Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat

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Robin Higham, Stephen J. Harris
University Press of Kentucky, Feb 17, 2006 - History - 416 pages

According to Robin Higham and Stephen J. Harris, "Flight has been part of the human dream for aeons, and its military application has likely been the dark side of that dream for almost as long." In the twentieth century, this dream and its dark side unfolded as the air forces of the world went to war, bringing destruction and reassessment with each failure.

Why Air Forces Fail examines the complex, often deep-seated, reasons for the catastrophic failures of the air forces of various nations. Higham and Harris divide the air forces into three categories of defeat: forces that never had a chance to win, such as Poland and France; forces that started out victorious but were ultimately defeated, such as Germany and Japan; and finally, those that were defeated in their early efforts yet rose to victory, such as the air forces of Britain and the United States.

The contributing authors examine the complex causes of defeats of the Russian, Polish, French, British, Italian, German, Argentine, and American air services. In all cases, the failures stemmed from deep, usually prewar factors that were shaped by the political, economic, military, and social circumstances in the countries. Defeat also stemmed from the anticipation of future wars, early wartime actions, and the precarious relationship between the doctrine of the military leadership and its execution in the field.

Anthony Christopher Cain's chapter on France's air force, l'Armée de l'Air, attributes France's loss to Germany in June 1940 to a lack of preparation and investment in the air force. One major problem was the failure to centralize planning or coordinate a strategy between land and air forces, which was compounded by aborted alliances between France and countries in eastern Europe, especially Poland and Czechoslovakia. In addition, the lack of incentives for design innovation in air technologies led to clashes between airplane manufacturers, laborers, and the government, a struggle that resulted in France's airplanes' being outnumbered by Germany's more than three to one by 1940.

Complemented by reading lists and suggestions for further research, Why Air Forces Fail provides groundbreaking studies of the causes of air force defeats.



1 Polands Military Aviation September 1939
2 LArmee de lAir 19331940
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3 The Arab Air Forces
4 Defeat of the German and AustroHungarian Air Forces in the Great War 19091918
5 Downfall of the Regia Aeronautica 19331943
6 The Imperial Japanese Air Forces
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8 The Argentine Air Force versus Britain in the Falkland Islands 1982
9 From Disaster to Recovery
10 The United States in the Pacific
11 Defeats of the Royal Air Force

7 Defeat of the Luftwaffe 19351945

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Page 28 - Despite all assertions to the contrary, the Polish air force was not destroyed on the ground in the first two days of fighting. The bomber brigade in particular continued to make determined attacks on the German forces up to September 16th.

About the author (2006)

Robin Higham (1925-2015) is professor emeritus of military history at Kansas State University. He has authored and edited many works about aviation history, including The Influence of Airpower Upon History: Statesmanship, Diplomacy, and Foreign Policy Since 1903. Stephen J. Harris is the chief historian for the Directorate of History and Heritage at the National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, Canada. He coauthored The Crucible of War: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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