I have this vague in my head that land war as we know it (at least until the end of the 1900s) was largely developed by the French, and not only did the British militarily rulemthe seas but also the modern navy as we know it is a product of the British. these These may be incorrect, and I am happy to have my wrong notions corrected. However in addition I am wondering which country was considered the pioneers, most influential, and most powerful when it comes to aerial warfare, both when it was developed through its history? I often think of both of both the Luftwaffe or the Royal Air Force but that may just be because those names are snazzy.
German theory and practice of conventional land warfare has dominated since before the start of 20th century, and continues to this day. Entering the 20th century Germany, with France emulating, embraced the all-out strategic offensive. France lost its taste for the offense after the awful bloodletting of WWI, and embraced the initial strategic defensive, with the worst possible results against a continuously offense-dedicated Germany. Terrain allowing, the German combined arms (armored and mechanized spearheads supported by strafing and bombing aircraft) Blitzkrieg concept remains the preferred core doctrine of the strongest powers. And where terrain does not allow mechanized units a prominent role, air support continues to be a key as it has been since 1939.
I think you are on the money with the Luftwaffe and the RAF. Germany was probably stronger, but it got a mid-1930s head-start on the dilatory British, who began to get their act together with not a month to spare, probably, and certainly not 6 months to spare.
Italy was an early pioneer in military aviation. The first use of airplanes for aerial reconnaissance and bombing was done by the Italians in their war with Turkey in 1911. Giulio Douhet, an Italian army officer, wrote the first manual of aerial warfare. In World War I, he argued for a strategic bombing campaign to knock Austria-Hungary out of the war. Douhet was one of the first people who argued that air power could decide the outcome of a war.
The organization of military airpower is however mostly a British invention. A separate airforce, focus on strategic bombing and air defence, with most ground support activities left to the Army.
In World War I, Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) had 80 confirmed kills. His younger brother, Lothar, had 40. America’s top ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, had 26. Point: Germany.
In World War II, Germany developed the jet aircraft. Frankly, they fought better but were outspent by the US. They lost both wars overall, but wrote the book on air warfare.
Thanks for all the info! I apologize for the typos as well . . . On an iPad using dictation software.
In WWII, you had various countries making different contributions.
The Germans wrote the book on close air support (CAS) which was a major factor in their early blitzkrieg victories.
The RAF developed a superb defensive system, including not only integrating radar but also the ground-controlled interception network e.g., the Dowding system as well as a finely tuned logistics system which saved them during the Battle of Britain. Ironically, some of their tactics lagged the Germans, such as flying in a three plane formation. It was quickly recognized to be inferior, but they felt they couldn’t change it during the battle.
The Japanese pioneered naval aviation, and had several years’ jump on the US. They were able to coordinate attacks from multiple ships for torpedo bombers, dive bombers and fighters, all with various speeds and altitudes, to bring them over the target together.
However, Japan peaked early and didn’t really improve much, and the US surpassed them pretty much in all areas. With six months into the war, the US had developed fighting tactics which negated some of the strengths which the Zero had.
You can’t really compare the US to Germany in WWI because the US entered the war late. The second highest ace was from France, with 75 kills and the thirds highest was from Canada. Here is a list of WWI aces with 20 or more kills.
Competing advances by either side saw the domination switch several times during the war.
The Germans lost the air war over Britain well before the US arrived.
The US wiped the Germans out of the air in 1944 with the introduction of the long range P-51 fighter.
I think it’s pretty absurd to say the Luftwaffe was dominant except for a brief period from 1939-40, plus crushing some open cockpit Russian fighters in 1937 Spain. It excelled at ground support for their land forces, and for another brief period of time they were very good at air defense, but that’s about all. The British were at least as good at air defense.
The Americans eventually broke the Luftwaffe’s lock on air defense once they had the right machines. But strategically they were much smarter too. In the Battle of Britain, German fighter pilots were ordered to stay with their bombers all the way. The Americans freed their fighters to roam ahead and attack the Germans wherever they found them.
And since WWII air power has been America’s game.
Early aviation was definitely pioneered by the French, British and Germany (as well as Italy as noted up thread). As with many things, the US lagged behind at this stage since we didn’t have a large military budget or a large professional military by any measure. We were an isolationist power who figured our neutrality would allow us to just trade and do our own thing and not get involved in the Europeans seemingly endless wars.
Which was arguably the finest air craft of the war. And was a taste of things to come, since it was a combination of a British engine and an American air frame. Many of the innovations that the US used to become the super power it would be within a decade of the end of the war were such amalgams between British tech and US tech and economic and industrial might. Like the English language itself, the US seems to have a genius for taking bits and pieces of other peoples ideas and tech and then being able to produce it in vast quantities. The armor on the Abram’s MBT or the layout and use of air craft carriers are good examples of this. Even stealth tech in part stems from theoretical RF science that the Brits were doing in the post war era…we simply took the idea then poured in vast sums to research and eventually develop it.
They certainly were innovative, especially in tactics. However, though they did develop the jet air craft, they didn’t use it very effectively initially (they tried to use it in the attack air craft role, instead of as a fighter), and they weren’t able to produce enough or use them effectively enough to be decisive. As with many things the Germans did, it was a waste of resources they could have better spent in other areas, instead developing incremental upgrades to existing technology.
So did the Brits, the Gloster Meteor entered service just three months after the Me262, so the Germans didn’t exactly dominate in that regard.
The did because the Meteor never entered combat except to shoot down some V1s.
Of course, Germany was in the entire war; the United States did not enter the war until it was half over and was not fully geared up until well after that. Rickenbacker didn’t even fly a mission until 1918 and got his first kill April 29, so he did as well as Richotofen given the period of time he had.
No country has entirely dominated aerial warfare or deserves full credit for its development. Certainly the USA has had the most success, but even its performance has not been wholly dominant the entire run.
Why does the air war dominance discussion seem to end with WWII?
The great majority of the aerial warfare that has ever happened in human history happened in World War II. If you won that, you’ve won most of the air war, ever.
I disagree. Ignoring the Cold War, the Middle East (ongoing), Korea, Vietnam, The Falklands, Bosnia, not mention dozens of smaller conflicts seems rather shortsighted, to me.
It’s not like the US didn’t have our share of aerial warfare theorists who were contemporary with Douhet. Billy Mitchell and his disciples (Arnold, Spaatz, Eaker, etc…)
The thing is, most of the aerial warfare theoretical work was done in the 1920s and 1930s, between the wars, and mostly centered around the strategic aspects of aerial warfare. British thinkers like Trenchard were highly influential as well. The Germans had a strategic bomber theorist in the Luftwaffe (Wever), but he died in a crash, and so did most German efforts toward a strategic bombing arm.
A lot of those theories were found to be entirely wrong, or at the least, needing serious revision during WWII. The only nations with the wherewithal to actually put them into practice were the US and UK, and their bomber forces went about their business quite differently by early 1944 than they had toward the beginning of the war.
After the war, the big changes were the introduction of nuclear weapons- they changed the way that strategic bombing was done, and the US basically pioneered the strategies that would have been used (thankfully, they never were).
More technological changes that affected the more tactical aspects of aerial warfare are the near ubiquity of radar, air-to-air refueling, and stealth technology. Again, as a technological leader and the nation with the biggest budget, the US led the changes necessary to take advantage of these things as well.
So I suppose you could say that in the application of theory, the US is the clear leader.
In terms of actual combat performance, the US falls about where the Royal Navy did in the 19th century- the biggest player in the field, and no slouch in terms of quality.
It’s hard to argue that a nation with a commanding lead in number of aircraft, as well as at least technological parity with potential adversaries, about as long of an aerial warfare tradition as is possible, and a highly effective pilot selection and training system isn’t the dominant nation in aerial warfare. And with the exception of number of planes (the USSR had more than the USAF/USN), that situation above has been the situation for 75 years.
I don’t see how there can be any other answer to this besides the U.S.A.
ETA: Assuming, that is, you’re not sticking exclusively to a couple very short time periods.
Keeping things in perspective, history being a continuum, no doubt U.S. There are very few examples of aerospace technology since WWII that did not originate in the U.S.
The key word there is “smaller.”
To give you some idea of perspective, in the Six Day War, when Israel destroyed the entirety of the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian air forces, total Arab losses were about 450 combat aircraft.
In World War II, Germany alone lost approximately 76,000 aircraft.
The people of Laos have some pretty impressive numbers as well. More bomb tonnage on that country alone during Vietnam than the combined efforts against Germany and Japan in WWII.