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Douhet's antagonist: Amedeo Mecozzi's alternative vision of air power.


Contrary to popular belief, Giulio Douhet, Italy's well-known air power visionary-whose powerful and controversial ideas continue to provoke debate about the efficacy of air power--was not without opposition in Italy. Before his most famous work, Il Dominio Dell'Area, was translated into English as The Command of the Air, Douhet's ideas were heavily criticized by a clever Italian air force officer named Amedeo Mecozzi. Mecozzi challenged many of Douhet's key concepts, including the very notion of "command of the air," but also the efficacy of long-range "strategic bombardment," the targeting of civilians, and the idea that an "air force," independent of the other armed services, could achieve victory in war. Concomitant with his strong criticism of Dohuet's propositions, Mecozzi proffered his own concepts about air power, ideas that offer an interesting and useful counterpoint to those of Douhet in the context of the continuing debate about the role of air power in modern warfare. But, despite his important role in the development of air power, a complete biography of Mecozzi does not yet exist, and most of his work (especially the essays published in professional journals) have yet to be translated into English and are difficult to access outside of Italy. Thus, Mecozzi's thoughts on air power are a subject limited to a select group of specialists in aviation history, and the full weight of his ideas will, for the foreseeable future at least, remain hidden.

With the above in mind, this essay provides only a cursory examination of Mecozzi's work with the intent to explore his ideas as antithesis to the more famous thesis of Douhet. In that regard, the relationship between Mecozzi and Douhet is not unlike that between Lt. Col. William C. "Bill" Sherman and Brig. Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell, the latter another icon of air power history. A onetime subordinate of Mitchell, Sherman was perhaps the most intellectually flexible of the early air power advocates. Sherman was present when the foundations of air power theory were laid, and he played a significant role in the construction of U.S. Army aviation doctrine between the world wars until his death in 1927. Virtually forgotten today, Sherman's book, Air Warfare, was much more rigorous in its approach and balanced in its argument than Mitchell's Winged Defense, and there is some evidence that Mitchell borrowed heavily from Sherman's ideas. (1) Likewise, there is a strong argument to be made that the theoretical underpinnings of the Italian Regia Aeronautica owe more to Mecozzi than Douhet.

Amedeo Mecozzi was born in Rome on January 17, 1892. As a young man he enlisted in the Regio Esercito (Royal Army) in the engineer corps. A few months after the beginning of World War I, he was assigned to the aviation service and in September 1915 he attended the basic flying course at the Malpensa Pilots School (Varese), where he was awarded his wings. During that time, he flew the Farman 12 and later the Farman 14 aircraft. From March 1916 to January 1917, Mecozzi served with the 46th, 48th, 49th, and 50th Squadrons. In September 1917, Mecozzi returned to the Malpensa Pilots School to train as a fighter pilot. On October 4, 1917, he received a battlefield promotion to first lieutenant. He was then assigned to the 76th Squadron and later to the 78th Squadron, where he remained until February 1919. With six aerial Victories under his belt, he was one of the most distinguished Italian fighter pilots of World War I, and over the course of the war he was awarded the War Cross as well as one silver and two bronze Military Valour medals.

After the war, Mecozzi joined the Italian military mission to Paris and later in Rome he conducted experimental flights with several new aircraft. From 1926 to 1929 he was the Public Information Officer for the Regia Aeronautica. In October 1929, newly promoted to major, Mecozzi took command of the 7th Land Fighter Group at Ciampino near Rome. By April 1937, he had been promoted to brigadier general and took command of the 7th Autonomous Assault Group. There he experimented with various ideas regarding the roles and missions of air power. Due to poor health Mecozzi did not actively participate in World War II. But following his retirement from military service in 1945, he became the chairman of the Royal Air Club of Italy and editor of Rivista Aeronautica. He died in Rome on November 2, 1971. (2)

In December 1920, Mecozzi published a critique of Douhet's pioneering and revolutionary ideas regarding the future of aviation. He focused his criticism on Douhet's vision of "command of the air," arguing that the idea was flawed mostly because it was simply too difficult to achieve. (3) Not unlike Mitchell and Sherman, Douhet was the visionary whereas Mecozzi was much more practical and, arguably, balanced in his approach. Douhet expressed grand certainties about the future of air power based on very little empirical evidence but pointing, nonetheless, to what he believed would prove irrefutable permanent principles on the conduct of aerial warfare. In that sense, Douhet's approach has been described as Jominian. (4) But as one student of Douhet has noted, although his rationalism paralleled that of Jomini, it went much further. (5) Indeed, although Douhet's methodology was based on a contemporary understanding of science, technology, and deductive logic, he advanced principles regarding air warfare that amounted to dogmatism. (6) With that in mind, the criticism of the late historian Claudio Segre is enlightening. Segre highlighted the deterministic approach of Douhet and proclaimed that "he detested the romance of flying." Unlike Mecozzi, who regarded pilots as having great insight about aerial warfare, Douhet believed that "airplanes were weapons delivery systems and pilots were mere technicians." (7)


Given his background and experience, it is not surprising that Mecozzi's approach was significantly different from that of Douhet. Whereas Douhet was a graduate of the Military Academy, Mecozzi was self-educated. And unlike Douhet, the earth-bound artillery officer, Mecozzi was a distinguished combat pilot and an ace. On the other hand, both men had a strong intellectual curiosity and both were prolific authors, writing several books each as well as numerous articles,s Not unlike Alexander P. DeSeverskey, a Russian combat pilot during World War I, founder of the Republic Aircraft Corporation, and the designer of numerous aircraft of World War II, Mecozzi appreciated not only the promise of aviation but also its limitations. He knew what it meant to fly and fight but, more importantly, he possessed a sound technical knowledge of aircraft and their capabilities. In the end his understanding of air warfare was based on his wartime experience, which "set the fighter pilot [Mecozzi] against the Regio Esercito General Staff Colonel [Douhet] ." (9)


As noted earlier, the key point criticized by Mecozzi was the whole idea of command of the air. For Douhet, "To have command of the air means to be in a position to wield offensive power so great it defies human imagination." Moreover, "To be defeated in the air [is] to be defeated and to be at the mercy of the enemy." Consequently, to achieve command of the air "means Victory." (10) In the 1920s and 1930s such an idea was very appealing to many Italian, British, and American military aviators. At a time when the role of aviation was considered in many armies to be secondary and supportive of surface operations, Douhet's notion of winning wars through the offensive, strategic, and independent employment of air power was a compelling concept. In accordance with Douhet's argument, the roles would be reversed: an independent air force would take the lead in carrying the fight to the enemy while the surface forces--that is, the army and navy--would play a secondary, even adjunctive role. (11)

In 1926, Mecozzi presented his own ideas about air warfare in Rivista Aeronautica. (12) Mecozzi was very skeptical that command of the air could ever realistically be achieved. (13) He maintained that Douhet's idea of total defeat of the enemy air force was impracticable and the requirement to create an air force capable of pursuing such an objective was inconsistent with Italy's economic well being. (14) Therefore, rather than committing significant and scarce national resources to building such an air force, Mecozzi suggested that the best course was to develop an air force capable of supporting the surface forces as well as striking high value enemy targets in the enemy rear, the destruction of which would significantly affect the course of a military campaign. (15)


Mecozzi argued that air power is but one element of the broader concept of military power and the two cannot be separated. In short, there is no air power strategy apart from military strategy and the air force and the other services complement one another. He, therefore, rejected Douhet's idea that an air force should operate independently from the action of surface forces. (16) Mecozzi believed that combat power is the sum total of all the armed forces operating in cooperation with one another and that the various forces available--air and surface-should act together to achieve decisive results. (17) Similarly, Mecozzi sought to refute Douhet's categorical assertion that "aerial warfare admits of no defense, only offense,"is recommending the development of a sophisticated air defense plan for Italy, with fighter groups covering specific zones. (19) In addition, not unlike Sherman, Mecozzi appreciated the great potential of air defense artillery. However, he recommended control of air defense artillery be given to the air force, which he believed to be the most competent armed service to coordinate air defense both on the ground and in the air. (20)

According to Mecozzi, whether on the offense or the defense, once the battle is joined the outcome is determined by many factors and the extent to which the air force is able to gain control of the air may or may not play a decisive role in deciding the outcome. Much depends on the relative capabilities of the contending air forces. If, for example, an enemy were to attack with a powerful air force, one equal to or perhaps more powerful than one's own air force, then the fight on the ground would probably determine the outcome of the war while the two air forces wrestled for air superiority. On the other hand, were one's own air force strong enough to quickly prevail over an enemy air force, the enemy's land forces would be vulnerable to air attack and their ability to continue operations would be sorely threatened. Yet, even then the enemy air force would contest command of the air and under such conditions friendly ground forces would still be required to exert considerable, if not maximum, effort to resist an enemy attack. (21) Likewise, one's own attack would be constrained by enemy air action even if one's own air force achieved some measure of command of the air. In short, Mecozzi believed that obtaining command of the air is very much tied to one's own as well as the enemy's air potential. (22) He wrote: "To achieve command of the air is as much Douhet's legitimate aspiration as mine, but it is also the enemy's aspiration. Douhet always forgets this." (23)

Mecozzi claimed that realistically command of the air can only be achieved temporarily. Writing in a vein similar to that of a British contemporary, Wing Commander J. C. "Jack" Slessor, he wrote: "Do not waste time pursuing command of the air, but commit yourself to achieve those local and temporary superiorities that effectively contribute to decisive results on the ground." (24) For Mecozzi, then, the goal is to achieve a favorable edge in the correlation between one's own aerial forces and those of the enemy, to the advantage of one's own objectives. In other words, temporary and local air superiority might be sufficient to achieve one's objectives as opposed to fighting for absolute command of the air. Mecozzi went so far as to assert that one might even concede command of the air a priori, especially if one's air force is patently inadequate to the task of gaining command of the air. (25) In merely contesting command of the air or fighting for local air superiority, one can still affect the outcome of the battle by preventing the enemy from securing and exploiting command of the air. (26) Thus, rather than focusing on permanent and general command of the air, which he considered to be unattainable, Mecozzi promoted the idea that contesting air superiority (or "prevalence" as he termed it), while supporting the ground forces, should be the principal role for the air force. (27)

Douhet was a strong believer in the dominance of the air force in relation to the other services. He believed that, although the army and navy still played a role in national defense as instruments for indirect attrition of the enemy's combat power, the air force was the only service that could directly break the enemy's will to resist. But to that end not just any air force would do. Douhet strongly advocated the creation of a fleet of large, long-range, selfdefending bombers that would penetrate enemy air space and devastate certain "vital centers," especially industry and cities. (28) To fulfill its offensive and strategic potential, he called for an air force to be independent of the other services, capable of fighting and winning on its own. (29) Such an idea greatly appealed to the fascist regime which came to power in Italy under Benito Mussolini. The fascists welcomed Douhet's ideas as being well suited to regime values and objectives in the context of fascist modernism. In an age of rapid technological advancement, with aviation as the centerpiece of a futurist mindset, the Regia Aeronautica held a special place among fascist modernists, whose ideas about future war found expression in the emotive imagery of the airplane. The fascists and Douhet were of one accord about future war as "machine war," and the airplane was the offensive weapon "par excellence." (30) Not surprisingly, then, when Mussolini became the first Minister of Air, the air force was declared independent and its budget was greatly increased. (31) As historian Claudio Segre observed: "Because aviation developed so rapidly during the 1920s and 1930s, the Aeronautica acquired a reputation for being the fascist service, the one that Mussolini created from the ground up [emphasis in original]." (32)

As the principal instrument of war, intended to win the next war independent of surface action, Douhet believed that the air force should not be used against enemy ground forces or in support of friendly ground forces. The power of an air force is manifestly strategic, never tactical; therefore, the idea of providing tactical support to the army or navy would be a waste of its strategic potential and, therefore, not merely unwise but harmful. (33) In contrast, Mecozzi believed that the air force is not in a position to fight and win a war in isolation from the other armed services; in fact, he argued that it would be more difficult for the air force to contribute to victory if it did not cooperate with surface forces. While the main objective for the army and navy is to defeat the equivalent enemy ground and maritime forces, the air force must seek to defeat enemy air forces while at the same time contributing to the defeat of enemy armies and navies. (34) To do this, the air force must cooperate with the army and navy.

Despite his opposition to Douhet's propositions, Mecozzi was, in the end, an advocate for air power, but expressed concern that reluctance on the part of the air force to cooperate with the other services could very well compromise its autonomy. His was a more holistic view. The armed forces shared a common goal victory--and given this fact, the air force must act autonomously but also as part of a larger whole. (35) Therefore, while Douhet argued for a "progressive decrease of land and sea forces, accompanied by a corresponding increase of aerial forces until they are strong enough to conquer the command of the air," Mecozzi posited the creation of a balanced air force, one capable of cooperating closely with the other services to achieve decisive results while at the same time defending them from enemy air attack. (36) In a manner similar to Slessor, he wrote: "Let us mass together air and ground forces in the place and at the time that are decisive .... While the air force inflicts decisive damage on the enemy, we should not allow the enemy to inflict damage on our sea and ground forces." (37) Mecozzi stressed the continued importance of close cooperation among the armed forces in a manner anticipating modern "joint" warfighting doctrine. (38) Strategy would determine how the services would execute their roles and missions as well as the extent to which one service or another would play the dominant or a supporting role.

Mecozzi went to some lengths to define "fields of action of the armed forces." (39) The navy and the army had bi-dimensional fields of action respectively--that is, air-sea and air-ground--both requiring close cooperation with the air force. In Mecozzi's view, it would be wrong and potentially disastrous for the air force to eschew such interconnectedness. Admittedly, the air force has an exclusive and very extended field of action--the air--but the army and the navy rely on the air force to maximize their own combat power and the air force must not ignore this fact. (40)

When the air force cooperates with the other services, it can play either a leading or a supporting role. According to Mecozzi, whenever the air force cooperates in a leading role, the air force commander should be in charge of overall operations. On the other hand, when cooperating in a supporting role, either the navy or the army commander should be in charge of the campaign. (41) To facilitate this command and control framework, Mecozzi believed the Regia Aeronautica should comprise two branches: an Air Corps (Armata Aerea), responsible for executing cooperative missions with the air force in a leading role (what Mecozzi described as a "non auxiliary role"), and a permanent Auxiliary Air Force. On occasion, however, the Air Corps would deploy in auxiliary cooperative missions. (42) In those cases where the services would operate autonomously owing to geographic separation or some other unique circumstance, Mecozzi asserted that command of all operations should be assigned to a supreme theater commander. (43) Thus, in contrast to Douhet, Mecozzi clearly did not believe in the dominance of the air force in future war; rather, he emphasized that the air force was an equal partner and, depending on the character of the conflict, strategy, etc., might take the lead or support the other services. But in all cases the air force would cooperate with the other services. (44)


Although all of Mecozzi's books and essays were thought-provoking, two books, Aviazione d'Assalto (1933) and Quel che l'Aviatore d'Assalto Deve Sapere (1936), stand out. (45) As detailed in these works, Mecozzi believed that a mix of fighter, ground attack, and bombers was best, with ground-attack or "assault" aviation being the primary arm of the air force. Bombers (which Douhet believed were the only truly useful aircraft) would complement assault aviation by destroying high value targets, particularly at the very beginning of the conflict. To that end, bombardment aviation would strike targets located deep behind enemy lines, while assault aviation provided close support to the ground forces.

Mecozzi was very detailed in identifying troops, depots, lines of communication, command posts, and other targets for air attack. The aim was to isolate the battlefield, that is, to cut off enemy forces engaged with friendly forces by dislocating command and control and severing lines of communication and supply with the overall objective to severely damage the enemy's ability to fight. (46) Assault aviation would attack enemy ground forces engaged in the battle whenever long-range weapons such as artillery could not effectively be brought to bear. (47) In this regard, he wrote: "Assault aviation will deploy in support of ground forces engaged on the battlefield, both intervening with its own fire where the land weapons cannot strike or where their action is too weak; and where necessary to contribute to the exploitation of a success, to prevent the enemy from reorganizing or to regroup." (48)

As a result of Mecozzi's emphasis on assault aviation and his technological specifications for the ideal airplane were significantly different from those proposed by Douhet. Instead of very large, long-range aircraft capable of fighting their way to the heart of the enemy state, (49) Mecozzi advocated the use of small, light, fast, and agile multi-role aircraft, able to fly very close to the ground in order to conduct air-to-ground attacks. (50) Mecozzi's principal criticism of large, high altitude bombers was their inability to adequately defend themselves as well as their excessive fuel consumption, low precision, poor maneuverability, structural complexity, and high cost. (51) As described in Quel che l'Aviatore d'Assalto Deve Sapere, Mecozzi asserted that aircraft comprising assault aviation could adequately serve as a substitute for or complement bombardment aviation as well as fighter and reconnaissance aviation. (52) In that regard, he maintained that assault aviation was most suitable to operate jointly with the other armed forces, performing multiple tasks including"counter-aviation." (53) Thus, ever mindful of cooperation between the services, Mecozzi argued the need for a unified doctrine of war in order that one service might not "enslave" the others. (54)

Mecozzi's vision, with its emphasis on close cooperation, appeared to some to be "tactical" in orientation. However, Mecozzi resisted the idea that his vision of assault aviation was tactical in outlook and expressed concern that the tactical label denied the impact that battlefield actions have on the strategic level of war. (55) Mecozzi explained that every action is tactical when it occurs; what ultimately defines whether an action is tactical or strategic is its effect. Indeed, even though an action might be purely tactical in execution, its consequences might be strategic. Therefore, the action was strategic by definition. (56) In a fashion anticipating modern "effects-based operations," Mecozzi argued that the platform, range, and target mattered little except in terms of its effect. An air strike might at first appear to have solely tactical consequences, but the cascading effects might ultimately affect the outcome of the war. With the preceding as axiomatic, Mecozzi argued that the air force must identify and prioritize targets in order to achieve campaign objectives in support of the war effort. (57) Of the many important targets he put forward in this regard, among the most important were enemy armed forces already deployed rather than "potential" forces. (58)

Aside from roles and missions and any distinction between tactical and strategic targets, one of the more interesting points of divergence between Douhet and Mecozzi concerned the role of civilians in future war. In The Command of the Air, Douhet asserted that "the battlefield will be limited only by the boundaries of the nations at war." (59) In future wars, therefore, civilians would be combatants and consequently would be legitimate targets for aerial attack. In Douhet's words, "There will be no distinction any longer between soldiers and civilians. The defenses on land and sea will no longer serve to protect the country behind them; nor can victory on land or sea protect the people from enemy aerial attacks unless that victory insures the destruction, by actual occupation of the enemy's territory, of all that gives life to his aerial forces." (60)


For many years Mecozzi was in nominal agreement with Douhet that civilian targets should be targeted from the air. But there is some evidence that he took this position primarily to deflect criticism regarding his ideas about assault aviation. (61) Nevertheless, his early writings betrayed no humanitarian impulses with respect to the combatant status of civilians. In May 1930, for example, writing under the psuedonym "Volucer," Mecozzi wrote an essay in Le Forze Armate in which he concurred with the Clausewitzian assertion concerning the irrelevance of humanitarian factors in the conduct of war. (62) Likewise, in Quel che l'Aviatore d'Assalto Deve Sapere, Mecozzi considered it acceptable to attack civilian targets if such an operation was executed in retaliation for a previous enemy attack against friendly civilians. (63) In that regard, assault aviation could be used alongside bombardment aviation to attack civilians in large cities and against small villages where "civil discipline" would be weak and psychological vulnerability greater. (64)

However, as described in Guerra agli Inermi e Aviazione D'assalto (1965), Mecozzi stated that, as early as 1922, he already had misgivings about waging war against the "unarmed." He wrote: "It was then when I started to think about assault aviation, not only as conceptually opposite to the bombardment aviation, but also as the only suitable tool in an alternative of strategy in which the most important place had to be assigned to the aerial struggle against the armed forces and not against unarmed people, and above all to reassure fellow soldiers that there was no need to associate themselves with the crime of aerial terrorism." (65) Thus, in rejecting his previous position, Mecozzi now asserted that direct targeting of civilians could not be justified by the idea that they supported the war effort. Moreover, he specifically rejected the argument that targeting civilians would be morally justified because it might shorten the war. (66)

The above said, Mecozzi's disagreement with Douhet about targeting civilians was driven by motives other than exclusively humanitarian concerns. In his view, "carpet bombing" was unwise for three reasons: geography, economy, and effectiveness. (67) Due to its position on the European continent, especially with many major cities close to its northern border, Italy was especially vulnerable to aerial attack from neighboring countries and an attack on enemy civilians would undoubtedly provoke aerial retaliation. Mecozzi was also aware that the Italian economy could not produce an air force capable of defending Italy while at the same time inflicting catastrophic damage on an enemy. (68) Finally, Mecozzi believed that the massive, indiscriminate bombing of civilians would not prove effective in breaking the morale of an enemy. (69) This outlook perhaps had its genesis with the Italian experience during the Spanish Civil War.


During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Italian air contingent participated in the bombing of Barcelona in March 1938, which resulted in massive civilian casualties. As historian James S. Corum has rightly noted, "Contrary to the predictions of Douhet.. civilian morale in Barcelona did not collapse. In fact, the Italian strategic bombing campaign strengthened the morale of the Spanish Republicans, which had been wavering prior to this point in the war. The bombing of civilian targets enraged the Republicans and helped to harden resistance at the front." (70) Interestingly, the performance of the Regia Aeronautica during the Spanish Civil War was significantly better than that of the Regio Esercito, and the Aeronautica emphasized and was much more effective in providing close support to the ground forces. (71) Likewise, during the campaign in Ethiopia from 1935-1939, the use of air power was more in line with what Mecozzi had advocated for over a decade, especially with respect to support of the ground forces, scouting, and reconnaissance.

In the latter portion of his life, Mecozzi excoriated the "perverse" targeting of civilian targets. (72) "I am convinced," he wrote, "that Douhet's ideas are like an amazing drug, an alkaloid that gives hallucinations." He went on to describe as a "professional aberration" the idea that terrorizing a population rather than defeating the enemy armed forces was a proper war aim. (73) "Douhet's doctrine is based upon a voluntary choice to fight unarmed people.. ... In almost every page of his work aerial terrorism is recommended, urged, praised and exalted." (74) This was unthinkable given that, in Mecozzi's view, civilians are neither responsible for nor guilty of war. With a cynicism born of his Italian cultural heritage, Mecozzi argued that governments are responsible for war and that "people never have the governments that they deserve, but they have those that they do not successfully avoid." (75) To Mecozzi, only political leaders, as opposed to the people, are responsible and guilty and worthy of punishment. (76) Thus, "In a future war, the Air Force must aim only to overcome the enemy armed forces, with its four tasks: scouting, attacking, defending, and transportation." (77)

Although the debate between Mecozzi and Dohuet was intellectually stimulating, it was arguably marginal to the doctrinal development of the Regia Aeronautica. Independent scholar James Sadkovich has noted that some analysts "have traced the Regia Aeronautica's apparently lackluster performance [in World War II] to a doctrinal dispute between partisans of Giulio Douhet's strategic bombing theories and proponents of Amedeo Mecozzi's doctrine of using assault aircraft (ground attack aircraft) in cooperation with the other services." (78) However, in his biography of Italo Balbo, Claudio Segre observed: "In developing a doctrine for the Aeronautica, Balbo was a pragmatist. In certain [aspects] of his aerial cruises and in maneuvers such as those of 1931, he experimented with Douhetian mass flight and exercises in strategic bombing. Yet, he also supported those, like General Amedeo Mecozzi, who advocated tactical use of air power. Both in his declarations and his policies Balbo made it abundantly clear that he was not committed to either side." (79) But although Balbo did not fully accept all of either Douhet's or Mecozzi's propositions, he did support Douhet's assertions regarding air force independence. As a result, he made a strong case for increasing the budget of the Regia Aeronautica and prevented the Regia Marina and the Regio Esercito from developing their own air forces. (80) For that reason, the Regia Marina did not equip the fleet with aircraft carriers, the negative consequences of which became evident during World War II when Italian convoys bound for Libya became easy prey for the British fleet in the Mediterranean. In the end, Balbo considered Douhet a useful foil to increase Italy's air mindedness and to acquire more resources for the expansion of the air arm. (81) According to Corum, "Although Balbo often praised Douhet, unofficial prophet of Italian air doctrine, his reverence for Douhet was more for show than for real." (82)


Until 1930, Balbo candidly admitted that the air force had not yet developed an adequate doctrine. He recognized the need for clarity among the different ideas being expressed concerning air power and ordered a series of exercises to sort out the most promising doctrinal concepts. (83) Thus, "by the outbreak of World War II, the Italian air force boasted a balanced force of bombers and fighters, as well as assault and reconnaissance aircraft." (84) According to Italian air force General Domenico Ludovico, "In June 1940, at the beginning of the war in Italy, with the exception of auxiliary aviation (equipped with a total of 900 airplanes), the strength of the Aerial Army included 995 bombers (although double or triple engines of modest power) and 574 fighters." (85) General Remo Magistrelli, who had served as a pilot under Mecozzi, similarly noted that just before the beginning of World War II, "the Regia Aeronautica, despite the presence of many fervent followers of Douhet ... was far removed from Douhet's doctrine." (86) But as history attests, the Italian air force may have been a balanced force but it was composed of woefully inadequate aircraft.

In the final analysis, the debate between Douhet and Mecozzi was confined to Italy and had little to no impact on air power developments elsewhere in Europe, the United States, or Japan. Mecozzi's work was then, and remains today, greatly overshadowed by Douhet's work and has become all but forgotten to history. This is ironic given that Mecozzi's ideas in many ways anticipated modern U.S. Air Force doctrine and thinking. But whereas Douhet's book became a text studied by many generations of pilots in Italy and abroad, Mecozzi's books are the subject of study of only a small number of Italian scholars. This is regrettable, for the debate between Mecozzi and Douhet enlightens our understanding of the origins of air power theory, its development, and implications for the future. Moreover, much of the debate between Douhet and Mecozzi anticipated current debates about everything from effects-based targeting to the proper role of air power in war. At a minimum, Mecozzi's ideas help us to better understand the development of air power in Italy between the world wars.

Although both men shared the belief that air power is the key to victory in war, their views diverged on how it should best be employed. According to Claudio Segre, Douhet was a prophet: "A prophet points to the future, alerting his people to judgement or catastrophe or danger. Douhet did all these things and served all these functions for his fellows Italians and his military colleagues." (87) In that sense, Douhet properly emphasized the central role that air power would play in future war. However, "in Douhet's world, all is ideal. Bombers always get through. Attrition and interception are not serious obstacles. Crews and equipment work perfectly. They drop perfect bomb loads: no duds, no misses, no overlap. All the targets are of uniform construction." (88)

For his part, Mecozzi challenged Douhet's vision at a time when Douhet's ideas were very popular among the Italian elite. Nevertheless, Mecozzi stood his ground and over time his own ideas evolved and matured and influenced the development of Italian military air power. In many ways his ideas were ahead of their time, emphasizing joint operations at the campaign level to achieve a desired strategic endstate, and making no distinction between tactical and strategic airpower based on platform, range, or target. Moreover, Mecozzi's assertions regarding air superiority as opposed to "command of the air" were much more realistic and substantially agreed with modern doctrinal concepts regarding air superiority. (89) Likewise, Mecozzi's ideas regarding assault aviation anticipate the mission profiles of modern fighter-bombers around the globe. Arguably, in some ways modern multi-role fighter-attack aircraft resemble Douhet's battleplane, but in terms of the roles and missions they perform they are decidedly more akin to Mecozzi's concept of assault aviation, especially in terms of air-to-ground operations.

Finally, Mecozzi's deep aversion to "war against the unarmed" is interesting in light of today's emphasis on the avoidance of collateral damage, particularly with respect to reducing civilian casualties. But perhaps the most important distinction between Mecozzi and Douhet was that Mecozzi better understood that the value of a theory and doctrine depends more upon its applicability and practicality than its theoretical or logical perfection. (90)


(1.) See William C. Sherman, Air Warfare (1926; reprint, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air University Press, April 2002). Sherman was more intellectual and less zealous in his approach than Mitchell, which probably accounts for his lack of notoriety and the relative obscurity of his book. Regrettably, there is no book-length biography of Sherman; however, an excellent treatment of Sherman's impact on air power theory can be found in Serge Gadal's La Guerre Adrienne Vue Par William Sherman: De L'histoire a la Doctrine (Paris: Institut de Strategie Comparee, 2006).

(2.) Biographical details may be found at

(3.) See Amedeo Mecozzi, "Fra Programmi e Programmi aeronautici," Gazzetta dell'Aviazione, December 21, 1920.

(4.) Ferruccio Botti, "Tra Douhet e Mecozzi: La Teoria Del Potere Aereo Nel Pensiero e Nell'Azione di Italo Balbo," in Carlo Maria Santoro, ed, Italo Balbo: Aviazione e Potere Aereo. Atti del Convegno Internazionale nel centenario della nascita (Roma: Stato Maggiore dell'Aeronautica, Ufficio Storico, 1998), 373.

(5.) Michael D. Pixley, "False Gospel for Airpower Strategy? A Fresh Look at Giulio Douhet's 'Command of the Air' ", Chronicles Online, 14 July 2005.

(6.) Ferruccio Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi: Scritti Scelti, Vol. I (1920-1943) (Rema: Stato Maggiore Aeronautica, 1999), xxi.

(7.) Claudio Segre, "Giulio Douhet: Strategist, Theorist, Prophet?", Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol 15, no. 3, 1992: 354.

(8.) Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi: Scritti Scelti, Vol. I, xx.

(9.) Ferruccio Botti and Mario Cervelli, La Teoria della Guerra Aerea in Italia dalle Origini alla Seconda Guerra Mondiale (1884--1939) (Roma: Stato Maggiore Aeronautica, Ufficio Storico, 1989), 360.

(10.) Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, trans Dino Ferrari (1942; reprint, Washington D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1983). 23, 28.

(11.) Ibid., 140. See also Remo Magistrelli, "La Costituzione dell'Aeronautica Italiana fu Influenzata dal Pensiero di Douhet?" Rivista Aeronautica, no. 6, 1972, in Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi: Scritti Scelti, Vol. II (1945 1970) (Roma: Stato Maggiore Aeronautica, Ufficio Storico, 1999), 347.

(12.) Giuseppe Ciampaglia, "Amedeo Mecozzi," Storia Militare, no. 110, Nov. 2002: 40.

(13.) Ferruccio Botti, "Il Pensiero di Amedeo Mecozzi negli Anni '20: Origini e Prospettive dell'Aviazione d'Assalto," Rivista Aeronautica, no.l, January 1989: 5.

(14.) Ranieri Cupini, "L'Aviazione d'Assalto di Ieri e di Oggi," Rivista Aeronautica, no. 2, 1954, in Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi, Vol. II, 299.

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) Douhet, The Command of the Air, 49.

(17.) Cupini, "L'Aviazione d'Assalto di Ieri e di Oggi, 299300.

(18.) Douhet, The Command of the Air, 55.

(19.) James S. Corum, "Airpower Thought in Continental Europe between the Wars," in Phillip S. Meilinger, ed., The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory (Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air University Press, 1997), 160.

(20.) Amedeo Mecozzi, "Il compito di contro aviazione," Rivista Aeronautica, May 1926, and "I compiti di azione autonoma," Rivista Aeronautica, June 1926. In contrast, Douhet asserted that "the use of antiaircraft guns is a mere waste of energy and resources." Douhet, The Command of the Air, 55.

(21.) According to Mecozzi: "If the enemy's [air force] is more powerful, then the land attack prevails, while the two air forces try to attain command of the air. If command of the air could be achieved within a few hours as the air-strategist [Douhet] suggests, the enemy's ground forces would not be able to execute the attack. Yet this assumption is unsound, because the enemy acts in the sky, trying at least to slow down our conquest. Under these conditions, our ability to resist on land must be increased and not decreased." Amedeo Mecozzi in Le Sorti Progressive della Aviazione Militare (Roma: Societa Multigrafica Editrice, 1970), 28.

(22.) Botti and Cervelli, La Teoria della Guerra Aerea in Italia, 364-65.

(23.) Amedeo Mecozzi, Guerra agli Inermi ed Aviazione d'Assalto (Roma: Libreria dell'Orologio, 1965), 309. In addition, Mecozzi makes the remarkable claim that, in terms of ends, ways, and means, command of the air was not Douhet's real goal, but rather the infliction of mass casualties on the enemy population. In that regard he wrote: "The air-strategist [Douhet] believes the command of the air is a means and not a goal since his real goal is victory through massacre of the population." See Mecozzi, Le Sorti Progressive della Aviazione Militare, 29.

(24.) Ibid., 24. During WWII, Slessor commanded the Royal Air Force (RAF) Coastal Command. After the war, he went on to become Marshal of the RAF. In his book, Slessor argued that air superiority was "only a means to an end." Against what we would today call a "peer competitor," he maintained that the most that could be hoped for was to throw the enemy air force on the defensive and to reduce the threat of enemy air action to a minimum. Thus, air superiority is the method not the object; or, as Slessor wrote: "Method, not Intention: a necessary step to achieve the object, but not the object." J. C. Slessor, Air Power and Armies (London: Oxford University Press, 1936), 3-7.

(25.) Botti and Cervelli, La Teoria della Guerra Aerea in Italia., 365.

(26.) Botti, "Il Pensiero di Amedeo Mecozzi negli Anni '20, 5.

(27.) Antonio Duma, "Il Douhet ed il Mecozzi Oggi," Rivista Aeronautica, no.s 8-9, 1968, in Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozz, Vol. II, 314.

(28.) Richard Estes, "Giulio Douhet," Airpower Journal, Winter 1990, Vol. 4, no. 4.

(29.) Douhet, The Command of The Air, 32.

(30.) Ibid., 15. See also: Giulio Douhet, "L'Uomo e le machine," Gazzetta del Popolo, October 7, 1914, as reprinted in Douhet's posthumous collection, Profezie di Cassandra (Genoa, 1931), 207-11. See also Azar Gat, A History of Military Thought: From the Enlightenment to the Cold War (London: Oxford University Press, 2001, ch. 3, "The Sources of Douhetism," passim.

(31.) Azar Gat, Fascist and Liberal Vision of War: Fuller, Liddell Hart, Douhet, and Other Modernists (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 69.

(32.) Claudio Segre, Italo Balbo: A Fascist Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 149.

(33.) In the first edition of The Command of the Air (1921), Douhet acknowledged the utility of "auxiliary" aviation, that is, aviation dedicated to supporting surface forces. However, in the second edition (1927) he claimed that he had been deliberately conciliatory in the earlier version so as to avoid provoking controversy. In the later edition he made no such concession and argued that, in truth, "auxiliary aviation is worthless, superfluous, and harmful: worthless because auxiliary aviation cannot gain command of the air; superfluous because once command of the air is obtained, a portion of the air force can perform auxiliary roles; and harmful because it diverts airpower from its "essential purpose." Douhet, The Command of The Air, 94, 100.

(34.) Botti and Cervelli, La Teoria della Guerra Aerea in Italia, 365.

(35.) Ibid., 13.

(36.) Douhet, The Command of The Air, 30.

(37.) Le Sorti Progressive della Aviazione Militare, 24.

(38.) Amedeo Mecozzi, "Aviazione Cooperante," Rivista Le Forze Armate, December 23, 1927.

(39.) Botti and Cervelli, La Teoria della Guerra Aerea in Italia, 368.

(40.) Ibid.

(41.) Ibid.

(42.) Ibid.

(43.) Ferruccio Botti, "Mecozzi 1939-1941: Luci ed Ombre di una Dottrina," Rivista Aeronautica no. 6, 1986: 6.

(44.) Botti, "Il Pensiero di Amedeo Mecozzi negli Anni '20," 3.

(45.) Amedeo Mecozzi, L'Aviazione d'Assalto, Ministero dell'Aeronautica (Roma, 1933), and Amedeo Mecozzi, Quel che l'Aviatore d'Assalto deve Sapere (Roma: Societa Anonima Poligrafica Italiana, 1936).

(46.) Ranieri Cupini, "L'Aviazione d'Assalto di Ieri e di Oggi," Rivista Aeronautica, no. 2, 1954, in Botti, ed, Amedeo Mecozzi: Vol. II, 306.

(47.) Ibid.

(48.) Ibid.

(49.) The sine qua non of Douhet's air force was the "battleplane," an aircraft capable of aerial combat as well as long-range bombardment. If an air force were comprised solely of battleplanes, then "the same personnel could employ all the armament of the planes in aerial battle in the first phase of action, then strike against surface targets in the second phase." Douhet, The Command of the Air, 118.

(50.) Botti and Cervelli, La Teoria della Guerra Aerea in Italia, 363.

(51.) Botti, "Il Pensiero di Amedeo Mecozzi negli Anni '20," 4.

(52.) Mecozzi, Quel che l'Aviatore d'Assalto deve Sapere, 3.

(53.) Ibid., 86.

(54.) Ibid., 13.

(55.) Mecozzi, Guerra agli Inermi ed Aviazione d'Assalto, 306.

(56.) Ibid.

(57.) Ferruccio Botti, "Ancora su Amedeo Mecozzi," Storia Militare, no.l16, May 2003: 56. t

(58.) Using the term "potential," Mecozzi meant weapons still in the factories and soldiers not yet enlisted. Giulio Costanzi, "Memento tra Passato ed Avvenire," Rivista Aeronautica, no. 2, 1953, in Botti, ed, Amedeo Mecozz, Vol. II, 283.

(59.) Douhet, The Command of The Air, 10.

(60.) Ibid.

(61.) Antonio Pelliccia, "L'Ultimo Assalto," Rivista Aeronautica, no. 9, 1970, in Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi, Vol. II, 322.

(62.) Botti and Cervelli, La Teoria della Guerra Aerea in Italia, 368. For example, Clausewitz wrote: "Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst." Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed and trans Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 75.

(63.) Amedeo Mecozzi, Quel che l'Aviatore d'Assalto deve Sapere (Roma: Societa Anonima Poligrafica Italiana, 1936), 89.

(64.) Ibid.

(65.) Mecozzi, Guerra agli Inermi ed Aviazione d'Assalto, 97-8.

(66.) Ranieri Cupini, "L'Aviazione d'Assalto di Ieri e di Oggi," Rivista Aeronautica, no. 2, 1954, in Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi, Vol. II, 300.

(67.) Ferruccio Botti, "Il Pensiero di Amedeo Mecozzi negli Anni '30--la Concezione Totalitaria dell'Aviazione d'Assalto," Rivista Aeronautica no. 4, 1989: 3.

(68.) Ibid., 9.

(69.) Ibid., 3.

(70.) James S. Corum, "The Spanish Civil War: Lessons Learned and Not Learned by the Great Powers", The Journal of Military History, Vol. 62, no. 2, April 1988: 319.

(71.) Ibid., 327-9.

(72.) Mecozzi, Guerra agli Inermi ed Aviazione d'Assalto, 224.

(73.) Ibid., 294.

(74.) Ibid., 45.

(75.) Ibid., 74.

(76.) Mecozzi, Le Sorti Progressive della Aviazione Militare, 35.

(77.) Ibid., 5.

(78.) James J. Sadkovich, "The Development of The Italian Air Force Prior to World War II," Military Affairs, July 1987.

(79.) Segre, Italo Balbo, 154.

(80.) Sadkovich, "The Development of The Italian Air Force Prior to World War II."

(81.) Botti, Amedeo Mecozzi, Vol.I, x.

(82.) Corum, "Airpower Thought in Continental Europe between the Wars," 160.

(83.) Giorgio Rochat, Balbo (Torino: Unione Tipografico Torinese, 1986), 146-7.

(84.) Corum, "Airpower Thought in Continental Europe between the Wars," 160.

(85.) Domenico Ludovico, "Teoria e Realta della Guerra Aerea," Rivista Aeronautica, nos. 1-2, 1974, in Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi, Vol. II, 373.

(86.) Remo Magistrelli, "La Costituzione dell'Aeronautica Italiana fu Influenzata dal Pensiero di Douhet?", Rivista Aeronautica, no. 6, 1972, in Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi, Vol. II, 347.

(87.) Segre, "Giulio Douhet: Strategist, Theorist, Prophet?", 352.

(88.) Ibid.

(89.) Antonio Duma, "Il Douhet e il Mecozzi Oggi," in Botti, ed., Amedeo Mecozzi, Vol. II, 315.

(90.) Ferruccio Botti, "Il Pensiero di Amedeo Mecozzi negli Anni '30--la Concezione Totalitaria dell'Aviazione d'Assalto," Rivista Aeronautica no. 4, 1989: 9.

Lt. Col. Rodolfo Sganga, Italian Army, is a paratrooper currently deployed to Afghanistan as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Regional Command West, the International Security Assistance Force. He is a graduate of the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the School of Advanced Warfighting, both located in Quantico, Virginia. He has published essays in Rivista Militare.

Dr. Paolo Tripodi is professor of Ethics and the Ethics Branch head at the Lejeune Leadership Institute, Marine Corps University, Quantico, Virginia. Dr. Tripodi trained as an infantry officer and was commissioned into the Italian Carabinieri. He is the author of The Colonial Legacy in Somalia, more than twenty articles, and is the co-editor of New Wars and New Soldiers: Military Ethics in the Contermporary World.

Dr. Wray Johnson is a retired US. Air Force colonel with a background in special operationa He is a former professor at the USAF School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and is currrently professor of Military History at the Marine Corps School of Advanced Warfighting. He is the author of numerous articles and two books, Vietnam and American Doctrine for Small Wars and Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists.
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Title Annotation:Giulio Douhet; Douhet, Giulio
Author:Sganga, Rodolfo; Tripodi, Paulo G.; Johnson, Wray R.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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