Striking the Hornet's Nest

Naval Aviation and the Origins of Strategic Bombing in World War I
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Published:October 15, 2015
By Geoffrey L. Rossano (Author), Thomas Wildenberg (Author)

Striking the Hornets’ Nest provides the first extensive analysis of the Northern Bombing Group (NBG), the Navy’s most innovative aviation initiative of World War I and one of the world’s first dedicated strategic bombing programs. Very little has been written about the Navy’s aviation activities in World War I and even less on the NBG. Standard studies of strategic bombing tend to focus on developments in the Royal Air Force or the U.S. Army Air Service.

This work concentrates on the origins of strategic bombing in World War I, and the influence this phenomenon had on the Navy’s future use of the airplane. The NBG program faced enormous logistical and personnel challenges. Demands for aircraft, facilities, and personnel were daunting, and shipping shortages added to the seemingly endless delays in implementing the program.

Despite the impediments, the Navy (and Marine Corps) triumphed over organizational hurdles and established a series of bases and depots in northern France and southern England in the late summer and early fall of 1918. Ironically, by the time the Navy was ready to commence bombing missions, the German retreat had caused abandonment of the submarine bases the NBG had been created to attack. The men involved in this program were pioneers, overcoming major obstacles only to find they were no longer needed.

Though the Navy rapidly abandoned its use of strategic bombing after World War I, their brief experimentation directed the future use of aircraft in other branches of the armed forces. It is no coincidence that Robert Lovett, the young Navy reserve officer who developed much of the NBG program in 1918, spent the entire period of World War II as Assistant Secretary of War for Air where he played a crucial role organizing and equipping the strategic bombing campaign unleashed against Germany and Japan. Rossano and Wildenberg have provided a definitive study of the NBG, a subject that has been overlooked for too long.

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Product Details
  • Subject: Aviation
  • Hardback : 304 pages
  • Illustrations: 30 b/w photos
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (October 15, 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 1612513905
  • ISBN-13: 9781612513904
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 22.08 oz
  • “This book is much more than just a history of the Navy’s struggle during World War I to develop methods to destroy the German U-boat bases in Belgium. Underlying the story is the struggle among competing interests, both within and among the Allies and within the American Expeditionary Forces, for scarce resources. The authors have written a book that will become the definite study of the Northern Bombing Group. This unit’s history needs to be read, for the men of the group laid the foundation for how U. S. strategic airpower was used, not only in World War II, but during the Cold War. This well-written and researched book is a welcomed addition to those books that help explain the how and why of the development of American military thought. I am glad to add this book to my library.”—JAMP: The Journal of America’s Military Past
  • “The book is well-illustrated and clearly benefits from deep research. Throughout, the authors offer lucid and balanced judgments, acknowledging the challenges posed by limited resources and early debates about air doctrine. However, they are surely right to point out that, whilst its impact on the war was relatively limited, the strategic bombing campaign waged by courageous naval aviators laid much of the foundation for the offensives of the next global conflict.”—The Naval Review (UK)
  • "It is an important book and one that demonstrates why logistics is the bedrock of modern warfare."—Royal Air Force Historical Society Journal, Vol. 63.
  • “There is a lot of information, with many details revealed for the first time, along with some interesting photos. All in all, a fine effort.”—Naval Aviation News
  • “A readable and well-researched text, Striking the Hornet’s Nest is recommended highly.”—Over the Front
  • Striking the Hornets’ Nest is a welcome and substantial contribution to the literature of the first war in the air. Given its appearance during the centenary of the ‘Great War,’ it is a most timely (if long overdue) one as well.” — Air Power History
  • “The plethora of publications surrounding the centennial of World War I includes remarkably little on aviation. As a peripheral weapon, the airplane nonetheless registered strongly in popular memory, which affected research on its effectiveness. Thus, Rossano and Wildenberg’s book is all the more welcome not only for its overall contribution, but for filling gaps in our understanding of naval aviation’s role in the conflict.” — The Journal of Military History
  • “This is a timely book and certainly adds to the historiography of British and American aviation. It is well written, has an excellent selection of supporting photographs and is immaculately researched. Some readers may discern a slight preference for a naval interpretation of events but that is not necessarily a bad thing! Definitely recommended reading.” — Aerospace Magazine (UK)
  • "Striking the Hornets Nest is highly recommended for anyone interested in the roots of American air power." - Air and Space Magazine
  • “The authors describe the Northern Bombing Group’s (NGB) history, and its personnel who had influence on the air campaigns in World War I”-Seapower Magazine

Geoffrey L. Rossano is a graduate of Tufts University and the University of North Carolina and an instructor of history at the Salisbury School in Salisbury, Connecticut. He is the author and editor of many articles and books, including Stalking the U-Boat: U.S. Naval Aviation in Europe during World War I, which won the 2010 Roosevelt Prize in Naval History.

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Thomas Wildenberg is an independent historian/scholar specializing in the development of naval aviation and technological innovation in the U.S. Navy. He has written extensively about the Navy during the interwar period. His articles have appeared in various scholarly journals and is the author of five books on U.S. naval history.

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