Section 4: Preparations for the Air War Against Germany
Chapter 16: Plans, Policies, and Organization
In the Pacific, the air war began with the surprise attack on Oahu. The Japanese, for reasons sufficiently cogent, had chosen to launch the attack in the quiet of a December Sunday morning. It was sudden, all-out war. Within a matter of hours, or at most of a few days, American air forces in Hawaii and the Philippines were all but annihilated.
In the European theater, the AAF went to war more deliberately, choosing the Fourth of July, 1942, as an appropriate day to strike. It was only a token blow – six Eighth Air Force light bomber crews flying borrowed Bostons in an RAF routine sweep against enemy airfields.* During the seven months which had intervened since Pearl Harbor, the AAF’s war against Germany had been confined to antisubmarine patrols. In the Pacific, pilots had become veterans and combat units had burned out before the first sortie was flown over the European continent. When, on 17 August, the Eighth Air Force dispatched the initial U.S. bombardment mission against occupied France,† the first phase of the Pacific war had run its course. The Jap, in a series of rapid thrusts, had reached his widest perimeter. He had been checked in the Coral Sea, defeated decisively at Midway, and had pulled back from his feint at Dutch Harbor to hibernate on Attu and Kiska. He had conquered northern Burma, cutting the road to China; but already the Tenth Air Force with its newly formed China Air Task Force had begun the long struggle to maintain an air link with China. Port Moresby, key to the defense of northeastern Australia, had been saved from amphibious assault by the success of
* See below, pp. 658–59.
† See below, pp. 661–64.
the U.S. Navy in the Coral Sea, and the attack from over the Owen Stanley range, just inaugurated by the Japanese army, was soon to boomerang in the Allied drive for Buna. In New Guinea, then, and in the Solomons where the Marines had landed on 7 August, the Papuan and Guadalcanal campaigns were just ushering in the second phase of the Pacific war – that of limited and local offensives which might put American forces in position to initiate later the long drive northward.
This order of things was not of our choosing; it stemmed from the complete success of the initial Japanese attacks. Prewar decisions to concentrate first against Germany had been based on the assumption that Japanese forces could be contained by a strategic defensive; the simultaneous destruction of Allied sea and air striking forces had gravely altered the situation. Hence, though Anglo-American strategists could reaffirm in general terms their earlier view of the paramount importance of Germany, they found it necessary to divert to the Pacific a heavy share of the immediately available air strength, with all that implied in shipping and logistical support. This reversal in priorities, though temporary, inexorably retarded the air effort in Europe – and so it was that the bomber campaign against Germany, conceived in 1941 as America’s first offensive against the Axis, limped into action some thirty-six weeks after war began.
In the meanwhile, however, preparation for the air war against Germany had gone on, somewhat hampered by successive reappraisals of over-all strategy. It is with those preparations and their first fruits that this section is concerned. The present chapter deals largely with plans – the general strategy, the mission of the Army Air Forces therein, and the means by which its leaders proposed to accomplish that mission. The following chapter will describe the actual establishment in the United Kingdom of the Eighth Air Force and its logistical support. And finally, that this volume need not close without at least one blow against Germany, the last chapter will tell the story of the first AAF bombardment mission over western Europe.
The Bomber Offensive in World Strategy
When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Forces was shunting air units to the Pacific in a desperate effort to bolster U.S. defenses in the Far East. But during most of 1941 the Air Staff in its planning had followed, enthusiastically and with few misgivings,
the recommendations of the Anglo-American staffs that the principal war effort should be exerted first against Germany. The corollary proposal, that “U.S. Army air bombardment units [would] operate offensively in collaboration with the Royal Air Force, primarily against German Military Power at its source,”1 was accepted as the AAF’s first and most important mission outside the Western Hemisphere. When the President and Mr. Churchill met with their military staffs in the ARCADIA conference they were still determined, “in spite of recent events,” to knock Germany out of the war first. But any decision in respect to the bomber offensive had to be made with a cautious eye on the immediate situation in the Pacific.*
At the first session of the conference, the two chiefs of state agreed informally and tentatively that AAF heavy bombardment units should be sent to England according to earlier designs.2 When that agreement was formally adopted by the Anglo-American chiefs of staff on 13 January 1942, the phrasing ran simply that “the movement of US Army Air Forces to the UK should proceed as soon as forces and shipping become available so as to increase the weight of attack on Germany.3 The date of deployment and the size of the force would depend upon a complex of factors, many of them rooted in the Pacific war. This meant, then, a delay of indeterminate length in the fulfillment of any long-term plan built, as had been AWPD/1, around a huge bomber force in England. It meant also scrapping earlier estimates of more immediate deployments. ABC-1 had called for thirty-two AAF squadrons in the United Kingdom in 1941; the original RAINBOW No. 5 tables listed four groups of bombers and three of pursuits, to which an additional bombardment group was added in the revised tables of 19 November.4 The Air Staff would have preferred a more flexible and realistic commitment – “Those air forces as dictated by circumstance”5 – but in any event it had been presumed that at outbreak of war, or even before, a substantial air contingent should be sent to the British Isles. Now that war had come, there were more pressing needs.
The British naturally were interested in the projected bomber force, but were anxious that it be provided without jeopardy to current allocation of heavy bombers to the RAF.6 No immediate cut was contemplated; and on 1 January, General Arnold told Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal that it might be possible to send two
heavy bombardment groups before too long – his guess of “about March or April” was only a “shot in the dark.7 Within the Air Staff it was estimated that out of the 115-group program, sixteen bombardment and five pursuit groups would be available for the task force in the United Kingdom. Most of these units would be ready only in the last months of 1942, but the Air Staff, accepting a spring date for planning purposes, gave to the two heavy bomber groups and supporting units a high priority.8 Thus on 15 January they listed projected task forces in this order of urgency: (1) Task Force X (heavy bombers for Australia); (2) Task Force FIVE ISLANDS (for defense of South Pacific ferry bases); (3) Task Force BR (bomber force for United Kingdom); (4) GYMNAST (Northwest Africa); (5) MAGNET (Northern Ireland); (6) Task Force CAIRO (to Egypt).9 On 27 January the Combined Chiefs of Staff agreed that the first two heavy bomber groups available should be assigned to an American bomber command in the British Isles, to “operate independently in cooperation with the British Bomber Command.”10 Detailed plans for the initial movement of forces, now calculated for 15 May, were prepared for the Combined Staff Planners by AWPD.11 The task of building an organization for the proposed force was begun under supervision of Maj. Gen. Carl Spaatz, commanding general of the Air Force Combat Command and designated leader of the Army Air Forces in Great Britain. On 4 February, Brig. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, chosen to head up the bomber command, left for England to arrange for the reception of the initial units.12
In view of the fluid tactical situation and the conflicting demands from every theater, it was to be expected that AWPD’s suggested allocation to Task Force BR of 21 groups from the 115-group program would be subject to later modification. More disconcerting was the competition for the initial units earmarked by the CCS on 27 January and already tentatively designated by number in the AAF.13 Again it was enemy victories and their repercussions which threatened accepted priorities. Reinforcements to Australia and the South Pacific were dispatched pretty much as planned. MAGNET offered little effective competition either immediately, or as time was to prove, in the future. GYMNAST was shelved in March and was for a few months out of the picture. But in the late winter and early spring of 1942, the Middle East loomed as a new danger spot, perhaps as the key to Axis strategy. At ARCADIA, Sir Charles Portal had
suggested to Arnold that one group of heavy bombers be sent to Egypt, even though it was realized that this reinforcement could be made only by borrowing from Task Force BR.14 Arnold had declined the request, and it was then agreed that the one group of heavies set up for CAIRO was to go out only after the initial BR increment.15
On 22 February the British chiefs of staff proposed to the CCS a new “Policy for Disposition of US and British Air Forces.16 This memorandum greatly extended the scope of diversions from earlier agreements. The United States was asked to provide additional air strength for the Pacific, to conduct bomber operations from China against Japan, to assist the British with heavy bombers in the Burma-Indian Ocean theater and, if necessary, in the Middle East. Since these commitments could be met only by utilizing the two heavy bombardment groups scheduled for the AAF bomber command in the British Isles, it was suggested that for the present the RAF would assume sole responsibility for the air offensive against Germany, with the AAF joining in “at the earliest dates practicable.”
The air deployments recommended in this memorandum received strong support in a long cable from Churchill to Roosevelt, delivered on 5 March, in which the Prime Minister reviewed gravely, almost pessimistically, the current strategic situation.17 The immediate prospect was indeed gloomy. The Japs had swept southward with hardly a check. Malaya was gone. The Netherlands East Indies and Burma, already invaded, were doomed. The Indian Ocean was open to Japanese warships and aircraft, and India itself was in danger. Rommel was building up his forces for another push toward the Nile, and the dreaded Axis pincers movement with a junction somewhere east of Suez seemed an imminent possibility. The additional threat of a Nazi thrust to the Caucasus in summer, and thence to meet the Japanese in India, made of the Middle East a crucial area. The British public, disappointed that promised victories in Egypt had been turned into defeats, had been profoundly shocked by the bold escape from Brest of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on 12 February and by the fall of Singapore on the 15th, and Churchill’s government was under bitter criticism. It is little wonder that the Prime Minister had lost something of his confident tone of ARCADIA days and had for the moment less concern for the war in northwestern Europe than in distant parts of the empire. To gain additional air support for Australia, Burma, India, and Egypt, he was willing to postpone MAGNET,
GYMNAST, and the build-up of the AAF striking force in England. Such changes in scheduled air deployments and the strategy implied thereby were vigorously opposed by the AAF – first by General Arnold in a White House conference on 6 March, and later in a more elaborate statement prepared by the Air Staff and incorporated into the President’s reply.18 In general the Air Staff’s stand was for concentration, against dispersal, of forces; specifically, it advocated sending minimum reinforcements to the Pacific and Middle East and throwing into England all units previously intended for GYMNAST and MAGNET. This attitude followed that currently entertained by the War Department; essentially based on the strategy of ABC-1 as modified at ARCADIA, Army planning in February and March was more deeply concerned with the Russian front than with possible dangers in the Middle East.
The situation on the eastern European front was difficult to evaluate in Washington. Early pessimism concerning the Soviets’ chance of survival had been somewhat allayed by their successful defense of Leningrad and Moscow, and by their winter counteroffensive. But it was understood that the German withdrawal had not been the rout described by Moscow, and it seemed highly probable that with spring Hitler would try to finish off the U.S.S.R. before the United States could bring to bear in Europe its full strength. Earlier plans had conceived the main American effort as an assault on the continent from bases in the United Kingdom, to be delivered only after a powerful force had been established there and after Germany had been weakened by an intensive bomber offensive. Now it appeared that the danger of a complete German victory on the eastern front might warrant a more immediate diversionary invasion of the continent by a smaller force. In America, as in Britain, military strategy could not be divorced entirely from political considerations. Popular demands for a second front in Europe, already strong in England, were becoming increasingly vocal in the United States. For national morale, offensive action on some front was certainly needed. Opponents of the administration were critical of the evident determination to subordinate the Japanese to the European war; ignoring the utter impossibility of getting troops to the Philippines, they coupled demands for the relief of MacArthur with protests against the dispatch of “large” forces to the inactivity of Northern Ireland. The decision to have a go at the Nazis first had been made on sound military grounds, but it required
little political imagination to foresee the nature of the coming congressional elections if operations in the chosen theater were indefinitely postponed.
The American position in respect to a second front was not without a certain weakness. What with the current rate of production, the heavy matériel responsibilities to allies, the status of trained units, and, above all, the dearth of shipping, the United States could not at an early date deploy and support in a European campaign any large forces. This meant that the British must bear the heaviest initial burden, and in March there was some doubt in the General Staff that they would underwrite a large-scale operation under those conditions.19 Nevertheless, study on the projected invasion continued throughout March, and on the 27th, WPD was ready with its “Plan for Operations in Northwest Europe.” Three days later AWPD added its accompanying plan for air operations.20 The project called for an invasion of northern France either in autumn 1942 or spring 1943. There were to be four phases of air activities: preparation and training; a preliminary strategic bombardment campaign; close support of ground forces during and after the landing; and a return to strategic targets when the proper equipment was released from covering the landing. The Combined Staff Planners doubted that the requisite air superiority could be achieved by September, but were confident of success by the following spring.21
The plan was approved in principle by President Roosevelt, and on 8 April General Marshall and Harry Hopkins arrived in London to elicit British support. In his first meeting with the Chiefs of Staff Committee on the 9th, Marshall urged that a firm decision be reached soon as to the locality and timing of the main Anglo-American effort; this was needed to guide production, allocation, training, troop movements, and the like. American preference for an early assault on western Europe he ascribed to the necessity of aiding the Red army and the desire to get U.S. troops into an active theater where they could gain experience in large-scale operations. The United States, because of its heavy commitments elsewhere, could not build up a great force in England before spring 1943; but if the Russian situation deteriorated badly, it might be necessary to mount a more modest “emergency operation.” By mid-September the Army would have in the United Kingdom one armored and two and one-half infantry divisions, supported by some 400 pursuits, 300 bombers, and 200
transport planes; this force he was willing to commit if it became expedient.22
The British replied that they had been thinking along similar lines – of a grand invasion in 1943, or an earlier one if the Soviets were facing defeat or if the Germans showed signs of cracking.23 They enumerated practical difficulties which would make an invasion in 1942 extremely hazardous – the limited period of favorable weather which could be expected; the serious shortages in shipping, in landing craft, and in air strength; and other factors which seemed scarcely to disturb the ordinary citizen who was crying for a second front, but of which General Marshall was painfully aware. Yet after further study of Marshall’s plan, the British on 14 April accepted it in principle; the main preparations should be timed for the following spring, with concurrent arrangements for a lesser operation in 1942 if circumstances demanded.24 The Prime Minister, in a radio message of 17 April, informed Roosevelt of his approval of the design; his sole proviso was that the Japanese and Germans must be prevented from joining forces in the Middle East. If that could be forestalled, he advocated a crescendo of activities against the continent, “starting with an ever increasing air offensive both by night and day.”25 His message may be taken as the official launching of the strategy which was to culminate, a year behind schedule, on 6 June 1944.
The Combined Staff Planners immediately began the long and intricate task of preparing for the movement, reception, and maintenance of the expeditionary force.26 This phase of the operation was called BOLERO; the main invasion of spring 1943 was ROUNDUP, the earlier emergency landing, SLEDGEHAMMER. BOLERO committees, with representatives of the several services of both nations, were established in Washington and London. Uncertainty as to which operation would be mounted made planning difficult for the AAF, its equipment and its role would be determined by the final choice between the two alternatives.
The mission assigned to the AAF by the Combined Chiefs had been phrased in most general terms: the conduct in cooperation with the RAF of an offensive against western Europe in 1942. If SLEDGEHAMMER became necessary, the AAF could contribute little to the preliminary strategic bombardment and only modestly to direct support of the invading force. A decision to hold off until ROUNDUP would enhance greatly the weight of the bomber offensive
and allow time for the AAF to build a force appropriate to the invasion itself. In neither case did the plan follow exactly the earlier pattern of thought in the AAF – as exhibited, say, in AWPD/1.* To the Air Staff, as to RAF Bomber Command, the bomber offensive had figured as a most vital part of the over-all strategy: an operation which by the destruction of well-chosen targets might suffice to bring Germany to her knees or, more probably, would weaken her war potential to the degree that the success of an invasion would be assured. In the new plans-in SLEDGEHAMMER especially but to a lesser degree in ROUNDUP – the emphasis was on counterair measures; even strategic bombing was looked on as a means of provoking German resistance so that the Luftwaffe might be trimmed down and the Allies might secure that superiority in the air deemed necessary for a successful crossing of the channel. The importance of this aspect of the air offensive had been appreciated in both allied air forces. RAF officers and General Eaker alike were of the opinion that an intensive bomber offensive would in itself constitute something of a second front by drawing GAF strength westward.27 and Eaker feared, not without justification, that an attempt to build up air and ground forces simultaneously would react unfavorably against priorities which logic and previous designs had given to the AAF. But those opinions were submerged in the new strategy; air plans must be built around the alternative schemes for invasion. This meant, for one thing, a reappraisal of target objectives. General Spaatz explained this necessity to Mr. Stimson by pointing out that whereas the European strategy had originally been conceived as involving the use of air power supported by ground forces, it was now a matter of air power supporting ground forces.28 The new strategy demanded also a re-examination of the needs of the Army air force in Britain in terms of trained units and equipment.
That review was necessary first because the new mission could not be carried out with the B-17’s and B-24’s and fighters which had been intended as the bomber command’s striking force. The need now, as Arnold said, was for a “balanced force.”29 But there were also wider issues touching the assignment of organized units to the various theaters and the allocation of aircraft production potential among the several nations. It has previously been shown that at ARCADIA the output of American aircraft factories for 1942 had been allotted to
* See above, pp. 148–49.
the United States and Great Britain (and through them to other user nations) in the Arnold-Portal agreement.* Based on the principle that aircraft allocation should be guided by immediate ability to use the planes in combat, the agreement had provided for revision when warranted by changing conditions. In Washington the Munitions Assignments Board† had never considered this schedule as more than a temporary guide, and by May of 1942 it was apparent that the related problems of allocation and deployment must be restudied.
That need had been implied by the British memorandum of 22 February. Now that the SLEDGEHAMMER/ROUNDUP strategy had been accepted, the RAF wanted the United States to increase the allocation of P-40’s for the Middle East in return for Spitfires to equip AAF fighter units in England, by which expedient RAF Fighter Command might build a reserve against the heavier losses which an intensive offensive in Europe would entail.30 On the American side there were equally cogent reasons: unexpected attrition in the Pacific; the rapid expansion of the training program with its operational training units crying for combat planes; and the natural desire of the public that U.S. planes be flown by U.S. crews. The demand from theaters of U.S. responsibility for additional aircraft continued strong. That was particularly true of the Southwest Pacific, where MacArthur had assumed command on 18 April. A fortnight later, the joint Chiefs of Staff were alarmed by a query from Roosevelt as to whether aircraft strength in Australia “could properly be” increased to 1,000, ground forces to 100,000. The question seemed momentarily to indicate some wavering in purpose, but the President immediately explained that his message had been merely an inquiry, not a directive. He wished to deploy in the Southwest Pacific only enough planes to fulfill present objectives, and desired that existing arrangements for Europe be carried out: “I do not want ‘Bolero’ slowed down.”31 This was on 6 May; on the 17th he repeated the sentiment,32 and a week later a group of high-ranking Army and Navy officers left for London for further discussion of BOLERO needs. In the group were General Arnold and Rear Adm. John H. Towers of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics. They had been directed to confer with Portal and a representative of the Fleet Air Arm, and to draw up a new
* See above, pp. 248–49.
† See above, p. 249.
statement of allocation policy which the Combined Chiefs might act on after their return.33
The discussions were opened in London on 26 May, first in a general meeting with Churchill, later among the airmen alone.34 Arnold reviewed the aircraft situation in the U.S. armed forces and the effect of commitments to China and the U.S.S.R.; he stressed the President’s desire that “every appropriate American-made aircraft be manned and fought by our own crews.”35 This principle the British were willing to accept if it carried the corollary determination “to bring into action against the enemy at the earliest possible date in the appropriate theaters the greatest strength in fully trained air forces that it was possible to create out of the combined aircraft production, trained manpower and shipping of the United Nations.”36 Several days of intensive study and debate followed, as Americans and British presented their respective views on problems of allocation, deployment, supply, maintenance, and operations. An VIII Bomber Command officer remarked that “the meetings were in the nature of a horse trade.”37 An old hand at this sort of give-and-take, Arnold confessed that he found it “exceedingly difficult to conform 100% with the principles” insisted on by the two governments. On the 30th, he presented Portal with a memorandum outlining the American reaction to the discussions38 Essentially the document represented a compromise, and Arnold saw only a few issues which promised any great difficulty in solution: the British desire for reinforcement of the Middle East; the RAF Coastal Command’s request for long-range bombers, which would saddle the AAF with a burden more appropriately the Navy’s under the U.S. organizational system; and the competitive demands for light bombers, a type badly needed for any air-ground cooperation, which must come almost entirely from U.S. factories. In his reply of the 31st, Portal recognized “what a very real effort you have made to meet our point of view.” He commented on the controversial points and suggested that the agreement be consummated after Arnold’s return to Washington.39
His suggestion was followed. After further negotiations in Washington, the Arnold-Towers-Portal agreement was adopted on 21 June, Air Vice Marshal J.C. Slessor signing for Portal.40 The correlative principles accepted in London were repeated, with the added proviso that revisions in allocation should be so framed that combined strength in each theater should be maintained or increased. To conform
to these general rules, the United States should: (1) allocate to Great Britain for the RAF and Dominion air forces aircraft according to an accompanying schedule for regions where U.S. air forces could not operate;* and (2) assign to theaters of British or combined
* ANNEX A: Allocations of Aircraft Other Than Fleet Air Arm Types to Great Britain
1. All aircraft allocated to Great Britain up to 31st May 1942 shall remain at the disposal of the British Government, including 19 B-17 Fortress, 6 B-24 Liberator and 24 B-25 which have at different times been temporarily transferred on loan to U.S. Air Forces from British allocations, but excluding 387 Bostons from British allocations transferred to Russia.
2. The following aircraft (excluding Flying Boats) will be allocated to Great Britain from production in the United States in 1942.
|Total 1942||54||100||181||355 a||420||363||625||250 b||500||200 c|
(a) Includes 200 troop carrying and transport versions.
(b) In exchange for 150 Spitfires to equip and maintain one group.
(c) In exchange for 200 Spitfires to equip and maintain a second fighter group. The figure of 200 P.51 may be increased as a result of a review later in 1942.
3. Additional allocations of types included in para. 2 above up to 1st April 1943 will be as follows:
|B-24||4 a month or enough to meet attrition on 80 U.E.|
|P-40||50 a month|
(a) British would accept 3/4 of this figure to enable U.S. to meet their S.W. Pacific commitments.
(b) Subject to revision if additional production is created using Merlin 61 engines.
4. British squadrons using American aircraft operational under this agreement on 1st April 1943 shall be allocated the aircraft necessary to meet their attrition and that of their supporting O.T.U’s after that date.
strategic responsibility, by agreed dates, certain specified AAF units with requisite support.* These were to serve in homogeneous American organizations, under control of the appropriate British commander in chief. Specific arrangements were made to meet British needs in spares and parts, to provide for the handling of Dominion requirements within U.S. spheres of influence, and to pool the inadequate resources in transport planes.
The Arnold-Portal-Towers agreement was accepted by the U.S. Joint Chiefs on 25 June, by the CCS on 2 July.41 It still left each nation with heavy responsibilities to the U.S.S.R., China, and other
* ANNEX B: United States Air Forces Assigned to British and Combined Theatres of Strategic Responsibility
The following United States forces will be established and ready for operations in British and Combined Theatres of strategic responsibility by the dates shown:
|1. Middle East||Heavy Bombers:||One group to be completed to full strength (35) by October 1st 1942.|
|Medium Bombers:||One medium bomber group (57) will be available for “fly away” from the United States by 15th July and will be operational in Middle East by September 1st 1942. A second medium bomber group (57) by December 31st 1942.|
|Pursuit:||One group (80) by September 1st 1942. One group (80) by October 1st 1942. Two groups (160) by January 1st 1943. Two groups (160) by April 1st 1943. Total: Six groups (480).|
|2. India||Heavy Bombers:||One group (35) completed in September 1942 (a).|
|Medium Bombers:||Two additional squadrons will be established, bringing U.S. medium bomber strength to one group (57) in September 1942.|
|Pursuit:||Two groups (160) completed by October 1942. The role of these groups will include collaboration in offensive operations in Burma to relieve pressure on China. In the event of a threat to India they will be used to defeat that threat. Note (a) As soon as this group is established as part of the defence of India, one of the two British heavy squadrons on B-24’s will be rolled up.|
|3. United Kingdom||Heavy Bombers:||Seventeen groups (595) by April 1st 1943|
|Medium Bombers:||Ten groups (570)|
|Light Bombardment:||Six groups (342)|
|Observation, Photo Mapping:||Seven groups (399)|
|Pursuit:||Twelve groups (960)|
|Transport:||Eight groups (416).|
allies, which must be met out of their respective allotments. But for the AAF it substantially narrowed the gap between prospective combat crews and combat planes, and it gave promise of providing a strong air force for BOLERO. Within a few weeks’ time, however, that promise was to be blighted by a sudden reversal of strategy.
In London, on 18 June, General Spaatz assumed command of the Eighth Air Force, the organization which had been created to carry the AAF’s responsibilities in BOLERO.42 On the same date Mr. Churchill arrived in Washington with a small staff. Publicly it was announced that “the object in view is the earliest maximum concentration of Allied war power upon the enemy.43 In the privacy of the ensuing CCS conference, a British member ascribed the visit to the Prime Minister’s desire to discuss the coordination and “possible reorientation” of combined policy.44 In plainer English, he was not too keen about BOLERO.
Much had happened in the two months which had passed since Churchill had approved that plan. Japanese naval losses in the Coral Sea and at Midway had eased somewhat the tension in the Pacific; the monsoon, rather than Allied successes, had for the moment lessened the threat to India. Elsewhere the news was bad. The long-dreaded summer campaign in Russia was in full swing. Mannstein had conquered the Crimea, was hammering at the inner defenses of Sevastopol. Timoshenko’s winter campaign below Kharkov had failed, and German armies were already launched in their drive for the Caucasus with its oil fields and its route to the Middle East. Nazi successes in North Africa were equally alarming. There Rommel had opened his offensive in May, driving the British back and defeating them decisively at Knightsbridge on 13 June. Tobruk with its large British garrison was to surrender on the 21st, while the conference was still in session, and a week later the retreating Eighth Army was to pull up for a last stand at El Alamein, hardly seventy-five miles west of Alexandria. With or without Japanese aid, the Germans constituted a menace to the Middle East and all it stood for – rich resources, the lend-lease route to Russia, and Britain’s link with India and the Southwest Pacific.
If the British interest in Egypt was most immediate, that fact was not stressed in the discussions of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. Accepted strategy for 1942–43 was contingent upon the progress of events in Russia. Intelligence available in Washington was still too
meager to serve as a reliable guide, but in general the British were pessimistic concerning the Soviet Union’s chances of survival. SLEDGEHAMMER had been always thought of as an emergency operation, yet now the British chiefs of staff were dubious of its wisdom under any conditions: an operation of its contemplated magnitude would offer little relief to the U.S.S.R., and if that country collapsed the expedition might prove a serious tactical loss. The British had been examining alternative projects – a lodgment at Brest or Cherbourg, large-scale raids (Dieppe was then in the offing), or a campaign in Norway – and they understood that President Roosevelt’s anxiety to get U.S. troops into action in 1942 had led him to examine other possibilities, including an offensive from Australia and the revival of GYMNAST.45 The latter plan might offer effective relief to Auchinleck in the Middle East – a second-front to benefit the British rather than the Soviets; yet after mature deliberation, the Combined Chiefs stood squarely and “without reservations” behind decisions made at London in mid-April. Those decisions were indorsed in an informal meeting on 19 June.46 and more definitively in a paper approved on the 21st.47 Therein it was declared as considered opinions of the CCS that: (1) the United States and Great Britain should adhere to their resolve to push BOLERO; (2) no other offensive operation should be undertaken in 1942 save in a grave emergency; (3) specifically, GYMNAST should not be adopted under existing conditions; and (4) planning for an emergency attack on western Europe in 1942 should be continued. This should have left ROUNDUP with highest priority, SLEDGEHAMMER a possibility, and ruled out their most formidable rival, the North African operation. What happened at the government level is not entirely clear. Brig. Gen. Asa N. Duncan, chief of staff for the Eighth Air Force, wrote from Washington to Spaatz that Churchill had made a successful plea to the President “for a lot of assistance in the Middle East,” despite objections from the American chiefs of staff.48 The formal record of the Combined Chiefs indicates no sudden change in strategy. On 21 June, at a White House meeting, the President and Prime Minister accepted the sense of the CCS recommendations, though with an escape clause. Plans for ROUNDUP in 1943 were to be pushed, but the two nations must be prepared to act in 1942. Operations in France or the Low Countries would yield greatest results and should be considered, but if they appeared impractical, the
planners should be ready with other alternatives: GYMNAST, or campaigns in Norway or the Iberian peninsula.49 Planning responsibilities were divided, with the Americans taking GYMNAST, the British the other two projects.50
Actually the Washington conference had postponed rather than decided the central issue of the second front for 1942, but with only three months of favorable weather remaining, postponement was almost tantamount to refusal. Churchill was back in London by the 27th. In informed circles there it was generally accepted that there would be no cross-Channel push that year.51 On 8 July the Prime Minister informed Roosevelt that conditions favorable to SLEDGEHAMMER would probably not arise, and suggested that the Americans push GYMNAST planning while the British worked on other agreed alternatives.52 To the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this message seemed to endanger ROUNDUP as well as SLEDGEHAMMER. Unanimously in favor of BOLERO with either a 1942 or 1943 D-day, they were equally opposed to GYMNAST as an expensive diversion of dubious value. Since April, they had sensed a certain lack of enthusiasm among their British opposite members for a large-scale invasion through France, and unless the British would support wholeheartedly such a venture by 1943, the joint Chiefs were prepared to turn to the Pacific for a showdown with Japan.53
These views were communicated to the President on 10 July.54 A week later General Marshall, Admiral King, Harry Hopkins, and a small staff flew to England to make a last endeavor to persuade the British to go along with SLEDGEHAMMER. This the British were unwilling to do. The memory of Dunkirk was still fresh and subsequent defeats in Africa had not lessened their respect for the German army. They pointed again to practical difficulties which had been urged in April and which they thought the Americans underestimated – particularly the shortage in landing craft and the time factor. The American position was the weaker because they could not in 1942 carry their share of the load. On 22 July it was definitely agreed that there would be no second front in Europe in 1942.55 Discussion then turned to those alternatives upon which the Combined Staff Planners had been engaged.
On the 24th, the U.S. Joint Chiefs presented a new proposal for operations in 1942–43.56 Preparations for ROUNDUP were to continue without abatement so long as the Russian situation seemed to
warrant it, but if by 15 September an operation in the following spring should appear impracticable, a decision should be made to launch a combined attack against North and Northwest Africa at the earliest possible date before r December. This recommendation was accepted by the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the 24th.57 Apparently Roosevelt gave his tentative approval in a telephone conversation on the following day.58 The provision to hold off until 15 September for a firm decision to mount TORCH, as the revived and revised GYMNAST plan was called, was wisely scrapped. It is difficult to say just when the two governments made a formal commitment. On 30 July, Admiral Leahy told the Combined Chiefs of Staff, then back in Washington, that Roosevelt and Churchill “believed” that TORCH was on; and so it was.59 Intensive planning began immediately in London. With an eye on French sensibilities, the CCS had preferred an American commander for the operation, and on 7 August, Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as commanding general of the European Theater of Operations had participated in the London conference, was informed of his appointment.60
Neither the new code name nor the choice of an American leader could obscure the fact that the strategy which had long guided JCS thought had been sharply wrenched if not broken. Planning for ROUNDUP – and even for an emergency SLEDGEHAMMER – was supposed to continue. But the Joint Chiefs in their memorandum of 24 July had realistically accepted the fact that TORCH in 1942 meant no ROUNDUP in 1943.61 For the Army Air Forces this might mean a return to the time schedule suggested in AWPD/1, with its spring 1944 invasion, but the circumstances were to be importantly modified by TORCH.
General Arnold had from March gone along with the War Department General Staff in its preference for SLEDGEHAMMER, though ROUNDUP would have fitted more aptly into AWPD’s concept of the war. Arnold was not in London in late July, but with other members of the JCS he had been opposed to TORCH. In July as in April the British had proposed, in partial substitution for the second front, an intensification of their bomber offensive over Germany, where recent thousand-plane attacks on Cologne and Essen had already given earnest of what was to come.62 But TORCH ruled out for the time being any effective participation in this campaign by the AAF, much as it was to their liking. Sir Charles Portal had raised the issue
on 24 July by inquiring if U.S. air support for TORCH would be drawn from strength assigned to BOLERO.63 From one as familiar with the aircraft situation as Sir Charles, that must have been a rhetorical question. There was no other source to tap, and the joint Chiefs specifically stated that heavy and medium bomber groups would be shifted from BOLERO assignments to Africa.64 General Spaatz thought it might even be necessary to use all AAF units in the United Kingdom for TORCH.65
Nor was TORCH the only successful rival. On 7 July the Combined Chiefs of Staff had taken under consideration a proposed schedule of deployments according to which the AAF was to have in the United Kingdom by April 1943 a total of 3,640 combat planes.66 But in the meeting of 24 July, the Combined Chiefs had agreed to divert from this force fifteen combat groups of various categories* to spearhead projected offensives in the Pacific.67 This decision Arnold had vainly opposed on the ground that constant fluctuation in BOLERO assignments “makes our course seem vacillating.”68 To his mind, the Southwest Pacific loomed as a more formidable rival of accepted plans than TORCH, which after all was to be a blow against German power, if not at its source. As Marshall had pointed out in London on 24 July, the American concept of the air war against Germany had been that the AAF would operate against Germany from any suitable base, and that in winter weather Africa might offer some advantages over the United Kingdom.69
This was perhaps an indirect reference to AWPD/1.† That plan, with its design for shuttling between England and Africa, had contemplated the use of very long-range bombers not yet in production; neither B-17’s nor B-24’s could hit Germany from African bases. General Spaatz was not enthusiastic about the prospects. He wrote Arnold on 11 August, “Regardless of what operations are conducted in any other theater, in my opinion, this England still remains the only base area from which to launch aerial operations to obtain air supremacy over Germany, and until such air supremacy is established there can be no successful outcome of the war.70 Intensive operations could not be conducted from both areas at the same time with the limited forces available. Arnold’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. George
* Groups were as follows: three heavy bombardment, two medium bombardment, two light bombardment, two fighter, two observation, four transport. A fuller treatment of this decision will appear in IV/index Volume IV.
† See above, pp. 148–49.
E. Stratemeyer, wrote consolingly that TORCH was not to be “at the expense of the bombing offensive from the UK but in addition to it, and therefore at the expense of anything but the UK.”71 That was a very poor prediction. Four days earlier, on 21 August, Admiral Leahy had remarked to the Combined Chiefs that TORCH might necessitate revision of deployments currently under consideration.72 Time was to prove him right.
One adverse concomitant of the TORCH diversion could not be measured wholly in quantitative terms. The Eighth Air Force had built its plans around a new weapon – the day bomber – and a new tactical principle. Arnold had originally wished to hold the B-17’s and B-24’s out of action until he could unleash against the Germans a considerable force. Though that scheme had not been adopted in principle, delays in movements of the initial units and schedules for a rapid build-up for BOLERO had promised to accomplish the same purpose. But TORCH meant that AAF heavy bombers would be fed in piecemeal and that American equipment and techniques would be exhibited to the GAF without adequate returns. The results were not as disappointing as the premature introduction of the tank in World War I only because the novelty of the weapon was not so pronounced in 1942; fundamentally the cases were parallel.
Command and Organization
The constant flux in grand strategy for the war against Germany made it difficult to plan, with any degree of firmness, the practical measures by which success in the air phase might be assured. Perhaps the most obvious example of that difficulty has been suggested in the references above to frequent changes in allocation of AAF combat units to the European theater. Both over-all strategy and contemplated deployments, in turn, affected the organization and the chain of command through which those units would operate. The problems involved in this latter respect were to AAF Headquarters hardly less significant than that of finding sufficient forces. In a popular account of air warfare published in 1941, General Arnold and Colonel Eaker had written: “Organization is a dry topic. ... It is likely, for that reason, that it will receive less attention than it merits. Actually, organization ... is the most important of all the military functions.”73 If that judgment reflected something of the Air Corps’ long struggle
for autonomy, it was also in some degree prophetic; for within a few months both authors were involved in the arduous task of providing a sound administrative and command structure for the Army’s largest overseas air force-that scheduled to operate from the United Kingdom. Dry topic or no, organization must figure prominently in this chapter.
The ABC-1 report of 27 March 1941 had enunciated two principles for the control of combined operations: unity of command in each theater, and integrity therein of the forces of each nation.* Born of bitter experience in World War I, those principles were cherished by both Americans and British, and the early allocation to each of theaters of primary strategic responsibility facilitated more specific arrangements once the United States entered the war. The first practical test came in the Southwest Pacific, where the ABDA Command was established in January 1942 under those trying circumstances which have earlier been described.† The command problem in the United Kingdom was in some respects less complex, and in the absence of sustained enemy attacks its solution was of less immediate urgency. Yet because of the strategic importance of the European theater, the organization of American and British forces therein became a matter of grave moment. The British, naturally, had been charged with primary strategic responsibility in that area. With the adoption first of BOLERO, then of TORCH, the question of an expeditionary-as opposed to the theater-command structure was raised. Meanwhile the organization of the U.S. forces in Great Britain had to be determined, as well as the internal structure of the air component. The Army Air Forces was deeply concerned with the organizational problem at each of these three levels, but of most interest here is the process by which the Eighth Air Force was established under the European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (ETOUSA). Aside from its intrinsic significance, the story aptly illustrates a point made in a previous context: ‡ that regardless of the legal position of the AAF as a service and training organization without combat functions, its chief was in fact a most powerful agent in the conduct of war in the several theaters.
The command agreements in ABC-1, couched in most general
* See above, p. 138.
† See above, pp. 367–71.
‡ See above, pp. 265–67.
terms, were in the nature of a general guide rather than of a specific directive. All armed forces of both nations serving in the United Kingdom and British home waters (including Iceland) were to be under the strategic direction of the appropriate British commander in chief; all U.S. forces were to be under the immediate control of the commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces in Great Britain (or British Isles-USAFBI).74 What that would mean in actual practice, no one knew; an American general could write somewhat perplexedly in September 1941:–
I find certain terms not susceptible of standard interpretation by our own people, with the general result of a somewhat cloudy issue. I keep struggling with “strategical direction,” “operational control,” and “administrative command”. ... I am not trying to start an argument but I am trying to call attention to the need for evolving a practical and efficient command system under circumstances for which I know no precedent.75
RAINBOW No. 5 had vested the commanding general of USAFBI with the duty of developing such a system, giving him “authority to arrange with the Air Ministry and the War Office concerning the organization and location of our task forces and operational control.76 Until war should invoke RAINBOW No. 5, there would of course be no USAFBI commander, but as an interim means of liaison, the two nations had agreed to exchange military missions: the British Joint Staff Mission at Washington, the American Military Mission at London.77 The American mission was to consist of offices known respectively as the Army Special Observer Group (SPOBS) and the Naval Special Observer Group (SPENAVO).
Ostensibly the establishment of SPOBS merely regularized a practice already in operation, for in 1940 the Air Corps had sent a number of officers of various grades to watch the Battle of Britain.78 Among the senior officers was Maj. Gen. James E. Chaney, a man of wide military experience; his tour was especially appropriate in view of an earlier assignment as a military attaché in Europe and of his current dual command over the Air Defense Command and what was to become the vital Northeast Air District.* After six weeks in England, Chaney had returned in November 1940 to render an optimistic report on Britain’s chance of surviving the air blitz.79 In the following April he was ordered back to London as commander of SPOBS, with Brig. Gen. Joseph T. McNarney as his chief of staff.80 The choice of
* See above, pp. 152–53.
two Air Corps generals to head up the office was in itself an indication of the prominence assigned to air power in existing plans for the war against Germany.
General Chaney opened his headquarters in the American Embassy building on 19 May 1941.81 His mission was a complex one, involving preparation for the possible establishment of U.S. ground and air forces, assistance in allocating lend-lease matériel, advising General Marshall on the employment of Army forces in the United Kingdom, and, in general, handling any problems involved in implementing ABC-1.82 Chaney attacked his manifold duties with energy and dispatch. He reported immediately to the British Chiefs of Staff Committee, and on 6 June began what was to be a close association with the Air Ministry; throughout his tour of duty, his relations with the British were good.83 Chaney himself, or members of his staff, inspected potential sites for Army installations in Iceland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England, and made tentative arrangements with the British for development of desired bases.84 In September, Chaney accompanied the Harriman-Beaverbrook mission to Moscow.85 During the months just preceding and following Pearl Harbor, Chaney, often working with special AAF missions from or in the States, was concerned with a number of special projects: TRIGGER, a plan to set up in America, with RAF aid, a model air defense sector; SHADOW 82, a plan for the AAF to understudy and eventually to relieve RAF fighter units in Northern Ireland; TURBINLITE, a design to provide an AAF night fighter squadron with special RAF equipment and indoctrination.86 These projects were adversely affected by new priorities established early in the war; in spite of much effort expended, all proved abortive. Throughout his incumbency, General Chaney, like every AAF commander, was hampered by a dearth of properly trained officers and by frequent changes in plans in Washington. There was, too, until a clarification of his directive in September, some ambiguity in the relations between SPOBS and the military attaché in respect to responsibilities for technological aspects of air matériel.87 But however consuming in time and attention these duties may have been, the most important function of SPOBS was to prepare for the establishment and control of U.S. forces in Great Britain as provided in RAINBOW No. 5.
At the time of his assignment to SPOBS, General Chaney had been informed that he would probably remain as head of the military mission
when war came, and it was generally assumed that SPOBS or that mission, with Chaney in command, would form the nucleus of USAFBI.88 This assumption had been officially confirmed by November 1941,89 and hence throughout his year overseas Chaney, in one capacity or another, was charged with determining the organizational structure for U.S. forces in Britain. On 20 September he wrote to General Marshall concerning this “matter of prime importance,” outlining a system of operational and administrative controls based on his concept of the RAINBOW No. 5 task forces.90 A few weeks later he was called back to Washington on temporary duty, and there on 7 November General Arnold and members of the Air Staff described to him a new type of theater air force which Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews was finding successful in the Caribbean.* When Chaney returned to London a few days later, he carried a letter from Arnold which urged the adoption of this system in the United Kingdom.91
General Arnold’s scheme reflected on a lower echelon the forthcoming reorganization of the War Department; some important features were borrowed from the RAF. He proposed to effect a sharp cleavage between air and ground elements in the theater, integrating the former into a “composite air force” under a single air commander who should be directly responsible to Chaney as commanding general of USAFBI. The air force was to comprise a bomber, an interceptor, and a service command. All air units would be assigned to this force and would not be responsible to the subcommanders of the several task forces listed in RAINBOW No. 5. Such a scheme would insure for the air component unity of command and integrity of forces, while relieving Chaney of administrative and tactical details; it was also flexible enough to accommodate the vast air force which might eventually be deployed in England.
Chaney’s reply, a long letter of 5 December, consisted of a critique of Arnold’s proposal and a description of his own plan, essentially that which he had suggested to Marshall in September.92 Chaney thought that Arnold’s desire for separate air and ground organizations was based upon a misconception of RAINBOW No. 5. Ground forces designated therein were small, and save for the token force existed only for protection of air and naval bases – hence no ground force commander was needed. Air forces would have two missions: to provide, in certain areas, an “air defense, integrated into the air defense of
* See above, pp. 163–64.
the U.K.”; and to join RAF Bomber Command in operations against Germany. These tasks had nothing in common to require an over-all air commander for USAFBI, and since interceptor units, save those in Northern Ireland, would be under operational control of RAF Fighter Command, the AAF would need no interceptor command. Because AAF bombers would have the special mission, in cooperation with the RAF, of attacking strategic targets chosen by Chaney and the Air Ministry, it was proper that there should be a USAFBI bomber command. On the other hand, supply and maintenance should be performed locally by task force commanders, with the aid of a unified theater service base but without a special air service command. Graphically, Chaney illustrated his ideas with this simple chart:–93
|HQ USAF in GB|
|HQ USAF Iceland (Iceland Base Command)||HQ USA Interceptor Command in N. Ireland||HQ USA Bomber Command||HQ 1st Provisional Brigade in UK (“TOKEN FORCE”)||HQ USA BASE Command in UK (Communication zone USAFGB)|
Arnold and Chaney were agreed that unity of command should be achieved and that the theater commander should be freed from concern for details of administration and tactics, but they differed sharply as to the means of effecting those ends. General Chaney, clinging to a literal interpretation of RAINBOW No. 5, wished to delegate responsibilities along regional rather than functional lines. He had the advantage of an intimate knowledge of local conditions and of a sound position in the chain of command. General Arnold, looking toward the future, saw the problem in light of the imminent reorganization of the War Department and of the tremendous air force suggested for the European theater in AWPD/ 1. These conflicting views were not easily resolved, but the tide was turning in Arnold’s direction; to what degree he was responsible for that trend may be sensed from the documents.
When war came, no action had been taken on Chaney’s recommendation or on Arnold’s counterproposal – McNarney was then en route to Washington with the former’s letter of 5 December and a more detailed explanation of the ideas of his chief.94 The directive of 11 December95 which put RAINBOW No. 5 into effect strengthened Chaney’s hand. On 8 January he was designated commanding general
of USAFBI and Army member of the U.S. Military Mission in London-under direct control of the commanding general of U.S. Field Forces in the former capacity, of the War Department in the latter.96 He continued also in charge of SPOBS, now vested with enlarged functions, and direct communications between that office and AAF Headquarters were authorized.97 In his efforts to secure for Army air forces in the British Isles the organizational system he preferred, General Arnold had two avenues of approach. He could attempt to convince Chaney, now vested with full authority in USAFBI, either through the commanding general of U.S. Field Forces or by direct communication with SPOBS; or as Deputy Chief of Staff, he could try to influence the War Department, through the Chief of Staff, to change Chaney’s directive. Neither maneuver was immediately successful. The confusion in Chaney’s multiple command was enhanced by the shortage of trained staff officers, a phenomenon which was then common enough but which confirmed his resistance toward the multiplication of air headquarters in England.98 There was, too, some of the perennial friction between air and ground officers in his staff. SPOBS had been made up largely of Air Corps officers99 and Chaney himself was a command pilot of long standing, but initial contingents of the U.S. Army bomber command found some of his “G’s” at USAFBI “not very friendly to Air effort.100 As for the efforts to have Chaney’s directive modified, time and the maturing of Anglo-American strategy were to lend point to Arnold’s arguments.
In January 1942, Arnold submitted to GHQ a chart illustrating the organization he favored for USAFBI, and on the 21st received tentative approval subject to Chaney’s concurrence.101 On the 26th, Arnold enumerated for Marshall the air units scheduled for the United Kingdom, both for 1942 and for eventual deployment, requesting that the War Department accept his chart as a “general guide” and activate the air force and constituent commands (bomber, interceptor, air base) which it called for.102 The several headquarters were ordered activated,103 but the War Department was not yet fully committed to Arnold’s plan.
On 24 January, Arnold had informed Chaney of Marshall’s tentative approval of an air force for USAFBI with Spaatz as commander and with three subordinate commands, suggesting that the force be located in the York area.104 Chaney objected to that site, preferring
the region around Huntingdon, which he had chosen in consultation with the British. As to the proposed air force structure, he thought that it might be suitable for a “virgin American theater” (i.e., the Caribbean) but “most undesirable” for the United Kingdom, and on the 30th definitely rejected it.105 To reinforce his position, he requested GHQ to approve his own views for planning purposes, and on 3 February GHQ concurred.106 Hence the plan accepted by the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 16 February for establishing the initial AAF contingent in England provided only for a bomber command subject to Chaney’s control through such channels as he should designate; there was no mention of an air force headquarters or of other air commands.107
In spite of this rebuff, Arnold was proceeding within the AAF on the assumption that his scheme would be adopted. On 31 January Brig. Gen. Ira C. Eaker had been designated bomber commander for USAFBI.108 and Arnold on 6 February cabled Chaney that he was holding up action until Eaker had presented the AAF’s views in London.109 Eaker’s orders stipulated that he should help prepare for the reception of his own command and of the air force which was to be “an intermediate headquarters between Bomber Command and the Theater Commander.” His own informal notes suggest also that his verbal instructions called for similar preparations for an air base and an interceptor command.110 To reinforce the case for the last-named organization, Arnold opened on a new tack while Eaker was en route. Throughout, Chaney had argued against such a headquarters from the purely defensive role assigned to interceptor units in RAINBOW No. 5. Now, however, the joint Chiefs were inclined to accept Arnold’s suggestion that pursuit units be included as a part of the striking force.111 and the latter was quick to take advantage of that change. On 12 February he listed for Chaney the combat units to be made available in 1942.112 These included three pursuit groups to be used in conjunction with bomber operations and not for defense of England: Chaney must provide for their operational control without recourse to the RAF. Chaney’s immediate reply was a request that he be allowed to settle in London all details concerning US AFBI air forces and their tactical use.113 The issues involved were not “details”; what Chaney in London seemed not to realize was that the AAF’s struggle for control of its force in USAFBI merely paralleled the
struggle in Washington which was to result in the reorganization of the War Department on 9 March.*
Eaker arrived in London on 20 February and on the next day met with Chaney and his staff. That group of thirty-five included only four air officers; of the ground officers, Eaker found some who were “fair minded,” others “definitely antagonistic to air forces and Air effort.114 One carried this hostility to the point of sending back to an Air Corps officer “all his staff work which mentions Army Air Forces, requiring them to be rewritten to eliminate the word ‘Air.’”115 In such an atmosphere, Eaker could hope for little success. Reporting on the conference he wrote apropos of air organization:–
I found a complete inflexibility of mind on that subject in the Chaney staff. They had made up their minds and no argument would change them in the slightest. I presented the arguments as strongly as I could but without the slightest effect. They are unalterably opposed to an Army Air Forces in Britain. They say that they are perfectly able to handle this in addition to their other duties and such an organization would make them merely rubber stamps. They consider that function their primary mission here and are not willing to surrender it.116
The last consideration was perhaps the deciding one. Under RAINBOW No. 5 the bomber command had been conceived as the most important element in USAFBI – indeed as the only one with an offensive mission – and it seems plausible to suppose that Chaney, an airman who had seen more of World War II bombardment than any of his colleagues, may have been unwilling to relinquish control of operations. That, at any rate, appears to have been Eaker’s interpretation when he wrote:
I could not believe any man did not wish to be pushed up to a higher job, but I found one. They USAFBI are the Air Force Headquarters as they see it and they are reconciled and even believe in being subordinate to the British. I could not make them see that General Chaney should sit in at the Chiefs of Staffs’ conferences and be coordinate with the highest military echelon, the Air Force Commander being at the R.A.F. level.117
Whatever the motivation, USAFBI firmly rejected Eaker’s suggestions; when he asked for a headquarters for Spaatz, Eaker “was told quite definitely and pointedly, that he [Spaatz] was not coming and that there was not to be an Air Force Hq.”118 The official reply to Washington, if less pointed, was equally firm. In a cable addressed
* See above, pp. 257–64.
to Marshall and Arnold, Chaney said flatly that he did not desire to change views expressed in his previous messages since consideration had been given to all points of the proposed organization.119
Blocked by this impasse in London, Arnold turned to higher authority. On 26 February he had written the Chief of Staff asking that Chaney be directed to organize USAFBI with correlative air, ground, and service force commanders responsible directly to the theater commander.120 This memo was reviewed by WPD and, on 4 March, General Eisenhower, chief of that office, expressed his disapproval. The General Staff was then busy with its plans for a second front, and WPD was unwilling to risk the loss of British cooperation through an effort to impose on their existing organization a “US system of totally different type.” Hence Arnold was informed that “General Chaney’s telegram of January 30, on this subject, must be accepted, for the present, as conclusive.”121 There was, however, this saving clause: the present decision would not preclude a later revision of Chaney’s directive. Arnold could only point out the obvious fact that his organization, far from being “totally different,” was remarkably similar to that of the British.122 and bide his time. So on 5 March he could not write “much of an official nature” to Eaker since affairs were “in too unsettled a state”; but he could suggest quietly that Eaker go on with his organizational planning on the assumption that things “will iron themselves out so that we will be entirely satisfied.”123
During March, while the War Department’s invasion plans were shaping up, no change was made in Chaney’s directive, but RAINBOW No. 5, which had been the basis of his plans, was rapidly crumbling away. On 19 March, Marshall wrote Chaney that he should provide for the reception of air and ground forces on a scale far beyond that previously scheduled. The “token force” had been scratched.124 and within a week the Navy had abandoned its design for a base in Scotland, thus relieving USAFBI of the responsibility for air defense there.125 The low priority given to air units for MAGNET similarly modified plans for Northern Ireland.* In the face of these changes, Chaney’s scheme to build his organization around territorial task forces had become obsolete.
On 30 March, Marshall informed Chaney that his command arrangements should be suitable for the employment of large forces,
* See above, p. 200.
including bombardment and pursuit aviation, in offensive operations. Specifically, he was asked to review in light of the new strategy the command structure outlined in his letter of 20September and in his radio messages of 30 January and 27 February, and to suggest any modifications that seemed desirable.126 If this was not an order to adopt Arnold’s suggestion, the implications were plain enough. A week later, on the eve of his flight to the London BOLERO conference, Marshall cabled that Spaatz would organize and train an air force in the States, and later direct its operations under USAFBI.127 This was definite. Whatever detailed shape Chaney’s plan might take, its general outlines had been determined. While Marshall was in London, Arnold sent him, on 12 April, the air plan for BOLERO.128 Already approved by WPD, this called for the establishment in England of the Eighth Air Force with its three constituent commands. Chaney held up his own arrangements “pending clarification” of the air force organization to be established in Great Britain,129 but tacitly on 1 May and unequivocally on the following day he indicated that he had accepted Arnold’s plan in all important respects.130 Within a few days he had given practical demonstration of his concurrence by making arrangements for the actual siting of the headquarters of the Eighth Air Force and the VIII Bomber, Fighter, and Service Commands.131
Thus when Spaatz assumed command of the Eighth Air Force at Bolling Field on 5 May.132 the air organization for USAFBI had been determined along general rather than specific lines. He was anxious to clarify his responsibilities under the BOLERO plan, but was to find that no easy task. The commitment to BOLERO had perhaps tipped the scales in favor of Arnold’s plan, but in some respects it had complicated the organizational problem. For one thing, the “balanced” air force contemplated for the invasion seemed to require a more elaborate internal structure: already the VIII Ground Air Support Command had been activated, on 28 April.133 and other commands were to be added soon.* The invasion would call for much closer cooperation with surface forces than had the original concept of a bomber offensive, and in delineating the exact relations which the Eighth would have toward other U.S. forces and the RAF, provision must be made for two chains of command-that of the theater and that to be set up later for the invasion force. Ultimate decisions lay with the
* See below, p. 616.
CCS and the governments they represented, but initial planning was carried on independently by several staffs. The views of the Eighth Air Force were incorporated in a paper which Spaatz submitted to Arnold, requesting that he recommend it to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.134 Spaatz’ plan adapted to the European theater certain features of the new War Department structure, others from the Combined Chiefs of Staff organization. It placed the Army air component in the United Kingdom on a level with that of the British (i.e., Eighth Air Force = RAF; VIII Bomber Command = RAF Bomber Command); and while it provided for integral national forces each with its own conventional chain of command, Spaatz proposed that in matters pertaining exclusively to aviation, air commanders be allowed to settle problems directly and “on the spot” with their British opposite members.
Arnold approved this scheme in principle, and on the eve of his departure for the London conference of 26 May, suggested that it be coordinated with OPD* before it was sent up to the JCS.135 OPD objected to a number of provisions, including the last named, and on 4 June submitted its own counterproposals.136 Before these divergent views came to the attention of the joint Chiefs, the latter had received from the British Chiefs of Staff Committee a memorandum on the over-all command for the ROUNDUP/SLEDGEHAMMER operations, with several alternative suggestions for control arrangements.137 The Joint Chiefs found no one of these satisfactory, and they felt that the British had wrongly subordinated the main problem – combined machinery for control of the theater – to that of command for what was, after all, only a task force of unusual size. They felt also that the as yet unnamed supreme commander should have some voice in determining his own organization.138 So it was that final decision was repeatedly postponed through June and July while the Combined Chiefs debated the relative merits of ROUNDUP and TORCH.139 The choice of TORCH did result in the appointment of General Eisenhower as Allied commander as well as theater commander, but it was to be weeks before the air organization for TORCH was perfected. That involved the creation of a new air force, the Twelfth, and the story of its formation may be told more appropriately in
* On 23 March 1942, War Plans Division (WPD) of the War Department General Staff had been redesignated Operations Division (OPD).
another volume.* But in the meantime, before the diversion to Africa had won out over ROUNDUP, the Eighth Air Force had been incorporated into the theater command system.
On 8 June the European Theater of Operations was established by presidential directive and General Chaney, as commanding general of USAFBI, was designated as commander of all U.S. forces therein. His mission was to make preparation for and to carry on military operations against the Axis powers in the European theater in accordance with strategical directives issued by the Combined Chiefs of Staff and through the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.140 No specific reference was made to the air arm, but on 10 June Arnold sent to Eisenhower, and to Chaney and other commanders in the United Kingdom a description of the AAF’s current concept of the air force organization for BOLERO during the period before the formation of the invasion task force.141 Substantially, this repeated the ideas expressed by Spaatz in May. Arnold expressed confidence that Chaney was “in full accord” with these views, but that was now a matter of little import. General Chaney’s incumbency in his new office was brief – hardly more than an honorific reward for a year of service in England. He left for the States on 20 June142 to serve successively in several posts in the Zone of the Interior, and to finish the war as island commander of Iwo Jima. On V-J Day, probably few Americans remembered that General Chaney had once held, in another island, what was potentially the most important command in any theater. At any rate, it was left for his successor to establish the Eighth Air Force within the ETO structure.
When Generals Eisenhower and Spaatz arrived in London, they each bore a guide for that task in the form of their respective letters of instruction. Spaatz had received verbal instructions from Arnold and his letter was brief; dealing exclusively with channels of communication, it authorized direct correspondence between Spaatz and Arnold, Spaatz and Lord Louis Mountbatten (as chief of combined operations), and between the Eighth Air Force intelligence section and the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, A-2, in Washington.143 Eisenhower’s letter, more detailed, constituted the real directive under which the AAF was to operate in the United Kingdom.144 All air units initially based there were to be integrated into the Eighth Air Force. General Spaatz as commander was to have his own headquarters
* Volume II.
and staff, and provision was to be made for bomber, fighter, ground air support, and air service commands. The basic role of AAF fighter units was to be direct support of bomber operations, and those units would not “be integrated with British fighter units employed in the defense of the United Kingdom, or into the British Fighter Command.” The RAF might support U.S. bombardment missions, either by direct coverage or by synchronized fighter sweeps. Strategic control of AAF operations, vested in the British government, should “be construed to mean general strategic directives as to purpose and broad objectives,” but it was not to include “designation of targets or tactical control of operations.” For the air forces in the ETO, the broad objective was to gain “air supremacy over Western Continental Europe in preparation for and in support of a combined land, sea, and air movement across the Channel into Continental Europe.” For the better accomplishment of this mission, General Spaatz should be given authority for direct communications and “judicial shortcuts” in dealing with the RAF, Fleet Air Arm, and Combined Operations Command.
This directive, as is apparent from its contents, was conceived under the influence of the SLEDGEHAMMER/ROUNDUP plans. TORCH was to divert to the Twelfth Air Force many of the units earmarked for the Eighth, and was to transfer to the former organization all responsibility for air-ground cooperation. Denuded of promised strength, the Eighth was to revert to the strategy contemplated before April 1942 – an extended period of strategic bombardment in cooperation with the RAF. Under these conditions, relations with RAF Bomber Command were more important for the Eighth Air Force than were those with American ground forces. No radical change in the command structure was required. In a directive to Spaatz issued on 21 July, Eisenhower recognized the parallel position of the Eighth and the Royal Air Force, authorizing direct communication with the several commands of the latter and informal liaison with the Air Ministry.145 In response, Spaatz submitted on 12 August a description of the internal organization of this force and of the actual machinery for coordination with the RAF in training and in operations.146
Meanwhile, an important step was taken to reinforce the position of the Eighth Air Force within the ETO organization. Arnold, anxious that the AAF be properly represented in planning at the theater level, wrote Spaatz on 30 July: “In connection with planning,
I would like to have you see Eisenhower and get him to accept your headquarters as his air planning unit. Get him to use you in that way as he is the head of all US Army Forces in Europe. I want him to recognize you as the top airman in all Europe.147 This request was passed on to Eisenhower in a more formal communication, and on 21 August Spaatz was given additional duties as Air Officer for ETOUSA and head of the air section of its staff 148 The actual representation at ETOUSA headquarters was to be through a deputy and assistants, but this measure assured to the Eighth Air Force an active participation in theater planning as earlier arrangements had for planning for the bomber offensive with the RAF.
Daylight or Dark?
As an argument in favor of his organizational scheme for the USAFBI air force, General Arnold in February 1942 reminded General Chaney that U.S. bombardment operations must be guided by American doctrines and principles, which were “entirely different” from those of the British.149 In July, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris wrote to General Eaker: “I myself, and all the members of my command who have been in official or unofficial relations with you and yours, by now well appreciate that common doctrines prevail.150 During the five intervening months, neither air force had changed its ideas materially, though by the latter date there was more mutual understanding. The apparent contradiction in the two messages may be explained only by the fact that Harris referred to a general concept of air warfare, Arnold to the tactics by which that concept could be realized. That pattern – of agreement as to ends, dissent as to means – was so important a factor in the early operations of the Eighth Air Force that some explanation should be given here of the rival doctrines. Such an analysis will indicate that essentially Harris was right: that the area of agreement far outweighed in importance the doctrinal variations. Indeed, in respect to the role of air power in the war, opinions tended often to follow service rather than national lines of cleavage.
That fact should not be clouded by the apparent unanimity of opinion in the earliest Anglo-American war plans. The prominence given to strategic bombardment in ABC-1 reflected the current weakness of British and American forces. In March 1941 it was realized that Germany would long remain too strong to be attacked frontally;
the bomber offensive was viewed by most members of the Anglo-American chiefs of staff committees as a means by which the German war machine could be trimmed down to size. Strategic bombardment, then, was a form of attrition to be used simultaneously with others – the blockade, economic pressure through neutrals, subversive activities, psychological warfare, and commando raids.151 Developed in 1940 by the British, this concept of war was grounded in realistic appraisal of current capabilities. British manpower was pitifully weak in comparison with that of Axis and satellite nations, and imperial policies dictated a wide dispersal of forces as well as an impregnable defense of the home islands. Matériel losses sustained in the Battle of France had hardly been recouped by 1941, and a return to the continent in that year was unthinkable. The strategy was sanctioned, too, by ancient tradition. For centuries England in her European wars had relied on the Royal Navy, a small professional army, and the land forces of allies. In 1914–18 that tradition had been broken; large citizen armies had fought in France and Belgium, and the losses had been appalling. That experience had strongly affected British military thought between the wars,152 and lessons drawn therefrom seemed painfully substantiated by the fortunes of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. The new strategy, then, was but a return to the old, with Bomber Command thrown in as the only offensive weapon. Even during the Battle of Britain, Churchill could tell the House of Commons that:–
“there seems to be every reason to believe that this new kind of war is well suited to the genius and the resources of the British nation and the British Empire and that, once we get properly equipped and properly started, a war of this kind will be more favorable to us than the sombre mass slaughters of the Somme and Passchendale.”153
It was in accordance with this view that heavy bombers had been given, next to the requirements for home security, highest priority in the British production program;154 and that Bomber Command had stepped up the tempo of the operations begun on a modest scale in the summer of 1940. So when Hitler’s attack on the U.S.S.R. reduced the imbalance of forces, the new situation was viewed as an aid to current strategy rather than as an invitation to open a second front. This attitude is epitomized in a remark attributed to Air Minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, to the effect that “our two mightiest weapons are the Russian army and the RAF.”155
It is significant that this strategy had evolved before there was any
prospect of direct intervention on the part of the United States. Hence, though the bomber offensive was treated as a prelude to invasion, it was conceived on a scale so huge as to obviate the mass battles of World War I. This was indicated clearly at the Atlantic conference of August 1941 when the British chiefs of staff expressed hope that the air war alone might bring about a German collapse and limit the role of ground forces to that of occupation troops; at worst, it would be a matter of mobile armored columns and local patriots.156 This concept of war was common enough among airmen, but it was something new that it should have governmental support. It did not pass unchallenged. In succeeding months, the high priority given to heavy bombers and the declared intention of using them exclusively in a protracted strategic program evoked much argument in England. Critics complained of the RAF’s failure to provide adequate close support for ground operations in Africa, of stress on high-level bombing to the exclusion of dive bombing, of the preference shown Bomber Command over Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm.157 Public indignation over the escape of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau from Brest on 12 February 1942 brought editorial agitation for the reorganization of the RAF and reconsideration of the question of high-level bombing.158 RAF estimates of the efficacy of its efforts were sometimes challenged – as, for instance, in the highly publicized mission against the Renault works near Paris on 3 March.159 In sum, the complaints followed the familiar pattern of objections to independent air force operations which had originally stemmed from interservice differences. The criticism was eagerly seized on by the German propaganda machine. Thus, in April, a fake English voice on one of Goebbels’ radio programs announced:–
We British should know better than anyone that the bombardment of towns can’t bring the end of the war nearer. London withstood about as heavy a bombardment as could be launched. ... The proper use of aircraft is to support land forces in the actual battle zone, and as the RAF isn’t large enough to fulfill all its tasks, it should be reserved for this purpose only.160
Neither honest criticism nor propaganda brought any serious revision of policy, nor apparently in majority public opinion. An air attaché on Chaney’s staff reported in the same month that “the British public have an erroneous belief, which has been fostered by effective RAF publicity, that the German war machine can be destroyed and the nation defeated by intensive bombing.”161 The favorable attitude
toward strategic bombardment was not strong enough to protect Bomber Command from numerous diversions from its primary objectives or from continued criticism. Just as the Eighth Air Force was moving into combat, Sir Arthur Harris felt it necessary to draw up an apologia for Bomber Command’s achievements162 and to brand as “wanton propaganda” English efforts to belittle the results of its bombing.163 To General Arnold he wrote: “We can defeat the enemy if we are not defeated by our friends.”164 The friends, one gathers, were in the other services.
When the U.S. chiefs of staff accepted the strategy of ABC-1, it was patent that in the event of an early involvement in war the United States could not immediately deploy large ground forces in Europe. This fact encouraged acceptance of a long prelude of strategic bombardment, but even in 1941 American leaders showed a more lively concern for the invasion of Europe than did the British. When the British presented their review of strategy at the Atlantic conference, the joint Board found it to give “an undue importance to the probability of success solely through the employment of bombing offensives.”165 In this critique, the U.S. services presented a united opinion which was not apparent in their internal considerations. In the Joint Board Estimate of U.S. Over-all Production Requirements of 11 September, each of the services supported its request for matériel with a statement on strategy; that of the AAF (AWPD/1) was much closer to the British than was that of the Army or Navy. Acceptance of AWPD/1 would have given to heavy bombers the same sort of priorities they enjoyed in the British production program. To this the Navy was strongly opposed, and its campaign against acceptance of the implications of AWPD/1 was staunchly buttressed by, references to British experience furnished by SPENAVO in London. Messages from that office cast doubts upon the results of the RAF bomber offensive and criticized the production priorities which made that campaign possible; they showed, too, a corollary desire to revise anticipated schedules for four-engine bombers in order to favor production of U.S. and British carrier-based planes.166 From the evidence of a single isolated Bomber Command mission, Vice Adm. R.L. Ghormley, SPENAVO’s chief, concluded that daylight bombing in force was unsound except at very short range under heavy escort, and that night bombing was ineffective and expensive.167
These attacks on policies fundamental to AAF and RAF alike
brought vigorous rejoinders from the War Department and Air Ministry,168 and the attacks were not at the time successful. A more dangerous threat to the program of strategic bombing as conceived in AWPD/1, if not to production priorities, came from the efforts of the JCS to swing strategy over to a second front. This meant shortening rather than eliminating the bomber offensive, but inevitably it placed a new emphasis upon close support. The AAF supported the new trend, but with evident disappointment on the part of some of its members. On the whole, American airmen had been somewhat less outspoken than British in claims that air power alone might crush Germany, but this reflected, perhaps, their inferior position in the military organization rather than any serious misgivings. Eaker’s reaction to BOLERO, as expressed in a letter of 26 April 1942, may be taken as typical:–
After two months spent in understudying British Bomber Command it is still believed that the original all-out air plan for the destruction of the German war effort by air action alone was feasible and sound, and more economical than any other method available. General Arnold points out, however, that the required means is not now available, and time does not allow for the completion of this total air effort, hence it now seems wise to combine a limited air effort with ground forces to open up a Western European front.169
When Spaatz arrived two months later, he could maintain in friendly debate with Harris the official American view that the invasion was necessary to victory, but it was essentially a question of whether strategic bombing would be the sole weapon or only the most important.170 In neither case was there any doubt as to the crippling effects of an all-out attack on German industry. But as to the mode of attack there was still no unanimity of opinion.
When in 1941 the two air staffs began planning their combined attack on Germany, the RAF was already engaged in a bomber offensive over Europe with a carefully chosen system of objectives and a technique adapted to the means available. Then and later Bomber Command was forced, somewhat grudgingly and at times only through pressure from the government, to divert a considerable share of its effort to attacks on tactical objectives, often maritime in nature.171 But in mid-1941, preferred target systems consisted of transportation centers and the industrial communities surrounding them. This choice marked a change from earlier attacks on the oil industry, and the rationale of that shift was explained by the British at the
Atlantic conference.172 Current policy was dictated by the concentration of profitable targets within easy range in the Ruhr, by the tie-in between the blockade and the increased strain on inland transportation, and by the small force of bombers then available. The British professed, on humanitarian and military grounds alike, a distaste for indiscriminate bombing of nonmilitary targets; but they laid great stress on the effect of bombardment on civilian morale. They did not hope to frighten Germany into surrender, though they did believe the civilian temper less staunch there than in England; rather, they expected that the interruption of normal patterns of civilian life incident to prolonged bombardment would eventually disrupt German war industry.
To attack congested transportation centers surrounded by sprawling factory districts, they chose area rather than pinpoint bombing, and stray bombs – “overs” and “shorts” – were absorbed by adjacent residential districts. Because targets thus defined were large, and more importantly because German defense was rugged, attacks were delivered at night from medium or high altitudes. Bomber Command was proving that its Stirlings and Manchesters (as later its Lancasters and Halifaxes) could deliver a heavy load of bombs in the general vicinity of a transportation-industrial complex without prohibitive losses. In view of lower costs of construction, the greater bomb load, and the smaller crew demanded, the night bomber seemed more economical than the day. The clinching argument was the factor of lower operational losses.
Even before the war, RAF preference had run to night tactics for strategic bombardment, an attitude which must have influenced the design of British planes. Wartime experience had strengthened this view. The English, for all their stout reaction to the air blitz, had a healthy respect for the psychological effects of area bombing. They knew also the heavy cost of daylight bomber operations against constantly improved defenses, both from their defeat of the Luftwaffe in 1940 and from their own missions over the continent.173 The RAF continued to deliver small daylight attacks against precision targets, but these were exceptional. The low-level raid on a Diesel engine factory at Augsburg on 17 April 1942 may be cited as an example.174 Success in hitting a vitally important target may have justified the loss of seven out of twelve Lancasters dispatched, but the percentage was too high for routine practice. So while the British were willing to
consider the possibility of turning eventually to daylight operations, for the present they felt it expedient to bomb under cover of darkness.175 The success of the thousand-plane saturation attacks against Cologne on 31 May and the Ruhr on 2 June 1942 offered grim evidence of what such tactics could accomplish.176
American tactical principles, originally quite similar to those of the RAF, had been profoundly modified during the decade before Pearl Harbor. In 1941, AAF schools were teaching that strategic targets could best be destroyed by daylight precision bombing, delivered by compact formations of heavy bombers in level flight at high altitudes. The central idea was precision, which merely accentuated the principle of economy of force upon which the whole argument for strategic bombardment rested. If an enemy’s ability to resist was to be attacked through his industry rather than through long and bloody battles with his armies, paralysis of selected key spots would be as effective as, and far cheaper than, total obliteration. Because this conclusion could be derived logically without reference to operational experience, it had been advanced at an early date. In 1918, for example, there had been a plan to hamstring such elements in the German army as depended on internal combustion engines by destroying the few factories producing magnetos.177 In concept, this design was quite similar to the Eighth Air Force’s campaign against the antifriction-bearing industry in 1943–44, and it illustrates the tendency in air warfare for theory to rush ahead of current practicability. For in 1918 there was not available the equipment requisite for precision bombing on the necessary scale. Even against existing defense measures, daylight bombing was considered prohibitively costly, and the Air Service, AEF, had accepted British operational principles when adopting the Handley-Page night bomber as the principal weapon for strategic operations.
To account for subsequent changes in doctrine, several factors may be suggested. There was in the United States a traditional reverence for marksmanship which went back to the squirrel rifle of frontier days when scarcity of powder and shot put a premium on accuracy. Even if the facts sometimes belied the tradition, it was an element of American folklore which could be taken over by analogy to the new weapon. Emphasis on precision was also an antidote to widespread antipathy toward attacks on “civilian” objectives.178 Most important was the stress placed upon the airplane as the nation’s best defense
against sea power, for a maneuvering ship could be hit only by the most precise bombardment. Mitchell preached accuracy in strategic bombing, but it was against naval craft that he scored his most spectacular successes. Until 1926 or later, the Air Service maintained the World War I distinction between day and night bombers as separate types, the former designed for use against ships or tactical targets on land, the latter for strategic objectives.*179 In 1926 the Air Service Tactical School was still teaching, in respect to the latter: “While under favorable conditions day bombardment may be used, it is in raids on such objectives as these that night bombardment comes into its own.180
Within a few years, the same school had gone over to the daylight precision idea. Its instructors had been led on by the logic implicit in their arguments for strategic bombardment181 but their conversion came only as technological improvements gave some realism to the theories. Mitchell, as his critics liked to point out, had scored his hits under ideal conditions-at slow speeds and from low altitudes against defenseless ships at anchor. Antiaircraft artillery was but lightly regarded then, but even so it seemed unlikely that in actual combat level bombers could operate with impunity in daylight at altitudes of 3,000 feet or less. Dive bombing, early advocated by Mitchell and fundamental to Navy tactics, found little support in the Air Corps’182 level bombing to be reasonably safe in the face of heavy defenses must be conducted at greater speed and from higher altitudes, and to reach precision standards an improved bombsight was required. In the development of the plane and the bombsight around which Air Corps doctrines were to be built, it was the antishipping role rather than strategic bombing which was the decisive factor.
In October 1931, Army observers were greatly impressed with Navy tests against the USS Pittsburg with a new bombsight, the Mark XV. This had been developed by Mr. C. L. Norden, a civilian consultant whose earlier models had been in use by the Navy since 1920. The Chief of the Air Corps in 1932 requested the Navy to secure twenty-five Mark XV’s for Army use.183 Air Corps tests in the following year increased the initial enthusiasm, and seventy-eight additional items were ordered.184 It is significant that the Mark XV was designed primarily for use against ships in motion and that its superiority over existing Army models (D-1, D-4, C-3) was most keenly appreciated
* See above, pp. 59–60.
in Hawaii, where the only likely bombardment targets were enemy ships.185 In keeping with regular procurement policies which sought to secure alternate sources of supply, the Air Corps let contracts with the Sperry Gyroscope Company in 1933 for other improved models, the C-3X and C-4.186
With the successful tests of the B-17 in 1935, the Air Corps had the matériel prerequisites for precision bombardment: a long-range plane of unusual stamina capable of flying above the effective range of flak, and bombsights of unrivaled accuracy. The relatively small bomb load of the plane enhanced the need for accuracy. During the next few years, tactical procedures were refined, with special emphasis on pattern bombing from tight formations. And as the GHQ Air Force shifted its interest more and more toward counterair activities and industrial objectives, tactics originated far strikes at shipping were adapted to land objectives. Scores achieved in training were impressive. This accuracy was exaggerated in the legend of “pickle-barrel” bombing which arose during that period, to the later discomfiture of the AAF. But the results were clearly superior to those obtained by European air forces during the first two years of war, a fact which seems to have been accepted by the RAF. The moot point in AAFRAF debates was whether comparable accuracy could be maintained, within acceptable attrition rates, under combat conditions in the ETO.
The issue was squarely faced in AWPD/1. According to the detailed analysis of the bomber campaign against Germany contained in that plan, the AAF was to avoid to the extent possible diversionary operations of the sort which were weakening Bomber Command’s offensive. The full weight of American attacks should be concentrated against a limited number of designated targets:–187
|Intermediate Objectives:||30||aircraft and light-metals industries|
|Primary Objectives:||50||electric power plants|
|27||petroleum and synthetic oil industries|
Some of the objectives listed were already under night attack by the RAF, but to AWPD they appeared as precision targets to be destroyed by approved AAF methods. Only when the industrial fabric of Germany began to crack should the AAF turn to area bombing of cities for morale purposes.188
After analyzing German air defense, the authors of AWPD/1 came to the conclusion “that by employing large numbers of aircraft with high speed, good defensive fire power and high altitude, it is feasible to make deep penetrations into Germany in daylight.189 This was predicated upon the belief that U.S. bombers, initially B-17’s and B-24’s, subsequently B-29’s and B-32’s, could beat off attacks from fighters currently employed by the GAF. To cope with improved German models in the future, the AAF should begin immediately development of an escort plane with speed somewhat superior to that of heavy bombers, with equal range, great firepower, and heavy armor190 Several of the authors of AWPD/1 had observed the air war in England; they had access to RAF intelligence; they utilized AAF bombing records to calculate the weight of attack needed to destroy each target. But their estimates of the capabilities of the B-17 and B-24 under war conditions were unsupported by practical experience. Paradoxically, it had been the RAF, not the AAF, who had flown U.S. heavy bombers in combat, and the results had done little to convert British opinion.
During the spring of 1941, some twenty B-17C’s were delivered to the RAF. Initially, British aviation journals gave the “Fortress One” an enthusiastic welcome191 and RAF leaders regarded it “as a very fine aeroplane.”192 To take advantage of its peculiar virtues, it was decided to employ the B-17 in very high-altitude daylight missions.193 Such operations under the RAF control system required numerous modifications for the plane – about forty in all – and special training for the crew. The mechanical changes were delayed, and indoctrination of crews by AAF officers stationed in England was all too brief.194 On a trial run on 8 July, made before modifications were complete, three Fortresses were dispatched to bomb the naval barracks at Wilhelmshaven from 30,000 feet. Engine trouble forced one plane to attack a secondary objective; the other two failed to hit the target and when attacked by GAF interceptors were unable to return their fire.195 Regular missions began with participation in a great daylight attack on naval ships at Brest on 24 July;196 in general, they were as unsuccessful as had been the maiden attempt. By 12 September, twenty-two raids totaling thirty-nine sorties had been dispatched; eighteen planes had aborted, two had bombed secondary targets, so that only half had reached primary objectives. Two were shot down and two so badly damaged that they crashed in landing; total combat
and operational losses included eight of the twenty Fortresses, and others were grounded for want of repairs. It was dubious that two of the 1,100-lb. bombs customarily used had hit assigned targets, and not an enemy fighter had been destroyed.197 One long ton of bombs delivered at a cost of eight B-17’s was an expensive mode of warfare.
In the face of these failures, British enthusiasm for the Fortress One cooled rapidly and RAF skepticism as to the feasibility of American tactics seemed confirmed. One AAF observer noted that “while the first British reaction was one of confidence in the B-17C because of its ability to withstand gunfire, this original confidence has been dissipated.198 In retrospect, the failure is easy to explain. The B-17 had been designed to operate at 25,000 feet, and while there was in America some talk about substratosphere bombing, training had been at designed altitude or lower. The British had taken the plane much higher; in one mission they bombed from 39,200 feet, and never below 30,000. By AAF standards they had greatly overloaded the plane. Failures in hastily modified oxygen and heating systems had lowered crew efficiency. Guns had frozen and windshields had frosted, and when German fighters had attacked – at altitudes up to 32,000 feet – the Fortress had lacked speed to escape, firepower and visibility to fight back.199 Goebbels had in derision labeled the planes “Flying Coffins.” The RAF had never sent the B-17’s out in formations large enough to insure a proper bomb pattern – four was the maximum effort – and bombardiers, though experienced, had not received sufficient training with the Sperry bombsight, which for security reasons had been substituted for the Norden.200
The experience accorded a handful of B-24’s also delivered in England in the spring of 1941 had been no more gratifying: good initial publicity had been followed by undue delay in modification and a preference on the part of the British for using the Liberator as a transport or sea-search plane.201 General Arnold was not unnaturally concerned over reports of the manner in which B-17’s and B-24’s were being handled in England when heavy bombers were needed desperately for the expanding AAF. Unfavorable British comment came most inopportunely while the AAF was working, strenuously to secure, in the Victory Program, a top priority for its heavy bombers. Too much adverse criticism might discredit the equipment as well as the doctrines of the AAF. As an air officer in SPOBS put it, “The success or failure of the initial results of the B-17’s bombing
operations will have an effect, far in excess of its actual operational importance, on the attitude of the RAF, the British, and the American people toward the B-17 as a fighting plane.202
On inquiry, Brig. Gen. Ralph Royce, air attaché in London, confirmed disquieting reports which General Arnold had received: that the RAF had been forced by the British government, for political and publicity reasons, to use the Fortresses; that crew training had been inadequate, especially in reference to use of the Sperry sight; and that maintenance had been slow and inefficient.203 Undoubtedly there was something to be said on both sides. The Americans saw chiefly the negligence in maintenance and the failure to follow AAF procedures in operations. The British saw rather the mechanical failures, the limited armament, and the losses. Fundamentally, the difficulty lay in the fact that no one in the RAF was eager about the planes.
A typical expression of British opinion may be found in reports by experienced RAF pilots invited to the States as consultants in October.204 They thought that the B-17 and B-24 might be suitable for service in the Pacific, but that they were too lightly armed for daylight missions over Germany – in fact, they called both “night bombers”! Because of its heavier bomb load, they preferred the B-24 to the B-17 but considered both inferior to British heavy bombers. The pilots spoke of the ruggedness of the B-17 under fire, but they believed that no bomber could stand up against German defenses in the daytime.205 So firmly ingrained had this opinion become when the United States entered the war that Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred Freeman, Portal’s deputy, proposed that the B-17 and B-24 be modified for night operations and be used according to British tactics when the AAF should be sent to England.206 That suggestion received little support in the Air Staff at Washington. “This must not,” commented one member, “through frequent repetition, lead us to favor area bombing against precision bombing which accomplishes the strategic result with fewer airplanes and fewer crews.207 Nevertheless, RAF experience with U.S. heavy bombers suggested improvements, if not radical changes, in both aircraft and operating techniques.
While AAF doctrines were thus under fire, they received a new endorsement from General Chaney. On 5 September 1941 he completed an analysis of the results of German bombardment in Britain during 1940.208 The Luftwaffe’s failure to crush British industry and morale he attributed to German errors rather than to any weakness inherent
in air power. Goering had never put enough bombers over England, nor had he concentrated his forces on the proper targets. Conversely, Chaney believed that an allied air force, if sufficiently large and properly handled, could knock Germany out of the war or at least make easy the final invasion. This would require choice of appropriate strategic targets and prolonged concentration on each until it was totally destroyed. Most of the targets were relatively small and could best be attacked by precision techniques. That meant daylight bombing, which in turn meant heavier losses. Those losses might be held to a figure commensurate with results only if AAF bombing were highly accurate.
Accuracy indeed was the crux of the problem. American and British doctrines could be evaluated according to a simple formula in which the basic factors were:–
Bombs on target
Bombers and crews lost
Presumably both factors would be greater by day than by night, but in their proportion lay the whole argument for or against the AAF theory. In spite of British and German experience, Chaney thought it possible to conduct a decisive daylight bomber offensive in Europe, provided operations were carried out on a massive scale and provided requisite improvements be made in equipment, training, and tactics.
Chaney’s comments on bombardment “under existing war conditions” elicited from Arnold promise of “vigorous action,209 which most immediately took the form of a reappraisal of existing equipment and techniques. To cast some light on the controversial question of whether the B-17 and B-24 could approach German targets by day consistently enough to accomplish the mission assigned them in AWPD/1, an analysis was made of fighter-bomber engagements in the European theater.210 The findings seemed to justify some of the RAF complaints. Most profitable strategic targets lay beyond the range of fighter escorts. To escape German flak, it was necessary to operate at altitudes which made it very difficult to maintain the close formations prescribed by the Air Corps. Essentially, then, the heavy bombers should be defensively self-sufficient, and whereas the B-17 had exhibited great endurance under fire it had also showed little capacity for inflicting damage on attackers. Hence, a more intensive study was necessary to determine what improvements in armament were needed.
The Air Staff was not prepared to abandon faith in defensive formations
but immediately began an investigation of means to increase the firepower of U.S. bombers. After making a detailed comparison of the British Stirling and Manchester with the Fortress One, AWPD recommended that the B-17 and B-24 be equipped with ten machine guns, mounted in turrets where possible. This followed RAF practice as to number, but the guns were to be heavier, of .50 caliber rather than .303. Better equipment for oxygen and heating should be developed, and a board of officers should be named to draw up characteristics for a long-range escort plane.211
The recommendation for increased armament was followed immediately, and the B-17E – the first model to be used in combat by the Eighth Air Force – was the most heavily armed bomber in the theater. The design for the escort plane was slower in its evolution. The failure to have developed such a plane was the most serious flaw in the AAF’s program, and it is difficult to account for. Again, the fact that national defense rather than strategic bombardment against European powers had been the prevailing influence in the twenties and early thirties must have been important.212 The effect of Douhet’s writings at the Air Corps Tactical School has been referred to above,* and Douhet taught that heavily armed bombers in mass formations could operate by day against fighter defense.213 Whatever the reason, the AAF was approaching a major war without a long-range escort for its bombers.† The type of plane recommended in AWPD/1 to remedy this lack was more akin to a modified bomber than to any existing pursuit model.214 Eaker, on a mission to England in September 1941, secured information which seemed to corroborate this judgment215 and eventually such an expedient was followed. Almost a year later, in August 1942, a board headed by Brig. Gen. A. J. Lyon submitted a plan for modifying the B-17 and B-24 into “destroyer escort planes.”216 That suggestion was followed, and the resulting YB-40 and YB-41 were to have a brief and unhappy trial in the ETO. But when war came it was apparent that our early bombardment operations would be run without benefit of escorts over the target, a fact which accentuated the need of improved techniques.
Research toward that end had paralleled those dealing with equipment. A board had been established in July 1941 to evaluate bombing accuracy in the AAF, and in response to Chaney’s recommendations,
* See above, p. 51.
† For one possible explanation, see above, pp. 64–65.
its functions were extended to include an investigation of “poor bombing results” in the European theater. From midsummer until the end of 1941, the board continued its study of bombardment in England and in the United States. The analysis of RAF and Luftwaffe operations did little to change current unflattering estimates, but the report on AAF bombardment rendered on 2 January 1942 left little cause for complacency.217 The remarkable scores achieved by the AAF had been made under ideal conditions: experienced crews flying in the cloudless – and flakless – skies of the American Southwest. AWPD/1 would have to be accomplished by crews trained in the hastily expanding air force. Bombing accuracy at present was far below the capabilities of existing equipment-as, in fact, it was to be throughout the war. Few crews were sufficiently trained for night bombing to justify adopting RAF practice, and indeed there was “no bombardment unit of the Air Forces ready for combat operations in any theater without a minimum of three months additional training.218 This was a serious condition in an air force already at war. The board suggested certain remedial steps in regard to training and recommended that no unit be committed to an active theater until it had demonstrated its proficiency by specific achievement tests.
The exigencies of war made this last item impractical, but in general the report was enthusiastically received.219 On 26 February, Arnold established the Bombardment Tactical Committee consisting of five bombardment experts, and specialists on antiaircraft artillery, radar, and meteorology. The committee was charged with “preparing the doctrines, tactics, and technique of employment of air forces in the European theater,” and of making recommendations for improvements in training and equipment necessary thereto.220 In the meanwhile, work toward the same ends had begun in the theater.
General Eaker had arrived in England on 20 February to prepare for the reception of the USAFBI bomber command. Among other duties he was charged with studying the doctrines and operational procedures of RAF Bomber Command,221 and he had been advised by Spaatz to exhaust fully the possibilities of daylight bombing. His long report of 20 March contained, therefore, a critique of British doctrines and an estimate of AAF capabilities.222 Several weeks of observation had given Eaker a healthy respect for Bomber. Command’s work, and he tended to justify rather than condemn their choice of night operations. With forces inadequate to the primary
mission, Bomber Command’s efforts had been diffused in attacks on nonstrategic targets so that it had been impossible to accept the heavier losses which daylight operations would involve. Economy in materials and in production man-hours favored the night bomber; easier maintenance, smaller crews, and, above all, smaller losses, favored night operations. Just as the British had earlier admitted that they might eventually turn to day bombing, so Eaker was willing, if necessary, to give British methods a trial. AWPD/1 had assumed that toward the end of the bomber campaign the AAF might turn to area bombing of cities to give the coup de grâce to German morale, but Eaker was interested in the more immediate future. So soon as a satisfactory flame dampener could be developed for his heavy bombers and crews could be specially trained, he proposed to use his force “both day and night.”
This was in keeping with the experimental tone which pervaded the whole report. Eaker was keenly aware of the great fund of experience which the RAF had built up in two and a half years of war, and he hoped to profit both from their successes and from their errors. But he was still convinced that the AAF’s chief contribution would be through operations of the type for which its equipment and training had been designed. Daylight bombing would make navigation and location of targets easier. Operational, as opposed to combat, losses would be fewer. But, above all, it was only by following approved AAF practice that bombardment could approach precision standards. This would require, in addition to skillful bombardiers, intensive training in evasive action, formation flying, and gunnery. It would require, too, an adequate force, regular replacements, and high morale. In the initial stages operations should be of shallow penetration only so that some protection might be had from fighter escorts with limited range, and targets and methods of attack should be varied constantly to confuse the defense. This applied to the Anglo-American combined effort as well, and Eaker stressed the positive value of a coordinated day-night attack on Germany. Such a program would abate congestion in British skies, already overcrowded with planes. It would allow the AAF and RAF to specialize on the type of targets and tactics for which each was best qualified. And by keeping German defenses on the alert around the clock, the combined attack in the long run would reduce both American and British losses.
Eaker’s report gave then an affirmative, if cautious, reply to Spaatz’ question as to the feasibility of daylight operations. The report was favorably received in Washington223 and when Spaatz arrived in England in mid-June he was still inclined to accept its verdict. It is true that the adoption of BOLERO had involved a sharp reorientation in air strategy: the long-term bombardment campaign had become less important than counterair activities and close support. Thus, the mission assigned to the Eighth Air Force by General Eisenhower on 21 July was, in collaboration with the RAF, “to initiate immediately the maximum degree of air operations with a view to obtaining and maintaining domination of the air over Western France by 1 April 1943 and be prepared to furnish the maximum support to the forward movement of U.S. Army ground forces by late summer 1942.224 Yet while Spaatz and his staff were preparing to execute that mission, the heavy bomber program as originally conceived was not entirely abandoned, and the change from BOLERO to TORCH released the Eighth Air Force from any immediate concern with close support for a cross-Channel push. Thus, on 1 August, Eaker could describe the mission of the VIII Bomber Command in terms wholly consistent with those of his 20 March report: the destruction of carefully chosen strategic targets. The experimental nature of the task was still evident in the directive he issued: “A subsidiary purpose of our early bombing operations will be to determine our capacity to destroy pinpoint targets by daylight accuracy bombing and our ability to beat off fighter opposition and to evade antiaircraft opposition.225 Because of diversions of bomber units to TORCH and the Pacific, the “subsidiary purpose” was to be the main purpose for almost a year.
Eaker’s statement implied that the tests would involve penetration by unescorted bombers, and indeed until fighter range could be stepped up appreciably any missions into Germany proper must be flown by the heavies alone. But there was no intention of throwing the first handful of B-17’s in a daylight stab at Berlin: initial efforts should be exerted tentatively within fighter radius of southeast England. Throughout negotiations with the British, Arnold, Spaatz, and Eaker had resisted all attempts to integrate U.S. pursuit units with RAF groups charged with defense of England; AAF fighters should be a part of the striking force with the primary duty of escorting bombers.226 But in August it was obvious that for want of fighter strength RAF Fighter Command would have to furnish most of the
support initially. Essential agreement as to policy in this respect was reached by 20 August, three days after the VIII Bomber Command had flown its first mission. The document, which reached its final form on 8 September, is worth quoting in full:–
Joint American/British Directive On Day Bomber Operations Involving Fighter Cooperation
The aim of the day bombardment by Allied Air Forces based in Great Britain is to achieve continuity in the bombing offensive against the Axis.
Allocation of Responsibility
The primary instrument for night air bombardment is the British Bomber Command. Day bombardment will be the primary responsibility of the 8th Air Force.
Methods of achieving the aim
Night bombardment methods will remain as defined in present Air Ministry directives to the British Bomber Command. The method of achieving the aim of day bombardment is by the destruction and damage of precise targets vital to the Axis war effort.
Development of day offensive
The day bomber offensive is to be developed in the following three phases: –
American day bomber forces under British fighter protection reinforced by American fighter forces are to attack suitable objectives within the radius of action of British fighter cover.
American day bomber forces under British and American fighter protection are to attack suitable objectives within the radius of action of British and American fighter types. In this phase, the direct protection of the bomber forces is to be provided by American fighter forces. British fighter forces are to be used principally for diversionary sweeps and withdrawal cover. During this phase the range characteristic of the American type fighter aircraft is to be exploited to increase the depth of penetration of the bomber force and also to widen the frontage of attack. It will be the responsibility of the 8th Air Force to develop the tactics of deep penetration of the enemy day fighter defence.
The 8th Air Force will develop its full day bomber offensive receiving such support and cooperation as may be required from the British short-range fighter force.
Objectives suitable for the day bomber offensive under Phases 1 and 2 are listed in the attachment hereto. The target list for Phase 3 will be issued later.
Role of British day bomber force
During the development of the day offensive, British day bomber forces are to be used in the secondary role to add weight to British diversionary operations and to maintain the attacks during periods unsuitable for the operation of the American heavy day bombers.
Machinery for implementing the plan
During Phase 1, it will be the responsibility of the Commanding General of the American Bomber Command to initiate offensive operations, making preliminary arrangements for fighter cooperation with the Commanding General, the American Fighter Command. It will be the responsibility of the latter to ensure full consultation with the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command. When the general plan is settled, it will be the responsibility of the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command to nominate the British Fighter Group Commander, who is to draw up the detailed fighter plans, reinforcing the Fighter Group as necessary in conjunction with the Commanding General, American Fighter Command in respect of American pursuit reinforcements. Thereafter, detailed planning and the conduct of the fighter operation will be the responsibility of the Commanding General, American Bomber Command, and the British Fighter Group Commander concerned.
When Phase 3 is reached, it will be the responsibility of the Commanding Generals of the American Bomber and Fighter Commands together to make the general and detailed plans and to conduct the operations under the direction of the Commanding General, 8th Air Force. It will be the responsibility of the Commanding General of the American Fighter Command to arrange with the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command for such ground facilities and fighter cooperation as may be required from the British Fighter Command.
The Air Officers Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber, Fighter and Coastal Commands, and the Commanding Generals of the American Bomber and Fighter Commands will at all times keep each other informed of operational intentions and together make such adjustments to plans as may be necessary to ensure proper coordination.
At some moment during Phase 2 it will be necessary to change from the coordination machinery for Phase 1 to that agreed for Phase 3. The moment of change-over will be decided by the Commanding General, 8th Air Force and the British Air Ministry (A-C.A.S.(Ops)) conjointly, having regard to the available strength of American pursuit forces available which are armed with American type fighters, and the degree of operational experience which they have acquired.227
The Joint Directive gave no indication that the RAF had been convinced of the soundness of American doctrines – only that the doctrines’ trial by wager of battle would be given British support. The document was, however, indicative of the mutual respect that characterized the relations of the two air forces. This attitude was not always appreciated by the public. Newspaper stories tended to magnify honest differences of opinion into serious disputes, and the Eighth’s long delay in getting into action seemed to lend substance to this view. On 8 August the New York Times published an article by John MacCormac under the head “British-U.S. Rift on Planes Holding Up Air Offensive.” The gist of the argument was that American cooperation in the bomber offensive was behind schedule and perhaps permanently impaired because of serious disagreements concerning U.S. heavy bombers and bombardment theories – specifically, “because of British-American inability to agree on methods or objectives.” The article showed little understanding of the situation. Only a week before, Eaker had written Sir Arthur Harris, “I shall continue to look upon you as the senior member in our firm – the elder brother in our bomber team,228 and Harris had replied: “I am personally in the fullest agreement with the methods of cooperation which you propose and supremely confident that, at least as long as we retain our respective assignments, no difficulties of either an operational or a personal nature can conceivably arise between us.229 The VIII Bomber Command got off to a late start not because of quarrels over the teacups with the RAF, but because of difficulties in logistics and training which will be described in the next chapter.
The New York Times story, because it had appeared in so influential a journal, was repudiated by Eisenhower and Spaatz.230 It was not the last in which rivalry between AAF and RAF was played up. A month later Spaatz condemned the American tendency
to belittle the RAF and their bombing effort. This, in spite of the fact that ... the only force that is pounding hell out of Germany is the RAF. This does not mean that I am an enthusiastic supporter of all they do. They were wrong in their analysis of what can be done with daylight bombing but they have the benefit of a hell of a lot of experience, and when they analyze anything it is with the background of that experience.231
When Spaatz wrote this, the Eighth Air Force had received its baptism of fire and he could himself draw on a modicum of experience. But in spite of the dramatic success of the initial B-17 missions, highlighted
by the controversy in the press, it was to be months before VIII Bomber Command had thoroughly demonstrated the soundness of its doctrine of daylight bombing. As one of its officers wrote in retrospect, “There were, frankly, many times when we seriously doubted the practical adherence to such a high-flown motto.”232