At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

30 May 2019

General Giulio Douhet - military strategist

Army commander was one of first to see potential of air power


Giulio Douhet aroused opposition with his strident criticisms of Italy's army
Giulio Douhet aroused opposition with
his strident criticisms of Italy's army
The Italian Army general Giulio Douhet, who saw the military potential in aircraft long before others did, was born in Caserta, north of Naples, on this day in 1869.

With the arrival of airships and then fixed-wing aircraft in Italy, Douhet recognized the military potential of the new technology. He advocated the creation of a separate air arm commanded by airmen rather than by commanders on the ground. From 1912 to 1915 Douhet served as commander of the Aeronautical Battalion, Italy’s first aviation unit.

Largely because of Douhet, the three-engine Caproni bomber - designed by the young aircraft engineer Gianni Caproni - was ready for use by the time Italy entered the First World War.

His severe criticism of Italy’s conduct of the war, however, resulted in his court-martial and imprisonment. Only after a review of Italy’s catastrophic defeat in 1917 in the Battle of Caporetto was it decided that his criticisms had been justified and his conviction reversed.

Born into a family of Savoyard exiles who had migrated to Campania after the cession of Savoy to France, Douhet attended the Military Academy of Modena and was commissioned into the artillery of the Italian Army in 1882. He studied science and engineering at the Polytechnic of Turin.

In 1911, Italy went to war against the Ottoman Empire for control of Libya. It was the first conflict in which aircraft operated in reconnaissance, transport, spotting and limited bombing roles.

The wide-winged Caproni CA36 bomber was deployed as part of Douhet's strategy for winning control of the air
The wide-winged Caproni CA36 bomber was deployed as
part of Douhet's strategy for winning control of the air
In 1912 Douhet assumed command of the Italian aviation battalion at Turin, where he wrote a set of Rules for the Use of Airplanes in War (Regole per l'uso degli aeroplani in guerra).

But Douhet's preaching on air power made him enemies among his fellow senior officers, some of whom branded him too radical. After an incident in which he allegedly ordered the construction of Caproni bombers without authorization, he was stripped of his position and exiled to the infantry.

At the start of the First World War, Douhet called for Italy to focus on building their air power, telling military leaders and politicians that command of the air would render enemy troops harmless. When Italy did enter the war in 1915, he was outspoken in his criticisms of the army, branding them “incompetent and unprepared”. He proposed a force of 500 bombers, dropping 125 tons of bombs on the Austrian enemy every day.

However, his relentless criticisms provoked anger and resentment among his superiors and government officials. A court-martial found him guilty and he was imprisoned for one year.

Douhet's book, The Command of the Air, informed the strategy of the major powers
Douhet's book, The Command of the Air,
informed the strategy of the major powers
Douhet’s confinement did not deter him. He continued to write about air power from his cell, proposing a massive Allied fleet of aircraft. Soon after the disastrous Battle of Caporetto, which saw Italy’s 2nd Army routed by Austro-Hungarian forces with the loss of 40,000 troops dead or wounded and 265,000 captured, it was accepted that Douhet’s criticisms should not have been rejected. He was released, then recalled to service in 1918, when he was appointed head of the Italian Central Aeronautic Bureau.

He was fully exonerated by a 1920 enquiry and promoted to general in 1921. He retired from military service soon afterwards, however.

Douhet’s most noted book is Il dominio dell’aria - The Command of the Air - which led to strategic air power becoming an accepted part of military thinking. The US Army Air Corps had a translation of Il dominio dell’aria made by the mid-1920s and controversial though his ideas originally seemed to be, many were adopted by the major powers during the Second World War.

Some of his arguments have not been borne out. He 1928 he claimed that dropping 300 tons of bombs on the most important cities would end a war in less than a month, yet during the Second World War, the Allies dropped more than 2.5 million tons of bombs on Europe without bringing the conflict to an end.

More than 70 years on, however, some of his concepts continue to underpin air power.

A supporter of Mussolini, Douhet was appointed commissioner of aviation when the Fascists assumed power but what was essentially a bureaucrat's job did not suit him and he soon quit to continue writing. He died from a heart attack in Rome in 1930.

The incredible two-mile long watercourse that stretches down towards the northern facade of the Royal Palace
The incredible two-mile long watercourse that stretches down
towards the northern facade of the Royal Palace
Travel tip:

Caserta’s is best known for its former Royal Palace - the Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. Constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples, it was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.


Turin's Royal Military Academy, which was destroyed in the Second World War, was near the Royal Palace (above)
Turin's Royal Military Academy, which was destroyed in the
Second World War, was near the Royal Palace (above)
Travel tip:

Turin has a strong military tradition. The Royal Military Academy in Turin was the oldest military academy in the world, dating back to the 17th century. It was created by Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy, who had the idea of creating an institute to train members of the ruling class and army officers in military strategy.  It was inaugurated on January 1, 1678, which predates the Royal Academy at Woolwich in Britain by 42 years and the Russian Academy in Petersburg, by 45 years. The court architect Amedeo di Castellamonte designed the building, work on which began in 1675. Unfortunately, the building was almost totally destroyed in 1943, during Allied air attacks.

More reading:

Why Luigi Cadorna was blamed for Caporetto defeat

The Neapolitan general who led Italian troops to decisive World War One victory

Pietro Badoglio, the controversial general who turned against Mussolini

Also on this day: 

1811: The birth of neurologist Andrea Verga, one of first to study mental illness

1875: The birth of Fascist intellectual Giovanni Gentile

1924: The murder of socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti


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