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Interpreting Airpower: American Observation of the Battle of Britain

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Technical Report

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Air University, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States

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The battle between British and German air forces in the summer and early fall of 1940 was the first major campaign fought entirely by air. It engendered interest among airmen around the world, especially American observers who sought to learn what they could about war in the third dimension. Amidst an array of air activities and operations, the American observers identified pertinent airpower lessons, analyzed them in a meaningful way, and interpreted them for implementation within the Air Corps. In this task, they used the doctrine of strategic bombardment to filter and interpret the Battle of Britain. This doctrine conditioned how they ordered and categorized the vast amounts of battlefield data and information, and virtually ensured their view that the Battle of Britain was lost by Germanys failure to bomb well, and not won by the Royal Air Forces capacity for fighter defense. The observations and assessments of the American airmen reveal how doctrine has the potential to not only help, but also hinder how airmen interpret the battlefield. Ultimately, the observers experience highlights the importance of thinking clearly and cleanly about military doctrine, to understand what it does for military organizations, and what it does to them.

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