J. M. Spaight

SPAIGHT, James Molony, C.B. 1936; C.B.E. 1927; O.B.E. 1918; Principal Assistant Secretary, Air Ministry since 1934; b. Ireland, 1877, y. s. of Robert Spaight, J.P.; m. 1907, Dolly, y. d. of Colonel W. F. Spaight, J.P., R.E. (retired); one d.. Educ.: Dublin University (Trinity) (Scholar), Double Senior Moderator, 1900; LL.B. and LL.D., 1905 (first place in both, together); member of Senate, 1905; entered higher division of Civil Service, 1901; Director of Accounts, Air Ministry, 1930-34. Publications: War Rights on Land, 1911; Aircraft in War, 1914; Aircraft in Peace and the Law, 1919; Air Power and War Rights, 1924; Aircraft and Commerce in War, 1926; Beginnings of Organised Air Power, 1927; Pseudo-Security, 1928; Air Power and the Cities, 1930; An International Air Force, 1932; papers in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Army Review, British Year Book of International Law, R.A.F. Quarterly, Cavalry Journal, Journal of Comparative Legislation, etc. Address: Inglemere, Smitham Downs Road, Purley.

Who's Who 1937. London: A & C Black, 1937.

J. M. Spaight (1877-1968) was easily the most prolific British writer on airpower during the first half of the 20th century, with over a dozen books to his name. He was unusual in that he was not a pilot, nor did he have any military experience. Instead he was a civil servant trained in law; from 1918 until his retirement in 1937 he was at the Air Ministry, ending up in quite a senior position. So his books tended to be legalistic and perhaps presenting the official point of view (though there was never any question of him speaking for the Ministry). He was also very precise and scholarly; this may have made his books less accessible to a popular audience, but his meticulous footnotes and references are an absolute gold mine for later historians. In particular, The Beginnings of Organized Air Power (1927) is essential on the early history of the Air Ministry and the various boards which preceded it, while the three editions of Air Power and War Rights (1924, 1933, 1947), about the legal questions surrounding bombing, are excellent guides to contemporary aviation literature and viewpoints. Because much of what Spaight wrote was summary and synthesis of the views of others, his own beliefs are sometimes difficult to discern. But his basic legal and ethical viewpoint was that aerial bombardment of cities was permissible to the same extent as were naval and land bombardments -- which is to say, it was permissible if there were military objectives within the city which could be attacked without indiscriminate harm to the inhabitants. Therefore he rejected morale or terror bombing as such, and indeed he came to doubt that such a strategy could be effective (that is, he moved away from a belief in the knock-out blow); however, during the Second World War he defended Bomber Command's policy of area bombing, in Bombing Vindicated (1944).

Spaight's other aviation books were: Aircraft in War (1914, just before the First World War), Aircraft in Peace and the Law (1919), Aircraft and Commerce in War (1926), Pseudo-Security (1928), Air Power and the Cities (1930), An International Air Force (1932), Air Power in the Next War (1938), Can America Prevent Frightfulness from the Air? (1939), The Sky's the Limit (1940), The Battle of Britain (1941), Blockade by Air (1942), Volcano Island (1943), The Atomic Problem (1948), and Air Power can Disarm (1948). His sole non-aviation book was his first, War Rights on Land (1911).

See also Robin Higham, The Military Intellectuals in Britain: 1918-1939 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1966), 230-3; Oxford DNB. A list of archival sources is available at the National Register of Archives.

11 thoughts on “J. M. Spaight

  1. Pingback:

  2. Pingback:

  3. Pingback:

  4. Pingback:

  5. Pingback:

  6. Pingback:

  7. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *