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9 - Dowding and the British strategy of air defense 1936–1940

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2014

Colin Gray
University of Reading
Williamson Murray
Ohio State University
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There was a distinct difference between the objectives of the opposing sides. The Germans were aimed to facilitate an amphibious landing across the Channel, to invade this country, and so to finish the war. Now, I wasn’t trying with Fighter Command to win the war. I was trying desperately to prevent the Germans from succeeding in their preparations for an invasion. Mine was the purely defensive role of trying to stop the possibility of an invasion, and thus give this country a breathing spell. We might win or we might lose the war, or we might agree on a truce – anything might happen in the future. But it was Germany’s objective to win the war by invasion, and it was my job to prevent an invasion from taking place. I had to do that by denying them control of the air

Hugh Dowding

From its inception with an Observer Corps in 1915 to its culminating trial in 1940, the air defense of Britain offers one of history’s most enthralling examples of successful strategy. The Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Fighter Command applied its strategy at what today is known as the operational level of war, but its success literally under fire in 1940 was a critically essential enabler for much else that followed. A leading scholar of Britain’s air defense in the years 1915 to 1940, John Ferris, has woven a compelling tale positing that the RFC/RAF enjoyed a systematic superiority in its approach to, and performance in, home air defense. In his studies of Fighter Command and its predecessor organizations, Ferris neither suggests explicitly nor implies that Fighter Command of 1936–1940 represented a force that performed beyond reasonable expectations.

Successful Strategies
Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present
, pp. 241 - 279
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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