In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Giulio Douhet, airpower theorist

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • General Works on Airpower and Douhet
  • Biographical Information
  • Il dominio dell’aria (The Command of the Air)
  • Douhet’s Other Major Works
  • Douhet’s Minor Works
  • Douhet’s Articles from the Late 1920s
  • Douhet and the Italian Military
  • Mecozzi against Douhet
  • On Douhet and Mecozzi
  • Douhet and Balbo
  • Douhet in the English-Speaking World
  • Early Receptions outside Italy and the English-Speaking World

Military History Giulio Douhet, airpower theorist
by
Thomas Hippler
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0222

Introduction

Giulio Douhet is one of the most important, if not the most important, early air strategists in the world, and he is considered the first to have developed a coherent doctrine of strategic airpower. Since the 1920s his name has become synonymous with the terror bombing of civilian populations, and Douhet has thus been a constant reference for further attempts to think about strategic bombing. He was born in 1869 and, following a family tradition, joined the army as an artillery officer. From 1910 onward he became interested in aeronautical matters. During the First World War he held several staff positions but did not gain firsthand war experience. Trialed, demoted, and imprisoned, he was rehabilitated in 1920. Actively involved with Italian Fascism, he lived as a writer and journalist up to his death in 1930. His seminal work, Il dominio dell’aria, was published in 1921 and in an augmented second edition in 1927 and was translated into English in 1942. Most of his vast intellectual production, however, is still little known outside Italy, both his beginnings as liberal thinker with a cosmopolitan outlook before Italy joined the war in 1915 and his later ideas about tactics and strategy of aerial warfare and his early ideas of “deterrence.” During the First World War and the 1920s, he advocated the creation of an independent air force, which gave rise to animated discussions with and, indeed, harsh criticism from military and naval circles. Within the Italian air force, Amedeo Mecozzi positioned himself from the 1920s onward as the “anti-Douhet.” During the tenure of Fascist leader Italo Balbo as secretary of state and later minister for aviation, Douhet’s ideas became a central point of reference, both positively and negatively, for the very animated discussions inside Italian air circles. Douhet’s work has been translated into many languages, including English. During the Second World War and in the immediate aftermath, Douhet’s early theorizing of a strategic employment of airpower gained him prominence, especially in the English-speaking world.

General Overviews

General interpretations of Douhet’s strategic thought in English can be found in Gat 1998 and in Hippler 2013 as well as in Italian, for example, Lehmann 2013. Botti and Cermelli 1989 offer an indispensable contextualization within Italian airpower thought, whereas La figura still offers valuable insights into various aspects, such as Douhet’s reception in Italy and beyond.

  • Botti, Ferruccio, and Mario Cermelli. La teoria della guerra aerea in Italia dalle origini alla seconda guerra mondiale, 1884–1939. Rome: Stato Maggiore Aeronautica, Ufficio Storico, 1989.

    A massive study of early Italian airpower thought, which provides an indispensable basis for the assessment of Douhet’s contributions.

  • La figura e l’opera di Giulio Douhet. Caserta, Italy: Società di Storia di Terra di Lavoro, 1988.

    A collection of essays on various aspects of Douhet’s theory and the reception of his thought.

  • Gat, Azar. Fascist and Liberal Visions of War. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198207153.001.0001

    Reprinted in Gat’s History of Military Thought from the Enlightenment to the Cold War (2001). Offers an interpretation of Douhet’s strategic thought in the light of his commitment to Italian Fascism.

  • Hippler, Thomas. Bombing the People: Giulio Douhet and the Foundations of Air-Power Strategy, 1884–1939. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139805674

    Offers an interpretation different from Gat’s, insisting on Douhet’s early pacifism and the links to liberal thought.

  • Lehmann, Eric. La guerra dell’aria. Giulio Douhet, stratega impolitico. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 2013.

    The most recent account in Italian of Douhet as a strategist.

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