Global Assessment of Strategic Air Power in WWII

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Air Power is the ability to conduct military actions through the air. Depending of the objectives sought and on the effects produced, air power is either strategic or tactical. Air power played a central role in the outcome of World War II. In this mechanized warfare environment, thousands of aircraft were built and fought until the very last day, producing decisive effects for the first time in history. When the war ended, budget constraints forced the US to massively reduce its military apparatus and to make drastic choices in terms of capabilities. Major struggles about air power rose in this context and are still resonating today. Defenders of strategic air power finally bested the defenders of tactical air power. Benefitting from the campaign in Japan and the tremendous impact of nuclear bombings, they asserted that strategic air power played a more important role than tactical air power in the outcome of WWII. This assertion is essentially relevant, not because Allied strategic campaigns in Japan and in Europe were either more or less decisive than the tactical campaigns, but because the Axis never had proper strategic air power. In other words, even if the Axis’ tactical air power could compete with that of the Allies, its strategic air power never compared to the Allies’ equivalent. Three main arguments motive this thesis. First, given its lack of strategic air power, the Axis had to pursue its strategic goals with tactical assets. Second, despite incredibly efficient forces this approach did not always work. Third, it contributed, alongside with the allies’ obstinate bombings, to exhausting the Axis formidable tactical tool, which set the stage for the final defeat. Axis leaders were great strategists, but they did no... ... middle of paper ... ..., Op. Cit., the entire book and more specifically, p. 5 “Still, many air commanders continued to believe that the destruction of vital centers—despite the accompanying death and desolation—not only hastened the war’s end, but also ultimately saved lives on both sides.” Ibid. Thomas A. Hughes, Over Lord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II, New York, NY: The Free Press, 1995, chapter Eleven “There Was Great Arrogance in Victory.” Pp. 304-314. In it, the author criticized the progressive view of strategic bombing defenders, which is well explained in Clodfelter’s book, Op. Cit. Often attributed to Sun Tzu in The Art of War, this quote is not present in the translation available in English and is likely a false attribution. Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Translated by Samuel B. Griffith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

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