The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory.

Author:Romito, Joseph
Position:Book review

The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory. By Craig F. Morris. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Inc.ex. Pp. x, 250. $34.95 ISBN: 9-78168247252-1

Discussions of the development of US strategic bombing theory leading up to World War II often focus on several elements as the main impetus behind this key component of airpower: the works of key individuals such as Generals Billy Mitchell and Benjamin Foulois, the emergence of enabling technologies such as long-range aircraft and the Norden bombsight, and organizational decisions such as the creation of General Headquarters Air Force. Morris, an assistant professor of history at the Air Force Academy, rejects the idea that any single factor played a dominant role in the development of strategic bombing theory. He presents the counter view that it was a combination of many forces that worked together to pave the way for the emergence of strategic bombing as the Army Air Forces' primary mission during World War II.

One of Morris's themes is that the path toward development of strategic bombing theory was not a steady line of progress that began with the creation of the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps in 1907 and culminated in the publication of the comprehensive strategic bombing plan known as Air War Plans Division No. 1 (AWPD-1) in 1941. To the contrary, progress could best be described as two steps forward and one step back, with an occasional breakthrough that moved the Air Service (under its various names) closer toward the goal of a coherent and comprehensive doctrine for the employment of strategic bombing. He makes the case that this isn't surprising, given the complex interplay among senior military and civilian leaders, mid-level planners, technology, competing priorities within the US military, the changing nature of warfare, and America's evolving perception of its place in the world.

Morris identifies the development of strategic bombing theory as being rooted in the experience of the 1916-1917 Mexican Expedition, which made aviators painfully aware of the need to better define the role of aviation in combat. One of the officers who flew during the Mexican Expedition was Edgar Gorrell who, by the end of World War I, had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was a member of the Allied Expeditionary Force Air Service technical section. Adding his own views to ideas borrwed from British and French...

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