Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Aerial Warfare The Battle for the Skies
Frank Ledwidge OUP, 26 April 2018
Author of the impressive Losing Small Wars (2011) (see below) and Investment in Blood (2013) (which I have not read), Ledwidge has also been a reservist intel officer, and is now senior fellow in Air Power & International Security at RAFC Cranwell. He is therefore supremely well qualified to write this overview of the evolution of air power – with the UK at its core.
Aerial Warfare is a small format hardback, and only 172 pages long, so it provides an overview without too many diversions or undue depth on any topic. In the opening chapters Ledwidge does not hang back in setting out Lord Trenchard’s deficiencies as well as strengths. Understandably one of the continuing themes of the book is whether bombing alone can win battles. Proponents and opponents tussle through the decades. Ledwidge is good at setting UK evolution in a European and global context. Indeed the summary of the evolution of tactics, and lessons learned, in the Vietnam War, is particularly interesting.
The suppression of native uprisings in the inter-war period was of course one of the key successes that guaranteed the future of the RAF as an independent force. Yet Ledwidge argues that the success of the Colonial conflicts stunted the level of R&D spending - which led to the RAF having a largely obsolescent fleet until 1939 (and arguably beyond in the case of e.g the Gladiator and Defiant).
Post WW2 he rightly points out the political naïveté which led the British to donating Nene jet engines to the Soviet Union, thereby giving them the technological know-how (through reverse engineering) to power their Mig jets which went on to have such success in killing Allied Sabres in the Korean War. He later praises the Israelis for their adept use of air power and fighter tactics to protect themselves. There is a one page summary of the 1981 Israeli raid in which they destroyed Iran’s nuclear reactor, and the similar raid in 2007 in Syria – the latter being topical as the Israelis have only just owned up to carrying it out. There is also a fascinating few pages on the success of the Bosnians and others in creating SAM defences in the Balkan conflict.
Uncomfortable reading perhaps as we celebrate the RAF’s centenary (the reason for the timing of this book’s publication), but the author makes the point that the RAF has not destroyed an enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat since 1948 (a Spitfire kill against the Egyptians)!
Overall an erudite tome, that I can see being used as a primer on all sorts of defence courses, and a bit rushed in parts, but one which will also appeal to lay readers.