Chapter 9: The Early Development of Air Transport and Ferrying
A factor underlying and shaping American strategy from the very first in World War II was the great distance separating each of the active theaters of war from the main source of supply in the United States. In establishing overseas lines of supply, the armed forces had of necessity to rely most heavily on water transport. There was no other possible means of moving the bulk of the military forces and the enormous tonnages required to support large-scale operations so far from the home base. But the very nature of the war, and especially the urgent demands for a speedy reinforcement of our outposts during the first months of hostilities, made it imperative that a system of air supply e developed, supplementary to the older and slower methods of surface transport. The fastest and most economical method of moving combat aircraft from the factory to the front – which might be 10,000 to 15,000 miles away – was to ferry them under their own power. To keep them in battle at their highest efficiency, an air transport service for the rapid delivery of spare engines and parts, auxiliary equipment of all kinds, flight crews, and ground personnel was an absolute necessity. This, in the simplest terms, was the primary purpose of the long-range military air transportation system developed by the Army Air Forces, although it was put to many other uses during the course of the war.1
The combined strategy devised by the British and American staff at the Washington conference of December 1941 had embodied, in addition to a long-range plan of action, certain immediate objectives to be attained in 1942. These were first, to make secure important areas of war production likely to be attacked, and second, to provide for the security of the principal sea routes and seven main air routes over
which men and supplies could be moved to the battlefronts.2 While the conference was still in session it had become clear that the Philippines could not be held, principally because the Japanese had cut the only sea and air lanes over which available reinforcements, such as they were, could reach MacArthur. By the end of February 1942, the air connection between India and Australia was also cut, although some heavy bombers and other reinforcements from the United States were able to get through before the Japanese captured Singapore and overran the Netherlands East Indies. The Australia-Philippines and the Australia–India air routes, included in the seven declared to be of the highest strategic importance, were thus lost in the first shock of the Japanese attack. Fortunately for the Allies, the five remaining major routes were held. Each of the five had its beginning within the continental United States and reached out from the main arsenal of the United Nations to one or more of the major theaters of war: (1) the northeastern route, earliest to be developed for military purposes, provided an air connection with Great Britain; (2) the northwest route, with Alaska and the Russian front by way of Siberia; (3) the South Pacific route, with Australia and the western Pacific islands; (4) the southeastern route, with Africa, the Middle East, India, China, and, for a brief time, the Southwest Pacific area; and (5) the mid-Atlantic route, with Europe and North Africa by way of the Azores. While this fifth trunk route was not opened until late 1943, the United States and Great Britain were at all times prepared to occupy the Azores had the security and future use of the route been threatened by the Axis.
During the early period of American participation in the war the southeastern route to Africa and beyond assumed an importance far surpassing that of any of the others.3 In contrast to the slowness with which the North Atlantic route, a well as the newly developed South Pacific and Alaskan routes, came in to use during the months following 7 December, the South Atlantic airway was forced at once to support a heavy volume of air traffic that strained its facilities and personnel to the limit. Lend-lease aircraft and supplies were sent over the route to the British forces in Egypt and the Russians through Iran, with a smaller volume going via India into China. The earliest heavy bomber reinforcements sent to the American air forces in the Southwest Pacific following the Japanese attack were moved over the route, as were most of the aircraft and crews that would form the nuclei of the Ninth
Air Force in the Middle East and the Tenth Air Force in India. Fighter aircraft for the Ninth and Tenth Air Forces and for the American Volunteer Group in China were shipped by water to the west coast of Africa and were then ferried overland to their destinations. And, while ferrying operations were increasing steadily, and air transport service in support of both ferrying and combat operations was enlarged and extended.
The ferrying service and the air transport service developed by the AAF in World War II operated over the same routes, used the same bases, and were interdependent to such a degree that control was lodged in a single military agency. Known originally as the Air Corps Ferrying Command, it became the Air Transport Command in June 1942.
The Air Corps Ferrying Command
The Air Corps Ferrying Command had its origins in 1941 in an attempt to assist the British in the delivery of American-built aircraft to England. The British had pointed the way toward development of long-range strategic air supply services by establishing early in the war air supply lines from North America to the United Kingdom and from the home bases to the Middle East.* In November 1940 a Canadian civilian agency under contract with the British government began the ferrying of American-built bombers across the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Scotland, a distance of approximately 2,100 miles. This was the first step in the spanning of the North Atlantic with an aerial supply bridge, comparable as a development in military supply to the first use of the railroad as a logistical instrument in the wars of the nineteenth century. The hazardous route across the North Atlantic constituted, however, only one segment of a long supply line that reached from the factories of southern California to the airfields of Britain. The bombers, purchased for cash from American manufacturers prior to the passage of the Lend-Lease Act, were first ferried by factory-employed pilots from California to Montreal. There they were turned over to the civilian pilots of the British Atlantic
* Before the war, Germany and the U.S.S.R. had led in experimenting with the use of military air transport in the deployment of airborne troops; and during the early period of the war, particularly in the invasion of Norway and later of Crete, Germany proved the tactical effectiveness of the transport airplane. But neither of these countries had envisaged, nor were they under a real necessity to develop under war conditions, the type of long-range strategic air supply services which the United States and Great Britain were to employ so effectively.
ferrying organization for the flight to Scotland. By ferrying these bombers under their own power, vital shipping space was saved and factory-to-combat deliver time was cut from approximately three months to less than ten days.4
The British ferrying service was well under way when the Lend-Lease Act became law on 11 March 1941. Improving weather conditions in the spring of 1941 and increasing aircraft production made possible a speedup in trans-Atlantic deliveries, but the Atlantic ferrying organization, or ATFERO as it became known when taken over directly by the British Ministry of Aircraft Production, experienced considerable difficulty in recruiting a sufficient number of pilots and other crew members to maintain schedules. The War Department at the time was attempting, not too successfully, to assist the British in employing additional pilots in the United States,5 and the British themselves were forced to withdraw some pilots from combat units for ferrying duty. A solution to the problem was made possible by the Lend-Lease Act. On 21 April, General Arnold wired from London, where he was then conferring with British officials as to means of extending aid, proposing that the United States Army Air Corps take over responsibility for the ferrying of British aircraft from the factories to Montreal. Two major ends to be achieved were set forth in the message. American military pilots would be able to acquire highly useful training in flying the latest types of combat aircraft; and civilian pilots then employed by the factories would be released for service with ATFERO in delivering the aircraft across the Atlantic.6 Hard pressed for pilots, the British received General Arnold’s proposal with enthusiasm and readily consented to give official sanction to American use of British-owned aircraft for training purposes within the United States.7
In the source of discussion between representatives of the two countries during the month that followed, consideration was given to a plan favored by the War Department by which the United States would take over control of the whole ferrying operation from the factories to Britain. But to certain features of the plan Brig. Gen. Carl Spaatz, then on the staff of the Chief of the Air Corps, raised objections which seemed convincing.8 President Roosevelt decided to adopt the more modest proposal of General Arnold of 21 April and to leave to the British the job of flying the aircraft across the Atlantic. On 28 May the President directed the Secretary of War to take full responsibility
for delivering to the point of ultimate take-off those planes, other than PBY flying boats, that were to be flown to England. Fully aware of the need for haste, he expressed the desire “to cut through all the formalities that are not legally prohibitive and help the British get this job done with dispatch.”9
The job of delivering the aircraft was given to a new agency, the Air Corps Ferrying Command, created specifically for the purpose. On 29 May 1941, Col. Robert Olds of the Plans Division, Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, received verbal order to organize the ferrying service.10 A week later, on 5 June, the Air Corps Ferrying Command was officially constituted as of 29 May.11 The mission of the new command was, first, “to move aircraft by air from factories to such terminals as may be designated by the Chief of the Air Corps,” and second, “to maintain such special air ferry service [i.e., air transport service] as may be required to meet specific situations.”12 These were broad powers, and working within them the Ferrying Command eventually expanded far beyond the limits imagined by those responsible for its creation. The second assignment provided specific authority for the establishment of a military air transport service over the North Atlantic between Washington and the United Kingdom, a project which had been under consideration for some months.13
For crews to do the cross-country ferrying work, once the factory pilots were replaced in mid-July, the Ferrying Command relied initially on two-engine and single-engine pilots detailed from the Air Force Combat Command for thirty- to ninety-day tours of temporary duty. More highly qualified four-engine pilots of the Combat Command, as well as navigators and other crew members, were borrowed to fly the trans-Atlantic transport shuttle. In the summer and fall of 1941 approximately 200 pilots were trained at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, especially for ferrying duty, although they were assigned to the Combat Command and served, as did the others, on temporary-duty status with the Ferrying Command.14
During the six months between 6 June 1941, when the Ferrying Command assumed nominal control over deliveries to the British, and the Pearl Harbor attack, approximately 1,350 aircraft were ferried to points of transfer, nearly all by pilots of the Air Corps. Over 90 per cent of these deliveries were made from West Coast factories to the British in Canada or at points on the Atlantic seaboard. Two types of the latest twin-engine attack bombers – Bostons (DB-7’s, the British
version of the A-20A) and Hudsons (A-29’s) – were the most numerous, but a large number of AT-6 Harvard trainers were flown to RAF training fields in Canada. Most of the Bostons were flown to the Floyd Bennett Airport, New York, for water shipment to Britain, while some were shipped out of New Orleans and Savannah. The majority of the Hudsons were delivered at Montreal to the RAF Ferry Command, which had been created in July 1941 to take over the work of ATFERO, and were flown from there to Newfoundland and across the Atlantic to Scotland. Some sixty Liberator bombers were also turned over the RAF at Montreal.15
During the fall of 1941 the Ferrying Command had assumed an additional responsibility for delivery of some of the AAF’s own planes from factory to stations within the United States.16 These deliveries were relatively few in proportion to the while, however, and until 7 December the primary task of the command remained that of assisting in the movement of British aircraft to Canada or to eastern ports for shipment to England. But after Pearl Harbor the domestic ferrying of American aircraft quickly became a major function of the command, and one, in time, of such huge proportions that the AAF had reason to congratulate itself on the possession of an agency already organized for and experienced in the work. From the domestic ferrying assignment it was only a step to the taking over by the command of responsibility for delivering or supervising the delivery of AAF and lend-lease aircraft to theaters of war scattered over the world.
For assumption of this new responsibility, the Ferrying Command had been partly prepared by its operation through the latter half of 1941 of an overseas transport service. As relations between the United States and Great Britain had grown closer through the spring of 1941, the need for a more rapid means of transportation between the two countries could be provided by surface vessels became increasingly urgent. Through the establishment of an air service across the Atlantic, the diplomatic mail and important military and diplomatic officials of the two countries could move back and forth with the speed demanded by the course of events; and, when the American government decided to open such a service in the summer of 1941, it was placed under the control of the newly created Ferrying Command.17 The AAF’s pioneer overseas transport service began operations on 1 July, when a B-24 piloted by Lt. Col. Caleb V. Haynes took
off from Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., bound for Scotland by way of Montreal and Newfoundland. Between that date and mid-October, when the service was forced to close down by the approach of winter, an average of six rounds trips a month had been flown. Modified B-24’s were used on all the trips, the passengers sitting in the bomb bays.18
The “Arnold Line,” as the British termed it in tribute to the Chief of the Army Air Forces, regularly operated over a route that ran from Bolling Field to Montreal to Gander Lake, Newfoundland, thence across the Atlantic to Ayr, Scotland, and return. There were three special trips, however, that departed considerably from the regular run. One of these carried Capt. Elliott Roosevelt during the summer on an aerial survey of the east coast of Greenland in a search for a suitable site for an airdrome on the far-northern ferry route to Britain. Capt. James H. Rothrock, a veteran of the North Atlantic run, piloted the plane.19 In September, two B-24’s of the service were employed in transporting a portion of the Harriman mission to Moscow by way of Great Britain. On the Scotland-to-Moscow leg of the journey the two planes, piloted by Maj. Alva L. Harvey and Lt. Louis T. Reichers, took a circular route north of the Scandinavian peninsula and flew a nonstop distance of 3,150 miles before reaching the Soviet capital. From Moscow, Major Harvey proceeded on a globe-encircling homeward flight by way of the Middle East, India, Singapore, Darwin, Port Moresby, and Wake island to Hawaii and Washington.20 Lieutenant Reichers took a route by way of Cairo across central Africa, the South Atlantic, and up through Brazil to the United States.21 Both of these exploratory flights involved hazardous landings at undeveloped airfields barely able to accommodate the heavy bombers and take-offs into all kinds of weather without briefing, weather information, adequate communications, or maps. Their importance was generally overlooked in the excitement of the greater events of the war; but the recorded experiences and observations of the two pilots were of the utmost value to the AAF in planning for the development of two of its major overseas air lanes – the Pacific and the South Atlantic routes.
The aircraft ferried over the North Atlantic route to Britain prior to American involvement in the war were, with few exceptions, purchased for cash on orders placed in 1939 and 1940. Of the approximately 2,400 planes of American manufacture delivered by air or by
surface vessel to British forces in the United Kingdom or in the Middle East between the passage of the Lend-Lease Act and the end of 1941, less than 100 were sent under lend-lease.22 Aircraft purchased during the cash-and-carry period and scheduled for delivery in 1941 were earmarked chiefly for service in the British Isles, and thus the earliest ferrying activity of the AAF, like its initial overseas transport service, was marked by a focus on the North Atlantic route.
At the same time, important steps had been taken during 1941 toward the development of a South Atlantic air route joining the United States to Africa and the Middle East. Compared with the 2,700 miles that lay between northern Maine and Great Britain along a direct route through Newfoundland, 10,000 miles separated Miami from Cairo.23 An airplane leaving southern Florida traveled 4,000 miles in a southeasterly direction before reaching Natal on the Brazilian bulge. Pivoting at Natal, it has to traverse an additional 6,000 miles in order to reach Cairo. But compensating in part for the great length of the southern route were certain favorable geographical factors. It had the advantage of year-around flying weather, while over the North Atlantic route ferrying and transport operations were seriously hampered or even shut down altogether by bad weather conditions during the winter. Most of the southern route lay over two great land masses, the South American and African continents. Through the Caribbean the Antilles chain formed convenient steppingstones from Florida to the Guianas. For a time the Atlantic – approximately 1,800 miles at the narrowest – presented a formidable barrier to the movement of two-engine aircraft from continent to continent. But with the opening of an air base on Ascension Island in July 1942, the ocean crossing was divided into two fairly easy stages and ceased to be a serious operational problem.24
The major part of the route to the Middle East passed over either Brazilian territory or that controlled by Great Britain. Brazil was completely cooperative in permitting American aircraft of all types, whether manned by military or civilian crews, to fly over her territory or land at bases on her soil.25 Here was a case of the Good Neighbor policy paying practical dividends. Britain, the chief recipient of lend-lease aid in the form of supplies sent by air to Africa, was able to contribute a number of sites for bases all along the southeastern route. In the Caribbean the United States secured, through the destroyer-base lease agreement, sites for air bases on the islands of Trinidad, Jamaica,
St. Lucia, and Antigua, and in British Guiana on the South American continent.26 The Trinidad and British Guiana bases became major stopping points for transient aircraft, bridging the 2,000 miles that separated Puerto Rico from Belem, Brazil, the northernmost base in that country capable of handling heavy traffic. The base on Ascension Island was located on British territory, as were most of the bases along the west coast of Africa and across central Africa to Cairo.
Ferrying operations over the South Atlantic route had begun in June 1941 when Atlantic Airways, Ltd., a Pan American Airways subsidiary corporation organized especially for the job, undertook to deliver twenty transport-type aircraft to the British in western Africa. Shortly after the passage of the Lend-Lease Act, the British government had requested, under terms of the act, a minimum of fifty transport planes for its trans-Africa operation.27 These planes were to be placed on the run between Takoradi in the Gold Coast Colony and Cairo – an airway of the highest strategic value in the line of communications between the British Isles and the Middle East. The trans-Africa route had been pioneered by the British in the immediate prewar years, and at the outbreak of the war Imperial Airways maintained a regular transport service over the run between Khartoum in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and Lagos on the Nigerian coast. Coastal bases had been constructed at Bathurst (Gambia), Freetown (Sierra Leone), and at Takoradi and Accra in the Gold Coast Colony. Across the waist of Africa, airfields had been cut from the jungle or laid out on the desert at Kano and Maiduguri in Nigeria, at Fort Lamy in French Equatorial Africa, and at El Geneina, El Fasher, and El Obeid in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. With the loss of the French fleet in 1940 and the growing activity in the spring of 1941 of German air forces based on Sicily, the British line of air and water communications with Egypt by way of the Mediterranean was virtually closed. Fortunately, the existence of the trans-African air route enabled the British to avoid shipping aircraft by water all the way around Africa and up through the Red Sea to Egypt. A large base and an assembly plant were developed at Takoradi, and here fighter and bomber aircraft, waterborne from Britain, were assembled, tested, and then ferried across Africa to Cairo. Beginning in the fall of 1940, British ferry pilots began moving Hurricanes and Blenheims along this route. The ferrying operation demanded also a transport service for returning
pilots to Takoradi following the completion of deliveries to Cairo, and for hauling critical items of supply east from Takoradi.28
Realizing the importance of maintaining and increasing the scope of the trans-African operation, the United States government, acting through the Civil Aeronautics Administration, undertook to secure the transport aircraft from the civil airlines. Of the fifty requested, however, only twenty could be spared by the airlines, and no Army planes were available.29 And when the job of getting the planes to Africa was given the Air Corps, General Arnold found that neither military nor civilian crews with the necessary experience were immediately available. The few experienced Army crews could not be spared; and the country had long since been combed for civilian pilots and navigators for the North Atlantic ferrying service.30 Rather than ship the planes by water, the ferrying job was turned over to Pan American Airways,31 whose experience in the development of commercial airlines through Latin American already had been turned to advantage in the effort to extend and strengthen hemisphere defenses.32 As early as November 1940, Pan American had been made the agent of the United States government in carrying out the so-called Airport Development Program (ADP) for the construction and improvement of airports on foreign territory throughout the Caribbean area, Central America, and Brazil, as well as in Liberia. Panair do Brasil, a Pan American subsidiary, had undertaken at Belem and Natal the development with ADP funds of facilities destined to serve as major ferrying and transport bases along the South Atlantic route. Other bases that would be used principally for defensive purposed, but which provided emergency landing fields for transient aircraft, were constructed through Pan American agencies in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela.33 On 29 May 1941, an agreement between Atlantic Airways, Ltd., and the British government was drawn up for delivery of the twenty transports.34 The British agreed to meet all expenses and to furnish the navigators. Atlantic Airways obtained the pilots from several sources, principally from the Lockheed Company on a loan basis. A sufficient number were found to ferry the planes to Africa in flights of ten or less.35
On the night of 21 June 1941 the first flight of ten transports took off from Miami, Florida, bound for Port of Spain, Trinidad. The next stop was at Belem, Brazil. Here the crews were arrested and held
for three days. Although the Brazilian government had readily granted consent for the planes to cross its territory, it was with the understanding that they show American registry. Ownership of the planes had been transferred to the British government at Miami, at the request of Atlantic Airways. Brazil, a neutral, had no desire to compromise her neutrality; and, as a result of the incident, transfer of ownership of the remaining planes was delayed until they reached Africa. From Belem, the ten transports proceeded to Natal and thence across the Atlantic to Bathurst. All made the overwater crossing safely. The crews took the planes as far as Lagos before returning to the United States.36 Seven of the remaining ten planes left Miami in late July and were delivered on the 30th.37 The last three of the twenty were delivered in September, completing successfully and without loss the first ferrying operation from the United States to Africa.38
While the movement of the first flight of ferried aircraft over the southeastern route was still under way, steps were taken by the American and British governments to establish a contract ferrying service to the Middle East on a more permanent basis. The two governments turned logically to Pan American Airways. Preliminary plans were drawn up at a conference in General Arnold’s office on 26 June 1941, with representatives of the British Air Commission and the Pan American organization in attendance.39 At that time, it was expected that some 400 Glenn Martin medium bombers of the Baltimore type, purchased by the British prior to the passage of the Lend-Lease Act, would be ready within a few months to start moving from the factory to the Middle East front and that these would be followed by a steadily increasing flow of lend-lease aircraft.40 Agreements reached at the June conference provided that Pan American would establish both a ferrying service and an air transport service to the west coast of Africa, and would also take over the British ferrying and transport operations across central Africa from Takoradi to Khartoum.41 The United States assumed the obligation of financing the contract services. An estimated total of $20,588,528 was required, of which $17,788,528 could be charged to lend-lease. The remainder was allocated from the emergency fund provided by the executive offices appropriation act of 5 April 1941.42
Three subsidiary corporations were organized by Pan American Airways, Inc., the parent organization, in order to carry out the
agreements reached. Pan American Air Ferries, Inc., was set up to operate the ferrying service all the way from Miami to Khartoum in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The Pan American Airways Co. came into being to establish a flying boat transport service from the United States to West Africa. Pan American Airways-Africa, Ltd., was organized to take over the existing British trans-African transport service.43 ON 12 August 1941 five contracts were signed by representatives of Pan American and its subsidiaries, the United States government, and the British government. Three of the contract, those between the United States and units of the Pan American organization, provided for the ferrying and transport services.44 The British signed agreements with Pan American Airways-Africa and Pan American Air Ferries, by which full operational rights were assured along the trans-Africa route.45
In considering the Pan American agreements, it should be borne in mind that the United States and Britain were interested primarily in the ferrying service. The transport services were of secondary importance and existed primarily for support of the ferrying operation. Thus, when the President announced publicly on 18 August 1941 that the agreements with Pan American had been concluded, stress was placed on the importance of speeding delivery of aircraft to the British. The transport services, the President stated, were to “supplement the ferry system by returning ferry personnel and carrying spare plane parts and items essential to effective delivery of aircraft to the Middle East.”46 Not until after the United States entered the war, and acquired thereby heavy military commitments of its own that went far beyond the prewar lend-lease obligations, did the South Atlantic transport service assume outstanding importance as a support to combat operations. At its inception, it was considered merely an adjunct to ferrying.
Before Pan American Air Ferries (PAAF) could begin operations on an extensive scale, a greatly enlarged organization had to be developed from the limited personnel and meager facilities inherited from Atlantic Airways. For the first four or five months, the efforts of the company were expended principally in setting up a training program at Miami. Some former commercial and airline pilots were recruited, but for the most part the trainees were recent graduates of the civilian pilot training program, who had at best several hundred hours of flying time. Because of the shortage or nonexistence of airplane
mechanics in the labor market, the company found it necessary also to set up organized courses of instruction in all types of airplane maintenance and mechanical work.47
Pan American Air Ferries actually delivered only a dozen aircraft prior to Pearl Harbor, and all of these were transports for use on the trans-African run.48 After the United States entered the war, deliveries by PAAF pilots increased month by month. By the time the personnel and facilities of the organization were militarized at the end of 1942, some 464 planes had been delivered over the South Atlantic to the Middle East and the Far East by PAAF crews.49
In order to establish the flying boat service to West Africa, the United States purchased for the sum of $900,000 one of Pan American’s famous four-engine Clippers, a Boeing B-314A withdrawn from the Pacific. It was then leased to the contractor for the nominal fee of one dollar.50 The plane accommodated a crew of eleven and sixty-eighty day passengers or thirty-six sleeping passengers with mail and cargo holds having a total capacity of approximately five tons.51 Only one trip over the route, a survey flight, was made before 7 December.52 Soon after the United States entered the war, the Clipper fleet was increased and a regular service was established over the route: Miami-San Juan (Puerto Rico)-Port of Spain (Trinidad)-Belem-Natal-Fisherman’s Lake (Liberia)-Lagos (Nigeria), with occasional trips as far as Leopoldville (Belgian Congo).53
Perhaps the most important link in the whole system of Pan American ferrying and transport services was the operation across central Africa. In providing a transport service and in maintaining the bases, Pan American Airways-Africa supported the movement across the continent of aircraft arriving from both the United States and Great Britain. Terminal points were established by terms of the contract at Bathurst on the west coast and at Khartoum in eastern Africa, but after 7 December the service was extended to Cairo and beyond.54 Before operations could begin, Pan American was faced with the problem of assembling in the United States an administrative staff, employing some hundreds of technicians, recruiting and training the pilots, and transporting all of these, together with tons of material, a third of the way around the world to Africa. The headquarters was established at the main base at Accra on 8 October 1941. This step was followed by the gradual taking over of other bases on the route during October, November, and December as additional personnel
arrived to staff them. On 21 October, a DC-3 took off on the first scheduled flight from Accra to Khartoum; and by the end of that month, seven aircraft and thirty pilots were maintaining regular scheduled operations.55
Plans formulated during the summer of 1941 for the opening of the South Atlantic route to the Middle East went no further than the establishment of the contract services. But in the fall of that year a significant development of policy brought about the inauguration of a military ferrying service and a military transport service, for which in both instances the Ferrying Command assumed responsibility. As the Germans in 1941 turned from the west to the east, gong to the assistance of the Italians in Africa, driving victoriously through the Balkans into Greece and Crete, and hurling the main weight of their military might against the Russians during the summer, support of the British position in the Middle East had come to be a main concern of those charged with administration of America’s lend-lease policy. Not only was it there that the British were now hardest pressed, but the extension of lend-lease aid to the Soviet Union following the German attack in June had given new significance to the defense of all that general area which controlled approaches to a line of supply leading up from the Persian Gulf through Iran to Russia. A North Africa military mission under Brig. Gen. Russell H. Maxwell had been established at Cairo on 13 September 1941, with responsibilities similar to those of the special observers in London;* and, as plans were laid for an increasing flow of American air material to the Middle East, attention was directed to ways and means by which assistance could be rendered in meeting special problems of maintenance and supply for U.S.-built aircraft.56
A military air transport service over the South Atlantic, linking Washington with Cairo, was opened on 14 November 1941. As early as July of that year, when the North Atlantic shuttle service started, the Ferrying Command had begun looking ahead for an alternate route to which operations could be shifted with the approach of winter. At that time, no serious consideration was given to opening a service to Cairo. The immediate need was to find a more southerly, all-weather route into the British Isles in order to maintain the air connection with London and, even more important, to enable the British to continue during the winter the uninterrupted movement of
bombers from North America to the home base.57 A glance at the map will show that the shortest and best possible alternate routes crossed the middle Atlantic by way of Bermuda and the Azores or direct from Newfoundland to the Azores, and thence northeast to the United Kingdom. Use of the Azores depended on the consent of Portugal, and negotiations were opened with that country for the establishment of an airdrome on one of the islands in the group, to be manned by a security force of American air and ground troops. No definite answer had been received from the Portuguese government when the North Atlantic shuttle service was suspended on 18 October 1941. Upon the request of the Ferrying Command, the State Department again pressed for an answer, but Portugal was unwilling to jeopardize its neutrality.58
Blocked for the time being in the effort to establish a transport service across the middle Atlantic to Britain, the Air Corps turned its attention in October and November 1941 to the opening of a service to Cairo over the South Atlantic route. Two survey flights were made over the route in Ferrying Command B-24’s in September and early October. The first of these, which served also to carry Maj. Gen. George H. Brett, Chief of the Air Corps, on a special mission to the Middle East, left Bolling Field on 31 August for Cairo and proceeded as far as Basra at the head of the Persian Gulf before returning to Washington on 7 October. Lt. Col. Caleb V. Haynes served as pilot and Maj. Curtis E. LeMay as co-pilot on this pioneer 26,000-miles trip, the first flight over the whole of the South Atlantic route from the United States to the Middle East and return.59 Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant Reichers traversed approximately the same route from east to west on his flight home from Moscow.* 60
The decision to open a regular transport service came early in November following a request for the transportation of personnel and equipment to Cairo to organize the air section of the U.S. North African Military Mission.61 Formal orders to open a regular service were given to the Ferrying Command, and on 14 November the first B-24 left Bolling Field. Lt. Edson E. Kester was at the controls, with Capt. Lawrence M. Thomas acting as co-pilot. Brig. Gen. Elmer E. Adler, newly appointed chief of the air section of the mission, headed the passenger list.62 Four other transports departed
* See above, p. 318.
Washington for Cairo prior to 7 December, each carrying important military of diplomatic personnel as well as high-priority cargo and mail.63 The service continued on a special-mission basis during the critical early months of the war, pending the establishment of a greatly expanded and more regularly scheduled contract carrier operation over the route.
In the course of his mission to the Middle East in September, General Brett reached the conclusion that the long-range B-24 bomber would provide an effective and quick means of attacking the Germans in southern Europe and of taking definite offensive action against the Axis forces in North Africa.64 Having proceeded from Cairo to London* he found the British receptive to a suggestion that twenty B-24’s be diverted from a scheduled delivery for service in the United Kingdom to the Middle East. It was decided that the number of planes should be reduced to sixteen (the initial equipment of one squadron), that provision would have to be made for training the British crews in the Middle East, and that a stock of spare parts and supplies should be sent out from the United States. Tentative agreements reached in London were conveyed on 17 October to General Arnold, who gave his approval.65
The task of making the preliminary arrangements and delivering the sixteen Liberators devolved upon the Ferrying Command.66 Heretofore, Ferrying Command deliveries had been to “the point of ultimate take-off” within the Western Hemisphere. These were to be the first deliveries beyond the continent by military crews of the Ferrying Command and the first combat aircraft to be sent over the southeastern route to Africa. There was no alternative to the use of military crews. Pan American Air Ferries’ pilots were trained for the ferrying of two-engine aircraft, not four-engine. military crews became available by the coincidence that on 18 October the Ferrying Command’s B-24 shuttle service over the North Atlantic to Great Britain was suspended, temporarily it was believed at the time, pending winterization of the aircraft and the improvement of weather and communications facilities.67
Before ferrying by military crews to Africa could begin, it became necessary to secure an amendment to the Presidential directive of 3 October 1941, under which the Ferrying Command then was operating.
* For a discussion of his activities there, see below, pp. 634–35.
This directive authorized the command to make deliveries only to “any territory subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, to any territory within the Western Hemisphere, the Netherlands East Indies and Australia.”68 Authority to extend the ferrying service was obtained on 29 October. In a letter to the Secretary of War on that date, the President authorized the deliver of aircraft “to any point within the African continent.”69 On 24 November the President issued a “blank check” directive authorizing extension of deliveries “to such other places and in such manner as may be necessary to carry out the Lend-Lease program,” an enlargement of authority which could be made greater by nothing short of war.70
More than a month of preparation had been required before the Liberators were ready to start moving, one at a time, from the United States. With Lt. Elbert D. Reynolds, an experienced trans-Atlantic flyer, acting as pilot, the first of the bombers departed Bolling Field for Cairo on 20 November. Unfortunately, on the trip across Africa the navigator lost his way and, after failing to locate El Fasher, Reynolds was forced to make a night landing at El Obeid. The heavy bomber landed on a shoulder of the runway and was wrecked beyond repair, although the crew was saved.71 Four other aircraft of the sixteen-Liberator project departed the United States prior to 7 December, and all four were delivered safely in Cairo.72 But on America’s entry into war, the remainder were turned back at Miami or intermediate domestic stations to become part of a yet-more-urgent movement of heavy bombers to the Far East for the relief of the Philippines.
Measures taken by the United States in the immediate prewar period for development of the South Atlantic route proved to be more important as preparation for the impending war than for the ferrying and transport work actually accomplished. Only a handful of planes, ferried and transport, moved over the route prior to Pearl Harbor. But thanks to the work of the Air Corps Ferrying Command and the Pan American organization, and to the courage and resourcefulness of the pioneer crews who flew the route, the United States had made a substantial start toward the development of a vital line of communications when, after 7 December, aircraft and supplies for its own forces joined the increasing flow of lend-lease goods to the Middle East, to India, China, and the Southwest Pacific.
Life Line to the Middle and Far East
Ferried aircraft departing from southern Florida bases for flight over the southeaster route stopped first either at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico, or at one of the bases on the island of Trinidad. Piarco Field on Trinidad, a Pan American base, was used for some months after Pearl harbor or until Waller Field, a purely military installation, was opened for traffic in February 1942. The Waller Field site had been secured from the British in the destroyer-base lease agreement, as was the site for Atkinson Field in British Guiana, the next major staging base to the south. From Waller Field or Atkinson Field aircraft were usually ferried to the base at Belem in northern Brazil and thence to Natal on the Brazilian bulge, although some use was made of alternate landing fields along the way. The two bases and Belem and Natal, built with airport development program funds by the Pan American organization, were opened for traffic shortly after Pearl Harbor. Prior to the opening of the base on Ascension Island in July 1942, nearly all two-engine aircraft taking off from Natal for flight over the South Atlantic landed at either Hastings Field in Sierra Leone or Roberts Field in Liberia, each at a distance of approximately 1,900 statute miles from Natal. Four-engine aircraft were able to fly direct to Accra, but many stopped first at Hastings or Roberts fields for refueling. From Accra aircraft moved in easy stages across the central African route to Khartoum, and here the route divided. India-bound planes were sent either across southern Arabia by way of Aden to Karachi or up through Cairo, Habbaniya, and Basra to the Karachi gateway. Lend-lease planes for Russia were flown through Cairo to Basra or to Tehran, where they were turned over to Soviet flyers. Aircraft bound for China crossed central India to Dinjan in Assam and were flown over the Himalayas to Kunming.73
A month or more before the United States entered the war and in anticipation of an increasing flow of lend-lease aircraft to the Middle East, the Ferrying Command had taken steps to place its own control officers at key bases n the southeastern route as far as Cairo. None of these had reached his post prior to 7 December, but with the coming of the war and the selection of the route for the ferrying of heavy bombers to the Far East, the procurement and assignment of these officers, as well as weather and communications officers and enlisted specialist, was speeded up. The control officers became responsible
for dispatching all United States military aircraft, transmitting arrival and departure reports, providing for fueling and maintenance facilities, making arrangements for feeding and lodging transient crews and passengers, collecting and forwarding intelligence on route conditions, and exercising general administrative control over transient aircraft and crews. Considerable difficulty was experienced at first in securing competent officers to send out. Regular Army and experienced Reserve officers were more urgently needed in combat units or in the AAF training program. For a time, the Ferrying Command was forced to use young weather or communications officers, only recently commissioned, as control officers at such important bases as Trinidad, Belem, Natal, Accra, and Karachi. These were gradually replaced by more experienced officers with higher rank who were better able to handle the multitude of problems that came with the great increase in traffic and to control rapidly expanding base organization.74
While that segment of the southeastern route from Florida through Brazil was reasonably secure from attack, operations across Africa during most of 1942 were forced to proceed in the face of an ever-present threat of enemy interference. most of the bases along the west coast of Africa and across central Africa were within easy bombing range of Vichy French territory. More threatening were Rommel’s forces in North Africa, for the very existence of the air connection with southern Russia, India, and China depended on the holding of the Middle East crossroads. Should the Germans and Italians have driven the British from Egypt and the Near East, the high strategic value of the southeastern route as it then existed would have been immediately destroyed and the whole line, hinging on Natal, would have been forcibly swung back far to the south.75 With this possibility in mind, the War Department early in 1942 directed the survey of an alternate bomber route across Africa and the Indian Ocean to Australia along a line roughly parallel to, and a few degrees south of, the equator. The most feasible route was determined to be from Natal to Ascension Island to Pointe Noire in French Equatorial Africa, and thence by way of bases in the Belgian Congo and Tanganyika to Mombasa in Kenya Colony, the point of take-off from the east coast of Africa. Flight across the Indian Ocean was to be made by way of island steppingstone in the Seychelles group or on Coetivy Island, the Chagos Archipelago, and the Cocos Islands to Port Hedland,
Australia. Another Indian Ocean route was proposed that would have connected Mombasa with Ceylon or Bangalore, India, by way of Coetivy Island, the Chagos Archipelago, and the Maldive Islands.76
A survey of the route across Africa was made by a board headed by Lt. Col. Neil B. Harding.77 Early in March, Maj. Harold B. Willis of the Air Corps and Lt. Col. Herman B. Pohl of the Corps of Engineers began a joint survey of the Indian Ocean route, making use of a Pan American Clipper for the purpose. Before the Clipper had left the east African base at Mombasa, however, word was received from General Brett in Australia that Japanese operations in the area of the Cocos Islands made the route to Australia no longer practicable. Willis and Pohl were given orders to proceed no farther than the Chagos Islands.78 There still seemed a possibility that an alternate air supply line to India might be found, but fortunately the preferable Middle East land route was held and continued in use throughout the war. Nor was it found necessary, as had been considered, to divert all waterborne fighter aircraft to Port Elizabeth in the Union of South Africa for ferrying up the old Cape-to-Cairo airway. Although more exposed to attack, Takoradi and Accra in the Gold Coast Colony continued to be the assembly points for fighter and lighter types of aircraft shipped to Africa by water.79
Until February 1942, when the Japanese captured Singapore and overran the East Indies, the southeastern route served as the principal line of air communications between the United States and the Southwest Pacific area. This was, indeed, its most immediate importance. In the first days of the war the Japanese had cut the central Pacific route from Hawaii through Midway and Wake to New Guinea and Australia – the route over which the Far East Air Force had received its thirty-five heavy bombers in the fall of 1941. Considerable progress had been made by 7 December in the construction of bases for an alternate, more southerly route from Hawaii to Australia through Canton Island, the Fijis, and New Caledonia.80 But this route was not ready when orders were issued shortly after Pearl Harbor to rush eighty heavy bombers and crews as soon as they became available to the Far East for the relief of the Philippines.* The only other route that could possibly be used was that by way of the South Atlantic and across Africa and southern Asia.81 Even though it had the marked disadvantage of stretching approximately two-thirds of the distance
around the globe, there was no alternative to sending the bombers that way if the President’s orders to begin immediately the air reinforcement of the Philippines were to be carried out.82
Project X, as the heavy bomber movement to the Far East was designated, became the first major foreign ferrying job of the war and the first overseas movement of tactical units in which the Ferrying Command had a part. Not until the air echelon of the Eighth Air Force began its movement to Britain in June 1942 would the Army Air Forces faces an overseas ferrying job of greater size and complexity. Although a total of eighty four-engine bombers were originally earmarked for the project, something less than that number actually left the United States and an even smaller number reached the Far East. Original orders directed all flights to proceed first to MacDill Field near Tampa, Florida, for final staging prior to take-off from the United States;83 but a few bombers were diverted to Hamilton Field, California, and were dispatched over the new South Pacific route which was opened for traffic on a small scale after mid-January 1942.84
Project X comprised two separate echelons of heavy bombers. The first of these to be ordered to the MacDill Field staging point was made up of fifteen LB-30’s* repossessed from the British and manned by crews of the 7th Bombardment Group, a group whose air movement across the Pacific had begun on 6 December.† Only six of these planes, under the command of Maj. Austin A. Straubel, actually went through MacDill Field, the others being ultimately diverted to the Pacific route. Travel orders were issued on 19 December 1941, and within a few days aircraft and crews began to arrive at Tampa to prepare for the long overseas flight.85 The second and more important component was made up of a projected sixty-five B-17 bombers and crews. Most of the B-17’s were yet to come from the factory and were to move out in small groups as they became available and after they had gone to the Sacramento Sir Depot to be put in combat readiness. Orders were issued on 23 December for the transfer of the sixty-five bombers to the Philippines.86 Crews of both groups of bombers were ordered to proceed along the route: Tampa–Trinidad–Belem–Natal–Accra–Khartoum–Cairo–Habbaniya–Karachi. At Karachi the LB-30’s under Straubel’s command were to come under the control
* An export model of the B-24, modified for British use.
of the commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East. Karachi was the gateway to India through which all transient aircraft going farther than the Middle East had to pass. Here the Ferrying Command placed a control officer early in January 1942 just as the first of the heavy bombers were moving through on the way to the Far East.87 The flight commanders of the second group of bombers, the B-17’s were ordered to proceed as far as Bangalore in southern India, at which point they were to report by secret means to General MacArthur and await further orders. When it became apparent by early January that the delivery of the heavy bombers as far as the Philippines was a hopeless undertaking, amended orders were issued naming Australia, rather than the Philippines, as the destination.88 All fights were then directed to report upon arrival at Bangalore to General Brett at Darwin, Australia, and await orders. Lt. Col. Edward H. Alexander, then in China, was sent to Bangalore to act as Ferrying Command control officer.89
Although the staging of the heavy bombers and crews at MacDill Field came under the control of the Third Air Force, the Ferrying Command was given certain responsibilities in connection with the final processing at Tampa. in late December the command sent Lt. Louis T. Reichers and another officer to MacDill Field to assist in loading the bombers for overseas flight in accordance with established weight and balance specifications. Upon arriving at the field, Reichers found that the LB-30’s then being processed were overloaded with all sorts of miscellaneous and excess equipment. He removed an average of over 3,00zz pounds from each plane and made arrangements to ship such of this equipment as would be needed in the combat zone by the Pan American transport service. All planes were brought down below the absolute maximum weight allowed for safe flying. The planes were to be flown by their own combat crews, and Reichers naturally found many of the young officers and men making up the crews inexperienced, untrained in long-distance flight procedures, and jittery. As with most human beings facing the unknown, some were obviously in fear of the long flight over ocean, jungle, and desert. It was clear that additional training prior to take-off would be needed if a high accident rate was to be avoided, but the pressure for speed in the movement of urgently needed reinforcements was such that permission to delay the take-off was granted only after an appeal to Washington.90
In order to carry out its own assigned responsibilities in connection with the training, the Ferrying Command established a control office at MacDill Field in January in charge of Capt. James C. Jensen, a veteran four-engine pilot. He was assisted by specialists in the various crew positions, that is, pilots, co-pilots, navigators, radio operators and flight engineers, all of whom had had trans-Atlantic flying experience with the B-24 shuttle services to Great Britain and Cairo. The first step was to establish a ferrying school for the Project X crews, with the Ferrying Command specialists and certain others serving as instructors. Instruction was given in navigation, radio, aircraft maintenance, gunnery, and four-engine transition, the latter including, because of the inexperience of the crews, some instruction in night landings and take-offs. Another important aspect of the training program was the briefing of the crews on weather, communications, landing fields, housing, messing, and health conditions along the route. The briefing of crews for overseas flight would develop into one of the more fundamental and specialized functions of ATC, but the procedures at this initial stage were rudimentary indeed by comparison with the system that was later set up at aerial ports of embarkation and at overseas stations around the world. In addition to the information that could be provided out of the personal experience of a few officers, the bomber crews were supplied with maps, charts, and other material on route conditions procured form a variety of sources by the Ferrying Command’s intelligence section. According to officers connected with the project, some 170 maps and charts and approximately 50 books and folders, comprising a mass of undigested, unwieldy information which served to confuse rather than inform, were furnished each crew. Later, as the briefing technique improved, route information was boiled down to the essentials and compressed into well-organized route guides.91
Training and briefing the crews and putting the aircraft in shape for the overseas journey were only the first steps in the complex task of moving Project X to the Far East. The most difficult part of the job began after the bombers were on their way. It would have been less difficult had more time been allowed for training prior to departure, but some compromise had to be made between the urgent need for the planes in the Pacific and the unpreparedness of the crews. The majority of the pilots had been trained on single-engine or twin-engine aircraft and because of the inadequate number of planes had
at best only fifteen to twenty hours of four-engine flying time before leaving Tampa. In addition to, and partly because of, the inexperience of crews, special problems of morale and discipline developed.92 Control officers stationed along the route, often themselves new and inexperienced in their tasks, at times felt the lack of that kind of authority which belongs only to a recognized and well-established position. Equally serious were shortages of gas and oil, primitive refueling and maintenance facilities, and an inadequate weather and communications network. The single problem of providing a sufficient supply of gas and oil at refueling points was staggering in itself. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of 100-octane gasoline with proportionate amounts of lubricating oil were required at each of a dozen control points. Nearly all of this had to come by tanker from the United States. Although a 100-octane refinery existed at Abadan in the Middle East, an estimated 90 per cent of its production was required by the RAF to meet current operational commitments. The gasoline had to be shipped and stored in bulk and this required that the shipment of material for tank construction precede that of the gasoline itself.93
The speed with which the Project X movement was undertaken made it impossible for the Ferrying Command to build up in time a supply of spare parts at intermediate bases, and this one factor was probably more responsible than any other for the numerous delays en route. Except for the few spares carried by each airplane and some Liberator parts stocked by the RAF at Cairo, all spare parts had to be shipped from the United States. Cannibalization enabled some of the grounded plane to continue on their way, but those that had been robbed and those suffering major damage had to wait for the part to be moved out by air, when possible, or by water. The small amount of air cargo space available at the time, the priority given to high-ranking military personnel traveling by air, and the almost total lack of transport planes capable of carrying complete engine assemblies mad the movement of supplies by air more than difficult. Some spares were shipped to West Africa by water and then distributed to points in Africa and India by Pan American planes. The shortage of maintenance crews at most points forced the combat crews to do their own maintenance work after long and fatiguing flights. Some help was given by a Ferrying Command trouble-shooting crew sent along the route in February to make such special or major repairs as were beyond
the capabilities of the combat crews or the local Pan American maintenance personnel.94
The staging of Project X aircraft and crews at MacDill Field extended over a period of about two months. During that time some fifty-eight heavy bombers of the projected eighty departed for the Far East over the southeastern route, while eight went out over the South Pacific route. in spite of many delays along the way, forty-four of the sixty-six bombers were delivered to the Southwest Pacific area over both routes by late February. Others were diverted to the Tenth Air Force in India after the route from India to Australia was closed; some had served as a source of spare parts to put the others through. Four of the B-17’s were lost completely either in crashes or over the Atlantic, another landed in a swamp at Belem, one was forced to return to the United States for repairs, and one was delayed in Africa awaiting repairs even as late as May 1942.95 Although none of the bombers reached the Philippines, most of them were put to use in Australia or on other fronts. It was a good record considering the pioneer nature of the job, the inexperienced and poorly trained crews, and the necessity for building a ferrying route organization through the South Atlantic and across Africa and India while the movement was in progress. In assuming the major share of responsibility for controlling the movement, the Ferrying Command had gained much valuable experience that would prove useful as the ferrying job increased in scope with the growing intensity of the war in Europe and in the Pacific.
After February 1942 all aircraft flight-delivered to the Southwest Pacific were staged at West Coast bases and flown out by way of Hawaii and the chain of island steppingstones extending down to Australia. The number of planes delivered for a time was small, but steady progress was made in the construction or improvement of bases and in the installation of weather and communications facilities in preparation for the heavier movements that would come in the summer and fall.96 Ferrying Command personnel made some of the deliveries, and in April two LB-30’s were assigned to the route for the return of ferry crews to the United States. But the Ferrying Command, of which Col. Harold L. George assumed command that same month, continued to be concerned primarily with the problems of the Atlantic air routes. Only gradually would it develop into a truly world-wide and uniform air transport system.
With the cutting of the India-Australia air link and the consequent
shift to the Pacific route of heavy bomber ferrying to the Southwest Pacific area, the Ferrying Command control office at MacDill Field was discontinued. Meanwhile, in January the command had been assigned jurisdiction over Morrison Field near West Palm Beach, Florida, for future use as the aerial port of embarkation for ferried aircraft departing over the southeastern route. A subheadquarters of the command, known as the South Atlantic Sector, was established at the field and an experienced Ferrying Command officer, Col. Paul E. Burrows was appointed commanding officer of both the sector and the air base. In order to concentrate all ferrying activities at the one base, the 3131th matériel Squadron and certain key officers were transferred from Miami, where a small control office had existed since November 1941. Thereafter, Miami served principally as the base for air cargo operations of the contract carriers. At Morrison Field the 313th Squadron performed 1st and 2nd echelon maintenance, while heavy maintenance work of 3rd and 4th echelon became the responsibility of the subdepot established at the field by the Air Service Command in late February. Aircraft maintenance was the most important aspect of the staging job at this time, for the success of a flight depended largely on the mechanical condition of the airplane on take-off. And it would be some time before maintenance facilities at bases along the foregoing routes compared favorably with those at ports of embarkation within the United States.97
When lend-lease shipments were temporarily suspended immediately following Pearl Harbor, doubt existed in the minds of some as to whether the United States, concerned primarily with its own requirements, would continue to give logistical support to those nations that had now become allies. Would the needs of American armed forces preclude the further shipment of aircraft and other supplies to Britain, Russia, China, and the smaller nations at war with the Axis? An answer to this question was given by the President on 12 December in a report to Congress on lend-lease, in which he laid down the principle that “we must use the weapons from the arsenal of the democracies where they can be employed most effectively.”98 This decision, to distribute arms in accordance with strategic needs, had formed the basis for the diversion of heavy bombers originally consigned to the British in the Middle East to American forces in the Southwest Pacific; it also assured continued support in the form of twin-engine bombers, fighters, and transport aircraft to British imperial
forces in Africa and India, as well as to the Russians and Chinese. The United States undertook not only to deliver these aircraft to such transfer points as were agreed upon but also to provide stocks of spare parts, certain forms of maintenance work, and such transition training as was required to familiarize Allied pilots with the operation of the planes.
Until late 1942, when all ferrying operations over the southeastern route were militarized, the great majority of lend-lease aircraft that were delivered overseas by air were flown to their destinations by civilian crews of Pan American Air Ferries. Although the Pan American Air Ferries contract had been drawn up in August 1941, deliveries did not exceed ten a month until February of the following year. The intervening time, however, had not been wasted. Throughout the fall and winter the organization had been busy recruiting and training flight and ground personnel in preparation for a greatly enlarged operation as soon as the aircraft began coming from the factories in quantity. As in the case of pre-Pearl Harbor deliveries, most of the aircraft ferried out by Pan American crews during the winter of 1941–42 were two-engine transports destined for the British or for Pan American Airways-Africa. An unusual assignment had been undertaken in December and January when four PBY flying boats, carrying loads of .50-cal. machine-gun ammunition, were ferried by way of the South Atlantic to the Dutch in the Far East.99
Deliveries began to pick up in March with the arrival at the Florida staging point of the first numbers of a consignment of seventy-two lend-lease B-25’s to the Russians.100 Considerable work was required at Morrison Field in putting these two-engine bombers in shape for overseas flight. They were then turned over to Pan American Air Ferries crews who flew them first to the Pan American base at Miami for final flight checks and organization into flight echelons prior to take-off. For several months nearly all of the B-25’s were flown from Miami to Africa and thence to British airfields near Basra, Iraq, where they were carefully inspected flight-tested, and prepared for transfer to Soviet representatives. In June, because of the crowded condition of the air bases on the Persian Gulf, the majority of the planes were routed through Habbaniya direct to Tehran and were there taken over by the Russian pilots.101 Between March and the end of 1942, a total of 102 B-25’s were flight-delivered to the Russians over the southeastern route. Though most of these were ferried by civilian
crews of Pan American Air Ferries, some were flown out by military crews.102 Lend-Lease A-20’s for the Russians began to arrive in the Persian Gulf area by water transport as early as January 1942,103 but not until the following October were the first deliveries of these Douglass light attack bombers completed by air. [zzz? Seventy-one were delivered in October, sixty in November, and seven in December.]104
Following the collapse of the Allied effort in java, urgent demands for reinforcements came from Burma, China, and India, where the American Volunteer Group, the newly established Tenth Air Force, and the Chinese Air Force sought the means for a continued resistance to the Japanese. Fifty P-40E’s had been allocated to the AVG in January, and during the same month thirty-three A-29 Hudsons had been earmarked under lend-lease for the Chinese.105 From beginning to end, the A-29 movement was beset with trouble, vexatious delays, and untimely accidents. The aircraft were in poor mechanical condition when taken over by the ferrying crews and were overloaded with medical and other supplies for China before arriving at Morrison Field in late June for final staging. These factors, together with the relative inexperience of many of the crews, were responsible for an unusually high accident rate. Three planes were lost in crashes before the project left the United States, and six others were similarly lost in the course of the movement overseas. Because of Rommel’s threat to Egypt that summer, the A-29’s were held up in the Middle East for a time and might have been assigned permanently to General Brereton’s forces there had not the persistent demands of the Chinese brought about their release. Of the thirty-three planes originally allocated, twenty-two were turned over to the Chinese Air Force during the summer and fall.106
While it was impracticable to ferry fighter aircraft over the whole of the southeastern route, they were moved in large numbers under their own power over the land route from West African bases to the Middle East, India, and China. As early as 1940 the British had begun shipping fighters and two-engine bombers by water to Takoradi, where they were assembled and then ferried across Africa to Cairo. Within a few months after Pearl Harbor, the United States also began to make use of combined water and air supply lines in moving P-40’s to the American Volunteer Group in China, to the Tenth Air Force in India, and during the summer of 1942 to American air units in the
Middle East. Water shipment of the fifty P-40E Kittyhawks consigned to the American Volunteer Group began in February. Arrangements were made for use of the British assembly plant at Takoradi, where the planes were prepared for the overland movement. Losses were suffered en route, but by June most of the original fifty had crossed into China.107 A larger movement of sixty-eight P-40E’s for India and China began as the AVG deliveries were being completed. Comprising one element of a general reinforcement of the Tenth Air Force, the P-40’s were flown to Quonset Point, Rhode Island, in late April and there aircraft and crews were loaded on the carrier Ranger. As the Ranger approached the west coast of Africa, the fighters were launched at distances of 126 to 25 miles from the landing field at Accra. Although only a few of the pilots had previously flown from the deck of a carrier, all took off safely and landed without mishap. But they were less fortunate in crossing central Africa. Two of the eight-plane convoys into which the P-40’s were organized became lost over the African desert because of navigational errors. As a result, nine of the fighters cracked up. Other difficulties were encountered and numerous delays experienced; perhaps no more than fifty-eight of the planes eventually reached India.108 Karachi had become, generally speaking, the terminal point for Ferrying Command operations to the East, and until December 1942 the responsibility for development of the trans-India service into China fell to the 1st Ferrying Group and thus came under the jurisdiction of the Tenth Air Force.*
Twin-engine transport planes were the only aircraft to be ferried to British forces in Africa during the first six months of 1942. In June, when Rommel’s offensive reached its most threatening stage, the first tactical aircraft began to arrive. They were not in sufficient number to be of much help in stopping Rommel at El Alamein, but during the late summer and fall an increasing flow of twin-engine bombers departed from Florida to become a part of the great movement of supplies into Africa in preparation for Montgomery’s offensive in October. Between June and the end of the year, 398 Lockheed and Martin medium bombers – including 120 B-34’s, 153 A-28’s, 45 B-26’s, and 80 A-30’s – were ferried to British forces in Africa by crews of Pan American Air Ferries or by American and British military crews.109 At the same time, the forces gathering under the leadership of General
* See below, Chapter. 14.
Brereton during the summer and fall, first as the United States Middle East Air Force and later as the Ninth Air Force, reached their battle stations in large part by use of the South Atlantic and trans-African ferry routes. The Middle East had been recognized originally as an area primarily of British responsibility, and the British indeed continued to carry the main burden there. But meanwhile the region had acquired such extraordinary strategic importance with reference to life lines upon which our own forces depended, not to mention plans for assistance to other hard pressed allies, that there was no choice but to send such help as could be provided to the British during the crucial contest with Rommel in the latter half of 1942. That help would be limited chiefly to assistance in the air, and it was made possible by the progress already achieved in the development of strategic air services by the southeastern route.
American air combat in the Middle East began in June 1942 with the arrival in that theater of the so-called Halverson Detachment under Col. Harry A. Halverson. HALPRO, as it was known in code, was a carefully chosen task force of twenty-three B-24D’s and picked crews originally intended for service from Chinese bases in bombing operations against Japan.* When the detachment reached the Middle East it was held, temporarily it was believed at the time, for the purpose of carrying out a single mission against the Ploesti oil fields of Rumania on 12 June; but following Rommel’s success in breaking through the British defenses at Cyrenaica, aircraft and crews were assigned permanently to General Brereton’s newly created Middle East Air Force and were absorbed eventually by the Ninth Air Force. In helping to prepare HALPRO for overseas movement by air and in controlling the flight along the way, the Ferrying Command gave clear indication of having learned much about its job in the months that had passed since Project X moved over the southeastern route to the Far East. The HALPRO ferrying operation was handled smoothly and efficiently, without a single accident or loss and with very few delays of individual aircraft en route. Sufficient time was taken at the assembly point at Fort Myers, Florida, to train the crews and to put the aircraft in first-class mechanical shape. About two weeks before the detachment was ready to leave Fort Myers, Ferrying Command representatives from Morrison Field met with Colonel Halverson and his staff to work out in advance details for the staging
* See below, p. 493.
and movement of the project. This consultation proved advantageous, for when the aircraft reached Morrison Field very little time was lost in last-minute processing. The detachment was organized into three flight echelons of 7-8-8 aircraft, with flights spaced about two days apart in order not to overcrowd facilities along the route. A few of the aircraft were delayed briefly but caught up with their flights, and all three echelons arrived in the Middle East on schedule. Altogether, it was a highly successful operation and pointed the way to improved methods of handling mass flights of aircraft in the future.110
The North Atlantic Route
Through the winter and spring of 1942, as aircraft moved in increasing numbers over the South Atlantic to the Middle East and beyond, the upper Atlantic area was the scene of hurried and at times almost frantic preparation for an air movement that would permit the weight of American power to be thrown against the Germans at the earliest possible moment. The American and British chiefs at the ARCADIA conference had reaffirmed their faith in a strategy which assigned priority to the European theater and gave to the AAF an initial mission to participate with the RAF in the bombardment of Germany. Questions remained regarding the timing and the scale of that effort, but there was no question as to the necessity for prompt action to prepare for the movement by air of AAF units to the British Isles. That preparation called primarily for a more adequate development of North Atlantic air routes.
The principal need was to complete facilities along a more northern route than that originally put into service by the Canadians and the British in 1940 – one that would take full advantage of the stepping-stones provided by Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland, and Iceland for the purpose of ferrying shorter-range planes to Europe. The British and Canadian governments had been the first to develop plans for such a far northern route.111 and had made initial surveys when the passage of the Lend-Lease Act early in 1941 lent new importance to the project and when, at the same time, plans for an eastward extension of hemispheric defenses by the United States and Canada gave to the undertaking still stronger support.*112
Original British-Canadian plans contemplated a route running from Gander Lake, Newfoundland, to a proposed base in southern Greenland
* See above, Chapter 4.
and thence to Iceland and to Britain.113 Such a route would have required the construction of only one base in addition to those already in use – the one in Greenland. But after the United States became an active participant in the undertaking, and when the Lend-Lease Act raised the prospect of a greatly increased volume of traffic, the project was altered and expanded. Several factors made the field at Gander Lake a very unsatisfactory staging point. Traffic moving through the base and directly across the Atlantic to Scotland was already heavier than could be well accommodated.114 The airport lay considerably to the east of a direct line of flight from embarkation points in Maine or eastern Canada to southern Greenland. Moreover, weather conditions in Newfoundland were much worse than in the mainland region of Labrador, which enjoyed a better location on the line of flight to Greenland.115 Accordingly, a site for development was selected at Goose Bay in Labrador; and Canada having undertaken the responsibility for construction of airdrome facilities, the work was begun there in September 1941. The first airplane landed on one of the temporary snow-packed runways two days after Pearl Harbor.116
The primary responsibility for development of needed facilities in Greenland fell to the United States under the terms of the Danish-American agreement of 9 April 1941.*117 Steps toward completing preliminary surveys had already been taken, and early in July of that year an advance task force of engineer, coast artillery, and general service troops arrived in the waters of southern Greenland and proceeded up the Tunugdliarfik Fjord to Narsarssuak, a site previously selected for the major staging base between Labrador and Iceland. Construction of a landing field and other base facilities began at once, and with the help of reinforcements that followed, continued on through the winter.118 The Narsarssuak base, which was given the code name of BLUIE WEST 1 (BW-1), was ideally located about midway between Goose Bay and Reykjavik, Iceland, lying approximately 775 miles from each. These relatively short hops from the continent to Iceland and the one from Iceland to Scotland would make it possible to move even fighter aircraft along the route without too great difficulty.
Work on a second air base in Greenland, located farther north on the west coast just above the Arctic Circle and to be known as BLUIE WEST 8 (BW-8), began in late September 1941.119 Plans
* [See above, p. 122.
for the use of BW-8 contemplated also a landing field on the east coast of Greenland on the direct line of flight to Iceland, but surveys conducted during 1941 by Capt. Elliott Roosevelt and others failed to locate a suitable site for an airdrome.120 A satisfactory site near Angmagssalik was found the following summer, and construction of the landing strip was completed in the fall of 1942.121 The route through BW-8 was planned as an alternate line of flight for aircraft moving from Goose Bay to Iceland during the periods when bad weather made landings impossible at BW-1 or when facilities at the latter base were overloaded. Surprisingly enough, the flying weather proved to be better along the alternate route through BW-8 and across the icecap of central Greenland than to the south along the route through BW-1.122
Two British airdromes in Iceland, at Reykjavik and Kaldadarnes, had been developed prior to the arrival of the first American occupation forces in July 1941. Built to accommodate the lighter types of aircraft used for defensive purposes, neither of the fields was suitable for large-scale ferrying of multi-engine bombers, and considerable improvement of the two bases became necessary in 1942. Sites for two other bases were found in the Keflavik area, and construction of what were to become Meeks and Patterson fields was begun in the spring of 1942.123
At the western end of the North Atlantic route the principal terminal bases were located at Presque Isle and Houlton, Maine, and at Dorval airport near Montreal. Prestwick in Scotland became the eastern terminal of the route, with Stornoway in the Hebrides serving as an alternate landing field. The Presque Island and Houlton bases had been planned originally to serve as transfer points at which Ferrying Command crews would burn over aircraft to the British for trans-oceanic delivery. Construction of facilities at the bases was authorized in August 1941, and the work proceeded through the fall under the direction of Ferrying Command control officers. The Presque Isle base, ready for limited operations by October, became the main port of embarkation for American aircraft flying the Atlantic either direct or by the short-range route. here, in January 1942, the headquarters of the newly activated North Atlantic Sector of the Ferrying Command was established. Houlton became an alternate landing field.124
All of these preparations would have been incomplete without provision for the weather service and communications system which are
essential to the normal operation of any air route. The need for a widespread network of weather stations through the North Atlantic was especially great. Weather phenomena in the area – icing, fogs, turbulence, and thunderstorms – are associated with the southward movement of polar air masses from the Arctic and the movement north of warm air from the tropics. When these two dissimilar masses of air meet, a “front” is formed and at this point occurs much of the weather so hazardous to flying. The principal job of the weather men of the north was to locate these fronts and to plot and forecast their movements, which were generally from west to east, in order to enable pilots to know when to fly and when not to fly along a given route. Accuracy of forecasts depended on the experience of the weather observers and on the amount of data obtained. The latter in turn depended on the number of stations reporting.125
Between March and December 1941, the Army Air Forces had established the framework of a weather service from Maine to Iceland, into which organization were drawn a number of Canadian and Danish stations. Weather and communications from Iceland into Britain remained for some time the responsibility of the British. The first AAF weather station in the North Atlantic area was opened at Gander Lake in March 1941 to serve air defense units soon to be sent into Newfoundland.126 Thereafter, as new bases were established along the far northern ferrying route, weather and communications men moved in and set up their observation and radio facilities. Ten enlisted weather specialists accompanied the American advance task force into southern Greenland in July 1941. Six of them proceeded at once to set up weather and radio facilities in a tent at BW-1. The other four and one communications specialist were transferred to the Coast Guard cutter Northland and voyaged up the east coast of Greenland to install new radio and meteorological equipment at a number of Danish stations scattered along the coast as far north as Eskimonaes.127 The Danish stations became an integral and important link in the AAF weather network. Two other American weather stations in Greenland were opened, at BW-8 on the west coast and at BLUIE EAST 2 (BE-2) near Angmagssalik on the east coast during 1941.128 In September of that year, task forces were sent into northern Labrador and to Baffin Island to establish three weather stations at points surveyed earlier by an Army and Navy group under Captain Roosevelt.129 These were the three CRYSTAL stations, located in
strategic positions for observing the course of air masses moving down from the Arctic regions of Canada. CRYSTAL I was located at Fort Chimo, Labrador; CRYSTAL II at the head of Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island; and CRYSTAL III on Padloping Island, just off the northeast coast of Baffin Island.130
Nine months of work had gone into the building of the far northern route by the time the United States became an active belligerent. But more than six months of preparations on a much larger scale remained before the route would be ready to support heavy movements of aircraft to Europe. During the winter months that followed Pearl Harbor very little progress could be made, especially in the building or extension of permanent runways and parking aprons. More favorable weather in the spring fo 1942 permitted the speed-up of construction activities at all points along the route, but at the same time it brought its own additional problems. At Goose Bay the compacted snow runways, satisfactory enough during the winter, began to soften with the spring thaw, necessitating a heavy covering of gravel. By June, one rolled gravel runway 6,000 feet long was ready and two others were under construction. Because the housing, messing, maintenance, and other facilities provided by the Canadian government at Goose Bay were inadequate for anticipated needs, the United States requested and secured authority in the summer to construct an entirely separate establishment, complete in every respect, on the opposite side of the airdrome from the RCAF station.131 At BLUIE WEST 1 there had been completed by June one steel mat runway 5,000 feet long and another was under construction, while BW-8 had one good 5,000-foot gravel and clay landing strip. The Reykjavik airport in Iceland had three concrete runways, but two of these were capable of accommodating only the lighter types of airplanes and the third was less than 4,700 feet in length. Neither of the two American bases under construction in Iceland – Meeks and Patterson fields near Keflavik – was usable during 1942. American air force personnel were concentrated at the RAF base at Reykjavik, occupying facilities on the opposite side of the field from the British. The Prestwick airdrome in Scotland, having one concrete runway 6,600 feet long, was well equipped as a terminal point.132
While construction work proceeded during the spring and summer, thousands of tons of supplies, gasoline, food, and aircraft parts were moving into
the various installations by water transport and, to a limited extent, by air. The transportation and storage of sufficient supplies of gasoline alone constituted a logistical problem of considerable magnitude. Spare parts for each type of aircraft to be ferried over the route had to be stocked at each of the bases. With none of the stations was it possible to maintain unhindered water communications at all times. Goose Bay was accessible by water only from early June to October. BW-8, above the Arctic Circle, enjoyed a shipping season of surprising length, being open about six months of the year. But the weather station at CRYSTAL III could be reached by water for only about six weeks of the late summer and early fall. Enemy submarines were a constant menace along the shipping lanes, as were ice floes, heavy fogs, and submerged reefs in uncharted areas.133
Principally because of the extreme shortage of transport aircraft, only a limited number of personnel and a relatively small quantity of supplies and equipment could be moved into the bases by air. But even during the winter, the Ferrying Command was able to operate a small-scale air transport service into Goose Bay in support of the construction work. With a single C-39, the command began moving contractor’s personnel and supplies from Moncton, New Brunswick, to Goose Bay three days after Pearl Harbor.134 In mid-February 1942, this C-39 military service was replaced by a contract carrier service operated by Northeast Airlines. Northeast maintained for some months a regular service between Presque Isle and Goose Bay by way of bases in Newfoundland and later extended its flights into Greenland, Iceland, and Britain.135 Before June, when the Eighth Air Force began its air movement along the route, two other contract airlines conducted survey flights and opened regular transport services over the North Atlantic. Transcontinental & Western Air began to fly its Stratoliners over the route in April, going all the way into Prestwick.136 During the same month, American Airlines, under contract to the Air Service Command, opened a service to Labrador, Baffin Island, and Greenland.137 In the weeks immediately preceding the start of the Eighth’s movement, the 60th Transport Group, a unit of that air force equipped with C-47’s, gave considerable assistance in moving supplies and men into the bases.138
Army Air Forces Headquarters, the Ferrying Command, and other interested AAF agencies were able to keep in touch with activities at the bases by means of numerous survey flights sent out over the
route by both the Ferrying Command and the contract airlines. These flights went only as far as Goose Bay during the winter, but by April they were going all the way to the British Isles. Early in April, Lt. Col. Milton W. Arnold, a member of the Ferrying Command operations staff, was ordered to make a general survey of the route and to determine the feasibility of flying fighter aircraft to Britain. His report was altogether pessimistic, although he raised no question as to the possibility of ferrying the lighter types of aircraft. He found operational facilities generally, and especially those for weather and communications services, as yet in a low state of efficiency. Colonel Arnold recommended that a qualified officer be given the job of flying the route continuously, armed with full authority by the War Department to take whatever corrective action might be found necessary. Arnold himself was given the job by Army Air Forces but his authority wsa limited to that of recommending, rather than ordering, remedial action to correct existing deficiencies. Accompanied by the regional weather and communications officers, he kept the route under constant surveillance during the months immediately preceding the movement of the Eight Air Force and monitored the earliest flights after the movement started.139
As an example of some of the fundamental problems still remaining to be overcome, it may be noted that on one of the survey flights during May, Arnold found practically no weather information was being relayed between Iceland, Greenland, and eastern Canada, even though stations were scattered all through the area at that time. “Actual messages were found in which forecasts were requested from Gander and Presque Isle and were delivered fifteen days later to Greenland, and in another case, twenty-nine date later.”140 Little more than a month remained before the scheduled movement of the Eighth was to begin, a movement that obviously would be impossible under such conditions. Arnold and his associates worked continually at the job of instructing inexperienced weather and radio personnel, replacing those altogether unqualified, installing new radio equipment, and devising a simpler weather code.141 Considerable improvement had been made by late June, though the organization of fully dependable weather and communications services continued to demand the attention of responsible officers.
The story of the actual movement of the air echelon of the Eighth Air Force across the North Atlantic to the British Isles will be considered
in another connection.* Here it will be sufficient merely to note its relation to the development within the AAF of a centralized control of ferrying and transport operations. By action of the Eighth Air Force which was confirmed by the AAF in a directive of 17 May, Brig. Gen. Frank O’D. Hunter of the VIII Fighter Command was given full operational control of the air movement of all units.142 To this action the Ferrying Command raised serious objections. Brig. Gen. Harold L. George insisted that unified control of all operational facilities and air movements over the route should be vested in the Ferrying Command in order to avoid the dangers of divided authority and to take advantage of the wider experience of its personnel. He recommended specifically that the North Atlantic Sector at Presque Isle be expanded into a wing of the Ferrying Command with direct control of operations over the route, that Col. Benjamin F. Giles, an Air Corps officer then commanding the Greenland Base Command, be appointed wing commander, and that the regional weather and communications officers be made directly responsible to the wing.143 All of these recommendations were approved by the AAF except for a decision to avoid a last-minute change in the command of the Eighth’s initial movement. During its first phase, General Hunter retained operational control of the aircraft, with control officers representing both the VIII Fighter Command and the Ferrying Command being stationed along the routes.144 But Colonel Giles assumed command of the new North Atlantic Wing on 8 June, the regional weather and communications officers were assigned to his staff, and by late July the Air Transport Command, successor to the Ferrying Command, had taken over an undivided operational control of the route.145
The Air Transport Command
Air transport services conducted by the Ferrying Command before Pearl Harbor, first to Britain and later to Cairo, had been little more than courier services and were entirely secondary to the major job for which the command was created – that of ferrying British aircraft from American factories to Canada or to ports of embarkation within the United States. The prewar Pan American transport services to and across Africa were also small-scale operations and, as pointed out earlier, were regarded principally as a means of supporting the more
* See below, Chapter 17.
important contract ferrying operation to the Middle East. In 1941, in fact, the concept of air transport as one of the principal channels of supply for the military forces in the field had not been fully grasped. Probably no one then foresaw that a network of long-range transport routes, supporting the daily movement of hundreds of tons of supplies and thousands of passengers, would spread over the world and that daily flights to such remote areas as the Aleutians, Australia, the Philippines, India, and China would become commonplace. Indeed, a limited view of the role of long-range air transportation in the war persisted for some months after the United States became an active belligerent. Not until the late spring and summer of 1942, when large backlogs of supplies awaiting air shipment to the front began to build up at ports of embarkation and when it became clear that almost unlimited demands would be made in the future for air cargo space for the rapid movement of urgently needed materials and personnel, did the idea of air transport as a major instrument of logistics begin to take shape.
In the weeks immediately following Pearl Harbor, the major air transport job was that of establishing and maintaining air communications with those combat areas in which the tactical situation was most critical. It was obvious from the first that maximum use would have to be made of the planes, men, and facilities of the civil airlines. The Ferrying Command was in no position to expand its own military transport services. The B-24 bombers modified for transport use were subject to requisition by the Air Force Combat Command, which necessarily enjoyed an overriding priority, or by the theater commanders in the field. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, most of the Ferrying Command’s four-engine crews were transferred back to the combat units from which they had been borrowed. Of those remaining, some continued for a time to operate an emergency service to Africa and the Middle East, while others were absorbed into a project for training four-engine crews for ferrying replacement heavy bombers to the Far East.146 The civil airlines, in addition to having the available flying personnel and physical equipment, had another equally valuable though less tangible asset. They had the wealth of practical knowledge in conducting scheduled air transport operations, the administrative competence, and the mastery of techniques that came from long experience. For these there was no substitute; neither were there means by which they could have been created in a hurry if they had not
already exited. Fortunately, they did exist and could be quickly harnessed for military purposes.147
As early as 1936 the Air Transport Association of America, the trade organization of the civil airlines, working on conjunction with the Air Corps and the Army War College, had formulated a plan for the mobilization of the airlines in case of war. The plan had been kept up to date during the intervening years, and after Pearl Harbor it provided a broad program for the wartime utilization of the civil aviation resources of the country.148 However, the emergency expansion of overseas transport services in the early months of the war grew out of immediate and specific needs, and was not based on carefully laid plans drawn up in advance. First there was the need for rushing emergency supplies by way of Africa to the Philippines and to China, then of supporting the heavy bomber ferrying movement to the Southwest Pacific, and at the same time increasing the flow of lend-lease supplies to the Middle East to bolster British and Russian resistance. Soon after 7 December, it became necessary to open air transport services to the air bases under construction in the upper Atlantic area, and by the spring of 1942 to establish regularly scheduled flights to Britain, Alaska, Australia, Panama, and the Caribbean area. Expansion on a piecemeal basis and under emergency conditions continued until the summer of 1942. Then, with the growing realization of the potentialities of air transportation, the concentration of control of air transport services in a single command of the Army Air Forces, and the great increase in the number of available aircraft and crews, it became possible to undertake a more orderly development in accordance with needs shaped by the long-range plans of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the several theater commanders.149
As a first step in mobilizing the resources of the airlines, President Roosevelt had signed an executive order on 13 December 1941 directing the Secretary of War to take possession of any portion of any civil aviation system required in the war effort.150 Also on the 13th, the lend-lease administrator allocated twenty-five million dollars to the War Department and authorized it to enter into commitments up to that amount for the purchase of available four-engine aircraft, spare parts, equipment, and facilities for construction or for any other purposes necessary to the extension and operation of air transport services.151
In establishing new overseas services, the most pressing need of both
the Army and the Navy (the latter organized its own Naval Air Transport Service on 12 December 1941) was for land planes or flying boats capable of long-range operations with sizable payloads. Although some 406 multi-engine transports were operated within or beyond the continental limits of the United States by American commercial airlines before Pearl Harbor,152 all but a handful of these were two-engine planes, incapable of carrying a payload over such long overwater jumps as that from Brazil to Africa, from California to Hawaii, or from Newfoundland to Britain. When the United States entered the war the only types of four-engine transport planes in being and ready for use were the Boeing Clipper and the Martin M-130 flying boats, the Boeing Stratoliner land plane, and the modified B-24 Liberator. Only twelve Clippers were in existence, of which three had already been sold to Britain and one to the War Department, while eight were still owned by Pan American Airways. Pan American also owned the two existing Martin Flying boats, while Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc., held title to the Stratoliners, of which there were only five.153 The Ferrying Command was operating eleven B-24’s on the eve of Pearl Harbor.154 This list completes the inventory of four-engine equipment ready for use; and it had to be divided between the Army and Navy.
On the first Sunday following Pearl Harbor, the Assistant Secretary of War for Air called into conference a special aviation committee to consider the air transportation requirements of the Army, Navy, and the commercial airlines and to arrive at a fair and just allocation of available equipment. Representatives were present from the Ferrying Command, the Navy, Civil Aeronautics Administration, Civil Aeronautics Board, Pan American Airways. Transcontinental & Western Air, and other interested government and private agencies. At the meeting, an informal agreement was reached between the War and Navy departments whereby five of the eight Clippers which Pan American had already agreed to sell to the War Department and the two Martin flying boats would be turned over to the Navy. Later, when other long-range aircraft could be substituted for them, the other three Clippers, plus the one that the War Department had purchased in August 1941, were likewise to be transferred to the Navy.155 In the way of four-engine equipment the War Department was left, then, with four of the Boeing Clippers, the five Stratoliners which were purchased from TWA by terms of a contract of 24
December 1941, and the B-24’s. With the exception of a few additional Liberators converted to transports, these were all the four-engine planes that were available for overseas operations by the Ferrying Command and the contract carriers during the first six months of the war. The Douglas Skymaster, or C-54, which was to become the mainstay of long-range transport later in the war, was not yet ready, although the first numbers were in production and were turned over for testing during the summer. The C-87, a fundamental modification of the Consolidated Liberator, built especially for transport purposes, did not come into use until August or September of 1942.
Almost at once after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a part of the four-engine equipment controlled by the War Department was thrown into the desperate effort t reinforce and hold the Philippines. Certain critical items of supply – .50-cal. ammunition and aircraft parts especially – were needed badly by the air forces remaining to MacArthur, and air transport offered the only means of getting them there quickly and on time. In China, the American Volunteer Group was awaiting the shipment of P-40 parts to enable Chennault to keep his few fighters in the air. The only approach by air at this time, as indicated earlier in the discussion of the heavy bomber movement to the Far East, was by way of the southeastern route and across Africa and southern Asia. On 13 December a new contract was entered into by the War Department and Pan American Airways by which the latter agreed to sell the remainder of its four-engine equipment and, using a portion of that equipment on lease, to open a transport service between the United States and Singapore by way of Africa and India.156 Within a week, one of the newly purchased Clippers departed for Calcutta loaded with P-40 parts for Chennault. Before the month was out, two other Clippers left New York for the Far East, each carrying a full load of .50-cal. ammunition destined for MacArthur’s forces in the Philippines.157 In the meantime, three of the Ferrying Command’s B-24’s manned by military crews were diverted from their normal operations between Washington and Cairo and sent to the Far East. A plan now emerged whereby the Clippers would take the ammunition as far as Darwin, Australia, at which point it would be picked up by the B-24’s and flown into the Philippines. Because of the rapidly deteriorating tactical situation, however, the plan could not be put into effect. When the Clippers got as far as Calcutta, they were ordered to return across India to Karachi and there unload the
ammunition, where it was to be picked up later by the B-24’s, which by this time had reached Australia. As it happened, the B-24’s never returned to India, but, instead, remained in the Southwest Pacific where they were called upon to perform a series of remarkable special missions. Shuttling between Australia, the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies, and Burma, they operated a flying taxi service for high-ranking officers, evacuated personnel from forward areas just ahead of the advancing Japanese, and flew urgent cargo into the Philippines. By early March all three of the planes had been lost, two to enemy action and one as the result of a forced landing on the water. Lt. Edson E. Kester – the pilot who had inaugurated the Washington–Cairo transport service in November – was lost off Broome, Australia, when his B-24 went down in flames in an attack by two Japanese Zekes.158
With the abandonment of this attempt to open an air supply route all the way into Australia and the Philippines, the Ferrying Command turned its attention to the building up of the South Atlantic transport services to the Middle East and to extending operations into Iran and farther eastward to India. A supplementary agreement to the Pan American Airways-Africa contract had been signed on 13 December, providing for the extension of the trans-Africa schedules from Khartoum, the prewar terminal, to Cairo and to Tehran in order to support lend-lease ferrying operations of Pan American Air Ferries.159 The trans-African transport services of the PAA-Africa organization grew rapidly. Only seven planes were in use at the time of Pearl Harbor, but by February the contractor had eighteen in operation, and by the end of June a total of thirty-eight twin-engine transports were shuttling back and forth between West African bases and Cairo, with occasional trips as far as Karachi, where they connected with the trans-India transport service then under the control of the Tenth Air Force.160 The latter organization had opened in April 1942 a service destined to fame as the Hump Operation,* thereby spanning the last gap in a strategic air supply line that reached from Miami, Florida, to Kunming, China.161
When the three Pan American Clippers returned to the United States from the Far East in mid-January, they were placed on the route from Miami to Lagos, Nigeria, connecting at that point with the trans-African service. The single Clipper purchased before the war
* [See below, Chapter 14.
was already fling this route and making an occasional trip as far as Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo. In February, Transcontinental & Western Air began operating a shuttle service from Washington to Cairo, using two of the five Stratoliners purchased by the government under terms of the contract of 24 December. Until May, the Ferrying Command’s B-24’s continued to fly special missions to Africa and back. Nearly all of the four-engine equipment was thus concentrated on the southeastern route.162
The long overwater flight from Brazil to Africa complicated the development of a sound operational plan for transport services between Miami and the west African bases. The Pan American Clippers were able to carry a maximum load of approximately 16,000 pounds along the Miami-Natal route, but had to lighten their payload at Natal to take on a heavier load of gasoline before making the Atlantic crossing. For this reason they were able to lift only about 1,000 pounds of cargo on each trip from Natal to Africa. In order to avoid piling up a heavy backlog of cargo and passengers at Natal, it became necessary for the Clippers to make occasional extra shuttles across the Atlantic before returning to the United States. Although this assured for a time a fairly even flow of cargo along the route, the few four-engine planes available were, from the very first, incapable by themselves of providing the necessary cargo space on the run to Africa. The heavy volume of supplies and the large number of personnel that began arriving at the Miami port of embarkation early in 1942 forced the adoption of a plan for using two-engine transports on the Miami-Natal leg of the route and gradually shifting the four-engine equipment to the transoceanic crossing.163
Pan American opened the two-engine service to Natal early in February 1942. For several weeks no fixed schedules were flown, but by the end of the month, equipped with five C-53’s, the contractor was operating a regular schedule of approximately three round trips a week. Pan American gradually increased this service as more planes became available and as the volume of air traffic grew. By the end of June, the number of planes in use had grown to fourteen and two round trips a day were being flown over the 4,000-mile route.164 An additional two-engine service south from Miami was inaugurated on 1 May 1942 by Eastern Air Lines, operating under the direction of the Air Service Command. For the first month or two, Eastern flew only to Trinidad, Puerto Rico, and Nassau but extended its service to
Natal toward the end of June, at which time the operation came under the control of the newly created Air Transport Command.165 With the build-up of the two-engine services to Natal, it became possible to concentrate the four-engine transports on the Atlantic crossing where full advantage could be taken of their capacity for carrying heavy payloads on long-range flights. By June the Pan American Clippers were flying only the transoceanic leg of the route except fo necessary trips back to New York for inspection and overhaul. In the same month five new B-24D’s, flown by military crews of the Ferrying Command, were placed on the South Atlantic crossing. During the spring and early summer of 1942, heavy backlogs of cargo and passengers had piled up at both Miami and Natal, reaching almost unmanageable proportions; but the increased number of planes in use by June and the more frequent schedules made it possible to reduce the backlogs gradually and to assure thereafter a more even flow of traffic to Africa, India, and China.166
Throughout the first half of 1942, and, indeed, until considerably later, the South Atlantic remained by far the most important of the overseas air transport routes, just as it supported the heaviest ferried traffic during the same period. Other route, however, were being opened, and some eventually carried a heavier flow of air traffic than the route to Africa and southern Asia. In the North Atlantic, as we have seen, new contract services were inaugurated during the winter and spring of 1942 in order, first, to speed the completion of air bases in preparation for the movement of the Eighth Air Force, and, when this was accomplished, to support the movement itself and to establish regularly scheduled services into Great Britain. Under terms of a contract of 31 January 1942, Northeast Airlines, equipped originally with two C-53’s, opened a transport service to Goose Bay in mid-February and to Greenland in the early spring. Northeast sent its first flight into Iceland in May, and in July, with more planes available, extended its operations to Prestwick, Scotland.167 American Airlines entered into a contract with the government, approved on 4 April 1942, to provide a transport service between New York and Reykjavik, Iceland. Originally undertaken for the Air Service Command, the operation passed to the control of the Air Transport Command early in July.168 On 13 April, Transcontinental & Western Air dispatched its first Stratoliner flight over the North Atlantic to the United Kingdom, thus reopening a through service that had been
closed down since the preceding October when the Ferrying Command had been forced to discontinue its B-24 shuttle service. Thereafter, three of TWA’s Stratoliners operated regularly over the North Atlantic into Britain.169
War with Japan had also focused attention on the alarmingly inadequate state of United States defenses in Alaska and brought about an early speed-up in work already under way toward the establishment of an air route to the northwest. In December 1941, the air bases and weather and communications facilities along the inland route through Canada, running east of the Rocky Mountains and crossing over through Whitehorse to Fairbanks, were in a state that might be described as usable under optimum conditions.170 These conditions did not exist in the winter of 1941–42, as was discovered in January when an attempt to ferry twenty-five P-40’s and thirteen B-26’s along the route met with disaster.* On 20 February 1942, the U.S. government entered into a contract with Northwest Airlines, giving that organization the main responsibility for further development of the inland route.171 Not only was Northwest to operate an air transport service; it was also to make whatever improvements were required to enable the route to support the flow of ferried military traffic that was anticipated. The transport service provided a means for the quick return of ferrying crews following the completion of delivers and assured a fast mail service as well as air cargo space for the movement of a limited amount of urgently needed supplies, such as airplane parts and communications equipment, and essential personnel. By terms of the contract, terminal points were established at Fargo, North Dakota, and Fairbanks, but the southern terminus was soon shifted to Minneapolis, where cargo for air shipment could more easily be assembled. Northwest dispatched its first survey flight on 27 February, which was followed during March by a series of shuttles to familiarize pilots with the route and to deploy personnel and materials required for regularly scheduled operations.172
Quantitatively viewed, the Alaskan operation was of little consequence before the last days of May. Reports of Northwest Airlines show that in the period from 21 March through 30 April approximately 170 tons of cargo and 258 passengers were carried, and that the corresponding figures for the month of May were 240 tons and 631 passengers. About one-third of the April total and more than half
* See above, pp. 303–4.
of that for May consisted of what the railroads describe as “company traffic,” that is, supplies and equipment for Northwest’s own stations. Part of the remainder was carried for the engineers at work on the Alaskan highway.173
Two other airlines began operations in the northwest during the spring of 1942, both under the supervision of the Air Service Command. In mid-April, Western Air Lines opened a contract service from points in the United States to Edmonton, Alberta. The service was established primarily to transport cargo from air depots within the United States to Edmonton, but it also furnished a connecting link by means of which returning ferrying crews were able to get from Northwest Airlines’ facilities at Edmonton to commercial facilities at Great Falls, Montana.174 A subsidiary of United Air Lines was awarded a contract on 4 April 1942 to operate two DC-3’s on a one-trip-a-week basis from air depots at Dayton, Ohio, and Ogden, Utah, to Fairbanks by way of Edmonton. The first survey flights were flown on 17 April, and regular service began on 15 May.175 A new contract with United, approved on 25 June, authorized additional services from Dayton to Anchorage, Alaska, and from Edmonton to Anchorage.176
The developing Japanese threat to the Aleutians in late May 1942 and the actual attack early in June brought about a sudden and rapid increase in both transport and ferrying operations along the northwest route. Existing transport schedules were speeded up and the routes extended and, in addition, the personnel and resources of other airlines were hastily mobilized for emergency support to military forces in Alaska. On 13 June, eleven airlines were ordered to send all available planes to Edmonton. Commercial schedules were canceled, passengers were dropped at the nearest airport, crews took off without even changes of clothing, and within the next several days forty-six airplanes were concentrated at the Edmonton base. Routes were quickly assigned. Northwest continued to fly its existing routes with an extension to Dayton and Anchorage. United Air Lines concentrated on the routes from Patterson Field, Ohio, to Anchorage and from Salt Lake City to Fairbanks. Pennsylvania Central shuttled between Dayton and Edmonton. The other airlines flew cargo from various air depots in the United States to Alaskan points. Both Northwest and United made numerous trips to Nome, particularly in the last days of June when Japanese activity was reported in the vicinity. The garrison at Nome was built up overnight, entirely by air.177
The pilots and crew members who took part in the operation had a rough time. Many of them were inexperienced in arctic flying, and the tension of prolonged instrument flight and the knowledge that maps were inaccurate, that facilities were minimal, and that no search and rescue system existed produced a mental stress that served to intensify the physical exhaustion caused by long hours in the air. The assumption by the Alaska Defense Command of the right to commandeer any aircraft that crossed the border resulted in pilots being kept in Alaska until their maximum flight time was reached and in some cases exceeded; half a month’s flight time would be performed in three days or less, and when the crews returned to Edmonton they were an exhausted, unshaven, red-eyed lot. By the end fo July the operation tapered off and planes were being returned to normal commercial operation, but several of the airlines continued to make emergency flight to and through Edmonton until September.178
Following the failure of the early attempt to open an emergency air supply service into the Southwest Pacific by way of Africa, no further effort was made by the AAF to establish regular air communications with the area until April 1942. By that time, construction of bases and facilities along the new South Pacific route between Hawaii and Australia was far enough advanced to permit a scheduled trans-Pacific operation on a small scale. While the initial service was undertaken chiefly for the purpose of returning ferrying crews from Australia to the United States, it also provided a means of getting a limited quantity of badly needed supplies to the Southwest Pacific.179 Pursuant to a directive from General Arnold to secure two of the LB-30’s repossessed from the British and open the service, the Ferrying Command selected Consolidated Aircraft Corporation as the logical operating agency.180 Though Consolidated was an aircraft manufacturer rather than an airline, its own crews had been ferrying aircraft to the Dutch in the Netherlands East Indies, and the company had, as a consequence, a pool of pilots experienced in trans-Pacific flying.181 Regular operations began on 23 April 1942 when one of the LB-30’s was dispatched from San Diego to Australia carrying 1,900 pounds of airplane parts, radio parts, and mail. It returned eleven days later with twenty-two Ferrying Command pilots and other ferrying crew members aboard. The regular route ran from Hamilton Field, California, to Hickam Field, Oahu, and thence by way of Christmas Island, Canton Island, the Fiji Islands, and New Caledonia to Australia. In
June, the Consolidated service was enlarged by the assignment of three additional Liberators to the run; and in September, United Air Lines opened a second contract service over the same route with four of the new C-87’s. By October, twelve four-engine transports were operating between the West Coast and Australia.182
It should be clear from frequent references to contract carrier services operated for the Air Service Command that the Ferrying Command was not the only AAF agency directly concerned with air transportation. Nor, indeed, was it the first. Months before the Ferrying Command was organized, the 50th Transport Wing of the Air Corps Maintenance Command, which became the Air Service Command in October 1941, had been operating a well-established military transport service within the continental limits of the United States. The wing’s principal function was that of transporting technical Air Corps supplies between the various air depots and subdepots scattered about the country; but it also furnished transport aircraft and pilots for use in training parachute troops and airborne infantry. During the first half of 1941, the wing’s domestic air cargo service carried more freight than all of the commercial air carriers in the country.183
For some months after the United States entered the war, the domestic cargo operations of the Air Service Command continued on a purely military basis.in the spring of 1942, however, the command was forced to enlist the services of commercial carriers operating under contract. On 30 April, the 50th Transport Wing and its tactical training functions were transferred to a new organization temporarily designated the Air Transport Command but soon renamed the Troops Carrier Command.184 Having lost jurisdiction over the 50th Transport Wing, the Air Service Command was entirely dependent thereafter on the commercial carriers for the conduct of its air freight service.
During the spring the Air Service Command negotiated contracts with commercial carriers for services over various domestic routes and, furthermore, enlisted the services of the civil carriers in establishing air transport lines to air bases in the upper Atlantic, in Alaska, and in the Caribbean area, as well as to Panama by way of Mexico and Central America. To administer these operations, the command organized a Contract Air Cargo Division staffed largely by officers who had been called to military duty from executive positions with the airlines. By June, the new division operated a daily average of forty
twin-engine transports. Cargo handled amounted to approximately 2,000 tons in May and 2,500 tons in June.185
For several months after war began, there was no serious overlapping of the transport activities of the Ferrying Command and the Air Service Command. The former was engaged only in long-range overseas operations, while the latter, at least in the beginning, confined its own transport activities to the domestic field. But when the Air Service Command began extending its operations beyond the borders of the United States, areas of duplication developed, and by March 1942 the need arose for a clear division of responsibility. On 24 March, General Arnold issued a directive assigning to the Air Service Command responsibility for transporting aviation technical supplies to points within the Western Hemisphere, including Alaska, the Caribbean area, Greenland, and Iceland. As soon as possible it was to inaugurate a transport service to Honolulu. The Ferrying Command was given control of all air transport services beyond the Western Hemisphere and, for the time being, it was to control all ferrying of aircraft within the United States and to overseas destinations. It will be noted that the Ferrying Command’s title to its basic function of ferrying aircraft within and beyond the united States was rendered somewhat uncertain by the phrase “for the time being.” Furthermore, the proposed Air Service Command operation to Honolulu would have been in contravention of the Ferrying Command’s responsibility to operate all transport services extending outside the Western Hemisphere.186
Obviously, the whole arrangement was only a temporary expedient, but nothing further in the way of clarification was attempted until June. By that time, it had become apparent that the division of authority given on 24 March had resulted, to quote General Arnold, in “substantial duplication of effort and a confusing dual responsibility.”187 Mr. L. W. Pogue, chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, in a memorandum dated 15 June, gave a detailed and trenchant description of the confusion and duplication then prevalent in the field of military air transport. he expressed the opinion that the ideal solution would be the creation of a new command, independent of both the Army and the Navy, which should control practically all military air transport operations. As a less desirable but more feasible step he recommended that, at the least, all air transport services within the Army be unified under one command.188
A memorandum of General Arnold on the subject and that of Mr. Pogue were submitted to a board of officers, with instructions to consider the whole problem.189 Before the board could make an official report, however, General Arnold had reached a decision; and, on 29 June, Army Air Forces issued General Orders No. 8, which embodied substantially the second recommendation of Mr. Pogue. The Ferrying Command was renamed the Air Transport Command, and the organization hitherto known by the latter title was redesignated the Troops Carrier Command. Effective 1 July, the new Air Transport Command was given the following responsibilities:–
a. The ferrying of all aircraft within the United States and to destinations outside of the United States as directed by the Commanding General, Army Air Forces.
b. The transportation by air of personnel, matériel, and mail for all War Department agencies, except those served by Troop Carrier units as hereinafter set forth.
c. The control, operation, and maintenance of establishments and facilities on air routes outside of the United States which are, or may be made, the responsibility of the Commanding General, Army Air Forces.
Paragraph b was further clarified by the assignment to Troop Carrier units of responsibility for providing transportation for parachute troops, airborne infantry, and glider units; and for conducting local air transport services within the theaters of operations.190
Shortly after the issuance of General Orders No. 8, the personnel and functions of the Contract Air Cargo Division of the Air Service Command were transferred to the Air Transport Command. Thus the division of responsibility between the two commands was ended.191
One other area of conflict in the field of military air transport had yet to be eliminated. The transportation service of the Services of Supply had been assigning priorities for travel on commercial and military aircraft and was, furthermore, planning to institute an independent air transport service of its own. Had this step, which was imminent in June, been taken, the confusion to which Mr. Pogue objected would have been further increased. This potential source of duplication was removed by the agreement of the Services of Supply to transfer to the AAF, and hence automatically to the Air Transport Command, not only the air priorities function but all of its air transportation responsibilities. The transfer was made effective by a War Department directive of 1 July.192
The newly created Air Transport Command consisted of two main divisions, the Ferrying Division and the Air Transportation Division, corresponding roughly to the two primary responsibilities of the command.193 At the time it was redesignated and given its enlarged mission, the command was already in the process of reorganization. Five major field organizations, known as wings, were constituted on 12 June 1942 and activated at various dates during the latter part of the month.194 Initially, they were known as the 23rd through the 27th AAF Ferrying wings, but the command soon requested and secured a change to more descriptive geographical names. On 5 July, they were redesignated the North Atlantic, Caribbean, South Atlantic, Africa-Middle East, and South Pacific wings.195 Through these field organizations or subheadquarters, and others that were created later, the command was able to exercise more direct and closer supervision over both its ferrying and transport activities, which were by now becoming world-wide in scope and were growing to such an extent that the old highly centralized control exercised by the Ferrying Command was no longer practicable.
During the thirteen months of its existence, the Ferrying Command had grown from an original staff of two officers and a civilian secretary to a strength of over 11,000 officers and enlisted men, in addition to its civilian employees and those of the civil air carriers operating under its supervision. As the name implies, ferrying had been its main job, and during the period its pilots ferried 13,595 aircraft to final domestic destinations, while 632 planes were delivered to foreign destinations under the supervision of the command.196 The ferrying activity continued to increase as more aircraft were turned out by the factories, as new combat units became ready for deployment overseas, and as the need for battle replacements grew; but after the organization became the Air Transport Command and when it became the single strategic aerial supply arm of the War Department, more and more emphasis came to be placed on the air transportation function. Air transport had passed beyond the stage of being primarily a courier service or an adjunct to ferrying; it was well on the way to becoming a major instrument of logistical support to combat operations on the ground and in the air. More than 130 two- and four-engine transport aircraft had become available to the command by 1 July 1942, of which 10 or 15 were being flown by military crews and the remainder by the contract carriers.197 A large number of these had come from new
production, some were acquired from the Air Service Command, but others became available as the result of a presidential order of 6 May directing the Secretary of War to commandeer all transports of the DC-3 type operated by the domestic air carriers in excess of 200 and to refit them “for such transport services as will most effectively serve the war purposes of the United Nations.”198 The transfer of the aircraft from the airlines to the War Department made it possible for the former also to release additional crews for employment in military operations.
A long-range air supply system, conducted on the basis of predetermined and established schedules and operating into or through a number of theaters and independent commands exercising military jurisdiction along overseas air routes, had to be reasonably free from control by local commanders. A transport or ferried airplane flying from the West Coast to Australia in 1942 passed through the territory of four principal commands before reaching its destination; and over the North Atlantic a plane flying from the United States to Great Britain might traverse the jurisdictional area of as many as five separate theater or base commands. In the early months of the war, the theater commanders, whose powers, traditionally, were almost without limits within the established boundaries of their own commands, frequently diverted scheduled transport aircraft and crews operating under the control of the Ferrying Command to their own immediate tactical needs. In other instances, ferrying crews, upon completion of deliveries to a theater, were held for a time by local authorities instead of being returned promptly to the United States. While such practices might have been justified in emergencies, if carried too far they would have led inevitably to a complete breakdown of the developing system of strategic air supply. The theater commanders were, in short, adopting a policy contrary to their own long-range interests.199
The jurisdictional difficulty began in the Middle East early in 1942 when Brig. Gen. Elmer E. Adler, then the ranking Air Corps officer in that area, attempted to preempt control of Ferrying Command operations and personnel in Africa. The misunderstanding, however, was promptly removed by strongly worded messages from General Arnold and General Olds.200 More serious and prolonged interference came from the commanding generals of the Southwest Pacific Area, the China-Burma-India theater, and the Alaska Defense Command.201 The necessity for protecting Ferrying Command operations was the
subject of frequent representations by that organization and the Army Air Forces. in response to these representations, the War Department published a directive on 6 June 1942 which attempted to bring some order into the relations between the Ferrying Command and the theaters. The Ferrying Command was declared to be “a War Department service agency” under the direct control of the Commanding General, Army Air Forces, who served as agent of the War Department. Theater commanders were enjoined to limit interference with Ferrying Command operations or appropriation of its facilities to occasions of specific emergency.202
This letter, as General George soon pointed out, was entirely too weak. The same difficulties continued to be encountered by the Air Transport Command. It was not easy to convey to theater commanders an entirely new concept of control, one which ran contrary to the traditional understanding of theater prerogatives. Upon the request of General George, a stronger statement was published in September 1942, but not until February of the following year would a War Department directive be issued that was sufficiently forceful and comprehensive.203 By the summer of 1942 it was already becoming clear that, so far as long-range air transport services were concerned, the world was a single theater of operations.