Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Eyes all over the Sky - a review

John Streckfuss' book "Eyes all over the Sky: Aerial Reconnasaince in the Fist World War" (Casemate Publishers) turns a spotlight onto the importance of aerial observation to the war effort and how this key activity came to be overshadowed and forgotten by it's owning institutions and historians.

It's certainly a well researched and documented work. Of the books 239 pages almost 30% of the work is taken up by the citations. While this quantity shows a level of rigor worthy of academia, the level of writing is quite accessible to the casual reader.

Streckfuss lays out the case that the majority of aerial activities during the war were observation actions - be it spotting for guns, mapping the battlefield or searching for the enemy. The quantities of fighters was less and the role of the fighter was supplemental to that of the observation aircraft - that is the fighters role was either to deny space to enemy observation aircraft or to escort friendly observation aircraft to ensure they accomplished their mission.

The book provides a good high level discussion of the origins and growth of observation activities both over land and at sea and speaks to the challenge of creating a 'data source' that struggled to feed the voracious demands of the operational staffs on both sides.

Much of the narrative is constructed to support the  author's hypothesis that observation activities became overshadowed and forgotten for multiple reasons. There is good coverage of post-war political jockeying in the United States for the creation of a separate Air Force along with the positions advanced by the post-war warrior theorists that the real value of aircraft lay in the fighting power and not in their observational ability.

Streckfuss' lays out an interesting case for reclaiming an emphasis on observation, one made even more timely when reflected through the prism of the observation revolution that UAV and digital systems have made possible in the past twenty years. 

The author has been researching WWI aviation history for nearly fifty years. He is a founder of the League of World War I Aviation Historians and a long-standing editor of its leading journal Over the Front, as well as President of the League for eleven years. He has edited and contributed to several books on aviation history and holds a PhD from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio.

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