Air Warfare and Air Base Air Defense 1917-1973

McGuire Air Force Base

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In his foreword to this excellent PDF book, Air Force historian John F Kreis notes that most histories of air warfare revolve around the actual combat, and far too few if any examine the issue of combat support or, as he does in this volume, air base defense. The author believes that this is an oversight, and I would agree.

Some of history’s more renowned tactical air commanders, most notably Air Force Major General Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers and later the 14th US Air Force in China in World War II, were late to discover that their ignorance of the challenges and necessity of air base defense undermined and sometimes erased their successes in the air.  It was almost as if, once liberated of the ground, these otherwise fine aviators and leaders forgot that it existed.

In this comprehensive (if not exhaustive) tome,  Kreis examines the entire topic of air base defense from the perspective of all the countries involved in combat, starting in World War I, and running all the way through the Vietnam War.  Despite hints that the air arm has learned its lessons about base defense, the author suggests that there is still more to be learned. Indeed,  if the recent experiences of the US Armed Forces and NATO in Afghanistan are any indication, air base defense remains as vexing as ever for both air and ground commanders.

This book belongs in the library of even the casual military historian.

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3 thoughts on “Air Warfare and Air Base Air Defense 1917-1973

  1. Sounds like a good read. As I recall, Chennault expected B-29 raids from his East China bases to finish off Japan. But after the first few missions, Jap troops in E. China, quiet for awhile, went back on the offensive in ’44, overran the bases, and put an end to that idea. Also proved Stillwell, not Chennault, was correct in his negative evaluation of the Nationalist troops.

    • You’re spot on. Originally Chennault said his B-24 raids on Japanese coastwise shipping would end the Empire’s campaign in Burma and India. When that failed, he started pushing the B-29 approach. Leave aside whether air power alone could have won the war against Japan: Chennault never got a chance to test his theory because he disregarded air base defense. In his defense, he was not alone in his religious belief in the role of air power: everyone from Billy Mitchell to Hap Arnold to Curtis LeMay preached the obsolescence of naval and ground warfare. That was a missed opportunity: had someone like Pete Quesada or Otto Weyland been the first USAF Chief of Staff, preaching an integrated, multiservice approach to warfare, the air arm would have become the leading service in the Pentagon, and history would have been different.

      For Stillwell’s part, his feelings were more nuanced. He believed that when the Chinese soldier was well-trained, well-supplied, and well-led, he was a superb soldier. The problem was that Chiang held back his best trained, best supplied, and best led troops for future use against the Communists, and cast his hapless and hungry conscript cannon-fodder before the Japanese onslaught. Stillwell was the Sisyphus of World War II.

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