Chapter 2: The Army Air Arm Between Two Wars, 1919–39
For the Air Service the Armistice brought surcease from battle but not from strife. From 1919 to 1939 the history of the Army air arm was dominated by a struggle for recognition which left a deep imprint upon the air organization and its personnel. Indeed, the character of the AAF on the eve of World War Ii and its self-conceived mission can be appreciated only in light of a conflict which had begun during the earlier war and was intensified after the return of the Air Service, AEF. In its second war, the air arm occupied an anomalous position: it was part of the Army, as its official title proclaimed, yet there was a degree of separatism in thought and in action not to be found among the other arms and services under War Department control. This was tacitly accepted in the command structure which emerged early in the war; it was sensed, too, by the average civilian, who with fine disregard for the formal chain of command might ask, “Are you in the Army or the Air Corps?” but never, “Are you in the Army or the Corps of Engineers?”
To understand this special character of the air force, it is not necessary to recall the myriad routine incidents which constitute so large a part of the life of a military establishment in time of peace. It should be sufficient here to describe the three paramount trends of the period: the effort to establish an independent air force; the development of a doctrine of strategic bombardment; and the search for a heavy bomber by which that doctrine could be applied. An approach so circumscribed as this will inevitably omit much that is important and interesting; worse still, it might foster the erroneous idea that from an early date all activities of the air arm were directed consciously toward those three goals. Yet so important were these trends in the
development of the air force which went to war in December 1941, that it is legitimate to confine the present discussion to them even at the risk of overemphasis and oversimplification.
Organization of the Army Air Arm, 1919–39
Of the trends designated above, that of broadest implication was the fight for independence of military aeronautics. Originating as a jurisdictional problem within the Army, the struggle became a major national issue and hence should be viewed in the broader context of the whole American scene. The two decades after the Armistice saw in the United States a revulsion from the enthusiasms of the great crusade to save democracy, a widespread skepticism concerning the real war aims, and a profound distaste for militarism and for war in general. The slogans of the period are suggestive of its temper – “return to normalcy,” “disarmament” and “limitation of armaments,” “outlawry of war,” “Merchants of Death,” “neutrality legislation.” Neither isolationism nor pacifism, the great depression nor the New Deal, was conducive to heavy expenditures for the Army and Navy; and, indeed, until the aggressor nations began to march in the mid-thirties, the problem of national defense seemed to many Americans but an academic exercise invented by the militarists.
In spite of the prevailing mood, defense appropriations for 1919–39 were heavier than for any similar peacetime period, but they were inadequate by standards to which the armed forces had become accustomed. in the inevitable competition for limited funds, the requests of each service were guided by its peculiar philosophy of national security. The Navy held out a strong battle fleet built around the capital ship. The War Department wished to increase the size of the Regular Army – the 1919 request for half-a-million men was scaled down to 280,000 – and to organize it as a nucleus for rapid and vast expansion in an agency rather than as an integral force. According to this scheme, existing air units would be spread thin as cadres among the several armies.1 Aviation officers had to accept this concept, but the most advanced thought in the Air Service favored a relatively small body of highly trained professionals welded into a compact striking force ready for instant service. This view found no support in the General Staff, composed exclusively of ground officers only mildly interested in air power, In 1917, they had vainly opposed the $640,000,000 appropriation for aeronautics; after the war, they were able to
exert a tighter control on the purse strings. Not unnaturally, the Air Service wanted a separate budget.
This was not the only source of friction. Personal ambitions and rivalries, the tendency toward “empire-building,” and service loyalties and jealousies were frequently in evidence. Fundamental considerations were occasionally obscured by specific problems which were important enough to service morale, but were symptomatic rather than causal in nature. As a new arm, the Air Service had few general offices. In the lower grades, where promotion was controlled inexorably by seniority, Air Service pilots found themselves many files behind ground officers who had entered the service at the same time, but whose commissions bore an earlier date because of the longer training required of the aviator. The proportion of nonflying Air Service officers in the lower grades, flight pay, and insurance were perennial causes of complaint. So too was the matter of uniforms: much feeling was engendered in arguments for and against the stiff collar as a necessary adjunct of the military aviator. Comparatively few pilots were graduates of West Point, and, in general, they felt discriminated against for that reason. One flying officer testified, on the basis of a study of returning veterans of World War I: “There was great dissatisfaction among the Air Service personnel with the treatment they had received particularly by Army Officers, and I am a graduate of West Point and I found that graduates of West Point were anything but popular among the personnel which came in from civilian life.”2
Beneath these problems, serious or trivial as they now appear, the underlying issue was clear enough: it hinged on an attitude toward the airplane and air power. To some the airplane was simply another weapon, effective enough but comparable in species to the tank or the submarine; like those weapons, the plane could best be employed by the Army and Navy in fulfilling their traditional missions, and its development could best be entrusted to agencies comparable to the Tank Corps or the Bureau of Construction and Repairs. But to most airmen, the plane was genus, not species – a new and unique instrument of destruction of such revolutionary potentialities as to demand a sweeping reorganization of the national defense structure. Only by securing a considerable measure of autonomy could the Air Service formulate its own combat doctrines, develop equipment appropriate thereto, and direct its forces in battle.
Literally dozens of plans were suggested for the control of air
power, but, shorn of details, the proposals for reorganization followed one of four patterns. most radical was the independent air force, usually drawing heavily upon the RAF and its Air Ministry for precedent. This scheme called for a new cabinet agency on a par with the War and Navy departments. Since in most plans of this type, the Department of Aeronautics was to control all government aviation – currently divided between the Army, the Navy, and civilian agencies – the terms “independent,” “separate,” and “united air force” were used interchangeably. Various expedients were suggested to govern the employment of aircraft by this department in operations over land and sea, but none offer acceptable solution to the problem of unity of command. An alternative plan, which seemed compatible with current ideas of command, and potentially more economical, gained popularity after 1923. This entailed creation of a single Department of National Defense with coordinate sub-departments for Army, Navy, and Air. When this plan was rejected, some Air Service officers, cautious by nature or discouraged by constant rebuffs, were willing to settle for a degree of autonomy within the War Department equivalent to that enjoyed by the Marine Corps in the Navy. And, when that was not forthcoming, as a last resort they accepted as a poor compromise tactical control as might be achieved by assigning the bulk of offensive air units to General Headquarters.
The War Department resisted in turn every proposal to eliminate or diminish its control over military aviation. The Secretary of War was supported in this resistance, overtly or tacitly, by each Chief Executive during the period under consideration, by the powerful military and naval affairs committees in Congress, and by most general officers. Similarly, the Navy Department, its General Board, and most admirals objected strenuously to any organization change which would establish a different control for overwater aircraft or which threatened to disturb the dominant role of the battleship. Service academies and colleges followed service lines. in 1925, Secretary of the Navy is D. Wilbur could say: “I think there is not a man in either service, outside of those connected with the aircraft – I do not know of any in the service, with one or two exception in the Army possibly – who would regard the Air Service as a principal service.”3
Certainly, that unanimity existed within the Army’s General Staff, and it was in this agency that proponents of air reorganization found their most potent antagonists. As late as 1926, an official poll taken for
a congressional committee showed 101 members of the staff opposed to a Department of National Defense with coequal sub-departments for Army, Navy, and Air, and only one who favored it.4 In spite of disingenuous statements to the contrary, the General Staff commonly dictated War Department policies.5 In 1919, General Foulois testified:–
The General Staff of the Army is the policy-making body of the Army and, either through lack of vision, lack of practical knowledge, or deliberate intention to subordinate the Air Service needs to the needs of the other combat arms, it has utterly failed to appreciate the full military value of this military weapon and, in my opinion, has utterly failed to accord it its just place in our military family.6
This attitude toward the General Staff was shared by other advocates of air autonomy, whether officers or civilians, at that time and later. Sometimes their language was less temperate than that of Foulois. Representative Fiorello H. La Guardia, an aviator in World War I and an ardent supporter of the independent air force, testified in 1926: “There is one obstacle in the way of new legislation, Mr. Chairman. That is the General Staff. If this committee does not lock the doors to the General Staff, you will not get a bill through. ... The General Staff are either hopelessly stupid or unpardonably guilty in refusing to recognize the necessity of making a change in aviation.”7 Even today it is difficult for interested parties to view the controversy dispassionately. In behalf of the General Staff it should be pointed out that its members were responsible for the current as well as the future defense of the United States, and that they were therefore prone to evaluate the potentialities of the airplane in terms of its known accomplishments in the recent war. if this tendency at times injected a certain degree of realism into considerations of immediate defense measures, it also acted as a deterrent to future development of a weapon still in its infancy. Because for many years the Air Service was denied membership in the General Staff and thus any real opportunity to affect policies at the highest level, it was natural that many airmen should look on that agency as a stronghold of bureaucratic conservatism.
The chief impetus for change came from returning officers of the Air Service, AEF. They were backed by Air Service officers who had remained in the States. No accurate poll of opinion was taken, but in 1925 a congressional committee found that an overwhelming majority of aviators favored an independent organization. As a typical response to the committee’s standard question in that respect, one might cite the
reply of a pilot lieutenant: “It has been discussed everywhere I have been where there are any Air Service officers, and I have never heard anybody yet – any Air Service officer – against it.”8 There were a few iconoclasts in the Navy who supported the move for reorganization in some particulars – not in all. There were, too, enthusiastic advocates of the separate air force in Congress, and eventually a large public following was built up. Early incumbents of the Office of Chief of the Air Service (Corps) found it difficult to press vigorously for reorganization and, by default, leadership devolved upon General Mitchell, assistant chief from 1919 to 1925, whose energetic and sometimes flamboyant figure dominated the postwar struggle as it had the combat effort in France.
The alignment was hardly an even one. Mitchell and his followers had enthusiasm, but their opponents had rank. Because the far-reaching and permanent changes sought by the Air Service demanded legislative sanction, much of the struggle was aired publicly. In 1928, Maj. Gen. Mason M Patrick, recently retired Chief of the Air Corps, wrote somewhat plaintively that “the Air Service or rather the air effort, of the United States since we entered the World War has probably been the most investigated activity ever carried on by the United States.”9 The end was not then in sight. Six years later, the Baker Board listed fourteen such investigations (omitting the one most favorably inclined to the independent air force),10 and others were to follow. The members of most boards were distinguished enough, but they were named by in authority who were opposed to change: from the Menoher Board of 1919, composed of a nonflying Director of the Air Service and a group of artillery officers, to the Baker Board of 1934, with its military membership of four ground officers and one aviator, the investigating committees from the airman’s point of view were usually stacked. Whatever may have been the logic of arguments redundantly cited, he viewed the conclusion, usually conservative in nature, with deep suspicion: as a disgruntled witness said in one instance, “the findings of the Morrow Board were approved before the Morrow Board ever assembled.”11
Filled with a missionary zeal and frustrated by lack of success, Mitchell and his followers spoke intemperately. Their opponents replied in kind and attempted to still dissident voices by authority rather than by reason. And so the fight for recognition of air power took on all the bitterness of domestic strife, with “the feeling on the part of
each side that the other side had been unreasonable.”12 The controversy was characterized by much poor rhetoric, by extraneous political issues, by Fabian tactics on the part of those in power, and at times by a disconcerting lack of decorum and of candor. To the public it became a battle royal of “Billy Mitchell versus the Brass Hats,” with the climax in his court-martial, a cause célèbre unique in American military history. But, from a purely administrative viewpoint, the struggle may be conceived as running through four phases, punctuated by the Army Reorganization Act of 1920, the Air Corps Act of 1926, and the formation of the GHQ Air Force in 1935.
Legislative efforts to establish aviation as a combatant branch of the Army and as a separate service had begun, respectively, in 1913 and 1916. Attracting little support, those efforts had failed, and, when the United States entered World War I, its Army air arm consisted of the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, as provided in an act of 18 July 1914.13 It was the failure of that organization and its allied offices to adjust to the demands of large-scale war, which led to the establishment in 1918 of the Air Service as a quasi-autonomous body within the War Department. More successful than its predecessor, the Air Service was far from perfect as an administrative agency, and it existed only as an emergency measure set up by executive order. After the Armistice, in spite of further temporary expedients adopted by President Wilson, the loss of key personnel through resignations threatened to leave military aviation without leadership in the crucial period of demobilization of the air force and collapse of the war-born aircraft industry.14
The demand for new policies to guide a peacetime program was not peculiar to the Air Service. In 1919 the War Department was pressing for a drastic revision of the military establishment as prescribed in the National Defense Act of 3 June 1916. Returning Air Service officers were eager that any reorganization should provide for a separate air force. Congressional support was stronger than in the prewar period, but, of the eight bills introduced in 1919–20 to provide for a Department of Aeronautics, only one was favorably reported.15 Expert studies of the problems involved served merely to confirm opinions previously held. Pershing’s Dickman Board at Chaumont and the War Department’s Menoher Board at Washington opposed any change in the control of aviation, the latter concluding that “the military air force must remain under the complete control of the Army and form an integral part thereof.”16 Yet the Crowell mission, appointed by
Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and consisting of men with wide executive experience in aviation, returned from a tour of Europe with an unequivocal endorsement of the separate department of air.17
Baker gave wider circulation to the Dickman and Menoher reports than to the Crowell – indeed, the latter seems to have been deliberately suppressed – and he supported the proposals of the General Staff, which in modified form took effect in the Army Reorganization Act of 4 June 1920.18 This law gave formal recognition to the Air Service as a combatant arm of the Army. The office of Second Assistant Secretary of War (then vacant) was abolished. Authorized strength of the Air Service was set at 1,516 officers, 2,500 flying cadets, and 16,000 enlisted men, out of a total of 280,000 for the Army. Specific complaints were answered by regulations requiring that tactical units be commanded by flyers, authorizing flight pay of 50 per cent base pay, and ambiguously stipulating a limit on the number of nonflying officers. In spite of these minor concessions, the new law was regarded by many aviators as a crushing defeat for Air Service aspirations.
In his annual report for 1919, the Secretary of War concluded a lengthy analysis of the case for air power with the judgment that “on the whole case, it seems quite clear that the time has not come to set up an independent department of the air.” He was willing to soften that statement with the caveat that “the art [aviation] itself is so new and so fascinating, and the men in it have so taken on the character of supermen, that it is difficult to reason coldly, and perhaps dangerous to attempt any limitation upon the future based even upon the most favorable view of present attainment.”19 The aviators, who rarely reasoned coldly, were confident of what the future would hold, but they thought that arrival could be hastened by direct action in the present. Balked within the War Department, they carried their fight into a broader arena, seeking by spectacular stunts and by equally spectacular statements to win public support for their cause.
For six tumultuous years, Billy Mitchell was a national figure, seldom absent from the headlines for long. He had return from France as the best known of Baker’s “supermen.” With his war record he might have expected to head the peacetime Air Service, but instead he served as assistant chief successively to Menoher and Patrick – and to their frequent discomfiture. Later, Mitchell expressed the opinion that “changes in military systems come about only through the pressure of public opinion or disaster in war.”20 Public opinion had been responsible
for the creation of the Air Ministry in England and, properly nourished, for the Aviation Act of 24 July 1917 in America. Mitchell was unwilling to wait for disaster in war; as he told the Morrow Board in 1925, he and his followers had “appealed to the President and the American people to hear our cause.”21 The people were more receptive than Harding or Coolidge.
Having begun his educational campaign in 1919, Mitchell intensified his efforts as his cause weakened in the War Department. His energy was prodigious. He poured forth a steady stream of articles and newspaper stories and found time to write three books on air power. His published testimony before committees alone constitutes a formidable corpus. He became an indefatigable lecturer and a hardy after-dinner speaker; he courted interviews by the press.22 Ready in quantity now that the battle has passed, his writings appear repetitious and not always models of style. An ardent proselytizer, he was capable of slanting an argument or of making claims for air power hardly justified by the performance of aircraft then available. But of the vigor and sincerity of his message there can be no doubt, or of its effectiveness in arousing widespread interest. Time has proved the essential soundness of most of his basic contentions.
Because of the traditional importance of sea power in the national scheme of defense, Mitchell’s boldest attacks against the existing order were directed against the Navy. In that service, even more strenuously than in the Army, conservatives had resisted the development of the air arm. Mitchell ascribed that resistance to occupational jealousy of men who feared the intrusion of a new weapon which might upset the theories of Mahan. Since his return from France, Mitchell had insisted that an airplane could sink any surface ship by bombs or torpedoes. Hence submarines and land-based planes could defend the from any attack. At a time when economy in government was a magic talisman, his claims that money spent on battleships was waste and that national security could be had at a lesser figure through creation of a unified and independent air force were bound to receive attention.23 His repeated requests for a test on suitable naval vessels were staunchly resisted by the Navy, which conducted inconclusive tests of its own in 1920, until congressional interest finally force compliance.24 The test, held off the mouth of the Chesapeake in July 1921, attracted widespread public interest. There, after naval aircraft in June
had easily disposed of a surfaced U-boat, Mitchell’s First Provisional Air Brigade, hastily assembled and trained at Langley Field, attacked and sank three German ships – a destroyer, the cruiser Frankfurt, and the heavily compartmented battleship Ostfriesland. Disputes arose as to the manner in which the experiment – directed by the Navy – had been conducted, and the Joint Board’s report tended to deprecate the effectiveness of aerial bombing.25 But the fact of the sinkings was indisputable, and Mitchell went on to clinch the validity of his claims by tests conducted with like results on obsolete U.S. battleships – the Alabama in September 1921 and the Virginia and New Jersey in September 1923.26
Renewed congressional interest in the independent air force stimulated by the Ostfriesland task was unproductive in the face of opposition in both Houses and from President Harding.27 The annual reports of the Chief of the Air Service indicated, however, the need of some immediate action to prevent the virtual extinction of the air arm. Equipment, largely of wartime vintage, was obsolescent and unsafe, with personnel far below authorized strength. On 30 June 1921 the Air Service numbered but 975 officers and 175 flying cadets; a year later the officer roster had shrunk to 952, enlisted strength to 8,936.28 With only one group each of pursuit, attack, and bombardment aviation,29 the Air Service as a combatant arm was practically demobilized. Cautious in his policies, Patrick was then no public advocate of the separate department for air; he did plead for more liberal support of aeronautics and for recognition of the sharp functional distinction between auxiliary units for the Army (“air service,” ideally 20 per cent of the total air strength) and offensive aviation (“air force,” ideally 80 per cent), which needed a different type of command structure.30 In response to definite recommendations made by Patrick, the General Staff in March 1923 appointed its own board to examine the status of the Air Service. In spite of its constituency, the Lassiter Board confirmed Patrick’s dismal appraisal. Stating that air operations were “now recognized as being as important as the tactics of the ground and sea forces,” the board recommended a ten-year expansion program with increased and regular appropriations and the acceptance of Patrick’s idea of massing the bulk of offensive aviation into a striking force under GHQ.31 The Lassiter report was approved by the Secretary of War, but, when naval members of the Joint Board opposed it, he made no attempt to secure the enabling legislation.32
Mitchell, sent to the Orient to quiet down after the battleship tests of September 1923, returned in the following July to renew his fight.33 In October 1924, a joint congressional committee was appointed to investigate alleged irregularities in the contracts and expenditures for Army and Navy aviation. The Lampert Committee went far beyond its designated missions, bringing under review the whole province of military aeronautics. Its hearings lasted nearly a year, during which time a hundred and fifty witnesses were examined. Proponents of reform in the handling of air power were received sympathetically, and the hearings became especially a public forum for the dissemination of Mitchell’s ideas.34 He continued to urge the establishment of the separate unified air force but conceded that a unified Department of Defense with coequal air, ground, and naval forces would probably serve satisfactorily.35 In 1923 Harding had suggested, as an economy measure, unification of the armed services – though without any special reference to the autonomous air for36 This solution to the problems of organization gained in popularity, eventually being accepted even by the cautious Patrick.37
Mitchell did not confine his testimony to recommendations for changes in the administrative structure. he elaborated upon specific evils in the current conditions of the Air Service and denounce those in authority who were responsible. Archconservatives who controlled the General Staff, the War Department, and the Navy, he charged deliberately hostile to improvements in the air arm, refusing to heed the suggestions of air officers and attempting to control their public testimony by more or less veiled intimidation.38 The virulence of Mitchell’s attacks in the hearings and in widely read magazine articles led secretary of War John Wingate Weeks to replace the troublemaker as Patrick’s assistant.39 In April 1925 Mitchell was transferred to San Antonio as air officer for the Eighth Corps Area, a demotion so transparent as to lead his friends to speak, with fine disregard for climatic conditions, of his exile to Siberia.40 On 5 September he used the recent disaster to the Navy’s dirigible Shenandoah as an occasion for releasing to the press a statement containing a grave indictment of those in the Army and Navy responsible for the neglect of aviation. His intent was deliberate, and his blast attained results he must have expected – a summons to Washington to stand trial before a general court-martial. The trial, lasting from 25 October to 17 December, was not a model of judicial procedure. Testimony again
ranged widely and was avidly followed in the press, until the case became essentially a trial of air power before the bar of public opinion rather than of Mitchell on charges under the omnibus 96th Article of War. Mitchell was found guilty as charged and suspended from duty for five years, a sentence which brought his early resignation from the Army.41 But, as one newspaper had predicted, “‘Mitchellism’ will remain after Colonel Mitchell has gone.”42
The verdict was highlighted by the almost simultaneous publication of two conflicting reports on the status of military aviation. On 10 September the secretaries of War and the Navy had asked President Coolidge to appoint a committee to consider “the best means of developing and applying aircraft in National Defense.”43 The request, coming before Lampert’s congressional committee had reported, was of questionable taste; it was widely interpreted as a means of counteracting unfavorable publicity from the Mitchell trial and the anticipated recommendations of the Lampert group. Coolidge, opposed to the independent air force and to the troublesome Mitchell, named a committee headed by Dwight W. Morrow. Critics of the existing air regime were not soothed by the President’s letter of appointment which expressed the hope that Morrow’s efforts would “result in bringing out he good qualities of the Air Service.”44 The Morrow Board heard all the familiar arguments reiterated by familiar witnesses (including Mitchell, awaiting trial), and its findings were released on 3 December, in time to neutralize criticism of the Mitchell verdict.45 The report was a general vindication of the status quo. It held that there was no danger of an air attack on the United States and that our air force compared favorably with that of any other power. Because the board did not “consider that air power, as an arm of national defense, has as yet demonstrated its value for independent operations,” it opposed the creation of a separate air force; the unified Department of Defense was rejected as too complex and inefficient. The report recognized the distinction, insisted on by Patrick and the Lassiter Board, between support aviation and the offensive striking force; but the positive recommendations listed were only a sop to continued agitation. The name of the Air Service should be changed to Air Corps, which should have representation in the General Staff and two additional brigadier generals. The only concession to the move for departmental reorganization was the suggestion that an assistant secretary be
appointed in each of several departments – War, Navy, Commerce – to supervise aviation.
The Lampert report, published on 13 December,46 was in many respects an endorsement of Mitchell’s ideas. On the central issue of organization, after an analysis of six possible schemes, it favored the single Department of Defense with equal representation for air, ground, and naval forces. These dissident reports evoked a wave of new air bills in Congress, ranging from Representative Charles Curry’s detailed plan for a Department of Defense to a War Department-sponsored bill providing only minor changes.47 The bill which was finally enacted purported to be a compromise, but it leaned heavily on the Morrow recommendations.
The Air Corps Act of 2 July 192648 effected no fundamental innovation. The change in designation meant no change in status: the Air Corps was still a combatant branch of the Army with less prestige than the Infantry. The establishment of an air section in each division of the General Staff was prescribed for a three-year period. A new Assistant Secretary of War was to be named to help in “fostering military aeronautics,” but in the absence of a more definite mission, his usefulness would be determined by the attitude of the Secretary. Specific provisions were aimed at removing complaints in respect to flying officers’ rating, pay, and promotion and at regularizing procurement procedure. To remedy existing deficiencies in personnel and equipment, the law authorized a five-year program to bring the Air Corps to a strength of 1,518 officers, 2,500 flying cadets, 16,000 enlisted men, and 1,800 serviceable aircraft.
The skepticism which Air Corps officers viewed this legislation was confirmed by the experience of the next few years. Funds were not made available for the authorized expansion, and for that failure the War Department and the Bureau of the Budget, rather than Congress, seem to have been responsible.49 Directed reforms were not carried out to the satisfaction of the officers concerned, and token representation in the General Staff accomplished little. The ineffectiveness of the Air Corps Act confirmed proponents of a sweeping reorganization in their opinions; between 1926 and 1935 twelve bills for a Department of Aeronautics and seventeen for a single Department of Defense were presented in Congress.50 Not one was reported favorably, however, and by 1933 many Air Corps officers had come to believe it hopeless to strive longer for independence from the War
Department and had decided to adopt as a more limited objective the creation of a GHQ air force.51 The attainment of that objective would at least assure the concentration of offensive aviation under a central command and give to it a more or less independent mission. Experience in War I seemed to justify such an organization; its need had been explicit in Air Corps doctrine and had been accentuated by technological improvements in aircraft which extended range and increased bomb capacity.
Opinion in the War Department had also moved toward acceptance of the idea of a GHQ air force. In January 1931 announcement was made of an agreement between Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff, and Adm. William V. Pratt, Chief of Naval Operations, which broke, at any rate for the time being, a long-standing stalemate between the Army and Navy over the question of control of aviation engaged in coastal defense.52 That agreement will be described more fully in another connection,* but it must be noted here that the agreement recognized the Army’s primary responsibility for coastal defense and thus opened the way for a new exploration of the role of the Air Corps in national defense. Subsequent War Department and Air Corps studies were reviewed by a board headed by Maj. Gen. Hugh A. Drum. Its report in October 1933 did not accept the more advanced ideas of the Army’s airmen, but it did recommend the creation of a GHQ air force of 1,800 planes. This concession encouraged members of the Air Corps to concentrate their efforts toward achieving that limited goal rather than continue the vain fight for independence.53
Adoption of the central feature of the Drum Board plan was spurred by public agitation over casualties incurred by the Air Corps in its ill-fated venture in carrying the mail during the winter of 1934. Under a barrage of pointed questions as to the adequacy of equipment and training, two more investigating agencies were appointed – the Federal Aviation Commission headed by Clark Howell and the War Department’s Baker Board.54 Airmen could expect little sympathy from Baker on his record of 1920 or from the military members of his board, but its civilian membership seemed “safe” enough. The report submitted in July 1934 was, however, sharply critical of those Air Corps officers who had struggled for recognition of their arm.55 Like the Morrow Board, Baker’s group scorned any danger of air attack on the United States; the best means of national defense were the fleet,
“the only entirely dependable force” for operating at sea, and the Army, which “with its own air forces remains the ultimate decisive factor in war.” The board was firmly opposed to either the unified defense department or the independent air force. The history of the air arm showed, it believed, that “the Air Corps has virtually been independent since its inception;” that production failures of 1917–18 had occurred because of its practical exemption from General Staff control; and that independent air force operations had not been decisive in the war. Hence the report concluded that “the time has arrived for the Air Corps to become in all respects a homogenous part of the Army, under General Staff control, and be subject to military coordination, study, influence and operation.”56 Less, not more, autonomy was the cure for Air Corps ills. The desired results could be obtained by eliminating the now vacant post of Assistant Secretary of War; making the Chief of the Air Corps responsible for individual training, procurement, and supply under the Secretary; and following the Drum Board’s recommendation for establishing a GHQ air force under the Chief of Staff.
One civilian, James H. Doolittle, filed a minority report, advocating separation of the Air Corps from the Army.57
The Howell commission was free from War Department domination, and many felt that its verdict might run counter to that of the Baker Board. However, after the latter report it appeared wiser to give the GHQ Air Force a trial than to press for radical measures, and Howell’s group made no recommendations on the organization of military aviation.58 The reorganization suggested by Baker went into effect on 1 March 1935.59 Tactical units scattered through the nine corps areas were assigned to the GHQ Air Force, with headquarters at Langley Field; its three wings were located at Langley (Va.), Barksdale (La.), and March (Calif.) fields. As Commanding General, GHQ Air Force, Maj. Gen. Frank M. Andrews was responsible for organization, training, and operation of the force, reporting to the Chief of Staff in peace, the commander of the field forces in war. The Chief of the Air Corps, Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, retained responsibility for individual training, procurement, and supply. Administrative control of the air bases remained in the hands of the several corps area commanders.
Thus, although the GHQ Air Force provided in improved command structure for operations by concentrating a considerable share
of the tactical units under a single head, the new arrangement was far from ideal. Most of the specific administrative difficulties which arose during the next few years stemmed from two basic inconsistencies: divided authority between the Air Corps and the corps areas, and between the two elements within the Air Corps.60 As to the first, the Air Corps presented a unified front in attempting to secure an exempted status* for all airfields; such status, minus the important prerogative of court-martial jurisdiction, was granted in May 1936, revoked in November 1940.61 In respect to its internal organization, Air Corps opinion, like the Air Corps itself, was divided. The ultimate purpose of the air arm was effectiveness in combat. Command responsibility for that mission within the Air Corps devolved upon the Commanding General, GHQ Air Force. But he had no voice in the individual training and indoctrination of his crews or in the development and procurement of equipment. Over those functions the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps (OCAC) had control. The two agencies were on the same command echelon, reporting separately to the Chief of Staff. Essentially it was a revival of the functional dualism which had proved so mischievous in 1917–18. Andrews and Westover agreeing on the need of a single chain of command under the of Staff, differed as to which of the offices should take precedence. Year after year, studies and conflicting recommendations were made without result. Finally, under the stress of an incipient rearmament program, the consolidation was effected on 1 March 1939. By a War Department directive, both the GHQ Air Force and the OCAC were made directly responsible to the Chief of the Air Corps.62
The new arrangement was to prove short-lived, but, since it coincided with the inauguration of a vast expansion of the Air Corps* under threats from abroad, it may serve here as a convenient terminus. A quarter-century had passed since the first official recognition had been accorded the air arm by the act of 18 July 1914. Air Corps officers, no longer militantly crusading in public for independence, had little cause for complacency with the fruits of their long struggle. Read out of context, the story of struggle can be made to appear, as the Baker Board interpreted it, an attempt of ambitious officers to further their own petty interests by escape from the salutary control of beneficent General Staff. Certainly air officers had a normal share
* i.e., administrative independence corps areas.
† See Chapter 4.
of personal ambition, but the most enduring factor in their long campaign was the conviction that air power was being stultified by a command structure lacking in understanding of the new weapon. As one pilot put when questioned by the Morrow Board on his attitude toward his own rate of promotion, “They can call me Mr. George, aviation pilot, for the rest of my life as far as that is concerned, just so long as I might feel deep down in my heart that aviation is being given a proper part in the system of national defense.”63 A brief analysis of Air Corps doctrines as they developed in the period before 1939, and of Air Corps efforts to develop suitable equipment, should go far to explain the persistence of the struggle for independence.
The Development of Air Doctrines
In April 1938 and Air Corps major attending the Army War College prepared a paper entitled “Employment of Army Air Forces.”64 The study was an academic exercise done, as a civilian university would have phrased it, “in partial fulfillment of the requirements” of his course. The substance of his findings was probably familiar to most serious students of national defense policies, but his paper did present in brief form some striking anomalies. His analysis of the doctrines of air power currently promulgated by the several responsible agencies indicated a disturbing lack of uniformity. The Command and General Staff School, the Army War College, and the Joint Board acknowledged the importance of aviation, but held that its principal function was the immediate support of the ground forces and Navy in furtherance of their respective missions. The Air Corps Tactical School claimed for air power a more decisive, primarily consisting of long-range bombardment operations as an independent means of furthering the “Army Strategic Plan” or the “National objective.” War Department directives seemed to “straddle” on this important issue, though inclining rather toward the former point of view. Thus those officers who were being prepared for the highest command or staff positions were subjected to conflicting opinions rather than to a consistent indoctrination.
Had the major’s paper been even more academic, it might have gone on to show that this conflict in attitudes had appeared in an incipient form during World War I and had been sharpened by the organizational disputes of the postwar years. Indeed, it is impossible wholly to divorce the problems of employment of air forces and control of
air forces. But whereas the War Department had been able to determine the official pronouncements on employment of air forces as it had the organizational structure, the Air Corps had developed its own combat doctrines. Long considered heretical, these doctrines were to be accepted as orthodox in World War II, and their development therefore should be described briefly here.
Army air doctrine, like the Army air arm itself, had started from scratch in April 1917. Poorly equipped and limited in tactical experience to a not-too-glorious chase of Pancho Villa through northern Mexico, the Aviation Section had previously found little incentive to formulate combat principles for a handful of obsolete planes. Americans had followed eagerly the highly publicized exploits in France individual aces and of the Lafayette Escadrille, but the revolutionary implications of the new weapon were but dimly appreciated. In June 1917 requests for the large appropriation for aviation were bolstered by loose talk about “blinding the beast’s eyes” and of a plan for “driving the German fliers out of the air and maintaining a constant reading patrol [to] tear up the enemy’s communication line.”65 But the plain truth is that Americans, whether in the Aviation Section or out, had no definite idea of how to accomplish those laudable ends – nor did they know whether there were ends still more desirable.
Writing in 1920, General Mitchell contrasted the situation of the older military arms, possessed of a rich tradition and accepted strategical and tactical doctrines, with that of the Air Service: “All of our fighting tactics, methods of operation, organization, traditions, and cohesion had been evolved and developed on the European battlefields.”66 The initial lessons, he frankly admitted, had come from the Allies, and it is highly significant that the Air Service, with few preconceived ideas on aerial combat, had arrived in France at a time when many of the basic principles of air power were beginning to emerge in articulate form. Am aviators, proving apt pupils, had modified the original lessons in light of their own problems and combat experience and, by Armistice time, had developed reasonably clear ideas of what they wanted to do in the air and how they proposed to do it. While war lasted, there had been little time to reduce those ideas to formalized doctrines, but Air Service veterans returning to the States in 1919 had distilled the fruits of their experience in to training manuals which were already under revision when Mitchell wrote.67 The potentialities of air power had been sensed rather than tested in 1918,
and with the rapid technological improvements of the next two decades, the process of revision continued sporadically. It might therefore appear simple to trace in the successive training directives and manuals the evolution of the combat doctrines of the Army air arm.
That procedure, if followed literally and exclusively, would hardly repay the not inconsiderable effort involved in assembling a complete file of an Army publication. For, however accurately the manuals may reflect current teachings on the details of aerial combat, they seldom represent the most advanced thought within the Army air arm on the broader problems of air power. To this conservatism of thought – or expression – several factors contributed. Formulation of doctrine within the War Department was a function of the General Staff, and, while the air arm wrote its own manuals, those had to be watered down to make them acceptable to the ruling hierarchy of ground officers. Prevailing national sentiment encouraged the tendency to discuss war publicly only in terms of national defense in its narrowest sense, an attitude not wholly compatible with the offensive nature of the air weapon, and to keep all talk of attack son nonmilitary objectives sotto voce. Finally, the whole subject of aircraft in national defense involved delicate Army-Navy relations, and in that dread no-man’s-land prudent men trod softly.
So it was that the training guides, a textbooks for young officers, were not only dull in the inimitable style of Army manuals; on controversial issues they were at best noncommittal and at misleading. Joint Army-Navy agreements were so ambiguous as to permit widest latitude in interpretation. And hence, paradoxically, we must seek the air arm’s underlying philosophy of warfare not in the official pronouncements but first in the public utterances of its radicals and later in the less widely disseminated thought of its most advanced school. This approach is not wholly satisfactory, but it is the only way to explain, other than by supposing a sudden reverse opinion, the emergence shortly before World War II of a well-developed theory of warfare in which strategic bombardment played the predominant role. In its most essential features this theory was evolved by Mitchell in the mid-twenties; but by 1939 it had become an article of faith privately held if not publicly proclaimed by the Air Corps.
Mitchell’s concept of air power is more difficult to analyze than is that of his Italian contemporary, Guilio Douhet. Mitchell, a prolific
and hasty writer, was not always consistent. His works, usually slanted toward the organizational dispute and polemic in nature, were not without exaggeration in detail. His thought underwent important modifications between 1919 and 1930 as technological improvements (and perhaps the heat of controversy) led him to logical conclusions which had been only implicit in his earliest statements. But one axiom, with its corollaries, never varied. To him the airplane was first and last an offensive weapon. In the vast theater of the air there were no frontiers, not battle lines, no terrain features. Subject only to limitations of bases, operating range, and weather (and he was not inclined to overstress any as an adverse factor), the airplane with its speed and mobility could be applied against any enemy objective. Consequently, there could be no fixed defenses against aviation: “the only defense against an air force is another air force,”68 and the destruction of the enemy’s aviation is the necessary preliminary to a successful air offensive. It is only in respect to the nature of the air offensive that his thought shows any considerable development.
His analysis in 1919 of the “theory of operations”69 which had guided the Air Service in those battles described in the preceding chapter shows how completely air employment had been dedicated to the immediate support of the ground armies. Save for units attached to army corps for observation and local defense, the Air Service had conceived as its primary mission the gaining of “complete ascendency ... in the air.” On any desired front this was to be accomplished by adhering to principles of surprise, mobility, and concentration of forces. Available units of whatever category were to be massed into a striking force, but the significance attached to the air battle itself led Mitchell to speak of pursuit as “the most important branch of aviation ... which fights for and gains control of the air,” and to calculate a well-balanced air force as comprising 50 per cent pursuit, 20 per cent attack, and 20 percent bombardment aircraft.70 Yet control of the air was in itself a negative thing, a means to some other end. For the Air Service in 1918, that end had been limited. Air ascendancy would free U.S. troops from enemy air attack and allow U.S. aviation to be employed offensively against the enemy’s “ground troops, his trains, his depots of ammunition and supplies, and his railroad stations and lines of communications” and airdromes.71
Mitchell referred to his striking force as “our independent or what might be termed strategical aviation.”72 but its operations were
neither independent nor strategic as those terms were already understood in 1918. By that time, the British Air Ministry had evolved a concept of the use of air power to enforce a decision, independent from or supplementary to the action of armies, through long-range bombardment of selected targets in Germany. originally evoked by German air raids on London, this policy had gone far beyond mere retaliation. The mission of the Independent For defined by its leader, Trenchard, contemplated nothing less than “the breakdown of the Germany Army in Germany, its Government, and the crippling of its sources of supply.” With the forces available in 1918, Trenchard’s efforts were perforce limited in scope. Sustained operations against large industrial areas were out of the question. Target selection, involving careful appraisal of intelligence, was based on the assumption that scattered raids could slow down production by fostering uncertainty among workers. This Trenchard could write that “at present the moral effect of bombing stands undoubtedly to the material effect in a proportion of 20 to 1.”73
In 1919, Trenchard might have had in the Inter-Allied Independent Air Force sufficient power to give a real test to the concept of air power entertained by the Air Ministry, and in that test the Air Service was to have participated. Because of the failure of the Anglo-American Handley-Page production program, the Air Service had experienced no actual practice in strategic bombardment. Thus, however conversant Mitchell may have been with the activities of Trenchard’s force, his thinking in 1918 seems to have been geared closely to the advance of the ground armies. His boldest plan, a project for a hug airborne operation scheduled for 1919, was designed as a means for reducing infantry casualties in the capture of Metz.74 In the light of subsequent controversy, it is significant that, although Mitchell’s operations had been confined to support of ground troops on a stabilized front, his tactics had been too “independent” for the generals. Of the Meuse–Argonne battle Pershing wrote: “The tendency of our air force at first was to attach too much significance to flights beyond the enemy’s lines in an endeavor to interrupt his communications,” whereas in battle the proper function of aviation was “to drive off hostile airplanes and procure for the infantry and artillery information concerning the enemy’s movements.”75
When Mitchell published in 1921 his first book on air power – Our Air Force: The Keystone of National Defense – he had begun to consider
some of the more far-reaching potentialities of his weapon. He pointed out that “Bombardment Aviation asserted itself more and more as the War developed.” Victory had become a matter of “whipping the reserves” or delaying them, so that bombardment had been used to cut communications and to interfere with the manufacture of munitions.76 In modern warfare with its idea of the nation in arms, it was becoming difficult to distinguish between military and civilian objectives:–
We must expect, therefore, in case of war, to have the enemy attempt to destroy any or all of our combatant or industrial forces – his attacks being entirely controlled by the dictates of strategy, and the means of brining the war to a quick conclusion. It may be at times the best strategy to damage and destroy property, and to kill and disable an enemy’s forces and resources at points far removed from the field of battle of either armies or navies.77
But this unpleasant thought was advanced as a possibility, not as dogma. Mitchell could still believe that “it was an established that the principal mission of an air force was the destruction of the hostile air force.”78 and could deliver his most succinct summary of the role of air power without reference to attacks against civilian resources: “Our doctrine of aviation, therefore, should be to find out where the hostile air force is, to concentrate on that point with our Pursuit, Attack, and Bombardment Aviation, to obtain a decision over the hostile air force, and then to attack the enemy’s armies on the land or navies on the water and obtain a decision over them.”79 Whatever the future might hold, war was still a matter of defeating the enemy’s armed forces.
Mitchell’s failure to push his theory to the limits he later reached need not be ascribed to prudence, but it should be realized that the War Department, with which he had not broken in 1921, was skeptical of the utility of strategic bombardment and that certain implications of total air are were repugnant to the public whose support he wished to elicit. But far more important in conditioning Mitchell’s thought was the relationship between the geographical situation of the United States, its traditional ideas of national defense, and the potentialities of the air weapon.
Aviation requirements of the several powers, he pointed out, differed with their geographical and military situations. no one policy could be appropriate to an island nation threatened by continental air forces (e.g., England), to powers having contiguous land frontiers
(e.g., France, Germany), and to a relatively isolated, self-contained country like the United States.80 In the past our safety had rested upon a strong Navy; so long as there was a fleet in being, the United States had been immune to large-scale invasions, and it had been unnecessary to maintain a large Army. But from 1919, Mitchell was convinced that the airplane had outmoded that system of national defense; his success in the experiments of 1921–23 merely confirmed a theory which, he explained, had received no wartime test because of the overwhelming strength of Allied naval power.81 He taught that, with pursuit and attack planes, an air force could establish air supremacy over a fleet, neutralize its antiaircraft defenses, and in low-level attacks dispose of light warships and merchantmen. Bombers, equipped either with bombs or torpedoes, could sink the most heavily armed ships. Air power (aided perhaps by submarines) could thus interdict to any enemy ships all approaches to American shores and, hence, in itself constitute a sufficient protection against invasion. Surface units of the Navy, thus deprived of their prime mission, might at best find a limited career on the high seas beyond the operational radius of aircraft. In 1920, Mitchell believed that the Navy was the “first line of defense” but that, when equipped with carriers, “the air force will be the first line of defense and that surface navies, at least, will disappear.”82
The U.S. Navy was loath to “disappear,” and consequently the naval aspects of air warfare assumed in Mitchell’s writings an inordinate importance: he was writing a brief for the united air force, not a scientific treatise on war. But if the airplane offered an effective and relatively inexpensive protection against the traditional pattern of invasion, it constituted also a new and terrible threat against national security. As airplane performance improved, the new threat assumed a predominant part in Mitchell’s thought. His Winged Defense published in 1925, analyzed the danger and offered a solution. In future wars there would be no tedious process of wearing down the enemy’s armed forces by attrition. Instead, aircraft would strike directly at the enemy’s “centers of production of all kinds, means of transportation, agricultural areas, ports and shipping. ... they will destroy the means of making war.”83 Wars would be sharp and short, inexpensive for the victor but terrible for the vanquished. Because war would affect the civil population more directly, the very threat of the new techniques would be a powerful deterrent to war, and so “air power
has brought with it a new doctrine of war ... and a new doctrine of peace.”84
Formerly the oceans had made difficult any attack against the United States, but the “coming of aircraft has greatly modified this isolation on account of the great range and speed which these agents of communication are developing.” The heart of the nation’s war potential lay in a triangle marked by Bangor, Norfolk, and Chicago,.85 The complex functioning of that area was so delicately balanced a to be highly vulnerable to air attack. Bombers could paralyze transportation by hitting a few chokepoints, could render governmental and industrial centers impotent: “A few shells, gas, explosive or incendiary, landed in Manhattan would cause a complete evacuation.”86 Disrupt the tightly integrated activities of that vital triangle, and “resistance is no longer possible and capitulation is the outcome.”87
Even in the air age, geography favored the United States; it was far less open to air attack than European nations. But its immunity, only relative, was steadily diminishing with improved performance of aircraft. At first Mitchell was greatly concerned with the possibility of carrier-borne attacks against America once that fast “floating airdromes” had been adapted to the use of bombers. his belief, however, in the inherent superiority of land-based over carrier-based or float planes and the increasing range of the former made them appear the chief threat. In 1925, Mitchell pointed out that England could transport aircraft to the St. Lawrence area whence they could menace the whole of the vital triangle;88 in 1927 he was claiming that parts of that region could be attacked directly from Europe.89 His main concern, however, was with the northern approaches to the American continent. Airplanes already in service could easily cross the North Atlantic, staging from island to island with no overwater flight of more than 400 miles. In the North Pacific only the narrow Bering Strait separated Siberia from Alaska, and farther south the Aleutians constituted a natural avenue of approach. Eventually, he thought, aircraft would “follow the meridians straight over the top of the earth.”90
Against a waterborne attack an efficient air force would be the cheapest form of protection; against the new threat it was the only defense. Powerful air attacks resolutely pressed home could never be completely stopped, but their effects could best be held to a minimum by aggressive air action, and U.S. aviation should be organized accordingly. Defensive air units, chiefly pursuit, should be assigned for
local defense of strategic points – New York, the Canal Zone, Alaska, Hawaii, etc. – and other units should be attached to ground and sea forces as auxiliaries.91 But, so long as other powers were developing aviation for “striking their adversaries as far away from their own countries as possible,” the United States should have a its first objective the “creation of an air force capable of the greatest radius of action practicable under the conditions limited by personnel, material, and armament.”92 An efficient air force organized according to these principles “would be able to protect the country from invasion and would insure its independence but would not be able to subject a hostile country to invasion without leaving the country itself.”93 Fortunately, the string of northern islands led away from as well as toward, the United States. They could be seized, held by air units plus a small ground force garrison, supplied if necessary by air transport, and used as a means of striking directly at the industrial heart of a European or Asiatic enemy.94 War might become then first a struggle for air bases, followed by a strategic bombardment campaign. In the end, ground forces must actually take over the enemy’s territory, but through its long-range operations the “influence of air power on the ability of one nation to impress its will on another in an armed conflict will be decisive.”95
Under the guise of Winged Defense Mitchell was pleading the cause of an offensive weapon to be used in a fashion not yet sanctioned by custom. Highly sensitive to public opinion, he was somewhat handicapped in drawing a realistic picture by his concern with his audience. The wisdom of having entered World War I was widely questioned, so Mitchell had to assume that we would go to war only if attacked directly and that we would fight without allies who might provide advanced bases. He had come to consider that “the basis of air force power is the bombardment airplane” and that strategic bombardment was “the one outstanding development that occurred in the European War.”96 Yet he was most specific in describing the effects of such warfare if applied against the United States; civilians are shown stampeding in New York under aerial attack but not in Berlin or Tokyo. It was the same sort of disingenuousness which made him speak of bombing the sources of an enemy’s productive power but “not so much the people themselves”97 – as if some subtle distinction would be made between factory and worker.
In his last book, a sort of primer for the layman called Skyways
(1930), Mitchell gave what is perhaps the clearest statement of his doctrine. he starts with a familiar concept:–
War is the attempt of one nation to impress its will on another nation by force after all other means of arriving at an adjustment of a dispute have failed. The attempt of one combatant, therefore, is to so control the vital centers of the other that it will be powerless to defend itself. The vital areas consist of cities where the people live, areas where their food and supplies are produced and the transport lines that carry these supplies from place to place.98
So far he has followed Clausewitz, but he now breaks sharply with the latter’s thought. Armies and navies were developed as a means of preventing an enemy from getting at those vital spots, and war had become largely a matter of attacking the enemy’s military forces, a slow and bloody affair since the machine gun had given so great an advantage to the defense.
[But the] advent of air power which can go straight to the vital centers and entirely neutralize or destroy them has put a completely new complexion on the old system of war. It is now realized that the hostile main army in the field is a false objective and the real objectives are the vital centers. The old theory that victory meant the destruction of the hostile main army, in untenable. Armies themselves can be disregarded by air power if a rapid strike is made against the opposing centers, because a greatly superior army numerically is at the mercy of an air force inferior in numbers.99
Hence, in any future war “aircraft will project the spear point of the nation’s offensive and defensive power against the vital centers of the opposing country.”100 In spite of its horror, the new weapon would humanize war. “The result of warfare by air will be to bring about quick decisions. Superior air power will cause such havoc, or the threat of such havoc, in the opposing country that a long drawn out campaign will be impossible.”101 A strong air force in would discourage any potential assailants, but “woe be to the nation that is weak in the air.”102
There is no need here to assess the merits of Mitchell’s theories; such a critique properly should follow rather than precede a narrative account of World War II.103 That Mitchell’s missionary zeal led him to exaggerate the potentialities of the airplane of the 1920s is apparent from even a cursory analysis of his books. But he wrote no Buck Rogers literature; his theories were grounded in sound technological knowledge and wide personal experience. it was precisely in those areas in which his own experience and that of his time was inadequate that his ideas were to prove least tenable. He was not alone in underrating
the capacity of a civil population to bear up under aerial bombardment and of a bomb-wrecked industry to rise phoenix-like from its own ashes. His belief that aerial use of gas would figure prominently in the next war was shared by most of his contemporaries, and perhaps his main thesis can be fairly judged only if the horror of the atomic bomb be substituted for that of the gas bomb he relied on so heavily. In respect to the tactical means by which he would carry out his grand strategy, Mitchell’s ideas were both sound and imaginative – witness his concept of airborne operations and of air supply for mobile aviation units, his mixture of deck-level and medium-level attacks on ships, his plans for a national system of airways and for an adequate weather organization, his realization of the significance of the great circle route in the northern latitudes. He stressed, too, the intimate relation between a civilian air industry and military air power, and, if he over-emphasized the ease with which civilian transports could be modified into bombers, he erred in that respect less than did many of his contemporaries, including Douhet.
While Mitchell’s ideas on air power had raced ahead of the technological development of his weapon, those of the War Department had followed a more leisurely course. It was not unnatural that the Army’s thinking should be largely conditioned by its experiences in France, where Pershing’s victories had seemed to confirm traditional principles of war but little affected by the advent of aviation. For ten years or so after the Armistice, the General Staff’s chief concern with the airplane was for its utility in close support, and it vigorously and successfully opposed any official sanction of Mitchell’s ideas of an independent air mission. having been won over to the idea of a GHQ air force by the 1930s, the General Staff allowed a more positive role to the air arm in national defense without changing its position radically on the crucial issue of strategic bombardment.
The Dickman Board, appointed by Pershing in 1919 to record the lessons of the war, had stated that “nothing so far brought out in the war shows that aerial activities can be carried on, independently of ground troops, to such an extent as to materially affect the conduct of the war as a whole.”104 This came to be the official attitude of the War department. Secretary of War Baker indorsed it in his annual report of 1919, decrying “upon the most elemental ethical and humanitarian grounds” the “aerial bombardment of back areas and inland cities” and rating observation and artillery spotting as the most important
air activities.105 Similar opinions were voiced frequently by Pershing,106 and a year before his retirement they received their most authoritative formulation as doctrine in the Field Service Regulations, U.S. Army, revised by the General Staff and promulgated on 2 November 1923.
The authors of this manual derive their theory of war from Clausewitz. “The ultimate objective of all military operations is the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces by battle. Decisive defeat in battle breaks the enemy’s will to war and forces him to sue for peace.”107 Decisive results are obtained only by an offensive, which is made successful by the concentration of superior forces “both on the ground and in the air” at the proper place and time.108 Such concentration, to be effective, involves teamwork. “No one arm wins battles. The combined employment of all arms is essential to success.”109 But the “coordinating principle which underlies the employment of the combined arms is that the mission of the infantry is the general mission of the entire force. The special missions of other arms are derived from their powers to contribute to the execution of the infantry mission.”110 In short, infantry was still queen of battles, the air arm only one of her several handmaidens.
Sections devoted specifically to the Air Service elaborate this point of view. For observation and attack aviation its validity is obvious.111 Pursuit, the “most vital element of the air service,” establishes and maintains air supremacy by its “essentially offensive” operations, thus affording effective protection to other air categories and to ground troops.112 The enlightening proposition that the “mission of bombardment aviation is the bombardment of ground objectives” is amplified by a designation of the most important targets. These lie “beyond the effective range of artillery,” but apparently not far beyond; they consist of objectives “vital to the functioning of the enemy’s line of communication and supply.”113 There is no mention of strikes against the industrial system constituted the source of his supply; presumably such operations were not to be considered profitable. The chief mission of aviation was close support of ground forces.
The Filed Service Regulations had not been revised in whole when World War II began. But, being general in character, they had been framed with the idea that each arm would describe its principles of combat in its own training regulations,114 and in the Air Service (Corps) these were subject to periodic changes. The revisions reflect,
with something of a time lag, the several organizational changes in the air arm which have been noted above. The influence of the General Staff over air doctrine is clearly shown in Training Regulation 440–15, Fundamental Principles of Employment of the Air Service (26 January 1926).
This manual states that the organization and training of air units is to be “based on the fundamental doctrine that their mission is to aid the ground forces to gain decisive success.”115 This principle is to guide all operations, but the nature of the aid will vary with the type of aviation units involved. Some units must operate as an organic part of the ground command, and their aid will be direct; others may “cooperate by indirect support in the area of the ground battlefield a distance therefrom.” Such indirect support is peculiarly the function of the GHQ air force, which “is self-contained and is capable of rapidly shifting its activities from one theater of operations to another, transporting the equipment and personnel necessary for its efficient operation and upkeep.” At outbreak of war it first gains control of the air, then attempts to disrupt enemy communications and movements. Thereafter it assists the army directly in battle or “indirectly, when conditions are favorable, by carrying out special missions at great distance from the ground forces” against critical areas of the enemy country. And the GHQ air force is of special value in coast defense, both in reconnaissance and in attacks on approaching fleets.116
Compared with Mitchell’s bold claims this was pale stuff, and it was a fitting coincidence that his resignation from the Army came on the day after TR 440–15 was published. But its authors, following in all respectability the recommendations of the Lassiter Board, had at least ascribed to GHQ aviation something of the functions of a striking force; further the Air Service was not then prepared to go. Even at the Air Service Tactical School at Langley Field the teaching was far from radical. Textbooks published there in 1926 constitute perhaps the most detailed analysis of employment of military aviation yet to come from a War Department agency. That on Bombardment specifies that the course is to deal primarily with “operations in support of, or in conjunction with, large forces of ground troops” rather than with bombardment “in what may be termed ‘independent air force operations.’” Hence the approach is always “from the standpoint of various ground situations,” both in open warfare and on a stabilized front; even strategic bombardment is so treated.117 The authors, unlike
Mitchell, are dubious of the morale value of bombing civilian population centers, and they deplore the fact that “the strategical employment of bombardment in stabilized warfare is popularly conceived to be the role of that class of aviation” – a concept for which Mitchell was largely responsible. Such use of the bomber “will have an important bearing on the outcome of the war, but it must not take precedence over the support of ground operations by proper tactical employment.”118
In April 1928 the commandant of the same school – now called the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) – sent up through channels for War Department approval a paper, “The Doctrine of the Air Force.”119 The paper reflected in its treatment of crucial issues the very modest organizational gains authorized in the Air Corps Act of 2 July 1926. The Office of the Chief of the Air Corps rejected the paper on the score that it subordinated the air force to the ground force ant on to develop its own concept of war, which was borrowed directly from Mitchell. This branded as unsound the basic principle of the Field Service Regulations:
The objective of war is to overcome the enemy’s will to resist and the defeat of his army, his fleet or the occupation of his territory is merely a means to this end and none of them are the true objective. if the true objective can be reached without the necessity of defeating or brushing aside the enemy force on the ground or water and the proper means furnished to subdue the enemy’s will and bring the war to a close, the object of war can be obtained with less destruction and lasting after effects than has heretofore been the case. At present the Air Force provides the only means for such an accomplishment.120
Within a very few years this was to be the dominant theme at the school, but its textbook, The Air Force, published in 1931, was less unequivocal in its estimate of air power. The manual taught that “victory is practically assured to the commander whose air force has gained and can maintain control of the air, even if his ground forces are merely equal or somewhat inferior to those of his enemy.” But it hedged in predicting that “the next war will begin about where the last ended, and the air force will be subordinate, although a most important auxiliary, to the ground forces.”121
In general, these manuals were hardly consistent with national policies. The mission of the Army was defense of the United States and its outlying territories, but the theory of war therein described is wholly that of the strategic offensive. Both the Field Service Regulations
and the Langley Field treatise on bombardment are deliberately limited to warfare against a major opponent in a land theater of operations. Coast defense and landing operations are excluded; where and how air and ground forces were to come to grips with an enemy is not explained. Essentially the war described is that of 1917–18, but without reference to the allies who had provided the Army with bases and a lodgment in Europe. It was impolitic in the 1920s to speak of expeditionary forces or allies, but without them the concept of air power as an auxiliary to great land forces was meaningless.
During the next decade discussion within the War Department of the Air Corps mission assumed a more realistic tone. here again Mitchell’s influence was important; if he had been somewhat circuitous in his approach, his treatment of air power had at least been couched in terms of concrete problems. But the deciding factor was the development of new strategic plans for national defense, initiated in accordance with the implications of the MacArthur-Pratt agreement of 1931 and shaped more decisively thereafter by consideration of the growing unrest in Europe and Asia. It has already been shown how conflicting opinions as to the air mission led eventually to the creation on 1 March 1935 of the GHQ Air Force. That reorganization called naturally for a reformulation of doctrine, and, since the idea of such a force had long been associated with air operations of a quasi-independent nature, exponents of strategic bombardment hoped for a more positive statement of the importance of that type of mission. That hope was unfounded. While recommending the establishment of the GHQ Air Force, both the Drum Board (12 October 1933) and the Baker Board (18 July 1934) had denied the possibility of an air attack on the United States a an effective defense by aircraft alone against other modes of invasion.122 But they did allow that GHQ aviation would prove a valuable adjunct to coast defense. The Baker report summed up this attitude with a dictum which was often quoted in subsequent arguments: “The development of aviation has increased the power of the offense where the countries at war border on, or are close to, each other, and has increased the power of the defense where the contestants are widely separated. This new arm is, therefore, advantageous to our national policy.”123
If U.S. planes could not attack European cities, foreign land-based aircraft could not operate against this country without aid of a large
expeditionary force, and GHQ aviation, in addition to its role of close support, would assist materially in offshore reconnaissance and interception of an enemy expedition. But such functions required a closer definition of the respective responsibilities of the Army and Navy, a problem that was referred to the Joint Board of the Army and Navy. In a report, “Doctrines for the Employment of the GHQ Air Force,” 26 September 1934, the Joint Board accepted in substance the recommendations of the Drum and Baker reports, but the tendency of both these reports to discount the role of air power was reflected in a much less clearly defined statement of Air Corps responsibilities in national defense than had been hoped for in 1931.124 A year later the Air Corps mission was described more formally in a revision of Joint Action of the Army and Navy, promulgated on 11 September 1935. This provided that the Army air component was “to operate as an arm of the mobile Army, both in the conduct of air operations over the land in support of land operations and in the conduct of air operations over the sea in direct defense of the coast”; under certain conditions Army aviation was also to conduct “air operations in support of or in lieu of naval forces.”125 These passages were ambiguous enough to be acceptable to both Army and Navy and too ambiguous to be of service to either.
In October 1934, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff, had forwarded to appropriate commands the Joint Board’s paper on employment of the GHQ Air Force.126 In anticipation of the imminent reorganization of the Air Corps he directed that air doctrines be restated “with a view to a broader understanding of the Air Corps’ place in the scheme of national defense and in expectation of doing away with misconceptions and inter-branch prejudices.”127
On 21 December, Brig. Gen. C. E. Kilbourne of the General Staff’s War Plans Division forwarded to the Chief of the Air Corps, as a “sighting shot,” a draft proposal for “Doctrines of Army Air Corps.”128 This paper drew heavily upon the Drum and Baker reports, though it gave to the counter-air activities of the GHQ Air Force a greater prominence than had either. Kilbourne’s draft was criticized severely by members of the Air Corps Tactical School and of the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, including Maj. Carl Spaatz, because it subordinated strategic bombardment to attacks on enemy air power.129 A somewhat more acceptable statement appeared in a revised edition of TR 440–15, Employment of the Air Forces of the
Army (15 October 1935). Ostensibly a compromise, this manual inclined toward the General Staff’s point of view. In listing functions of the GHQ Air Force “beyond the sphere of influence of the Ground Forces,” it included strikes at “military and civil objectives alike” – air installations, shipping, munitions and aircraft factories, transportation, etc. There is no effort to establish absolute priorities, since the relative importance of objectives varies with the situation, but the judgment is made that as targets “air forces [are] generally of primary importance.”130 There were in TR 440–15 few statements to which the Air Corps could take exception, but its very lack of emphasis made it a weak instrument for indoctrination. The manual remained in force until 1940, but a sampling of Air Corps opinion during that interval will indicate that its tenets were by no means universally accepted.
Within the Air Corps two fairly distinct points of view may be discerned, but it is difficult to determine any principle of alignment within the several air agencies. One attitude, which for convenience may be called that of compromise, stressed on political grounds the defense mission of aviation, but as an interim rather than a permanent policy. This way of thinking may be seen in an Air Corps Tactical School critique of General Kilbourne’s proposed doctrines and in a counterproposal of 31 January 1935 called “Suggested Foundation for GHQ Air Force Doctrine.”131 The latter starts with the assumption that “national policy, geographic location of bases and the present range of planes which does not permit the air attack of the national structure of any probably enemy, dictate the role of the GHQ Air Force as one of air defense and fix its true objective.”132 In keeping with this opinion, first priority is given to preventing an enemy from setting up air bases within range of the United States, second priority to defeat of enemy forces operating from such bases.
Similar conclusions may be found in a study, “The Functions of the Army Air Forces,” presented by the Air Corps Board on 29 October 1936. Assuming that the current performance of aircraft, sustained attacks could not be carried out against the homeland of any major foreign power from bases in U.S. territory, the board declared that the Air Corps should be immediately and primarily concerned with national defense and the preservation of internal order. Until an adequate defense was assured, “the diversion of effort incident to preparations for strategically offensive operations is not justified.”133
The real intention of this study was to secure for the Air Corps a
more specific defense mission than that implied in the Joint Action of 11 September 1935. The recommendations contained therein were indorsed by the Chief of the Air Corps, general Westover, and forwarded to The Adjutant General for action; but by the summer of 1937 it was evident that no revision in the Army-Navy agreement would be made. By the following year the international situation was such that national defense had come to assume a new significance and the concept of hemisphere defense was being shaped. On 17 October 19038 the Air Corps Board completed a study, “Air Corps Mission under the Monroe Doctrine,” in which the primary air role was conceived as defense against hostile efforts to operate from air bases established in the Americas.134 This concept, which subordinated both antishipping strikes and offensive strategic bombardment to counter-air activities, was to exert a tremendous influence over air planning and designing during the emergency years of 1939–41.*
Meanwhile there was no lack of a more aggressive doctrine within certain circles in the Air Corps. Expounded by some officers in OCAC, these doctrines received special attention in the Air Corps Tactical School, which was moved from Langley Field to Maxwell Field, Alabama, in 1931. The establishment of the GHQ Air Force, however, much that force might be considered as a defensive weapon, seemed to many officers as a means by which a theory of offensive air war might be revived. Even when the school in 1935 had emphasized the defensive role in its comments on Kilbourne’s paper, the transitory nature of that role had been stressed: “There is no intention anywhere in these comments of not conveying the thought that the principal and all important mission of air power, when its equipment permits, is the attack of those vital objectives in a nation’s economic structure which will tend to paralyze that nation’s ability to wage war and thus contribute directly to the attainment of the ultimate objective of war, namely, the disintegration of the hostile will to resist.”135
That theme, from 1935 on, assumed even larger proportions in lectures given at the school. A full roster of the instructors might prove of high significance for a history of World War II, for it would include an important proportion of officers – many still in junior grades – who were to direct air strategy, as members either of the AAF Headquarters staff or of some joint or combined agency: Hal George, Ken Walker, Tony Frank, Sandy Fairchild, Larry Kuter, Possum Hansell,
* See below, Chapter 4.
and others.136 These officers had come up in an atmosphere permeated with Mitchell’s ideas, and they turned to such other theorists as were available. It is often difficult, because of the multiple authorship of military documents and the poverty of information concerning officers’ reading habits, to trace the evolution of a given idea in the Army. One of the instructors at the Tactical School has indicated some of the literature absorbed during this period:137 Clausewitz (who was “right in his time”); Frank Simon’s The Price of Peace (“a very good book, too”); Liddell Hart; Goering (“the only foreign predecessor we had to follow – except old Douhet”). One might suppose that Douhet, who “really struck the first blow,” was most useful; his work had been made available in the Air Corps in an incomplete mimeographed form, done into English from a French translation.138 But even he added little to what could have been gained from a few hours devoted to Mitchell’s works.
Whatever the source of inspiration, the theory of air war expounded at the Air Corps Tactical School may be summarized under the following points:–
1. The national objective in war is to break the enemy’s will to resist and to force him to submit to our will.139
2. The accomplishment of this objective may entail actual destruction of his power to resist, or merely the threat thereof, but in either case it requires an offensive type of warfare. hence the true mission of all components of the armed services is to exert maximum destructive powers on the most vital enemy objectives.140
3. The immediate mission of the armed forces may be: defeat of the enemy’s army, navy, or air force; the occupation of his homeland; pressure against his national economy; r operations directed against vital centers within his country. Under certain conditions the threat of a successful accomplishment of such missions will be sufficient to enforce our will upon the enemy.141
4. These military missions are best carried through by the cooperation of the three arms: air, ground, and naval. Each has its peculiar functions and limitations. Thus aviation can aid ground forces to gain territory, but only ground forces can occupy an enemy’s land. Aviation alone cannot protect our merchant marine, or our troop movements by sea, but it can unaided accomplish the other functions of sea-power – defense of the nation against waterborne invasions and reduction or elimination of enemy merchant shipping. And, of the three arms, only aviation can contribute significantly to all of the designated missions.142
5. The special mission of the air arm then should be to attack the whole of the “enemy national structure.” Under conditions of modern warfare the military, political, economic, and social aspects of a nation’s life are closely and absolutely interdependent, so that dislocations in any one will bring
sympathetic disturbances of varying degrees of intensity in all other aspects. Economy of effort requires that each arm attack that phase against which its weapons are most potent.143
6. Modern war with its extravagant material factors places an especial importance upon a nation’s economic structure and particularly upon is “industrial web.” A nation may be defeated simply by the interruption of the delicate balance of this complex organization, which is vulnerable to the air arm and directly to neither of the other arms. It is possible that a moral collapse brought about by disturbances in this close-knit web may be sufficient to force an enemy to surrender, but the target is industry itself, not national morale.144
7. Future wars will begin with air action. This fact makes it necessary to maintain an adequate air force, since it would be impossible to build one if the enemy ever gained air control over our territory. Conversely we should strike at his industry as early in the war as possible. in such an offensive the chief limiting factors are the range of our planes and the location of our bases; obviously, we must place ourselves within striking distance of the enemy’s vital points.145
8. With the present range of aircraft we cannot strike across the oceans against any of those powers who are potential enemies. One remedy for that situation is purely technological: we may be able to extend the range of our planes. Another is political: “If we were dragged into a war which had been precipitated by other great powers among themselves, we would inevitably find allies. Those allies, being themselves within the sphere of air influence, could provide operating bases for our Air Force. it is possible, with modern aircraft, to fly direct to such bases from the Western Hemisphere. Thus we could bring our military power to bear at once. ... Such operations would be initially almost wholly dependent upon supplies furnished by our allies.”146
9. Given such allies and the bases they could furnish, we would have freedom to choose between the enemy’s armed forces and his national structure as a target, and we should designate the latter as the primary objective. An attack against his industrial fabric requires more than random strikes at targets of opportunity, and so “it is a function of peacetime strategy to weigh the war potential of possible enemies and uncover those relatively defenseless areas that can be so profitably exploited by our attack.”147
This then was, in essence, the doctrine of air war taught in the Air Corps’ most advanced school at the time when the GHQ Air Force provided, on paper at least, a suitable striking force. The influence of Mitchell’s teachings is apparent, but two variations were to be of great significance when World War II put the theories to actual test. Mitchell had talked of seizing island bases to extend the range of our striking force; instructors at the ACTS, in a changing political milieu, were looking toward allies, and even in the middle thirties those allies, in addition to our Canadian and Latin-American friends, could have
been only England or France. And, whereas Mitchell had placed great importance upon the moral effects of bombing, these disciples of his stressed rather the material effects of the air weapon.
In any event, the newly formulated doctrine involved three practical measures. One was the acquisition of more advanced bases. That was a political matter, wholly foreign to the Air Corps, which was to be effected in 1940 – by actions of other government agencies. A second was the study of profitable targets within the national structure of potential enemy countries. This was begun, on a modest scale and not without opposition from the General Staff, in the tiny economic analysis branch of the intelligence section, established in the OCAC in 1939.148 But the one measure which was of most immediate concern to the Air Corps was purely technological – increasing the of its bombardment planes. This was not in 1935 a new issue. In the 1926 edition of TR 440–15 it had been stated that “it is necessary, therefore, to determine, from a purely tactical standpoint, what purposes airplanes are to serve in war, and to build different types with appropriate characteristics.”149 Once the Air Corps had chosen as its chief function the destruction of an enemy’s “national structure,” this involved the development of a bomber of long range and great bomb capacity. These same characteristics were equally important if the air arm was to be considered merely as a weapon for al defense. By 1935 the successful flight of the Boeing B-17 had indicated what could be accomplished by American industry working in harmony with the OCAC. But the Air Corps was not content. The student officer whose study served as an introduction to this section showed his appreciation of the situation when he remarked that the Air Corps building program (in 1938) “indicates that the primary role is long range strategical operations.”150
The building program, like the doctrine it was meant to implement and the organization which was deemed necessary for a successful air war, had not always enjoyed the desired support of the War and navy departments. Only two months after the major submitted his report (29 June 1938) the Joint Board arrived at the following conclusion: “Based on the present situation it is not considered probable that the Army Air corps will be called upon in war to perform any missions that require the use of reconnaissance and heavy bombardment planes of greater practical ferrying range, greater tactical radius, and greater carrying capacity than those of the B-17.”151 A brief account of
material development in the period 1919–39 will indicate how much of the energies of the Air Corps was devoted to the search for a long-range heavy bomber and how intimately that effort was tied to the organizational and doctrinal issues which have just been described.
Evolution of the Long-Range Bomber
The Air Service emerged from World War I with a keen sense of its responsibility for a solution to the related problems of what the most effective air weapon might be and how that weapon should be utilized. Perhaps it was the novelty of the air weapon itself and the realization of its rapid rate of obsolescence that gave to the small group of airmen who remained with the service a fresher approach than was common in America’s peacetime military establishment. perhaps it was the impetus provided by a wartime experimental program which bore its chief fruit after, rather than before, the termination of hostilities. Perhaps, too, an additional spur to action came from the airman’s desire to prove his case in the face of official disinclination to admit the validity of his claims. At any rate, appropriations by the Air Service for research and development during the three fiscal years immediately following the war were higher than at any time thereafter prior to 1936. Indeed, they continued through the fiscal year 1926 to represent a greater percentage of the funds annually appropriated for the Air Service than would be allotted to these purposes in any of the subsequent years.152
The figures taken alone are none too impressive: four and a half million for 1920, just under six million for 1921, just over four million for 1922, and a straight three million for 1024. But these sums acquire significance when considered with the fact that direct cash appropriations for support of the Air Service had fallen precipitously from the wartime peak of 952 million for the fiscal year 1919 to the round figure of twenty-eight million for 1920.* Four years later the total had been pared to twelve and a half million, and for the fiscal year immediately preceding passage of the Air Corps Act of 1926 appropriations amounted to less than sixteen million.153 Thus in 1924 the Air Service’s allotment for research and development represented nearly 25 per cent of its total appropriation for that fiscal year.
These first postwar years – years of the initial struggle for
* The figures include only “direct” appropriations and omit sums expended by such services as the Quartermaster and Finance for the benefit of Army aviation.
recognition – saw also the development of facilities and policies upon which the Air Corps’ experimental program would depend. McCook Field at Dayton, Ohio, had been selected as an experimental center for the Air Service in 1917. During the war the Engineering Division established there had devoted its attention chiefly to modification of European models for American manufacture. Essentially that was a production rather than a research job, but, with the coming of peace, the emphasis shifted toward the latter field.154 As in the great industrial laboratories of America, however, the research efforts of the Air Service naturally tended to fall under the general classification of applied science. Experiments were conducted with a view primarily to practical military need, and necessarily the testing of newly developed equipment went hand in hand with the search for improved designs, better fuels, and more adaptable materials. In June 1926 the Engineering Division and the Fairfield Air Depot, also located in the Dayton area, were joined under a newly created Matériel Division which became responsible to the Supply Division of the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps. After a transfer in the following year of the Matériel Division from McCook to better quarters at near-by Wright Field, that installation became the chief center of Air Corps research, engineering, and testing activities.155 Its experimental facilities represented an investment valued in 1939 at about ten million dollars. In keeping with long-established policy, 1,759 of a total personnel of 1,984 were at that time civilians.156
Fortunately, the Air Corps did not have to depend wholly upon its own resources. The NACA, established in 1915 with a congressional mandate to undertake “scientific research on the fundamental problems of flight,” conducted experiments in its Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory at Langley Field, Virginia, upon which the Air Corps in common with other agencies of government drew repeatedly. Similarly, the Air Corps became indebted to the Civil Aeronautic Authority and its predecessors in the Department of Commerce which were charged with responsibility for the safety of civil aviation. Especially helpful was the Bureau of Standards, which on request undertook project in the development of such essentials as fuels, lubricants, and alloys.157 For the development of radio and radar equipment it was necessary to look to the Signal Corps, for until October 1944 that organization would retain control of experimental work in the important field of communications.158
Of special significance was the Air Corps’ policy of conducting its own experimental program in an intimate association with the aircraft and allied industries. Established during the years immediately following the war, when as yet commercial aviation had not advanced to a point that would support the infant aircraft industry, that policy was continued thereafter as a means for maintaining in a state of readiness industrial facilities and staffs of great importance to the military potential of the nation. The Air Corps consistently opposed a popular view that planes designed for commercial purposes could be converted to military use, except for such an activity as air transport. But that conviction was regarded as strengthening rather than weakening the argument for experimental and educational contracts that would prepare the industry for conversion to military production in time of war, and that meanwhile would permit the Air Corps to borrow for its own purposes some of the enterprising spirit of a new industrial undertaking. The procedure established in the Air Corps Act of 1926 called for design competitions among manufacturers as a preliminary to the drafting of developmental contracts. It became a traditional policy to recognize the right of the contractor to amortize experimental costs with income from later production orders.159 The funds actually devoted to research and development, in other words, were by no means limited to those which were specifically so budgeted.
Indeed, the airman’s inclination to place the emphasis on experimental work met an early resistance from higher authority, even in the Air Service itself. For example, in October 1921 the acting chief of the Supply Group in Washington formally expressed this view:–
If we continue this policy of buying a dab of every kind of experimental type of equipment that the Engineering Division in Dayton passes upon with the idea of conducting a service test, it would not be long before the entire Air Service would be engaged in service test work, and, should an emergency develop, it would be impracticable to put any kind of an organization in the field with the standard type of equipment.160
The problem, of course, was fundamental, and one which at all times in some degree confronts authorities charged with responsibility for military aviation. Just how shall the requirement of an air force ready with standard equipment for any emergency be balanced against the demand for a timely anticipation of new developments in a field of the most rapid technological growth? When stringent budgetary limitations exist, the problem is particularly difficult. And when, in addition
to strict budgetary limits, the mission assigned to the air force denies the necessity for a full exploration of the independent function of the air weapon, the experimental program faces a double hazard.
The Air Corps Act of 1926 had the effect of shifting the emphasis from experimental development to the procurement of standardized equipment. In addition to fixing the authorized strength of the Air Corps at just over 20,000 men of all ranks, the section of the act calling for a five-year program of expansion set as the goal a force of 1,800 planes. Such an objective did not necessarily preclude the possibility of a continued and vigorous experimental program. But over the ensuing five years appropriations requested by the Air Corps were cut through action of the War Department and the Bureau of the Budge on an average of close to 40 per cent.161 And while annual appropriations now averaged over twenty-five million, or approximately double the appropriation for 1924, the Air Corps’ allotment of funds to research and development remained at the figure of just over two million to which it had fallen since that year. Not until the fiscal year 1933 would the sum allotted to these purposes again exceed three million dollars.162
It is difficult to avoid the con that some of the criticism of experimental work in the Air Service after the war had sprung from a lack of sympathy with the broad objectives of the Army’s airmen. As late as 1936 the Air Corps would be charged in an official report with having been led astray by the allurement of a quest for the ultimate in aircraft performance at the expense of practical military need.163 But technical and financial limitations, together with an incomplete development of Air Corps doctrine, apparently prevented the raising of any serious doctrinal issue in connection with the matériel program until the late 1920s. As already noted, even Billy Mitchell had emerged from his experiences in World War I with the conviction that pursuit represented the most important branch of military aviation, a view that found reflection in the experimental program of the Air Service. The observation plane also received much of the Engineering Division’s attention in the search for a substitute for the DH-4 of World War I, and the official designation of “attack” plane had its origin in 1922 to describe observation types specially equipped for ground strafing. As for the bombers developed, technical barriers kept their performance will within limits that would be considered appropriate for a mission in support of ground armies.164
It is true that the twin-engine MB-2, a modification of the Martin bomber of war years, had been followed by the Barling experimental triplane NBL-1, which with six engines, a span of 120 feet, and weight of 27,703 pounds (empty) dwarfed all service models of earlier date than the 1930s.* The plane provided a significant indication of an early interest in the big bomber, but it proved a disappointing experiment.165 On the other hand, the twin-engine Curtiss NBS-4 of 1924 showed marked improvement over the MB-2. Had funds been more liberally provided, there might have been further experimentation with much larger bombers. A newly formed Bombardment Board in the fall of 1926 favored the multi-engine bomber, partly because of its greater safety in comparison with the single-engine plane.166 That same year, however, the Engineering Division at Dayton emphasized in a study of its own the technical difficulties and the high cost that would be involved in attempts to build and operate planes with more than two engines.167 Not until the 1930s would anything comparable in size to the NBL-1 be attempted again.
Meanwhile, great progress was made with the two-engine bomber. Between the MB-2 of the early twenties and the B-10 of the early thirties the service ceiling was raised from 7,700 to 24,400 feet, the maximum speed from 98 miles per hour to 213, and the normal bomb load from 1,040 to 2,260 pounds. Fabric and wood had given way to an all-metal construction; the biplane had been placed by the monoplane; and in the quest for cleaner lines the retractable landing gear had been introduced.168 If the advances made held for the airman a promise of bigger and better panes to come, it was still true that the B-10, with a range of 600 miles, raised no question of its practical military value.
As early as 1928, however, sharp differences had developed between Air Corps officers and the War Department over plans for bomber construction. The airmen argued for the development of two distinct types of bombing planes: (1) a plane of high speed, short range, defensive power, and small bomb load for use in day operations, and (2) a bomber of minimum defensive strength designed to carry heavy bomb load over longer distances in night operations.169 A step toward such a specialization of function had been taken when two years earlier the LB-1 became the first Army plane to bear the designation
* For purposes of comparison it may be noted that the MB-2 had a span of 74 feet, 2 inches, and weight of 7,069 pounds.
of “light bombers.”170 Since the practical difference between the light and other bombers was as yet not too great, the distinction thus established had for the moment only a limited significance, but that it carried the promise of serious controversy was soon to be demonstrated. In opposition to Air Corps proposals for specialization the War Department in 1928 advocated, partly for reasons of economy, concentration on a single all-purpose bomber.
Despite vigorous objections from sushi officers as Maj. Hugh J. Knerr, then commanding the 2nd Bombardment Group, the Chief of the Air Corps in June directed the Matériel Division at Dayton to proceed with the development of a twin-engine plane that would serve for both day and night bombing and, in addition, for observation missions.171 A prompt protest form the Matériel Division having served to reopen the question, opponents of a “mediocre all-purpose airplane” renewed their efforts in a discussion that continued into the following year. Perhaps because it seemed politically advisable, they concentrated on an attempt to demonstrate the advantage in a specially designed day bomber. The Bombardment Board and the Tactical School joined in proposing for this purpose a plane with speed of 160 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 18,00 feet, a radius of 250 miles, bomb load of 1,200 pounds, and armament of 6 machine guns.172 And in February 1929 the authorities yielded to the extent, at least, of directing the Matériel Division to develop a modified version of the Curtiss XO-35 observation plane as a fast day bomber.173
But that success represented something less than a complete victory. Though a principle of great importance to the future of the Air Corps had been preserved, at any rate for the time being, the decision nevertheless left an open question as to how far the airmen would be permitted to go in the development of types other than those specifically designed for support of ground forces. In fact, it is not easy to determine the extent to which the full implications of the controversy were appreciated by either side at the time. The airmen themselves had based their arguments on a distinction between day and night bombardment, in accordance with experience in the First World War, and it is significant that the Air Corps Tactical School on second thought expressed its concern in 1930 over the confusion likely to result from such a distinction.174 It felt that, while the one type normally would be used chiefly in the day and the other at night, to distinguish between light and heavy bombers would be less misleading; and such a usage,
with the addition in time of “medium” and “very heavy” categories, became the rule. There was reassurance as to the future of heavy bombardment in the decisions leading by way of the 1931 competition to the development of the B-10. Its many superior qualities, however, it not include a range in excess of what was generally accepted as useful for a supporting missions, and it was already becoming apparent that the real test of policy would come on a question of range.
The problem of extending the effective range of the airplane had been a major concern of American aviation throughout the 1920s. Witness the Army’s round-the-world flight of 1924 and its flight from California to Hawaii in the same year that saw Lindbergh and Byrd each span the Atlantic in a single hop. In such tests as the endurance record of 151 hours set in 1929 by Maj. Carl Spaatz and Capt. Ira C. Eaker, the Air Corps had contributed further to study of the complex problems of design and engineering which were fundamental, among other things, to the quest for greater range. Given the current efficiency of motors and design, range was a matter of size, and by the 1930s, when aeronautical science had reached a stage in its development that brought a truly big plane within practical reach, an issue within the Army which first had been debated in terms of day and night bombardment, and which then had been restated by the Air Corps in terms of heavy and light bombardment, became almost imperceptibly a question of the long-range bomber.
Maj. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, in writing a few years later on “Types of Airplanes Required to Execute Air Force Missions,” prefaced his discussion by the following observation:–
The tactical and strategical employment of Air Forces and the status of development of aeronautical science exercise a profound mutual influence, each upon the other. The needs of employment spur the designers and manufacturers to produce equipment that can met those needs, and likewise, the equipment on hand, or definitely foreseen, limits or extends the sphere of influence of Air Power.175
It is in the light of this fundamental consideration, perhaps, that the origins of the long-range bomber can most profitably be considered here. On an earlier page notice has been taken of doctrinal developments within the Air Corps which by the 1930s emphasized the need for a long-range bomber. That these developments depended partly upon the assurance that such a plane could be built is hardly less certain than that the new doctrine drew continuing support from the technical
progress of commercial aviation and of foreign powers in the development of planes which in themselves forced new considerations upon those men who were charged with our national security.176 At the same time there can be no question regarding the positive contribution of the Air Corps itself to the development of planes of greater size and longer range.
It is significant that the story of the Army’s long-range bomber has its beginning in proposals of 1933 for the construction of an ultra-long-range bomber that immediately would have relegated such a plane as the B-17 to the category of medium range. Equally significant is the fact that the proposed plane was intended for a mission of coastal defense and that the proposal was advanced under circumstances decidedly favorable to its acceptance. To understand those circumstances, it is necessary to turn back two years to the MacArthur-Pratt agreement of 1931, which, for the time being at least, promised a permanent settlement of controversial issues between the Army and the Navy over the use of aircraft in coastal defense.
Neither space nor time will permit here an attempt to survey the extended controversy which preceded that agreement. Briefly, the introduction of the airplane as a weapon of war had brought confusion and sharp debate into areas of defensive responsibility theretofore clearly enough defined. Defense of the coast traditionally had been an Army function; it fortified and manned positions of obvious importance to the defense of coastal cities and other areas of special strategic significance, and it was expected to take such additional steps as were required to repel an attempted invasion across the coast line. The Navy, on the other hand, placed a high premium on the mobility of its fleet, and, while necessarily dependent upon shore installations, it avoided commitments for coastal defense that would tend to tie down the fleet. Even the defense of naval shore installations was a primary responsibility of the Army. Because of the limited range of coastal defense weapons and an obligation for the safety of shipping, however, the Navy necessarily assumed certain responsibilities for the protection of coastwise sea lanes. But the Navy’s obligations, in contradistinction to the Army’s, were limited, and it was readily admitted that final responsibility within the range of land-based weapons lay with the Army. The airplane, of course, effectively extended the range of the Army’s land-based weapons, and, in so doing, it gave to that service the means to extend its operations in defense of
the coast over an element heretofore regarded as almost exclusively the Navy’s responsibility. At the same time, the airplane offered to the Navy a new weapon of growing potentialities in the performance of such traditionally naval functions as patrol of coastal sea lanes. Placed aboard a carrier, the airplane could be regarded merely as a new element of the fleet, but the land-based plane carried certain advantages in the fulfillment of some missions at sea. In the development of service aviation, consequently, there was a tendency for the Navy to move ashore and for the Army to extend its activities beyond the shore line.177
In the resultant dispute – which focused from time to time on the right of the Army to engage in seaward reconnaissance, on the right of the Navy to acquire land-based planes, and increasingly on its right to expand shore facilities for land-based planes at the risk of duplicating existing Army facilities – traditional delineations of function and responsibility became blurred. Efforts to secure agreement all too frequently ended in the airing of irreconcilable views, and such was the peculiar complexity of the problems raised that attempts to secure some authoritative and definitive settlement had proved futile.178
Readily understandable, therefore, is the very evident satisfaction with which the War Department announced on 9 January 1931 the conclusion of an agreement between Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff, and Adm. William V. Pratt, Chief of Naval Operations, intended to leave the air force of each service “free to develop within well-defined limits and each with a separate and distinct mission.”179 In his annual report a few months later General MacArthur defined the agreement in these terms:
Under it the naval air forces will be based on the fleet and move with it as an important element in performing the essential missions of the forces afloat. The Army air forces will be land based and employed as an element of the Army in carrying out its missions of defending the coasts, both in the homeland and in overseas possessions. Through this arrangement the fleet is assured absolute freedom of action with no responsibility for coast defense, while the dividing line thus established enables the air component of each service to proceed with its own planning, training, and procurement activities with little danger of duplicating those of its sister service.180
Before a congressional committee the following year, General MacArthur expressed the opinion that the question of coastal air defense had been “completely and absolutely settled.”181
In that same year the War Plans Division of the General Staff
undertook in collaboration with the OCAC an extended study which served as the basis of a letter from the Chief of Staff to the commanding generals of all armies, corps areas, and departments dated 3 January 1933 and entitled “Employment of Army Aviation in Coast Defense.”182 The function of the Army air arm therein stated was “to conduct the land-based air operations in defense of the United States and its overseas possessions.” Two distinct classes of aviation concerned with frontier defense were recognized: (1) corps and army observation units normally assigned to ground organizations, mobile forces, and harbor defenses, and (2) “GHQ Aviation, the principal and only component of which, in addition to army reserve aviation, is the Air Force which normally operates initially directly under the Commander of the Army Group.” The observation component of the air force, it was declared should include special equipment suited to long-range reconnaissance over land and water in order that approaches to critical areas might be covered “to the limit of the radius of action of the airplanes.” The role of Army aviation in defense against an enemy attack was further described in terms of the following operational phases: (1)reconnaissance and offensive operations between the outermost range of the air force and the line of contact with ground forces; (2) the support of other forces after the enemy came within the range of ground weapons; (3) operations “in connection with the use of all arms on our frontier.” During the first phase Army aircraft would attempt to locate, observe, and destroy the enemy vessels and forces. In the second it would lend support by observation undertaken for the assistance of ground forces and by further offensive operations. Should the enemy force the engagement into the last phase, Army aviation would be employed in accordance with general principles governing cooperation with land forces.
With its mission thus broadly and authoritatively defined, the way was now open for the Air Corps to press forward with plans for development of the special equipment required. During the course of the aforementioned study, the Chief of the Air Corps, Maj. Gen. B. D. Foulois, had pointed out to WP growing danger of carrier-borne attack on our coasts, the necessity of keeping hostile aviation at least 250 miles at sea, and the importance of developing seaward reconnaissance units for operation under GHQ. It was his feeling that the Air Corps at that time lacked both the equipment and the organization for its newly approved missions.183 With this conclusion
WPD agreed, at least to the extent of informing the Chief of Staff on 14 November 1932 that the Air Corps “should develop a long range reconnaissance plane for use with the observation component of the GHQ Air Force and for overseas garrisons.”184
During the first half of 1933 the focus of attention in the Air Corps was on special command and staff exercises intended to test the value of a GHQ air force under simulated wartime conditions. With authorization from the War Department of 18 January 1933, A GHQ Air Force (Provisional) was organized and placed under the command of Brig. Gen. Oscar Westover, Assistant Chief of the Air Corps. Its mission was to concentrate a substantial part of the Army Air Corps on the West Coast in exercises to be conducted in the late spring for study of the problem of repelling an enemy overseas expedition. Despite rigid financial limitations which forced many compromises with what was considered desirable (r Corps had $19,500 that year for maneuvers), the exercises proved generally very successful. General Westover’s report concluded that “all Air Force units could be concentrated on either coast within two and one-half days, and possibly within two days should it be desirable to press the movement;” made constructive recommendations for the organization and command of a GHQ air force as a permanent part of the national defense; and stressed the need for “adequate and suitable equipment and matériel” for overwater reconnaissance. The report drew a distinction between the equipment required for reconnaissance and bombardment and in the former category evidently assumed that improved amphibians would carry the main burden of long-range reconnaissance. It recognized the possibility, however, that provision of “flotation equipment and special characteristics in bombardment aircraft” might “enable them to fulfill their own observation missions in operations over water.”185
More significant was the inclination to regard reconnaissance and bombardment as the most important functions of a GHQ air force. “The modern trend of thought,” wrote General Westover, “is that high speed and otherwise high performing bombardment aircraft, together with observation aviation of superior speed and range and communications characteristics, will suffice for the adequate air defense of this country.” The immediate occasion for this observation was a discussion of the disparity in performance between bombardment and pursuit planes which raised in General Westover’s mind a
serious question that the latter could be expected in the future to perform traditional functions in connection with bombardment missions. As he explained:–
During these exercises, observation aviation appeared woefully obsolete in performance, as did pursuit aviation in speed characteristics. Since new bombardment aircraft possessed above two hundred miles per hour, any intercepting or supporting aircraft must possess greater speed characteristics if they are to perform their missions. in the case of pursuit aviation, this increase of speed must be so great as to make it doubtful whether pursuit aircraft can be efficiently or safely operated either individually or in mass.
The answer to the problem thus posed was suggested in a statement of first-rate importance to an understanding of ideas which subsequently governed the thinking of the Air Corps. “Bombardment aviation,” General Westover observed, “has defensive fire power of such quantity and effectiveness as to warrant the belief that with its modern speeds it may be capable of effectively accomplishing its assigned mission without support.” Indeed, the “ability of bombardment aviation to fly in close formation and thus to unsure greater defense against air attack, together with improved efficiency of silencers and camouflage,” argued that “no known agency can frustrate the accomplishment of a bombardment mission.”186
That the bomber would have the first call in the development of new equipment, and that the trend of thought favored a combination of the reconnaissance and bombardment function in one plane, was suggested by an engineering study, undertaken in July 1933 by the Matériel Division at Wright Field, of the problem of “maximum range” with “a 2,000 pound bomb load.” The result of that study indicated that a range of 5,000 miles at a speed of 200 miles per hour was practicable. Accordingly, in December the Air Corps submitted to the War Department in its so-called Project A a proposal to build a plane’ of that range. In support of the proposal it was pointed out that such a plane would “not alone reinforce either coast line ... but would definitely enable ... reinforcement of ... Panama and Hawaii.”187
The action of the War Department General Staff was prompt enough. Tentative approval having been given on 19 December 1933, a $609,300 Air Corps budget for long-range bomber development was approved “in principle” on 12 February 1934, and on 12 May the Chief of Staff authorized the negotiation of contracts with the Boeing and Martin companies for preliminary designs and engineering
data.188 Military characteristics for the new 5,000-mile-range bomber, approved by the General Staff on 16 May 1934, were adjusted to a tactical mission for “the destruction by bombs of distant land or naval targets” and a purpose “to reinforce Hawaii, Panama, and Alaska without the use of intermediate servicing facilities.”189 June 1934 saw completion of the preliminary contracts with the Boeing Aircraft Company, and a year later a contract was closed for the purchase of one XB-15, as the projected plane had now come to be designated.190 The plane itself was not completed until the fall of 1937, and subsequent tests proved that its size and weight had been conceived on a scale too ambitious for the power plants then available. But Project A became the parent, too, of the B-17, the B-24, and the B-29, to mention only those heavies which carried the weight of the bombing attack on Germany and Japan in World War II.
The B-17 grew out of proposals distributed in 1933 among manufacturers for a design competition in the following year. These proposals specified a multi-engine bomber, and al save one of the competitors apparently assumed that the Air Corps sought only a superior twin-engine plane. Boeing, however, undertook to develop a four-engine bomber of revolutionary design. In July 1935 the XB-17 underwent successfully its first test flight. The following month it flew nonstop at an average speed of 232 miles per hour from the Boeing plant in Seattle to Dayton – a distance of 2,100 miles. Unfortunately, the original model crashed and burned on 30 October 1935, after completion of all detailed engineering inspection and study of performance data, but before a formal evaluation board had met.191 Pending the final action of an evaluation board, the Air Corps had already recommended the purchase of 65 B-17’s in place of 185 other aircraft previously authorized for the fiscal year 1936. But destruction of the original model, though investigation cleared the plane of mechanical fault, was followed by a reduction by the War Department of the figure from 65 to 13. In fulfillment of a contract closed on 17 January 1936, the first of the 13 B-17’s was delivered in January 1937, and by August of that year the full number had been delivered.192
The read perhaps will have noticed the coincidence of key dates in the origin of the heavy bomber program with other major developments affecting the role of the Air Corps in national defense. The report of the Drum Board, with its recommendation of a GHQ air
force, had come in October 1933, just after the circulation of proposals which led to the B-17 and only a short while before the submission of Project A for approval by the War Department. In July 1934 the Baker Board made its report, and, in keeping with its recommendations, the GHQ Air Force was activated in March 1935 – before the drawing of a final contract for the XB-15 and some four months before the XB-17 underwent its initial flight test. There is in this sequence at least the suggestion that Air Corps leaders may well have been influenced to accept a compromise on the aggravated question of organization* because of the hope that they might thus clear the way for a long-range bomber program. Whatever the case, the Air Corps after 1935 was characterized not so much by its concern to change the basic organization of national defense as by a purpose to find in the mission assigned to the GHQ Air Force the basis for an ambitious program of bomber development.† The Army airman thereafter was, above all else, an advocate of the big bomber, and around the potentialities of that type of plane he built his most cherished hopes.
The mission of the GHQ Air Force proved in the event, however, to be a less secure foundation for those hopes than at first had been anticipated. Although General MacArthur in 1932 had referred to his agreement with Admiral Pratt in terms of finality, Pratt’s retirement form the Office of Chief of Naval Operations on 30 June 1933 was followed by a reopening of the old controversies regarding coastal defense.193 The tendency of both the Drum and the Baker boards to discount the independent role of the air weapon, and especially their refusal to admit the danger of air attack on the United States, further weakened the position of the Air Corps. And when the Joint Board in the fall of 1934 completed its task of drafting “Doctrines for the
* See above, pp. 30–31.
† A draft copy of a speech found among General Andrews’ papers and evidently intended for delivery to officers of the newly established GHQ Air Force contains toward the close this paragraph: “Now just a word about the past. Some of us perhaps believed in an independent Air Force. Some thought perhaps that an Air Defense could be best developed as a separate part of the War Department not under the General Staff, and others perhaps had still other plans, but now that the decision has been made, and by the President himself, to develop our air power as an integral part of the Army, it is up to us to get behind that plan and push it loyally to success. Gentlemen, I give it to you as my sincere belief that a separate Air Corps is a dead issue for many years to come. The GHQ Air Force is a part of the Army and it is our interest and duty to keep that fact constantly in mind, for therein for many years at least I believe lies the best chance of developing Air Power and the best interest of National Defense.”
Employment of the GHQ Air Force,” a document incorporated in its essentials in the revision of Joint Action the following year, the baffling perplexities of pre-1931 policy regarding the role of aircraft in coastal defense had been in large part restored.194 The GHQ Air Force as the principal element of the Army air component would operate “as an arm of the mobile Army, both in the conduct of air operations over the land in support of land operations and in the conduct of air operations over the sea in direct defense of the coast.” When operation along the coast, it would maintain “such reconnaissance as is essential to its combat efficiency.” But, in the absence of the fleet, primary responsibility for information of hostile fleet movements rested with “naval district forces supplemented by Army Air Corps units.” The three-phase activity of Army aviation against an enemy attack outlined in General MacArthur’s instructions of 3 January 1933* was once again described, and in language much the same, but the need for such activity was now recognized, by implication at least, only in the absence of sufficient naval forces to engage the enemy at sea. These and other points which might be mentioned are finely drawn and somewhat legalistic, but just there lay the trouble. Once again there was ample room for debate.†
When the B-17 was delivered in 1937, it was enthusiastically received by the GHQ Air Force as “the best bombardment aircraft in existence, particularly for coastal defense.”195 But under existing circumstances it proved far from easy to win recognition of the need for such a plane in coastal defense, and under existing national policy it was difficult to find any other justification for the long-range bomber than its capacity to contribute to the defense of our own coasts. “Airplanes could be built to fly across the Atlantic with a load of bombs and return, and the B-17 right now could make a one way trip and reinforce allies in Europe,” wrote the Commanding General of the GHQ Air Force in November 1937. “With landing fields at Wake and Guam,” he continued, “it could fly to the Philippines and Asia. However, our National Policy is defensive, and we do not now consider
* See above, p. 63.
† A section of Joint Action designed to minimize duplication between the services charged the Army with provision of aircraft for use in support of military operations, in direct defense of the coast, in repelling air raids against shore objectives or shipping in harbors, and in support of naval forces. The Navy would provide aircraft for operations from aircraft carriers or other vessels and shore-based planes for observation, scouting, and patrolling over the sea and for the protection of shipping in coastal zones.
such possibilities.”196 And yet, in the very year that saw the beginning of another major European war, the Air Corps was engaged in an attempt to secure relief from a prohibition which limited the flight of its planes seaward to 100 miles beyond the shore.197 That this limitation apparently had been imposed by a verbal agreement between the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Staff is suggestive of certain complications over the bomber program that had entered into the relations of the Air Corps and the General Staff.
The War Department had given its approval to an experimental interest in the long-range bomber as early as 1934. It had supported the action leading to the development of the B-17, and though the decision to limit the initial procurement to thirteen planes had proved disappointing to the Air Corps, that decision nevertheless had maintained the project on a hopeful experimental basis. Further encouragement came from War Department approval of a contract of 31 October 1935 with the Douglas Aircraft Company for the design of an experimental bomber even larger than the B-15. The contract carried an option for subsequent purchase of a prototype, and under an authorization of 29 September 1936 that option was exercised through a contract for the building of one experimental model.198 Completed in the spring of 1941 and test-flown for the first time on 27 June 1941, the Douglas XB-19, with a span of 212 feet, a weight of 84,431 pounds, and a range of 5,200 miles, was the Army’s largest prewar bomber.199 Tests proved that there were no fundamental flaws of design or structure, but, as in the case of the B-15, the size and weight of the plane were too great for the power plants. Consequently, the later B-29, though it mounted engines more powerful than those of the XB-19, was designed as a smaller plane. Only one experimental model of the B-19 was built, but that paid more than ample dividends in the lessons applied to future bomber development within the AAF.
The record shows, then, that within the four years following the inauguration of Project A three major experimental projects had been authorized for the purpose of exploring the potentialities of the big plane and the long-range bomber. From the Air Corps point of view the difficulty lay in the subsequent disinclination of the General Staff to authorize the procurement of long-range bombers for equipment of the GHQ Air Force. Though twenty-nine B-17’s had been included in the 1938 procurement program and eleven more for 1939, when Germany attacked Poland in September of that year, only fourteen
four-engine bombers (thirteen B-17’s and one B-15) had been delivered to bombardment units of the GHQ Air Force.200
Admittedly there was a certain logic in the over-all policy followed, and the principal cause for concern in the Air Corps was the evidence of an inclination to deny the military need of the long-range bomber, once the plane itself had been fully tested and proved. leaders of the Air Corps, therefore, tended to direct their arguments increasingly to that point and, aided by the march of world events, to build their case on the broadest possible base. General Andrews as commanding general of the GHQ Air Force urged in June 1937 that the War Department limit future procurement of bombardment aircraft to the four-engine type, pointing out that a large number of twin-engine models already were under contract;201 and in a length memorandum of 24 January 1938 for the Secretary of War, he outlined plans that would equip the GHQ Air Force with only two types of bombers, heavy and light or attack bombers.202 He undertook to meet the argument that smaller planes were more economical by pointing out the advantages in that particular of the heavy bomber – its “interchangeability of bomb and fuel load” and a consequent “greater flexibility of employment.” “Airplanes that can be flown to theaters of operations, continental, insular possessions, or foreign, in which this country might become engaged.” he added, “and which can be transferred by air from one theater to another, have an obvious national defense advantage with our limited shipping and in our particular geographical situation.”
General Andrews conceded the claims of both the Army and the Navy for aviation to be used in support of “the Infantry and Battleship.” But he expressed the hope that “the requirements for a broader concept of the application of Air Power” might receive greater consideration than had been the case theretofore:–
It is a fact which has apparently been recognized by most of the great world powers, that the airplane is an engine of war which has brought into being a new and entirely different mode of warfare – the application of Air Power. It is the only weapon which can engage, with equal facility, land, sea, and other air forces. It is another means operating in another element for the same basic purpose as ground and sea power – the destruction of the enemy’s will to fight.
Moreover, air power, like land and sea power, “must be built up around a basic element.” Bombardment aviation “is the basic element of Air Power,” and “the future capabilities of the bombardment airplane
in radius of action, speed and fire power” were as yet just beginning to be visualized. “The world struggle for strategic air bases and effective air fleets is well under way,” he concluded, “and will become intensified with the fast-moving technical development of the airplane. Air Power is as vital a requirement to the military efficiency of a great nation as land power and sea power, and there is no hope for victory in war for a nation in which it is lacking.”
These were the articles of faith on which the Army’s airmen stood in the year of Munich, two years before the Battle of Britain. There would appear to be little point in detailing further at this time the continuing controversy with representatives of the War and Navy departments. As noted at the close of the preceding section, the joint Board in June 1938 – five months after General Andrews’ appeal to the Secretary of War – officially denied the probability that the Air Corps would in war require planes “of greater practical ferrying range, greater tactical radius, and greater carrying capacity that those of the B-17.” Such a policy, if long adhered to, would have deprived the AAF of the B-29. But world developments soon lent additional weight to the arguments for the long-range bomber, and, when the test came, the Army Air Forces not only had a well-defined doctrine of air warfare for its guidance but the plane needed for the job.*
* For a discussion of the development of tactical principles, see below, pp. 597–99.