The Bridge to Airpower

The Bridge to Airpower
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Logistics Support for Royal Flying Corps Operations on the Western Front, 1914–18
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Peter John Dye
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The Bridge to Air Power describes how the development of the air weapon on the Western Front during the First World War required a radical and unprecedented change in the way that national resources were employed to exploit a technological opportunity. By examining the performance of the Royal Flying Corps, and its successor the Royal Air Force – the world’s first independent air service – it explains how logistic competence was the precondition for air superiority and the ‘modern style of warfare’ – in the form of indirect, predicted artillery fire. The Royal Flying Corps was led by a new breed of soldier-technocrats, who combined military values, managerial competence and business skills. The outcome was a new style of warfare that wove together industrial mobilization, national resources and operational art.

The Royal Flying Corps’ logistic staffs, led by Brigadier-General Robert Brooke-Popham, demonstrated considerable agility in meeting the demands of three-dimensional warfare. Providing adequate numbers of frontline aircraft to maintain air operations in support of the British Expeditionary Force, required substantial numbers of skilled and semi-skilled personnel, located largely beyond the battle zone, operating at a continuously high tempo while coping with rapid technological change and high wastage. These elements formed a complex, dynamic and integrated network that was also partly self-sustaining, in the form of salvage and repair, with the ability to compensate for shortfalls in aircraft and aero-engine production as well as unpredicted demand. This was a time critical process that required careful planning to balance quantity, quality, resilience and efficiency for maximum military effect while coping with unpredictable weather, operational uncertainty and tactical innovation.

The Royal Flying Corps’ logistic system was modern both in its needs and in the processes developed to meet these needs. A variety of logistic techniques were pioneered including, supply chain integration, strategic warehousing, velocity management, postponement and make-to-order, new product introduction, international sourcing, hybrid and reverse logistics. In creating the foundation for three-dimensional warfare, logistics became the bridge between the nation’s economy and air power. The principles developed on the Western Front to achieve air superiority provided the foundation for Royal Air Force logistic and operational success in the Second World War as well as anticipating the management practices that underpin today’s global supply chain.

In the latest addition to the History of Military Aviation series, Peter Dye describes how the development of the air weapon on the Western Front during World War I required a radical and unprecedented change in the way that national resources were employed to exploit a technological opportunity. World War I has long been recognized as an industrial war that consumed vast amounts of materiel and where logistical superiority gave the Allies an overwhelming advantage.The Bridge to Air Power is the first study that demonstrates how logistical competence provided a war-winning advantage for the Royal Flying Corps, the precursor to the Royal Air Force. It draws on a wide range of literature and original material to quantify these achievements while providing a series of illuminating case studies based around key battles. In particular, it highlights how the Royal Flying Corps’ logistical organization was able to maintain high levels of resilience and agility while sustaining military outputs under widely different operational conditions —successfully introducing many of the techniques that now comprise modern supply chain management.

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