific dominions. Britain appeared less interested in the Japanese threat, in some instances appearing to completely disregard it as a threat despite the concerns of the dominions. Spencer adds to this issue by discussing the movement away from complete dependence on Britain and forging a closer relationship with the United States as an ally. Under the assumption that the United States had a greater interest in the Pacific area than Britain, Australia increasingly aligned itself with America. Additionally, with supply issues in Britain inhibiting the RAAF’s ability to acquire aircraft, Australia turned to the United States for new aircraft (p. 207). Spencer’s discussion of this provides essential context for the close relationship between the United States and Australia, which was apparent from the Second World War.

Spencer takes his work a step further by incorporating civil aviation’s development in Britain and the dominions, albeit on a much smaller scale. Importantly, he links this to the concurrent development of military aviation (p. 86). This is rare; military and civil aviation are usually treated quite separately. As Spencer points out, however, they were not entirely separate efforts. In addition to proving the value of aircraft in a military capacity, the First World War also opened the door for the possibility of civil aviation. For Australia, both veterans of the air war propelled spheres of aviation. While some Australians – such as Richard Williams and Stanley Goble – continued in the military and were instrumental in the RAAF’s early years, others – including Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness, and Charles Kingsford Smith – pursued careers in civil aviation upon returning home. Fysh and McGinness, along with Fergus McMaster, founded the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS), while Smith completed a series of daring long-distance flights. With developments in military and civil aviation taking place parallel to one another during the interwar period, it is entirely appropriate to discuss the latter in Spencer’s work. Spencer explains that civil aviation of the era included mapping routes to connect Britain and the dominions, which was undoubtedly an important effort in terms of aerial defence (p. 249-50).

Spencer’s work is not without its problems. On a surface level, an unfortunate typographical error (Jan Smuts is incorrectly referred to as ‘Ian Smuts’) within the first 15 pages leaps out at the reader (p. 15). Additionally, large block quotes are frequently used, often becoming a distraction from the main text. In many cases, the author could have effectively summarised these and added little to no value by being quoted in full. More significantly, there is an uneven focus throughout the book: the bulk of Spencer’s analysis is dedicated to Australia, with New Zealand’s experience receiving less attention. This is understandable given the disparity in the size of the air forces and the advancements each made. However, Spencer should have explained this in the introduction to avoid the reader expecting to see an even comparative study of the two.

With these minor issues aside, Spencer presents a thoroughly researched and well-reasoned account of the formation of Australia and New Zealand’s air forces and the developments and challenges they faced during the lead-up to the Second World War. This includes archival research in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, focusing on air ministry and air department records and political decisions. Importantly, this is placed within the context of the Empire and international events, providing a broader view of the various difficulties faced during the interwar period. As such, Spencer’s work is an important contribution to this underserved period in military history.

N.B. You can listen to an interview with Dr Alex Spencer about his book here.

Ashleigh Brown is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, Canberra. Her thesis focuses on the creation and interwar development of the Royal Australian Air Force. Ashleigh is a researcher for the Official History of Australian Operations in Iraq & Afghanistan and Australian Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor, where her focus is Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan between 2005 and 2010. She is also an editor at From Balloons to Drones. Her research interests include the First World War, the interwar period, recent conflicts, air power, and military command. Ashleigh can be found on Twitter at @ash__brown.

Header Image: A Line up of two Vickers Vildebeests of the Royal New Zealand Air Force at RNZAF Station Wigram in the late-1930s. Vildebeest NZ108 is in the foreground. The flashes on the fuselage and wheel spats are blue. (Source: Air Force Museum of New Zealand)

#HistoricBookReview – The Air War, 1930-1945

#HistoricBookReview – The Air War, 1930-1945

Richard J. Overy, The Air War, 1930-1945. Potomac Edition. Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2005. Appendices. Tables. Photographs. Notes. Bibliographic Note. Bibliography. Index. vii + 267 pp.

Reviewed by Ryan Clauser

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Few historical works have altered the course of a field of study in the way Richard Overy’s The Air War, 1939-1945 did when it was first published in 1980. When the book was published initially, air power history, as a field of academic study, was in its infancy and had been mainly regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of military history (p. 240). However, Overy’s work transformed the historiography of air power history with his comparative study of the most important air forces of the Second World War.

The importance of Overy’s The Air War is hard to overstate, especially as the book has been reprinted twice in 1987 and 2005. In the most recent edition, that under reviewe here, Overy, now an Honorary Professor at the University of Exeter in the UK, provided the reader with new additions in the form of new statistical figures, updated research, and notes from the author. These new additions illustrate Overy’s dedication to his work and has helped keep The Air War an essential source for historians and remains one of the premier air power history texts. Since the publication of the first edition of The Air War, Overy has continued to write extensively about air power history and the history of the Second World War, including works such as Why the Allies Won (1995), The Battle of Britain: Myth and the Reality (2001), Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in the Allied Hands, 1945 (2001), The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (2013) and most recently Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War, 1931-1945 (2021). Potomac Books published the latest edition of The Air War as part of their Cornerstones of Military History collection.

Overy starts his work by proclaiming that ‘this is not a ‘blood and guts’ book about the air war’ (p. xiii), but rather a study that aims to compare and contrast the air forces of the warring nations along with their preparations, strategies, leadership, economics, and development. The Air War sought to provide a greater overview and understanding of the discrepancies between Allied and Axis air forces and fully explain air power’s role throughout the war.

Lancaster_B_MkI_44_Sqn_RAF_in_flight_1942
Three Avro Lancaster BMkIs of No. 44 Squadron, Royal Air Force based at Waddington in Lincolnshire, flying above the clouds, 29 September 1942. Left to right: W4125, ‘KM-W,’ being flown by Sergeant Colin Watt, Royal Australian Air Force; W4162, ‘KM-Y,’ flown by Pilot Officer T.G. Hackney (later killed while serving with No. 83 Squadron); and W4187, ‘KM-S,’ flown by Pilot Officer J.D.V.S. Stephens DFM, who was killed with his crew two nights later during a raid on Wismar. (Source: © IWM TR 197)

The Air War begins with an overview of each combatant nation’s preparations for war and their overall use of air power. Overy wrote that air power theory and doctrine had matured in the years leading up to and throughout the Second World War. These new ideas stated that air power could be used in many ways, such as: protecting naval power, close air support, strategic bombing, and air defence. For example, naval aviation was invaluable for Japan as the Imperial Japanese Navy used it to develop carrier strike forces. The development of Japanese naval air power sought to offset the advantages that western navies, such as the United States and Great Britain, held over Japan. However, for other Axis nations, naval air power was non-existent as Germany and Italy saw no merit in committing resources to build aircraft carriers. Instead, Germany and Italy subscribed to the theory that air power was best suited for a role in supporting their armies. However, the Allies crafted their air power doctrine more holistically to encompass all aspects of military aviation, including naval support, support of armies, strategic bombing, and aerial defence, all of which played critical roles in the Allied air war.

Overy breaks down the Second World War by year and the theatre of operation beginning with the early War in Europe spanning from 1939 to 1941. This section discusses Germany’s and the Axis’ initial success with close air support and air interdiction. However, Germany’s victories were quickly halted following the fall of France and the beginning of the Battle of Britain. Left as the only attacking force capable of striking the United Kingdom from occupied France, the Luftwaffe found itself in a role for which it was wholly unprepared. In contrast, the British utilised a far more general strategy to successfully defend their nation and launch a strategic bombing campaign of their own. Overy stated that, ‘the German rejection of a more general air strategy coincided with shifts in the war itself that made such a strategy more rather than less necessary’ (p. 37). While the air war was still an essential facet of the Second World War in its first two years, it had yet to fully mature on the battlefield.

For the rest of the war in Europe, 1941 to 1945, Overy explains how the allies’ general air strategy put them at a far more significant advantage in the air war compared to their Axis counterparts. As described by Overy, this generalist strategy allowed the allies to combine the many facets of air power, including aerial defence, ground and naval support, and strategic bombing, into one encompassing approach to the war in the air. This perspective also helped mature the Allies use of air power throughout the war. Further, the economics of the air war is also stressed. As Overy pointed out, the United States alone had seen a steady increase in aircraft production every year since 1942, and by 1944 they were outproducing Germany at a rate of nearly three to one in aircraft. Additionally, the Americans suffered less than half the losses of the Germans in the air throughout the war. These factors combined led the allies to victory in the air war and the war in general.

Zero_Akagi_Dec1941
An Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi A6M2 ‘Zero’ fighter takes off from the aircraft carrier ‘Akagi,’ on its way to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. The aircraft was flown by PO2c Sakae Mori, 1st koku kantai, 1st koku sentai, and flew with the second wave. (Source: Wikimedia)

The war in the Pacific was strategically a much different conflict than the one in Europe. Japan’s approach to air power was to use it mainly as a supporting arm of its navy to create a multi-faceted naval strike force. Japan used their war with China to hone this strategy and their aviation technology. This early period of war for Japan allowed them to create a superior fighter aircraft in the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and allowed them to hold the upper hand for a time in their war against the United States and Great Britain following the attack on Pearl Harbor. As the war in the Pacific persisted, the Allies again found multiple roles for airpower and again committed to a generalist strategy in the east. Continuously, like the war in Europe, economics played an essential role in the Pacific, as even by 1941, Japan had begun realising that their economy was in short supply of the raw materials needed to fight a war. This hampered the Japanese war effort and nearly crippled its ability to produce aircraft. By the end of the war, Japan’s aircraft industry could barely replace what was being lost in combat, while the Americans kept producing increasingly better aircraft at staggeringly higher rates. Again, Overy emphasises that the Allied generalist strategies and superior economies were able to win the air war in the east.

While strategy and economics are at the heart of Overy’s work, he also delved into other aspects of the air war, including leadership, training, organisation, science, and research of each nation’s air force, all of which played a crucial role in the air war at large. Each of these additional factors was eventually influenced at some juncture in the war by the strategy and economics of each nation and how they chose to operate their air forces. Nonetheless, each of these additional factors played a significant role in the air war of the Second World War.

Throughout the course of Overy’s research, he relied heavily on official documents, public records, and memoirs of pilots, military commanders, and government officials. Overy was also fortunate to have access to various German records housed with the Imperial War Museum in London while researching the book in the 1970s. That said, while access to some sources was abundant, others, specifically those dealing with the Soviet Air Force, were scant at best and were limited to what the Soviet government saw fit to publish. Another issue in researching this project was the state of air power scholarship, which was in its infancy. Due to this, Overy was forced to depend on more general studies of aircraft, economics, and World War II for secondary sources. A problem that the publication of the book itself began to rectify. Overy also admits that he utilised fictional and popular publications to get a well-rounded perspective of the air war but did not include these works among his cited sources.

In this new edition, Overy has added a new preface in which he claims to have changed very little of his original text, but instead focused his edits on updating the charts and statistics. These illustrations show how economics influenced the air war and exhibit the discrepancies in how Allied and Axis powers produced aircraft. Also, in this newest edition, Overy included a valuable bibliographic note in which he evaluated the development of the historiography of air power and provided the authors and titles of works that have extrapolated further on the ideas laid out in the original Air War text such as tactics and leaderships and economics. Notably, among these works are Richard Davis’s Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe (1992), John Gooch’s collection of essays Airpower: Theory and Practice (1995), and John Buckley’s Air Power in the Age of Total War (1999). This section was not meant for Overy to vaunt his own influence on the field, but rather to provide readers with a greater historiographic picture of Second World War air power scholarship and show how the field has grown since 1980.

To describe The Air War as notable would be an understatement, as Overy took on the monumental task of comparing and contrasting the primary air forces of the Axis and Allied powers of the Second World War. Even from the outset of this book Overy admitted that he only spent paragraphs on what could be volumes worth of work, yet he was still somehow able to distil mass amounts of information and statistics into only 211 pages of content. From these pages, Overy concluded that the allies were able to gain the upper hand and win the air war largely because of their generalist strategic approach and superior economies. In totality, Overy’s The Air War is still among the preeminent air power works and should continue to be heralded for ushering air power history into the mainstream of academic study.

Ryan Clauser is an Adjunct Professor of History at DeSales University. He received his MA from East Stroudsburg University where he wrote his master’s thesis on restored airworthy Second World War aircraft as important pieces of historical memory that should be preserved as living monuments. He specialises in air power history and memory of the Second World War.

Header image: The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the long range strategic bomber used be the United Sates to bomb Japan. It was the largest aircraft to have a significant operational role in the war, and remains the only aircraft in history to have ever used a nuclear weapon in combat. (Source: Wikimedia)

#DesertStorm30 – Electric Avenue: Electronic Warfare and the battle against Iraq’s air defences during Operation Desert Storm

#DesertStorm30 – Electric Avenue: Electronic Warfare and the battle against Iraq’s air defences during Operation Desert Storm

By Dr Thomas Withington

In January 1991, a US-led coalition launched Operation DESERT STORM to evict Iraq from Kuwait, which the former had invaded six months earlier. DESERT STORM was a combined operation involving a major air campaign. At the time, Iraq had one of the world’s most sophisticated air defence systems. The radars and communications necessary to spot hostile aircraft and coordinate their engagement were integral to this. As a result, the coalition correctly determined that the air campaign would only succeed by establishing air superiority and supremacy. This would be achieved through an Offensive Counter Air (OCA) campaign against the Iraqi Air Force (IQAF). A crucial part of this was an electronic war waged against Iraqi air defence radars and communications. This article explains the extent to which Iraq’s air defences threatened coalition air power, how the electronic war against these air defences was fought and why they were not able to overcome the coalition’s electromagnetic supremacy.

When Operation DESERT STORM began on the morning of 17 January 1991, Iraq possessed one of the world’s most fearsome Integrated Air Defence Systems (IADS). At 02:38, its demise began. Task Force Normandy, an armada of US Army AH-64A Apache gunships and US Air Force (USAF) MH-53J Pave Low helicopters attacked a group of IQAF radars. These were positioned a few miles behind the midpoint of the Saudi-Iraqi border within the Iraqi 1st Air Defence Sector’s area of responsibility. The radars consisted of P-18 Very High Frequency (VHF), P-15 Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and P-15M2 UHF ground-based air surveillance radars.[1] This attack left a large swathe of Iraq’s southwest airspace without radar coverage. As a result, Iraq’s IADS failed to detect waves of incoming aircraft tasked with hitting strategic targets. These planes followed USAF F-117A Nighthawk ground-attack aircraft which had slipped through Iraqi radar coverage earlier to hit targets in Baghdad.

The Story so Far: From Vietnam to DESERT STORM

The United States had learned about well-operated air defences the hard way during the Vietnam War. Vietnam’s air war saw the United States lose over 3,300 fixed-wing aircraft across all services. Rotary-wing and uninhabited aerial vehicle losses pushed this figure to over 10,000.[2] In addition, the North Vietnamese IADS, consisting of Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) and SA-2 high-altitude Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), reaped a grim toll on American aircraft. The experience led to the development of the USAF’s Wild Weasel concept.

Republic F-105G
Republic F-105G ‘Wild Weasel’ in flight on 5 May 1970. External stores include QRC-380 blisters, AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-78B Standard Anti-Radiation Missile. (Source: Wikimedia)

First seeing service in the summer of 1965, customised F-105F Thunderchief fighters outfitted with radar detectors, listened for transmissions from an SA-2’s accompanying radar. The purpose of locating the accompanying radar was that it helped locate the associated SAM battery. The aircraft would then attack the radar, initially with gunfire and rockets and later with specialist Anti-Radar Missiles (ARMs). These attacks destroyed the radar site and blinded the SAM site, thus reducing the threat to incoming attack aircraft. These aircraft were eventually upgraded to F-105G standard. The Wild Weasel concept was progressively honed during and after the Vietnam War with ever-more capable radar sensors, ordnance, and platforms. When the USAF deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1990, the Wild Weasels used F-4G Phantom-II jets with sophisticated radar-hunting equipment and AGM-88 high-speed anti-radar missiles.

The skies over Southeast Asia gave the US armed forces, and their North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies a taste of the potency of Soviet and Warsaw Pact air defences as they had for the Israeli Air Force during the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. No sooner had the last US units left Vietnam than the so-called ‘New Cold War’ began to unfold. Both NATO and the Warsaw Pact prepared for a confrontation that might engulf East and West Germany. Part of the Warsaw Pact’s role was to ensure that air approaches into the European USSR were heavily defended. This required robust IADSs of fighter defences and an umbrella of short-range/low-altitude, medium-range/medium-altitude SAM systems covering the altitudes NATO aircraft were likely to use. This SAM umbrella protected everything from dismounted troops on the front line pushing through the Fulda Gap on the Inner German Border to strategic politico-military leadership targets in the Soviet Union.

The Wild Weasel units were not the only assets involved in degrading Soviet air defences. Also important were SIGINT (signals intelligence) platforms, such as the USAF’s RC-135U Combat Sent ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) gathering aircraft. These aircraft allowed NATO to develop an understanding of where the radars supporting Soviet and Warsaw Pact air defences were situated. Understanding where the radars were located allowed NATO to build up an electronic order of battle of the ground-based air surveillance radars and Fire Control/Ground-Controlled Interception (FC/GCI) radars the air defences depended upon to detect and engage targets with SAMs or fighters. Many aircraft configured to collect SIGINT and prosecute Soviet/Warsaw Pact air defences were the same that deployed to the Persian Gulf. After arriving, they soon discovered similar defences to those on the eastern side of the Inner German Border.

KARI: Defending Iraqi Airspace

The US Department of Defence’s official report on DESERT STORM did not mince its words regarding the potential ferocity of Iraq’s IADS:

The multi-layered, redundant, computer-controlled air defence network around Baghdad was denser than that surrounding most Eastern European cities during the Cold War, and several orders of magnitude greater than that which had defended Hanoi during the later stages of the Vietnam War.[3]

The components of Iraq’s air defence system were sourced from the USSR and France. In the wake of the 17 July Revolution in 1968, which brought the Iraqi affiliate of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party to power, France steadily deepened its relationship with Iraq. As a result, France sold some of its finest materiel to Iraq during the 1970s and 1980s. For Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein, who had seized power in July 1979, this was ideal.

With tensions growing between Iraq and Iran, the Iraqi armed forces needed as much support as the regime could muster. They were not disappointed. Paris supplied Roland Short-Range Air Defence (SHORAD) SAM batteries. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, furnished Iraq with SA-2 batteries, SA-3 medium-range/medium-altitude, SA-6A low/medium-altitude/medium-range, SA-8, and SA-9 SHORAD SAM batteries. Additional SHORAD coverage was provided by a plethora of ZSU-23-4 and ZSU-57-2 AAA systems and SA-13 Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS). The SAMs were mainly to protect Iraqi strategic targets. Divisions of the elite Republican Guard also had some organic SA-6 and Roland units. AAA was used for corps and division air defence, along with the point defence of strategic targets. These units would also have MANPADS coverage, some SA-8s and Rolands. These provided air defence coverage over the manoeuvre force.[4]

These air defences received targeting information from Chinese-supplied Type-408C VHF ground-based air surveillance radars with a range of 324 nautical miles/nm (600 kilometres/km). Iraq received five of these radars between 1986 and 1988. France also supplied six TRS-2215/2230 S-band ground-based air surveillance radars between 1984 and 1985. These had a range of 335nm (620km).[5] Iraq supplemented these with five French TRS-2206 Volex ground-based air surveillance radars transmitting on an unknown waveband with a range of 145nm (268.5km). The Soviet Union also supplied several ground-based air surveillance and height-finding radars for use with Iraq’s SAM batteries and independently. These included six P-12 and five P-14 VHF ground-based air surveillance radars with ranges of 135nm (250km) and 216nm (400km), respectively, plus ten P-40 radars with a 200nm (370km) range and five PRV-9 height-finding radars with a 162nm (300km) range.[6]

The IQAF’s radars, fighters, airbases, SAM batteries and supporting infrastructure that provided operational/strategic level air defence were networked using the French-supplied KARI Command and Control system.[7] The nerve centre of the IADS was the Air Defence Operations Centre in downtown Baghdad. This was responsible for Iraq’s operational/strategic air defence, particularly industrial and political installations.

Iraq’s airspace was segmented into four sectors (see figure 1).[8] Each was commanded from a Sector Operations Centre. Subordinate to the Sector Operations Centres were the Intercept Operations Centres. The Intercept Operations Centres would control a segment of airspace in a specific sector using organic radars. Their radar pictures would be sent to the Sector Operations Centre. There they would be fused together creating a Recognised Air Picture (RAP) of the sector and its air approaches. The recognised air picture was sent up the chain of command to the Air Defence Operations Centre using standard radio, telephone, and fibre optic links. A ‘Super RAP’ of Iraq’s airspace and approaches was created at the Air Defence Operations Centre. KARI used several means of communication to provide redundancy. If radio communications were jammed, communications with the Air Defence Operations Centre could be preserved using telephone and fibre optic lines. If telephone exchanges and fibre optic nodes were hit, radio communications could be used.

Iraq Air defence
Figure 1 – Iraqi Air Defence Sectors, Sector Operations Centres, and Intercept Operations Centres

Cooking up a Storm

Coalition air planners had two critical Iraqi threats to contest in the bid to achieve air superiority and air supremacy; the Iraqi IADS and deployed Ground-Based Air Defences (GBAD) protecting the Iraqi Army and Republican Guard units. The IADS/GBAD had to be degraded to the point where they would effectively be useless if coalition aircraft enjoyed relative freedom in the skies above the Kuwait Theatre of Operations. Electronic Warfare (EW) was intrinsic to this effort. The IADS and GBAD relied on air surveillance, battle management and weapons control.[9] Air surveillance was dependent on radar, battle management was dependent on communications, and both depended on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The concept of operations for coalition electronic warfare to support the air campaign was to attack the two electronic elements of the IADS/GBAD, namely radar and radio communications, without which situational awareness and command and control would be badly degraded if not neutralised altogether. Alongside electronic warfare, kinetic attacks on radars were made using anti-radiation missiles and against key nodes and targets in the IADS using conventional ordnance. Following Kuwait’s occupation, the coalition’s immediate task was to build an electronic order of battle of the radars and communications intrinsic to the IADS and GBAD. Space and airborne assets were instrumental to this effort. Although much information regarding the specifics of the US Central Intelligence Agency/National Reconnaissance Office Magnum SIGINT satellite constellation remains classified, they were almost certainly employed to collect raw signals intelligence germane to the IADS/GBAD. This would have been analysed at facilities in the US before being disseminated to allies.[10]

SIGINT collection followed a hierarchical approach. The Magnum satellites made a ‘broad brush’ collection of Iraqi electromagnetic emissions, discerning potential signals of interest from radars or communications from the prevailing electromagnetic noise generated by the country.[11] Further investigation of these signals of interest would be done using airborne SIGINT assets.[12] For example, the USAF based two RC-135Us at King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.[13] These jets flew close to Iraq’s borders to ‘hoover up’ as much ELINT as possible.[14] This served two purposes. First, the collection of ELINT allowed the coalition to determine which radars were used by Iraq’s IADS/GBAD and where they were located. This allowed potential gaps or more weakly defended areas in Iraqi air defence coverage to be identified. Second, regular ELINT collection allowed SIGINT experts to determine the pattern of electromagnetic life. This would have helped answer pertinent questions about whether Iraqi SA-2 batteries switched their radars off every evening or every weekend. By identifying geographical or temporal gaps in radar coverage, coalition planners could take advantage of weak coverage.

American SIGINT aircraft were joined by Royal Air Force Nimrod RMk.1s flying from Seeb airbase in Oman, and Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) C-160G Gabriel and DC-8F Sarigue SIGINT planes based at King Khalid International Airport. However, the Iraqis knew they were being watched. Iraqi air defenders had correctly deduced that coalition SIGINT efforts would extract as much usable SIGINT as possible. As a result, they tried to keep their radar and radio use to a minimum while coalition warplanes relentlessly probed Iraqi air defences to tempt radar activation and communications traffic for collection by SIGINT aircraft hanging back from the fighters.[15]

Support was also provided by the US Navy’s Operational Intelligence Centre’s Strike Projection Evaluation and Anti-Air Research team, better known as SPEAR. This unit helped build a comprehensive order-of-battle of the Iraqi IADS/GBAD.[16] In cooperation with the USAF and national US intelligence agencies, SPEAR identified key nodes in the Iraqi IADS that would badly degrade its efficacy if destroyed.[17] In addition, the process helped draft simulation programmes that built an increasingly detailed model of the Iraqi IADS/GBAD system. These programmes were continually updated as new intelligence arrived, allowing analysts to perform ever-more detailed replications of the expected potency of Iraqi air defences.[18]

DESERT SHIELD
An RC-135V/W Rivet Joint from the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 1700th Air Refueling Squadron Provisional during Operation DESERT SHIELD. (Source: Wikimedia)

Alongside the RC-135Us discussed above, USAF RC-135V/W Rivet Joint and US Navy EP-3E Aries planes primarily collected Communications Intelligence (COMINT) on Iraq’s IADS/GBAD. Although the Rivet Joints were primarily configured to collect COMINT from radios and telecommunications transmitting on V/UHF wavebands of 30 megahertz to three gigahertz, these frequencies were also used by several Iraqi early warning and ground-based air surveillance radars. This allowed the Rivet Joints to assist their Combat Sent counterparts in gathering ELINT.[19]

Determining Iraq’s electronic order of battle allowed the radars to be attacked kinetically by USAF F-4G Wild Weasels using the AGM-88B/C missiles. Radars were also engaged electronically by USAF EF-111A Raven EW aircraft. Likewise, radio communications were attacked electronically with USAF EC-130H Compass Call planes. However, the USAF was not the only custodian of the suppression of enemy air defence mission. The US Navy was an avid user of the AGM-88 and, together with the US Marine Corps (USMC), flew EA-6B Prowlers. These jets could electronically and kinetically target hostile radars and gather ELINT.

Now in the streets, there is violence

‘The attack on the Iraqi electronic order of battle affected every aspect of the air supremacy operation,’ noted the official record of Operation DESERT STORM.[20] The initial focus of the electronic warfare battle was to destroy critical radars and communications nodes in the Iraqi IADS to paralyse the air defence network at strategic and operational levels.[21] At the tactical level, deployed SAM systems were then attacked with anti-radiation missiles when they illuminated coalition aircraft. This was done by patrolling F-4Gs and EA-6Bs, waiting for these radars to be activated or having the same aircraft and other anti-radiation missile-armed warplanes, such as the Royal Air Force’s Tornado GR.1 ground attack aircraft with their ALARMs (Air-Launched Anti-Radiation Missiles) accompany strike packages of aircraft. This had the dual purpose of helping keep these aircraft safe and continually attritting the kinetic elements of Iraq’s air defence.[22]

As noted earlier in this article, plans for attacking Iraq’s IADS/GBAD system became a reality in the early morning of 17 January. While Task Force Normandy laid waste to Iraqi radars, F-117As hit the Sector Operations Centres and Intercept Operations Centres in the 1st and 2nd Air Defence Sectors.[23] The actions of the Nighthawks and Task Force Normandy opened gaps in southern and western Iraqi radar coverage and air defence command and control network, which was then exploited.[24] Stealthy and non-stealth aircraft alike ingressed into Iraqi airspace to reach their strategic targets with electronic attack assistance provided by EF-111As and EA-6Bs. These platforms effectively jammed Iraqi early warning/ground-based air surveillance radars transmitting on V/UHF frequencies and FC/GCI radars transmitting in higher wavebands.[25] Typically, the EF-111As and EA-6Bs flew jamming orbits to protect air operations in a particular segment of the Kuwait Theatre of Operations. For example, USAF EF-111As flew orbits in western Iraq, providing jamming support to strikes in that part of the country, performing similar missions in the vicinity of Baghdad.[26] The EF-111As and EA-6Bs also relayed near-real-time updates on the Iraqi Electronic Order of Battle in their locale using radio and tactical datalink networks. Air campaign planners then adjust the air campaign’s electronic dimension accordingly.[27]

EA-6B DESERT STORM
EA-6B Prowlers of VAQ-130 refuelled by a KC-135 Stratotanker en-route to an attack during Operation DESERT STORM. (Source: NARA)

With one part of its radars destroyed and jamming afflicting the others, coalition aircraft headed into Iraq, clearing a path through the IADS, and hitting IADS targets with anti-radiation missiles and air-to-ground ordnance.[28] As well as hitting these targets, BGM-109 cruise missiles hit transformer yards dispersing carbon fibre filaments. This caused short circuits in the power supply.[29] Air defence facilities without backup power went offline. Even those with generators would still see their systems shut down before being reactivated, costing valuable time.[30]

Influenced by Israeli Air Force operations over the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon close to that country’s border with Syria in June 1982, another tactic used by the coalition was the use of USAF launched BQM-74C Chukar drones to mimic coalition combat aircraft ingressing Iraq’s 1st Air Defence Sector. The intention was for Iraqi air defenders to illuminate the drones and engage them. This allowed anti-radiation missile-equipped aircraft to determine the position of SAM batteries engaging the drones and attack their radars. The US Navy performed similar missions with their ADM-141A/B Tactical Air-Launched Decoys This was an effective tactic as it not only revealed the location of Iraqi SAM batteries, but it forced them to expend missiles.[31]

The Continuing Campaign

Initial overtures in the air defence suppression campaign were aimed at attritting Iraqi long and medium-range/high and medium-altitude SAM systems to help sanitise the airspace for following coalition strikes.[32] Typically, AAA would be effective up to altitudes of circa 15,000 feet/ft (4,572 metres/m), with Iraqi SAM batteries effective up to circa 40,000ft (12,192m).[33] The controlled kinetic and electronic violence unleashed against the Iraqi IADS/GBAD during the first 24 hours of the war was palpable. The official record notes that almost 48 targets, including an array of air defence aim points, were hit: ‘This was not a gradual rolling back of the Iraqi air defence system. The nearly simultaneous suppression of so many vital centres helped cripple Iraq’s air defence system.’[34] This inflicted a level of damage from which the Iraqi IADS/GBAD could not recover.

As the campaign unfolded Iraqi air defenders learnt that activating their radar invited an AGM-88 or ALARM attack. By the end of the first week of combat operations, the Iraqis realised that a significant dimension of the coalition air campaign focused on destroying their air defences.[35] SAMs would still be fired ballistically in the hope of a lucky strike, but sans radar, SAM capabilities were severely degraded. Switching off the radars did not stop the attacks. AAA or SAM sites that kept their radars switched off were engaged with conventional air-to-ground ordnance.[36] Life was increasingly unpleasant for Iraqi air defenders who realised that switching off their radars did not stop the attacks. One can only imagine the demoralisation this must have caused.

Assessment

Benjamin Lambeth correctly asserted that DESERT STORM exemplified the decisive migration of electronic countermeasures and EW in general ‘from a supporting role to a direct combat role.’[37] Quite simply, without EW, the coalition would not have succeeded in degrading the Iraqi IADS/GBAD to a point where it could no longer meaningfully challenge coalition air power in such a short space of time. One of the major successes of the electronic warfare aspect of the air campaign was its dislocation of Iraqi IADS/GBAD command and control. Despite the technological sophistication of KARI, it could not mitigate the hierarchical nature of Iraqi air defence doctrine. The Intercept Operations Centres struggled to operate when their Sector Operations Centre and the Air Defence Operations Centre was neutralised.[38] There appeared to be little redundancy within KARI by which these centres could assume the responsibilities of their destroyed or badly degraded counterparts. For instance, the Air Defence Operations Centre was destroyed as a priority target at the start of the air campaign. It does not appear that Iraqi air defenders could rapidly replicate Air Defence Operations Centre functions at either a back-up facility or at one of the Sector Operations Centres. Likewise, when Sector Operations Centres were taken out of the fight, their functions were not immediately assumed by Intercept Operations Centres in their area of responsibility or adjacent sectors.

While KARI was a sophisticated system, Iraq possessed radars and SAM systems already known to the US and its allies on the eve of DESERT STORM. The US had encountered similar SAM systems in the skies over Vietnam and during Operation Eldorado Canyon in 1986 when the US attacked strategic targets in Libya in retaliation for the sponsorship of political violence by its leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Likewise, Israel had faced similar defences during numerous conflicts with its neighbours. Although Israel remained outside the US-led coalition, it is all but certain that intelligence germane to Iraq’s air defence systems would have been made available to the US.[39] The French are also thought to have shared intelligence regarding Iraq’s Roland and KARI systems in a similar fashion.[40] Egypt, an avid user of Soviet-supplied air defence equipment and member of the US-led coalition, was also believed to have been furnished the latter with intelligence.[41] Some of Iraq’s air defence equipment may have lacked Electronic Counter-Countermeasure (EECM) protection to exacerbate matters. Some of Iraq’s radars, notably early versions of the SNR-75 S-band and C-band 65nm (120km) to 75nm (140km) range fire control radars accompanying the SA-2 batteries may not have been fitted with ECCM.[42]

Once the war commenced, the Iraqis fell for the US ruse of using drones to seduce radars into revealing themselves, only to receive an ARM for their trouble. A glance at the history books would have revealed that given the success the Israeli Air Force had enjoyed using this tactic a decade previously, there was every chance the coalition may follow suit. This tactic was recently revisited during the 2020 conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Azeri armed forces skilfully exploited Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). UAVs were used to tempt Armenian GBADs to activate their radars. By activating the radars their location could be determined, and the GBADs then struck with suicide UAVs equipped with explosives.

Furthermore, Iraq’s air defence doctrine lacked flexibility. Indeed, it has been argued that Iraq’s air command and control writ large during the preceding Iran-Iraq War was characterised by over-centralisation and rigid planning.[43] This may have resulted from two factors; the authoritarian nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the procurement of Soviet materiel not only for air defence but across the Iraqi armed forces with a similar acquisition of Soviet doctrine not known for its flexibility.[44] There are significant questions to ask regarding the degree to which subordinates in the IADS believed they had latitude and blessing for individual initiative in the tactical battle. Similar questions apply to higher echelons. Did operational commanders in the air force and air defence force feel emboldened to take decisions as the battle unfolded? Saddam Hussein presided over a totalitarian state where insubordination, real or perceived, could be punished harshly. This raises the question as to whether the fear of taking the wrong decision paralysed decision-making. The result being that the Iraqi IADS lost the initiative in the coalition’s electronic battle. An initiative it never recovered. The net result of a lack of doctrinal flexibility, and against the backdrop of Saddam Hussein’s regime, meant that Iraq’s air defences did not respond and adjust to the electronic battle. Tactical and operational flexibility did not extend beyond radar operators switching off their systems to avoid an attack by an ARM.

However, the coalition’s success was underpinned by a vitally important factor, the luxury of time. DESERT STORM was not a ‘come as you are’ war. The US and its allies had 168 days between Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the commencement of the air campaign to plan the electromagnetic scheme of manoeuvre that supporting the air war.

DESERT STORM underlined a truism in air power: Air superiority as a prerequisite for air supremacy must be achieved over an opponent as early as possible. OCA was central to this effort. Electromagnetic superiority and supremacy are central to OCA. One must ensure one can manoeuvre in the spectrum with minimal interference from one’s adversary while denying their adversary use of the spectrum. Working towards electromagnetic superiority and supremacy reduces red force access to the spectrum, denying its use for situational awareness and command and control. Denying Iraqi air defenders’ situational awareness and command and control blunted the efficacy of the kinetic elements of Iraq’s IADS/GBAD, which were then attritted using ARMs and conventional ordnance.

DESERT STORM ended on 28 February. Electronic warfare was intrinsic to the air campaign’s success. Iraq’s IADS and GBAD were prevented from meaningfully interfering with the coalition’s actions. However, this was not the end of the story. The US and the UK would continue to confront the rump of Iraq’s air defences for several years to come until the final showdown with Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

Dr Thomas Withington specialises in contemporary and historical electronic warfare, radar, and military communications, and has written numerous articles on these subjects for a range of general and specialist publications. He holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham.

Header image: EF-111A Raven aircraft prepare to take off on a mission during Operation Desert Shield. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] C. Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm: The Electronic Battle, Part-2’ @http://www.ausairpower.net/Analysis-ODS-EW.

[2] J. Schlight, A War Too Long: The USAF in Southeast Asia 1961-1975 (Washington DC: Air Force History and Museum Programme, 1996), p. 103.

[3] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress, (Alexandria, VA: US Department of Defence, 1992), p. 15.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Author’s proprietary information.

[6] Ibid.

[7] KARI is the French name for Iraq spelt backwards.

[8] ‘Iraqi Air Defense – Introduction’.

[9] P.W. Mattes, ‘Systems of Systems: What, exactly, is an Integrated Air Defense System?’, The Mitchell Forum No.26, (Arlington VA: The Mitchell Institute, June 2019), p. 3.

[10] Confidential interview with US electronic intelligence expert, 17/3/21.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] S. Morse (ed), Gulf Air War Debrief, (London: Aerospace Publishing, 1991), p. 37.

[16] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 124.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm’.

[19] Morse (ed.), Gulf Air War Debrief, p. 37.

[20] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 220.

[21] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm’.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 153.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid, p. 172.

[26] Ibid, p. 220.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm’.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Confidential interview with US electronic intelligence expert.

[31] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm’.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 202.

[34] Ibid, p. 156.

[35] C. Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm: The Electronic Battle, Part-3’ @http://www.ausairpower.net/Analysis-ODS-EW.html consulted 12/2/21.

[36] Ibid.

[37] B. Lambeth, The Winning of Air Supremacy in Operation Desert Storm, (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1993), p. 5.

[38] ‘Iraqi Air Defense – Introduction’.

[39] Confidential interview with US electronic intelligence expert.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Kopp, ‘Operation Desert Storm: The Electronic Battle, Part-1’.

[42] Ibid.

[43] A.H. Cordesman, A.R. Wagner, The Lessons of Modern War Volume-II: The Iran-Iraq War, (London: Mansell, 1990).

[44] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 9.

#Podcast – British Imperial Air Power: An Interview with Dr Alex Spencer

#Podcast – British Imperial Air Power: An Interview with Dr Alex Spencer

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 years between the First and Second World War was a very important time for the development of air power, and this was especially true in Australia and New Zealand. Dr Alex Spencer, curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, joins us to talk about these developments, which he discusses in his new book: British Imperial Air Power: The Royal Air Forces and the Defense of Australia and New Zealand Between the World Wars.

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Dr Alex Spencer is a Curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum where he curates two collections. Together these collections include the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, de Havilland Mosquito, Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Me 262, Heinkel He 219, Arado Ar 234, and over sixteen thousand artifacts of personal items, including uniforms, flight clothing, memorabilia, ribbons, and medals. He received his PhD in Modern European History from Auburn University. His research focuses on British and Commonwealth military aviation during the 20th Century. He was the coeditor of Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: An Autobiography.

Header Image: A Line up of two Vickers Vildebeests of the Royal New Zealand Air Force at RNZAF Station Wigram in the late-1930s. Vildebeest NZ108 is in the foreground. The flashes on the fuselage and wheel spats are blue. (Source: Air Force Museum of New Zealand)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (November 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (November 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

John Alexander, ‘The Worsted Manufacturer, Roderick Hill and ‘the most courageous decision of the War’: The Decision to Reorganise Britain’s Air Defence to Counter the V-1 Flying Bomb,’ RAF Air and Space Power Review 23, no. 1 (2021).

The first four V-1 flying bombs crossed the Channel in the early hours of 13 June 1944, exactly one week after D-Day; none were engaged and one reached Bethnal Green killing four people. When overnight 15/16 June the German Air Force launched 244 V-1s against London, the long-planned British counter V-1 defences, consisting of fighter, gun and balloon belts, brought down only thirty-three V-1s, including eleven shot-down by anti-aircraft (AA) guns, and seventy landed on London. This paper explores the decision to reorganise Britain’s Air Defence during this crucial stage of the War.

Orazio Coco, ‘The Italian Military Aviation in Nationalist China: General Roberto Lordi and the Italian Mission in Nanchang (1933–1937),’ The International History Review (2021). DOI: 10.1080/07075332.2021.1984277

On 7 September 1933, military officers of the Italian Air Force led by Colonel Roberto Lordi departed from Naples to reach China with the task, agreed upon by Italian fascist and Chinese nationalist governments, of building a factory assembling Italian-made aircraft and training pilots for the Republic of China. The mission was stationed at Nanchang, in today’s Jiangxi province. The initiative was developed in competition with a similar American mission, which had operated since 1932 in Hankou, in the Hubei province, at the time led by Colonel John H. Jouett. The Italian government won Chiang’s attention with the agreement to use the military airfield and Italian aircraft against the Communist resistance, which pleased the expectations of the Generalissimo. In April 1934, the headquarters of the Chinese military aviation finally moved to Nanchang. The mission’s commander, Roberto Lordi, was promoted Brigadier General of the Italian Royal Air Force and appointed Chief of Staff of the Chinese Air Force. This article presents, through extensive use of unpublished private and public archive documents, the controversial history of the Italian military mission and unveils the circumstances that changed the fortune of that successful story, as well as the career and personal life of its commander.

Steven Paget, ‘The ‘Eeles Memorandum’: A Timeless Study of Professional Military Education,’ RAF Air and Space Power Review 23, no. 1 (2021).

Examinations of historical examples are an important element of the professional military education debate and demonstrate the enduring nature of some of the necessary considerations. Air Commodore Henry Eeles, the Commandant of Royal Air Force (RAF) College Cranwell between August 1952 and April 1956 wrote a prescient report in 1955. The military, political and social changes that were occurring have some parallels to the contemporary context, including expectations about access to higher education and the introduction of new technology, which was viewed as leading to an era of so-called ‘push button warfare’. Eeles was also cognisant of issues such as balance, time and life-long learning that are just as pertinent today as in 1955. The context and content of the report has ensured that it has enduring relevance for the RAF.

Matthew Powell, ‘Royalties, Patents and Sub-Contracting: The Curious Case of the Hawker Hart,’ RAF Air and Space Power Review 23, no. 1 (2021). 

Aircraft procurement by the Air Ministry in the inter-war period was beset by various problems, with numerous solutions proposed in an attempt to resolve them. One such potential solution was the proposal to sub-contract the production to other aircraft manufacturers within the Air Ministry’s ring of firms who were allocated firm orders. This action by the Air Ministry, it was believed, would spread the technical knowledge of aircraft production to a wider base that could be built upon in a time of national emergency or war. This approach was also a way of ‘artificially’ keeping firms alive where they had been unsuccessful in being awarded contracts. Such a scheme would, from the industry’s perspective, however, lead to less orders for firms successful in aircraft design and allow the potential sharing of industry secrets amongst direct competitors.

Richard Worrall, “Bumps along “The Berlin Road”’: Bomber Command’s forgotten Battle of Hanover, September-October 1943,’ RAF Air and Space Power Review 23, no. 1 (2021).

The many accounts on RAF Bomber Command follow the usual chronology of the ‘Main Offensive’ against Germany throughout 1943/4, with a linear progression from the Battle of the Ruhr, to the Battle of Hamburg, to the Battle of Berlin. Yet adopting this approach is problematic. The Battle of Berlin was halted by Harris in mid-September only to be recommenced in mid-November, but it, therefore, begs the simple question: what was Bomber Command doing during the interim ten weeks? Harris’ force was far from inactive during this time, in which the centrepiece was the ‘Battle of Hanover’ that comprised four heavy-attacks in twenty-six days. This article identifies what happened during this period of the ‘Main Offensive’, to suggest why this ‘bomber battle’ has remained forgotten, highlighting how Bomber Command’s experiences over Hanover revealed its limitations at this critical stage of the bombing war.

Books

Tony Fairbairn, The Mosquito in the USAAF: De Havilland’s Wooden Wonder in American Service (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021).

On 20 April 1941, a group of distinguished Americans headed by the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, John Winant, and which included Major General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold, Chief of the US Army Air Corps, visited the de Havilland Aircraft Company’s airfield at Hatfield, England.

The party was there ostensibly to gain an insight into how various US aircraft supplied to Britain were performing, as well as to observe some of the latest British products being put through their paces. The eighteen types on display included both US and British bombers and fighters. But the star of the day was undoubtedly the de Havilland Mosquito.

Having first flown only a few months earlier, on 25 November 1940, the aircraft that was put through its paces was flown by none other than Geoffrey de Havilland. Striving to impress the trans-Atlantic visitors, de Havilland provided an outstanding display of speed and manoeuvrability. It was a routine that impressed the Americans and left them in no doubt as to the Mosquito’s abilities.

Though the visitors harboured doubts about an aircraft made of wood, they returned to the United States with full details of the design. The Mosquito had also caught the eye of Elliott Roosevelt, son of the US President and a serving officer in the USAAC. An early specialist in military aerial mapping and reconnaissance, ‘ER’ swiftly realized the value of the Mosquito in the reconnaissance role and began lobbying vigorously for its acquisition. The Air Ministry duly noted ‘ER’s’ interest and influence.

Following America’s entry into the war, formal requests for Mosquitoes began in earnest in 1942. Initial deliveries for evaluation purposes in the United States soon followed in June 1943, the aircraft initially being supplied by de Havilland Canada. From February 1944 a steady flow of the photographic reconnaissance version, from Hatfield, were provided to what would become the USAAF’s 25th Bomb Group at Watton, England. There they served with distinction in a variety of specialist roles, including day and night photography, weather reconnaissance, ‘chaff’ (Window) dropping, scouting for the bomber force, raid assessment, and filming of special weapons projects.

A number of these Mosquitoes, serving with the 492nd Bomb Group at Harrington, were involved in the so-called ‘Joan-Eleanor’ project, working with OSS secret agents on the Continent. Finally, in 1945, the USAAF received much-anticipated night fighter Mosquitoes which enjoyed combat success with the 416th Night Fighter Squadron in Italy.

In this highly illustrated work, the author explores the full story of why the Americans wanted Mosquitoes, how they went about obtaining them, and their noted success and popularity with USAAF units.

Michael Hankins, Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2021).

Flying Camelot brings us back to the post-Vietnam era, when the US Air Force launched two new, state-of-the art fighter aircraft: the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. It was an era when debates about aircraft superiority went public—and these were not uncontested discussions. Michael W. Hankins delves deep into the fighter pilot culture that gave rise to both designs, showing how a small but vocal group of pilots, engineers, and analysts in the Department of Defense weaponized their own culture to affect technological development and larger political change.

The design and advancement of the F-15 and F-16 reflected this group’s nostalgic desire to recapture the best of World War I air combat. Known as the “Fighter Mafia,” and later growing into the media savvy political powerhouse “Reform Movement,” it believed that American weapons systems were too complicated and expensive, and thus vulnerable. The group’s leader was Colonel John Boyd, a contentious former fighter pilot heralded as a messianic figure by many in its ranks. He and his group advocated for a shift in focus from the multi-role interceptors the Air Force had designed in the early Cold War towards specialized air-to-air combat dogfighters. Their influence stretched beyond design and into larger politicized debates about US national security, debates that still resonate today.

A biography of fighter pilot culture and the nostalgia that drove decision-making, Flying Camelot deftly engages both popular culture and archives to animate the movement that shook the foundations of the Pentagon and Congress.

Norman Ridley, The Role of Intelligence in the Battle of Britain (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021).

The Battle of Britain was fought between two airborne military elites and was a classic example of pure attack against pure defence. Though it was essentially a ‘war of attrition’, it was an engagement in which the gathering, assessment and reaction to intelligence played a significant role on both sides.

In some respects, both the RAF and the Luftwaffe were hamstrung in their endeavours during the Battle of Britain by poor intelligence. The most egregious Luftwaffe blunder was its failure to appreciate the true nature of Fighter Command’s operational systems and consequently it made fundamental strategic errors when evaluating its plans to degrade them. This was compounded by the Luftwaffe’s Intelligence chief, Major Josef ‘Beppo’ Schmid, whose consistent underestimation of Fighter Command’s capabilities had a huge negative impact upon Reichsmarschall Göring’s decision-making at all stages of the conflict.

Both the Luftwaffe and the RAF lacked detailed information about each other’s war production capacity. While the Luftwaffe did have the benefit of pre-war aerial surveillance data it had been unable to update it significantly since the declaration of war in September 1939. Fighter Command did have an distinct advantage through its radar surveillance systems, but this was, in the early stages of the conflict at least, less than totally reliable and it was often difficult to interpret the data coming through due to the inexperience of many of its operators. Another promising source of intelligence was the interception of Luftwaffe communications.

It is clear that the Luftwaffe was unable to use intelligence as a ‘force multiplier’, by concentrating resources effectively, and actually fell into a negative spiral where poor intelligence acted as a ‘force diluter’, thus wasting resources in strategically questionable areas. The British, despite being essentially unable to predict enemy intentions, did have the means, however imperfect, to respond quickly and effectively to each new strategic initiative rolled out by the Luftwaffe.

The result of three years intensive research, in this book the author analyses the way in which both the British and German Intelligence services played a part in the Battle of Britain, thereby attempting to throw light on an aspect of the battle that has been hitherto underexposed to scrutiny.

Stephen Wynn, Hitler’s Air Defences (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021).

The first Allied bombing raid on Berlin during the course of the Second World War, took place on 7 June 1940, when a French naval aircraft dropped 8 bombs on the German capital, but the first British raid on German soil took place on the night of 10/11 May 1940, when RAF aircraft attacked Dortmund.

Initially, Nazi Germany hadn’t given much thought about its aerial defences. being attacked in its ‘own back yard’ wasn’t something that was anticipated to be an issue. Germany had been on the offensive from the beginning of the war and Hitler believed that the Luftwaffe was the much stronger air force.

In addition, from 1939-1942, the Allied policy of aerial attacks on German soil was to hit targets with a distinct military purpose, such as munitions factories, airfields etc. This meant that the Germany military could focus where they placed their anti-aircraft batteries and had a very good idea of how many they would need.

However, Germany’s defensive capabilities were forced to improve as Allied raids on towns and cities increased in size and frequency. Fighter aircraft were included as part of anti-aircraft defences and flak units mastered the art of keeping attacking Allied aircraft at a specific height. This made it more difficult for them to identify their specific targets, and easier for German fighter aircraft to shoot them down before they could jettison their bomb loads.

With the Allied tactic of ‘area bombing’, Germany’s anti-aircraft capabilities became harder to maintain as demand increased. The longer the war went on, along with the increased Allied bombing raids, sometimes involving more than 1,000 bomber aircraft, so the worth and effectiveness of German air-defences dwindled.

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (October 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (October 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

Mateusz Piątkowski, ‘War in the Air from Spain to Yemen: The Challenges in Examining the Conduct of Air Bombardment,’ Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 2021; https://doi.org/10.1093/jcsl/krab017 

Air power is a dominant factor in both past and modern battlespace. Yet, despite its undisputed importance in warfare, its legal framework did not correspond with the significance of the air military operations, especially before the adoption of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1977. Even after this date, not all the particulars of air warfare are regulated by the positive rules, as the law is scattered in norms of customary character. Even more challenging process than reconstruction of the legal architecture of the air warfare is the evaluation of the specific incidents containing the elements of military aviation activity. The aim of the article is to present possible challenges arising from very complex normative and operational background of the air warfare and air bombardments in particular. The pivotal point in considerations is the forgotten inquiry conducted by the military experts operating within the established by the League of Nations commission reviewing the conduct of air bombardment during the Civil War in Spain. The adopted methodology of the commission could be considered as a reasonable and balanced approach of analyzing the cases including the involvement of the air power and a relevant reference in contemporary investigations.

Jasmine Wood (2021) ‘Lashings of Grog and Girls’: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Rehabilitation of Facially Disfigured Servicemen in the Second World War, War & Society, DOI: 10.1080/07292473.2021.1969172 

This article explores the importance of masculinity in the rehabilitation experience of members of the Royal Air Force who were facially disfigured during the Second World War. Other historical work has highlighted the significance of masculinity in the rehabilitation of other groups of disabled veterans, but the experience of the facially disfigured is somewhat neglected. This article investigates the methods employed at Rooksdown House and East Grinstead Hospital where men suffering from burns injuries and disfigurements were both physically and psychologically rehabilitated. It explores the key themes of hospital environment, occupational therapy and relationships. In using oral histories and memoirs this article argues that masculinity and sexuality were key aspects of servicemen’s identity that had to be restored through rehabilitation to ensure their successful reintegration into society.

Books

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club: Naval Aviation in the Vietnam War (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021).

On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox became embroiled in the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident that led directly to America’s increased involvement in the Vietnam War. Supporting the Maddox that day were four F-8E Crusaders from the USS Ticonderoga, and this was the very start of the US Navy’s commitment to the air war over Vietnam.

The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club is titled after the nickname for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet which was stationed off the coast of Vietnam, and it tells the full story of the US Navy’s war in the air. It details all the operations from the USS Maddox onwards through to the eventual withdrawal of the fleet following the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975.

The Seventh Fleet’s Task Force 77, which at points during the war had as many as six carriers on station at any one time with 70-100 aircraft on each, provided vital air support for combat troops on the ground, while at the same time taking part in the major operations against North Vietnam itself such as Rolling Thunder, Linebacker I and II. All of these operations took place in a hostile environment of flak, missiles and MiGs.

The story is told through the dramatic first-hand accounts of those that took part in the fighting, with many of the interviews carried out by the author himself. The Vietnamese perspective is also given, with the author having had access to the official Vietnamese account of the war in the air. The author also has a personal interest in the story, as at the age of 20 he served with the US Seventh Fleet off the coast of Vietnam and was personally involved in the dramatic history of The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club.

Kenneth Jack, Eyes of the Fleet Over Vietnam: RF-8 Crusader Combat Photo-Reconnaissance Missions (Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2021). 

Photo reconnaissance played a significant role during the Cold War, however, it remained unknown to the public for many years because its product and methods remained classified for security purposes. While the U-2 gets most of the credit, low-level photo reconnaissance played an equally important role and was essential to target selection and bomb damage assessment during the Vietnam War. Moreover, the contribution of naval aviation photo-reconnaissance to the bombing effort in Vietnam is largely an untold story. This book highlights the role of the unarmed supersonic RF-8A/G photo-Crusader throughout the war, and also the part played by its F-8 and F-4 escort fighters.

Veteran and historian Kenneth Jack pieces together the chronological history of photo recon in the Vietnam War between 1964 and 1972, describing all types of missions undertaken, including several Crusader vs. MiG dogfights and multiple RF-8 shootdowns with their associated, dramatic rescues. The narrative focuses on Navy Photo Squadron VFP-63, but also dedicates chapters to VFP-62 and Marine VMCJ-1. Clandestine missions conducted over Laos began in 1964, becoming a congressionally authorized war after the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964. VFP-63 played a role in that incident and thereafter sent detachments to Navy carriers for the remainder of the war. By the war’s end, they had lost 30 aircraft with 10 pilots killed, six POWs, and 14 rescued. The historical narrative is brought to life through vivid first-hand details of missions over intensely defended targets in Laos and North Vietnam. While most books on the Vietnam air war focus on fighter and bombing action, this book provides fresh insight into the air war through its focus on photo-reconnaissance and coverage of both versions of the Crusader.

Mark Lax, Malayan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation, 1950-1966 (Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2021).

Australia’s involvement in the Malayan Emergency from 1950 to 1960 and later in a Confrontation with Indonesia in the 1960s is little remembered today. Yet the deployment of over a third of the RAAF to support the British and Malayan governments in what became a long war of attrition against communist insurgents in the former case, and against Indonesian regulars and militia in the latter, kept the RAAF engaged for over 15 years. Wars by another name, these two events led to the birth of Malaysia and the establishment of an ongoing RAAF presence in South East Asia. Until recent operations in Afghanistan, the Malaya Emergency was Australia’s longest conflict. Malayan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation recounts the story of the politics, strategies and operations that brought these two conflicts to a close.

Ian Pearson, Cold War Warriors: Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion Operations 1968-1991 (Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2021).

Cold War Warriors tells the little-known story of the operations by the Royal Australian Air Force’s P-3 Orions during the latter years of the Cold War. The aircraft’s largely low-profile missions, usually flown far from their base, were often shrouded by confidentiality. Now, access to declassified documents has allowed this story to be told. From the lead-up to their delivery in 1968, to the end of the Cold War in 1991; from the intrigues associated with the procurement of the aircraft and subsequent upgrades, to perilous moments experienced by the aircraft and their crews while conducting operations; and from triumphs to tragedies; Cold War Warriors documents the P-3’s service in the RAAF in the context of the unfolding domestic and international events that shaped the aircraft’s evolving missions. As well as being a story of the RAAF Orions and their growing capabilities, Cold War Warriors is also the story of the crews who flew the aircraft. Using their words, Cold War Warriors faithfully describes a number of incidents, both on the ground, and in the air, to provide a sense of the enormous breadth of service the P-3 Orion has provided to the Royal Australian Air Force, to Australia and to our allies.

John Shields, Air Power in the Falklands Conflict: An Operational Level Insight into Air Warfare in the South Atlantic (Barnsley: Air World, 2021).

From the television footage shown in all its stark reality and the daily coverage and subsequent memoirs, the impression delivered from the air battles in the Falklands Conflict was that of heroic Argentine pilots who relentlessly pressed home their attacks against the British. While, by contrast, there is a counter-narrative that portrayed the Sea Harrier force as being utterly dominant over its Argentine enemies. But what was the reality of the air war over the Falkland Islands?

While books on the air operations have published since that time, they have, in the main, been personal accounts, re-told by those who were there, fighting at a tactical level, or back in their nation’s capital running the strategic implications of the outcome. But a detailed analysis of the operational level of the air war has not been undertaken – until now. At the same time, some analysts have inferred that this Cold War sideshow offers little insight into lessons for the operating environment of future conflicts. As the author demonstrates in this book, there are lessons from 1982 that do have important and continued relevance today.

Using recently released primary source material, the author, a serving RAF officer who spent two-and-a-half years in the Falklands as an air defence navigator, has taken an impartial look at the air campaign at the operational level. This has enabled him to develop a considered view of what should have occurred, comparing it with what actually happened. In so doing, John Shields has produced a comprehensive account of the air campaign that has demolished many of the enduring myths.

This is the story of not why, but how the air war was fought over the skies of the South Atlantic.

Mark Stille, Pacific Carrier War: Carrier Combat from Pearl Harbour to Okinawa (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021).

The defining feature of the Pacific Theatre of World War II was the clash of carriers that ultimately decided the fate of nations. The names of these battles have become legendary as some of the most epic encounters in the history of naval warfare. Pre-war assumptions about the impact and effectiveness of carriers were comprehensively tested in early war battles such as Coral Sea, while US victories at Midway and in the waters around Guadalcanal established the supremacy of its carriers. The US Navy’s ability to adapt and evolve to the changing conditions of war maintained and furthered their advantage, culminating in their comprehensive victory at the battle of the Philippine Sea, history’s largest carrier battle, which destroyed almost the entire Japanese carrier force.

Examining the ships, aircraft and doctrines of both the Japanese and US navies and how they changed during the war, Mark E. Stille shows how the domination of American carriers paved the way towards the Allied victory in the Pacific.

Richard Worrall, The Ruhr 1943: The RAF’s Brutal Fight for Germany’s Industrial Heartland (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021).

Between March and July 1943, RAF Bomber Command undertook its first concentrated bombing campaign, the Battle of the Ruhr, whose aim was nothing less than the complete destruction of the industry that powered the German war machine. Often overshadowed by the famous ‘Dambusters’ single-raid attack on the Ruhr dams, the Battle of the Ruhr proved much larger and much more complex. The mighty, industrial Ruhr region contained not only some of the most famous and important arms makers, such as the gunmakers Krupp of Essen, but also many other industries that the German war economy relied on, from steelmakers to synthetic oil plants. Being such a valuable target, the Ruhr was one of the most heavily defended regions in Europe.

This book examines how the brutal Ruhr campaign was conceived and fought, and how Bomber Command’s relentless pursuit of its objective drew it into raids on targets well beyond the Ruhr, from the nearby city of Cologne to the Skoda works in Czechoslovakia. Drawing on a wide-range of primary and secondary sources, this is the story of the first titanic struggle in the skies over Germany between RAF Bomber Command and the Luftwaffe.

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (September 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (September 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.

Books

David Axe, Drone War Vietnam (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021)

While the use of drones is now commonplace in modern warfare, it was in its infancy during the Vietnam War, not to mention revolutionary and top secret. Drones would play an important – and today largely unheralded – role in the bloody, two-decade US air war over Vietnam and surrounding countries in the 1960s and ’70s. Drone aircraft spotted targets for manned US bombers, jammed North Vietnamese radars and scattered propaganda leaflets, among other missions.

This book explores that obscure chapter of history. DRONE WAR: VIETNAM is based on military records, official histories and published first-hand accounts from early drone operators, as well as on a close survey of existing scholarship on the topic.

In their fledgling efforts to send robots instead of human beings on the most dangerous aerial missions, US operators in South-East Asia in the 1960s and ’70s wrote the first chapter in the continuing tale of autonomous warfare.

Dmitry Degtev and Dmitry Zubov, Air Battle for Moscow 1941–1942 (Barnsley: Air World, 2021) 

In October 1941, Operation Typhoon and the battle for Moscow began. According to Hitler’s plan, it was to be the ‘last offensive’, after which nothing could stop Germany from conquering Britain and the rest of Europe – but first he had to overcome the Soviets and especially their air force.

Air Battle for Moscow is the first detailed description of one of the most vital, yet little known, air battles of the Second World War. The battle for Moscow opened with the flights of long-range reconnaissance aircraft, which photographed Moscow and the Kremlin. Then, on 22 July 1941, Operation Clara Zetkin, the Luftwaffe’s aerial assault on Moscow, began. But the Luftwaffe was opposed by the ‘Stalin’s Falcons’, the elite 6th Air Defence Corps, which defended the Soviet capital with a determination which saw bitter duels to the death and horrendous casualties on both sides.

The book presents new facts about this dramatic battle and describes in detail the actions of the aircrew on both sides. Yet this is not just the story or the air war. The authors also describe the lives of people during the war, of suppressed anti-Soviet opposition in Moscow, and of the bloodthirsty and inhuman actions of the Stalin regime. The book also tells of the fate of German pilots caught in Russian captivity, and the adventures of those who were able to survive and escape from the Russian executioners. Many myths concerning the battle are also challenged, such as the often-stated belief that Moscow’s anti-aircraft defences were the most powerful in the world and that it was the Soviets who were the finest pilots.

In this comprehensive account, details of losses, biographical outlines of the key individuals, analyses of the different aircraft and a full chronology of the battle are presented, as well as numerous exclusive photos, documents and drawings.

But it is the stories of those who fought in the Battle for Moscow that, undeniably, have the greatest impact. The harrowing tales of death and survival in conditions that are almost beyond description demonstrate just how important this conflict was to both Russia and the Third Reich and, ultimately, to the outcome of the Second World War.

Tim Jenkins, Flying Pantechnicons: The Story of the Assault Glider Trust (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

In the summer of 2001 the Midlands Branch of the Glider Pilot Regiment identified a significant gap in the proud heritage of British aviation. Despite numerous preserved aircraft assemblages both in the United Kingdom and abroad the fact remained that there was no complete surviving example of a publicly accessible Airspeed Horsa assault glider to be found anywhere in the world. The Assault Glider Trust was formed in order to put the situation straight once and, very much, for all.

Between 2001 and 2014 a skilled team of aviation enthusiasts worked tirelessly on the manufacture, conservation and restoration of not only the Airspeed Horsa but a wider collection of aircraft in honour of all those associated with airborne forces during The Second World war. These included an American WACO CG-4A ‘Hadrian’, C-47 Dakota and a DH82a Tiger Moth.

‘Flying Pantechnicons’ is a fascinating miscellany charting the remarkable story of The Assault Glider Trust and the determination of an entirely charitable voluntary organisation in achieving a most ambitious aviation project. The book follows their incredible journey from original idea through acquisition, restoration and the final challenge of finding permanent locations for public display and interpretation.

The development of British Airborne Forces and their military application is contextualised alongside the engineering challenges faced in the physical construction of historic airframes. Consequently, this book provides a valuable contribution to both historical interpretation and the machinations of large-scale object conservation making it ideal for aviation enthusiasts and heritage professionals alike.  

Mikhail Maslov, King of Fighters: Nikolay Polikarpov and His Aircraft Designs, Volume 2 – The Monoplane Era (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

In the century-long history of the conquest of the sky there have been a number of outstanding personalities. Among them is the name of designer Nikolay Polikarpov (1892-1944), who is inseparably associated with the best achievements of Russian and Soviet aviation.

His practical activity in the aircraft industry began upon graduation from the Petersburg Polytechnic Institute in 1916. Aged 25, Polikarpov was sent to the Russo-Baltic Wagon Factory (RBWF), where the four-engined Ilya Muromets bombers designed by Igor Sikorsky were being built at that time. Later, beginning in August 1918, he worked in Moscow at the Dux aircraft factory. For several years, he was engaged in improving products manufactured by the factory, and upgrading production aircraft to accommodate the available engines, equipment and materials. From 1922, Polikarpov focused his attention on fighter aircraft, creation of which was a priority for him during the following years. The first of them was the IL-400 monoplane, designated I-1 by the Air Force. The monoplane was followed by biplanes including the 2I-N1 (1925), the I-3 (1927), the D-2 (1928), and the I-6 (1929). It was specialization in fighter aircraft which, from then on, became his mission in life. At the peak of his career as a designer, Polikarpov was informally styled ‘the King of Fighters’, which was quite in line with the level of his merits and achievements.

In the 1930s, the TsKB-3 (I-15) and TsKB-12 (I-16) fighters were designed under Polikarpov’s supervision. These aircraft were the designer’s undoubtable success. They also were the main combat fighters in service with the Red Army Air Force. For the creation of the I-15 and the I-16 fighters, Polikarpov was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1935, and the Order of the Red Star a year later.

During the 1930s, Nikolay Polikarpov devised a lot of aircraft of various designs, the majority of which can be described as ‘advanced’ and ‘innovative’. In 1940, Polikarpov was granted the degree of the Doctor of Engineering and the title of the Chief Designer of the highest category. In the same year, he was awarded the title of the Hero of Socialist Labor. A year later, he became a recipient of the Stalin Prize.

This gifted Soviet engineer was destined to live only 52 years. On 30 July 1944, Nikolay Polikarpov died of a rapidly evolving cancer. To venerate his memory, the U-2 trainer has ever since been designated the Po-2 (Polikarpov-2).

This book describes all Polikarpov’s original projects, both those put into reality and unimplemented ones. It took the author many years to prepare for the creation of the book. The author studied materials on the respective topics in all Russian archives, and made use of the recollections of Polikarpov’s contemporaries, as well as publications by other researchers.

For purposes of clarity and in order to facilitate publication, the author split the book on Nikolai Polikarpov’s aircraft into two parts – the ‘Biplane Era’ and the ‘Monoplane Era’. Indeed, during the designer’s activity from 1918 through to 1932, he devoted himself predominantly to creating biplanes. For the 1920s, the biplanes were a preferable option; they were more common, more reliable, better studied, and even more desirable for the Red Army Air Force. The first design of the IL-400 (I-1) monoplane fighter appeared as early as 1923; however, it was through its novelty and unpredictability that the aircraft failed to achieve the deserved success. It should be noted that the U-2 (Po-2) and the R-5 biplanes, which were created during that period, became one of the best Polikarpov aircraft, and brought him recognition as a designer. In the 1930s, Nikolai Polikarpov’s activity reached its pinnacle. It was during that period that he created his advanced monoplanes such as the I-16, the I-17, the VIT-2, and others. He continued his fruitful and quite successful activity in the area of creating modern aircraft during the war of 1941—45 as well.

Volume 2 comprehensively covers Polikarpov’s monoplane designs.

Jerry Murland, The Schneider Trophy Air Races: The Development of Flight from 1909 to the Spitfire (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021)

When Jacques Schneider devised and inaugurated the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime race for seaplanes in 1913, no-one could have predicted the profound effect the Series would have on aircraft design and aeronautical development, not to mention world history.

Howard Pixton’s 1914 victory in a Sopwith Tabloid biplane surprisingly surpassed the performance of monoplanes and other manufacturers turned back to biplanes. During The Great War aerial combat was almost entirely conducted by biplanes, with their low landing speeds, rapid climb rates and manoeuvrability.

Post-war the Races resumed in 1920. The American Curtiss racing aircraft set the pattern for the 1920s, making way for Harold Mitchell’s Supermarines in the 1930’s. Having won the 1927 race at Venice Mitchell developed his ground-breaking aircraft into the iconic Spitfire powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. This new generation of British fighter aircraft were to play a decisive role in defeating the Luftwaffe and thwarting the Nazis’ invasion plans.

This is a fascinating account of the air race series that had a huge influence on the development of flight.

Ryan Noppen, Holland 1940: The Luftwaffe’s First Setback in the West (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021)

The German invasion of the Netherlands was meant to be a lightning-fast surgical strike, aimed at shoring up the right flank of the assault on France and Belgium. With a bold plan based largely on Luftwaffe air power, air-landing troops, and the biggest airborne assault yet seen, a Dutch surrender was expected within 24 hours.

But the Netherlands possessed Europe’s first fully integrated anti-aircraft network, as well as modern and competitive aircraft. On 10 May, the German attack was only partly successful, and the Dutch fought on for another four days. On the fifth day, with its original strategy having largely failed, the Luftwaffe resorted to terror-bombing Rotterdam to force a surrender.

Explaining the technical capabilities and campaign plans of the two sides, and charting how the battles were fought, this fascinating book reassesses this little-known part of World War II. Author Ryan K. Noppen argues that while the Holland campaign was a tactical victory for Germany, the ability of the well-prepared but outnumbered Dutch to inflict heavy losses was a warning of what would come in the Battle of Britain.

Russell Peart, From Lightnings to MiGs: A Cold War Pilot’s Operations, Test Flying & And Airspeed Record (Barnsley: Air World, 2021)

It was supposed to be just a training flight. The two Soviet-manufactured MiG 21s, each with two practice bombs and four air-to-ground rockets, were lined up on the runway in Bangladesh at the height of the Cold War, when air traffic control suddenly reported an incursion by Indian Air Force Jaguars. Though ill-equipped for combat, the two MiGs were scrambled.

One of the MiGs’ pilots was an RAF officer – Squadron Leader Russell Peart. On a seven-month loan to the Bangladeshi Air Force, Peart suddenly found himself at the centre of the simmering hostility between two neighbouring nations. By the time they reached the area that had been threatened by the Indian pilots, the Jaguars had gone. Later, when Squadron Leader Russell Peart spoke of the incident to the British High Commissioner, he was told not to shoot down any Jaguars as the Indians had still not paid for them!

Russell Peart flew many other aircraft in his varied career, including the MiG 19, and while a test pilot at Boscombe Down trialled such designs as the Tornado GR1. But it was whilst he was seconded to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, particularly during the so-called ‘Secret War’ in Dhofar, that he saw the most action. In that theatre the author flew some 200 operational sorties, 180 of which involved live fire, during which he was hit many times. He was also hit and wounded by a 75mm shell.

Russ Peart has written in detail of his exciting RAF career, from flying Lightnings in the Far East to winning the top prize in the International Tactical Bombing Competition against a handpicked team of United States Air Force fighter pilots and being awarded the Sultan Of Oman’s Distinguished Service Medal. Supplemented by a selection of previously unseen photographs, this uniquely original memoir throws new light on the operational flying undertaken by some RAF pilots during the tense years of the Cold War.

Kevin Wright, We Were Never There, Volume 1: CIA U-2 Operations over Europe, USSR, and the Middle East, 1956-1960 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

Devised by Kelly Johnson and initially operated by the CIA, the U-2 is the world’s most famous ‘spyplane.’ It flew at unprecedented altitudes and carried the most sophisticated sensors available, all in the greatest secrecy. Operating from remote locations and without markings, they often took-off before first light. Ostensibly operated by civilians flying meteorological research missions, their bold overflights took them far across Eastern Europe, the USSR, Middle and Far East. However, many details of the aircraft’s operational history remain vague and a considerable amount is still classified. Continuing national political sensitivities have meant that much about these early operations has still not been fully revealed even more than 60 years later.

This book utilises a large number of recently declassified documents to explore the remaining hidden details. It provides in-depth examinations of some missions not previously fully described and include more about Norway’s role in U-2 operations, and a breakdown of British U-2 overflights of the Middle East using recently released files from the British Ministry of Defence. It examines some of the U-2’s extensive efforts to collect intelligence on Soviet ballistic missile test launches and space programme, on ‘Fast Move’ staging operations and lots more from these missions up to May 1960.

Chapters explore some of the ground-breaking technology employed by the U-2 to photograph and eavesdrop on Soviet nuclear, military and industrial activities. These include revealing secrets of the Fili heavy bomber production plant, just five miles from the Kremlin. Overflights of the ‘Arzamas-16′ closed nuclear city, Vozrozhdeniya biological warfare centre in the Aral Sea and the mystery that was Mozhaysk. Over 90 photographs, maps and illustrations provide details of the aircraft, the cameras and electronic defensive and eavesdropping systems. The specialised nuclear fallout sampling role is explored and the ‘weather packs’ installed to substantiate the wafer-thin false cover story of the U-2’s role as a ‘meteorological research’ aircraft. Maps, most never been seen before, record the detailed routes flown by U-2 pilots deep into denied airspace to reveal the secrets of Soviet military, nuclear, scientific and industrial sites.