Chapter 4: The Air Corps Prepares for War, 1939–41
On 28 January 1938 President Roosevelt declared our national defenses inadequate in the face of warlike preparations abroad which constituted “a threat to world peace and security.”1 He then asked for appropriations, largely naval, to improve our defenses. The itemized list of requirements included a sum for antiaircraft matériel but not for aircraft. A year later, with conflict threatening in Europe and an undeclared war raging in Asia, the President asked for a much larger sum with which to strengthen our military establishment. This time Air Corps requirements accounted for more than half the total requests.2
These appropriations marked the beginning of a radical change in our foreign policy. In the decade after World War I, repudiating the League of Nations, we had based our hopes of security on the outlawry of war, on international disarmament, and on our geographical isolation. In the mid-thirties, as other great powers began to rearm, we had sought further to insulate ourselves against foreign wars by enacting neutrality legislation, which in effect abrogated our traditional policy of freedom of the seas and which denied to our government the right to distinguish morally between aggressor nations and their victims. But by the beginning of 1939 we had turned to rearmament, and before the year had run out we had begun to scrap the neutrality restrictions. For three years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor we were preparing, by these and other measures, for a war which we did not want but which many had come to feel was inescapable if we were to maintain our traditional way of life.
This preparation was without precedent in our national history, unless an exception be claimed for the very limited efforts of 1916–17. Our
habit in respect to war had ever been first declare, then prepare. That this policy had enjoyed the apparent sanction of success was not because of any virtue inherent in it. Actually our victories in foreign wars owed much to three factors: the weakness of enemies like Mexico and Spain; the involvement of enemies like England and Germany with other European powers; and the geographical isolation of our nation. In the period 1939–41 these factors obtained, if at all, in a lesser degree. our potential enemies were strong, not weak; they were girded for war materially and spiritually. The friendly powers upon whom we might have depended for respite long shrank from war, and when war came they crumbled one by one until only Britain stock and that precariously. And new techniques of war and new weapons – particularly the long-range bomber and the carrier-borne plane – had weakened the security once offered by our geographical situation. Given these changed conditions and the revolutionary doctrines and aggressive activities of the Axis powers, the United States would ill afford its customary delay in preparing for war.
The national administration appreciated the new threat to our security earlier than did most American citizens, but before pearl harbor the public had, for the most part, come to recognize that threat. This change in public opinion was in reality a psychological preparation for war; it was brought about by the sheer logic of events abroad and by the activities of private citizens, acting individually or through organized groups, as well as by the educational efforts of the national administration.3 Perhaps in the last analysis the psychological preparation was the most important single factor in improving our national defense, but this chapter is concerned only with more tangible measures inaugurated by the government.
When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, the United States declared its neutrality.4 Its stated policy was to remain out of the conflict if possible and at the same time to keep the totalitarian powers out of the Western Hemisphere. The latter objective demanded a further extension and an acceleration of previous programs for strengthening American armed forces. It called also, because of the threat of new weapons and modes of warfare, for the establishment of new strategic bases. The declared policy was wholly consonant with the Monroe Doctrine, and the measures taken to enforce it were, for a while, consistent with our traditional ideas of defense.
But under the impact of repeated Axis successes in Europe, the
United States evolved a dynamic, rather than a static, concept of defense. The new concept was influenced by the military techniques of the Nazis as well as by their unbroken string of victories. The pattern of political infiltration, violent air attack, and machine-like blitzkrieg encouraged the conviction that defense of the Western Hemisphere was closely linked with the survival of the Allies, especially of England: an Allied victory would forestall an Axis invasion of the Americas and even by merely prolonging Allied resistance the United States would gain time needed for building its defenses. So in 1940 aid to the Allies had become the avowed policy of the American government. This involved first the relaxation of neutrality restrictions, and it required a vast expansion of facilities for the production of munitions in order that the United States might become “the arsenal of democracy.” That expansion was rapid, but until the nation was forced into a complete war economy production was never equal to the demands of our own forces and of the Allies. Hence allocation of the limited military supplies to the best interests of the nation became a problem of singular difficulty and importance.
In extending lend-lease aid to Great Britain in march 1941 the President declared the defense of that nation “vital to the defense of the United States.”5 In this statement he merely followed a legislative formula, but the phrase had a wider implication. If indeed our safety was linked so closely with that of England, it was obvious that our collaboration with that power might not stop short of war. in anticipation of that possibility, American and British military staffs were active in 1941 in shaping strategic plans to govern combined Anglo-American operations should the United States be drawn into the war, and the Army and Navy prepared more detailed joint plans for meeting their respective responsibilities.
Preparations initiated by the United States government in the period 1939–41 involved, then, four interrelated activities: expansion of the military establishment; development of a new doctrine of hemisphere defense; aid to the Allies; and the formulation of strategic war plans. To an important degree the nature of those defense measures was determined by the nature of the conflict in Europe. Thus in light of the vital role played by the air arm in German offense and in British defense, it was natural that the United States should place great emphasis on the development of air power. And hence during the period 1939–41 the Air Corps figured prominently in each of the four aspects
of national preparation. Along with other arms and services, the Air Corps underwent a vast expansion. In measures contemplated and enacted for hemisphere defense, its long-range bombers were accorded a significant role. In aid to the Allies, air matériel was the most important item, and the Air Corps shared its planes and related equipment, often to the detriment of its own expansion program, with potential allies. And finally, in combined and joint plans the Air Corps assumed heavy responsibilities, particularly for strategic bombardment. A brief consideration of these four aspects of the preparation for war will not only reveal the state of preparedness of the Army Air Forces by 7 December 1941, but will illuminate much of the actual conduct of the war thereafter.
Expansion of the Air Corps
The presidential message to Congress of 12 January 1939 marked the beginning of a period of Air Corps expansion which did not reach its peak until 1944. Asserting that “increased range, increased speed, increased capacity of airplanes abroad have changed our requirement for defensive action,” President Roosevelt strongly urged that $300,000,000 be appropriated for the purchase of aircraft for the Army.6 The existing force, which the President described as “utterly inadequate,” consisted of approximately 1,700 tactical and training planes, some 1,600 Air Corps officers, and 18,000 enlisted men.7 Within three months Congress had passed an emergency Army air defense bill substantially as requested, authorizing the procurement of 3,251 aircraft. This act approved a total Air Corps strength of 5,500 planes, 3,203 officers, and 45,000 enlisted men. The appropriation amounted to half as much as the Air Corps had received in the fourteen preceding fiscal years;8 approved strength for officers was doubled, for enlisted men was increased by 150 per cent.
Because the Air Corps had anticipated these authorizations, there was little delay in inaugurating its expansion program. As early as autumn of 1938 the Chief of the Air Corps had asked American aircraft manufacturers to prepare for an unprecedented growth, though no orders could then be guaranteed to them.9 By the time the new appropriations had been approved, contracts were being negotiated and tooling-up had begun. But the procurement of aircraft and related matériel items was only one of three major tasks confronting the Air Corps. Simultaneously personnel had to be recruited and trained, and
airfields and bases had to be acquired and built. Orderly expansion demanded that these three tasks be accomplished according to a balanced plan and at a synchronized rate; a lag or overdevelopment in any phase would delay or disrupt the program. Had expansion been carried only to the goal anticipate in the authorizations of early 1939, its prompt fulfillment would have been difficult; but under the impact of ever darker threats from abroad, the Air Corps was faced time and again with the need of increasing its estimates.
Since the mission of the Air Corps was the preparation of units organized, trained, and equipped for combat, the guiding factor in its efforts at systematic expansion consisted of a series of programs for the creation of a bed air force of fully prepared combat groups. To take advantage of approved increases in aircraft and personnel, the Air Corps in the spring of 1939 formulated a plan calling for 24 tactical groups to be combat-ready by 30 June 1941.10 Long before this objective was reached, however, the trend of events abroad urged further expansion, and in May 1940 the Air Corps projected the 41-group program.11 Within two months the goal was again revised upward in the 54-group program, which would provide an air force of 4,000 tactical planes, 187,000 enlisted men, 15,000 aviation cadets, and 16,800 officers.12 In autumn of 1941, the Army Air Forces, in anticipation of the vast expansion contemplated in the as yet unapproved Victory Program for munitions, formulated the 84-group program, which would enlarge the force to a personnel strength of 400,000 by 30 June 1942.13 Little was done before Pearl Harbor to implement this more ambitious schedule. By 7 December, a total of seventy tactical groups had been activated, including fourteen heavy bombardment, nine medium bombardment, five light bombardment, twenty-five pursuit, eleven observation, and six transport groups.14 But many of the units were at cadre strength only, and few had been equipped with suitable aircraft. Actually the 54-group program, which came to be known as the First Aviation Objective, was the most realistic of the prewar plans; but its full achievement was impossible as long as the American aircraft industry was unable to keep pace with British and American demands.
The patter of prewar expansion of the Air Corps was then one of repeated upward revision of goals, with each new objective rendered obsolete long before it had been realized. This was characteristic of the programs for combat units; it was equally true of airplane production
goals, of training schedules, and of provisions for new air installations. The constant modification of plans was not conducive to steady development, but neither, for that matter, were the dispatches from Europe. Under the impact of each new threat from abroad the President called for new defense appropriations and set new production goals. Congress readily made available the funds requested and authorized the expansion recommended. But one item – time – not even a generous Congress could grant. Hence the whole story of Air Corps activity in the period 1939–41 may be conceived as a race against time in a desperate effort to overtake Axis air forces which had long been on a war basis. To make the most of the time available, the Air Corps scrapped or revised many procedures of long standing; “judicious shortcuts,” to use an Army locution, became the order of the day in procurement of matériel, in training, and in the development of air installations. Undoubtedly the emphasis on speed and quantity in all phases of expansion often led to a lowering of peacetime standards of acceptance; but this tendency was not carried to dangerous extremes and qualitative losses were more than offset by quantitative gains. The process, in short, was typical of American mass production, with all the merits and flaws of that system.
The aspect of expansion which was most eagerly followed by the American public was the rapid growth in the output of military aircraft. The seemingly miraculous accomplishments in this respect were essentially civilian rather than military. they were made possible through the fortunate combination of a highly adaptable industry, great national resources, and generous government aid; but the Air Corps played here a significant, if lesser, part. Contracts in 1939 were awarded on the basis of single-shift production, but factories moved steadily into a two-, then a three-shift schedule as more trained personnel became available.15 The Air Corps, along with the Office of Production Management, adopted carious methods of acquainting manufacturers with new types of aeronautical equipment, of spreading production among more firms, and of increasing the capacity of the industry. “Educational orders” were placed with manufacturers, existing facilities were enlarged by the aid of government financing, and new plants were built by the government for operation by private firms. “Letter contracts” saved from one to three months in initiating the fabrication of aircraft by permitting manufacturers to purchase materials before a formal contract could be drawn up and signed.
Competitive bidding was supplemented by the more rapid procedure of direct negotiation of contracts. In general, the Air Corps profited by its long and intimate association with the aircraft industry. Friendly personal relations made for mutual confidence, and reliance upon a telephone conversation or a quick airplane trip frequently obtained results which would have required weeks of formal correspondence. Some of the new methods were more expensive than the traditional ones, but by 1940 the nation, though it is now easily forgotten, had more money than time.
In some ways the Air Corps was able to exert a direct influence on speeding up production. Standardization of aeronautical equipment was one method. This subject had been under study by the Army and Navy for more than a decade. Joint efforts toward standardization had begun with such minor items as nuts, bolts, and pressure pumps. By the time rearmament began the Army and Navy were procuring aircraft engines from two major contractors under terms which made most models equally acceptable to either service. Further efforts were made toward standardization of aircraft and related matériel used in common by the U.S. and British services. Such a policy was advantageous to both manufacturers and purchasers; it facilitated mass production, lessened confusion for the producer, and reduced overhead costs. Again, the Air Corps was able to reduce the long delays usually experienced in testing new models for acceptance. An accelerated service-test procedure was instituted whereby experienced crews in relays gave an airplane 150 hours of almost continuous flight with a full military load. This system brought to light in one month defects which formerly might have required a year of service testing for discovery.16
These speed-up measures had begun with the initial appropriations for Air Corps expansion and had been intensified as U.S. and British demands increased. The 1939 Air Corps objective of 5,500 planes was soon raised to 10,000. Then on 16 May 1940, with the extension of the war in western Europe, the President called for an annual output of 50,000 aircraft and a total Army and Navy strength of the same number of planes; approved figures provided 36,500 for the Army, 13,500 for the Navy.17 The American aircraft industry was asked, in essence, to expand from its normal capacity of some 2,000 planes a year to more than 4,000 a month. Aircraft production in 1940 showed an increase of 250 per cent over that of the previous year.18 The chief
gains, both in planes manufactured and in the rate of acceleration, came in the latter half of the year, when the fall of France and the Battle of Britain lent a grim incentive to American efforts. By the end of September 1940, contracts were outstanding for 16,649 Army aircraft, of which 9,122 were tactical.19 In the second half of that year, 3,770 military aircraft were accepted by all users; in 1941, the total accepted was 19,428. Nor do these figures reveal the whole story; there was, because of a trend toward heavy bomber types, a marked increase in the average weight per plane as well as a numerical gain.20 Of the aircraft delivered the Air Corps received far too few to equip its authorized fifty-four groups. Prospects for the future were, however, encouraging. The appropriations of 1939 and 1940 were dwarfed by those of the following year. in the first eight months of 1941, some $6,500,000,000 was appropriated, the major part of which was allocated to the procurement of about 15,000 aircraft and the enlargement of productive capacity. All told, the Air Corps was authorized, in the three years before Pearl harbor, to expend about eight billion dollars and to procure 37,500 planes.21 It had not known such generosity since 1917.
One policy of the Air Corps ran counter to the insistence on mass production of existing models of aircraft. This was the continued stress on research and development. Efforts to develop new types of aircraft diverted talent from tasks of current utility to projects which, if successful, might pay dividends in the future. The policy was costly, but in view of the time lag between original design and quantity production, it was essential if we were to keep abreast of German developments. The results of the research and development program were not always spectacular. many new airplane models were stillborn, or died in the experimental stage. But the same program which spawned such forgotten airplanes as the XP-44 or the XB-21 gave birth also to the B-29, designed in 1940. Mass production was hampered even more by the large number of modifications for current models which this policy encouraged. Changes in design and equipment made standardization difficult; “freezing” a model at a certain stage in its development would have made for more rapid production. But to keep abreast of foreign air forces, it was necessary to incorporate improvements which were constantly suggested by combat experience. The earliest and most obvious lesson which came from the air war in Europe was the need for heavier armor, greater defensive firepower,
and better protection against fire hazards. Hence in February 1940 the Air Corps completed plans for the installation of leak-proof tanks, protective armor, and greater armament, even at the expense of speed and useful load. A few months later Air Corps observers were sent to France and England to study the air war at first hand, and their recommendations led to further modernization of equipment.22 In May 1941, the War Department established the Special Observer Group in London,* and through its reports and those of occasional special missions the Air Corps was kept constantly informed of the latest matériel developments in England.23 As a result of this information as well as of the work of American scientists and engineers, there was continued improvement in armament, signal communications, safety devices, and other equipment.
When the United States entered the war, the Air Corps had in production, in addition to other aircraft that would play no major part in operations, the following tactical planes:24
|Type||Air Corps Designation||Name||Manufacturer||Designed||Flight Test||In Production|
|Heavy Bomber||B-17||Flying Fortress||Boeing||1934||1935||1936|
|Medium Bomber||B-25||Mitchell||North American||1939||1941||1941|
|Light Bomber||A-24||Dauntless||Douglas||(Navy SBD-3)||1941||1941|
The term “in production” is misleading if taken in any but its technical sense. It has no necessary connotation of mass manufacture, but means only that the plane had passed beyond the experimental and test phases, and that the first number acceptable for tactical use had rolled off the line. Thus whereas all the models mentioned above were “in production,” they represented various stages in combat readiness. Some of them, notably the A-20 and P-40, had been tested in combat by British crews.25 The B-26 was still an unknown quantity, but experience indicated that in the B-17, B-24, and B-25 the AAF had three bombers in which it could base its plans with confidence. The
* See below, p. 577.
P-38 and P-47 were not to get into action until summer of 1942 and spring of 1943, respectively. The listed planes were the ones, however, with which we were to fight the first two years of the war. The only important new-type aircraft were to come in late 1943 or 1944 – the P-51, first produced in quantity for the British, the A-36, the P-61, and A-26, and the B-29. Of the models actually in use before Pearl Harbor, tests and combat records seemed to indicate that as compared to like foreign types, our heavy bombers were superior to our medium and light bombers, while our light bombers were superior to our fighters. In general those judgments were borne out by later experience, though each of the planes underwent repeated improvements on the basis of combat experience.
Personnel requirements grew with the increase in authorization for aircraft. Intensive recruiting campaigns brought an influx of men as permitted under the higher ceiling set by Congress in 1939. In mid-1940, the Air Corps was authorized to procure flying cadets and Reserve officers without limit during the fiscal year 1941, and relaxed entrance requirements for cadets made possible the appointment of large numbers for flying training. The President’s order in August 194026 calling up the National Guard and Reserve forces resulted in further increases in personnel. A still greater impetus to Air Corps enlistment, from autumn 1940 until Pearl Harbor, came from the Selective Service System program; even though procurement of pilots, aircrew members, and technicians was still on a volunteer basis the prospect of compulsory service in an undesignated branch of the Army proved a potent spur to Air Corps enlistment. Under these various stimuli, the total number of Air Corps personnel jumped from 20,503 on 1 July 1939 to 152, 569 just two years later, and the rate of expansion was rapidly increasing when the United States went to war.27
Pilot training goals were successively raised to keep pace with the anticipated progress of other defense programs. From an objective in 1939 calling for the training of 1,200 pilots a year, the figure was raised in 1940 to 7,000 then to 12,000, by directive of February 1941 to 30,000. By the fall of that year, when the 84-group program was under discussion, the AAF contemplated a training rate of 50,000 pilots a year by mid-1942.28 These goals called also for the training of a proportionate number of other aircrew members and ground technicians. The Air Corps had neither the instructors nor facilities
training men in such numbers – nor, for that matter, did it have the experience. Its training program at the beginning of 1939 was based on an annual graduating class of approximately 300 pilots.29 To step that up in three years to a rate of 50,000 pilots was as difficult a problem as increasing aircraft production from 2,000 to 50,000. Again it meant the substitution of production-line techniques for handicraft methods. But the United States was as inured to mass education as to mass production.
To build all the additional facilities red by the new objectives would have required the outlay of vast sums; more pertinent to current attitudes was the fact that it would have delayed the training program by two precious years. Turning to civilian flying schools, the Air Corps found a limited reservoir of instructors, aircraft, flying fields, trained maintenance personnel, and experienced administrative officials. Consideration of the possibility of using civilian training facilities had begun in the fall of 1938; at that time there were twenty-three privately owned flying schools which held an approved rating from the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA). In the spring of 1939 preparations were made for nine of the schools to provide primary training for the Air Corps, though no contracts could be offered until the middle of the year. The undertaking was frankly in the nature of an experiment, but it proved eminently successful and gained wider use as the Air Corps expanded.30 Another source of potential aid existed in a civilian pilot training program under the auspices of the CAA. Authorized in mid-1939 and later enlarged, this program created a great reserve supply of pilots which could be tapped in a serious national emergency. Graduates of this program could not, of course, be rated as combat pilots without Air Corps training, but many of them served a instructors in contract primary schools or later as ferry pilots.31
in the training of ground crewmen, Air Corps facilities were also supplemented by the use of civilian schools. At first only a few enlisted men were sent to civilian mechanics schools, but the numbers increased rapidly as the success of the experiment became apparent.32 By November 1941, the Air Corps had begun to train technicians, in its own and in contract schools, at a rate calculated to turn out 100,000 a year. Despite its great need for technicians, the Air Corps at that time was not using men taken into the Army under the Selective Training and Service Act; the single year of service authorized
by that act was too short a period to justify any extended technical training.33
Civilian instructional facilities did not, of course, satisfy all the needs of the Air Corps. Additional schools and readjustments in existing arrangements were provided under the general expansion program. Training for individual flying specialties, which had been conducted under the Air Corps Training Center at Randolph Field, Texas, was expanded in July 1940 and placed under the direction of three flying training “centers,” spaced geographically in areas enjoying the best flying weather and each including a number, steadily growing, of basic and advanced schools.34 Responsibility for crew and unit training was vested in the GHQ Air Force and after June 1941 in its successor, the Air Force Combat Command. The Technical Training Command, with responsibility for all individual technical instruction, was established in March 1941.35
In all phases of the training program, courses of study were compressed and pared down to the essentials. Curricula were made as pragmatic as possible; there was no time for theoretical frills. In training, as in the development of aircraft, efforts were made to incorporate tactical lessons of the air war in Europe, which emphasized the importance of formation flying at all altitudes, of accuracy in bombing and gunnery, and of the development of well-integrated combat crews.36 If in these respects the green crews of the early months of the war did not always appear proficient, it was not for lack of appreciation of the importance of this sort of training. Rather it stemmed again from the lack of time, the shortage of instructors and equipment – especially of planes. The shortage of trainers, acute at first, was gradually overcome as factories concentrated first on their production; but the very serious dearth of combat planes, in which alone successful unit training could be carried out, lasted until long after we were at war. Lacking equipment, the schools improvised; lacking time, some adopted a 24-hour working day and a 7-day week. It was not the sort of school life which would draw the nostalgic alumnus back for a twenty-fifth reunion. But it got results.
The expansion of the Air Corps in matériel and in personnel required a comparable growth in its physical plant; new airfields were needed for the training program, new depots for maintenance and supply of the increasing number of planes, new bases for the tactical units responsible for national defense. This aspect of expansion, like
aircraft production and training, suffered from lack of time and from frequently enlarged objectives. Logically, the new installations should have been built before the training program expanded; actually, for want of time, the two processes went hand in hand. The rapid growth in personnel encouraged drastic innovations in the traditional pattern of military housing: hotels, warehouses, and other buildings were leased or purchased, and arrangements were made to take over or share commercial and municipal airport facilities. But in the meanwhile it was necessary to acquire new sites and to build new installations; as the Air Corps grew, new airfields mushroomed in every part of the United States. Each new field involved a basic decision on the question of temporary or permanent construction. Long-term needs of the Air Corps and the sudden availability of funds in quantities never before enjoyed argued, sometimes successfully, for substantial buildings of concrete or brick; the pressure of time and the obviously ephemeral nature of inflated requirements urged more rapid and less pretentious construction. The solution varied form field to field, often resulting in a compromise. The hug complex of fields around San Antonio, for example, came to include every possible combination of facilities ranging from the luxurious permanence of Randolph Field to the heat-baked tar paper hutments of the Aviation Cadet Center; from the huge shops and concrete ramps of Duncan Field to the cow-pasture sod of auxiliary landing strips. On Kelly Field alone, living quarters included modernistic duplexes, permanent barracks, shacks built during World War I, and a tent city. The general trend was toward less substantial construction as the Air Corps grew beyond any probable peacetime size and as it became increasingly obvious that national resources in labor and construction material were not unlimited.
This type of boom-time construction America understood; it repeated on a national scale a story which had been written in many an oil field and engineering project. The chief emphasis again was on speed. Personnel often moved into an air base long before completion of even the most essential facilities. In such a case, training might be conducted under canvas with construction proceeding on all sides, the instructor in his lecture competing with the noise of hammers and concrete mixers as well as of the ubiquitous trainer “buzzing” the field. Flying would begin with the completion of a single runway. Thereafter heavy construction equipment became a hazard to flying,
the movement of aircraft and fuel trucks an impediment to the contractor’s job. Both training and construction activities suffered from the discomforts incident to new communities, as a field became alternately a dust bowl or a morass with each change in weather.37 Primitive living conditions, makeshift classrooms, and overcrowded shops remained characteristic of the whole of the prewar expansion period. But construction, if rarely ahead of schedule, managed somehow to meet increasing needs.
While the Air Corps was expanding, it was undergoing, as well, changes in organization and administrative structure. Inasmuch as the organizational developments followed a somewhat circuitous course, they sometimes tended to intensify, rather than assuage, the growing pains of the Army air arm. To the degree that these changes moved toward greater autonomy, however, they did aid in simplifying command channels and delimiting responsibilities more sharply. The process did not, in the period 1939–41, go far enough to satisfy those in the Air Corps who had long desired independence; but as we drew closer to war the air arm was able to assume an increasing share in the determination of its own policies.
At the beginning of 1939, the Army air establishment still was organized into two correlative but independent elements* the Air Corps and the GHQ Air Force – the one charged with matériel and training functions, the other primarily with combat operations. With the inauguration of the expansion program, the need for a closer coordination and a centralized control became more pronounced, and on 1 March 1939, the GHQ Air Force was placed under the Chief of the Air Corps. The new relationship proved of short duration, for on 19 November 1940, the GHQ Air Force was removed from the jurisdiction of the Chief of the Air Corps and was accorded a separate status under the commander of the Army field forces. The move was opposed by most air leaders, since it precluded their ultimate command of the air striking force. The potentially serious effects of the change were in some respects mitigated by the appointment a week earlier of Maj. Gen. H.H. Arnold as Acting Deputy Chief of Staff. Holding this office, as well as that of Chief of the Air Corps, he was in a position to coordinate the activities of the two elements of Army aviation.38
By the spring of 1941, however, it was clear that coordination was
* See above, p. 32.
not a fit substitute for unity of command. In March, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson directed that action be taken to place the air arm under a single commander. Shortly thereafter, the office of Assistant Secretary of War for Air was revived with Robert A. Lovett, who since December had served as special assistant on air matters, as the first incumbent. His able energies were directed to two major tasks: promotion of aircraft production and streamlining the organization of the Army air arm.39 The resulting reorganization, which became effective on 20 June 1941, created the Army Air Forces. The AAF was superior to the Air Corps and to the Air Force Combat Command (AFCC), the agency replacing the GHQ Air Force.40 General Arnold, as Chief of the Army Air Forces, was made directly responsible to the Army Chief of Staff and was given the responsibility for establishing policies and plans for all Army aviation activities. In accordance with a War Department policy toward decentralization of staff work, the Chief of the AAF was provided with an air staff to assist in formulating policy. General Arnold also retained his position of Deputy Chief of Staff, thus serving as the principal contact between the AAF and the War Department General Staff. Under General Arnold’s jurisdiction, the new Chief of the Air Corps, Maj. Gen. George H. Brett, and the commanding general of the Air Force Combat Command, Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, were made responsible for service and combat functions, respectively.41
The reorganization of June 1941 marked a notable gain for the air arm, yet in actual practice a number of defects soon appeared. The line of responsibilities between service and combat elements was not distinctly drawn, nor were relationships between the AAF and the War Department clearly defined. Both the AAF and the War Department continued to study the possibilities of further improvements. On the eve of war it had become clear that the most successful solution would involve a radical reorganization of the military establishment, with the AAF enjoying virtual autonomy within the War Department. Such a change was to come early in the war.42
The trend toward autonomy, like the appropriations and authorizations for expansion, was symptomatic of the growing official recognition of the decisive importance of air power in national defense. Secretary of War Stimson, testifying before a joint congressional committee in August 1940, gave expression to the new attitude:–
Air power today has decided the fate of nations. Germany with her powerful air armadas has vanquished one people after another. On the ground, large armies have been mobilized to resist her, but each time it was that additional power in the air that decided the fate of each individual nation. ... [As a consequence] we are in the midst of a great crisis. The time factor is our principal obstacle.43
This attitude was reflected in the sympathetic hearing accorded to AAF problems by the highest officials of the War Department. In commenting to Mr. Stimson in mid-1941 on the 500 per cent increase in AAF tactical squadrons, General Marshall wrote: “I do not think the public generally appreciates the vastness of the undertaking which has been imposed upon the Air Corps in both personnel and matériel.”44 That was almost an understatement.
The public could understand the announcement of a new goal for aircraft production, for trained pilots, or for organized combat units; rarely, one might suspect, did citizens consider the implications of those increases in terms of their own occupations. What was required, in civilian terms, was something like this: for a medium-sized college to jump its graduating class from 300 to 50,000 student; for a manufacturer just recovering from the depression to step up his production from 2,000 to 50,000 items a year; for a firm doing business on a national scale to expand its build and grounds by geometric rather than arithmetic progression. All this within three years and through the leadership of a very limited number of trained administrators. That progress was not smooth was all too apparent to those most intimately concerned – to the harried staff officer who saw each successive program scrapped for another more difficult of attainment; to the crew chief on the line whose team was constantly bled for cadres; to the group commander attempting to build an effective organization with green pilots and obsolete planes. It is little wonder that before the period ended the war’s most expressive term – SNAFU – had been coined. Yet for all the confusion, by 7 December 1941 the AAF had achieved a remarkable expansion, and the essential soundness of its methods was to be manifested in its later development under war conditions.
New Concepts of Hemisphere Defense
The expansion of the Army air arm which began in 1939 was motivated by considerations of hemisphere defense. The term was new, the idea old. When President Roosevelt initiated the move toward rearmament
in his message of 28 January 1938, it was in the interests of “national defense,” a familiar phrase.45 In his comparable message of 4 January 1939, he repeated the phrase but he also pledged “our people and our resources” to the protection of the West Hemisphere and its common ideals.46 This was only a reaffirmation of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine, but the nature of the threats against the Americas and the means of defense were rapidly changing.
Traditionally, military threats against the hemisphere had been conceived in terms of a naval attack followed by an invasion by ground forces. Against such dangers, the U.S. Navy had generally been considered our main bulwark, and since the inception of the Monroe Doctrine we had enjoyed the tacit support of British seapower. Only to the arch-isolationist did defense mean literally the repulse of an enemy from our own shores. In January 1938, the President stressed the need of keeping “any potential enemy many hundred miles away from our continental limits.”47 The war in Europe did little to allay anxieties concerning an amphibious assault in force, and by the end of June 1940, the danger seemed acute. The Nazis had overrun Poland, Norway, Denmark, and the Low Countries; France had collapsed and Italy had joined her Axis partner. The British Expeditionary Force, broken as an effective army, had barely escaped from Dunkirk, and the Atlantic coast from Narvik to Bordeaux was in the hands of the Germans, who seemed posed for the assault on Britain. Gone was American skepticism over the “sitzkrieg,” and our ideological sympathy toward Britain was sharpened by concern for our own security. It required not too much imagination to envisage a complete Axis victory in Europe which would at best deny us the moral support of the Royal navy with its shipyards, and, at worst, place that fleet and the French at the disposal of the Germans. Such additions to a combination of Japanese, Italian, and German sea forces would have imposed upon the U.S. Navy an impossible task. That the gravity of the situation was widely appreciated in the United States was shown not only by the wide publicity given to the threatened realignment of seapower,48 but also by the celerity with which Congress sped through additional appropriation bills to give us a “two-ocean navy.”
But there were, as well, threats new sort. The war in Europe, with its coordination of military and political action, its emphasis on surprise and speed, and its concentration of power against nodal points had indicated that aggression against the western world might
assume novel forms, not always frontal in character. Hemisphere defense was dependent upon a few strategic areas which, if widely dispersed, were highly concentrated internally: the New England–New York–Norfolk are, the Great Lakes industrial region, the “Soo” locks, the West Coast aircraft factories, the Panama Canal. Any of those might be endangered by the new methods of attack. By taking control of French or English colonial possessions, victorious Axis powers might lodge themselves at the very threshold of either American continent. Certain of the Latin-American nations seemed to offer a fertile field for Nazi techniques of infiltration and engineered revolution. With or without such political preliminaries, the air weapon had ominous potentialities. German bombers of known types could not operate directly from Europe to the United States, but they could reach Newfoundland from Norway or Brazil from Africa. From secretly prepared fields they could strike at key positions either with bombs or with paratroopers. The presence in several Latin-American states of German airlines and the Nazi practice conducting air operations with the aid of “students” and tourists” and “civilian technicians” caused grave concern for the security of the Panama Canal. And finally, the increasing tension in the Far East and Japan’s known strength in carriers called attention to the vulnerability of the Pacific approaches to the hemisphere.
In January 1939, the President had spoken of the “new range and speed to offense.”49 In his request to Congress for additional defense appropriations on 16 May 1940, he enlarged upon that theme, enumerating the new forms of attack and paying special tribute to offensive air power. Facing the new threats, “the American people must recast their thinking about national protection.” Under the new dispensation, national defense was possible only through total hemisphere defense. And, “Defense cannot be static. ... Defense must by dynamic and flexible.”50
This was a language the Air Corps understood. From the days of Billy Mitchell, its leaders had advocated a defense thrusting far from our shores.* Originally this had meant the use of a mobile striking force to intercept an enemy approaching by sea. The Navy had bitterly resented Air Corps intrusion into what had been its special mission. The Joint Action of the Army and Navy of 1935, though none too precise in its delimitation of responsibilities, had minimized
* See above, Chapter 2.
the role of the Army air arm in the interception of enemy naval forces,51 but that mission had been a leading factor in the Air Corps’ emphasis on the long-range bomber. Now the new threats to hemisphere security added less debatable obligations, which the Air Corps proposed to meet with a force of heavy bombers.
Actually, Army air leaders had anticipated somewhat the President’s public statements of our changing concepts of defense. in June 1938, the Air Corps Board had begun a study on the “Air Corps Mission under the Monroe Doctrine.”52 During the following March, basic air doctrines were restated, so that the most important task became defense against air attacks, to be achieved by the “destruction of enemy aviation at its bases53 In June 1940, the Air Corps described its role in hemisphere defense as entailing six specific missions in the following order of importance: to (1) deny the establishment of hostile air bases in the Americas; (2) defeat hostile air forces lodged in the hemisphere by attacking their bases; (3) defeat hostile air forces by aerial combat; (4) prevent the landing of expeditionary forces by attacking transports and supply ships; (5) cooperate with the mobile army in ground operations; and (6) operate in support of or in lieu of U.S. navy forces against hostile fleets.54
In each case the statement of doctrine was made to guide the expenditure of funds authorized to the Air Corps for meeting its new obligations. The accepted concept of the air mission which subordinated local air defense and close support of ground forces to long-range counter-air activities was reflected in the practical measures taken. Units of the GHQ Air Force did participate, with the inadequate equipment available, in Army maneuvers in 1940–41, and by the time war came, the AAF had taken certain steps, largely modeled on British experience, for local air defense of certain vital areas.* But the main concern of Army airmen was in defense at a distance by means of the mobile striking force. This demanded, as they reiterated on numerous occasions, a wider radius of action, which could be achieved by increasing the range of their bombers and acquiring new bases, strategically located. In the summer of 1938 our best heavy bomber was the B-17, with a theoretical useful radius of 1,000 miles; a new experimental model, the XB-16, seemed to promise better performance. The Air Corps Board in October recommended as a minimum requirement a 1,500-mile bomber.55 In June 1938, another air board
* See above, Chapter 8.
(Kilner Board) called for the development of two new heavy bombers, with radii of 2,000 and 3,000 miles respectively.56 A year later, when the fall of England seemed a possibility which might deny us any friendly base within striking distance of German airfields and ports, plans were begun for a 4,000-mile-radius bomber.57 Funds were now available for research and development, and projects were initiated which were in time to produce the B-29 and B-32, the XB-35 and XB-36. These planes were not expected to be ready for combat before 1945–47, and in the meanwhile the B-17 was considered inadequate for the Air Corps mission, “specifically in the Caribbean area.”58 But the establishment of new bases could extend the capabilities of existing equipment to the point where it could cover all sea and land areas from which enemy air power could endanger our security. hence the acquisition and construction of new bases became one of the most urgent of our defense measures. This task was not, like the development of new planes, a responsibility of the Air Corps, and indeed some of the new bases were primarily for use of the other arms. But the policies of the national administration enabled the AAF to prepare its defenses in accord with its accepted doctrines.
In the Pacific, the problem was essentially one of extending facilities in our own territories. In the Atlantic, it meant securing privileges from other American nations or from friendly European powers. The danger zones were obvious. In the North Atlantic, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland lay as steppingstones between Norway and the New England-New York area. In the South Atlantic, northeast Brazil offered a likely avenue of approach. Natal, a focal point for established trans-Atlantic air routes, was only 1,600 nautical miles from Africa. To meet an invasion of this area, U.S. planes would have to fly some 2,600 miles from Puerto Rico, the nearest U.S. territory. Since Air Corps intelligence in the spring of 1940 wrongly credited the Axis powers with a surplus over their European requirements of some 4,100 planes capable of making the Africa–Natal flight,59 the implied threat was no light one. Finally, the Caribbean constituted a danger spot inasmuch as its eastern approaches were but poorly fortified.
Solidarity of the nations of the Western Hemisphere was a prerequisite for any successful scheme of total defense in the face of the new threats. That solidarity had been reaffirmed in the Declaration of Lima on 24 December 1938,60 and practical measures to achieve it
were taken in a series of inter-American agreements which followed. These agreements provided for mutual action to preserve the peace of the hemisphere, and in some instances arrangements were made with individual countries which gave U.S. forces an entree into strategic areas normally denied to them. On 3 October 193, American foreign ministers, meeting in Panama, adopted a declaration of neutral rights and established a safety belt 300 miles in width around the entire hemisphere, except off Canada and Newfoundland, already at war.61 The neutrality zone was soon violated by European belligerents, but in July 1940 the American republics took concerted action more forceful than the Declaration of Panama. At Havana a conference of American foreign ministers made the Monroe Doctrine multilateral, agreeing that their respective governments would oppose any change in sovereignty of European colonies in the Western Hemisphere and would combat Axis attempts to undermine American institutions.62 The missing link in the inter-American security system was supplied on 18 August 1940 when the governments of Canada and the United States announced the establishment of a Permanent joint Board on Defense, with equal representation from each nation, to coordinate defense measures for North America.63
Cooperation with friendly nations made it possible for the United States to extend greatly the Atlantic perimeter of hemisphere defense. The first step was made public on 3 September 1490 when President Roosevelt revealed an agreement transferring fifty over-age destroyers to Great Britain in exchange for the right to establish air and naval bases at eight strategic points in the Atlantic and Caribbean areas.64 By 27 March 1941, the two governments had completed negotiations which gave to the United States a year lease on sites in Newfoundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and British Guiana.65 Prior to this agreement Canada had taken over some of the responsibility for garrisoning certain Caribbean islands, Bermuda, and Newfoundland.66 Coordination required under the new arrangement was assured by the Permanent Joint Board on Defense. In October 1940, the board, in a study on Newfoundland, had recommended certain specific defense measures and a division of responsibilities between Canada and the United States.67 At the same time the Air Corps was conducting a survey of possible air base sites, and on the basis of these investigations four locations for Army installations were chosen. It was decided to station Air Corps units at the
Newfoundland Airport at Gander Lake as soon as possible.68 The latter arrangement paid respect to the capabilities of such German bombers as the Heinkel 117 and the obsolescent Heinkel 111. Either had range sufficient to fly from Norway to Newfoundland and thence, with one refueling, to New York. Air Corps planes based at Gander Lake could patrol the northeast approaches to the hemisphere and could interdict Attempts to establish airfields on the continent or on Greenland, some 800 miles to the north.69
A second forward thrust of our defense outposts came on 9 April 1941 with the signing of the United States-Danish agreement concerning Greenland. Since the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940, Greenland had been cut off from the mother country, but had maintained its allegiance to the royal government. The people of Greenland had early expressed the hope that the United States would continue to keep in mind the exposed position of the island.70 United States protection was warranted both by the Monroe Doctrine and the Act of Havana. Reconnaissance flights over the island by Luftwaffe aircraft and repeated German efforts to establish meteorological stations there seemed to demand some action on our part; the Greenland coast was only 1,500 miles from Nazi bases in Norway, and weather reports from the island would have been helpful to the Luftwaffe in planning air operations against England. The joint agreement of April 1941 clarified U.S. responsibilities in defending Greenland, while granting to the government of the United States the right to construct, maintain, and operate such landing fields and other facilities as might be necessary in fulfilling its obligations.71 A south Greenland survey expedition, composed of Army and Navy personnel, had sailed from the United States on 18 March 1941, and during the remaining spring months possible airfield sites were inspected and plans were made for establishing the needed stations.72 The fields, when finished, were to improve the northern air route to England, but their first purpose was defensive. Their completion had become a matter of urgency with a German air attack in February against Iceland, only 400 miles to the east.73
That attack argued too for the next eastward advance of the American line of defense. Only by a geographical tour de force could Iceland, lying athwart the twentieth meridian, be brought into the Western Hemisphere. But of its strategic importance there could be no doubt. In German hands it would have constituted a grave menace
to shipping in the North Atlantic, and to Greenland and the North American continent as well. In friendly hands it could serve as an air and naval base for protection of convoy lanes and as a convenient link in the northern air route between the United States and Britain. It was a realization of these factors which had led England to occupy Iceland in May 1940, and which later persuaded the United States government to share British responsibilities there. On 7 July 1941, President Roosevelt transmitted to Congress the text of communications between this government and that of Iceland, and announced the arrival on the island of U.S. Navy forces.74 At the suggestion of Iceland, the United States had agreed to supplement and eventually to replace the British garrison. The terms of the agreement assured full recognition of the sovereignty, independence, and interests of Iceland, and stipulated specifically that “sufficient airplanes for defensive purposes” would be deployed on the island. The first AAF aircraft arrived on 6 August 1941.75 Planning for the relief of British troops had begun in June, when U.S. military and naval observers stationed at London had made a survey of the island. The first American ground troops were dispatched in September, but again war caught us far short of our goal.76
With the occupation of Iceland, the United States had pushed the periphery of its North Atlantic defenses to its ultimate position. The eastward march of the successive steps taken in 1940–41 pointed logically as well as geographically to Britain, and in 1941 we had already made plane to utilize that island as a base against Germany should we got to war.* But that use could not be considered defensive, save in the very broadest sense.
Meanwhile, defense bases in the Caribbean and South Atlantic areas were being moved outward in a similar fashion. The Caribbean Sea was shaped somewhat in the fashion of a very flat wedge of pie; its sides, the coasts of Central and South America, converged at the Panama Canal, now rendered doubly important by the increased duties of the U.S. Navy in two oceans. The edge of the crust was formed by the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Their arc threw a bold protecting bastion around the north and east of the sea, and Army airmen had long advocated the establishment of an air base on Puerto Rico, our most important possession in the chain. The emergency of 1940 caught us with no preparation there, however, and air defense of the canal
devolved wholly upon units deployed in its immediate zone. Now agreements with Great Britain made possible the construction of a string of airfields in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and British Guiana, as well as on Puerto Rico. These promised effective control of the approaches to the Caribbean, and hence to the canal. The AAF was able also to extend existing facilities in the Canal Zone and to prepare auxiliary fields in Central American republics. Agreements with those countries brought about a progressive liberalization of flight restrictions, which greatly simplified air operations in defense of the Zone. Farther south, comparable arrangements were made. in November 1941, U.S. forces occupied Surinam (Dutch Guiana). The move, made in cooperation with the Netherlands and Brazilian governments, was designed to protect the invaluable bauxite mines of Surinam, and here as in Greenland and Iceland, the United States was pledged to withdraw at the termination of the international crisis.77 Now, with bases in both British and Dutch Guiana, the United States was in position to move forces, spearheaded by heavy bombardment units, to thwart any threatened Axis invasion of the exposed angle of Brazil. All told, the new bases would constitute, when garrisoned by fully equipped air units, an effective defense in depth of the most vital positions toward our south.
Reinforcement of hemisphere defenses on the Pacific side reflected both our comparatively late appreciation of the Japanese threat and the immediate concern with the European Axis. Hence, in magnitude and number, the measures taken to strengthen the Alaska–Hawaii–Panama triangle were less impressive than like activities in the Atlantic–Caribbean areas. As relations with Japan sharply deteriorated in 1941, means were readily authorized for improving Pacific defenses. But time was running out; few of the measures were complete when Japan attacked and some were only on paper. Almost without exception, the several specific improvements made in the area had long been urged by the Air Corps. By 1940, valuable aid had been obtained from the Civil Aeronautics Authority, but in many instances action was incited only by the advent of war. Thus, in view of the vulnerability of the western approaches to the Panama Canal, the Air Corps throughout the rearmament period had wished to secure rights to establish air bases on Cocos Island and the Galapagos Islands, from which long-range aircraft could patrol far beyond the striking range of a carrier task force. it was the current policy of the government, however, not to
press for such rights from Costa Rica or Ecuador, and there was no westward extension of canal defenses until 1942.78
Farther west, the exposed position of our Pacific islands made improvement of their defense seem more urgent. It had long been considered axiomatic among our military leaders that the Philippines could not be profitably defended, with the forces likely to be available for use, against a determined Japanese attack. In 1941, however, measures were taken to strengthen our forces there, particularly in air categories: a strong bombardment force would threaten the left flank of a southward drive by the Japanese and hence might serve as a powerful deterrent. Accordingly, in 1941 there was an extension of air installations on Luzon and Mindanao and, belatedly, an effort to reinforce air units stationed there.79
The key to our Pacific defenses was the Hawaiian Islands, or more specifically, the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Army air units in the Territory existed primarily for the defense of this and other naval and military installations on Oahu, and in the past had been concentrated on that island. From 1939 on, the Air Corps was attempting to increase the range of the striking force which constituted its chief weapon. By 1941, auxiliary fields were set up in other islands of the group through the aid of the CAA. This policy was carried further by the preparation of landing strips on such far-flung islands as Midway, Johnston, Palmyra, Canton, and Christmas.80 While facilities at those locations would support only limited operations and were not intended as permanent bases for heavy bombers, the new airfields were indicative of the gradual acceptance of AAF concepts of mobility and a positive defense; their most obvious utility lay in the fact that, with transit rights assured by the Australian government, they constituted a means whereby heavy bombers could be ferried form the States, via Hawaii, to Luzon. Local defense measures on Luzon and Oahu included the reinforcement of fighter units there and the establishment of fighter control sectors with radar warning equipment. These measures, like all others on those islands, proved inadequate against the Japanese surprise attacks, but the advanced island airstrips were to be of signal importance in the Pacific war.
Reinforcement of the northern corner of the Alaska–Hawaii–Panama triangle also came relatively late. Since the 1920s, the Air Corps had been calling attention to the strategic importance of Alaska and to its vulnerability. In 1935, construction of an air base there had
finally been authorized, but it was only after funds had been made available in 1939 that construction had begun on a cold-weather experimental station at Fairbanks and a major operational base at Anchorage. Commercial aviation, already an accepted part of Alaskan life, provided some facilities, and the CAA now inaugurated an extensive development program which included the preparation of emergency landing fields and other aids to air defense. Under guidance of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, arrangements were made to establish air route staging facilities in Canada which would tighten the air link between the United States and Alaska. And, as elsewhere, protection of Alaska called for more advanced outposts. Responsible for air defense of the naval base at Dutch Harbor on Unalaska, the Air Corps instigated preparation of airfields leading to Umnak, farther out in the Aleutians.81 Those fields, like the island strips in the Central Pacific, were to prove their worth in the early months of the war.
That in general was true of the whole system of extended defenses, though only in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Alaska was the system tested by air attacks. Preparations for defense were incomplete, but in 1942 the security afforded by the defensive measures begun during the period 1939–41, and rushed to completion after Pearl harbor, was to allow the united States to turn most of its efforts to preparation for the offensive. In turn, our ability to rearm and to establish new defense lines without interruption from our potential enemies had been made possible by the efforts of nations actually at war with the Axis power. Hence, support lent to those nations may also be considered a very real part of our preparations for war.
Aid to the Allies
When war began in Europe in September 1939, the majority of American citizens shared two sentiments: a sympathy with the allied cause against Germany and a strong desire to stay out of the conflict. These sentiments were expressed by President Roosevelt in a radio address on 3 September: “This Nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well.”82 American attitudes, if they were correctly interpreted by public opinion polls, tended to shift in emphasis with the progress of events abroad during the period from Munich to Dunkirk, though
they showed on the whole a high degree of consistency.83 The most important changes occurred after June 1940.
On the eve of the European war, most Americans seemed to be confident of an ultimate victory for England and France;84 and, if the blitzkrieg in Poland raised doubts, the “phony war” of the winter months allayed them.85 The spectacular spring victories of the Nazis, climaxed by the fall of France, hit the United States like a cold douche. England’s chances of survival seemed at best no better than even, and our own immunity from war seemed challenged.86 German soldiers looking across the Straits of Dover were chanting “Today England, tomorrow the whole world.” The song, if somewhat boastful, did not sound like a lullaby in the United States. Our rearmament program was gaining momentum but wanted time for full achievement. To many it appeared that we could complete that program without hostile interruptions only if the United Kingdom should continue as a belligerent with a fleet and an air force in being. So it was national self-interest as well as sympathy that led an increasing proportion of Americans to advocate measures in support of the British.87 This view was aptly summarized in the title of the citizens’ group which most actively supported it – the Committee To Defend America by Aiding the Allies.
United States and British leaders declared, whether candidly or not, that these measures need go no further than making available to England the products of American industry and agriculture. Furnishing munitions did remain the most effective means of aiding the allies, though by autumn 1941 “measures short of war” had carried us in the Atlantic to orders “to shoot on sight.”88 The task of providing weapons to England and other friendly powers, though undertaken in order that we might have time to arm our own forces, greatly complicated that process. Because of the limited capacity of a munitions industry not yet at peak performance, there was inevitably a conflict between the demands of the U.S. services and the allied nations, and the apportionment of weapons to our greatest advantage required rare judgment and tact and firmness. In the two years before Pearl Harbor, there were numerous changes in the machinery for allocation and in the details of policy. But in respect to air matériel, the most important item involved, the administration tended, after Dunkirk, to favor England’s immediate combat needs over the requirement of Air Corps expansion. In the course of 1941, as it became more apparent that we
we might enter the war, plans were developed to create by combined effort a hug pool of weapons to serve all anti-Axis nations according to their needs and capabilities.
At the outset of the European war, the sale and export of munitions to belligerents were strictly curbed in the United States by the “neutrality legislation” of the 1930s. On 4 January 1939, President Roosevelt had pointed to a lesson from the immediate past: that “our neutrality laws may operate unevenly and unfairly – may actually give aid to an aggressor and deny it to the victim.”89 As successive victories of Germany in Europe and of Japan in Asia made it appear expedient that we extend material aid to nations resisting them, neutrality restrictions were progressively relaxed. The first step, the removal of the arms embargo feature, was urged by the President in July 1939 and again on 21 September; it was effected on 4 November.90 The new “Cash and Carry” act allowed belligerents to acquire arms within the United States by cash purchase. Effectively, of course, this applied to the Allies, and for them the productive capacity of the United States promised to be of prime importance. For the immediate future, however, aid would be limited; the munitions industry in the United States had only begun what was to be a tremendous growth, and excessive foreign orders would impede both its orderly expansion and that of our armed forces.
The Air Corps had long favored the sale to foreign powers of its own tactical models and had attempted to liberalize War Department policy in that respect. Originally, this was through no particular desire to aid any group of nations, and to a public made conscious of the horrors of war by the “Merchants of Death” sort of literature, it was not always popular. The Air Corps hoped, however, that quantity sales abroad of its own models would promote expansion of the aircraft industry without expense to the government, and would help defray the cost of research and development of new planes. Little military risk seemed to be involved, since we could stay ahead of any nation which depended on us for air weapons; and in neutral countries which did not support an aircraft industry the export of American military planes could prove a valuable diplomatic weapon against the Axis. Certain complex problems were inherent in such a policy: whether planes should be released only to designated nations or to all alike; how long a time lag to require between the acceptance of a new model and its release abroad; the degree of security which should be maintained
in regard to secret weapons; and the possible interference of foreign orders with production for the Air Corps.91
Under the “Cash and Carry” act, various Air Corps models, some obsolescent, some more modern, were released to France, England, and other nations. on 25 March 1940, a more liberal foreign release policy was adopted, which authorized the sale to foreign states of certain stipulated modern types* as soon as a superior type or model could be furnished to the Air Corps.92 The crisis brought on by German victories during the next three months greatly stimulated the demand for planes on the part both of Britain and the United States. The British assumed all aircraft contracts of the fallen French government, and with these and their own orders their program called for about 14,000 planes. The Air Corps’ new 54-group program called for a total delivery, by 1 April 1942, of 21,470 tactical and training planes. These huge orders, plus Navy demands, could not be filled within the time limits set. Since English combat needs on the eve of the Battle of Britain seemed more urgent than our own expansion requirements, it was agreed on 23 July that the Air Corps should defer the delivery of 8,586 planes in favor of the British.93 This agreement did not enjoin the British from placing additional orders; and in the face of what might develop into serious competition, the Air Corps feared that its own program might further be retarded.
To insure a systematic and equitable allocation of aircraft and engines, an organization which came to be known as the Joint Aircraft Committee (JAC) was established on 13 September. It included representatives of the three principal customers of the American aircraft manufacturers – the British Purchasing Commission, the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, and the Air Corps. The Chief of the Air Corps, whose office had taken the initiative in securing authorization for the JAC, served as its chairman. Eventually, the functions of the committee were greatly extended. In January 1941, it was given control over all foreign contracts for aircraft matériel, and it became possible then to integrate all production plans into a single schedule.94
Existing legislation precluded the extension of loans to foreign powers for financing the purchase of weapons in the United States, and as British dollar credit shrank it became obvious that some new method must be sought if the effort to supply Britain with arms was
* B-17, B-24, B-25, B-26, A-20A, P-40, O-52, PT-13B, PT-17, PT-18, PT-19, BT-13, BT-14.
to continue. In an address to Congress on 6 January 1941, President Roosevelt suggested the means;95 it became law with the defense-aid act of 11 March, generally known as the Lend-Lease Act96 Under this arrangement air matériel continued to be the most important item of export, and it was essential to the success of the Air Corps program that allocations under the new act be constantly reviewed in the light of “changing political and strategic conditions.” In the machinery set up for administering lend-lease, the Joint Aircraft Committee was designated to serve as the Defense Aid Supply Committee for all aviation matériel. The JAC thus acquired important administrative responsibilities, but the broad policies governing the allotment of aid were determined by the President.97 The fundamental policy for aircraft was established within a few weeks, though the administrative details continued to be subject to constant modification.
In the first lend-lease directive, the President extended its benefits to Great Britain,98 thereby initiating the most powerful of the “measures short of war” to aid that nation. It was not at all certain, however, that such measures would be sufficient or that the United States could maintain its neutrality. On 27 March, Congress authorized the appropriation of $7,000,000,000 for lend-lease.99 On the same day, committees representing the U.S. and British service staffs, which had been studying jointly the best means of military collaboration if the United States should join in the war, presented their first report (known as ABC-1) on the grand strategy to be followed in a possible Anglo-American war against the Axis.* Two days later, a second report, on air collaboration, was submitted.100 Known as ABC-2, this report recommended that aircraft production be accelerated in both countries. As its first objective, the United States should accomplish the AAF’s 54-group program, with the view of employing a substantial portion of those groups from England if America entered the war. The AAF should set up as a further goal a program calling for 100 groups, considered the minimum requirement if the British Isles should be lost as a base for our air forces. But it was also recommended that delivery of tactical airplanes be made continent upon the ability of the several services to use them effectively and that therefore the AAF should defer the full realization of its 54-group program to the extent that aircraft thus made available could be used in the air offensive against Germany. Essentially, this was an extension of the policy agreed on the previous July.
* See below, pp. 136–39.
Apparently the report was not officially approved at the governmental level; yet in spirit if not in letter, its principles served as a guide to aircraft allocation.
The decision was not an easy one to make. It promised to retard further the limping 54-group program, considered our minimum requirement for defense. A narrow view, or one motivated by pessimism concerning England’s change of survival, might have suggested that we arm ourselves first, then extend aid. The situation in the Pacific lent support to such an attitude. The policy actually followed, however, had been described in the President’s “Arsenal of Democracy” radio address of 29 December 1940: “As planes ... are produced, your Government, with its defense experts, can then determine how best to use them to defend this hemisphere. The decision as to how much shall be sent abroad and how much shall remain at home must be made on the basis of our over-all military necessities.”101 The only satisfactory solution lay in the increased production recommended in ABC-2. New estimates, submitted in May by the War Plans Division of the General Staff to satisfy the contingencies anticipated in ABC-2, called for 4,200 planes a month for the AAF and the British, 800 for the U.S. Navy.102 This would total 60,000 aircraft a year, some 10,000 more than the President’s goal which was far from being realized. nevertheless, a new long-term objective and a new principle of collaboration in satisfying munitions requirements were soon to be projected.
On 9 July 1941, President Roosevelt requested the secretaries of War and the Navy to prepare for him an estimate of “over-all production requirements required to defeat our potential enemies,” on the basis of which the Office of Production Management could relate our military needs to the practical realities of production facilities. in compliance, the secretaries presented on 11 September a Joint Board Estimate of United States Over-All Production Requirements. The section dealing with Army air needs had been prepared by the newly created Air War Plans Division, in a document known as AWPD/1. The estimate of forces required for accomplishing the AAF mission was based on a plan to develop first an interim air force with models now in production or in advanced stages of development, and eventually, by 1944, to produce a force including an experimental bomber with a 4,000-mile radius. Requirements included: trainers, 37,051; tactical planes, interim force, 22,676; tactical planes, ultimate force,
26,416; monthly replacements, 2,276. Current procurement schedules used in these estimates listed as on order or on approved programs 72,183 military aircraft, of which 43,320 were for the AAF, 9.457 for Army defense aid (mostly for Britain), and 8,395 for direct British contracts. To attain its own goal of approximately 60,000 planes, the AAF proposed to add to current schedules a fill-in program of 16,437 aircraft.103
The huge forces recommended in AWPD/1 reflected the offensive mission contemplated for the AAF in the new strategic plans. And just as those plans were based on combined Anglo-American operations, so also must plans for the vast munitions program be based on the needs of the two powers and on their combined production potential. Germany’s attack on the U.S.S.R. on 22 June gave England a most valuable ally, but Soviet munitions requirements added to the problems of allocation. Preliminary negotiations with the Soviet military mission began in Washington in early August, and the U.S.S.R. was promised, among other items, forty P-40’s and five B-25’s.104 In September, a combined Anglo-American mission with full powers to formulate a long-term supply program departed for Moscow. The American delegates, en route, stopped over at London and there, with the British War Cabinet and the U.S. special observers, investigated the possibilities of the proposed combined munitions program.
The British had prepared, at the instigation of President Roosevelt, an estimate of munitions requirements similar to that submitted by the Joint Board on 11 September.105 From the information thus provided, the President hoped to have formulated Victory Program for the creation of a huge pool of weapons for the common service of nations opposing the Axis. Between 17 and 20 September, the British and American estimates were examined jointly. Aircraft requirements listed in AWPD/1 were accepted tentatively, subject to deletion of ten medium bombardment and twelve pursuit groups for which designated bases could not be provided. British requirements amounted to 49,385 planes, including first-line strength and wastage for the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, but not trainers or strategic reserve. of these, the British calculated they could build 35,832 July 1943, leaving a deficit of 13,553 to be made up by the United States.106 It was decided in the London conference that the estimates of Soviet needs, when obtained, should be added to these figures and that the resulting totals,
less expected British production, should be referred to the Office of Production Management. British and U.S. military authorities in Washington should then suggest any modifications required by the realities of production potentials and fix the relative priorities of the various types of munitions.107
The Anglo-American mission, proceeding to Moscow, met with Stalin and his staff. On 1 October 1941, the first Soviet protocol was signed by Mr. W. A. Harriman, Lord Beaverbrook, and Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov. The United States and Great Britain each agreed to furnish the Soviet Air Force, in the period ending 30 June 1942, with 1,800 aircraft.108 The U.S. mission had included a number of air officers competent to offer technical advice, but details of the air section of the protocol were elaborated later in the month in Washington by General Arnold and Capt. H.H. Balfour, British Under Secretary of State for Air.109 According to the London agreement, information concerning Soviet needs should have allowed the rapid completion of plans for the so-called Victory Program. There was hardly time in the crowded weeks before Pearl Harbor to coordinate the several estimates with industrial potentials, but those estimates were to form the basis of the Victory Program drawn up in the early days of the war.
Future plans were of small help to the AAF in meeting current needs, now rendered most urgent by growing pessimism over the situation in the Pacific. hence the task of maintaining firm and equitable commitments for short-term allocation of aircraft became progressively more difficult. At the Roosevelt-Churchill conference at sea in mid-August, Generals Marshall and Arnold had made agreements with the British concerning the number of AAF airplanes to be made available through lend-lease.110 On 9 September, General Arnold’s staff produced a new plan, AWPD/2, to cover the period 1 October 1941–30 June 1942. AWPD/2 recommended that the proposed anti-Axis pool receive all aircraft produced under defense aid, all British and other foreign contract planes, and 15 per cent of combat types for the AAF. Out of an estimated total of 14,802 tactical planes, this would give the pool 9,708 (66 per cent) and the AAF 5,0984 (34 per cent). This figure was considered the minimum defense requirement of the AAF; when it had been reached, 30 per cent of the AAF’s orders might be diverted for foreign needs. The pool should be divided according to some such ratio as follows: British Commonwealth,
50 per cent; U.S.S.R., 30 per cent; China, 10 per cent; other nations, 10 per cent.111
President Roosevelt, anxious that as many planes as possible be sent to the British, requested from the Secretary of War an estimate of the number of aircraft, by types, which could be provided the British during each remaining month of the fiscal year. As a basis for calculation, he suggested maintaining the existing agreement until 31 December, thereafter allotting to the British 50 per cent of the total monthly production until 30 June 1942. The estimates which Mr. Stimson presented, following air staff figures, allowed for more than 50 per cent export in some types; but he strongly urged that until minimum defense requirements were met, we reserve heavy bomber production for the AAF. The President agreed that Hawaii and the Philippines should receive their allotted heavy bomber groups but hoped to get some B-17’s or B-24’s for England after February 1942.112
Meanwhile anther proposed allocation scheme had been prepared in London by representative of the U.S. and British staffs. Known informally as the Slessor Agreement, this plan called for a severe curtailment of the 54-group program to a total of 3,516 tactical planes. Production thus released should be made available to the British until such time as the United States might enter the war, when capacity should be divided as the situation demanded.113 Subsequent discussion tentatively raised the allotment to the AAF by 24 per cent, to 4,395 planes, but even this figure was unsatisfactory to the Air Staff. Apparently, the Slessor plan was not approved, and as a practical compromise, AWPD/2 was revised to take cognizance of the most recent production figures and the latest commitments to the U.S.S.R.114 Approved by the Chief of Staff and promulgated by General Arnold on 20 October as a “basis for establishing priorities for the allocation of aircraft,” this schedule made available to the AAF 4,189 tactical planes, 6,634 to Great Britain, 1,835 to the Soviet Union, 407 to China, and 109 to other nations. on 3 December, the War Department set up a rule of thumb to guide lend-lease allocations, ground and air alike. The Soviet protocol was to be maintained as a minimum, with increased supplies being sent as soon as possible. Lend-lease matériel was, in the absence of other qualifying factors, to be divided thus: 40 per cent to the United Kingdom; 40 per cent to the U.S.S.R.; 10 per cent to China; 10 per cent to other powers. Where there were no other commitments,
supplies were to be divided equally between the British and the Soviets.115
Whether stated in specific terms or in percentage, the import of these schedules was the same. on the very eve of war, the AAF was working under an allocation system which made impossible the early achievement of its 54-group program. The principle which since summer of 1940 had favored aid to the Allies over the needs of our own air arm was clear enough; as the Slessor Agreement, put it, allocations of air matériel to the using services should be governed by their respective abilities to “absorb it usefully.” Obviously, the most useful employment of a weapon is in combat, and kin the broad view the policy seemed justified by the time it afforded us. perhaps the policy might have been modified had it been realized earlier that war would come in 1941; efforts to increase heavy bombardment strength in the Pacific seem to suggest this. much of the AAF’s loss to foreign services was in “futures,” but actual diversions and the difficulty of systematic development in the face of constantly fluctuating allotments help explain its far-from-perfect preparedness on M-day. War was to bring no easy solution to the problems of aid to the Allies, but it was to bring a sharp revision in aircraft allocation schedules.
Not least important of our defense measures was the formulation of strategic and operational plans. This activity was intimately associated with the other phases of our preparations for war, and like them was profoundly influenced by events in Europe and Asia. Again the summer of 1940 may be viewed as a turning point in our national policies. The planners were concerned only with the mission of the U.S. Army and Navy, but they had to assume potential allies as well as potential enemies. Until the spring of 1940, we could be confident that, in a war against the Axis, we would enjoy powerful support from the British and French; after Dunkirk, the prospect was less sanguine. Germany and Italy controlled, as conquered territory or as satellite states, much of Europe; Spain was friendly to the Axis, the U.S.S.R. bound by nonaggression treaties. The Tripartite Pact, signed at Berlin on 27 September 1940, which brought Japan into the Axis gave official notice of an alliance already suspected. In view of the collapse of
France and the apparent vulnerability of England, realism demanded that the American staffs lay plans for a war in which we might face a hostile world alone except for the help of Canada and Latin America.
It was this danger which had led our administration to lend material aid to Great Britain and to undertake with that nation mutual measures for defense of the Western Hemisphere. Simultaneously there was a growing rapprochement between the military establishments of the two powers, manifested in an exchange of military intelligence and more significantly in new war plans, jointly conceived by American and British officers. Begun in 1940, these plans were perfected in the following year. There was nothing novel in the fact that the war plans divisions of the U.S. armed services should be, in peace, prepare for war. But the plans drafted in 1941 went beyond the academic exercises of earlier years. Assuming a military cooperation with Britain and other nations already at war with Axis, the planners worked in close and frequent coordination with the British staffs. For obvious security reasons, the mutual plans were not treated so frankly as were other preparations for the war which seemed imminent, though in 1941, occasional public statements by the President and the Prime Minister, and less intentional disclosures through leaks to the press, gave some indication of the close rapport between the military leaders of the two nations. Political opponents of the administration were proclaiming the existence of “secret agreements,” but at the staff level, at least, there was due regard for legal limitations: no military alliances were made which would commit the United States to war; the plans only recited what should be done “if” this country should enter the conflict. In the nature of their task, the planners were not so stringently bound by the time factor as were those responsible for other defense measures. And so ,though strategic planning was carried on, as it were, in the subjunctive mood, the broad pattern of military strategy evolved in 1941 was to serve after Pearl Harbor without radical modification as a workable basis for Anglo-American collaboration.
The first systematic statement of common strategic principles was arrived at early in 1941. A series of conversations, beginning on 29 January, was held in Washington between a U.S. staff committee and a delegation representing the British chiefs of staff. The final report which they submitted on 27 March is usually known by its short title, ABC-1.116 The purposes of the conversations, as outlined in the directive, were: to determine the best means whereby the United States and
the British Commonwealth might defeat Germany and her allies “should the United States be compelled to resort to war’: to coordinate broadly plans for employment of forces, and to reach agreements for military cooperation, including the delineation of areas of responsibility, the principles of command, and the forces to be involved. in respect to matériel, the planners agreed that the United States would continue aid to Britain and other Axis opponents, reserving such supplies as were necessary for the United States and its associates.
Basic to all military considerations was the assumption that an American war with Germany would involve Italy certainly and probably Japan. Strategy then had to be conceived on a world-wide pattern. Within this framework, defensive policies stemmed from the fact that the great sources of strength of the associated powers – in manpower and productive capacity – were located in the United States and in England. Hence, the United States must deploy its forces so as to insure the absolute security of the Western Hemisphere, while the chief concern of the British should be for the United Kingdom. To preserve also the ultimate safety of the British Commonwealth, it would be necessary to maintain a strong position in the Near East, India, and the Far East. Sea communications, upon which logistical support of these widely scattered regions depended, must be the concern of both powers.
Offensive strategy was based on the belief that since Germany was the predominant member of the Axis, “the Atlantic and European area is considered to be the decisive theatre.” Hence, the main United States (and British) effort was to be exerted in that theater, and operations elsewhere would be conducted in such fashion as would facilitate that effort. Accordingly, the United States would not increase its existing military strength in the Far East, but would depend largely on the U.S. Pacific Fleet to weaken the Japanese economy and indirectly to support the Malay barrier by diverting Japanese strength from Malaysia.
The long-term pattern of offensive action against Germany was described. Measures were to include: economic pressure by blockade and other means; “a sustained air offensive against German Military Power, supplemented by air offensives against other regions under enemy control which contribute to that power;” early elimination of Italy; raids and minor offensives against the continent; support of all neutrals and belligerents who opposed the Axis; the build-up of forces
for an eventual land offensive against Germany; and capture of positions from which eventually the offensive could be launched.
The mission of the several services was described in most general terms. In respect to aviation, it would be the policy of the associated powers to achieve as rapidly as possible “superiority of air strength over the enemy, particularly in long-range striking forces.” The Air Corps was to support ground and naval forces in defense of the Western Hemisphere and of U.S. overseas possessions and bases, and in operations in the Atlantic area. of special significance, “U.S. Army air bombardment units [would] operate offensively in collaboration with the Royal Air Force, primarily against German Military Power at its source.”
To insure sound direction of the united effort, two principles of command were accepted: unity of command within each theater, and integrity of national forces. The danger zones of the world were divided into “areas” and the United States or Britain was charged with the strategic direction of all forces of the associated powers operating whiten each of those areas. Forces of either power operating under strategic direction of the other were not to be distributed in detail or attached to the ally’s units, but were normally to function as organized task forces performing specific missions. In joint tactical operations, that officer of either power who was senior in rank or grade would command.
The allocation of areas of responsibility was dictated largely by the predominant interests of the respective powers – that is, the eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and Near East areas went to the British, the western Atlantic and the pacific to the United States. Arrangements for the Far East, in which the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands each had vital interests, did not conform to this general pattern. There, command of naval forces was divided between the commanders in chief of the British China Fleet and the U.S. Asiatic Fleet; army ground and air forces in each territory were to operate under their own commanders, with such coordination as might be effected in the theater.
An annex to the report117 listed, buy areas, the forces to be made available for deployment by both powers and the general mission therein of each of the services. Deployment estimates were not uniformly precise, being usually based on calculated strengths as of 1 April 1941, but in some cases being projected into the future. Air
Corps units, for instance, were figured on the basis of the incipient 54-group program. In harmony with the general strategy advocated, U.S. air forces in the Pacific and Far East were held to a minimum, with the bulk of the available units concentrated in the Western Hemisphere and the offensive striking force set up for the bombardment of Germany from English bases. For this task, it was estimated that thirty-two squadrons of bombers and pursuits could be sent in 1941, with a further strength to be added as resources allowed.
To insure an effective collaboration in the political and military direction of the war effort, the report recommended the exchange of military missions which would represent the chiefs of staff of the respective powers. Provisions should be made also for a joint planning staff, for a joint transport service, and for he prompt exchange of military intelligence.
In retrospect, ABC-1 appears as one of the most important military documents of the war. The staff committees, in drafting it, were careful to emphasize the obvious fact that tentative agreements reached therein constituted no political commitments, and that the acceptance of their recommendations for joint action if the United States should enter the war would require the approval both of their respective government and chiefs of staff. When war did come, the over-all strategy adopted was, in spite of the crisis occasioned by initial Japanese successes, essentially that of ABC-1, and the joint machinery which was set up for coordinating Anglo-American endeavors was patterned on that suggested therein. And months before Pearl Harbor, the acceptance of ABC-1 by the U.S. chiefs of staff made it possible to utilize that report as the basis for more detailed logistical and operational planning.118
Since autumn of 1939, the War Plans Division of the General Staff had been working on five basic war plans for possible use against our potential enemies.119 Each plan, bearing the generic code name RAINBOW and its own numeral designation, assumed a different situation and course of action in regard to the Atlantic and Pacific areas. RAINBOW No. 5, which contemplated an offensive in the Atlantic-European areas and a strategic defense against Japan in the Pacific, fitted most accurately the strategy outlined in the United States-British staff conversation; consequently, that plan was developed in detail in the spring of 1941, and by the end of April the Joint Army and navy Basic War Plan RAINBOW No. 5 had been
completed; the specific role of the Army was described in a War Department operations plan and a concentration plan.120
Insofar as general concepts were concerned, RAINBOW No. 5 accepted all the major theses of ABC-1; that is, the assumptions, the over-all strategy, and the principles governing strategic direction and theater command were identical. In essence, RAINBOW No. 5 constituted a more detailed plan for the accomplishment of the tasks assigned to the United States in the staff conversations. For the Army, M-day would be designated only by direction of the Secretary of War, though certain tasks of a precautionary nature might precede M-day or any formal declaration of war.
The plan designated the coastal frontiers and defense commands to be activated on M-day within areas of U.S. strategic direction, and the areas to be occupied in Europe. For each command, the mission of the Army (including air forces) and the Navy was described, and a detailed breakdown was given, by specific units, forces allocated.
Most Army forces available for M-day were to be deployed either in Western Hemisphere defense commands or in the Hawaiian and Philippine coastal frontiers, with strictly defensive missions. The only exception was in the European theater, and even there, where the United States was to exert its principal effort, initial operations were to be preponderantly naval (protection of shipping) and aerial (bombardment of Germany). Hence, the Army forces set up for early deployment in that theater were not large: pursuit units and ground forces for the defense of U.S. base areas in the United Kingdom and for relief of British troops in Iceland and Ireland; a token force (ground) to aid in defense of England; and the bombardment force for the air attack on Germany.
In addition to these forces assigned for deployment before or on M-day, both a strategic and a general reserve were established. It was understood that even for defensive purposes certain tactical offensives of a precautionary nature might be required – the President, for example, was publicly declaring our disinclination to allow Hitler to seize certain strategic spots in the Atlantic.121 Hence the strategic reserve was set up in increments with those tasks in mind: a 25 M Force (that is, a force to be brought into existence on M-day plus 25) to aid Marines in occupying Dakar or Freetown, or in defending the Azores, Cape Verde, or Canary Islands against possible Nazi aggression;
a 45 M Force to prevent enemy seizure of the west coast of South America; a 90 M Force to serve in like fashion for northeast Brazil; and a 180 M Force to serve for the protection of other areas in Latin America or to prepare for the eventual offensive in Europe. The air units assigned to these forces were wholly inadequate by any standards, though some provision was made for reinforcement by units from the general reserve.
The general reserve included all Air Corps units not otherwise assigned, and the air mission included aid in defense of the Western Hemisphere, support of naval forces in maintaining sea communications, and attacks on enemy shipping within range. The Chief, AAF was to be charged with the organization, planning, training, and execution of active air defense measures for the continental United States, under War Department GHQ; and for preparation of plans, in conjunction with the commander concerned, for movement of air echelons of the several task forces.
RAINBOW No. 5 was approved by the Joint Board on 14 May and within three weeks by the secretaries of War and the Navy.122 During the next six months, no change was effected in the basic principles of the plan, but in view of developments in the international situation and in U.S. forces available, modifications in detail were necessary. On 19 November the Joint Board approved Revision No. 1 to the Basic Plan.123 This provided for the reinforcement of air units in the Far East and for some changes in the command arrangements in that area, and it established a more substantial initial increment for the air force in the United Kingdom. Actually, the Air Staff had never approved of the method followed in RAINBOW No. 5.124 The plan was based on an “M plus” time schedule which might have been satisfactory for mobilizing and committing an air force in being. But in view of the current inadequate strength of the AAF and the impossibility of predicting its status on an M-day which would probably be determined by the enemy, any but minimum commitments for air necessarily remained highly unrealistic.
Approval of RAINBOW No. 5 by the two secretaries confirmed the strategic principles advocated earlier in the staff conversations, but a discussion of the problems involved was reopened at the governmental level in mid-August at the Atlantic conference between the President and the Prime Minister. According to the President, plans for such a meeting had been under consideration as early as February –
that is, while lend-lease was being debated and while the staff conversations were in progress.125 – and they were brought to fruition in a conference on board HMS Prince of Wales in the Atlantic of Argentia, Newfoundland. The only official document published after the meeting, the so-called Atlantic Charter of 14 August, was political rather than military in nature.126 The signatories were frank enough in their denunciation of the “Hitlerite government” and in their faith in the “final destruction of the Nazi tyranny,” and they made passing allusion to “steps which their countries are respectively taking for their safety” in the face of Nazi aggression. There was no overt reference to joint Anglo-American military operations, though there was pointed reference to the attendance of “high-ranking officers of their military, naval, and air services.” The President on his return identified in a press conference the members of the U.S. delegation, which included the chiefs of staff, General Arnold, and the heads of the service war planning agencies.127 Even in the absence of a fuller report on the conference, it was obvious to any literate citizen that those officers had not boarded the Prince of Wales to discuss the Four Freedoms.
After the return of the President and his party, the problems of joint strategy were examined by the military staffs, both in discussion of ABC-1 and of a new review of general strategy presented in a paper by the three British chiefs of staff on 11 August.128 This consisted of a concise appreciation of the current situation in the several areas of actual and threatened conflict and an analysis of present and future strategy; its outlook was, properly, British rather than joint.
Between the drafting of ABC-1 and the presentation of this review, a new factor of extraordinary importance had occurred in the attack on the U.S.S.R. by Hitler. Initial German victories did not excite too much optimism for Soviet success, but Germany’s preoccupation with a major eastern front at least precluded any chance of an invasion of England in 1941. Whether the new situation brought any radical change in British thinking or, indeed, whether the review was anything more than an elaboration of views expressed in ABC-1 is not clear, but to the U.S. chiefs of staff it seemed that the strategic summary now presented departed somewhat from the principles earlier agreed upon.
The British started with the familiar assumption that Germany was too strong to attack frontally without a preliminary undermining of
the foundations of the war machine and national morale. This they proposed to accomplish by blockade, subversive activities and propaganda, and aerial bombardment. The bomber offensive should be carried out on a scale far beyond any previous attempts – should be limited, in fact, only by the number of aircraft which could operate from the United Kingdom airfields – and to that end the production of heavy bombers should be given highest priority once the needs of defensive security had been met. By concentrated bombardment of transportation centers and the industrial areas surrounding them, it was thought that cumulative efforts would seriously weaken the German ability and will to resist.
In fact, it seemed possible that these methods alone might induce Germany to sue for peace and that the role of the British army could be limited to that of an army of occupation. Nevertheless, a land army should be prepared to invade the continent and Germany itself. The British chiefs of staff did not envisage the use of the vast numbers of infantrymen used in 1914–18. Rather, the invading force would be made up largely of armored divisions, which would in a war of movement liberate one area after another, turning each over in turn to local patriots who had been secretly armed in advance. The British were not willing to say this task could not be done without active American participation (though men like Wavell and Auchinleck were publicly saying just that,)129 but certainly the process would be accelerated if “the American bomber effort would increasingly swell the air offensive against Germany and in the final phase American armoured forces would participate.”
Whatever the immediate reaction of the U.S. leaders may have been, their formal reply, requested by the British and submitted in a memorandum of 25 September,130 indicates that they interpreted the review as diverging significantly from the strategy advocated in ABC-1 for the defeat of Germany. They professed an adherence to the list of offensive means prescribed by that document, whether America entered the war or not, and they felt that the objectives described in the review were lacking in precision. They gave an itemized comment, paragraph by paragraph, but their most important criticism was centered on two general points. First, they took exception to the bombing objectives, decrying the apparent emphasis on attack upon civilian morale. Second, they believed that too much faith was placed in the “probability of success solely through the employment of
bombing offensive,” whereas “dependence cannot be placed on winning important wars by naval and air forces alone;” and that in consequence too little attention had been given to the build-up of large ground forces which would be needed completely to defeat the German war machine. In substance, the Joint Board was not inclined to believe that American entrance into the war, with initial cooperation limited to air and naval action, would insure an early victory, and it was convinced that over-all strategy should adhere more closely to that described in ABC-1.
These comments were forwarded to the U.S. Army and navy special observers at London for presentation to the British chiefs of staff.131 The memorandum was discussed in a meeting of the special observers and the British Joint Planning Staff on 21 November.132 The British felt that their review had been misunderstood, probably because its brevity had made impossible a clear delineation of their objectives. They gave a reasoned explanation of what they meant by morale bombardment and of their choice of target objectives. Their emphasis on the bomber offensive did not preclude a final land offensive; but they had been studying the problems of landing operations and had found many difficulties, and they expressed interest in American views on the detailed aspects of such an operation.
The early outbreak of the war postponed the American reply, though the implied differences in outlook were to be debated on more than one occasion later. There was in the British concept of strategy perhaps no clear-cut break with the principles of ABC-1, rather a difference of emphasis,, with the British showing a tendency to subordinate serious long-term planning for a large-scale invasion to more immediate and less direct modes of attack. But if the British dictum that it was “impossible to over-emphasize the importance of the bomber offensive as a part of our offensive strategy” was perhaps a stronger statement than the Joint Board could subscribe to, it was a point of view which could be regarded somewhat more sympathetically by the Air Staff. Actually, although both ABC-1 and RAINBOW No. 5 had scheduled the air attack from England as the earliest American offensive action, neither plan had contained any detailed statement of how that mission should be accomplished. Such a statement was given in a AAF plan drawn up just on the eve of the Atlantic conference, and in concept it did not differ greatly from the British point of view.
In an earlier context,* reference was made to the Joint Board Estimate of United States Over-All Production Requirements of 11 September 1941. President Roosevelt’s request for the report had been motivated wholly by considerations of logistics. But the joint Board had rightly deemed it impracticable to arrive at any realistic figures on forces and munitions needed for total war without a previous agreement as to national military policy. Consequently, the document when presented contained four parts: a report by the board on the strategy best calculated to defeat the enemy, and separate estimates by the Army, the Navy, and the Army Air Forces of their respective needs in personnel and matériel.
In its judgments concerning the enemy’s capabilities and in its analysis of our own strategy, the Joint Board followed the general tenor of ABC-1. In spite of the entrance of the U.S.S.R. into the war, the board was convinced that Germany and her allies could not be defeated by the powers now resisting them. Hence to insure that defeat, it would “be necessary for the United States to enter the war, and to employ a part of its armed forces in the Eastern Atlantic and in Europe or Africa.” The services were not, however, in whole-hearted agreement as to how those forces should be applied. The U.S. navy considered that “since the principal strength of the Associated Powers is at present in naval and air categories, the strategy which they should adopt should be based on the effective employment of these forces, and the employment of land forces in regions where Germany cannot exert the full power of her land armies.”133 To fulfill its mission, the Navy asked for 1,100,000 men plus 150,000 for the Marine Corps and a fleet built around 32 battleships and 24 carriers.134 The Army believed that “the foregoing strategy may not accomplish the defeat of Germany and that it may be necessary to come to grips with the German armies on the continent of Europe.”135 It was on the basis of this concept of strategy that the Army made its estimate of personnel (6,745,658 exclusive of the AAF) and matériel.136
In respect to the proper strategy, the Army air arm took a position somewhat between these divergent views, but with decided implications of its own. The AAF entered a plea for 2,164,916 men and some 60,000 combat planes;137 and to justify so large a request, they presented an operational plan much fuller in detail and more elaborately
* See above, pp. 131–32.
supported by charts and tables than those of the older services. That the AAF made a separate report was most unusual; it was also highly significant.
Within the War Department, responsibility for giving effect to the President’s directive, in respect both to the Army’s ground and air arms, devolved upon the War Plans Division. Late in July, Lt. Col. Clayton L. Bissell, an air officer in that division, consulted with General Arnold on the best method of determining the Army’s aviation needs. It was indicative of the temper of the AAF that, in spite of its limited autonomy under AR 95–5 of 20 June 1941, a decision was reached to allow the newly formed Air War Plans Division to prepare the estimate independently as an Air Staff agency rather than as individuals subordinate to the General Staff’s WPD. And AWPD was not as unprepared for the task as might be expected in view of its extreme youth. It included a number of officers, previously associated with the Air Corps Tactical School, who were deeply imbued with the potentialities of air power. one of these, Maj. Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., had accumulated target information in the intelligence section of the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps and had just returned from England with fresh data and a familiarity with RAF experience. Actual authorship of a military document is seldom known. A number of officers from the several staff agencies of the AAF, including the OCAC, contributed information which went into AWPD/1. But the document was put together by a committee consisting of Col. Harold L. George, division chief, Lt. Col. Kenneth N. Walker, and Majs. Laurence S. Kuter and Haywood S. Hansell, and apparently these airmen were chiefly responsible for the strategic concepts.138
Work on the plan began on 4 August; completed on the 11th, it was accepted by G-3 after an oral presentation and drawn up in final form the following day. Subsequently, it was approved by WPD, General Arnold, General Marshall, Mr. Lovett, and Mr. Stimson, and was included in the Joint Board’s report of 11 September.139 Perhaps its ready acceptance was partly due to the pressure of time in meeting the President’s directive, for irrespective of the intrinsic merits of AWPD/1, the views expressed therein were not wholly consistent with those of the War Department. Tacitly, though not legally, the
* See above, p. 115.
AAF staff had assumed no this occasion a position of equality with those of the older arms.
The air planners, in framing AWPD/1, explicitly accepted the general principles of ABC-1 and the specific allocation of tasks in RAINBOW No. 5. Under these guides the Army air mission was conceived as entailing three tasks: to conduct air operations in defense of the Western Hemisphere; to assist in the strategic defense in the Pacific; and to wage an unremitting air offensive against Germany and lands occupied by its forces – including, if necessary, the support of a final invasion of the continent. The time schedule was somewhat complicated. The war was viewed as consisting of three phases: (1) the period until M-day, characterized by rapid expansion of forces and production, while measures short of war were being continued; (2) M-day until completion of preparations, characterized by a strategic defensive against Japan and a mounting weight of attack against Germany; and (3) the all-out attack on Europe. It was assumed that the air offensive in Europe could be initiated in April 1942, but that productive capacity and training would not support the all-out offensive until April 1944. Consequently allocation of air units was calculated in terms of an interim program and of an ultimate force which included aircraft models as yet in the early experimental stage.140
To furnish air defense for the Western Hemisphere and for our overseas possessions, a force of twenty-three bombardment and thirty-one pursuit groups (each of the latter including three day and one night interceptor squadrons) was planned. These forces were designated for specific bases in the continental United States; in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Alaska; and in South America, the Caribbean, the Canal Zone, and the northeast area of North America. On the assumption that the air offensive against Germany would minimize the danger of an attack from that direction, these forces were in general oriented toward Japan, and provision was made to transfer six pursuit groups to Europe for the final offensive.141
It is obvious that aircraft based in Alaska, Hawaii, and even on the West Coast would contribute toward the strategic defensive against Japan, and that beyond that the major responsibility would fall to the Navy. But because of the importance of the Philippines in light of the stiffening of U.S. policies in the Far East, it was proposed to add to the air forces in those islands one pursuit and two heavy
bomber groups, and eventually to base two groups of very long-range bombers in Alaska.
It is apparent, however, that the air planners were less interested in the problems of the defensive in the Americas or the Pacific than in the war in Europe. The basic feature of their plan lay “in the application of air power for the breakdown of the industrial and economic structure of Germany.” This involved “the selection of a system of objectives vital to continued German war effort, and to the means of livelihood of the German people, and tenaciously concentrating all bombing toward destruction of those objectives. The objectives were predominantly precision targets, and it was not intended to resort to area bombing of civilian concentrations until German morale began to crack.142
The main target objectives should be the electric power grid in Germany, the transportation network (rail, inland water, and highway), and the oil and petroleum industry – whit final attacks on urban areas. It was accepted that this program might not be accomplished without some serious diversions. As an “intermediate objective” prerequisite to successful long-range bombardment operations, it would be necessary to neutralize the German Air Force by attacking its bases, the aircraft factories which nourished it, and the light metals industries upon which those factories depended. And to protect the security of bases and the sea lanes which connected them with American production centers, it might be necessary to attack submarine bases, surface craft, and “invasion” bases on the continent.143
To calculate the force required to accomplish these missions, estimates were made as to the number of individual targets which must be destroyed to disrupt each of the target systems enumerated, as to the bomb weight required for each, as to the total bomb lift required according to computed coefficients of aiming errors under combat conditions, and finally, as to the number of planes required to deliver that total bomb load within the accepted time schedule.144 The resultant requirements, in terms of tactical groups, were: medium bombers (B-25, B-26) – 10; heavy bombers (B-17, B-24) – 20; [very] heavy bombers (B-29, B-32) – 24; VLR heavy bombers (40-mile-radius types) – 44; in all, a total of 98 groups, with 6,834 aircraft. it was expected that these planes, other than the 4,000-mile-radius type, would be based in the United Kingdom and the Suez region; and that since the latter type would not be available before 1944, an interim
program utilizing duplicate bombardment crews for the other types should be initiated in 1943. For protection of the air bases, 10 pursuit groups were to be located in the United Kingdom, 6 in the Near East. To avoid over-congestion in those areas, the 4,000-mile-radius planes, when available, would be based elsewhere, as in Newfoundland, Greenland, Africa, or India.
The success of the whole program was predicated upon the ability of American bombers to conduct daylight missions far into Europe. In spite of earlier German and English experience, it was concluded that “by employing large numbers of aircraft with high speed, good defensive fire power, and high altitude,” it would be feasible to make deep penetrations into Germany by day. But to guard against expected improvements in German fighter defense, it was suggested that experiments be begun immediately to develop a heavily armed and armored escort fighter with long-range capacity.145
The planners considered it improbable that a large-scale invasion of Europe could be made before spring of 1944, which would coincide with the climax of the bomber attack, and they believed that “if the air offensive is successful, a land offensive may not be necessary.” Complete victory through air power alone, however, could not be assured, and provision was made for close support of ground forces in that assault. The tactical air force should include 13 groups each of light bombers (A-20) and dive bombers, 2 photo reconnaissance groups, 108 observation squadrons, and 19 transport groups.146 Pursuit units would include 5 groups set up as reserve for the British Isles and such of the interceptor units there as might be spared.
Separate provisions were included for aircraft for training and for the transport of air matériel.147 Estimates were made for the requirement in pilots (103,482) and in total personnel (2,164,916),148 and some general statements were given as to the methods of training.
The President in his directive had stated that he was “not suggesting a detailed report,” but the air planners had, in effect, drawn up a blueprint for the approaching war. From the vantage point of the present it is easy to find flaws in this plan. Actual experience in the war showed that the forces allocated for strategic defense in the Pacific were inadequate, those for hemisphere defense too abundant. The qualified faith tin the ability of air power alone to conquer Germany proved ungrounded, and the force scheduled for support of the invasion was weak in fighters. But viewed solely as a program for the
strategic bombardment of Germany, AWPD/1 was on the whole a remarkable document. True, neither the B-29, B-32, or longer-range models were utilized, but in other major respects the pattern set in 1941 was sound. The timing was most accurate. The tactics advocated did prove feasible once the escort fighter was developed. The selection of target objectives was almost identical with that suggested by the postwar analysis of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey149 – which is to say that, if the analysis was well founded, the program suggested in 1941 was more realistic than that which was later followed.
The several plans which have been described and the meeting sin which they were discussed were accorded a secret classification, but security was less than perfect. Newspaper versions of the President’s confidential report to administration leaders on the Atlantic conference were followed in November by scattered references to the Victory Program which gave evidence of further leaks.150 On 4 December, a summary of the Joint Board Estimate, with verbatim extracts, was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune and other newspapers. Congressional critics of the administration, on the very eve of Pearl Harbor, registered protest against this “secret war plan,” now no more secrete than any other item emblazoned in headlines and entombed in the Congressional Record. Regardless of the political issues with which these plans were involved, from the military point of view there is hardly room for debate. it was not American tradition to enter a war with a carefully conceived strategic concept. For once, in this respect, the nation was prepared.
But as General Arnold later put it, “we had plans but not planes.” AWPD/1 could be rushed through in a week of frenzied work by a handful of staff officers; it would take a nation at arms several to produce the aircraft and crews, the bases and technicians called for in the plan. In the summer of 1941, there seems to have been an impression among some of the military that war would not come until the following spring. in such case our preparations, still far from perfect, would have been more nearly adequate than they were when the Japanese struck suddenly on that Sunday morning in December. Yet in spite of the time element, the defense measures which had been taken since the beginning of 1939 allowed us to absorb our initial losses and to begin, within less than a year, a limited offensive.