Military Review

Through trial and error

Through trial and error

American experts in the field of the theory of armaments, Bernard and Fawn Brody, in the early 60-s of the last century put forward a non-trivial thesis that “the thought process of choosing an acceptable strategy and promising weapons It involves a lot of knowledge from various areas of human activity, most of which inevitably lead astray. ” Moreover, another well-known American expert in the field of the construction of the armed forces, Mark Mandeles, states that even experiments and experimental exercises so demanded for testing ideas can be useless if they are carried out formally and not subjected to deep critical analysis, which takes time. Thus, the commander of the first American nuclear submarine "Nautilus", and then the leading maritime historian Edward Beach recalled that on the eve of World War II, an endless series of naval exercises, more reminiscent of "sports competitions" between ship crews, eventually turned into a real " window dressing ”, which did not give“ food for thought ”, but only in moral persecution of those commanders who sharply opposed such“ study ”. In this regard, Mandeles concludes, progress in creating new types of weapons and developing strategies can only be ensured if one has the ability or at least to develop the skills to see beyond the horizon and to have suitable structures that embody advanced ideas in life.

In this regard, an example of different approaches in the US Navy and ground forces in the period between the world wars to solving the problem of creating aviation components in both types of aircraft.


In the years immediately preceding the beginning of World War I, both in Europe and in the USA, the military-scientific community embraced a peculiar fashion for reasoning about the future of aviation as such and its usefulness in terms of waging and winning in future wars and military conflicts. Taking into account the geographical location of the United States as “an island remote from a decent distance from the theaters of future wars,” in these verbal battles, emphasis was placed on the suitability of aviation to repel possible threats to national security emanating primarily from the sea. An article published in the popular journal Scientific American in 1910, for example, argued that "the idea that the airplane revolutionizes the wars of the future is a great exaggeration." On the other hand, many progressive-minded American analysts and military leaders held a diametrically opposite point of view. So, already in those years, Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske, who had become famous, expressed the idea that “airplanes are the simplest, relatively cheap and quickly prepared means for the defense of our island nation against a possible invasion of a foreign power”.

Despite the fact that the palm of primacy in the practical application of aviation belonged to the United States (flights of the Wright brothers), the Americans quickly lost their leading positions in the development of this type of technology. US specialists complain that the litigation between Curtis and Wright’s companies over the rights to patents for the production of aircraft, which actually paralyzed the country's power to manufacture airplanes, was at the wrong time. But the fact remains. It was the Europeans on the margins of the First World War who greatly advanced the idea of ​​using aviation to solve a whole range of tasks in the military field, including reconnaissance, target designation for artillery, air support for infantry, and even torpedoing individual ships from the air. Britain is generally considered a pioneer in the use of naval aviation, having built the world's first aircraft carrier Furios, from which airplanes took part in solving intelligence and patrol missions. The American officers who were sent to British formations during the war years and allowed to develop plans for the use of aviation returned home convinced that airplanes had a great future.


And already in 1919, a discussion began in Washington's military-political circles regarding the prospects of aviation in general and naval aviation in particular. Formed back in 1900 in accordance with the order of the then naval minister John D. Long, the so-called General Council (GS) of the Navy, consisting for the most part of high authority on navy retired admirals, recommended that Minister of the Navy Joseph Daniels offer the President and Congress a program for the construction of aircraft carriers and the development of special (deck) aircraft for them. The following year, the same council prepared an extensive analytical report, which convincingly proved the need to include an aviation component in the Navy as a “natural link in modernization” of this type of armed forces.

Suddenly, the “sea lobby” faced fierce resistance to their ideas regarding the construction of aircraft carriers and aircraft based on them. Brigadier General William (Billy) Mitchell, chief air defense attorney in the United States, set the tone in this opposition. In early December 1919 of the year, he delivered a conceptual report to the congressmen, in which he tried to prove the “correctness” of the thesis that the Air Force alone can eliminate the threat to the country, no matter where it comes from, and that there is no need to “deploy” aviation in the Navy which themselves will soon be “pressed off” by a new perspective type of armed forces - aviation. Mitchell's argument influenced legislators and even seemed convincing for some part of the maritime establishment. Thus, the Minister of the Navy and the Chief of Staff of this type of aircraft, Admiral William S. Benson, initially did not support the initiative “from the bottom” regarding the formation of an independent maritime aeronautics bureau (BA).

But the sailors, on their own initiative, without the usual advertising hype in such cases, but quite successfully in 1920, conducted a series of exercises with live bombing on target ships anchored. The very fact of conducting these “secret” exercises, which nevertheless leaked to the pages of periodicals, caused an ambiguous reaction. First of all, the supporters of the creation of an independent type of the Armed Forces, the air force that had accused the sailors of “wasting money”, resented Mitchell.

But the sailors, as they say, continued to bend their line. In January 1921, the Minister of the Navy proposed to the General Council to prepare a comprehensive justification of what type of ships in the future the national naval forces should rely on in order to usefully emphasize efforts in the implementation of the armaments program. And in February of the same year, the council reported on its vision of the development of the situation. In particular, the report indicated that traditional ships were waiting for threats at sea, which would not be easy to neutralize. Appeared in service at the end of the XIX century, torpedoes, although an antidote was found in the form of improved protection of the ship's bottom, quick-fire weapons and effective destroyers in combat, it will be quite difficult to resist in future wars, as the experience of the First World War showed. Submarines, which also demonstrated their effectiveness during the recent naval battles, again allegedly await an unenviable future due to the found "antidote" in the form of the same destroyers, depth charges of the new generation and acoustic instruments. But the threat from naval aviation, it was emphasized in the report, will be very difficult to neutralize due to the fact that in countries - potential adversaries there has not yet been invented an effective countermeasure.

The American admirals welcomed the document of the General Council. In particular, his position was ardently supported by such authorities as in the recent past, the commander of the Atlantic fleet, Admiral Henry Mayo and the head of the Bureau of Naval Arms, Admiral Charles McQuey. And admirals William Fullam, William Sims and Bradley Fiske made a statement in which they called the appearance of naval aviation "a gift from above, the real embodiment of the revolution in military affairs!"

It is noteworthy that at the same time the British Admiralty prepared a report with similar conclusions and sent it to parliament. Famous British naval commanders, including admiral John Djilayko, as well as authoritative admirals from the continent, Lucien Lacaz (France) and Alfred von Tirpitz (Germany) also made strong supporters of naval aviation.


Encouraged by such strong support, Minister of Naval Forces Daniels sharply "dismissed" all the critical remarks of General Mitchell about the new kind of naval forces and accused the latter of "undeserved conferring to himself the title of an expert in maritime affairs." Without wasting any time, Daniel already in February 1921 addressed a written proposal to the Minister of War, Newton Baker, for conducting joint exercises of the Navy and the ground forces, during which it was planned to carry out aerial bombing in the coastal zone. The seafarers' offer was accepted, and soon a series of joint (joint) exercises was carried out.

The results of real bombing were nevertheless evaluated ambiguously. If supporters of the creation of naval aviation were inspired by the results of testing, their opponents concluded that there was a “lack of realism of tests”: perfect weather, lack of opposition from aviation, the stationary target was a target ship, besides, it did not have armor and a water pumping system, and .P. Doubts about the fact that in a real situation the plane could sink the ship, expressed even by the Assistant Minister of the Navy, the future President of the country Franklin Roosevelt. The lawyers of the maritime aviation component nevertheless managed to prove the economic advantage of creating a new type of Navy and to get Congress to form within the framework of this type of armed forces the Aeronautical Bureau.


A very significant role in promoting the idea of ​​creating a maritime aviation component was played by the leadership of the Naval College (VSC), created as early as 1884 as the first type of educational institution in the United States for training command personnel, and its director (head) Admiral William Sims personally. As part of the college, with the assistance of the Aeronautics Bureau, headed by Admiral William Moffet, a special training program was developed for future naval aviation command personnel, during the implementation of which the whole complex of related issues was worked out - from simulating fleet operations with aircraft carriers to developing design proposals aircraft based on them and submission of recommendations based on this to higher authorities.

Pilot aircraft carrier

Finally, in 1923, supporters of naval aviation power managed to agree on combining their efforts and creating an informal organization, or the so-called peculiar naval aviation support society, which included the Navy General Council, Naval College and the Aeronautics Bureau, as well as individual admirals and officers - enthusiasts of this, in fact, a new emerging kind of naval forces. And even despite such a significant step forward, stormy discussions continued regarding the development of naval aviation: whether it can independently perform tasks to counter the enemy’s fleet in future wars, or it will have to be limited to providing a role, for example, reconnaissance. Doubt about the ambitious plans of the "naval aviators" brought skepticism to civil aviation designers, who believed that the creation of promising aircraft at that time under the strict demands of seamen was hardly possible, especially against the backdrop of the booming "traditional" naval shipbuilding. The answer to all these questions, it was quite logical to count in the leadership of the Navy, could only experiments with new technologies and experienced exercises of the fleet in a realistic situation at sea.

In 1925, in accordance with the planned rotation, Captain (later Admiral) Joseph Reeves was appointed commander of a naval aviation squadron, who was transferred to this position from the Naval College, where he was in charge of organizing experiments and military games involving aircraft carriers. The commander of the fleet gave Reeves the broadest powers to conduct real experiments at sea and implement their results in a planned update of the naval strategy soon. For this purpose, an experimental ship, the carrier of the Langley aircraft, was assigned to Reeves. Having realized that when he was a research officer in college, the use of naval aviation aircraft was not “one by one”, but in the group, Reves first of all increased the number of aircraft from 14 right up to 42 and activated the intensity of crew training. In parallel, they also undertook other innovations, subsequently adopted by the theorists and practitioners of the new kind of naval forces.

It is impossible not to pay tribute to the leadership of the US Navy in the sense that, despite the prevailing views at the beginning of the interwar period regarding the need for emphasis in the development of this type of armed forces on the traditional naval power, the center of which supposedly should remain the ship, and not “artificially a rooted alien element in the form of an aircraft, ”maritime aviation was by no means a“ stepchild ”in the plans for the development and application of this new kind of naval forces.


In contrast to the naval forces in the US ground forces, the question of whether or not to be an aviation component as part of the Ground Forces has never been. Discussions took place around other problems: which aircraft, fighter or bomber, to rely on and which tasks should the country's air forces, which are reduced to the so-called air corps, subordinate to the chief of staff of the army (SV), should solve.

In solving the first problem, despite some opposition sentiments, those in the upper echelons of the military leadership who called for concentrating efforts on long-range bombers prevailed. The tactical school of the air corps developed an air doctrine containing four fundamental provisions. First of all, an airplane is an offensive weapon. Secondly, in the wars of the future, the enemy can be defeated by massive bombing of settlements. Thirdly, in cases where interaction with the ground forces or the navy is inevitable, priority is given to aviators who themselves choose the form of such interaction. Fourth, during an air offensive, it is necessary to gain air supremacy over the theater of war, to prevent the advancement of enemy forces and their supply, and to support their ground forces. It is noteworthy that these actually doctrinal principles were postulated without going through the break-in either during field experiments, during team-staff trainings, or even discussions among interested parties. Weak consolation for “advanced” aviators was the fact that, as the expert M. Mandeles mentioned above emphasizes, a similar situation in the interwar period developed around the problem of application tanks.

However, based on this doctrine, in 1931, the commander of the air corps, Major General James Fechet, organized the maneuvers, which were ordered by his assistant, Colonel Benjamin Fulua. The scale of the maneuvers and the samples of aviation equipment made an impression on the public, especially since they were held near settlements in the Great Lakes region. The fact that no incidents were noted during them was very positively assessed by the SV chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur, and the country's president, Herbert Hoover.

Meanwhile, critically minded specialists, and among them the outstanding then still Major Claire Chennolt, noted the obvious "profanation" of the event and the "window dressing" when not one of the issues that aviation faced at that time was resolved. For example, in his opinion, the problem of intercepting bomber fighters was left behind the maneuvers, although it was obvious that the warning of a raid with a delay, and even under poorly developed telephone communications could not satisfy the “defenders”. But at the same time, in the allied Great Britain, the headquarters of the Royal Air Force had already begun experiments with the organization of the air defense system, which proved to be quite reliable with the beginning of the Second World War and which was based on radar stations, special fighters equipped with eight machine guns, and the tactics of actions of fighter aviation as a whole, tested during the exercises.

In the 1933 year, now the commander of the air corps, General Benjamin Fulyua, organized new aviation exercises, the responsibility for which he put on Major General Oscar Westover. And this time, the maneuvers were "inferior", mostly oriented to the "public effect". Meanwhile, in his report on the results of the teachings, Westover drew quite “interesting” conclusions. First, in his opinion, high-speed bombers (the Martin monoplane B-10, which had a speed of more than 200 miles per hour) are able to easily overcome any air defense of the likely enemy. Secondly, low-speed fighters (such as the Boeing P-12 biplane) do not pose any threat to bombers, who are therefore not in need of escorting. Fourthly, even if high-speed fighters are created, their use against bomber will be very problematic due to the alleged lack of acceptable developments in the tactics of their actions. The leadership of the tactical school of the air corps did not comment on these paradoxical conclusions. Thus, the achievements of European air force thought, already demonstrated at similar exercises overseas, were completely ignored.

Nevertheless, in 1935, the leadership of the air corps decided to conduct a study on the possible role of fighters in a future war. The findings of the study once again amazed independent experts for their categorical and unambiguous nature. Thus, it was argued that modern technologies do not allow the creation of a heavy long-range fighter with a speed exceeding at least 25% the speed of already created bombers, as well as high “ceiling” and “fast” rate of rise critical for fighters.

In addition, it was stressed that due to lack of funds, the efforts of aviators should focus on improving bomber aviation, and the development of fighters will be funded on a residual basis. Behind all this was felt the view of the “aviation lobby” led by the authoritative general Mitchell, who was perceived by the country's leadership a priori as the ultimate truth, without being examined either in the form of discussions, much less through experiments “in the field”. The weak consolation, if I may say so, for critically-minded specialists from both aviators and independent experts could only be that, like in the Navy, less money was allocated for aviation during the interwar period than for the development of other combat arms.


As for the future tasks facing aviation, here, in formulating them, not to mention running-in, the SV aviators faced considerable difficulties. Thus, for example, the priority task for long-range and massive bombardments in American aviation was not supported by theoretical developments in the field of their ground support, including regarding the construction of a network of so-called hop aerodromes. Yes, and the massive bombing of settlements, as shown by the civil war in Spain in the middle of the 30, although it led to huge civilian casualties, did not bring the effect of victory in the war as a whole.

Further. According to the results of the First World War, it was clear to everyone that without accomplishing the task of target designation for artillery from the air in future wars is indispensable. The enthusiastic officers of the air corps insisted on the creation of a special aircraft for this, which it was necessary in advance to “pass” through field exercises. However, in fact did not go either one or the other. Either the project of such an aircraft was obtained with an excessive speed for solving tasks on target designation, or too large and heavy to fly at extremely low altitude, convenient for detecting targets. And even before the special exercises, the command of Avicorpus did not reach the hands.

Mark Mandeles notes that, despite the clear demand of time for the need to closely coordinate the actions of ground troops and aviation during the solution of large-scale tasks in battle, “neither the Minister of War, nor the Chairman of the Committee of Chiefs of Staff, nor the generals-aviators ever illuminated the idea of ​​formulating the air-land operation doctrine and testing it in the course of experiments and exercises ”.

Even with the start of the Second World War 1939 in September and the German blitzkrieg that was supposedly unexpected for all, the success of which was largely determined by the joint actions of the ground forces and aviation, these facts did not at all convince Americans of the urgent need to revise the entire range of tasks facing US aviation. And only in August 1940 of the year, that is, actually a year after the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, certainly the gifted American General George Marshall, who took the post of the Chief of Staff of the Ground Forces, instructed the head of one of the headquarters departments, Brigadier General of the Air Force Frank Andrews, to deal with this issue and report recommendations for rectification.

In September of the same year, Andrews presented a document in which he confirmed the inconsistency of training of commanders of the air corps with European standards and clearly indicated the need to urgently carry out joint exercises of aviation and ground forces and, based on their results, conduct a massive retraining of commanders with an emphasis on the ability to organize such interaction in battle . The US Army Command urgently took up the development of the relevant regulatory documents, the first of which in this area, the FM 31-35 field regulations “Aviation Support for Ground Forces” and FM 100-15 “Field Service Regulation. Parts and connections, ”appeared late, only in the first half of 1942.

Significant progress in adapting US aircraft to the requirements of the emerging radically new situation, including on the battlefields of the outbreak of World War II, was the reorganization and creation of the US Army Air Forces Air Force (SV) instead of the US Air Force Corps in June 1941. and concretization of the tasks of aviation formations.

However, after the arrival of the first US aviation units in Europe, the commander of the US Air Force, General Henry Arnold, was forced to admit that, "despite the fact that the aircraft was not tested in combat, we were arrogantly confident of its combat effectiveness." Especially critically-minded, mentioned above, who later became Major General Claire Chennolt was more brutal in his assessments: “The air corps officers, who had underdeveloped training in previous years, already held senior positions in American aviation when hundreds of unprotected B- 24 and B-17 were shot down over Europe! ”


Both the ground forces and the US naval forces during the interwar period were formally put in the same conditions, if not survival, then at least "uncomfortable" existence. But rather subjectively and intuitively than consciously, the maritime establishment quickly realized that it was necessary to combine internal efforts to promote the “revolutionary” idea of ​​naval aviation. A so-called community consisting of several organizational structures (GS, VMC, BA), inspired by the “super-task”, permeated with interactive relations of its constituent components and led by outstanding military leaders, was created. The ground carriers didn’t have anything like that, and besides, the army leadership was in captivity of obviously illusory ideas about the prospects of military aviation in general.

The command of the US Navy in the rigid framework of underfunding has found the only acceptable way to translate the idea of ​​naval aviation into life through wide discussion, experiments and experimental exercises, the correctness of which was confirmed literally in the very first days of the country's participation in World War II and ultimately won Americans won the Pacific Theater thanks to the sea (ship) aircraft. As General J. Marshall emphasized, “intellectual experimentation does a prudent use of resources and brings victory in battle ... It is better to have information and knowledge, allowing them to even die under the pressure of criticism and failure in exercises in peacetime than to acquire the same knowledge at the cost of human lives in battle!"
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  1. dv-v
    dv-v 15 February 2014 08: 09
    in a sense, it is obvious that the geographical location of the United States, with the practical absence of any serious rivals on land, caused the development of their aviation as it was developed in the article. about the fact that practical experience is the best teacher, I think, is well known.
  2. kirpich
    kirpich 15 February 2014 15: 56
    I started reading and mastered the first chapter. I read the rest diagonally. One smart man said - "All generals are preparing for the last war."
  3. Mikhail3
    Mikhail3 15 February 2014 19: 11
    As long and confused as in the amusing American "strategy" in itself, the author tries to convey one idea, and conveys another. That is, he is trying to prove that aircraft carriers are great, and the actions of naval pilots are correct. Well, it proves, of course, a different idea. Consisting in the fact that it's not about shoulder straps.
    Huge, versatile minds should lead the development of the country, including its armed forces, both aviation and cavalry. Departmental rivalry, squabbling for money, money and money in the form of contracts, influence, political intrigues, does not contribute at all to the country's defense. Moreman wanted flying powers and got them. But absolutely not because they need airplanes. But rather because they transferred competitors.
    We need people who combine in their heads the abyss of information from various fields of knowledge and political movements. Moreover, these people should have enormous power directly. Experts are completely worthless creatures. When a person with power needs to prove something, he simply finds an expert at the right size and that's it.
    Yes, the generals are preparing for the last war. Why not? They rely on the past war in their current careers and fights. And you won’t get enough for the future. Are we once again unprepared? So what? Send a soldier to die. While they, these tin soldiers, will die, we’ll come up with something. Urgently. And now at stake is the next rank and fat contracts for affiliated structures. Defense - off the road! Your number is seventeen ...
  4. kirpich
    kirpich 15 February 2014 22: 36
    Quote: Mikhail3
    Yes, the generals are preparing for the last war. Why not? They rely on the past war in their current careers and fights. And you won’t get enough for the future. Are we once again unprepared? So what? Send a soldier to die. While they, these tin soldiers, will die, we’ll come up with something. Urgently. And now at stake is the next rank and fat contracts for affiliated structures. Defense - off the road! Your number is seventeen ...

    This is scary. It turns out that you need to shoot all the generals, and in their place put the lieutenants only who left the schools.
  5. vtur
    vtur 17 February 2014 15: 36
    The story of an American ace of Polish origin, Francis Stanley "Gabby" Gabreski, is indicative. He was seconded (on his own initiative) to the Polish RAF squadron, took part in the Battle of Britain quite a bit. And then he showed the Yankees how to fight the Germans ... 28 air victories - the best result among American pilots in victories over the Luftwaffe. And "only" for 300 hours of combat operations (combat time limit) ... Good teachers came across to the guy who was almost expelled from the flight school ...