Land based air power or aircraft carriers? The British debate about maritime air power in the 1960s

Dyndal, Gjert Lage (2009) Land based air power or aircraft carriers? The British debate about maritime air power in the 1960s. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Numerous studies, books, and articles have been written on Britains retreat from its former empire in the 1960s. Journalists wrote about it at the time, many people who were involved wrote about it in the immediate years that followed, and historians have tried to put it all together. The issues of foreign policy at the strategic level and the military operations that took place in this period have been especially well covered. However, the question of military strategic alternatives in this important era of British foreign policy has been less studied. This dissertation discusses such high-profile projects as the TSR.2 and F.111, prospective VTOL aircraft and not least the CVA-01 fleet carrier, but most of all it focuses on the issue of military strategy. The rivalry between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force was largely about the questions of carrier aviation versus land-based air power – and which strategic option would best answer the British need to maintain influence as the garrisons were being scaled down. The Royal Navy argued for replacement fleet carriers for their mobile seaborne strategy, while the Royal Air Force argued that land-based air power would be as effective and far less costly. By using this underlying strategic debate as the framework for understanding more specific debates on aircraft, ships and weapon systems, this dissertation aims to bring new light to our understanding of the dramatic restructuring and altered priorities these two military services saw during the 1960s. The story may be divided into three broad periods: From 1960 until mid 1963, it was a conceptual debate on ‘Carrier Task Forces’ and a concrete alternative ‘Island Strategy’. This ended in July 1963 with a Cabinet decision in favour of new fleet carriers. However, the Royal Air Force and the Treasury kept fighting this decision. Their continued resistance, together with the new Labour Government with Denis Healey as Secretary of State for Defence, changed the decision of 1963. The highpoint of the debate on carrier aviation and land-based air power came during 1965-66, ending with the decision of February 1966 to cancel the CVA-01 and gradually phase out the existing carrier fleet. Denis Healey then used the arguments for land-based air power as a rationale for the decision. The dissertation rounds off with a discussion of the planned phase-out of the existing carrier fleet. However, the story saw a different end than planned, as new strategic challenges in home waters came about and the evolving VTOL Harrier aircraft and the ‘through-deck cruisers’ gave new possibilities. This is a historical study of the British debate about maritime air power and strategic alternatives in the 1960s. However, the detailed story and arguments used for and against both alternatives should clearly have relevance to any conceptual debates on carrier and land-based air power.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: airpower, air power, sea power, seapower, aircraft carrier, carrier, land based airpower, maritime air power, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, cva-01
Subjects: V Naval Science > VM Naval architecture. Shipbuilding. Marine engineering
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Mawdsley, Professor Evan and Ball, Dr. Simon
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Dean Gjert Lage Dyndal
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-1058
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Sep 2009
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2013 12:02

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