Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

What did British naval aviation do in World War II after the Taranto raid?

Yes, there was the Taranto raid, and Royal Navy aircraft crippling the Bismarck‘s rudder about seven months later. But did British naval aviation have any effect on World War II after 1941? I’ve been struck at how absent it is from the World War II histories. Of course, there was the Battle of the Atlantic, ...

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

Yes, there was the Taranto raid, and Royal Navy aircraft crippling the Bismarck's rudder about seven months later. But did British naval aviation have any effect on World War II after 1941? I've been struck at how absent it is from the World War II histories. Of course, there was the Battle of the Atlantic, which was crucial -- but wasn't the most effective air work done by long-range RAF flights over the Western Approaches?

The war record is especially striking when you contrast it to the RAF saving the nation from possible invasion during the summer of 1940.

It is even more striking that as late as 1944, the Royal Navy's planners were arguing that the postwar British fleet should be built around the battleship, according to Eliot Cohen's Supreme Command, which I was re-reading this summer.

Yes, there was the Taranto raid, and Royal Navy aircraft crippling the Bismarck‘s rudder about seven months later. But did British naval aviation have any effect on World War II after 1941? I’ve been struck at how absent it is from the World War II histories. Of course, there was the Battle of the Atlantic, which was crucial — but wasn’t the most effective air work done by long-range RAF flights over the Western Approaches?

The war record is especially striking when you contrast it to the RAF saving the nation from possible invasion during the summer of 1940.

It is even more striking that as late as 1944, the Royal Navy’s planners were arguing that the postwar British fleet should be built around the battleship, according to Eliot Cohen’s Supreme Command, which I was re-reading this summer.

Today’s essay question: Was the RAF more adaptive than the air wing of the Royal Navy? If so, why? Extra credit for good historical examples, double points for class antagonism.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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