Safety in Numbers: Ideas of concentration in Royal Air Force fighter defence from Lanchester to the Battle of Britain

Niall MacKay, Christopher Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the Big Wing controversy in the Battle of Britain according to the RAF’s understanding of the principle of concentration. RAF doctrine was developed from Fuller’s 1916 codification of the principles of war, which in terms of concentration rested on the work of engineer and air-power theorist F. W. Lanchester. We argue that fighter doctrine diverged from its Lanchestrian core between the wars and allowed conflicting interpretations of concentration in British air defence. We conclude that Park’s conduct of the Battle of Britain in 11 Group conformed closely to the Lanchester model in concentrating British resources and denying targets to the enemy. Conversely, the Big Wing failed to provide operational concentration and presented the enemy with a massed target it was his mission to destroy. Data suggest greater British losses relative to the enemy when more aircraft were engaged, though damagingly for future policy the mathematics of over-claiming indicated the opposite.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-325
Number of pages22
Issue number323
Early online date18 Jul 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011

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