Air Power in Three Wars: WWII, Korea, and Vietnam

From left to right, an A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-...

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This pdf book examines the evolution of air power and air power doctrine from 1939 to 1971 through the eyes of one U.S. Air Force officer, General William Momyer, who lived and commanded through the three wars.

The three-and-a-half decades covered in this volume witnessed the most fecund period of technological advances in military aviation, and the evolution of air power from an uncertain, secondary role in warfare to a core position in tactical and strategic thought.

What is fascinating to watch, though, is how doctrine did not develop so much as ossify in the face of battlefield experience and the vagaries of Presidential grand strategies. Momyer, unconsciously, is a living example of this paralysis of thinking that suffused Air Force command. The lessons he learned in World War II colored his views of Vietnam: the proper role of air power in that conflict, he suggests, was to take the war to the North and, presumably, even north of Friendship Pass.

In this Momyer exposes himself as a proven tactician and commander but a failed strategist, and in this he has much company from among his peers. It was the rare and career-reckless officer during that period who questioned the Holy Trinity of Strategic Bombing, Missile Forces, and Air-to-Air warfare, and Momyer rose to four stars worshiping at the alter of Billy Mitchell, Carl Spaatz, and Curtis LeMay.

But Momyer’s strategic failings do not make his memoir less interesting, and he offers lessons that we ignore today at our peril. His calls for de-centralized command and control, flexibility of forces and of thinking, and strong close-air support balance his open disregard for interdiction, his devotion to strategic bombing, and his call for massive “shock-and-awe” applications of airpower in an age where such thinking was already failing to address a new strategic reality.

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