Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive

Arthur Gould Lee, No Parachute
Appendix B, Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive 

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Time Life Education (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809496127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809496129
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $48.80 plus shipping (<-- What I paid. Currently, Amazon lists a different printing for $21.20. This printing now sells for $144.46.)
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)
I love the body of the book. The appendices -- each and every one -- I find fault with.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  See my first review.

2.2. What I did not like: See my first review.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Now have Open Cockpit.

2.6. Appendix B..Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive:

Detail [AGL's words in quotes. My words in plain type.]:

     "After the Battle of Messines air activity had to slacken because of the R.F.C.'s heavy losses in April and May, which focused General Trenchard, on June 10th, to instruct his Brigade Commanders 'to avoid wastage of both pilots and machines, for some little time. My reserves at present are dangerously low, in fact, in some cases, it barely exists at all . . . It is of the utmost importance, however, that the offensive spirit is maintained.'
     "General Trenchard was right to sustain an offensive spirit. Where he erred was in identifying this with an offensive strategy which was, in effect, a territorial offensive. To him, as to his staff, and most of his senior commanders, for a British aeroplane to be one mile across the trenches was offensive: for it to be ten miles over was more offensive.
     "Influenced perhaps by naval doctrine -- 'seek out and destroy the enemy' and 'our frontiers are the enemy coasts' -- he applied them to the air, not appreciating that they were largely irrelevant in a three-dimensional sphere. In the air fighting of World War I, despite the siege-like situation on the ground, it was not a fighter aeroplane's position in relation to a line of defences that measured the offensive spirit but the aggressive will of its occupants to attack the enemy wherever he was encountered, at whatever odds.
     "The pursuit of a territorial offensive strategy of distant patrols, together with the handicap of a prevailing westerly wind, resulted in a large proportion of aircrew disabled by wounds, or put out of action by faulty engines or gun jams, falling into enemy hands. That the High Command should uphold such avoidable wastage in 1917, when the R.F.C. was desperately short of aeroplanes, aero-engines and trained pilots, is hard to fathom.
     "These direct losses were augmented by the wear and tear on pilots and planes in chasing the mirage of air ascendancy over the Lines by continuous standing patrols of fighters along the whole British front, regardless of the needs of the tactical situation, ground or air. While we thus dissipated our strength, more often than not merely beating the empty air, the Germans, in their so-called defensive strategy, concentrated forces superior in numbers or equipment and engaged our scattered Line Patrols in turn, and our Distant Offensive Patrols as and when it suited them. The result was that in 1917 British air losses were at times nearly four times as great as the Germans.
     "Though the real criterion of an offensive policy was not place but aggressiveness, even this was useless without efficient aeroplanes. The most rashly aggressive pigeon won't get far with a hawk. Important as was the offensive spirit in the air war, technical superiority was more vital, not least because it conferred the initiative.
     "For the High Command to persist, despite the toll in life and material, in continuously patrolling the Lines and in sending obsolescent machines deep into German-held territory, was incomprehensible even at the time. In retrospect, such obduracy seems as irrational as Haig's unyielding adherence to attrition, and the no less stubborn Admiralty resistance to escorted convoys."

2.7. Critique.

     The perfect is the enemy of the good.
     Reading AGL's criticism of Trenchard's aerial strategy above, I get the impression that AGL wanted most of all to reduce RFC casualties. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means the RFC should not fly, because men are sometimes lost in flying accidents.*
     Let's not get lost in this argument about reducing casualties. Let's cut to the heart of the matter.
     What was the mission of the RFC in the Great War?
     The mission of the RFC was to support the PBI (poor bloody infantry), and Trenchard never forgot that. The RFC supported the PBI three ways: 1) aerial reconnaissance, 2) aerial artillery direction, and 3) denying the enemy the use of the air.
     By 1915 the RFC developed serviceable methods of aerial photographic reconnaissance and aerial artillery direction. Denying the enemy the use of the air for operations against the RA fell into four categories: 1) denial of enemy reconnaissance; 2) denial of enemy bombers; 3) destruction of enemy kite balloons; and 4) denial of enemy ground attack from the air. The RFC successes in each of these air denial missions was small. But it was not nil.
     Trenchard served with the losing army in the RA war games of 1912. In that exercise, aerial reconnaissance turned the tide, a lesson Trenchard never forgot. During the great war, he and his staff developed a serviceable strategy for the use of airpower. That strategy delivered good results for the PBI. Trenchard came up with a working system, and he applied the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
     As for casualties, the worst month of the war for the RFC was April 1917, a month that was known to fliers as 'Bloody April'. That month, the RFC lost 400 men in combat.
     On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the RA lost 57,000 men.
     400 a month against 57,000 a day.
     I hate to lose flyboys. I was one myself. But, you know, the risk comes with the job.
     In my book Trenchard did the right thing. He found a strategy that was good enough and he stuck with it. Had he changed it, he might have done better . . . but he might have done worse.
     (Regarding AGL's claim that Trenchard pursued a 'territorial' offensive strategy, Trenchard's contemporaneous notes show that he held no illusions about holding airspace. He had a good grasp of what was going on. He also had a good grasp of the airplanes' communications -- none -- and saw that the only effective means to air denial was to be in the air when the enemy chose to fly. AGL did not see this. Plus, what neither Trenchard nor AGL saw was that having pilots fly patrols developed their flying skills and sky vision.)

*This was especially true of the Sopwith Camel. "During World War I, 413 pilots died in combat and 385 pilots died from non-combat related causes while flying the Sopwith Camel." --The Aerodrome The Germans were only slightly more dangerous to RFC and RAF pilots than the Camel itself.

2.8. Links: 
Open Cockpit
Fly Past 

2.9. Buy the book:
hardback with ugly cover: No Parachute 
hardback with misleading cover: No Parachute (used) 
paperback with pretty cover: No Parachute (used)

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