This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Lord of the Air: Winston Churchill and the Technocratic British State, 1917-1922




Colvin, Perry A.

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation




This dissertation examines the evolution of Winston Churchill’s efforts at technocratic reform within the British military from 1917 to 1922. It seeks to understand the roots of Churchill’s technocratic tendencies in the early twentieth century and demonstrate how they coalesced into a cogent and comprehensive vision for a systematized and mechanized British military. This dissertation draws on a raft of previously unpublished sources that present a vision of Churchill at odds with the popular image of the man, as it exists in the early twenty-first century. Churchill is shown to be both a technological enthusiast, and also a consistent advocate of the utilization of science and technology as a solution to almost any challenge to British state authority. This was most dynamically demonstrated in his efforts to realign British military resources towards mechanization in 1917 and 1918, as a means of decisively winning on the Western Front, with as few casualties as possible. In the early postwar period, he imbedded his technocratic framework into the British military as a means of providing a decisive military advantage in future wars and controlling the British Empire with limited financial and human resources. The qualities and flaws in his conceptualization of this system, and the incomplete nature of its implementation, defined the British interwar military and imperial experience, and had a decisive effect on British military performance during the opening years of World War II.