Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link World History Group RSS feed World History Group Subscriptions Historynet Home page

The Age of Airpower Will Likely Stir Debate

By Age of Airpower 
Originally published by World War II magazine. Published Online: June 02, 2011 
Print Friendly
1 comment FONT +  FONT -

The Age of Airpower
By Martin van Creveld. 512 pp.
PublicAffairs, 2011. $35.

Martin van Creveld's work is always worth reading. Some of his books, most notably Supplying War and Hitler's Strategy: the Balkan Clue, are benchmarks that will stand the test of time. Others, like Fighting Power and The Transformation of Warfare, ignited debates that still rage. Here he turns his powerful analytical skills and sometimes-sharp pen to a consideration of "the airpower century." It will most likely join his books in the controversial category.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to World War II magazine

The Age of Airpower is equal parts historical survey, idiosyncratic editorializing, and bold prediction. Inevitably, the Second World War looms large. In van Creveld's view, air power reached its peak during the 1939–1945 years. The great powers applied it across a wide spectrum—strategic bombing, maneuver warfare in Western Europe and Russia, the war at sea in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, and large-scale use of airborne forces in "vertical envelopment" of the battlefield. Among many valuable insights, van Creveld notes the underappreciated contributions of aerial interdiction to both the early Axis successes and the subsequent Allied counteroffensives. But he also argues this was but air power's brief moment in the sun. The advent of nuclear weapons, as well as the escalating cost of aviation technology, has sounded taps for crewed bomber aircraft, the use of airborne forces, aircraft carriers, and even most categories of tactical aviation. He further argues that the emerging "wars amongst the peoples" are ill suited for aviation to take a leading role. This precipitous rush to toss air power into the historical dustbin, along with the armored knight and the battleship, merits—and will no doubt get—a spirited response.

Unfortunately, this thoughtfully provocative work is marred by persistent factual errors. The June 1944 Normandy invasion was not the last time gliders were used in combat. Van Creveld confuses the British merchant aircraft carrier (an improvised flattop) with the catapult aircraft merchantman (a true stopgap with a non-recoverable fighter plane). He speaks of the "RAF High Command," but there neither was nor is such an entity. His mastery of technical details is sometimes spotty (the Spitfire was not particularly easy to manufacture, the MiG-15 had an ejection seat, and the Italians did develop and employ torpedo planes), as is his grasp of some of the theoretical literature (Billy Mitchell did indeed mention aircraft carriers in Winged Defense, if only to dismiss their effectiveness). Individually, such missteps are minor; collectively they cast doubt upon the robustness of the evidence supporting the author's far-reaching claims.

Nonetheless, although van Creveld's insights may be speculative, they offer stimulating guides for considering contemporary issues about the uses of airpower. Airpower advocates and critics alike need to engage with this book.


One Response to “The Age of Airpower Will Likely Stir Debate”

  1. 1
    Dave says:

    I would read a book non-fiction with a lot of half truths and I gesses and being just plain ignorant of the facts.

Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Related Articles

History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet? is brought to you by World History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
World History Group

World History Group Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer!
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 World History Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy