Classic Works

Giulio Douhet, The Command of The Air (1921/1927)

Giulio Douhet, an Italian army officer who never learnt to fly, first published one of military theory’s most recognized and controversial works on airpower, The Command of The Air, in 1921. Just three years after the end of the First World War and the first widespread use of airplanes in warfare, this new technology had yet to be fully integrated into military strategy. Douhet advocated a new strategic application for what he identified as the airplane’s superior capabilities in order to avoid the destructive stalemate of the First World War in future wars. Promising a quick and decisive end to war, The Command of The Air synthesized concepts, namely strategic bombing, an independent air force, the dominance of an offensive strategy, and breaking the will of the civilian population, among others, which contributed to the development of the modern air force. Though he was one of many who reflected on airpower’s rapid strategic development, Douhet “stated the case for airpower as no one else did—with all the stops out.”[1] This essay will trace the development of Douhet’s concepts of airpower, as identified by his critics and military historians, from his early military career to The Command of The Air.

The Command of The Air was originally published by the Italian Ministry of War. However, there are several editions and translations. The most widely read is Douhet’s second edition, published in 1927. Besieged by criticism from the Italian Army and Navy and nearing the end of his life, Douhet added material to the approximately 80-page first edition to defend his opinions even more forcefully. Douhet would pass away in 1930. Still yet, a third edition with an introduction by Italo Balbo, one of Benito Mussolini’s closest Lieutenants and supporter of Douhet, was published in 1932. Then, a fourth edition published by the Italian Air Force in 1955 was issued to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Douhet’s death. For the definitive English language version, Dino Ferrari’s 1942 translation of the second edition, published by Coward McCann and then re-printed by the U.S. Office of Air Force History in 1983 and again in 1998, stands out. This version is in fact a collection of Douhet’s principal writings, of which The Command of The Air comprises one of the four collected works translated by Ferrari. Though there are other English language translations, Ferrari’s is the most widely recognized and is used by the U.S. military.


Giulio Douhet’s Military Career

Douhet’s enthusiasm for airpower was grounded in his early interest in engineering and the sciences. Born the son of an army officer in 1869, Douhet graduated from Accademia di Artiglieria e Genio, the artillery and engineering academy of the Italian army, in 1888 at the top of his class and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. He followed on to advance his studies in engineering at the Polytechnic Institute in Turin where he graduated with distinction. There, he earned the praise of his professors for his interest in the latest mechanical advancements with his thesis paper titled, ‘The Calculation of Rotating Field Engines.’[2] Douhet then combined his exceptional mechanical science background with study of the theories of military strategy, logistics, and tactics at the School of Warfare in Turin. Upon graduating from the School of Warfare, Douhet took up various positions in the Italian army until 1900 when he attained recognition for his brilliance in applying new technologies for military purposes and was assigned to the Italian Army’s General Staff.

Once assigned to the General Staff in 1900, Douhet began to garner attention for his military analysis and advocacy for the military’s mechanization. Prior to the invention of the airplane, Douhet was advancing his foundational concept of The Command of The Air—that the character of warfare will be altered by the modern military’s adoption of new technology and mechanization. From 1901-1904 he gave a series of lectures he called Mechanization from the Point of View of the Military that warned of the implications of advancing technology upon warfare. Even prior to the invention of the airplane, and against the backdrop of the advancements in the automobile, electricity, gasoline, and the ‘Second Industrial Revolution,’ Douhet had concluded that future conflicts would be won or lost on the basis of whether or not militaries harnessed these new inventions to alter the conduct of war.

The pace with which Douhet and his airpower contemporaries crafted their theories is remarkable. In 1905 Italy built its first dirigible and in 1908 flew its first airplane. In 1911 Italy became the first country to utilize airplanes in combat during the Libyan War over Tripoli. Immediately, the debate between dirigibles and airplanes grasped at inadequate metaphors from naval combat. The dirigible gained early favor from the majority of military leaders who envisioned aircraft conducting only reconnaissance in support of land movements and naval operations. Douhet however immediately identified the superiority of the airplane and recognized its potential to alter the character of war, much to the frustration of his superiors. The pages of military journals such as La preparazione featured intellectual duals between Douhet and his dirigible supporting opponents. Carlo Montù, an artillery officer and early supporter of dirigibles, proposed that dirigibles be deployed individually, rather than in fleets, and against targets on the ground and at sea.

Douhet’s argument in his debate with Carlo Montù, that airpower should be deployed as a mass, is often compared by scholars of military history to Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan’s naval strategy. Mahan argued that naval power should be massed against the decisive point. Douhet, like Mahan in the 1890s, “developed a doctrine for [its] optimal strategic employment that closely resembled the Jominan version of Napoleonic warfare. Airplanes, like warships and armies, should be massed against the decisive point. That point was located not in the armed forces of the enemy, but in his economic and administrative centers, which were so vulnerable to aerial attack,” argues John Shy.[3] The parallels between the strategies of Mahan and Douhet are a constant source of comparison for scholars.

Despite the recognition of Douhet’s brilliance early in his military career, he was not the first nor only observer to write about the transformative power of warfare’s mechanization, especially in the third dimension, the air. Several of Douhet’s contemporaries also responded to the rapid mechanization of the world’s militaries and the devastation of the First World War by developing airpower theory and strategy. Together with Hugh “Boom” Trenchard, H.G. Wells, and William “Billy” Mitchell, Douhet became an early airpower visionary. Over the course of decades, in comparison to the centuries of development for sea and land warfare concepts, airpower theorists rapidly sought to understand how this new technology would alter the character of warfare. Douhet stands out from his contemporaries because, as the Editors’ Introduction to The Command of The Air in the Air Force History and Museums Program’s 1998 re-print states, “much of what Douhet propounded was not original with him, but his were perhaps the most coherent, the most systematic, and the most prophetic airpower writings of the era.”[4] In writing The Command of The Air, Douhet not only became an advocate for, but a strategist of airpower recognized for not only his controversial concepts but his contribution to an enduring debate which continues today.

Douhet’s early and prolific efforts to advocate for his concepts of airpower caused conflict among the Italian general staff throughout his career. His opinions were viewed as fantastical to some and earned him a reputation as a ‘radical.’ Douhet was assigned to write a report on the Libyan War’s significance for future employment of aircraft and he used the opportunity to try to convince his superiors of the airplane’s potential to alter warfare. It is in this report and a 1912 manual titled, “Rules for the Use of Airplanes in War,” that Douhet began to advocate for airplanes to conduct “high-altitude bombing” while his superiors, and much of the world’s militaries, were focused on aerial reconnaissance. The airplane could do more than observe troops and defend against intruding observation aircraft, wrote Douhet. Despite his differences with superiors, Douhet’s reports, and the vision he displayed for organizing an Air Force, earned him a new position as Commander of the Aviation Battalion.

Frustrated by bureaucratic battles against the supporters of dirigibles, Douhet encouraged the Italian aeronautical engineer, Giovanni “Gianni” Caproni, to construct the first bomber airplane without the support of the Ministry of War. Once the plane, the Caproni 300, was ready for production, Douhet went to his superiors to argue for the purchase of the plane and anti-aircraft artillery. Witness to Europe’s military build-up in advance of World War I, Douhet warned the Ministry of War of the consequences of aerial bombardment. Douhet envisioned the destruction of Italy’s coastal cities from the air, and with them its materiel and morale. In his biographical dissertation of Douhet, Frank Capelluti writes that “this is the first clear indication of the strategic bombing concept as it developed in Douhet’s mind.”[5] Though strategic bombing would become one of the most influential concepts of airpower theory, Douhet’s impatience had put him at odds with his superior, Commander of the Inspectorate, Colonel Maurizio Moris, and landed him a transfer to the infantry on the eve of the First World War. Relieved from his position as Commander of the Aviation Battalion, Douhet began World War I as Chief of Staff for troops at Edolo while airplanes took to the skies overhead.

From his position as Chief of Staff, Douhet came to the opinion that the ground offensive against Austria was unwinnable and began to criticize the general staff’s strategy to members of the Italian parliament. By September 1917 nearly a million men had lost their lives in offensives that moved the Italian front barely 30 miles into Austria. Douhet’s criticism charged the general staff with misuse of aviation and once again called for strategic bombing of targets in Austria. For his criticism, Douhet faced court-martial in 1916 and served one year in prison. Douhet was released from prison on October 15, 1917 and returned to duty. That month, just as Douhet predicted in his criticism that had resulted in his court-martial, Italy suffered its most terrible defeat of the First World War at Caporetto. The events of Caporetto were later officially determined to confirm Douhet’s criticism and his court-martial was expunged in 1920. Upon returning to service, Douhet was named Central Director of Aviation at the General Air Commissariat. “[I]n only a few months conflict broke out between the ideas which sprang like sparks from his keen intelligence and fertile imagination, and bureaucratic resistance to the intrusion of innovations dealing with the new air weapon,” according to Raymond Flugel’s dissertation on Douhet’s influence on United States airpower doctrine.[6] In 1921, the year The Command of The Air was published, Douhet resigned to focus his attention on writing.

Douhet’s tenets of airpower in The Command of The Air are the product of both a synthesis of theories and concepts developed by his contemporaries and an evolution of his own thinking expressed throughout his service in the military. It is in The Command of The Air that Douhet consolidates and refines a career of prophetic ideas and observations into what became a foundational document of airpower doctrine and strategy. Douhet’s central thesis establishes aviation’s capability to transform warfare through the technological superiority of the airplane over surface warfare capabilities. In effect, The Command of The Air defines the results, consequences and opportunities this new technology will have on warfare. “This new arm had sprung suddenly into the field of war; and its characteristics, radically different from those of any other arm employed up to that time, were still undefined,” writes Douhet in his first chapter, titled, The New Form of War.[7] Defining airpower was Douhet’s life work and The Command of The Air was Douhet’s most sweeping, organized, and complete strategy.

For Douhet, the consequences of this “new arm” in the field of warfare eliminates the notion of a ‘front’ that was prevalent during the First World War. As a result of the airplane’s ability to enter an enemy’s territory, countries are required to gain command of the air to both cause and prevent the destruction of the nation behind the fortified lines of defense. This new consequence of the changing nature of war led Douhet to define command of the air as the ability to deny the enemy the ability to fly while retaining that ability for yourself. This is necessary because, “by virtue of this new weapon, the repercussions of war are no longer limited by the farthest artillery range of surface guns, but can be directly felt for hundreds of miles over all the lands and seas of nations at war. No longer can areas exist in which life can be lived in safety and tranquility, nor can the battlefield any longer be limited to actual combatants. On the contrary, the battlefield will be limited only by the boundaries of the nations at war, and all of their citizens will become combatants, since all of them will be exposed to the aerial offensives of the enemy. There will be no distinction any longer between soldiers and civilians… All of this must inevitably effect a profound change in the form of future wars, because essential characteristics of those wars will be radically different from those of any previous ones,” according to Douhet.[8] This conceptualization of the effects of developments in aerial warfare has continued to be a source of debate for airpower theorists up to the present.


Critical Assumptions and Enduring Elements of The Command of The Air

The scholar, Edward Warner, identified the main assumptions of The Command of The Air in his 1941 essay titled, “Douhet, Mitchell, Seversky: Theories of Air Warfare.” He determined that the major assumptions that underpin Douhet’s argument are, “(1) Aircraft are instruments of offense of incompatible potentialities, against which no effective defense is foreseen;” and, “(2) Civilian morale will be shattered by bombardment of centers of population.”[9] These assumptions establish the foundation for the absolute superiority of the air domain over warfare conducted on the land and at sea. Unlike the other domains, airpower can shatter civilian morale, through the destruction of the logistical capacity to wage war, or by terrorizing population centers causing the civilian populace to force a political end to conflict. Beatrice Heuser likens the debate of choosing between these targets as an extension of the naval blockade that stopped supplies from reaching the front.[10] According to Douhetism however, airpower’s unique capability alters the character of war and represents a new form of total war not even seen during the devastation of the First World War.

From this foundation, Warner identifies what he considers the five basic elements of Douhetism. These elements have enduring value for airpower strategists analyzing Douhet’s theories. First, Warner identifies Douhet’s belief that the air is the most important battle space. Warner then identifies Douhet’s dual concept of strategic bombing and total war. These two elements are inextricably linked as strategic bombardment changed the character of war by making it possible to attack the population and logistics centers behind the front lines on the battlefield and therefore engage the civilians in total war. Fourth, Warner argues that Douhet believes that military mechanization forces ground troops to take a defensive posture. Fifth, Warner’s last element of Douhetism is the supremacy of the bomber over all other aircraft. Warner’s five elements of Douhetism found in The Command of The Air are the product of Douhet’s career of advocating for the transformative capabilities of airpower and the superiority of the airplane.

Warner’s first element of Douhetism in The Command of The Air is that the air is the dominant domain of warfare.  Warner cites Douhet in The Command of The Air as writing, “in order to assure an adequate national defense, it is necessary—and sufficient—to be in a position in case of war to conquer the command of the air.”[11]  Therefore, according to Douhet, a country’s entire security rests on its ability to command the air. However, if ensuring national security requires a nation take ‘command of the air,’ we must ask, what does Douhet mean by ‘command of the air’? Douhet provides a simple, yet absolute, definition. He writes, “to have command of the air means to be in a position to prevent the enemy from flying while retaining the ability to fly oneself.”[12] According to Douhet, the air is the dominant domain of war because without absolute command of the air to conduct and protect one’s own country from an aerial offensive, national security cannot be ensured.

Douhet and his contemporaries used this first element of Douhetism to advocate for an independent air force. Douhet intensified his own argument for the superiority of the air domain over the land and sea during his military career. As early as 1909, Douhet gave equal importance to the three domains. He predicted then that “soon the command of the air will be no less important [than that of the seas] because only by having such command—and only then—can we make use of the advantages made possible by aerial observation and the ability to see targets clearly—advantages which we shall not be able fully to enjoy until we have the aerial power to keep the enemy grounded. The struggle for the command of the air will be bitter; and the so called civilized nations will strive to forge the most telling means to wage the conflict.”[13] By 1927, Douhet had gone much further, advocating the primacy of the air domain over the land and sea by writing, “to conquer the command of the air means victory; to be beaten in the air means defeat and acceptance of whatever terms the enemy may be pleased to impose.”[14] Airpower theorists have since argued to what extent airpower can independently attain victory over all other domains of warfare.

Douhet began advocating the independence of the air domain as soon as the superior technical capabilities of airplanes was evident. The argument for an independent air force in The Command of The Air naturally followed and his views became more extreme after 1921 when he faced criticism from the army and navy. The debate became, in Thomas Hippler’s words, between ‘war from the air’ as compared to ‘war in the air.’ [15] In the second edition, published in 1927, Douhet had changed his thinking on the organization of the air forces, which originally envisioned equal components of “aerial means used by the army and navy,” and “aerial means destined to carry out war missions in which neither the army nor navy can take part.”[16] He now believed that “aerial means set aside for auxiliary aviation are means diverted from the essential purpose” that are “worthless, superfluous and harmful.”[17] This contention has become the source of inter-service rivalry between armies, navies, and independent air forces across the world.

Warner’s second and third elements of Douhetism, which address total war and strategic bombing, are possibly the most debated by historians. Douhet wrote that when evaluating strategic bombing targets, “the truth of the matter is that no hard and fast rules can be laid down on this aspect of aerial warfare. It is impossible even to outline general standards, because the choice of enemy targets will depend upon a number of circumstances, material, moral, and psychological, the importance of which, though real, is not easily estimated.”[18] One widely accepted view on Douhet’s concepts of total war and strategic bombing, held by theorists including Warner and Gian P. Gentile, asserts that Douhet holds a nation’s industrial capacity and the enemy’s air force to be the primary targets of bombing missions. This is done, according to Douhet, because, “the essential purpose of an Air Force is to conquer the command of the air by first wiping out the enemy’s air forces.”[19] Once this is accomplished, Douhet writes that bombing strategic targets, including rail roads, ports, and population centers, will quickly bring victory. Douhet summarizes his concept of total war by writing, “the fundamental concept governing aerial warfare is to be resigned to the damage the enemy may inflict upon us, while utilizing every means at our disposal to inflict even heavier damage upon him.”[20]

Warner’s fourth element of Douhetism in The Command of The Air, that ground forces are to be delegated to defensive responsibilities, is the result of Douhet’s reaction to the destructive stalemate of the First World War. After witnessing the efficiency and devastation of machine guns, small-caliber arms, mortars, and the mechanization of systems of defense along Italy’s northern front with Austria, Douhet concluded that there had been an upheaval in the character of war which favored only the defensive on the ground. “Every development or improvement in firearms favors the defensive,” according Douhet.[21] Still, Douhet acknowledged that victory in warfare is dependent on offensive action and attributes the destruction of the First World War to the failure of the combatants to strike a decisive blow. The airplane, Douhet believes is ‘the offensive weapon par excellence’ and that it was not properly utilized in the First World War. Douhet’s application of an aerial offensive to avoid the stalemate and bloody trench warfare of the First World War is but one attempt at altering the strategies that war employed to avoid a repeat of its outcome in the future.

Finally, Warner’s last element of Douhetism from The Command of The Air is that the bomber is superior to the fighter aircraft. Douhet’s preference for the bomber rests on his concept of strategic bombardment as the most effective form of aerial offense and his disdain for interdiction efforts by defending fighter aircraft. Therefore, the bomber is the superior airplane because it is capable of delivering the greatest payload of devastating bombs and toxic gas munitions upon the enemy’s industrial centers and cities.  Douhet called the plane that delivers this payload the “battle plane.” He is clear on an air force’s need for such planes, stating, “we have been able to determine through deduction the characteristics a battle plane should have—the only type of plane which should make up the operating mass of an Independent Air Force—the only organism necessary, because sufficient in itself, to wage aerial warfare.”[22] Meanwhile, on the ground below, Douhet observes that “nothing man can do on the surface of the earth can interfere with a plane in flight, moving freely in the third dimension.”[23] Douhet’s battle plane concept was controversial and contributed to his court-martial for his independent support of the Caproni 300 bomber leading up to the First World War. Yet, like many of Douhet’s concepts it also found credence even if it was not entirely accepted. In the words of British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin speaking before Parliament in 1932, the fear that “the bomber will always get through” had become a reality before World War II.[24]


Reaction to Douhetism and The Command of The Air

The theories of airpower Douhet synthesized in The Command of The Air began to slowly gain influence in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Either their geography in the case of the U.S. and U.K., or defensive mentality in the case of France, favored the long-range strike capabilities of airpower and appealed to their military leadership. In the U.K., the prevalence and appeal of the concepts of Douhetism, if not the direct influence of The Command of The Air, had already gained popularity from a contemporary of Douhet’s, Frederick Sykes, the Royal Air Force Chief of Staff, and later, Hugh Trenchard, who supported RAF long-range bombers in 1918.[25] In the U.S. at the Army Air Corps Tactical School, Douhet’s influence had been felt since as early as 1923 when the first English translation of The Command of The Air appeared there. While the School throughout the period 1920-1935 was of course subject to various influences of an intellectual order, there was none so pervasive or significant as that of Douhet,” Flugel concludes.[26]  By 1928, elements of Douhetism such as strategic bombing, the overriding importance of offensive aerial operations, and even the superiority of Douhet’s “battle plane” concept had taken hold at the U.S. War Department, according to Flugel.[27] Though it is debatable which of the early airpower theorists had the greatest influence it is clear that the concepts now known as Douhetism were prominent among the world’s militaries in the years prior to World War II.

Criticism of Douhet, just as the legacy of his influence, is extensive. Many prominent scholars of airpower, such as Bernard Brodie, J.F.C. Fuller, and Stefan Thomas Possony, have argued that World War II was a test of Douhet’s theories, and the results proved them invalid.[28] Others, many of them officers of the Italian Air Force, take the opposing position and defend Douhet, believing his general principals to have been vindicated by the success of strategic bombing.[29] Though the criticism of The Command of The Air is voluminous, in part because of Douhet’s definiteness, it is recognized as an essential text for the development of modern airpower theory because few deny that the concepts of Douhetism, especially strategic bombing, have some degree of influence on the character of war.

Among the criticisms of Douhet is his deficiency in appreciating aeronautical technology advancements in speed and radar for the purpose of air-to-air combat. Douhet’s rejection of the importance of speed is one of the most popular criticisms. On the topic of speed, Douhet wrote, “what determines victory in aerial warfare is fire power. Speed serves only to come to grips with the foe and to flee from him, no more.”[30] Warner called Douhet’s failure to anticipate the importance of increased speed, “the worst of all of Douhet’s failures in dealing with technical development.”[31] As an example, Brodie cited Germany’s loss in the 1940 Battle of Britain as an example of Douhet’s failure to appreciate the changes in aerial warfare resulting from improved speed and radar capabilities and thus the failure of Douhetism.[32] Brodie criticizes Douhet’s rejection of the role of air defense and interdiction, and the important effect technology has had in expanding the role of the air force beyond Douhet’s focus on offensive strategic bombardment. Together with the advent of radar, the engine and aeronautical improvements that produced increasing difference in relative speed between fighters and bombers during World War II damaged Douhet’s presumption of the dominance of the aerial offensive.

The other significant criticism of Douhet’s concept of airpower strategy is the lack of attention and thought he devoted to tactical applications of airpower. In the bureaucratic inter-service rivalry from which Douhet wrestled control of the air force, tactical operations were relegated to ‘auxiliary’ responsibilities and Douhetism focused on the strategic applications of an independent air force. However, Douhet himself said with certainty that the application of airpower in the First World War provided no guidance whatsoever for the future.[33] In John Olsen’s A History of Air Warfare,John H. Morrow Jr. reminds us of the danger of forgetting lessons of past wars. He writes, “theory and wishful thinking after the Great War focused on strategic aviation and nearly drove the lessons of tactical aerial importance and success from the minds of postwar observers. The more postwar aviation theorists speculated on the ability of strategic bombardment to force enemy capitulation by bombing cities, wrecking war industry and civilian morale, the less they seemed to remember the contributions of battlefield aviation.”[34] Douhet, according to his critics, was certainly focused on strategic airpower to the detriment of developing theories for the application of aerial warfare to tactical operations. Critics point to the importance of close air support in the air campaign during the Vietnam War as examples of the strategic amnesia of Douhetism.

Possibly the most controversial of Douhet’s concepts that continues to attract scrutiny is strategic bombardment. The debate most often centers on the issue of proving the effectiveness of strategic bombing. On one side, scholars such as J.F.C. Fuller and Gian P. Gentile call strategic bombardment ineffective and take issue with post-war evaluations of its success. “As an experiment, the strategic bombing of Germany up to the spring of 1944 was an extravagant failure. Instead of shortening the war, its cost in raw materials and industrial manpower prolonged it,” writes Fuller.[35]  This then introduces the question of morality as a second ground upon which critics take issue. Douhet advocated strategic bombardment against civilians on the basis that it will reduce overall suffering, but by questioning the effectiveness of that bombing, its morality is also questioned. However, post-war studies such as the United States Strategic Bombing Survey conducted after World War II, which evaluated the effectiveness of strategic bombing, found that it was indeed successful in bringing the war to a quicker end.

Today airplanes equipped with Precision Guided Missiles (PGMs) have ushered in a new era of strategic bombardment that once again seems to offer the promise of altering the character of war. The ability to accurately target the leadership of opposing forces led to the popularity of Col. John A. Warden’s concept of Warden’s Rings that placed leadership as the primary target of conventional, targeted strikes during the first Gulf War of 1990-1991. The re-ascendance of Douhet’s concepts of strategic bombing, as a result of advances in technology, was noted in the Summary Report of the Gulf War Air Power Survey (GWAPS), written by Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen. It reports that the 1990-1991 Gulf War is seen by some as “evidence that technology has finally enabled airmen to fulfill the expectations” of “air proponents such as Guilio Douhet and Billy Mitchell” that “described the things that air power could achieve in theory, but until the Gulf War, air forces lacked the ‘tools and systems capable of achieving them’ in practice.”[36] (The authors of the GWAPS report did not endorse that conclusion.)  The morality and effectiveness of strategic bombardment, which Douhet helped introduce to airpower theorists, remains a part of our strategic debate today in the discussion of the use of PGMs and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the war against global terrorism.


Douhet’s Contribution to Airpower 

The Command of The Air has had enduring influence on airpower and strategy. Ever since its popularity took hold, the concepts of his theory of airpower strategy, known as Douhetism, have been the starting point for debate on military air operations. Though not the first nor only text to recognize the consequences that the airplane would might on the character of warfare, The Command of The Air is an indisputable classic of military strategy because of Douhet’s systematic and forceful argument. In a measure of Douhet’s recognition, U.S Air Force Historian, Dr. Richard P. Hallion wrote of Douhet, “in the pantheon of air power spokesman, Giulio Douhet holds center stage.”[37] Douhet’s classic, published in 1921, has remained a source of modern strategy that has transcended any reaction to the devastation of the First World War that Douhetism originally sought to overcome, to remain a guiding document for strategists of warfare’s third dimension, the air.


[1] Lee B. Kennett, A History of Strategic Bombing (New York: Scribner, 1982), 57.

[2] Azar Gat, Fascist and Liberal Visions of War: Fuller, Liddell Hart, Douhet, and Other Modernists (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 571.

[3] John Shy, “Jomini,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret, Gordon Alexander Craig, and Felix Gilbert (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 182.

[4][4] Giulio Douhet, The Command of The Air (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998), viii.

[5] Frank Cappelluti, The Life and Thought of Giulio Douhet (Diss. Rutgers University, 1967), 67.

[6] Raymond Flugel, United States Air Power Doctrine: A Study of the Influence of William Mitchell and Giulio Douhet at the Air Corps Tactical School, 1921-1935 (Diss. University of Oklahoma, 1965), 78.

[7] Douhet, The Command of The Air, 3.

[8] Ibid, 9-10.

[9] Edward Warner, “Douhet, Mitchell, Seversky: Theories of Air Warfare,” in Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler, ed. Edward Mead Earle, Gordon Alexander Craig, and Felix Gilbert, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 489.

[10] Beatrice Heuser, The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 317.

[11] Douhet, The Command of The Air, 28.

[12] Ibid, 24.

[13] Ibid, 27-28.

[14] Ibid, 28.

[15] Thomas Hippler, Bombing the People: Giulio Douhet and the Foundations of Air-power Strategy, 1884-1939 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 45.

[16] Douhet, The Command of The Air, 71-72.

[17] Ibid, 100.

[18] Ibid, 59.

[19] Ibid, 50-51.

[20] Ibid, 59.

[21] Ibid, 11.

[22] Ibid, 117-119, 123-125.

[23] Ibid, 9.

[24] Stanley Baldwin, “A Fear for the Future” (quoted in House of Commons Debates 10 November 1932 volume 270), 632.

[25] Richard Overy, “The Air War in Europe, 1939- 1945,” in A History of Air Warfare, ed. John Andreas Olsen, (Washington, D.C.: Potomac, 2010), 28.

[26] Flugel, United States Air Power Doctrine, 255.

[27] Ibid, 226.

[28] Cappelluti, The Life and Thought of Giulio Douhet, 247.

[29] Ibid, 256.

[30] Douhet, The Command of The Air, 44.

[31] Warner, “Douhet, Mitchell, Seversky: Theories of Air Warfare,” 494.

[32] Bernard Brodie, The Heritage of Douhet (Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Corp., 1952), 39.

[33] Ibid, 6.

[34] John H. Morrow, Jr., “First World War, 1914-1919,” in A History of Air Warfare, ed. John Andreas Olsen, (Washington, D.C.: Potomac, 2010),  25.

[35] J. F. C. Fuller, The Second World War, 1939-1945: A Strategical and Tactical History (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949), 231.

[36] Eliot A. Cohen, and Thomas A Keaney. Gulf War Air Power Survey (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, 1993), 235-36. The report concludes that the air campaign in the Gulf War did not follow either the approach recommended by Douhet, or that espoused by the U.S. Army Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s (precision bombing of industrial targets). The short, intense campaign was designed preeminently to disorganize the “central nervous system” of the enemy regime.

[37] Douhet, The Command of The Air, iii.



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Douhet, Giulio, The Command of The Air. Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998.

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