AvStop Magazine Online
Section 1. EVALUATION OF PAST AIRBORNE EXPERIENCE
In spite of rockets and atom bombs, it is still the possession of the land, the conquest of enemy territory, that will decide the issue in a war. The possession of the land is the visible sign of victory, and its occupation is a guarantee of the exercise of complete control The occupying power definitely deprives the enemy of all chances of exploiting the territory with regard to natural resources, raw materials, industries, population, air bases, etc., while the occupier is able to utilize these for his own benefit and in the end force the enemy to surrender. The prerequisite, however, for the capture, the occupation, and the holding of a territory is the elimination of the enemy fighting forces which can defend the country and dispute its possession.
For a long time the most effective means of eliminating the enemy fighting forces seemed to be the method of envelopment, which is stressed particularly in the German theory of the art of war. An envelopment is directed at the enemy's weakest spot and cuts him off from his rear communications. During World War I the increasing effectiveness of weapons and the expansion of armies lessened the chances for large-scale envelopments and led to extended front lines with flanks anchored on impregnable points. The tactics of envelopment were replaced by the break-through, which during World War II was the objective of the mobile and combat-efficient panzer formations.
Airborne operations, carried out for the first time during World War II, point to a new trend. An air landing behind the enemy front is, after all, nothing but an envelopment by air, an envelopment executed in the third dimension. Herein lies its significance and an indication of the role it will play in future wars.
World War II has shown that airborne operations are practicable; furthermore, the results have proved that air landings are not one-time measures which owe their effectiveness exclusively to the element of surprise and then can no longer be applied. On the contrary, the events of World War II have demonstrated that it is extremely difficult for a defender to prevent or render ineffectual any airborne operations which are carried out with superior forces.
The airborne operations carried out during World War II still represent in every respect purely tactical measures taken in closest cooperation with the ground forces. Strategic concepts rarely entered into the picture. Even the capture of an island represented an individual action of strictly limited scope.
The continued technical improvement of all types of aircraft since the end of the war with regard to speed, range, and carrying capacity makes it appear quite possible that the scope of airborne operations will also increase in proportion to the number of forces and weapons which can be employed. Even today, it is probably no longer utopian to think of air landings as large-scale envelopments or even, beyond that, as outflanking movements in the third dimension, which will no longer merely aim at attacking the enemy's position from the rear, but will force him to relinquish his position in order to form an inverted front against the attacking forces that have landed far behind his lines.
For the most part, such considerations are limited by technical factors. This study cannot determine what these limitations are and how they apply to the present or the future, if only for the reason that the author lacks the necessary technical information. Besides, at the present rapid rate of technical progress, today's daydreams may be accomplished facts by tomorrow. This report, therefore, merely represents an analysis of some of the problems involved in airborne operations and a general evaluation of the resulting possibilities.