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.