Book Vote

This month's book vote focuses on our Air Campaign series with five thrilling titles competing for your votes.

 

Lorraine 1918: Billy Mitchell’s great Franco-American air offensive over St Mihiel/Meuse-Argonne

The AEF's combined St Mihiel/Meuse-Argonne air campaign was probably the largest air offensive of World War I. The 1,500 Franco-American planes Billy Mitchell marshalled against St Mihiel in mid-September 1918 was supposedly the largest air armada ever assembled until at least 1942. Judging from the Germans rushing all their elite Jagdgeschwader pursuit groups to meet it, the St Mihiel/Meuse-Argonne air offensive was arguably the most important air campaign of the war's final months.  In addition to major roles for the American, French, and German air forces, the British also had a minor role thanks to RAF strategic bomber raids against German Lorraine targets.

 

Germany 1942: The RAF brings area-bombing, fire-bombing, and 1,000-Bomber raids

At the start of 1942, the controversial ‘area bombing’ of Germany became RAF policy, and Arthur Harris ramped up Bomber Command’s war against Germany’s cities. Towns and cities selected for their flammability were hit first, and as Bomber Command grew in size and power, it launched massed ‘Thousand Bomber’ raids, the first of which devastated the city of Cologne. The area bombing campaign of 1942 was a proving ground for bombing techniques that would be used later in the war, against Hamburg, Berlin, and many other cities.

 

Berlin Airlift 1948: The first air campaign of the Cold War

The blockade of Berlin was the first major crisis of the Cold War, when the USSR closed road and rail access to the city in an attempt to gain Soviet control over West Berlin. The airlift that was launched in response was audacious and unproven – no city had been supplied by air alone before, the RAF and USAF had relatively few transport aircraft in theatre, and the operation had to be devised from scratch and mistakes rapidly fixed. The airlift had to be flown in the face of bitter and challenging weather, harassment by Soviet Air Force fighters, and a severe lack of aircraft- and cargo-handling facilities. By the end of the operation, however, thanks to excellent organization, the determination of the aircrews, and the vital assistance of the Berliners themselves, the airlift was routinely flying in West Berlin’s needs. The Soviets were forced to back down, and the concept of large-scale airlift was proven.

 

Operation Niagara 1968: The huge close air support operation over Khe Sanh

Khe Sanh was a key Marine combat base just south of the DMZ. In early 1968, the fighting around the base erupted into a full-scale bid to capture Khe Sanh by three divisions of the PAVN. The two sides saw this as a chance to either slay or resurrect the ghosts of Dien Bien Phu, when French airpower failed to save the French Army’s outpost. In Khe Sanh, however, the US could send in not only tactical fighters but B-52 strategic bombers – although it did run into inter-service rivalry between the USAF and Marine aviation. Bombing alarmingly close to friendly troops, the fighters and B-52s conducted one of the most concentrated assaults in air power history, relying both on the skills of the aircrews and the systems and capabilities of the Marines and USAF to control such firepower.

 

Operation Allied Force 1999: NATO’s ‘humanitarian air campaign’ against in the Kosovo War

Following the clear success of Western air power in the Gulf War, and the end of the Cold War, NATO gained a new freedom of action to use its advanced air power. As Yugoslavia continued to disintegrate, the ethnic-Albanian province of Kosovo rebelled against Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, which drew in the Western powers as it saw human-rights abuses and another humanitarian crisis on its borders. As diplomacy failed in 1999, Operation Allied Force was launched to force a Yugoslav withdrawal. The Yugoslavs’ MiG-29s were no match for NATO air-superiority fighters, but the Western aircraft had to run the gauntlet of Soviet anti-aircraft systems, and Yugoslav ground-attack aircraft managed to evade NATO to fly sorties against Kosovo. Targeting government buildings, industry, power, and transport links as well as the Yugoslav military, Allied Force was successful, though controversial, and it was undermined by failures such as the bombing of the Chinese embassy and the shock loss of an F-117 ‘stealth fighter’, as well as several other NATO aircraft.

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