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Biplanes at War: US Marine Corps Aviation in the Small Wars Era, 1915-1934

by Wray R. Johnson

Availablecloth$50.00x 978-0-8131-7704-5
Aviation & Air Power
440 pages  Pubdate: 04/16/2019  6 x 9  61 b&w photos, 6 maps, 6 tables

Unlike the relative uniformity of conventional warfare, the peculiarities of small wars prevent a clear definition of rules and roles for military forces to follow. During the small wars era, aviation was still in its infancy, and the US military had only recently begun battling in the skies. The US Marine Corps recognized that flexibility and ingenuity would be critical to the successful conduct of small wars and thus employed the new technology of aviation.

In Biplanes at War: US Marine Corps Aviation in the Small Wars Era, 1915–1934, author Wray R. Johnson provides a riveting history of the marines’ use of aviation between the world wars, a time in which young soldiers were volunteering to fly in combat when flying itself was a dangerous feat. Starting with Haiti in 1915, Biplanes at War follows the marines’ aviation experiences in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, China, and Nicaragua, chronicling how marines used aircraft to provide supporting fires (e.g., dive-bombing) to ground troops in close contact with irregular opponents, evacuate the sick and wounded, transport people and cargo (e.g., to assist humanitarian operations), and even support elections in furtherance of democracy.

After years of expanding the capabilities of airplanes far beyond what was deemed possible, the small wars era ended, and the US Marines Corps transitioned into an amphibious assault force. The legacy of the marines’ ability to adapt and innovate during the small wars era endures and provides a useful case study. Biplanes at War sheds light on how the marines pioneered roles and missions that have become commonplace for air forces today, an accomplishment that has largely gone unrecognized in mainstream histories of aviation and air power.

Wray R. Johnson is professor of military history at the School of Advanced Warfighting, Marine Corps University. He is a retired US Air Force colonel with a background in special operations and is the author of Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists and Vietnam and American Doctrine for Small Wars.

"Well written, with some very informative footnotes, this is a useful read for anyone interested in the USMC, air power, or small wars." -- The NYMAS Review: A Publication of The New York Military Affairs Symposium

US Air Force colonel and Marine Corps University professor Wray Johnson has expanded aerospace expertise with this solid history. After two decades of the Global War on Terrorism, this well researched narrative is of interest to aviation and the land forces at the heart of the Marine Air Ground Task Force. Biplanes at War is highly recommended for those who are interested in air power in peripheral or nontraditional conflicts. It provides the needed flip side of conventional warfare. -- Charles D. Melson, Chief Historian (Ret), History Division, US Marine Corps University

Wray R. Johnson has written an important book that links the unique history of Marine Corps aviation and the Corps’ equally unique experience with unconventional warfare. Johnson offers an objective look at the challenges, innovations, contributions, and occasional missteps of the pioneers and their advocates. Biplanes at War outlines how the US Marine Corps reversed the common mistake of simply applying conventional methods to small wars and instead developed its aviation capability in small wars and then applied it with great success in both the conventional and small wars that followed. -- Christopher Owens, Maj. Gen., USMC (Ret.)