Air Power

Taking war into the third dimension forever changed human conflict, unleashing immense destructive power. The positive side-effect, often mentioned, is that this focus powered many advances in aviation. I have seperate sections for more individual air combat quotations and 9/11 aviation quotations. We’ll start with some predictions, and then move into the reality of war from above:

I will ignore all ideas for new works and engines of war, the invention of which has reached its limits and for whose improvement I see no further hope.

Julius Frontinus, chief military engineer to the Emperor Vespasian, c. CE 70.

What would be the security of the good if the bad could at pleasure invade them from the sky? Against an army sailing through the clouds neither walls, mountains, nor seas could afford security.

Samuel Johnson, A Dissertation on the Art of Flying, The History of Rasselas, 1759.

Thank God, men cannot as yet fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.

Henry David Thoreau, Winter Journal, 3 January 1861.

If only some of our people in England could see or imagine what Mr. Wright is now doing I am certain it would give them a terrible shock. A conquest of the air by any nation means more than the average man is willing to admit or even think about. That Wilbur Wright is in possession of a power which controls the fate of nations is beyond dispute.

Major B. F. S. Baden-Powell, President of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, following the Wright Brothers public flying demonstrations in Le Mans, France, 1908. He was brother of Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts. Quoted in the Paris edition of the New York Herald, 6 October 1908.

I hope none of you gentlemen is so foolish as to think that aeroplanes will be usefully employed for reconnaissance from the air. There is only one way for a commander to get information by reconnaissance, and that is by the use of cavalry.

General Sir Douglas Haig, British Army, addressing the British Army Staff College, Summer 1914. Quoted by USAF Historian Richard P. Hallion in Airpower From the Ground Up, Air Force Magazine, 1 November 2000. There are many citations in older books, but the original source is said to be unclear by Andrew Whitmarsh in the paper British Army Manoeuvres and the Development of Military Aviation, 1910-1913, War in History journal, 14(3), 2007.

Fleets are not confined to the ocean, but now sail over the land. … All the power of the British Navy has not been able to prevent Zeppelins from reaching England and attacking London, the very heart of the British Empire. Navies do not protect against aerial attack. … Heavier-than-air flying machines of the aeroplane type have crossed right over the heads of armies, of million of men, armed with the most modern weapons of destruction, and have raided places in the rear. Armies do not protect against aerial war.

Alexander Graham Bell, In Preparedness for Aerial Defense, Addresses Before the Eleventh Annual Convention of the Navy League of the United States, Washington, DC, April 10-13, 1916.

When my brother and I built and flew the first man-carrying flying machine, we thought that we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible. That we were not alone in this thought is evidenced by the fact that the French Peace Society presented us with medals on account of our invention.

Orville Wright. Letter to C. M. Hitchcock, 21 June 1917.

Aircraft enable us to jump over the army which shields the enemy government, industry, and people, and so strike direct and immediately at the seat of the opposing will and policy.

Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, British Army. Paris, Or The Future of War, 1925.

Air power may either end war or end civilization.

Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 14 March 1933.

I feel about the airplane much as I do in regard to fire. That is, I regret all the terrible damage caused by fire. But I think it is good for the human race that someone discovered how to start fires, and that it is possible to put fire to thousands of important uses.

Orville Wright, asked during WWII if he ever regretted being involved in the invention of the airplane.

We’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.

General Curtis E. LeMay USAF, Mission with LeMay: My Story, 1965.

The preponderance of the Republican Guard divisions outside of Baghdad are now dead. I find it interesting when folks say we’re softening them up. we’re not softening them up, we’re killing them.

Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley, USAF, 5 April 2003.

Once the command of the air is obtained by one of the contended armies, the war must become a conflict between a seeing host and one that is blind.

H. G. Wells, Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life, 1902.

We were once told that the aeroplane had “abolished frontiers"; actually it is only since the aeroplane became a serious weapon that frontiers have become definitely impassable.

George Orwell, You and the Atomic Bomb, Tribune newspaper, London, 19 October 1945.

The cavalry, in particular, were not friendly to the aeroplane, which it was believed, would frighten the horses.

Professor Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh. The War in the Air: Being the Sory of The Part played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, vol 1, 1922.

Note, this is not the Sir Walter Raleigh who was beheaded nearly three hundred years earlier! This Sir Walter Raleigh was Professor of English Literature at Glasgow University and Chair of English Literature at Oxford University, and spent time as the official historian of the RAF.

War in the Air

It is realized that Great Britain’s insular strength is no longer unchallenger, that the aeroplane is not a toy, but a possible instrument of warfare, which must be taken into accout by soldiers and statesmen.

Lays Aside Crutches to Fly Across Channel, article on Louis Blériot’s flight across the English Channel, in the weekly New York publiation Automibile Topics Illustrated, 31 July 1909.

Another popular fallacy is to suppose that flying machines could be used to drop dynamite on an enemy in time of war.

William H. Pickering, Harvard astronomer, Aeronautics, 1908.

To affirm that the aeroplane is going to revolutionize navel warfare of the future is to be guilty of the wildest exaggeration.

Scientific American magazine, 16 July 1910.

Aviation is fine as a sport. But as an instrument of war, it is worthless.

General Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superiure de Guere, 1911.

[General] Pershing won the world war without even looking into an airplane let alone going up in one. If they had been of such importance, he’d have tried at least one ride. We’ll stick to the army on the ground and the battleships at sea.

John Wingate Weeks, U.S. Secretary of War, 1921. Quoted in the 1942 book Billy Mitchell.

Air forces by themselves will never do to great cities what Rome did to Carthage or what the Assyrians did to Jerusalem.

Arlington B. Conway, quoted in American Mercury magazine, February 1932.

Aircraft became an offensive weapon of the first order, distinguished by their great speed, range and effect on target. If their initial development experienced a check when hostilities came to an end in 1918, they had already shown their potential clearly enough to those who were on the receiving end.

Major General Heinz Guderian, German Army, comments on WWI aviation written in the mid 1930’s. Guderian was instrumental in creating the blitzkrieg. In his 1937 book Achtung-Panzer!: The Development of Armoured Forces, Their Tactics and Operational Potential.

It is not possible to concentrate enough military planes with military loads over a modern city to destroy that city.

US Colonel John W. Thomason Jr., USMC, Quoted in American Mercury magazine, November 1937.

I will not wage war against women and children! I have instructed my air force to limit their attacks to military objectives. However, if the enemy should conclude from this that he might get away with waging war in a different manner he will receive an answer that he’ll be knocked out of his wits!

Adolf Hitler, speech before the Reichstag, 1 September 1939.

They had bombed London, whether on purpose or not, and the British people and London especially should know that we could hit back. It would be good for the morale of us all.

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, ordering the RAF to start bombing German cities, quoted in Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945, 25 August 1940.

The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, 1942, at the start of the bombing campaign against Germany. Quoted in Sir Arthur Harris & The Lancaster Bomber at The British Postal Museum and Archive.

Japan must be bombed to defeat.

Major Alfred 'Al' Williams, US Marine Corps Reserve. He was also a syndicated aviation column writer for Scripps-Howard, and in 1942 started many columns with this statement, for example Fighting Leaders!, The Pittsburgh Press, 18 May 1942. Was quoted and commented on in the Congressional Record by John Rankin, representative for Mississippi, on 10 March 1942, with a comparison to Cato finishing speeches in the Roman Senete with the expression “Carthage must be destroyed”.

We are going to scourge the Third Reich from end to end. We are bombing Germany city by city and ever more terribly in order to make it impossible for her to go on with the war. That is our object; we shall pursue it relentlessly.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, radio address, 28 July 1942.

In spite of all that happened at Hamburg, bombing proved a relatively humane method.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, statement on the July 1943 bombings of Hamburg, quoted in the 1991 book The Valour and the Horror: The Untold Story of Canadians in the Second World War.

I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier. It therefore seems to me that there is one and only one valid argument on which a case for giving up strategic bombing could be based, namely that it has already completed its task and that nothing now remains for the Armies to do except to occupy Germany against unorganized resistance.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, in letter to Sir Norman Bottomley, 29 March 1945. Quoted in 1985 book Bomber Harris: The Story of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris.

A thing of orchestrated hell — a terrible symphony of light and flame.

Edward R. Murrow, part of a 17-minute radio broadcast about his flight in a RAF Lancaster bombing Berlin . The famous broadcast became known as ‘Orchestrated Hell’. 3 December 1943. Listen to the whole broadcast (mp3)

Not to have an adequate air force in the present state of the world is to compromise the foundations of national freedom and independence.

Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 14 March 1933.

The air force has become the hammer of modern warfare on land. Employed in close co-ordination with tanks, motorized infantry, and other ground forces it can bring battle to swift development. The great mobility of aircraft enable the attacker, becauase he holds the initiative, to seize almost in a flash the mastery of the air over the battlefield. Aviation gives modern battle a third dimension: height. Forces no longer fight for surfaces, limited to length and breadth; modern battle is the fight for cubic space.

Ferdinand Otto Miksche, Loyalist infantry officer in the Spanish Civil War and postwar military commentator, in his book Attack: A Study of Blitzkrieg Tactics, 1942.

Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy in complete command of the air, fights like a savage against modern European troops, under the same handicaps and with the same chances of success … The fact of British air superiority threw to the winds all the tactical rules which we had hitherto applied with such success. In every battle to come, the strength of the AngloAmerican air force was to be the deciding factor.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, German Army, writing in 1942, published in the 1953 book The Rommel Papers.

The development of air power in its broadest sense, and including the development of all means of combating missiles that travel through the air, whether fired or dropped, is the first essential to our survival in war.

Viscount Hugh M. Trenchard, 1946

Bombardment from the air is legitimate only when directed at a military objective, the destruction or injury of which would constitute a distinct military advantage to the belligerent.

Article 24(1) of the 1923 Hague Rules of Air Warfare.

Whatever the lengths to which others may go, His Majesty's Government will never resort to the deliberate attack on women and children and other civilians for purposes of mere terrorism.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, House of Commons, 14 September 1939.

The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.

Marshal of the Royal Air Force Arthur 'Bomber' Harris. The last part is from the Bible, Hosea 8:7, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads, it shall yield no meal; if it were to yield, foreigners would devour it.” Statement at the start of the British bombing campaign over Germany, 1942.

Arthur Harris

The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive … should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany … the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.

Marshal of the Royal Air Force Arthur 'Bomber' Harris. Memo urging the British government to be honest with the public regarding the purpose of the bombing campaign over Germeny, October 1943.

It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land … The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing … I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives, such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, memo to Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff and the Chiefs of Staff Committee, 28 March 1945. Under pressure from Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, Portal and others, Churchill withdrew his memo and issued a new one on 1 April 1945 omitting the words “acts of terror.”

Would not the sight of a single enemy airplane be enough to induce a formidable panic? Normal life would be unable to continue under the constant threat of death and imminent destruction.

General Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, 1921.

The greatest contributor to the feeling of tension and fear of war arose from the power of the bombing aeroplane. If all nations would consent to abolish air bombardment … that would mean the greatest possible release from fear.

Ernest Rutherford, Quoted in the 1955 biography Ernest Rutherford: Atom Pioneer.

I would attack any squadron blockading a port. Nothing could prevent me from dropping out of the clear blue sky on to a battleship with 400 kilos of explosives in the cockpit. Of course it is true that the pilot would be killed, but everything would blow up, and that’s what counts.

Attributed to Jules Vedrines, early French aviation pioneer.

There are a lot of people who say that bombing cannot win the war. My reply to that is that it has never been tried… and we shall see.

Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, newsreel interview a few weeks after he took command of Bomber Command, February 1942.

Hitler built walls around his Fortress Europe, but he forgot to put a roof on it.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asked by reporters about the significance of air warfare, 1943. Quoted in 2013 book Roosevelt’s Centurions.

Are you aware it is private property? Why you’ll be asking me to bomb Essen next.

British Secretary of State for Air Sir Kingsley Wood, regards plans to bomb the Black forest, 30 September 1939.

Above all, I shall see to it that the enemy will not be able to drop any bombs.

Hermann Göring, German Air Force Minister. German original: “Vor allem werde ich dafur sorgen, dass der Feind keint Bomben werfen Kann.”

No enemy bomber can reach the Ruhr. If one reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Göring. You may call me Meyer.

Hermann Göring, German Air Force Minister, addressing the German Air force, September 1939. Meyer is a common name in Germany. This statement came back to haunt him as Allied bombers devastated Germany. Many ordinary Germans, especially in Berlin, took to calling him ‘Meier’, and air raid sirens ‘Meier’s Trumpets’.

My Luftwaffe is invincible … And so now we turn to England. How long will this one last — two, three weeks?

Hermann Göring, German Air Force Minister, June 1940.

The Luftwaffe will use all the forces at its disposal to destroy the British Air Force as quickly as possible.

Adolf Hitler, directive issued 1 August 1940. Bletchley Park picked up and decoded the transmission immediately. The operation was called Adlerangriff, 'the attack of the Eagles', and could start any time after 5 August 1940. Quoted in the 2004 book Nineteen Weeks America, Britain, and the Fateful Summer of 1940.

The speed of air attack, compared with the attack of an army, is as the speed of a motor car to that of a four-in-hand and in the next wae you will find that any town that is within reach of an aerodrome can be bombed within the first five minutes of war from the air, to an extent which was inconceivable in the last war … I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise there is no power on earth that can protect him from bombing, whatever people may tell him. The bomber will always get through. The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves.

Stanley Baldwin, British Prime Minister, House of Commons speech, 10 November 1932.

Since the day of the air, the old frontiers are gone. When you think of the defence of England you no longer think of the chalk cliffs of Dover; you think of the Rhine. That is where our frontier lies.

Stanley Baldwin, British Prime Minister, House of Commons speech, 30 July 1934.

A determined air armada loaded with modern agencies of destruction, in readiness within range of our great centers of population and industry, may eventually prove to be a more convincing argument against war than all the Hague and Geneva Conventions put together.

Captain Robert Olds, USAAF, testimony before the Howell Commission, November 1934. Quoted in the 1998 book The Army and Its Air Corps: Army Policy Towards Aviation, 1919-1941. The captain became a general, but is maybe best known now as the father of triple ace Robin Olds.

I wish for many reasons flying had never been invented.

Stanley Baldwin, British Prime Minister, on learning that Germany had secretly built an air force in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, 1935.

May it not also be that the cause of civilization itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen? There never has been, I suppose, in all the world, in all the history of war, such an opportunity for youth. The Knights of the Round Table, the Crusaders, all fall back into the past — not only distant but prosaic.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, speech delivered to the Houses of Commons, 4 June 1940. This was in the famous ‘we shall fight on the beaches’ speech, that ended:

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

Churchill speech

When I look round to see how we can win the war, I see that there is only one sure path. We have no continental army which can defeat the German military power. The blockade is broken and Hitler has Asia and probably Africa to draw from. Should he be repulsed here or not try invasion, he will recoil eastward, and we have nothing to stop him. But there is one thing that will bring him back and bring him down, and that is an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland. We must be able to overwhelm them by this means, without which I do not see a way through. We cannot accept any lower aim than air mastery. When can it be obtained?

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, letter to Minister of Aircraft Production Lord Beaverbrook, 8 July 1940. The Churchill Documents, Volume 15: Never Surrender, May 1940 – December 1940.

Victory, speedy and complete, awaits the side which first employs air power as it should be employed. Germany, entangled in the meshes of vast land campaigns, cannot now disengage her air power for a strategically proper application. She missed victory through air power by a hair's breadth in 1940 … We ourselves are now at the crossroads.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, opening of letter to Winston Churchill, 17 June 1942.

The air fleet of an enemy will never get within striking distance of our coast as long as our aircraft carriers are able to carry the preponderance of air power to sea.

Real Admiral W. A. Moffet, Chief of the US Bureau of Aeronautics, October 1922.

Only air power can defeat air power … The actual elimination or even stalemating of an attacking air force can be achieved only by a superior air force.

Major Alexander P. de Seversky, USAAF. Ten Air Power Lessons For America, Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, July 1941.

Alexander de Seversky

The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it. Therefore our supreme effort must be to gain overwhelming mastery in the Air. The Fighters are our salvation … but the Bombers alone provide the means of victory… . In no other way at present visible can we hope to overcome the immense military power of Germany.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, memorandum for the Cabinet, 3 September 1940.

The best defence of the country is the Fear of the Fighter. If we were strong in fighters we should probably never be attacked in force. If we are moderately strong we shall probably be attacked and the attacks will gradually be bought to a standstill … If we are weak in fighter strength, the attacks will not be bought to a standstill and the productive capacity of the country will be virtually destroyed.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, RAF. Letter to the Air Ministry, October 1939.

For good or for ill, air mastery is today the supreme expression of military power and fleets and armies, however vital and important, must accept a subordinate rank. This is a memorable milestone in the march of man.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, speech at MIT Mid-Century Convocation, Boston, 31 March 1949.

Winston at MIT

The time will come, when thou shalt lift thine eyes
To watch a long-drawn battle in the skies.
While aged peasants, too amazed for words,
Stare at the flying fleets of wondrous birds.

England, so long mistress of the sea,
Where winds and waves confess her sovereignty,
Her ancient triumphs yet on high shall bear
And reign the sovereign of the conquered air.

Thomas Gray, Luna Habitabilis, 1731.

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin . . Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, his was their finest hour.

Prime Minster Winston Churchill, speech to the House of Commons, 18 June 1940.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Prime Minster Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 20 August 1940. The Royal Air Force has been known as 'the few' ever since. Max Hastings in his book Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945 states that Churchill came up with the phrase a few days earlier on 16 August, after visiting Fighter Command's 11 Group operation room. His chief of staff 'Pug' Ismay made some remark in the car riding back to Chequers, and Churchill said, “don’t speak to me. I have never been so moved.” After a few minutes silence, he first spoke the classic line.

The Few
This quote is often changed by writers and speakers, giving us material such as ‘Never … was so much owed by so few to so many,’ seen after the Falklands War. Other folks have wondered if Churchill was referring to the RAF’s bar tab.

The military mind always imagines that the next war will be on the same lines as the last. That has never been the case and never will be. One of the great factors on the next war will be aircraft obviously. The potentialities of aircraft attack on a large scale are almost incalculable, but it is clear that such attack, owing to its crushing moral effect on a nation, may impress public opinion to the point of disarming the Governments and thus becoming decisive.

Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch. Quoted in Aircraft Yearr Book, 1923.

Offense is the essence of air power.

General H. H. 'Hap' Arnold, USAAF. In Report of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of War, November 1945.

No aircraft ever took and held ground.

Atributed to a US Marine Corps Manual.

Without the support of the indiscriminate bombing and bombardment by your air and naval forces, your ground forces would have long ago been drriven out of the Korean penunsula by our powerful and battle-skilled ground forces.

Lieutenant General Nam Il, North Korean Army, in amistice discussions with US representatives at Panmunjom, August 1951. Quoted in the 1961 book The United States Air Force in Korea: 1950-1953.

Air power is indivisible. If you split it up into compartments, you merely pull it to pieces and destroy its greatest asset - its flexibility.

Field Marshall Bernard Mongomery, British Army, The Journal of the Royal United Service Instituion, November 1954.

Against this pale, duck-egg blue and the greyish-mauve were silhouetted a number of small black shapes: all of them bombers, and all of them moving the same way.

One hundred and thirty-four miles ahead, and directly in their path, stretched a crimson-red glow: Cologne was on fire. Already, only twenty-three minutes after the attack had started, Cologne was ablaze from end to end, and the main force of the attack was still to come.

Group Captain Leonard Cheshire. In the Epilogue of his book Bomber Pilot, 1943.

76 Squadron Halifax on the tarmac

But I have seen the science I worshiped, and the airplane I loved, destroying the civilization I expected them to serve.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Time magazine, 26 May 1967.

Because of its independence of surface limitations and its superior speed the airplane is the offensive weapon par excellence.

General Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, 1921.

I have a mathematical certainty that the future will confirm my assertion that aerial warfare will be the most important element in future wars, and that in consequence not only will the importance of the Independent Air Force rapidly increase, but the importance of the army and navy will decrease in proportion.

General Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, 1921.

In future battle on the ground will be preceded by battle in the air. This will determine which of the contestants has to suffer operational and tactical disadvantages detailed above, and thus be forced, throughout the battle, into adopting compromise solutions.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, German Army. From the Rommel Papers and Krieg ohne Hass, quoted in 2002 book On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf.

Erwin Rommel at the Atlantic sea wall

If I didn't have air supremacy, I wouldn’t be here.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, US Army, supreme allied commander, Normandy beachhead, France, 12 June 1944.

It was in reply to his newly graduated from West Point son John Eisenhower, who commented that vehicles driving bumper to bumper on the beachhead were in violation of textbook dictrine: “You’d never get away with this if you didn’t have air supremacy.” Quoted in the 1994 book D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of WW II. This photograph shows General Eisenhower, General George Marshall, and General 'Hap' Arnold, beside a DUKW during their tour of the Normandy beachhead:


The enemy’s air superiority has a very grave effect on our movements … There’s simply no answer to it.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, German Army, General Inspector of the Western Defences, letter to his wife Lucie after D-Day, 10 June 1944. The situation was made personal on 17 July 1944, while Rommel was returning from visiting the headquarters of I SS Panzer Corps a RAF Spitfre strafed his staff car near Sainte-Foy-de-Montgommery, France, causing major head injuries.

Utilization of the Anglo-American air forces is the modern type of warfare, turning the flank not from the side but from above.

Vice Admiral Friedrich Ruge, Kriegsmarine, Naval Advisor to Rommel, days after D-Day. Quoted in his 1959 book Rommel in Normandy. Trivia: in the 1962 movie The Longest Day Ruge played himself, and was a consultant to the film.

In the face of the total enemy air superiority, we can adopt no tactics to compensate for the annihilating power of air except to retire from the battlefield.

Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, German Army, who succeeded Rommel, Commander of the German Army in the West. Letter to Hitler, July 1944. Quoted in the 1961 book U.S. Army in World War II, European Theatre of Operations — Breakout and Pursuit, from the Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army.

Not only our military reverses but also the severe drop in the German people’s morale, neither of which can now be overlooked, are primarily due to the unrestricted enemy air superiority.

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, diary, 15 March 1945.

Again and again we return to the starting point of our conversation. Our whole military predicament is due to enemy air superiority.

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, reflecting on a conversation with Hitler, diary, 21 March 1945.

Fundamentally the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s.

Prince Fumimaro Konoye, Japan, in a postwar interrogation, 1945. Quoted in the 2006 book War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History: 1500 to Today.

It seemed to me unavoidable that in the long run Japan would be almost destroyed by air attack so that merely on the basis of the B-29’s alone I was convinced that Japan should sue for peace.

Admiral Kantarō Suzuki, Imperial Japanese Navy, and Prime Minister of Japan for a few months in 1945. Postwar interrogation. Quoted in the 2006 book War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History: 1500 to Today.

Air superiority accordingly is the first essential for effective offense as well as defense. A modern, autonomous, and thoroughly trained Air Force in being at all times will not alone be sufficient, but without it there can be no national security.

General H. H. 'Hap' Arnold, USAAF. Military Review, Volume 26, issue 2, 1946.

The Normandy invasion was based on a deep-seated faith in the power of the Air Force in overwhelming numbers to intervene in the land battle … making it possible for a small force of land troops to invade a continent.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, US Army, Hearings before the Committee on Military Affairs, US Senate, 17 November 1945. Arguements for creation of a seperate United States Air Force.

The most important branch of aviation — that is, pursuit, which fights for and gains control of the air.

Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, USAS. Our Army’s Air Service, The American Review of Reviews magazine, volume LXII, July-December 1920.

Billy Mitchell

During the Battle of Britain the question “fighter or fighter-bomber?” had been decided once and for all: The fighter can only be used as a bomb carrier with lasting effect when sufficient air superiority has been won.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe, The First and the Last, 1954.

You can shoot down every MiG the Soviets employ, but if you return to base and the lead Soviet tank commander is eating breakfast in your snack bar, Jack, you’ve lost the war

Anonymous A-10 Pilot, USAF

In the development of air power, one has to look ahead and not backward and figure out what is going to happen, not too much what has happened.

Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, USAS. Aeronautical Era, Hearing before the Select Committee of Inquiry into Operation of the United States Air Services, 1925.

I don’t want to hear any more about sinking battleships with air bombs. That idea is so damned nonsensical and impossible that I’m willing to stand on the bridge of a battleship while that nitwit tries to hit if from the air.

Newton D. Baker, U.S. Secretary of War, 1920, regards Billy Mitchell’s idea of airplanes sinking a battleship. In July 1921 Mitchell got his experiment and sunk the captured German battleship Ostfreisland. Newton was not on the bridge. Quoted in the Reader's Digest magazine, April 1949.


In the war to come, God will be on the side of the heaviest air force. Don’t forget it. Keep your eyes on the sky!

Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, USAS, back at Langley Field after the Ostfisland was sunk, 20 July 1921. Quoted in the Reader's Digest magazine, April 1949.

Good God! This man should be writing dime novels.

Josephus Daniels, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, regards Billy Mitchell’s idea of airplanes sinking a battleship. In July 1921 Mitchell got his experiment and sunk the captured German battleship Ostfreisland. Quoted in the 1942 book Billy Mitchell: Founder of Our Air Force and Prophet Without Honor.

I doubt if I should waste more time on this croquet game. He can’t possibly sink the ship. And even if he could, how would airplanes ever take part in a naval battle in the middle of the ocean? Where would they come from? Is anybody foolish enough to believe that boats could take squardons of airplanes within the zone of a thundering battle between superdreadnoughts?

General Pershing, on an observation vessel on the first day of the Ostfreisland experiment, 19 July 2921. Quoted in the Reader’s Digest magazine, April 1949.

Such an experiment without actual conditions of war to support it is a foolish waste of time … I once saw a man kill a lion with a 30-30 caliber rifle under certain conditions, but that doesn’t mean that a 30-30 rifle is a lion gun.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr, U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy, regards Billy Mitchell’s experimental sinking of the captured German battleship Ostfreisland. 1921. Quoted in the 1967 book The Billy Mitchell Affair.

The advent of air power, which can go straight to the vital centers and either neutralize or destroy them, has put a completely new complexion on the old system of making war. It is now realized that the hostile main army in the field is a false objective, and the real objectives are the vital centers.

Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, Skyways: A Book on Modern Aeronautics, 1930.

Skyways: A Book on Modern Aeronautics

It is an indusputable fact that no potential enemies can reach this country except by way of the sea … Transoceanic air attack on the United States is not to be feared now or in the future.

Rear Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, hearing before the Baker Board of Congress, 1934. Quoted in the Reader's Digest magazine, April 1949.

Air raids on both sides caused interruptions to production and transportation out of all proportion to the weight of bombs dropped.

Edward Meade Earle, on the impact of air raids on WWI, The Influence of Air Power, Yale Review, Summer 1946.

The sky over London was glorious, ochre and madder, as though a dozen tropic suns were simultaneously setting round the horizon; everywhere the searchlights clustered and hovered, then swept apart; here and there patchy clouds drifted and billowed; now and then a huge flash momentarily froze the serene fireside glow. Everywhere the shells sparkled like Christmas baubles.

Evelyn Waugh, first paragraph of Officers and Gentlemen, 1955. It is the second novel in Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy that loosely parallel his wartime experiences.

Officers and Gentlemen

From now on we shall bomb Germany on an ever-increasing scale, month by month, year by year, until the Nazi regime has either been exterminated by us or — better still — torn to pieces by the German people themselves.

Prime Minster Winston Churchill, 14 July 1941.

Strategic air assault is wasted if it is dissipated piecemeal in sporadic attacks between which the enemy has an opportunity to readjust defenses or recuperate.

General of the Army H. H. 'Hap' Arnold. Military Review, August 1946.

I am purely evil;
Hear the thrum
of my evil engine;
Evilly I come.
The stars are thick as flowers
In the meadows of July;
A fine night for murder
Winging through the sky.

Ethel Mannin, Song of the Bomber, 1936.

I am the bomber 17 —
Proud machine — sleek and powerful,
Made by man to kill his foe,
Made of steel and wood and metal,
Built to fight and drop destruction.

Robert Cromwell, Skyward: A Ballad of the Bomber.

If we lose the war in the air we lose the war and lose it quickly.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, British Army. The Journal of the Royal United Service Instituion, November 1954.

Air power is like poker. A second-best hand is like none at all — it will cost you dough and win you nothing.

General George Kenney, Commander of Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific, 1942-45.

As a peace machine, the value [of the airplane] to the world will be beyond computation. Would a declaration of was between Russia and Japan be made, if within an hour thereafter, a swiftly gliding aeroplane might takes its flight from St. Petersburg and drop half a ton of dynamite above the was offices? Could any nation afford to war upon any other with such hazards in view?

John Brisben Walker, owner of Cosmopolitan magazine, Cosmopolitan magazine, March 1904.

Air power alone does not guarantee America's security, but I believe it best exploits the nation's greatest asset — our technical skill.

General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, second AF Chief of Staff. Quoted in Air University Quarterly Review, Winter 1954-55.

Why was it I could not believe in the success of your work? If we had these rockets in 1939, we should never have had this war.

Adolf Hitler, regards the V-2 rocket. 7 July 1943 meeting recounted by Major-General Dr Walter Dornberger, leader of Nazi Germany’s V-2 rocket program. V-2, 1954.


I believe this plan [raiding RAF airfields] would have been very successful, but as a result of the Fuhrer's speech about retribution, in which he asked that London be attacked immediately, I had to follow the other course. I wanted to attack the airfields first, thus creating a prerequisite for attacking London … I spoke with the Fuhrer about my plans in order to try to have him agree I should attack the first ring of RAF airfields around London, but he insisted he wanted to have London itself attacked for political reasons, and also for retribution.

I considered the attacks on London useless, and I told the Fuhrer again and again that inasmuch as I knew the English people as well as I did my own people, I could never force them to their knees by attacking London. We might be able to subdue the Dutch people by such measures but not the British.

Reichmarschall Hermann Goering, International Military Tribunal Nuremberg, 1946.

Air battle is not decided in a few great clashes but over a long period of time when attrition and discouragement eventually cause one side to avoid the invading air force.

Major General Dale O. Smith, USAF, U.S. Military Doctrine, a Study and Appraisal, 1955.

The best way to defend the bombers is to catch the enemy before it his in position to attack. Catch them when they are taking off, or when they are climbing, or when they are forming up. don’t think you can defend the bomber by circling around him. It's good for the bombers morale, and bad for tactics.

Attributed to Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF.

Bombing is often called 'strategic' when we hit the enemy, and 'tactical' when he hits us, and is often difficult to know where one finishes and the other begins.

Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF. Full Circle: The Tactics of Air Fighting 1914-1964, 1964.

Airpower has become predominant, both as a deterrent to war, and — in the eventuality of war — as the devastating force to destroy an enemy — s potential and fatally undermine his will to wage war.

General of the Army Omar Bradley, testimony to Subcommittee on the Air Force of the Committee on Armed Services United States Senate, 16 April 1956.

Air Power is, above all, a psychological weapon — and only short-sighted soldiers, too battle-minded, underrate the importance of psychological factors in war.

Attributed undated to Captain B. H. Liddell-Hart, British Army. In, for example, 2007 USAF publication Vantage Points: Perspectives on Airpower and the Profession of Arms.

Never abandon the possibility of attack. Attack even from a position of inferiority, to disrupt the enemy's plans. This often results in improving one’s own position.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.

Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy in complete command of the air, fights like a savage against modern European troops, under the same handicaps and with the same chances of success.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Rommel Papers, 1953.

The first and absolute requirement of strategic air power in this war was control of the air in order to carry out sustained operations without prohibitive losses.

Another war, however distant in the future, would probably be decided by some form of air power before the surface forces were able to make contact with the enemy in major battles. This is the supreme military lesson of our period in history.

General Carl A. 'Tooey' Spaatz. Strategic Air Power: Fulfillment of a Concept. Foreign Affairs quarterly, Vol 24 Number 3, April 1946.

In order to assure an adequate national defense, it is necessary — and sufficient — to be in a position in case of war to conquer the command of the air.

General Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, 1921.

Command of the Air

A modern state is such a complex and interdependent fabric that it offers a target highly sensitive to a sudden and overwhelming blow from the air.

Sir B. H. Liddell Hart, Paris: Or, The Future of War, 1925.

We carried out many trials to try to find the answer to the fast, low-level intruder, but there is no adequate defense.

Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF. Full Circle: The Tactics of Air Fighting 1914-1964, 1964.

Then there was war in heaven. But it was not angels. It was that small golden zeppelin, like a long oval world, high up. It seemed as if the cosmic order were gone, as if there had come a new order, a new heavens above us: and as if the world in anger were trying to revoke it.

So it seems our cosmos is burst, burst at last, the stars and moon blown away, the envelope of the sky burst out, and a new cosmos appeared, with a long-ovate, gleaming central luminary, calm and drifting in a glow of light, like a new moon, with its light bursting in flashes on the earth, to burst away the earth also. So it is the end — our world is gone, and we are like dust in the air.

D. H. Lawrence, after witnessing an attack on London, personal letter to Lady Ottoline Morell, 9 september 1915.

And even if a semblance of order could be maintained and some work done, would not the sight of a single enemy airplane be enough to induce a formidable panic? Normal life would be unable to continue under the constant threat of death and imminent destruction.

General Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, 1921.

We have the enemy surrounded. We are dug in and have overwhelming numbers. But enemy airpower is mauling us badly. We will have to withdraw.

Widely quoted as an unidentified Japanese infantry commander, situation report to headquarters, Burma, WW II.

To have command of the air means to be able to cut an enemy’s army and navy off from their bases of operation and nullify their chances of winning the war.

General Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, 1921.

The conviction of the justification of using even the most brutal weapons is always dependent on the presence of a fanatical belief in the necessity of the victory of a revolutionary new order on this globe.

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925.

As the aeroplane is the most mobile weapon we possess, it is destined to become the dominant offensive arm of the future.

Major General J. F. C. Fuller, British Army, The Army in My Time, 1935.

In the early stages of the fight Mr. Winston Churchill spoke with affectionate raillery of me and my “Chicks.” He could have said nothing to make me more proud; every Chick was needed before the end.

ACM Sir Hugh C. T. Dowding, dispatch to the Secretary of State for Air, 20 August 1941.

Air warfare is a shot through the brain, not a hacking to pieces of the enemy’s body.

The worst devastation of the Goths, Vandals, Huns, Seljuks and Mongols pale into insignificance when compared to the material and moral damage now wrought.

Major General J. F. C. Fuller, British Army. Draft of an article for the London Evening Standard newspaper, August 1943. It was not published at the time, the editer, Michael Foot saying at the time he lacked the nerve to publish it. Quoted in Max Hastings’ 2013 book Bomber Command.

It will be ironical if the defenders of civilization depend for victory upon the most barbaric and unskilled way of winning a war that the modern world has seen.

Basil Liddell Hart, military historian, Reflection, Summer 1942. Written in the wake of the 1,000 aircraft raid on Cologne.

Major General J. F. C. Fuller, British Army. Quoted in Newsweek magazine, 21 August 1944.

To me our bombing policy appears to be suicidal. Not because it does not do vast damage to our enemy, it does; but because, simultaneously, it does vast damage to our peace aim, unless that aim is mutual economic and social annihilation.

Major General J. F. C. Fuller, British Army. Thunderbolts, 1946.

The Air Force comes in every morning and says, “Bomb, bomb, bomb.” And then the State Department comes in and says, “Not now, or not there, or too much, or not at all.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson, quoted in the 1966 book Lyndon B. Johnson and the World.

Air predominance affords the possibility of striking at both. It can either paralyse the enemy’s military action or compel him to devote to the defence of his bases and communications a share of his straitened resources far greater that what we need in the attack.

Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, Volume III: 1916-1918, pubished in 1927.

The most important thing is to have a flexible approach… . The truth is no one knows exactly what air fighting will be like in the future. We can't say anything will stay as it is, but we also can't be certain the future will conform to particular theories, which so often, between the wars, have proved wrong.

Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF. Quoted in Contrails, the 1995/96 US Air Force Academy Cadet Handbook.

The weapon where the man is sitting in is always superior against the other.

Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, German Air Force. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

"He who wants to protect everything, protects nothing,” is one of the fundamental rules of defense.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. The First and the Last: The Rise and Fall of the German Fighter Forces, 1954.

If we should have to fight, we should be prepared to do so from the neck up instead of from the neck down.

Attributed to General James H. Doolittle.

To use a fighter as a fighter-bomber when the strength of the fighter arm is inadequate to achieve air superiority is putting the cart before the horse.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. The First and the Last, 1954.

Adolf Galland said that the day we took our fighters off the bombers and put them against the German fighters, that is, went from defensive to offensive, Germany lost the air war. I made that decision and it was my most important decision during World War II. As you can imagine, the bomber crews were upset. The fighter pilots were ecstatic.

General James H. Doolittle

It is not possible to seal an air space hermetically by defensive tactics.

Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF. Full Circle: The Tactics of Air Fighting 1914-1964, 1964.

Superior technical achievements — used correctly both strategically and tactically — can beat any quantity numerically many times stronger yet technically inferior.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. 104 victories in WWII. The First and the Last: The Rise and Fall of the German Fighter Forces, 1954.

The First and the Last

Good airplanes are more important than superiority in numbers.

Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF. Full Circle: The Tactics of Air Fighting 1914-1964, 1964.

Nobody kicks ass without tanker gas. Nobody.

attributed to the special operations KC-135 tanker crews of Plattsburgh and Grissom AFBs in the mid 1980’s.

In our victory over Japan, airpower was unquestionably decisive. That the planned invasion of the Japanese Home islands was unnecessary is clear evidence that airpower has evolved into a force in war co-equal with land and sea power, decisive in its own right and worthy of the faith of its prophets.

General Carl A. 'Tooey' Spaatz, Evolution of Air Power, Military Review, 1947.

The navy of any great power … has the dream to have one or more aircraft carriers. The question is not whether you have an aircraft carrier, but what you do with your aircraft carrier.

Major General Qian Lihua, director of the Chinese Defense Ministry's Foreign Affairs Office, the most forthright official statement to date regards rumors of China wanting to start carrier operations. Financial Times newspaper, 16 November 2008.

Straying off course is not recognized as a capital crime by civilized nations.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, Chief US delegate the the United Nations, in reference to the Soviet destruction of Korean Airways Flight 007. Address to the UN Security Council, 6 September 1983.

The country will some day pay for the stupidities of those who were in the majority on this commission. They know as much about the future of aviation as they do about the sign writing of the Aztecs.

James H. Doolittle, at the time an Air Corps Reservist and racing pilot, comments to a reporter regards the presidential committee of inquiry that did not support establishment of an air force separate from the army, 1934.

The function of the Army and Navy in any future war will be to support the dominant air arm.

General James H. Doolittle, in a speech at Georgetown University, 1949.

The minimal requirement for a successful [maritime] operation is a favorable air situation. Air superiority will be a requirement for sea control where a robust challenge from the air is possible. Air supremacy is a necessary precondition of command of the sea.

Royal Navy report, The Fundamentals of British Maritime Doctrine, BR 1806, 1995.

What's the sense of sending $2 million missiles to hit a $10 tent that's empty?

President George W. Bush, Oval Office meeting with senators, 13 September 2001. It was a snide reference to Bill Clinton’s retaliation against the 1998 embassy bombings, launching 68 cruise missiles against the Kili al-Badr training camp. Quoted in the 2001 publication by the US DOD Historical Office, Public statements of Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense.

Is it likely that an aircraft carrier or a cruise missile is going to find a person? No, it’s not likely. That isn’t how this is going to happen.

Donald H Rumsfeld, US Defense Secretary, regards questions on an air war to kill Osama bin Laden, public statement, 23 September 2001.

We’re at a real time of transition here in terms of future aviation. What's going to be manned? What's going to be unmanned? There are those who see [the JSF] as the last manned fighter/bomber. And I’m one that’s inclined to believe it — whether it's right or not.

Admiral Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs Chairman, congressional testimony regards the Fiscal 2010 defense budget and the future of manned military aviation, reported in Aviation Week & Space Technology, 18 May 2009.

There is no need for them to be pilots, it’s sort of like a union regulation.

A ‘senior Pentagon official’, regards the current requirement for USAF UAV operators to be rated pilots. General Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, said in the same article that the requirement will be dropped in the future. Reported in Newsweek magazine, 28 September 2009.

Why don't we just buy one airplane and let the pilots take turns flying it.

President Calvin Coolidge, complaining about a War Department request to buy more aircraft. Cited in Developing Space Power, in the USAF flagship publication Air and Space Power Journal, Spring 2003.

There is something more important than any ultimate weapon. That is the ultimate position — the position of total control over Earth that lies somewhere out in space.  That is … the distant future, though not so distant as we may have thought. Whoever gains that ultimate position gains control, total control, over the Earth, for the purposes of tyranny or for the service of freedom.

(Then) Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, quoted in U.S. News & World Report magazine, 1958.

This strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.

Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, report to the UN Human Rights Council regards U.S. UAV operations, 2 June 2010.

If we maintain our faith in God, love of freedom, and superior global air power, the future [of the US] looks good.

General Curtis Lemay, quoted in Why Air Power Alone Won’t Beat ISIS, the Wall Street Journal, 8 December 2015.

General Curtis Lemay

If our airforces are never used, they have achieved their finest goal.

General Nathan F. Twining, news reports, 31 March 1956.

General Nathan F. Twining

I argue all the time with my Air Force friends that the future of flight is vertical, and it is unmanned.

Right now, the fact of the matter is we are on the wrong side of that equation. We’re working very hard to fix it. On the ground, right now, I worry about our ability to protect against swarms of those craft.

General Kenneth McKenzie, USMC, commander of the United States Central Command, warning of the danger of swarms of small drones. Speech at Middle East Institute event, reported in Air Force Magazine, 10 June 2020.

General Kenneth McKenzie, USMC

Five Thousand Balloons capable of raising two Men each, would not cost more than Five Ships of the Line: And where is the Prince who can afford so to cover his Country with Troops for its Defense, as that Ten Thousand Men descending from the Clouds, might not in many Places do an infinite deal of Mischief, before a Force could be brought together to repel them?

Benjamin Franklin, letter to Jan Ingenhousz, 16 January 1784. Entire letter is online at US National Archives


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