In light of the crisis created by the German Spring Offensive, on 26 March the Allies were finally forced into doing what they should have done a long time ago, appoint a supreme commander for the Western Front, in this case, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France.
Foch lost no time in making his views on air warfare known and yesterday issued a strategic memorandum which was translated and today issued to British forces. He stressed that the primary effort should be to assist ground troops by constant attack. Air to air combat should only be sought in order to facilitate that mission. Interestingly there is no mention of the protection of Corps machines carrying out reconnaissance.
On bombing he noted that it was essential to concentrate on key targets such as railway junctions and focus on keeping these out of action.
The memorandum failed to address a key problem a lack of coordination between the two air services, focussing more on the practical aspects of demarcation. The Official History notes that better coordination could have allowed for a strategic reserve of aircraft to be retained for critical areas of the front, but this did not happen.
The full memorandum is reproduced below:
With a view to ensuring the co-operation of the British and French Air Services during the battle, I have had the accompanying instructions [directives] drawn up, and have already sent a copy to General Fayolle. If you approve of these instructions, I should be obliged if you would issue appropriate orders to the British Air Service so that effect may be given to them and the necessary understanding be reached with the Air Command of the G.A.R. [Group of Reserve Armies].
Reconnaissances to ascertain the direction of the enemy’s main movements, and therefore his intentions, should extend at least as far as the line St. Quentin-Cambrai-Douai, where he may detrain.
(a) The French Air Service has been instructed to watch particularly the general direction of movement on the following lines
Ribemont (La Fere-Chauny-St. Quentin)
St. Quentin (Jussy-St. Simon-Ham-Péronne)
Reconnaissance of the above is the concern of the Air Service of the G.A.R.—that to the West of the line Crozat Canal-Ham- Chaulnes-Bray-sur-Somme being the duty of the Air Commands of Armies.
(b) To ensure that air observation covers every part of the area of ap- proach to the battle zone, it will be necessary for the British Air Service to watch particularly the approach routes leading, from
Le Catelet to Peronne
Cambrai to Bapaume
Aubigny to Arras
Douai to Lens
The air units with Armies will undertake to follow up any movements, discovered in the back areas, as far as the battle front.
The essential condition of success is the concentration of every resource of the British and French bombing formations on such few of the most important of the enemy’s railway junctions as it may be possible to put out of action with certainty, and to keep out of action. Effort should not be dispersed against a large number of targets, some of which might be remote from the battle area, and, therefore, difficult objectives for sus- tained and effective attack.
(a) The French Air Service (reinforced by the British and Italian ‘Eastern’ [de L’Est\ air detachments), that is to say 5 Night and 5DayGroups, has been ordered, in addition to its normal battle duties, to endeavour to destroy the railway stations at
(b) To interrupt traffic in the whole battle area, the British Air Service should endeavour to destroy the stations at
At the present time, the first duty of fighting aeroplanes is to assist the troops on the ground, by incessant attacks, with bombs and machine-gun, on columns, concentrations, or bivouacs. Air fighting is not to be sought except so far as necessary for the fulfilment of this duty. Each Allied Air Command should pursue this policy on the front of its army.
It may be desirable, in the course of particularly important operations, involving only one of the Allied Armies, to reinforce the air units of that army by those of the other. In this case such reinforcements may be asked for by General Head-quarters or by General Foch.
4. Dissemination of Intelligence.
To enable the High Command, for the purpose of making important dispositions, to utilize intelligence obtained by aircraft—intelligence that is of the greatest value in the present circumstances—it is necessary to ensure that no delay occurs in the transmission of this information. Consequently:
(a) The French Air Service has been instructed to centralize all intelligence in the several air commands, whence it will be transmitted to the G.A.R. by one or other of the following means:
(i) The existing ground wireless telegraphy organization,
(ii) Courier service aircraft.
(iii) In the event of failure of (i) and (ii)—and, in any case, each evening —by motor-car or motor-cycle.
The G.A.R. will forward to General Foch’s head-quarters any intelligence received that is likely to interest him.
(b) Similar arrangements to the above having already been made by the British Air Command, for the centralization of intelligence to meet the requirements of its own General Head-quarters, it only remains to ensure the exchange of important intelligence obtained by both services, British and French, between General Foch and British General Head-quarters.
This exchange may be effected by means of one or other of the following methods:
(i) By means of a ground wireless telegraphy system connecting British General Head-quarters with Beauvais (General Foch’s Head- quarters), working in conjunction with the wireless telegraphy organization of the G.A.R. The preparation of this system to be undertaken by British General Head-quarters in agreement with the Wireless Telegraphy Service of the G.A.R.
(ii) By means of courier aircraft plying between the aerodrome at British General Head-quarters and Beauvais.
(iii) Failing the above,and,inanycase,at the end of each day, an officer or motor-cyclist will deliver the orders and intelligence reports of the British Air Service to Beauvais and receive those of the French.
(Sgd.) Weygand, Chief of Staff.