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Fourth International, July 1942


Jack Ranger

Aviation and the War


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.7, July 1942, p.223.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


Victory Through Air Power
by Major Alexander P. de Seversky
Simon and Schuster. 354 pages.

When the October revolution erupted, Alexander de Seversky, Chief of Pursuit Aviation of the Baltic Sea in the Czarist army, deserted his native land and became an aeronautical engineer and test pilot for the United States government. That is a measure of the man’s social understanding and sympathies. The highest future he can envision for mankind is a world where each great power will command thousands of giant bombing planes capable of striking suddenly half way around the world and laying waste a hundred cities like Coventry, achieving total destruction of an entire nation from the air without deigning to occupy the stricken country. Even today, claims Seversky, that awe-inspiring picture of imperialist warfare is unrealistic not because of aeronautical limitations but only because of military shortsightedness.

If the social revolution that will wipe out the possibilities of such warfare is beyond the ken of Major Seversky, the military revolution brought about by the emergence of air power is completely grasped by this brilliant air pioneer and talented designer.

By now it is a commonplace that aviation has altered the traditional conceptions of military strategy and tactics. What is still little understood, says Seversky, is the emergence of aviation as the decisive factor in war-making. The author shows how, in every battle of this war, the victory has gone to the nation which controlled the air. Hitler’s victory in Norway; the successful evacuation at Dunkirk; the failure of Hitler to win the Battle of Britain in 1940; the conquest of Crete; the changing fortunes of the war in North Africa; the Japanese victories against its Dutch, British and American rivals – all were decided by the factor of supremacy in the air. Once a nation dominates the air, land and sea operations have only a secondary and subordinate character. Armies and navies are destined to play only an auxiliary role in modern warfare.

Hitler’s air machine, says Seversky, was designed primarily to answer the tactical demands of land operations. Hitler, while he saw more clearly than his imperialist rivals that air power was decisive, yet failed to build an instrument capable of gaining air supremacy over England. Germany,s air force lacks range, load-carrying capacity, armor and armament. The most serious handicap of the German bombers was insufficient defensive fire power. They met an eight-gun assault from a British pursuit with only one gun.

Germany’s conquest of Norway, Holland, Belgium, France and the Balkans, he says, was dictated primarily by the tactical necessity of acquiring bases for military action against Great Britain and its Mediterranean life line. The Germans could be ruthless in visiting destruction. But Hitler’s primary objective in Russia is to take control of Russia’s natural resources and large industries. Therefore he has aimed to conquer Russia with as little economic destruction as possible, and thus has deliberately held back the striking force of his air power. He aims to eliminate England. He aims to possess Russia.

If what this pioneer ace and designer says is true, the United States is as backward as was France in its failure to appreciate air power. American planes are under-armed, ill-constructed, obsolete, and have a ridiculously short fighting range. “Only 25 per cent of our aircraft could be considered equal to the best foreign models.” Instead of following the already outdated plan of seeking to build a bigger and better Blitz machine than Hitler’s, argues Seversky, Washington should adopt his plan of undertaking immediate construction of a fleet of superbombers with a range of 8,000-15,000 miles, base them upon the American mainland and Alaska, and bomb Japan into the dust, then do the same with every other rival of the United States.

It is difficult to estimate what percentage of Seversky’s military criticisms are colored by inner-army politics, by business rivalries, and by the author’s failure to appreciate the political motivations for some of Roosevelt’s moves on the chessboard of war. That a good deal of his arguments have touched the military leadership in tender spots is indicated by a careful reading of the current press; many army and navy leaders and columnists are writing and speaking as though they were polemicizing with Seversky, without of course mentioning him by name.

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Last updated on 21.8.2008