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The Key ‘Relationships’
Haig was not a technophobe, any doubts he may have had concerning aviation had been altered during the first weeks of the war. Although he appreciated what aircraft might do for him, he did not pretend to understand exactly how this would be achieved, for this he deferred to his air commander, Trenchard. This deference was first in evidence when Haig as First Army Commander and Trenchard First Armies RFC Wing Cmdr first met in the run up to Neuve Chapelle. Haig trusted Trenchard leaving him to run the RFC, never seeking to interfere. He was resolute in his support for his air commander, for example complaining to the War Office when supplies were slow in arriving and suppressing attempts after the Somme to subordinate elements of the RFC to the Artillery.
Under Haig’s umbrella, between August 1915 and his departure to become Chief of the Air Staff in January 1918, Trenchard established the policy by which the RFC and later the RAF operated. Trenchard’s guiding principles were simple and clear cut:
- The RFC was part of the British Army, and no call from that army must ever find the RFC wanting. A Tactical Focus.
- Air superiority must be fought for, gained, and retained at any cost, necessitating an aggressive posture even in adversity. The Strategic Offensive.
- War could not be conducted effectively without casualties.
(Ralph Barker, The Royal Flying Corps in France – From Mons to the Somme (London: Constable, 1994), p. 87).
Although some of Trenchard’s actions merit criticism it must be remembered that war in the air was new, there were no experiences to fall back on.
Major Maurice Baring, Trenchard’s ADC was central to the articulation of his policies. Trenchard lacked the verbal and written skills to convey them. Baring seemed to have the ability to translate for him and always produced orders and memoranda on his behalf that were a model of clarity. Baring was Trenchard’s right hand man. “Take a note, Baring” became a familiar saying in the RFC. Baring was famous as a novelist, translator, dramatist and poet. He had made a name for himself as a travel writer and war correspondent long before he joined the Royal Flying Corps as an administrator.
Next: ‘Cult of the Offensive’