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


by Wray R. Johnson

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2019. Pp. xiv, 422. Illus., maps, appends, notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 0813177049

The Leathernecks Learn to Fly

Prof. Johnson (Marine Corps University), author of Airpower in Small Wars, examines the early history of Marine Corps aviation. While his particular attention is devoted to the development of airpower’s role in small wars, he ties this into the general maturation of Marine aviation. He divides his subject into four thematic chapters

Johnson opens with a chapter on the background and origins of Marine Corps aviation. This covers early operational experience in Mexico and during World War I. There follows a chapter on experimentation and lessons learned in Haiti (1915-1934), where the corps began developing its small wars doctrine. Johnson’s third chapter covers practical experience gained in the Dominican Republic, China, and through experimentation elsewhere (1919-1935). The book ends with a chapter on operations in Nicaragua (1926-1933), during which a mature doctrine for air power in small wars emerged.

Several threads run through all of these chapters. Johnson looks at trends in aircraft design, the creation of a cadre of experienced airmen, many of whom would gain fame in 1941-1945, the logistics of aviation in a small war environment, and the development of missions and tactics, including dive bombing, air supply, and air evacuation. Johnson concludes by noting that some of these lessons continue to have application to more recent small wars, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Well written, with some very informative footnotes, Biplanes at War, a volume in the Kentucky series “Aviation and Air Power”, is a useful read for anyone interested in the USMC, air power, or small wars.


Note: Biplanes at War is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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