In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Intelligence and Anglo-American Air Support in World War Two: The Western Desert and Tunisia, 1940–43
  • Richard R. Muller
Intelligence and Anglo-American Air Support in World War Two: The Western Desert and Tunisia, 1940–43. By Brad William Gladman. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. ISBN 978-0-230-22133-8. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xix, 252. $69.95.

Tactical aviation came of age in the Second World War. Most accounts emphasize the early German prowess in devising and employing workable airground support procedures, with the Western Allies falling behind. Only in the Mediterranean in 1942–1943 did the Allies belatedly learn the techniques of effective battlefield air support, which were only gradually disseminated to the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) at large.

In recent years, much excellent scholarship (including fine biographies of the two main RAF protagonists, Sir Arthur Tedder and Sir Arthur Coningham), has appeared. There is a greater understanding of the strides made by Allied tactical air forces in the crucial 1940–1943 period and their role in the eventual Anglo-American victory in the Mediterranean and the West. This brief, well-researched book adds greatly to that understanding.

Gladman argues that successful tactical aviation is not merely the product of doctrine or equipment, but also depends upon a complex relationship between command, control communications, and intelligence (C3I). He starts with a perceptive analysis of the state of prewar British air support theory and practice, noting that the RAF had actually amassed a considerable body of useful army cooperation experience in the years spent policing the British Empire. The RAF’s failure was in not devising a doctrine based on these experiences, leaving it ill-prepared for the [End Page 1370] challenges of 1940. Nevertheless, the air policing experience provided a “vital base” for subsequent wartime developments.

The heart of the book is an examination of how the RAF honed its craft in the battles in the Western Desert and Tunisia. Gladman correctly focuses much attention on the process of timely intelligence acquisition and dissemination. Central to Allied success was the development of properly sized and organized staffs, as well as the necessary communications links. He does not neglect tactics or weaponry; the development of “tank busting” and fighter-bomber versions of the Hurricane fighter is well covered.

In some cases, the poor performance of the British Army squandered the gains made in tactical aviation, as at the pivotal Battle of Gazala in May–June 1942. Expanding the scale of operations, as with the Anglo-American TORCH landings in November 1942, necessitated a steep learning curve, as new headquarters and formations scrambled to internalize and apply the hard-won lessons. Nevertheless, he concludes, “[b]y the time of El Alamein in October 1942, the RAF was the most important weapon of the British army” (p. 104).

This short book’s crisp argument is enhanced by an excellent Foreword by John Ferris. The 15 maps (murky halftone reproductions of West Point Atlas maps) are, however, somewhat disappointing. If this book has a flaw, it is that it does not always fully explore the many fascinating and worthwhile points it raises. In addition to thoroughly investigating its central topic, Gladman’s book suggests some major reinterpretations of significant turning points in the war in North Africa, offers new assessments of Allied generalship, and makes a bold statement about air power’s overall contribution to Allied victory. One looks forward to the author’s further explorations of these topics.

Richard R. Muller
USAF School of Advanced Air and Space Studies
Maxwell AFB, Alabama