Noted aviation historian Robin Higham has written this comparative study of the evolution of the French and British air arms from 1918 to 1940 to determine why the Armée de l’Air was defeated in June 1940 but the Royal Air Force was able to win the battle over Britain in September. After analyzing the structure, men, and matériel of the air arms, and the government and economic infrastructure of both countries, he concludes that the French force was dominated by the Armée de Terre, had no suitably powerful aero engines, and suffered from the chaos of French politics. In contrast, the independent RAF evolved into a sophisticated, scientifically based force, supported by consistent government practices. Higham’s thorough examination, however, finds the British not without error.
Robin Higham, a former RAF pilot, is the author of numerous books on aviation history. A resident of Manhattan, KS, he taught military history at Kansas State University for thirty-five years. Professor Higham passed away on 27 August 2015.
Praise for Two Roads to War
"Robin Higham’s latest work continues his successes in highlighting airpower in twentieth-century military history...Historiographically, this book is superior, no doubt due to Higham’s extensive work in the field and his understanding of the issues. From the secondary source point of view, it is hard to imagine a better place to start especially if one wants to begin to learn about the ALA...In short, this work is excellent in bringing a critically neglected topic to light. While there is a multitude of works available in English about the RAF prior to WWII, there are pitifully few about the ALA. Higham provides an excellent springboard for exploring the ALA further, and begins to fill the void in English-language historiography regarding the ALA from 1918 to 1940."
“A classic exposé of how not to prepare for an almost certain war. The author has clearly and cogently analyzed both countries’ preparations. His very objective assessment of France’s overwhelming deficiencies is well argued and described. A devastating comparative analysis from which much could be learnt by current defense planners and their political masters.”
— Work Boat World, May 2013
“…Well argued and described…A devastating comparative analysis from which much could be learnt by current defence planners and their political masters.”
“Readers will value Higham’s book for its pungent judgments of the people involved and its comprehensive summary of the extensive secondary literature on interwar European aviation. Summing up: Highly recommended.”
— Choice, February 2013
"Two Roads to War is immensely readable, but it is also incredibly dense with fact. Robert Higham’s firsthand knowledge of the history of the period helps make this book an enduring masterpiece. Buy it; read it!”
— Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, publication of the International Strategic Studies Association
“Higham, a doyen of air power history (100 Years of Air Power and Aviation), makes another significant contribution with this comparative analysis of French and British policies and developments between the world wars.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Robert Higham’s comparative study of British and French aviation during the inter-war period offers a comprehensive and thoughtful portrait of the efforts of two countries to meet the political, military and industrial challenges posed by a young and rapidly developing technology. Filled with fascinating details, Two Roads to War does not shrink from drawing larger and provocative conclusions about the effectiveness of Britain and France. It is an impressive achievement.”
—Talbot Imlay, Université Laval (Québec, Canada), author of Facing the Second World War: Strategy, Politics, and Economics in Britain and France, 1938-1940
“In this comparative history Robin Higham evaluates French and British air forces—their development, men and materiel, governmental support, and deficiencies from 1914 to 1940. Higham, a distinguished military historian and World War II combat veteran, adds to our understanding of World War II air forces.”
—Joseph P. Harahan, co-editor, U.S. Air Force Warrior Studies
“At the end of World War I, the French and British air services shared many similarities and were both ostensibly powerful. Yet only twenty years later, when they had to face a rampant Luftwaffe, the Armée de l’Air was pathetic and the Royal Air Force was magnificent. In this brilliant comparative analysis, Robin Higham in effect explains how to construct and sustain a first-class air force. His lucid and engrossing study is arguably the most significant book on air power published in many years.”
—Dr. Alan Stephens, author of The Royal Australian Air Force and The War in the Air 1914?1994
“Robin Higham, sometime RAFVR pilot and attendee at many French Air Force Office of History sessions, has acutely dissected the geographical, historical, economic, and military differences of the French and the British to 10 May 1940 without indulgence. French readers of his book will find him harsh and perhaps unfair. Some, other than historians, will learn that until Hitler’s advent, France was the potential enemy of England and Paris a target of Bomber Command. Frenchmen, whatever it may cost them, will know how an American friend can see them.”
—General Lucien Robineau, former Chief, Service Historique de l’Armée de l’Air, Vincennes, France