The Eastern Mediterranean and the Projection of Air Power
Air Commodore, Royal Air Force (Retd)
1. Though now much forgotten, the Mediterranean has been a cauldron of Air Power experimentation, notching up a number of “firsts” in air warfare. It was the location for the first Strategic Bombing campaign (Capronis in 1915 v Austria). It provided the site where Air Power’s domination of ground forces was demonstrated for the first time (Wadi el Fara). It was the place where, again for the first time, and under wartime conditions, a battle fleet was destroyed from the air (Taranto). And it was the place where an entire country was saved from almost certain destruction, by the rapid resupply of war materiel by air (Yom Kippur).
2. The good weather in the region has been an important factor in Air Power’s successes, helping Air Power to demonstrate its ability to yield both tactical and strategic results. Not only at Wadi el Fara, but during the North African Campaign in 1942/3, and at the Mitla Pass (1967), Air Power achieved psychological and physical effects that were truly decisive.
3. This paper, considering the history and importance of Air Power in the Eastern Mediterranean, will concentrate largely on Britain and the RAF’s operations in the region. This is not to minimise such events as the ’67 Arab Israeli War where Air Power destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on the first day, the Yom Kippur War mentioned above, or even the effectiveness of Operations PROVIDE COMFORT and NORTHERN WATCH, both mounted from Turkey, but simply to focus attention on Cyprus and its role in the Eastern Mediterranean. Even this gives the author a broad canvas to show how much the RAF has been intimately involved in the region; for example, the author’s own squadron was involved in offensive operations in Southern Italy, at Lecce in 1943, and again, exactly 50 years later when he was the Squadron Commander, based at Gioia del Colle, for operations over Bosnia! And even now Akrotiri provides a base for air combat training and for resupply to the Middle East.