‘The Humble Sandwich’: Air Power and the Development of British Operational Art, 1940-1944

Last night I had confirmation that my paper proposal for the 1944 conference that is being held at Sandhurst next April. This is a major international conference co-organised between Sandhurst and Global War Studies and should be a great event to present at. There is also the possibility publishing the paper. My proposal is below and in essence looks at the place of air power in the development of British operational art during the Second World War. I better get back into the archives to dig up some sources. Anyone else going?

‘The Humble Sandwich’: Air Power and the Development of British Operational Art, 1940-1944

In a lecture to the Royal United Services Institute on 20 February 1946, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, late Air Officer Commanding, 2nd Tactical Air Force, suggested that from 1942 onwards, it was the development of, ‘two big pieces of bread covered in butter with a solid piece of spam in between and masses of garnishes everywhere’, which was responsible for Germany’s defeat. Coningham further commented that, ‘It was the inherent strength of this super sandwich which beat the Germans.’ It was clear to Coningham that the RAF was the ‘strength’ that held together military operations during the Second World War. Air power acted as an enabler and he furthered his analogy by suggesting that before the advent of air power, ‘the Navy and the Army were as two pieces of bread and scrape with nothing to hold them together.’

This paper seeks to examine this analogy by placing independently controlled but integrated air power at the centre of our understanding of the development of the British Army’s operational art. By 1944, operational art within the British Army had developed a complex and sophisticated character predicated on an overwhelming mix of firepower and logistical capabilities. The employment of air power in support of ground forces had matured during the war years to become a vital aspect of this approach to operational art. This paper examines why air power became a key factor in British Army operations, the techniques developed and, how, by 1944, it was integrated into the conduct of complex operations in the key theatres of war. It will do this through an examination of the planning and conduct of Desert Air Force operations in support of Eighth Army during Operation OLIVE in general and the Battle for Rimini in September 1944 more specifically.

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