Aviation of World War II
Army Co-operation Lysander picks up a message in the desert.
The R.A.F. and the Army
New Command Instituted: Better Co-operation Planned
Some authoritative explanations of what the Air Staff and the General Staff had in mind л hen the decision was taken to set up the new Army Co-operation Command of the R.A.F. are now available. The lessons of the campaign in the Low Countries and France have been studied, and the new Command is one of the results. Everybody was impressed by the very efficient co-operation of the Ju. 87 dive-bombers with the German ground troops, but the British staffs do not intend to be led into a mere copy of German methods. The Ju. 87 is a fairly ancient type of aircraft. It is no use for anything but dive-bombing, and it is inherently vulnerable. The Franco-British armies could not take advantage of its shortcomings because they could not obtain air superiority ; they had not enough fighters. Certainly the British have no intention of making a slavish copy of the Ju. 87, but it is intended to provide the Army with suitable support from the air on lines somewhat similar to those on which the German dive-bombers were used. The squadrons using such machines would not be permanently allocated to the Army, as that would be considered wasteful. When the Army is in a condition of standing on the defence, as at present, there is no intention of keeping a number of bomber squadrons also inactive. The machines will have to be useful for other work for the R.A.F. Types of machine for this work are now in hand, and others of the same class may be bought from the United States. The U.S. Army Air Service has a section known as Attack, which specialises on dealing with ground troops and is equipped with suitable machines.
As for air-borne troops, whether parachutists or others, they were used effectively against the smaller neutrals, but in those cases the circumstances were very special. There were traitors in the countries and no anti-air defences. The menace to a country like Great Britain is not so serious. Such tactics depend on surprise, and the British are not going to be taken by surprise. Troop-carrying machines are very vulnerable when attacked by fighters. However, the question is being studied here in all its aspects.
The A.C. Squadrons
The so-called Army Co-operation squadrons, now equipped with the Lysander, have always been allocated to special Army Corps, or other formations, and work under their operational control. That arrangement will be continued under the new organisation. The work of these squadrons is mainly tactical reconnaissance on the front of the fighting troops and spotting for the artillery. The establishment of these squadrons provides that 50 per cent, of the officers, who are both pilots and observers, shall be Army officers seconded to the R.A.F. They are given temporary rank in the R.A.F. and their names appear in both the Army List and the Air Force List. In some cases the rank they hold in the R.A.F. is higher than their substantive rank in the Army. These officers now wear blue R.A.F. uniform. The airmen all belong to the R.A.F., and they prefer to take orders from an officer wearing the uniform to which they are accustomed. With each of these squadrons there lives an Army liaison officer. The officers of these squadrons are all familiar with the minor tactics of the Army, having gone through a course at the School of Army Co-operation.
It has been recognised that the Army needs more from the air than tactical reconnaissance. In the first place, it needs also strategical reconnaissance far behind the enemy's lines. This is best carried out by aircraft of the medium bomber class, and before the war some Blenheim squadrons were trained, some in this sort of reconnaissance by day, and others by night. The officers in them went through a course to prepare them for the work. Such squadrons would work under the staffs of the higher Army Commands.
There must be occasions, such as the Battle of France, when the whole strength of the Bomber Command will be required to throw its weight into a land battle to help the Army. There must sometimes be occasions, such as the evacuation from Dunkerque, when the whole Fighter Command will have to do likewise. Apart from such special occasions, the Army, when engaged in operations in the field, will constantly need bombers to attack certain targets, and all the aircraft working for the Army will need fighter protection. It has always been recognised by Flight that the Bomber Command must be flexible, ready to undertake the work which has become the most important at any one time. Bombers and fighters employed in that way will not need any special Army training. The Army staff will explain its requirements to the Air staff on the spot, and the latter will issue the necessary orders to the squadrons.
Objects of the New Command
It is largely to ensure that this arrangement works well that the Army Co-operation Command has been inaugurated. One of its Groups will care for training in Army requirements; the other Group will take charge of the Army Co-operation squadrons. On the staff of the Command and on the staffs of both Groups there will be Army officers. The object of the Command is to see that the Army is trained with the Air Force and the Air Force with the Army. It will be for the Army to make known its requirements and for the A.C. Command to do what is wanted. It is intended that both Army and Air Force shall work together with one strategy, not two strategies. In the case of the long-range bombers and the fighters, it will be the Air staffs which will receive Army training, not the squadrons. At every Army headquarters there will be an Air Force officer, and for the future Army officers will be expected to have an understanding of the possibilities and limitations of air action. In fact, a knowledge of air matters may in the future be a considerable help to an Army officer in being selected for important positions.
It has been officially stated that this arrangement satisfies the General Staff of the Army, and that its desire for a special Army air arm has been dropped. Whether or not it is the ideally best arrangement, it is certain, as was said above, that the Bomber Command must always be flexible. It will still appear to many that it would be better that the tactical reconnaissance squadrons should belong wholly to the Army, instead of having half their officers belonging to one Service and half to another. Nevertheless, it does appear that the new Army Co-operation Command will make better provision than has been made hitherto for providing the Army with necessary help from the air, and it is to lie hoped and expected that its fruits will be seen when the Army again takes the field to strike the final blow in the present war.