Under the trove of popular works published about military aviation – some of which are splendid – there have been a couple of significant works published in 2016 that have added to the field of air power studies. First up is Matthew Powell’s The Development of British Tactical Air Power, 1940-1943. While I have yet to read the book, I have looked at the PhD thesis on which it is based. In this work Powell has made a useful addition to our understanding of the development of tactical air power during the Second World War by examining the role of RAF Army Co-Operation Command rather than the exploits of the Western Desert Air Force.
Two other important works that did fall through the post box, or about to in the case of the former, is Stephen Renner’s Broken Wings and Strategy, an edited work by Richard Bailey, James Forsyth and Mark Yeisley. Renner’s work is an examination of the Hungarian air force in the period of the Second World War. It should be a valuable addition to our understanding of air power in this period and how a country banned from having an air force built up this capability and the challenges it faced. Strategy is significant because while it includes the word ‘airpower’ in the title, this is a book about strategy. This may seem obvious from the title, but the importance of this work derives as much from who contributed to it, as to what it says. The chapters in the book are produced by either serving or retired members of the USAF School of Advanced Air and Space Power Studies, and they cover a broad range of issues related to strategic thinking from classical writings to the development of space and cyber strategy. This deep thinking is indicative of that present at SAASS and is an important marker in what air forces should be encouraging nurtured leaders to read and think about. It is fine to go down the silo and be an expert in the tactical application of air power, but air forces also need to have subject matter experts who can link air power to the ends, way and means of strategy. This is something that requires broader thinking, and this book is as good a place to start as any.
There have been a couple of other important works published that I have not got round to adding to the ever increasing library collection but nevertheless deserve mention. Robert Byers has produced a biography of Hugo Junkers that looks to make a major contribution to our understanding of the aviation industry in the early twentieth century. On the maritime air power front, David Gates and Ben Jones have produced a work on the main developments in the period of the two world wars that takes a transnational approach to the subject. A final addition has been Geoffrey Rossano and Thomas Wildenberg’s Striking the Hornet’s Nest, which details the development of the US Navy’s Northern Bombing Group in the First World War. You can read a good review of this work here on H-War.
Outside of the field of air power, it would be remiss of me not to mention what I feel has been the fundamental contribution to the history of the Second World War in 2016. This is Dan Todman’s history of Britain in the Second World War. I have read volume one, and I need to buy volume two. However, if volume one is anything to go by then volume two should also be a major addition to the literature. Todman has managed to weave together numerous different aspects of the British experience of the Second World War using a broad range of sources.
Ok, what can we expect in 2017? We will continue to see works produced on drones, for example, Michael Kreuzer’s book Drones and the Future of Air Warfare is due to appear. We will also see another edited work from the hands of John Andreas Olsen. Airpower Applied looks at the combat experience of some of the world’s air forces to consider the strategic value of air power. In many respects, it appears, though of course, I wait to read a copy, to be the practical side of Olsen’s 2015 edited volume Airpower Reborn. Also, Mike Bechtold will publish his examination of Raymond Collishaw and the conduct of the air campaign in support of Operation COMPASS in 1940/41. This is an important work that deserves to be read by anyone looking at the challenges of air-land integration. Finally, my friend and colleague James Pugh will publish The Royal Flying Corps, the Western Front and the Control of the Air, 1914-18. This work, derived from James’ PhD, will not only be a significant contribution to the historiography of military aviation in the First World War but also to our understanding of the conceptual origins of a key tenant of air power thinking.
One final note, I continue to enjoy the proliferation of online journals and blogs, such as The Strategy Bridge and War on the Rocks; however, I am pleased to have contributed to two websites that have emerged to look at air power issues especially. First, in mid-2016, I, alongside other contributors, created From Balloons to Drones, which examines air power history, theory and practice and I am grateful to those who have contributed. I look forward to more content next year, and if you are interested in contributing, you can find out how here. I have also been pleased to contribute a couple of think pieces to The Central Blue. This is the blog of the Williams Foundation in Australia, and it is positive to see the contributions that are emerging down under. I do not think, though I could be wrong, that these platforms will replace books and journals, but they are a major medium for generating, developing and discussing ideas. They are especially useful for military professionals seeking to understand their profession while dealing with other important aspects of their job. Also, for academics, they represent an important form of engagement beyond the academy. These platforms are here to stay and should be embraced by all as appropriate outputs.