12 JANUARY 1940, Page 7



Iis doubtful if the appointment of an Air Commander- in-Chief in-Chief in France will satisfy the claim that has recently been made for the Army. That claim was that the Army should control its own Air Arm completely, in the same way as the Navy. That there should be no doubt about the definiteness of the claim it has even been urged that the additional squadrons sometimes allocated to the Army should be an "integral part of it " ; and it was even mentioned as a grievance that " the position is much as if an outside authority could recall some of the artillery." The same writer, however, at length remembered the " army artillery," and suggested that these additional squadrons " might be looked upon " in that way. But it is, of course, no question of how we " look upon " things. We have been told that the decision to build a large army for service abroad neces- sitates an Air Force of proportionate strength to go with it. We are warned that " the most daring air-raids, the most brilliant feats performed against the German squadrons would serve us little if our armies were beaten." Even " the razing of Berlin would be no compensation for a serious reverse to our troops."

What bearing have these statements upon the claim made for the Army? Very little, it will be admitted ; and it is in fact, certain that, if judgement were to be given on the case as argued, the Army would still lack its own Air Arm. This, indeed, seems to be the Government's decision, since the Army is being left with the operational control which it always had and nothing more. Yet there do exist certain doubts and dangers about the relation of the Air Force to the Army; and now that the stress of advocacy has somewhat died down they may be considered with the detachment they deserve. One danger which has been exercising the minds of the Army has been partly met by the appointment of an Air Commander-in-Chief. It is this. Imagine the Army suddenly faced with a crisis. Could it confidently look to the maximum support from the Air Force which alone would save it? The Air Commander-in-Chief, having full control of all the Royal Air Force detachments in France, could give it instantly, and might even call for and receive addi- tions to his command from England. This is subject to one reservation. He will be directly under the orders of the Air Ministry, and should there be a sudden massed attack upon this country he may be ordered to send his force across the Channel at once.

So loosely has the case for the Army's complete control of its " Air Arm " been argued that even such a develop- ment appears to be intolerable. And yet the objection is un- reasonable ; since, in the last resort, the actual units of Lord Gort's command are subject to recall or transference on orders from London. But we are reminded of the case of Poland, and are told that " long-range air attack pre- vented many Polish divisions from mobilising. It cut com- munications, disorganised the command, rendered the Polish air force helpless by destroying its aerodromes ; but German air action on the battlefield was even more important, for it led to the destruction of the Polish army. Every move- ment was watched, and therefore countered while the un- fortunate Poles remained ignorant of what the enemy were doing," and so on.

It is unnecessary to continue, since it is at once obvious that there is a complete non sequitur in the argument. Would the German air activity on the battlefield have been possible if the Polish air force had not first been put out of action? Surely not. Every argument that is adduced in this direction simply throws us back on the vital necessity for securing effective command in the air. If we have this and use it competently, we need not bother about German air activity on the battlefield. There will be none. If we lack it, or use it with inconceivable stupidity, the " Army Air Arm " will be swept out of existence. Indeed, the most vigorous of the appellants for the Army seems to have some suspicion of the truth of this conclusion, since he postu- lates a type of machine that " flying very low will not have much to fear from these hawks of the air (the enemy fighters) which need space to manoeuvre and to strike." This must be an illusion ; or we are bound to think our air designers incredibly deficient in imagination.

Must it be said again that there are not a dozen wars but only one? The long-distance raids, indeed all the raids on enemy territory, are directed to one end. They do not set out to observe the latest fashions, but to gather information which should be of military value ; and any suggestion that somehow their work is not so important as that of the Army is not only ungracious: it may turn out to be quite stupid. Is it quite inconceivable that victory might come from the air, the armies remaining stationary before the fortified walls as at present? He would be a bold man who would main- tain that thesis. Imagine an Air Force multiplied to the nth. Imagine it invested with instruments of destruction well within the bounds of what is possible at present, and directed by a command that lacked all scruple about the use of such power. Can one say that victory from the air would then be impossible?

Our safeguard at present is the fact that the French Air Force has been immensely expanded during the war, and our own perhaps as much. The German Air Force, how- ever great it may be, could not count on inflicting a destruction on us it would not suffer itself. That is what really protects England and France from what might be a vital blow. It is illogical to insist on the tremendous power of air attacks in one part of an argument when another part ignores it. There is some ground for thinking that the defensive is stronger than anticipated, some reason to hold that there are limits to the damage an air force can inflict. But in the final resort the supreme deterrent is the fear that complete destruction could not be achieved without retalia- tion. The ultimate possibilities of an air attack cannot, and probably will not, be known in this war.

In spite, however, of the arguments of its advocates there is a certain case for the Army Air Arm, though it seems to me that the position can be easily met by a modicum of the accommodation we have a right to demand from the services. It seems reasonable that the co-operation between the Ger- man Air Force and the armoured units could hardly have been achieved unless the two arms had been thoroughly drilled in such manoeuvres ; and it is said that such work is actually being carried out in Germany at this moment. Is not such training covered by the operational control which the army exercises over the air component? If it is not, surely the appointment of an Air Commander-in-Chief whose role is to work in the closest harmony with the French and British High Commands should facilitate its adoption. It seems incredible that such arrangements cannot be made within the present system of control. But it must never be forgotten that the chance of using such tactics depends abso- lutely on the Air Force retaining the command of the air, and everything which contributes to dispersion of control must be avoided at all costs.

One argument used by an advocate of the Army Air Arm is that, in France, General Gamelin would decide the issue immediately. This deserves a little attention since it effec- tively disposes of the whole case. We cannot ignore the fact that the very possibility of such a problem arising depends almost entirely on the safety of England being in- volved, and this is so clearly a paramount care of the Government that it dare not even contemplate sending an army abroad without first providing for it.