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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

17 - The Culture of the Royal Air Force, 1918–1945

from Part IV - Air Forces


This chapter describes how the world’s first independent air force, led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard, reacted to the threats to its existence by maximizing the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) operational utility and financial efficiency, while simultaneously contriving a credible narrative about its future strategic potential. In pursuing these twin narratives, the RAF developed a unique culture of beliefs and taken-for-granted attitudes that thrived because of the conceptually incurious nature of the men it selected to become officers. Few of these technically able "practical men" were willing to challenge their superiors’ intuitive and speculative belief that the morale of civilian populations was especially vulnerable to bombing. Instead, like their leaders, they became consciously complicit in acceding to the societal prophecies, articulated in books, films, and newspapers, that bombing would have apocalyptic effects, and that civil societies subjected to its effects would wish to sue for peace. The chapter concludes by analyzing how this culture impeded the realization that the anticipated outcomes were not being achieved and explains how this stymied options to pursue alternative strategies.

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