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Without World War 2, how would the RAF develop?

riggerrob

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Hand-waving away World War 2, how would the British Royal Air Force develop differently?

Consider that inter-war, they concentrated on policing their colonies and keeping uppity locals suppressed.
Outwardly, late-1930s RAF fabric-covered biplanes looked little different than the fabric-covered biplanes that won WW1. Their most sophisticated Army Cooperation airplane was the fixed-gear, strut-braced, fabric-covered Westland Lysander.
By the late 1930s, RAF Transport Command traded their wire-braced, fabric-covered biplane Vallettas for strut-braced, fixed-gear, fabric-covered monoplanes like Bristol Bombay.
By the late 1930s, the most advanced British airplanes were the Short Brothers' Empire Class flying boats with cantilever, all-metal wings supporting controllable pitch propellers, etc.
It was only Hitler's saber-rattling that convinced the RAF to order cantilever, all metal Stirling heavy bombers from Short Brothers.

Minus combat with a peer European air force (e.g. Germany) would the RAF have stayed-the-course with minor improvements to fabric-covered biplanes ... to continue policing the colonies?

As an aside, I believe that the Bretton Woods Agreements killed the British Empire. BWA forced Britain to open up her colonies to free trade (read American trade) sacrificing their Imperial trade surpluses, making it increasingly difficult to pay off wartime debts ... and they could forget about policing colonies that were no longer profitable.
 

alertken

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Budget for aero technology enhancements has almost always been on a military ticket. "Prestige" was a factor in civil air transport: just as taxpayers took pride in "our" Transatlantic liner winning the Blue Riband, and just as Rolls Royce carplant workers took pride in "our" car...where neither worker or taxpayer would ever enjoy their use. I am of the age which remembers Coronation Year (1953) with a surge of pride in a Kiwi+sherpa first climbing Everest, and Comet 1 as Queen of the Skies - again, knowing I would neither climb nor fly.

So: Juan Trippe of Pan Am and Howard Hughes of TWA caused spend in 1935-ish on reliable, big engines, big structure, pressurisation for Sikorsky/Boeing boats, 307 Stratoliner: B-17, thus the Boeing we know and love, followed, not led those enhancements. US military budget to 1939 was minimal or less. International Air Transport captured US public's imagination - DC-2 2nd. in the MacRobertson Race 10/34...on a KLM schedule with paying pax! Boeing 247 3rd! State-funded Imperial A/W (and French et al) "flag carriers" were funded to match that. France did large transports to bind its Empire; we did Short Empire boat, which taught our basic metals industry how to produce girder-size spars. So:

It is possible that risk-finance and/or taxpayer prestige funds might have produced...turbine power, highly stressed structure, nav/comms kit...your choice of other key factors. Much later than under the stimulus of threat of war. That would have been led (in UK not by Air Ministry, but) by risk investors. Only because investors in 1937 Br. A/W, buying Lockheed twins so shook up Imperial that Govt. merged them, then invested in developing pressurised Continental Fairey Queen, Empire Short S.32 to try to match DC-3 et al. Whittle raised City venture finance in 1935 for his gyrone notion for that market, not for feeble "tribal pacification" by bomber-transports. Hughes made his money from drill bits, which few understood, so Air would attract investors seeing the opportunities, making or operating aircraft.

So, if WW1 War to end Wars had so proved, then RAF would have plodded along with kit derived from civil needs, until or unless a Threat emerged to unlock budget. Japan would not have been that, because IJN containment would have been for RN. It would more likely have been expansionist Bolshevism aimed at India - the Great Game, handled by a UK bomber-transport suite of DC-3/B-18 look-alikes.

Howzat!?
 
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kaiserd

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Exactly when and how this scenario departs from history critical to how different the resulting RAF would be - by late 30's a lot of the decisions that lead to the actual WW2 RAF was already in motion. So for example the RAF had already reduced the priority of "colonial policing" (now that's a euphemism for a lot of unsavory dark stuff...) to the forces that became WW2 Fighter Command and Bomber Command with an eye to having to fight a peer opponent (primarily Nazi Germany).
A divergence earlier on may see more differences; say a force in which combating Imperial Japan was a greater priority and as reflected in the requirements issued and designs selected - for example longer range built into all bombers and fighters requirements, long range escort fighters emphasized over intended interceptors/ bomber-destroyers of the likes of the Hurricane, Spitfire and Whirlwind, greater emphasis on anti-shipping roles given size and power of Japanese fleet, etc.
 

starviking

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Depends on how the “hand-waving away” happens: less bellicose environment post-WW1, or Hitler just doesn’t make it in his fight for power.

Friedman’s Fighters over the Fleet does show a great push for competent offensive and defensive naval aviation forces against Japan by both the UK and USA. Possibly a more effective League of Nations (a la James P Hogan’s The Proteus Operation) might take the sting out of that tail.
 

Jemiba

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Just a clue : That's the " Alternative History and Future Speculation" section, so many topics here start with a mind game
of a "What would have been, if ..." type. As a result, different political scenarios may be created, but that doesn't mean
necessarily, that the poster/designer of such scenarios is actually a proponent of them.
As I see it, the question here is, for example, what type of aircraft the RAF would have had, if Hitler would have remained the
leader of an insignificant splinter party and the most fearsome foreign leader would have been the Tenno, or maybe later
Stalin.
Politics aren't encouraged, of course, but I really see no need, to screen every post for conceivably political offensive abberations !
 

royabulgaf

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I think there would be a continuation of single engine bombers, imagine a Barracuda or TBM type aircraft for the RAF. The poster is right that bomber design would follow airliner design. There would be some sort of follow on to the Defiant, perhaps even metal being cut some of those twin engine 20mm turret designs. The big fad of the time was twin engine multiplace fighters. Think the Potez 63 series, Me 110, and the Bell fm-1. The RAF was kicking around a couple ideas, maybe something would come from that.
 

uk 75

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The League of Nations was the basis for British defence planning until the emergence of Japan, Italy and Germany as countries challenging this status quo.
Britain directed its air defences in the period from 1919 to 1933 against France as the only other major air force in range.
If this League based world had continued into the 1930s (perhaps because there was no economic cataclysm) Britain would still have had to face challenges from the USA and Japan for influence outside Europe.
The challenges of colonial rule might have emerged faster.
The mindset of the Baldwin government would have been cautious and unwilling to expand armed forces. The structural problems of British industry were deeply embedded.
Competition from more innovative foreign civil and military designs, notably in the Netherlands, Italy and Weimar Germany would have happened as they did in our timeline.
The RAF might not have survived as a separste service. Colonial campaigning might have seen Army cooperation aircraft back in the AAC. The Navy gained control of carrier and maritime aircraft but might also have acquired any long range transport/bomber type with Imperial Airways.
Unless relations with France deteriorated, air defence would wither down to Territorial Army aa guns and single engined fighters designed like the Furys and Hinds primarily for colonial work.
Such a stable period would not have lasted. Stalin's Soviet Union and possibly a more assertive alt United States mighy trouble Whitehall. Even if Europe had been spared Mussolini, Franco and Hitler tensions might still have fractured the League of Nations world as they have in Europe since 1990.
The world East of Suez could well have been the place where British power felt its limits as in our own time.
 
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Hood

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I don't see any difference here, Bomber Command would still want heavy bombers and the RAF would still want fighters. No Germany as the enemy? No problem, France is the good stand-in enemy since 1415 and in the 1920s most RAF planning presumed France as the enemy. Plus there is Japan and Russia, both harder to get at by air so you could argue perhaps carrier aviation might be a beneficiary. The RAF would be smaller but then you wouldn't have a Shadow Factory Scheme so the main manufacturers would be picking up the bulk of the orders. Size would be smaller but the economic boom of the late 30s would have allowed more defence spending anyway.

Too much rose-tinted emphasis on Imperial needs in the initial premise of this thread. Imperial policing was done with whatever surplus airframes there were, beyond the Audax and associated Hart derivatives and the Wapiti there was actually very little bespoke specification or design work undertaken for such work, or indeed tactical support of any kind. The Hawker Henley would probably still get canned in this scenario too and indeed was probably not suited to tropical work either. Most overseas stations would still be reliant on Blenheims, Battles, Wellesleys and I guess they would of received Gladiators or even Hurricanes in time. The fact these are long-ranged bombers should rather indicate the real thoughts of the RAF, overseas bases were for power projection. Besides by the 30s there were fewer tribes that needed bombing - but of course if we're going completely ahistorical with no WW2 there could have been a civil war in India by the mid-40s and there is no likelyhood that the RAF would be prepared for a scenario like that. The RAF was very European-centric - bombing Paris, Berlin, Baku or wherever and stopping those dastardly continentals from hitting London.

The impact on civil aviation would be increasing irrelevance of British products beyond sports aircraft and flying boats.
 

JFC Fuller

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To add to Hood's excellent post above; the imperial policing role was comparatively very low effort and was as much about frontier patrol and defence of imperial possessions as it was about controlling them, even when it was about internal issues they were often between colonial subjects (usually tribal) as much as it was against the British. Such missions had a lot in common with the sort of international intervention we see today. In general, if force was to be used it was because all other avenues had been exhausted and there had been a failure of policy. The idea of "unsavoury dark stuff" simply doesn't hold up against the historical record.

What Germany provided that was different to France was an aggressive continental imperial power that actively sought to expand its own borders and conquer and enslave its neighbours, and then their neighbours. It is a remarkable indicator of how vile German ideology was that the holocaust is the tip of its crazy and vicious ideological iceberg, similarly that 100 years after Britain abolished slavery in its colonies Germany was actively planning to reintroduce the practice to Europe - just with genocide added for good measure. As such, it provided an impetus for military airpower development, both qualitatively and quantitatively, that France never would. The accelerating drumbeat of specifications for heavy bombers and interceptors, in the late 1930s, would never have happened at the same pace without the German threat. Fighter Command was bespoke designed to defeat a German bomber offensive against the UK and Bomber Command to deliver one against Germany. By 1939 those two missions had all but squeezed out every other RAF role. Those aircraft never would have been pursued in the same numbers either.

So if we remove Germany the question becomes what are the next most significant threats, the answer is probably Japan and to a lesser extent Italy. They would result in a very different looking RAF, lots or maritime patrol and long range anti-shipping strike, some interceptors to defend locations such as Gibraltar, Malta, Singapore, Trincomalee etc from carrier based aircraft and perhaps Italian heavy and medium bombers. That suggests long range twin-engine torpedo bombers (e.g. Beaufort, Wellington, Manchester), flying boats (e.g. Sunderland) and a smaller number of interceptors (e.g. Hurricanes and Spitfires). Very similar types but procured at different paces and in different quantities, and deployed in different locations resulting in detail difference in the specifications to facilitate tropical operations.

Commercial aviation probably would have carried on as was, specifications written for increasingly large and capable types for Imperial airways routes (e.g. Empire flying boats, Short S.32, etc.) and a small commercial industry supporting the periodic start-up airlines.
 
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Grey Havoc

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Among other things, it would be interesting to see how soon the Royal Navy's FAA got back control of it's own procurement in this timeline.
 

uk 75

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Hood, JFC
If Italy and Japan overturned the League's collective security in the thirties then some form of British rearmament would have occurred.
This is why I created a timeline in which the League has not failed in the thirties. Britain could enjoy the sort of mild political climate that favoured Baldwinism.
Even the Whitley and Wellington, leave alone the 4 engined heavies, would not have been built in the absence of need to bomb the Ruhr or Turin. Smaller bombers to compete with France like the Blenheim and Battle might have entered service. Whether Fury or Gladiator squadrons would have given way to Spifires and Hurricanes with only France to worry about.
A Labour government would have been even more committed to collective security and disarmament which were the aims of the League.
 

kaiserd

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For any one with an interest in reading more I can point to the following examples (I would encourage you to do your own research):



 
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Hood

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The RAF were still flying armed sorties over the North West Frontier as Japan invaded Malaya and Burma. The 1950s saw Operation Firedog and the efforts to suppress the Mau-Mau in Kenya, then we have Hunters and helicopters in Aden in the 1960s. Both of the former involved Lincolns and in Malaya relatively high-performance types like Brigands and late-mark Spitfires. The RAF was a big stick to wield and was used with one-sided impunity, but the point I'm making is few specifically designed aircraft were used. COIN became very fashionable post-war but few dedicated COIN aircraft have been built, the majority have been variants of trainers or light aircraft - the French indeed did devote resources to this but the results were decidedly mixed.

I do not really buy into the theory that less strategic bombers were likely, the Vickers Virginas were admittedly rebuilt a few times to keep them going, but efforts like the Hendon and Heyford followed and some development at some level was ongoing throughout the 20s and 30s. Switching targets to the Ruhr and beyond stretched the radius of action required and drove bomber sizes, but Turin was an early target too so its not unlikely that more range was inevitable.

We must also not forget that even in 1939-early 1940, the Luftwaffe was largely incapable of reaching Britain from its airfields in north-western Germany (there was an interesting article on the subject in Aviation Historian last year). France posed the bigger threat in real terms, all its bombers could reach Britain and vice versa. Not until German forces occupied the Low Countries and northern France was any mass aerial attack feasible. Germany's misinformation on the real range and payload capabilities of its bombers was swallowed by the Chamberlain government but the dreaded 'knock out blow' never came; most of the Luftwaffe was over Poland and what remained could hardly deliver enough tonnage against London let alone reach the industrial heartlands further north.

Aircraft brought mobility and firepower to bear over vast distances in inhospitable terrain where even wheeled transport could not compete. The first use of aerial bombing in 1911 was colonial bombing - in this case to enforce a change of ownership from Turkish to Italian. But colonial policing is a dark business and there can be little justification of the heavy-handed approach employed. The inter-war anti-war techno-liberalists who dreamed of fleets of international strategic bombers to smash warmongering states and destroy their cities and populations were also planning a rather curious method of peace enforcement. This was a point I made in another thread - strategic bombing was in the psyche like nuclear weapons were a generation later. The idea affected thought and policy and aesthetic tastes of society as a whole. To simply say the absence of X country would remove or lessen it is too simplistic.
 
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JFC Fuller

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Without the immediacy and scale of the German threat I don't see how the vastness of Bomber Command as planned under the later expansion schemes would have come into being. It is a curious note that large parts of the British defence establishment failed to understand that the Luftwaffe was a tactical airforce, essentially the one thing the RAF wasn't, and continued to assume that it would attempt to deliver the sort of knockout blow against Britain that Bomber Command wanted to deliver against Germany (the irony being that the Luftwaffe was ultimately tasked with just that). I don't doubt development would have continued but the drumbeat would probably have been slower.
 

kaiserd

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I think a theoretical move of the focus away from Germany as the main threat would had an impact on how individual RAF types with their development rooted pre-war would have emerged. A Lancaster with less bomb-load but significantly longer range perhaps (and perhaps a quicker switch to 4 merlins) given less concentration on being the perfect Ruhr-aimed bomb-truck, maybe the Typhoon would have been pushed more in the direction of being an escort fighter (drop tanks looked at earlier?) rather than as being an interceptor, that kind of thing.
 

uk 75

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I have not suggested that the alternate world I used for my timeline would have been necessarily better. Freed from confrontation with the dictatorships, Britain may well have committed even greater atrocities/blunders in trying to halt the demise of its Empire. The jingoistic tendencies of the time were, however, matched by a growing awareness that all was not well. India would still have become independent. The other territories following sooner or later. Strangely, the appeasers were more realistic about this than the Churchill crowd. Halifax for example knew that something had to be done about India.
British long range bombing derived from the Royal Navy emulating the Gotha bombers.
 

Volkodav

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Interesting topic that fits nicely with a book I read last year, The Rise of the Bomber: RAF-Army Planning 1919 to Munich 1938 by Greg Baughen, a very different take on the RAF between the wars. Interestingly it ties in with something a lecturer of mine said several years ago when I was doing my Masters in Marine Engineering (need to finish it one day), he was an ex RN boomer engineering officer and stated that the biggest issue in UK defence policy and procurement was the RAF was so incredibly proficient at staff work and cutting through to politicians.

The book and my lecturer both stated that to avoid being strangled at birth the RAF developed a mass of skilled staff officers, in fact, one of the primary reasons the RAF insisted pilots be officers, was to ensure they had as many officers as possible to develop doctrine and policy and help get their message across. The issue was the message (along with doctrine and policy) was flawed, based as it was on wishful thinking and cherry picking rather than a detailed analysis of airpower. Without WWII tactical air power and Army Cooperation may well have died completely, without the threat of the Luftwaffe, the RAF would have concentrated on bombers, ignoring air defence as "the bomber will always get through". The UKs entire defence policy would have become one of preemptive strike against population areas and lip service to attacks on military targets and industrial capacity.

An interesting point in the book was the idea that the RAF, that believed the bomber would always get through, did not like army cooperation as close air support was considered too dangerous and risked losing too many aircraft and pilots, attacking a target that could fire back.
 

Purpletrouble

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The point the RAF saw the Luftwaffe through the prism of what it wanted to do rather than what the Luftwaffer planned to do is good and matches comments I’ve made where the Admiralty saw the Sverdlovs as commerce raiders etc. Having just read some posts on RN leadership “fantasy fleet” plans in 1945 it does seem our senior military are very poor at seeing reality.

I’m not convinced the RAF would have abandoned defence against the bomber, the “it will always get through” was never as strong in the UK as others, and of course it built Fighter Command whose success was far more about radar, C2 infra and concepts than it was about planes. All of those require large long term investment.

Even when the RAF largely abandoned fighter defence it kept the system side and that move was forced on it vs desired.

The fundamental difficulty for the other two services is they cannot do anything without RAF support. Unless you control the air, you lose, setting aside CASD, nothing the Army/Navy do is ever as existential to UK Defence (including Offence!) as control of the air to any other type of role or task air land or sea. The RAF therefore will always be primary.

The point on Officer pilots is interesting and I’ve never heard that. “Air mindedness” however and the conceptual battle was a massively driven issue from 2 Apr 1918! It does mean non flying branches have been almost entirely excluded from leadership positions which I think does a lot of damage as pilots tend to make poor leaders of complex organisations, and very poor at anything outside their narrow view, only the sheer number of them has worked in the sense it means the pool is big enough for some to be decent.
 

Volkodav

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The point the RAF saw the Luftwaffe through the prism of what it wanted to do rather than what the Luftwaffer planned to do is good and matches comments I’ve made where the Admiralty saw the Sverdlovs as commerce raiders etc. Having just read some posts on RN leadership “fantasy fleet” plans in 1945 it does seem our senior military are very poor at seeing reality.

I’m not convinced the RAF would have abandoned defence against the bomber, the “it will always get through” was never as strong in the UK as others, and of course it built Fighter Command whose success was far more about radar, C2 infra and concepts than it was about planes. All of those require large long term investment.

Even when the RAF largely abandoned fighter defence it kept the system side and that move was forced on it vs desired.

The fundamental difficulty for the other two services is they cannot do anything without RAF support. Unless you control the air, you lose, setting aside CASD, nothing the Army/Navy do is ever as existential to UK Defence (including Offence!) as control of the air to any other type of role or task air land or sea. The RAF therefore will always be primary.

The point on Officer pilots is interesting and I’ve never heard that. “Air mindedness” however and the conceptual battle was a massively driven issue from 2 Apr 1918! It does mean non flying branches have been almost entirely excluded from leadership positions which I think does a lot of damage as pilots tend to make poor leaders of complex organisations, and very poor at anything outside their narrow view, only the sheer number of them has worked in the sense it means the pool is big enough for some to be decent.
An unfortunate side effect of the creation of the RAF was the new services near monopoly of competent air minded staff and engineering officers. This left a big hole in the development of tactical airpower doctrine as the RAF didn't care about it while the RN and Army lacked sufficient talented air minded officers to support it.
 

Purpletrouble

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The point the RAF saw the Luftwaffe through the prism of what it wanted to do rather than what the Luftwaffer planned to do is good and matches comments I’ve made where the Admiralty saw the Sverdlovs as commerce raiders etc. Having just read some posts on RN leadership “fantasy fleet” plans in 1945 it does seem our senior military are very poor at seeing reality.

I’m not convinced the RAF would have abandoned defence against the bomber, the “it will always get through” was never as strong in the UK as others, and of course it built Fighter Command whose success was far more about radar, C2 infra and concepts than it was about planes. All of those require large long term investment.

Even when the RAF largely abandoned fighter defence it kept the system side and that move was forced on it vs desired.

The fundamental difficulty for the other two services is they cannot do anything without RAF support. Unless you control the air, you lose, setting aside CASD, nothing the Army/Navy do is ever as existential to UK Defence (including Offence!) as control of the air to any other type of role or task air land or sea. The RAF therefore will always be primary.

The point on Officer pilots is interesting and I’ve never heard that. “Air mindedness” however and the conceptual battle was a massively driven issue from 2 Apr 1918! It does mean non flying branches have been almost entirely excluded from leadership positions which I think does a lot of damage as pilots tend to make poor leaders of complex organisations, and very poor at anything outside their narrow view, only the sheer number of them has worked in the sense it means the pool is big enough for some to be decent.
An unfortunate side effect of the creation of the RAF was the new services near monopoly of competent air minded staff and engineering officers. This left a big hole in the development of tactical airpower doctrine as the RAF didn't care about it while the RN and Army lacked sufficient talented air minded officers to support it.
Ha ha ha.

Sorry I’m genuinely not being rude, I just love the idea that engineering officers have any impact on the RAF. Or any Service for that matter. (I may be a little bitter!)
 

Volkodav

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The point the RAF saw the Luftwaffe through the prism of what it wanted to do rather than what the Luftwaffer planned to do is good and matches comments I’ve made where the Admiralty saw the Sverdlovs as commerce raiders etc. Having just read some posts on RN leadership “fantasy fleet” plans in 1945 it does seem our senior military are very poor at seeing reality.

I’m not convinced the RAF would have abandoned defence against the bomber, the “it will always get through” was never as strong in the UK as others, and of course it built Fighter Command whose success was far more about radar, C2 infra and concepts than it was about planes. All of those require large long term investment.

Even when the RAF largely abandoned fighter defence it kept the system side and that move was forced on it vs desired.

The fundamental difficulty for the other two services is they cannot do anything without RAF support. Unless you control the air, you lose, setting aside CASD, nothing the Army/Navy do is ever as existential to UK Defence (including Offence!) as control of the air to any other type of role or task air land or sea. The RAF therefore will always be primary.

The point on Officer pilots is interesting and I’ve never heard that. “Air mindedness” however and the conceptual battle was a massively driven issue from 2 Apr 1918! It does mean non flying branches have been almost entirely excluded from leadership positions which I think does a lot of damage as pilots tend to make poor leaders of complex organisations, and very poor at anything outside their narrow view, only the sheer number of them has worked in the sense it means the pool is big enough for some to be decent.
An unfortunate side effect of the creation of the RAF was the new services near monopoly of competent air minded staff and engineering officers. This left a big hole in the development of tactical airpower doctrine as the RAF didn't care about it while the RN and Army lacked sufficient talented air minded officers to support it.
Ha ha ha.

Sorry I’m genuinely not being rude, I just love the idea that engineering officers have any impact on the RAF. Or any Service for that matter. (I may be a little bitter!)
I don't know about the UK but in Australia when the engineer says no it means no, a side effect of launching enquiries intended to blame engineering for failures and accidents that actually resulted identifying understaffing and ignoring the recommendations and warnings of the engineering organisations as the root cause. The powers that be believed their own rhetoric on cutting tail the sharpen the teeth, getting rid of fat and dead weight, corporatisation etc. and never for one moment thought independent enquiries by independent, overseas experts would say what local experts had been saying for years.
 

Purpletrouble

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In the UK when the Engineer says no it means get another Engineer who will say yes! Engineers learn this and become politicians at a remarkably low level.

The RAF’s longstanding practice was the reverse - blame the aircrew because that is the cheapest option since you dont have to do anything (like fix the equipment or buy better stuff). Hence the Chinook Mull of Kintyre outcome. This is especially the case when “leaders” overrule Engineering advice because it doesn’t fit the agenda.

Politics is not something restricted to MPs, indeed they seem amateur vs the professional military which is entrenched with politics at all levels.
 
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