Chapter 17: Establishment of the Eighth Air Force in the United Kingdom
Destined to become the major instrument of American air power in the war against Germany, the Eighth Air Force from its very inception was intended for action against the European Axis. Originally, however, it had not been assigned the mission of strategic bombardment. Its roots were embedded in the projects for the invasion of Northwest Africa (GYMNAST and SUPER-GYMNAST) considered by the ARCADIA and post-ARCADIA conferences in December 1941 and early 1942. The decision to organize a task force known as the Mobile Reserve Corps, under the command of Maj. Gen. Lloyd R. Fredendall, to carry out GYMNAST in the event of a firm commitment to that operation, made inevitable the planning and organization of its air element. Accordingly, on 2 January 1942, General Arnold directed that an air task force be established for the purpose under the command of Col. Asa N. Duncan, then commanding the III Air Support Command.1 First designated the Fifth Air Force, the new organization within a few days received instead the designation of Eighth Air Force because of a plan to authorize the activation of a Fifth Air Force* in the Far East.2
As originally conceived, the Eighth Air Force consisted of a headquarters, bomber and interceptor commands, and a wing headquarters to be employed as a service command. Its constituent units were one medium bombardment group, two pursuit groups, one observation group, three air base groups, and one air depot group. Already selected
* First assigned to the Far East Air Force, the designation would not be identified with the American elements of the Allied Air Forces in Australia and New Guinea until 3 September 1942.
by 8 January for assignment to the new air force were the 17th Bombardment Group (M), the 48th Bombardment Group (L), the 20th and 52nd Pursuit Groups,* the 68th Observation Group, and the 7th Photo Squadron. Additional units not then available were to be activated by the commanding general of the Air Force Combat Command (AFCC), under whose direction the organization and training of the Eighth Air Force was placed.3 On 19 January, the War Department ordered that the AFCC activate the headquarters and headquarters squadrons of the Eighth Air Force, VIII Air Force Base Command, VIII Bomber Command, and VIII Interceptor Command.4 Meanwhile, the Air Staff planned that the several units would move into a concentration and training area within the United States on or about 1 February. Task Force GYMNAST had been accorded a priority D rating by the AAF, with three other air task forces scheduled ahead of it.† 5
The AFCC delegated to the First and Third Air Forces the actual task of establishing the major headquarters units.6 The Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Eighth Air Force was activated by the Third Air Force on 28 January at Savannah Army Air Base in Georgia. As in the case of the commander, Colonel Duncan, most of the personnel was drawn from the headquarters of the III Air Support Command. At the same time, the III Air Force Base Command supplied the initial personnel for the VIII Air Force Base Command.7 The VIII Bomber Command was activated at Langley Field, Virginia, by the First Air Force on 1 February, and on the same day the VIII Interceptor Command was activated at Selfridge Field, Michigan. According to plan, the VIII Bomber Command was promptly moved to Savannah and the VIII Interceptor Command to Charleston, transfers which had been effected by the middle of February.8 As these moves indicate, the southeastern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia had been selected as a concentration and training area, where units initially were stationed on bases and airports at Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, Columbia, Florence, and Augusta. The plan called for the new air force to remain under the control of the commanding general, AFCC until the
* Pursuit units were redesignated “fighter” in May 1942.
† On 20 January, the task forces with higher priorities were Task Force X (Australia), Task Force FIVE ISLANDS (South Pacific), and Task Force BR (United Kingdom).
date of embarkation or until the beginning of training with the Mobile Reserve Corps. It was attached for administration and supply to the Third Air Force,9 which continued to act as a parent to most of the units of the infant Eighth until their departure for the United Kingdom several months later.
By 12 February it had become apparent to Colonel Duncan that the 24,125 men and 621 aircraft planned for the Eighth would not be adequate to carry out the mission intended for it under GYMNAST. He recommended, therefore, that his force be augmented by the addition of three heavy bombardment groups, one medium bombardment group, and three pursuit groups.10 But such an augmentation of strength would have required the diversion of combat units intended for other task forces. The Air War Plans Division (AWPD), therefore, on 25 February recommended instead the elimination of GYMNAST from current projects.11 The project had been periodically deferred during February, largely because of the demands made by our hard pressed forces in the Pacific, and early in March the Combined Chiefs took under consideration a recommendation that SUPER-GYMNAST be continued as an “academic study” only.12 Until it was revived some months later under the name of TORCH, the North African venture ceased to affect the fortunes of the Eighth Air Force.
As though to indicate the trend of policy, the Eighth already had sustained a practical reduction in strength. On 19 February it had been instructed to make available to Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle twenty B-25’s with combat crews from its 17th Bombardment Group for the special mission to be led by him against Tokyo.13 During March, intensive training of VIII Bomber Command units was interrupted further by the imperative demands of the antisubmarine campaign in the Atlantic; and while planes and crews of the 17th Group participated in the defense of the southeast coast of the United States, an additional sixty-seven pilots of the VIII Bomber Command were on special duty outside the continental limits of the United States.14 Finally, at the end of March all combat groups then assigned to the Eighth Air Force passed from its control to that of the Third Air Force in an administrative shift preparatory to the assignment of a new mission and of new units for its fulfillment.15
Abandonment of GYMNAST had left the Eighth Air Force uncommitted to any operation. Maj. Gen. Carl Spaatz, commanding
general of the AFCC and commanding general-designate of the contemplated Army Air Force in Great Britain (AAFIB), had previously sought to have the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron of the AFCC transferred intact to the AAFIB, in the hope of providing at least a head for that heretofore incorporeal organization.16 A decision to assign the AFCC personnel to AAF Headquarters precluded this move, but General Spaatz was quick to seize the opportunity presented by the release of the Eighth Air Force from GYMNAST. On 31 March, he suggested that the now “task-less” force be made available as a nucleus for the AAFIB, and within the next few days the Eighth Air Force was committed to the United Kingdom.17 Already in England since February on a mission to prepare the way for the AAFIB were Brig. Gen. Ira C. Eaker and a small bomber command staff, who by this new commitment were rewarded with the definite knowledge that their plans and preparations would soon have practical application.
The assignment to the AAFIB involved a drastic change in the nature of the Eighth. SUPER-GYMNAST had called for a mobile tactical air force, whereas the principal air task in the United Kingdom had long been conceived as strategic bombardment of Germany. To adapt the Eighth Air Force to its new mission required a considerable reshuffling of its combat organizations. It was this need which had brought about the release to the Third Air Force at the end of March of all Air Corps and service units save the headquarters of the Eighth Air Force and the VIII Bomber and Interceptor Commands.18 In April, the VIII Air Force Base Command, the 12th Replacement Control Depot, and the 7th Photo Squadron were reassigned from the Third Air Force.19 The Eighth got, also, others of its original units, of which the most important was the 2nd Air Depot Group, and in April a large number of combat units assigned to operational training units were earmarked for eventual assignment to the Eighth Air Force and shipment to the United Kingdom. These units comprised twenty-three heavy bombardment groups, four medium bombardment groups, five light bombardment groups, four dive bomber groups, and thirteen pursuit groups.20 Actually committed to the Eighth Air Force for the initial movement to the United Kingdom were only the 1st and 31st Pursuit Groups, the 97th Bombardment Group (H), and the 5th Photo Squadron.21 Before the Eighth Air Force could reach the combat strength envisaged for it
at this time, it would see a large number of these forty-nine groups diverted to other air forces all over the world.
In the reorganization of the Eighth Air Force and the subsequent feverish efforts to prepare it for movement overseas, the chief responsibility was borne by General Spaatz, though his formal assumption of command did not come until 5 May.22 Brig. Gen. Asa N. Duncan and the headquarters staff of the Eighth Air Force were made responsible to him, and in early April the headquarters was split into two echelons. One remained in Savannah to care for the administrative and operational needs of the several commands. The other, the Bolling Field echelon, became the nerve center of the force itself. Located near AAF Headquarters in Washington, this element of the Eighth’s staff worked in close conjunction with the Air Staff itself. At Bolling Field, after numerous conferences and studies, details of the organization, mission, and training began to be transformed into functional terms.23 Major decisions taken in April and May provided the basis for concrete action to facilitate the removal of the Eighth to the United Kingdom, and shaped the organization that would be established during the spring and summer of 1942. The VIII Ground Air Support Command was established on 28 April24 and the VIII Air Force Composite Command, which was intended as a training organization, on 4 July.25 Redesignations of commands during this period and in subsequent months transformed the Interceptor Command into the Fighter Command, the Base Command into the Service Command, and the Ground Air Support Command into the Air Support Command.26
To overcome the difficulty arising from a general dearth of experienced officers for staff positions, it became necessary to commission direct from civilian life large numbers of professional and business men who volunteered their services. Most of these men were commissioned for specific assignment to one of the staffs, a practice that was especially important in staffing the service command, which had perhaps the greatest immediate need for officer personnel.27 Many of the newly commissioned officers came from the southeastern part of the United States, where the several headquarters were then located, and many of them, having moved directly from civilian life to the assumption of their new responsibilities, went overseas without any military training whatsoever, a condition which was partially
remedied in the theater.28 To increase the number of officers experienced in the ways of the Army, commissions were also issued to noncommissioned officers of the Regular Army, some of whom came to hold highly responsible staff positions in the Eighth. Action taken during May and June also helped to fill shortages of enlisted personnel, but many units were brought up to strength only at the port of embarkation and on the very eve of departure. The story with reference to shortages of equipment is similar. Substantial progress was made toward a solution of the problem, but some units went overseas without full equipment – a not unusual event in the hectic days of 1942.29
A major preoccupation at all levels of the Eighth during the spring was training. In the operational training units (OTU) of the Second and Third Air Forces, intensive effort marked the preparation of planes and crews for projected movement across the Atlantic. Orders directed that particular attention be paid the problems of rendezvous between bombers and fighters, for Generals Arnold and Spaatz already had established the policy that fighters of the Eighth Air Force would be used primarily for escort of its bombers.30 Ground crews received their training on the job mainly, though some individuals were sent to technical schools for special training.31
Preparations for the movement of the Eighth to Britain included an early dispatch of advance echelons of the several headquarters. A total of 39 officers and 348 enlisted men, representing Eighth Air Force headquarters and the bomber, fighter, and service commands, reached England early in May to join the so-called Bomber Command Shadow Staff under General Eaker.32 Other officers, individually and in groups, followed during May and June to undertake particular tasks connected with the establishment of the Eighth Air Force in the United Kingdom. In the unavoidable haste of these first days, confusion and embarrassment resulted from the occasional failure of individuals to understand and follow newly established channels for communication between the British and the Americans,33 but the emphasis belongs elsewhere. By the end of May, plans and preparations in England and the United States had reached a point that permitted a beginning to be made in the overseas movement of the Eighth. Indeed, the first large body of its troops was already on the way.
Preparations in the United Kingdom
The theater of operations in which the Eighth Air Force soon would make its debut had been for two years the scene of great air battles. By 1942 the Royal Air Force had become a battle-proved, experience-wise organization, with by far the greater part of its strength concentrated in the United Kingdom, whose defense was the cardinal point in British war policy. The establishment of another great air force in a country smaller than the state of Alabama (virtually all of the Eighth would be stationed in England proper), and one that was already crowded with airdromes and teeming with air traffic, would require all of the administrative skill, experience, and patience with which both the RAF and the AAF were endowed.
The task of representing the AAF in the initial stages of what was to prove an extraordinarily successful collaboration had fallen to General Eaker. Although the Special Observer Group (SPOBS), even before Pearl Harbor, had examined with leaders of the RAF some of the problems that would be involved in the accommodation of an American air force, it required the hard impact of actual warfare to lend urgency and certitude to preparations for the participation of the AAF in the European war. The advance echelon of the Bomber Command, Army Air Force in Great Britain under General Eaker was charged by General Arnold on 31 January to prepare for the arrival, accommodation, training, and operation of a bomber command.34 Eaker and a party of six other officers reached England by air on 20 February and reported to Maj. Gen. James E. Chaney, commanding general of United States Army Forces British Isles (USAFBI).35
The first American air headquarters in Europe, the United States Army Bomber Command, USAFBI, was established under command of General Eaker by order of General Chaney on 22 February.36 Three days later Chaney directed Eaker and his small staff, in accordance with previously made arrangements, to proceed to the headquarters of RAF Bomber Command for the purpose of understudying its staff and drafting recommendations for the training, equipment, and employment of American air units scheduled to operate from the United Kingdom. Additional duties required examination of British airfields intended for use by the Americans, submission of a plan for the reception and assignment to stations of bomber units, and
preparation of a scheme for the administration and supply of such units with particular attention to the needs of two heavy bombardment groups then scheduled as the initial combat echelon.37 To take appropriate steps toward a close coordination of effort with the RAF, to select and make ready the fields from which the Americans would fly, to prepare for the reception of an increasing flow of AAF units, and to provide for their fundamental needs – these were the major tasks.
For several weeks thereafter, the American officers, whose number was soon increased by arrival of eleven others sent from the United States, shared offices and living quarters with the staff of RAF Bomber Command. Even when on 15 April General Eaker took over for his own headquarters a hurriedly evacuated girls’ school at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, about thirty miles west of London, he remained virtually next door to RAF Bomber Command headquarters.38 Already he had submitted to General Chaney on 20 March a comprehensive study of the problems involved in the establishment of an American air force.39 The Eaker plan, in accordance with Chaney’s directive, made provision for the accommodation, training, and initiation into combat of the two heavy bombardment groups which Washington had earmarked for spring delivery to the United Kingdom, and for other units which were to follow. The subsequent assignment of the Eighth Air Force to the United Kingdom would require revision of some of the planning factors used, but in general the actual establishment of the Eighth in England followed the pattern of the Eaker plan. Sections dealing with logistical problems drew partly on previous study by SPOBS and USAFBI.
The organizational scheme of the American air force in Britain, long a matter of dispute between Washington and General Chaney’s headquarters, was not crystallized until after the arrival and establishment of Eighth Air Force headquarters in June. Meanwhile, General Eaker shared with Col. Alfred J. Lyon, air officer of USAFBI, the responsibility for making preparations to receive the Eighth. As the advance echelons of the several headquarters arrived from the United States to participate in the preparatory effort, the variety and multiplicity of AAF activities in England led USAFBI to direct General Eaker to establish some central control.40 In consequence, on 19 May the Detachment Headquarters, Eighth Air Force, under command of General Eaker, assumed control of all U.S. Army air
organizations in the British Isles.41 It remained the ranking AAF command until the opening of General Spaatz’ headquarters on 18 June.
The preparatory effort which meantime fell under Eaker’s direction may be conveniently divided into two broad categories – logistics and operations. In either category much of the work consisted of planning, for the immediate future or on a long-range basis. It was natural that actual accomplishments were largely within the realm of logistics, for before the bomber campaign could begin much had to be done in such important if unspectacular fields as supply, maintenance, transportation, technical training, and housekeeping. Operations in the narrowest sense could begin only with the first attack on the enemy, but even when conceived in the usual fashion to include operational training and the development of auxiliary operational techniques, the Eighth was long handicapped by lack of combat planes and of tactical experience.
It was possible to draw upon the rich operational experience of the RAF, however, and during the spring and early summer of 1942, basic decisions in the field of operational planning prepared the way for a degree of cooperation and combined action probably never before equaled by the military forces of two great nations. The story provides another significant chapter in the long history of Anglo-American relations. If at times leaders of the RAF tended to view paternally the untried theories of the AAF and displayed an understandable disposition to guide the Americans along paths tested in the bitter experience of actual combat, they at the same time understood and respected the organizational capacity and the experimental temperament of the people with whom they were now allied. And if the Americans were inclined to insist upon the establishment of a completely independent air force, one that would be copartner and not junior partner in the assault on Germany, they also represented an organization that for over two years had sought helpful lessons in the experience of the RAF and had found there proof of its own basic assumptions. Differences on certain matters would persist throughout the war, as was only natural, but to the many ties which joined the two peoples there was added in this instance the bond that makes all airmen one.
The Eaker plan of 20 March assumed that in the highly important field of target selection the work would be done in conference between
British and American commanders.42 On undertaking the establishment of a headquarters at High Wycombe (PINETREE in code) that would serve for the immediate direction of American bomber operations, General Eaker followed as far as was possible the organization of the near-by RAF Bomber Command, thus achieving a measure of organizational similarity designed to facilitate cooperation. By 18 May he was able to notify Spaatz that the bomber headquarters should be ready to “control and supervise in bombardment operations by the 1st of June.”43 The tardy arrival of the first combat units obviated any test of that promise in June, but plans for close coordination with the RAF proceeded along lines that permitted the prompt adoption of formal agreements following the arrival of General Spaatz. Early in July, the RAF invited the Eighth Air Force to share membership on some of the more important RAF operational committees – those dealing with targets, operational research, interception, and bomber operations.44 Composed of senior staff officers for the study of operations data as a guide to policy, these committees thus took an important step toward their transformation into combined committees representative of the two air forces. Close personal agreement having theretofore marked the relations between General Eaker, who continued to command the VIII Bomber Command, and Air Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris, commanding the RAF Bomber Command, they further agreed on the eve of the Eighth’s entry into combat that Eaker, or his representative, would attend the daily operations conference held by Harris and that the two commands would coordinate action for the selection of targets and the issuance of communiqués or other press releases.45 The pattern of collaboration thus established for bomber operations was promptly followed by the two fighter commands.
Not until November 1942 was a definitive understanding with the British reached on the most fundamental question arising from the purpose to base American fighter planes in the United Kingdom. The RAF proposed that American fighter units be integrated with its own under a plan eventually to assign entire defensive sectors of the United Kingdom to AAF operational control.46 The suggestion had obvious administrative advantages to recommend it, but it would have involved the assumption of heavy responsibilities for defense of the British Isles. The AAF preferred that all of its forces be concentrated in an offensive effort against Germany, with the defensive
mission, which of course included protection of our own bases in Britain, continuing in the experienced hands of the RAF Fighter Command. General Spaatz defined the primary function of the AAF fighter planes as that of supporting “our bombers in an effort to secure air Supremacy and not for the defense of England,” but he agreed that they should be so trained as to permit their assumption of defensive obligations in the event of an emergency.47 On this basis the decision was finally made.48 The RAF would be responsible for aerial defense of the sectors in which American airdromes were located, and AAF fighter forces would be committed principally to the escort of bomber strikes against the continent. It had been agreed between General Arnold and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Chief of Air Staff, RAF, in May that the Americans, in line with an earlier decision dividing production responsibilities between the aircraft industries of the two countries, would assume a primary responsibility for the provision of air transport, even for the training of British airborne divisions.49 Thus in the great airborne operations that followed, American troop carrier units would provide most of the lift.
The defensive responsibilities assumed by the British included antiaircraft and other ground defense of American airdromes. The AAF had assumed in the earliest planning for a bomber command that such an arrangement could be effected,50 but as the number of our projected installations increased, it became apparent that British forces would be unequal to the task. Steps had been taken as early as August to set up an air defense organization within the Eighth Air Force,51 but American antiaircraft and infantry units could not be made available even in the number required to supplement those provided by the British, much less in sufficient quantity to replace them.52 Our allies consequently continued to carry the main responsibility into the early part of 1943, at which time the Eighth Air Force took over the job with forces hardly more adequate than those the British had been able to provide.53 At no time during the war, fortunately, did the Germans undertake large-scale attacks on American installations in the United Kingdom.
The heaviest indebtedness of the Eighth to its British allies fell, perhaps, in the field of intelligence. When war began, the AAF probably was more deficient in its provision for intelligence than in any other phase of its activities-a deficiency brought home with increasing
force to General Eaker and his staff during their study of the RAF Bomber Command in February and March.54 Tables of organization for AAF tactical groups were weak in combat intelligence categories, and since the AAF intelligence school at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, did not open until March 1942, it proved impossible to fill even the limited number of jobs authorized. General Eaker in his report of 20 March observed that “Intelligence represents the section of activity in which we are weakest,” and concluded “after studying their British intelligence work that we can do no better initially than to model their establishment with but slight change.”55 Accordingly, Washington was requested to send immediately 50 intelligence officers for training by the RAF Bomber Command, and in May the first of these arrived.56 In an intelligence school established at High Wycombe they received a week of orientation before being sent on to the British schools.57 The VIII Bomber Command requested an additional 165 intelligence officers in July under a plan to reach the total of 198 by 1 September.58 General Eaker and Lt. Harris B. Hull, his intelligence officer, had recommended in March 6 intelligence officers for each squadron, 7 for each group headquarters, 7 at wing headquarters, and 32 for bomber command headquarters – these to assume the normal responsibility for preparation of target data, photo interpretation, prisoner of war interrogation, enemy order of battle, the maintenance of intelligence libraries, preparation of summaries and reports, and, in addition, for public relations.59 New tables of organization for the various echelons of the AAF published during 1942 did not provide for intelligence officers in these numbers, but they did reflect an attempt to provide more adequately than theretofore for the intelligence function.60
Reliance on the RAF and other British agencies for intelligence would characterize the American air effort in Europe throughout the war, and this was especially true of intelligence in its more fundamental aspects. Possessed of long-established and well-organized intelligence services, the British initially supplied the Eighth with most of the information from which it prepared its target data. The Americans developed in time increasingly helpful services of their own, but it was decided wisely at the outset to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort by placing American personnel in already existing British organizations. It was agreed, for instance, that the RAF would train American officers in photo interpretation for assignment to its own
Central Interpretation Unit.61 AAF officers in various categories continued to receive training in British intelligence schools throughout the war.
Similarly, the Eighth Air Force long remained dependent on the British for essential weather services. But in line with AAF policy to make the American air force as independent of the RAF as was practicable, General Eaker urged in March a prompt dispatch of weather officers “to begin the study of this beastly weather.” He emphasized the basic importance of weather forecasts to the type of operations planned for the American bombers, and in his appeal to General Spaatz observed that it was all right “to say ‘get it from the British,’ but we want to be self-supporting as soon as possible and it takes weather people to get it from the British and to transmit it.”62 In response to this request, the 18th Weather Squadron was activated at Bolling Field in May, and shipped to England in August. On its arrival, a weather school conducted by American personnel at High Wycombe was established, and liaison with RAF weather services was promptly accomplished.63 No small part of the training required involved an introduction to the organization, procedure, techniques, and terminology employed by the British, for they continued to be the major source of weather information.
Integration with the British communications system naturally presented one of the more fundamental problems antecedent to operations – a problem that in its solution would leave a mark upon the organizational as well as the operational history of the Eighth. The RAF had developed an elaborate system, based on extensive radio and radar installations, for the control of air traffic over the United Kingdom. It was necessary, of course, that American and British forces operate subject to one control; and every advantage lay in having the Americans, by such adjustment of equipment and training as might be necessary, fitted into the already established and highly efficient British system. The overriding importance of this problem had brought AAF communications experts into close consultation with their counterparts in the RAF as early as January 1942 in an effort to determine the communications requirements of American aircraft to operate from England and to translate their conclusions into practical terms of production and modification.64 This prompt action made possible the provision of at least minimum equipment for air-to-ground communication for flights during the summer of
Eighth Air Force planes over the North Atlantic route, the last leg of which, from Iceland to Prestwick, fell under British control. Much of the equipment necessary to this movement was supplied by the British, who provided for many of our planes, after arrival in England, equipment which could not be made available in the United States.65
The airdromes initially taken over by the Americans were equipped with RAF communications facilities, which continued to be staffed largely by RAF technical personnel.66 As the Americans developed their own installations, the British telephone and teletype networks were extended to include them. All radar equipment and most of the radio equipment used by the Eighth Air Force during 1942 and well into 1943 was of British design and manufacture; at the same time, maintenance for radio equipment was provided by the Civilian Repair Organization, which functioned under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production.67 In the opinion of the signal officer of the VIII Bomber Command in November 1942, the “only reason that U.S. Groups have gotten along so well with regard to communications until now is because the RAF have been very generous in supplying Signal Officers and additional personnel.”68 That was hardly an overstatement, for in August 1942 the Eighth Air Force remained almost completely dependent upon the British for both ground and ground-to-air communications.
The necessity for integrated action with the British, in this and other fields, naturally posed special problems of training, a subject which consumed much time and effort during the spring and summer of 1942. An American proposal in September 1941 that the RAF provide equipment and personnel to familiarize AAF fighter squadrons with special RAF methods indicates an early appreciation of the fundamental importance of adjustment in the training program within the United States.69 General Eaker’s report of 20 March lent new emphasis to this necessity, and was followed by helpful efforts to establish and maintain close liaison between the theater and those charged with training in the United States. Preparation of training data was the responsibility of the bomber command G-3 section, which under the direction of Col. Frank A. Armstrong assembled materials for a special training manual. Concerned chiefly with the problems of heavy bomber units, it was sent on its completion in June to the United States for use by operational training units there
and served in England for the indoctrination of newly arrived units.70
During the months following submission of his report to General Chaney, General Eaker and his staff also formulated detailed plans for the establishment of a training organization in the British Isles. They planned that all training at first would be conducted under direction of Bomber Command, and made arrangements for the acquisition from the RAF of a nearly completed installation at Bovingdon in Hertfordshire, northwest of London, and of its satellite field at Oakley. Eaker requested still another site (the choice eventually fell on Cheddington, near Bovingdon) for use in the training of fighter units. Necessary personnel and equipment were requested from the United States, and training schedules adjusted to the requirements of the initial groups expected in May were presented to USAFBI.71 These schedules were revised upward in May upon receipt of information that the build-up planned for the Eighth called for thirty combat groups, both bomber and fighter, to reach the United Kingdom by October 1942.72 Accordingly, the Americans now requested a total of eight airdromes for use in training, three to be used for fighter pilots and five for bomber crews. Because of the RAF’s reluctance to use for training purposes badly needed operational airdromes in England, the British recommended that the Eighth consider the use of Ulster (Northern Ireland), where seven airdromes could be made available for the purpose.73 Such was the arrangement agreed upon as through May and June plans for a training establishment took shape.
Since it was intended that organized tactical units on arrival would go directly to their permanent stations for familiarization and final precombat training, the interest in special training installations arose from concern for the problem of replacement.74 General Eaker had calculated, on the basis of British experience which admittedly was not entirely valid for daylight operations, that American bomber losses would average 5 per cent per mission on the basis of ten missions a month, and 3 per cent for twelve missions per month in the case of fighters.75 To assure operation of each unit at maximum strength, the projected training establishment would serve principally to provide combat crew replacement centers (CCRC) from which fully trained crews could be supplied as combat losses occurred. At the Arnold-Portal conference in London late in May, it was agreed that the RAF would provide eight fields for CCRC’s by September 1942 and a total of sixteen by the following April.76 In June 1942,
when the Eighth Air Force had been established in England, a more definite understanding called for the transfer of a headquarters site and seven fields in Northern Ireland during the course of 1942 in addition to Bovingdon and Cheddington, each of the last two minus their satellite fields. Eaker planned that Bovingdon and Cheddington would be assigned, respectively, to the bomber and fighter commands to serve as “final advanced aircrew operational training and distributing centers in England” for crews received from the combat crew replacement centers in Ireland.77
General Eaker in May had recommended the organization under the VIII Bomber Command of a training wing to be patterned after a similar RAF headquarters, and of another for the VIII Fighter Command.78 With the selection of Northern Ireland as the main center of training activity, however, he advocated in June establishment of a training command in that area.79 General Spaatz shared Eaker’s deep concern for an adequate flow of replacement crews,80 and accepted his formula for their proper training. Spaatz’ request that the War Department establish a training command for the Eighth Air Force was granted, and on 4 July 1942 the VIII Air Force Composite Command was activated at Bolling Field.81 As events proved, the composite command would have little to do for more than a year after its activation; not until September 1943 would combat crews be sent to Northern Ireland for training.82 After the decision to undertake an invasion of Northwest Africa there would be few replacements for the Eighth, and their training was taken care of at Bovingdon and Cheddington in England rather than in Northern Ireland. The early history of the VIII Air Force Composite Command speaks chiefly of hopes deferred by operation TORCH – the African invasion.
Before the arrival of General Eaker and his staff, General Chaney’s air officer, Col. Alfred J. Lyon, had carried forward logistical planning and preparation for an American air force in Britain. Even after Eaker reached England, and with the aid during the spring of an advance echelon of the VIII Air Force Service Command, Lyon continued to perform those functions with vigor and foresight until the full headquarters of the service command was established in July. His work had been complemented by that of occasional AAF missions sent from Washington,83 but the chief responsibility had been delegated
to him by General Chaney. Before Pearl Harbor, his activities had been conditioned largely by deployment plans stipulated in the War Department strategic plan RAINBOW No. 5 and by the implications of air lend-lease. Preliminary and necessarily tentative plans, made in consultation with British officials, had centered on such questions as the accommodation of American air units, the training of AAF technical personnel by the RAF, and the establishment of U.S.-managed depots to service the RAF’s American-built planes.
The progress made toward a common understanding of some of the more fundamental problems greatly facilitated collaboration between the air arms of the two nations after December 1941. As early as February 1942, the British Air Ministry had prepared for its guidance a comprehensive statement of policy and procedure which was circulated under the title of Joint Organization and Maintenance (United States). This document provided a sound foundation for Anglo-American cooperation in the establishment of the Eighth Air Force, and was kept current through the ensuing years by a series of amendments shaped in conferences between British and American officials. Its constructive contribution to a solution of the problems involved in receiving, accommodating, and servicing an American air force was promptly supplemented by the practice of establishing special sections within the major divisions of the Air Ministry for handling American questions.84 Recognizing the tremendous importance of the effort to build a great American air force in the United Kingdom, the Air Ministry prepared to play its part by the most careful and detailed planning.
General Eaker’s bomber command plan of 20 March contributed a further clarification of the problems to be faced. Setting forth an “Ideal Method” that would have required the development of an independent system of supply and maintenance, complete with base depots, before the initiation of combat operations, the plan recognized that a consequent postponement of our active participation in the European air war until the end of 1942 could hardly be countenanced. The alternative, which called for extensive use of British facilities and assistance at the outset, on the other hand, would permit an earlier inauguration of operations against the enemy and the building of an American logistical organization concurrently with their development.85 There was of course little room for debate. Indeed,
the latter policy had in effect already been adopted, as General Eaker well understood.
It had been decided in December 1941 that American bomber units, at least initially, would be based in the general area of Huntingdon and East Anglia, a section of England lying above London and known to Americans chiefly as a principal source of the Puritan emigration to New England in the seventeenth century. Because of the time required for the construction of airdromes and their fundamental importance to any plan for combined operations, the British and American staffs had given the question consideration at an early date. According to information used by the American Air Staff in August 1941, when it was engaged in the drafting of AWPD/1, there would be available for American use after the RAF had reached maximum strength 105 airdromes for bombers and 25 for pursuit planes.86 Told of the scale of operations contemplated by the Americans, the RAF notified the AAF in the following December that airdrome accommodations for 2,300 American heavy bombers could be made ready by June 1943.87 American officers had undertaken in October and November a survey of airfields proposed for our use in the United Kingdom, where a total of 15 airdromes – 8 in England, 2 in Scotland, and 5 in Northern Ireland – were earmarked for American use by the RAF.88 In December, plans finally narrowed the selection of airdromes to be prepared for the first American bomber units to 8 fields then under construction for No. 8 Group of RAF Bomber Command in the Huntingdon area.89 Though not completed until well into 1942, they were ready to receive the American flyers in June.
While the construction of bases proceeded, Generals Arnold and Eaker raised the question of the advisability of locating the American forces in the more northerly region of Yorkshire. There the bombers would be closer to projected supply and maintenance facilities in the neighborhood of Liverpool. In addition to the saving on transportation, Arnold and Eaker felt that the York area possibly offered greater room for expansion.90 The suggestion received some support among responsible officers of the RAF, but it would have involved readjustment of plans to which considerable commitments already had been made and a sacrifice of advantages to be derived from the close proximity of the American and British bomber commands. Accordingly, by early May the question had been definitely decided in favor of the Huntingdon area.91 In this area and adjacent parts of
East Anglia, the AAF heavies remained throughout the war, and Grafton Underwood, Thurleigh, Little Staughton, Molesworth, Kimbolton, Polebrook, Chelveston, and Podington became famous as the Eighth’s oldest bomber bases.*
A comprehensive agreement was reached late in May in conference between General Arnold and Air Chief Marshal Portal. It was agreed that a total of 127 airdromes, some of them currently in use by the RAF and others to be constructed, would be provided for the Eighth Air Force, 75 for the use of the VIII Bomber Command in East Anglia and the remainder in southern England and Northern Ireland. From Huntingdonshire, the American units would expand eastward to take over additional group areas of RAF Bomber Command with a view to achieving a distinct American bomber zone. The basis of allotment was one airdrome for each heavy bombardment group, and three for every two fighter, medium bombardment, or light bombardment groups.† The agreement included an understanding that eleven fields would be prepared for fighters in Northern Ireland, though as it actually developed no American fighter units were sent to Ulster except for training. AAF insistence that its fighters be used for bomber escort led to their being based in England, adjacent to or within the bomber zone and in southern England. The total allotment included provision for transport groups, air support units, and combat crew replacement centers.92 Coincidentally with the opening of Eighth Air Force headquarters and the arrival of the first combat group in June, the Air Ministry published a tentative list of sixty-six airdromes to be made ready for VIII Bomber Command by March
* For location of those occupied as early as August 1942, see map, p. 619.
† Because British airdromes were normally constructed to accommodate either one or two RAF squadrons, planning theretofore had proceeded on the assumption that one American heavy bombardment group would occupy two airdromes: a parent field and a satellite. A shortage of fields made this impossible, however, and eventually all airdromes occupied by the Eighth would accommodate full groups. For purposes of comparison, the following facts regarding the relative size of AAF and RAF heavy bombardment units in 1942 should be noted:–
|Squadron||- 8 aircraft||Squadron||- 16 aircraft|
|Group||- 3 squadrons||Wing||- 3 squadrons|
|Combat Wing||- 2 or more groups||Group||- 6 or 7 wings|
During the course of the war, the make-up of all of the organizations, both RAF and AAF, varied frequently in terms of aircraft, personnel, and number of subordinate units.
1943 and of twenty-one others which by the same date would become available for other Eighth Air Force commands.93 This estimate was subsequently proved to have been somewhat optimistic, but it served as a useful indication for planning purposes of what could be counted upon in advance of ROUNDUP – the plan for the invasion of France in the spring of 1943
It already had been agreed that construction costs in the development of bases for American occupancy would not be charged to the United States. Ownership of all installations in the United Kingdom would remain with the British, AAF units being considered as tenants, and the financial considerations involved were handled under the reciprocal aid provisions of the lend-lease agreements.94 Under the arrangement, the Americans accepted RAF standards of accommodation, though as time passed, modification in individual instances would be made. During April, an air section of the office of the chief engineer, USAFBI, had been set up with responsibility for dealing with the Air Ministry in all matters pertaining to construction for the Eighth Air Force. The new section established liaison with the Air Ministry and with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which had been made responsible for the construction of base air depots.95 When the European Theater of Operations under Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower succeeded USAFBI in June, responsibility for problems of construction for American units passed to the chief engineer, ETO, where it remained throughout the war.
Conversion of Great Britain into a gigantic aircraft carrier had been undertaken by the RAF as early as 1940, but American participation in the war required an upward revision in its building program that ultimately added almost a hundred large airfields to the total already built and projected. It was a difficult task. The pinch of inadequate space, labor, and construction equipment made necessary the most careful and precise planning, and since this in turn depended upon exact information concerning the size and composition of the air forces to be disposed in the United Kingdom, the task became the more difficult because of frequent changes during the first two years of plans for the commitment of U.S. units to the United Kingdom.96 Yet, though the building program repeatedly fell behind schedule, there would be no instance of a combat group kept out of operation for the lack of an operating base.
By no means the least significant of the influences growing out of arrangements with the British for the occupation of airdromes was the effect on the organization of the Eighth Air Force. In taking over British fields, the unit of transfer was normally an RAF group area, which, in the case of No. 8 Group, was to have twenty-one fields, divided into seven “clutches” of three fields each. One of the three fields in each clutch acted as a wing or station headquarters and it alone had direct communication with group headquarters, which, in turn, was the only station in the group area having direct communication with RAF Bomber Command headquarters. Since without extensive modification of the communications network it would be impossible for VIII Bomber Command headquarters to exercise direct control of the operations of all bombardment groups, General Eaker planned the establishment, originally on a provisional basis, of combat wings, each of which was to exercise operational control of three groups. Although much larger in numbers of aircraft and personnel, the combat wing would parallel the RAF wing in the communications network, and would be, at the same time, a desirable operational echelon of the VIII Bomber Command. The combat wings were to be grouped in threes or fours under bombardment wings which, in turn, were directly responsible to VIII Bomber Command headquarters. The bombardment wings, which developed into the great air divisions of 1943–45, resembled the RAF groups in that their headquarters were the only installations having direct communications with VIII Bomber Command headquarters. This pattern of organization, dictated by both communications and operational considerations, would be in existence in the Eighth Air Force by the spring of 1943.97
No part of the problem of establishing an American air force in Britain was more fundamental, or entailed more difficulties, than that of providing adequate supply and maintenance. A modern air force operating on the scale planned for the Eighth consumes almost unbelievable quantities of fuel and lubricants; requires in addition to the normal supplies of any military organization vast stores of spare parts and tools; and depends for its continuing operation upon facilities for repair and maintenance ranging all the way from the relatively simple equipment used by the ground crew to elaborate and extensive base depots. These speak more forcefully than does anything else, unless it be the aircraft factory itself, of the simple fact that the airplane is a product of the machine age and remains dependent on its technical
devices. Leaders of the AAF were fortunate in the opportunity to base their major effort in one of the highly industrialized countries of the world, for the British were in a position to render a variety of substantial services that would hasten greatly the Eighth’s entry into operations. Fortunately, too, there had been opportunities before Pearl Harbor to consider with British leaders some of the particular problems to be faced, and to agree tentatively on an approach to their solution.
The RAF had operated with American-built aircraft long before America’s entrance into the war. American-built Catalinas had played a prominent part in the North Atlantic search for the battleship Bismarck in May 1941; P-40’s had fought against the Italians and Germans in Africa; and RAF Turbinlite night fighter squadrons and some bomber squadrons had been equipped with the American A-20 during 1941. Subsequent to the adoption of lend-lease in March of 1941, the RAF pool of American-built aircraft had been increased to such proportions that maintenance of the aircraft became a problem of special concern to the British. To render assistance in this matter, and at the same time to extract valuable information from the experience of the RAF in the use of our equipment, a small number of American maintenance personnel was present in the United Kingdom as early as June 1941.98 The following month, Prime Minister Churchill in conference with Messrs. Harry Hopkins and Averell Harriman requested that this assistance be greatly expanded.99
In accordance with War Department instructions, the AAF in August sent Maj. Gen. George H. Brett, Chief of the Air Corps, to England for study of the problem. Specifically, he was instructed to study British needs and to recommend such action as the Americans might take under a general plan to provide civilian personnel who could be spared without serious interference with American production.100 The scope of his inquiries was broadened in September to include British needs in the Middle East;101 and was still further extended by a request from SPOBS that in any consideration of facilities to be provided he bear in mind the needs of an American force much larger than that specified in RAINBOW No. 5. Through Brig. Gen. Joseph T. McNarney it was indicated that SPOBS already had under consideration the establishment of a depot for the repair of American-built aircraft at Langford Lodge in Northern Ireland.102
At the end of October, General Brett submitted his report to
General Arnold. He proposed that: (1) the AAF set up mobile repair depots manned by civilians to service American aircraft operated by the RAF in the United Kingdom; (2) the AAF ultimately take over the management of existing British facilities for repair of American built equipment and provide for their expansion as required, using initially civilian personnel; (3) specifically, and as quickly as possible, Langford Lodge be established as a depot for third echelon maintenance;* and (4) if American air units should operate from bases in the United Kingdom, the United States assume responsibility for third echelon repair facilities for all U.S.-built planes operated by the RAF and AAF, and for the supply of spare parts.103
Because of the current shortage of U.S. personnel and equipment, General Arnold refused to assume responsibility for the maintenance of all RAF-operated American planes, but he approved, as a useful step toward the development of an American service organization in the United Kingdom, negotiations for the establishment of a depot at Langford Lodge. It was anticipated that, after the President’s approval had been obtained, at least six months would be required to provide necessary equipment and trained personnel, for it would be unwise to rob newly expanding depot facilities in the United States and, in addition, prior commitments to the Philippines and other points would have to be fulfilled first. Meanwhile, General Arnold desired that as far as possible American civilian personnel already in the United Kingdom be used to man the depot.104
Plans for development of a depot at Langford Lodge proceeded on the assumption that it could best be operated under contract with an American aircraft company. The Lockheed Corporation for some time had operated an assembly plant for the British near Liverpool, and it was evidently felt that this company because of its experience would be especially well equipped to undertake the project.105 And so, shortly after our entry into war the War Department requested Lockheed to provide a maintenance depot for the AAF at Langford Lodge. The actual contract with the Lockheed Overseas Corporation,
* In AAF usage, maintenance falls into four classifications, as follows: first echelon maintenance covers repair and service that can be provided by the crew of the plane; second echelon maintenance describes that provided by the ground crew forming an integral part of the unit using the equipment; third echelon maintenance covers work beyond the capacities of the using unit and is normally provided by more or less mobile maintenance organizations; fourth echelon maintenance provides general overhaul and reclamation involving the use of heavy tools and machinery in more or less fixed installations.
a subsidiary designated for operation of the depot, was not signed until 1 May 1942. But Lockheed representatives began to survey the site and to draft detailed plans from late December, and the Ministry of Aircraft Production promptly began construction under the provision of a letter of intent furnished by the Matériel Command in the United States in January.106
General Brett during the preceding October had inspected other areas of the United Kingdom with a view to the probable need of the AAF for another depot. He finally settled on Warton, about twenty-five miles north of Liverpool and close to the excellent industrial and transportation facilities of Lancashire, a selection concurred in by Col. Donald Davison, engineer officer of SPOBS.107 Brett’s recommendations for the establishment of base depots in the United Kingdom became the basis of action in January, when General Arnold directed that they be given effect “insofar as the present situation permits.”108 By March, detailed agreement had been reached between USAFBI and British authorities for the development of Warton as a base air depot for the AAF. But even with the substantial aid to an early completion provided by the surveys and consultations of 1941, it would be 1944 before all of the base air depots were prepared to assume fully the roles envisioned for them.
Meanwhile, the third of the great depots that would form the bedrock on which the structure of AAF operations from the United Kingdom would rest had come into the picture through the necessity to provide some interim establishment. In keeping with principles laid down in the Air Ministry document, Joint Organization and Maintenance (United States), and with recommendations by General Eaker in March,109 a search was undertaken for existing facilities that could be put almost immediately into use. The choice fell on the British repair depot at Burtonwood, which, as events proved, was destined to become the greatest of American overseas depots and to serve as the very heart of AAF supply and maintenance in the European Theater of Operations. Located midway between Liverpool and Manchester in the heart of Lancashire and served by good transportation, Burtonwood already was engaged in the repair of American-built airframes and engines. Both General Eaker and Colonel Lyon inspected the installation in April, and acting on strong recommendations forwarded by General Chaney, General Arnold immediately initiated action to secure its transfer for American use.110
The plan under which the transfer was sought called for the existing British technical staff to continue in service there until American technicians became available, and for centralization at Burtonwood of the supply and repair of U.S.-built aircraft in use by the RAF. This would be a step toward inauguration of a policy already agreed upon that would leave to the AAF responsibility for the supply and maintenance (including modification) of all American-built planes operated from the United Kingdom.111 The urgent need behind the request received emphasis from Arnold’s revelation that current plans proposed to place 1,000 American planes for operation in the United Kingdom by 15 August 1942 and 3,500 by April 1943. Until Langford Lodge and Warton were ready for operation – target dates then stood at October 1942 and January 1943, respectively – Burtonwood would have to serve instead.
During May, consultations in England and in Washington moved toward a prompt understanding with the Ministry of Aircraft Production. By the 23rd of the month, General Chaney and the ministry had reached a detailed agreement on a plan to transfer Burtonwood to the exclusive control of the Americans following an interval of joint operation.112 This joint control began at the end of June, with the VIII Air Force Service Command acting as the American agent.113 The technical staff of the British was largely civilian; and in the absence of an adequate number of skilled American military personnel, General Arnold had directed that civilian technicians be drawn from AAF depots in the United States for service as the Civil Service Detachment at Burtonwood.114 Lockheed, also, was preparing in June to send some 1,500 civilians to man Langford Lodge.115 Thus at the beginning the first two base air depots in Britain were staffed almost entirely by civilian workers. This arrangement was regarded, however, as a temporary measure, and General Spaatz intended that eventually all depots would be operated exclusively by military personnel.116
Although the distance between the base depot area around Liverpool and the sector to be occupied by combat units was not great by American standards, there nevertheless were considerations which dictated the placing of advance depots nearer the combat bases in Huntingdonshire and East Anglia. Efficiency of operation on the scale planned for the Eighth required ready access to spare parts and other supplies; moreover, third echelon repair of battle damage did
not fall within the province of the base depot,* nor could it be performed at combat stations without a wasteful dispersion of skilled personnel. The need was for an advance depot, or depots, through which supplies from the base depots could be distributed to combat stations, and at which urgent maintenance and repair beyond the capacities of the combat group could be provided.117 The bomber command plan of 20 March recommended that a “mobile air depot,” the standard AAF designation for that type of service organization and a term reflecting the emphasis on mobility in the earlier GHQ Air Force, be established at Molesworth in Huntingdonshire.118 During the spring, planning agencies in the United States as well as those in England gave attention to the need for a complete service organization and the placing of air depot groups within reach of the combat stations.119 But whether because of the almost overwhelming number of tasks requiring attention and a natural tendency to give first place to the fundamental problem of the base depot, or because of a certain difficulty in shifting the emphasis from a mobile to a static system, Eaker was compelled to report to Spaatz in May that the principal lag in the development of an adequate organization in Britain fell in the general area of “the Air Service Command Depots and establishments.”120 Not until after the arrival of the VIII Air Force Service Command in July was a comprehensive plan fully developed.
Another phase of the problem that required close attention was the securing of adequate storage space in a country already strained in this particular virtually to capacity. In the location of base depots the question of storage had been a major consideration, but it became evident that these establishments could not meet the need, and in June steps were taken to find a total of 3,000,000 square feet. By the end of the month the Eighth had secured approximately 750,000 square feet, and another 1,160,000 square feet not yet available had been located. Storage areas fell in general in the neighborhood of the western ports of Liverpool and Bristol, with additional space at Burton-on-Trent northwest of Huntingdon, and in Northern Ireland.121
With the formal establishment of the Eighth Air Force in the United Kingdom at the end of June, its service organization still remained largely in the stage of planning and construction. The plans had been drawn on an ambitious scale and in keeping with the AAF’s
* Langford Lodge, originally conceived by General Brett as performing third echelon maintenance, was now to be a base depot for fourth echelon maintenance.
determination to establish a self-sufficient force. During World War I, American military forces in Europe had achieved organizational and operational independence, but they had remained (and this was particularly true of the air service) dependent upon their allies for much of the equipment and many of the services used. Leaders of the AAF at the outset in World War II had been determined this time to achieve as a general policy logistical as well as operational independence.122 Circumstances, of course, were far more favorable to such a policy than had been the case in the earlier war, for our allies now depended heavily upon American production in their own efforts. But the building of a service organization on the scale required for support of so ambitious an undertaking as had been projected for the Eighth Air Force required time, even with the advantage which circumstances fortunately had provided in the opportunity for a certain amount of prewar planning. And so in June 1942, Langford Lodge and Warton would not be ready for months; the Ministry of Aircraft Production installation at Burtonwood would have to carry the main burden until the following year, and only because of this assistance and a variety of other aids provided by the British would it be possible for the Eighth to make its presence felt by the Germans in advance of that time.
Meanwhile, the overseas movement of the Eighth, given an added impetus by the decision in favor of ROUNDUP, had begun on 27 April, when advance echelons of the headquarters of the Eighth Air Force and of the VIII Bomber, Fighter, and Base Commands, together with a weather detachment, the 15th Bombardment Squadron (Separate), and the 2nd Air Depot Group, comprising in all approximately 1,800 officers and men, sailed from Boston for Liverpool on the transport Andes.123 That same day the War Department directed that the air force and all command headquarters, the 97th Bombardment Group (H), the 1st and 31st Pursuit Groups, the 5th Photo Squadron, and the 5th Air Depot Group be prepared for movement overseas not later than 1 June 1942.124 Like most AAF overseas deployments, this first movement of the Eighth Air Force was divided into two echelons – ground and air. The bulk of the troops and equipment would proceed by water transport, while the aircraft with skeleton crews would fly by way of the North Atlantic route.125
The first shipment reached Liverpool on 11 May, after a two-week voyage. The several headquarters detachments joined the bomber command staff at High Wycombe; the 2nd Air Depot Group went to Molesworth, the 15th Bombardment Squadron to Grafton Underwood, whence it moved to Molesworth in June.126 Destined to become the first Eighth Air Force unit to enter combat, the 15th Squadron began its training with RAF Bostons instead of the specially equipped night fighters earlier intended for it.127
Back in Washington the chief difficulty in moving the main part of the ground echelon was to find the necessary shipping, a problem that was not solved until the Queen Elizabeth was made available for an early June trip and the War Department gave to the Eighth a priority for the shipment of 15,000 troops in that month.128 During the preceding month, warning and movement orders reached the several headquarters concerned, and from stations throughout the country, but especially from the concentration area in the southeast, the assigned units moved to Fort Dix, where the Eighth Air Force had established its own temporary Staging Area Command to facilitate the final preparations.129 The first contingent of about 1,200 men, out of the total of more than 11,000, sailed on 29 May with a slow convoy, which also carried 7,500 tons of Eighth Air Force equipment, and did not reach England until 12 June. The remainder, comprising chiefly the ground echelons of the 97th Bombardment Group, the 1st and 31st Fighter Groups, the 60th Transport Group,* the 5th Air Depot Group, and other service units, left New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth on 4 June and arrived in the United Kingdom six days later.130 Everything considered, the movement had been completed remarkably close to the date originally set. A critical shortage of shipping continued, but high priorities were accorded additional bomber, fighter, transport, and service units that were to follow during the summer.131
Even so, the prospect of an early commitment of the Eighth to battle depended upon a plan to fly its planes and aircrews across the Atlantic. This plan, which covered the intended movement of fighters as well as bombers, represented at the time a more daring decision than would be true of any similar action today. In early 1942, AAF pilots were becoming accustomed to long and hazardous overwater flights, but the AAF had not as yet made the idea commonplace. RAF
* Transport units were redesignated “troop carrier” in July 1942.
pilots had been ferrying bombers across the North Atlantic since 1940, and since the summer of 1941 the Air Corps Ferrying Command had given attention to the development of facilities along the route; but in April 1942, these facilities were still unequal to the demands of such a movement as was now proposed.132 And so while General Eaker directed preparations in England and General Spaatz supervised the organization of a force in the United States, the Ferrying Command, under General George, redoubled its efforts to prepare the airway along which so many of the AAF’s planes were destined to find their way into combat.133 The route ran from Presque Isle in Maine to Goose Bay in Labrador, then either by BLUIE WEST 1 (Narsarssuak) on the southern coast of Greenland or BLUIE WEST 8 (Sondre Stromfjord) on the west coast to Reykjavik in Iceland, and thence to Prestwick, the British terminal of trans-Atlantic flights on the west coast of Scotland. The distances involved varied from the 569 statute miles separating Presque Isle from Goose Bay to the grueling 1,002 miles from there to BLUIE WEST 8.
It had been decided by the middle of April that the combat groups would fly their own planes – the 97th its B-17’s, the 1st its P-38’s, the 31st its P-39’s – and that the Eighth Air Force would have responsibility for the movement.134 To the VIII Fighter Command, under Brig. Gen. Frank O’D. Hunter, General Spaatz assigned control of the entire air movement. Because of the special hazards involved in the dispatch of fighter aircraft on long overseas hops, the B-17’s were to be detailed to lead flights of up to six aircraft on each leg of the journey. The pilots, who had been trained for combat rather than for ferrying, required special training, and so it was planned to move all units into a concentration area for the purpose about the middle of May.135 Accordingly, on the 15th of that month the three groups were ordered to Grenier Field in New Hampshire and Dow Field in Maine.136 During the first week of June, the 60th Transport Group with its C-47’s was added to the movement and ordered to Westover Field in Massachusetts, where it, too, came under the control of the VIII Fighter Command.137
But while the combat units of the Eighth in New England studied the problems and procedures of the projected air movement,138 the Japanese fleet steamed toward Midway; and on 1 June, orders went out from Washington suspending the movement of the Eighth and directing that all planes be held on six hours’ notice for dispatch to a
new destination.139 The critical hour had come in the Pacific, and all available planes were moving west – west from Hawaii to Midway, from Hamilton and March to Hickam, and westward across the North American continent to fill the vacuum created on the Pacific coast by departures for Hawaii and the Aleutians, where the enemy also was expected. On 2 June the War Department ordered the 97th Bombardment Group and the 1st Fighter Group to the West Coast on assignment to the Western Defense Command.140 They would be released in approximately a week from this new assignment,141 and would return to New England from the Pacific coast to resume preparations for their trans-Atlantic movement, but the resultant delay occasioned by this emergency cost at least two weeks.*
The 31st Fighter Group had been ordered on 4 June to proceed to England, but without the B-17’s of the 97th to lead the P-39’s across it was not considered practicable to move the unit by air.142 And so the 31st went by water, and having left its planes in the United States for the lack of space, it reached England by the middle of June to take up its station at Atcham and High Ercall west of Huntingdon.143 In lieu of the P-39’s left behind, the unit promptly acquired RAF Spitfires, in which it began training almost at once.144 Thus it came about that the first complete American combat group in the European theater entered battle with British planes. It was not alone in this particular for it was followed in July and August by the 52nd Fighter Group, which also made its movement by water and was equipped in the theater with Spitfires.145
Meantime, preparations had been pushed for the delayed movement of the 97th, the 1st, and the 60th. On 15 June, General Spaatz, stopping at BLUIE WEST 1 in his flight across the North Atlantic, advised Arnold by radio that all B-17’s not needed for escort of the P-38’s should proceed without delay, and that the pursuits should follow not later than 21 June, by which time the C-47’s should also be ready.146 On the 18th the VIII Fighter Command from its temporary headquarters at Grenier Field issued orders for the movement:–
* On 2 June, the 97th left the concentration area and flew across the country in two separate elements, one to McChord Field, Washington, by way of Mitchel Field, Ft. Leavenworth, and Boise; and the other to Hammer Field, Fresno, California, by way of Scott Field and Albuquerque. On 11 June both elements left the Pacific coast, and by 18 June they had returned to their stations at Grenier and Dow fields. The 1st, Fighter Group left Dow Field on 5 June and flew to Morris Field, North Carolina, on the first leg of its journey to the west. On 6 June it was ordered to return to Dow Field and departed for there on the same day.
all planes – forty-nine B-17’s, eighty P-38’s, and fifty-two C-47’s – would proceed to Presque Isle, where they would be organized for the movement into squadrons of three flights each, each flight to comprise two elements, and each element to consist of one B-17 and four P-38’s. The B-17’s not required for escort under this arrangement also would make the flight in small elements.147 The hardy C-47, as befitted its mission, in addition to getting itself to England, would carry a cargo of freight.
The first planes, eighteen B-17’s, took off from Presque Isle on 23 June for Goose Bay, where before the day was over all of the big bombers had come in.148 Three days later these planes left for BLUIE WEST 1 and 8, but only nine reached their destination safely, six having turned back to Goose Bay and the other three having been forced down along the coast of Greenland. The crews of the wrecked bombers were all saved, but weather and communications were fully revealed as the major difficulties governing the use of the route. Also on 23 June the first flights of P-38’s safely negotiated the initial leg from Presque Isle to Goose Bay. Additional flights proceeded, as weather and other circumstances permitted, without mishap until 15 July, when six P-38’s and two B-17’s came down on the ice cap on the eastern coast of Greenland. For this misfortune, which all crews survived, unfavorable weather and misleading directional broadcasts by the enemy were blamed.149 On 1 July, the first American-operated tactical aircraft to reach the United Kingdom by air in World War II – B-17 No. 19085 – landed at Prestwick.150 Twenty-six days later, Col. Newton Longfellow brought into the British terminal the last planes of this first BOLERO air movement.151 The AAF had estimated that losses would run as high as 10 per cent;152 yet despite extremely unfavorable weather which seriously delayed the movement,153 it had been accomplished with the loss of few planes and with no serious injury to any of the personnel engaged in it.
A second movement followed hard upon the first, so close, in fact, as already to suggest the parallel of a pipeline extending from Presque Isle to Prestwick. The ground echelons of the 92nd and 301st Bombardment Groups (H), of the 14th Fighter Group, and of the 64th Troop Carrier Group had moved to the port of embarkation in July and left for the United Kingdom late that month and in early August.154 Simultaneously, their air echelons moved into a northeastern concentration area preparatory to a take-off from Presque
Isle as soon as the other movement had cleared the field there. The way was clear by 22 July, when twenty-eight P-38’s of the 14th Group escorted by six B-17’s flew from Presque Isle to Goose Bay. The other planes followed in a continuing movement that was distinguished chiefly by the pioneering effort of the 92nd Group in accomplishing between 15 and 27 August the nonstop flight of all four of its squadrons from Gander in Newfoundland to Prestwick without the loss of a plane.155
By the end of August, 386 aircraft – 164 P-38’s, 119 B-17’s, and 103 C-47’s – had crossed to England by the North Atlantic ferry route. Additional groups and replacement aircraft for the Eighth and Twelfth Air Forces would follow during the remainder of the year; all told, 920 planes by 1 January 1943 had attempted the crossing and 882 reached their destinations, of which approximately 700 belonged to the Eighth. The anticipated accident ratio of 10 per cent did not materialize – it actually amounted to 5.2 per cent. Of the 38 planes failing to reach Prestwick, 29 were classified as “wrecked” and 9 as “lost.” The AAF had been particularly anxious about the P-38’s, but out of 186 dispatched during 1942 only 7 failed to reach their destination; in addition to the 6 wrecked in July, 1 was subsequently lost.156 And before passing on, it should be noted that nearly all of the 700 planes delivered to the Eighth were flown by their own combat crews, not by veteran and highly trained ferry or transport pilots.
As the movements developed, the principal concern of AAF leaders in England was over the slowness of the initial movement and the prospect that winter would cut off this line of reinforcement. They hoped that improvement of communications and weather facilities would permit not only bombers but fighters to make the flight, but Headquarters, AAF felt the risks were too great. After December, the North Atlantic route was closed to virtually all planes until spring.157
Establishment in United Kingdom
The period extending from the opening of General Spaatz’ headquarters in the United Kingdom on 18 June158 to the first heavy bomber mission on 17 August saw the completion of the initial stage in the development of the Eighth Air Force. Its headquarters – in code WIDEWING – was located in the suburbs southwest of London at Bushy Park, Teddington. During the latter part of June and in July, the newly established headquarters gathered into its hands the
reins of command and assumed the responsibility for planning which theretofore had belonged chiefly to the VIII Bomber Command.159
It is not surprising that the VIII Bomber Command under General Eaker was in many ways further advanced than were any of the other commands, for its staff enjoyed by far the widest experience in coping with problems peculiar to the theater. Already in mid-June the bomber command had taken a significant step toward the development of adequate machinery for the control of combat operations by establishing the Provisional 1st Bombardment Wing at Brampton Grange under the command of Col. Claude E. Duncan, who had been in the theater since January.160 Still another step came on 27 July with the full-fledged activation of both the 1st and 2nd Bombardment Wings; the command of the latter, at Old Catton in Norfolk, was given to Col. Newton Longfellow, who on that day landed at Prestwick to complete the first BOLERO movement.161 There would be some reshuffling of the paper over the next few weeks: the two wings were dependent upon action in the United States for provision of necessary headquarters personnel, and headquarters and headquarters squadrons meanwhile having been established in the States for each of the wings, the theater organizations were redesignated “provisional” in August and re-established on a permanent basis in September.162 But all this was for the sake of the record; at the end of August the 97th, 301st, and 92nd Groups had been assigned to the 1st Wing,163 while the 2nd Wing awaited the early arrival of its headquarters squadron and additional combat groups.
Arnold and Portal had agreed in May that the American fighter units would be stationed at first with RAF fighters in southern England. General Hunter’s headquarters, accordingly, was opened on 28 July, shortly after his arrival in the theater, at Bushey Hall, Watford, on the outskirts of northwest London and within easy reach of the headquarters of the RAF Fighter Command.164 There were four American fighter groups in the theater a month later, all of them – the 1st and 14th with their P-38’s and the 31st and 52nd with Spitfires – stationed on RAF fields and already showing progress in the mastery of RAF procedures and techniques of control.165
The VIII Ground Air Support Command under Brig. Gen. Robert C. Candee did not open its headquarters at Membury in Berkshire, about fifty miles west of London, until 17 August, after close study of RAF organization for air-ground cooperation.166 Its mission being
that of preparation for the support of ground operations not yet definitely scheduled, the command at the time had only one unit assigned to it and that, the 15th Bombardment Squadron, was actually attached to the VIII Bomber Command for its current operations.167 In August the VIII Ground Air Support Command took control of a troop carrier wing whose two groups, the 60th and 64th, were stationed at Aldermaston and Ramsbury, both places in the vicinity of Membury.168
Under Brig. Gen. Charles C. Chauncey, the VIII Air Force Composite Command in September set up temporary headquarters at Long Kesh, an RAF station southwest of Belfast.169 It carried forward plans for an ambitious program of training, but it would remain for over a year without a job to do beyond that of planning. While the Eighth remained a relatively small organization, operational training continued to be predominantly a unit affair conducted on the home bases of the several groups.
Maj. Gen. Walter H. Frank and the headquarters of the VIII Air Force Service Command arrived early in July. Because its responsibility for supply and maintenance included every element in the Eighth Air Force, the service command’s relationship to the force headquarters and to the several commands was both close and constant. Consequently, General Frank, who as commanding general of the Third Air Force had been actively identified with the origins of the Eighth, set up his headquarters at Bushy Park.170 The need for close coordination between the VIII Air Force Service Command and its parent organization was thus recognized in their close physical proximity; the same need would result in 1944 in the integration of the two headquarters into a single operational and logistical organization. Meanwhile, in August 1942 the service command established two subcommands, known as service areas, for the direction of activities respectively in Ireland and in England and Wales.171 Under the service command, too, the 12th Replacement Control Depot took over responsibility for receipt and process of incoming casual and filler personnel. Its stations at Stone in Staffordshire and Chorley in Lancashire would become familiar to hundreds of thousands of air force officers and enlisted men during the next three years.172
The European Theater of Operations United States Army (ETOUSA) having replaced USAFBI shortly before the assumption of the new command by Mai. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on 24
June, General Spaatz on 21 August was assigned additional responsibilities as theater Air Officer.173 Over and above the special assurance thus provided of the active participation of air officers in theater planning at its highest level, the step marked the beginning of a close personal relationship between Generals Eisenhower and Spaatz which contributed greatly to the successful development and employment of American air power in the war against Germany. The Eighth Air Force had been assigned to the theater’s command, and already a directive of 21 July to General Spaatz had gone far toward clarifying the main outlines of the relationship thus established.174 That relationship naturally reflected something of the new status of semiautonomy attained by the AAF within the Army, as well as some of the difficulties inherent in a status which required sharper definition.
In the attempt to work out a practical definition suited to the requirements of the European theater, primary importance attached to questions of supply. Maj. Gen. John C. H. Lee having been selected for command of the theater Services of Supply (SOS), which was on an organizational level with the Eighth Air Force, conferences between him and key figures of the VIII Air Force Service Command prior to their departure from the United States went far toward fixing the basic policies that would be followed after the opening of General Lee’s headquarters in England on 24 May.175 The SOS would be responsible for all problems of construction, for debarkation activities, and for the supply of items common to both ground and air forces. In addition the theater retained the final authority for determining priorities for shipping from the United States. Under the over-all logistical control of the SOS, however, the VIII Air Force Service Command held primary responsibility for all supply and maintenance peculiar to the air force.176 The decision in effect conceded to the AAF in Britain a substantial degree of logistical autonomy; yet in a matter as vital as airdrome construction VIII Air Force Service Command could act only through SOS.177 A certain amount of friction was unavoidable, and though individual differences usually could be settled by agreement, the fundamental difficulty continued. A natural goal of AAF personnel became the establishment of a service command independent of SOS and on the same echelon of command.178
In July the details of a master plan for the occupation and development of an VIII Bomber Command sector were worked out with
the British. This plan provided for the ultimate occupation of five areas, each of fifteen airdromes, in the region extending eastward from Huntingdonshire through East Anglia.179 The shortage of British labor had made necessary the provision of American aviation engineer battalions. They were slow in arriving and sometimes came without their equipment, but a similar delay in the build-up of combat units served to prevent the development of any immediate crisis.180 As construction at Langford Lodge and Warton fell behind schedule, Burtonwood assumed increasing importance and some of Lockheed’s civilian recruits went to work there on their arrival in July pending the completion of facilities in Ulster.181 In addition to Burtonwood, there were now added three small special depots for Chemical Warfare and Ordnance at near-by Poynton, at Sharnbrook in Huntingdonshire, and at Barnham in East Anglia. Still dependent largely on storage space made available temporarily at RAF stations, the Eighth in July refigured its long-range requirements at 4,000,000 square feet, much of it to be provided through the new depot construction program.182
Of immediate concern was the question of advance air depots for the bomber sector. It had been proposed in June that one mobile air depot should be established for every three operational airdromes, and early in July, General Spaatz, on the basis of the currently anticipated flow of combat units, was thinking in terms of twenty mobile depots for the entire air force.183 It was decided in August, however, to impose a heavier burden on the individual airdromes and the base depots, and on the suggestion of General Frank it was decided to provide only three advance depots, two for the bomber command and one for the fighter command, with the additional provision of such genuinely mobile depots as might be required during intensive periods of operation.184 The service command selected Honington and Warton, both in East Anglia, as sites for the bomber areas; a final decision in the case of the fighter command awaited settlement of the more fundamental question of its mission and location.185 Thus the advance air depots which in 1943 became a functioning part of the Eighth Air Force were considerably larger than the traditional mobile air depot on which they originally had been patterned.
It will be readily apparent that in August 1942, while great progress had been made over the preceding six months toward the establishment
of a well-rounded American air organization in England, the Eighth Air Force remained heavily dependent upon the RAF. For some time yet, much of the heavy repair work on its engines, airframes, and propellers would be done by RAF No. 24 Maintenance Unit and by British workmen at Burtonwood, and all of the salvage work, of importance at a time when planes and spare parts were scarce, by RAF No. 43 Group.186 When because of the shortage of shipping and other difficulties AAF units arrived without their organic equipment and supplies, the RAF furnished hundreds of items – ammunition, bombs, vehicles, tools, spares, flying clothing – to supply the deficiencies. Again, when for the purpose at hand certain items of British equipment, for example, pyrotechnics, synthetic training devices, dinghies, and certain items of radio and electrical equipment, were found to be superior to that of the Americans, the British made their procurement possible. When unanticipated requirements for new equipment and new types of supplies arose from operational needs, the British provided them or assisted in securing their manufacture in the United Kingdom.187 In addition, the RAF continued to provide training as required for aircrews, ground crews, technicians, and other specialists.188
By way of summation, the historian can do no better than to quote from the warm tribute of General Eaker in his report to General Spaatz of 19 June on the “Work of the Advance Echelon.”189 The British, he wrote,
in whose theater we have been understudying and operating for the past five months, have cooperated one hundred per cent in every regard. They have lent us personnel when we had none, and have furnished us clerical and administrative staffs; they have furnished us liaison officers for Intelligence, Operations and Supply: they have furnished us transportation; they have housed and fed our people, and they have answered promptly and willingly all our requisitions: in addition they have made available to us for study their most secret devices and documents. We are extremely proud of the relations we have been able to establish between our British Allies and ourselves, and we are very hopeful that the present basis can be continued, and that all incoming staff and tactical commanders will take the same pains we have to nurture and maintain the excellent relations which now exist.
Implicit in all of the arrangements being made in the United Kingdom was the belief that the build-up of American air power in the European theater would take place within the time and on the scale proposed in the spring of 1942 by way of preparation for Operation ROUNDUP. To complement this strategic plan for the invasion of
western Europe in the spring of 1943, a plan for the build-up and accommodation of American forces in the United Kingdom had been initiated in late April under the code name of BOLERO.190 Combined committees of British and American members, their province falling entirely in the field of logistics, were set up in Washington and London to expedite arrangements for the build-up. Composed of key staff officers of the several planning agencies concerned, these committees served to coordinate the effort on the highest level.
With April 1943 set tentatively as the target date for ROUNDUP, the Operations Division of the War Department and AAF Headquarters in May 1942 drafted plans to place by that time 1,000,000 American troops in the United Kingdom. The troop basis was broken down to provide 525,000 ground troops, 240,000 air force troops, and 235,000 for Services of Supply.191 Within the limit thus set, the AAF by 13 May had developed a “Rough Estimate-Tentative” which called for the placing in the United Kingdom prior to 1 April 1943 of twenty-one heavy bombardment groups, eight medium bombardment groups, nine light bombardment groups, seventeen pursuit groups, six observation groups, and eight transport groups – the grand total being sixty-nine groups plus supporting service units.192 As the figures themselves indicate, the force would represent a balance between the requirements of a previously planned program of strategic bombardment and of the tactical operations to be expected in the actual invasion of Europe.
A further development and refinement of these studies enabled General Arnold during his conferences with Air Chief Marshal Portal in late May to present a “Programme of Arrival of U.S. Army Air Forces in the United Kingdom” which provided for a flow into the theater by March 1943 of sixty-six combat groups, exclusive of observation squadrons, and of 3,649 airplanes. The breakdown had been adjusted as follows: for bombardment, nineteen heavy, twelve medium, and twelve light groups; for pursuit, fifteen groups; and for transport, eight. The proposed build-up would advance from fifteen groups in July to thirty-five in November and to sixty-six in March. General Arnold anticipated that by 1 April 1943 the Eighth would have in combat units 800 heavy bombers, 600 medium bombers, 342 light bombers, and 960 fighters.193 At the time of General Arnold’s departure from London for home on 2 June 1942, the actual strength
of the Eighth Air Force in the United Kingdom was a mere 1,871 troops and no American aircraft.194
By the first of July, a reappraisal of possibilities in the light of new demands from other theaters had brought a downward revision of the BOLERO build-up to a total of fifty-four groups less transport units, and to 194,332 men. The main strength of the Eighth would be concentrated in seventeen heavy and ten medium bombardment groups; fighter groups had been reduced to thirteen and light bombardment to three.195 These figures served as the basis upon which plans for the organization and accommodation of the Eighth were drafted during its first weeks in the United Kingdom. Even with the reductions forced by considerations of shipping, production, training, and the demands of other theaters, the proposed build-up underscored the ambitious scale on which leaders of the AAF projected plans for their major effort.
An attempt by AAF Headquarters during early July to extend its estimate of the BOLERO build-up to 31 December 1943 lends still greater emphasis to the point. Planners estimated that the total number of groups by that date would stand at 137, or approximately half of the currently projected strength of the AAF. There would be seventy-four bombardment groups (forty-one heavy, fifteen medium, thirteen dive, and five light), thirty-one fighter groups, twelve observation groups, fifteen transport groups, four photo groups, and one mapping group, and a total of 375,000 men, of which 197,000 would serve in tactical units and 178,000 in the various service organizations.196 The estimate proved to be remarkably close, particularly with regard to the heavy bomber force, to the actual strength established in the United Kingdom in advance of the invasion of 6 June 1944, though the figures given for the number of groups were high and for the total of personnel low.
In London during July the BOLERO committee continued its work on plans calling for the accommodation of 195,000 air force troops, 556,000 ground troops, 259,000 SOS troops, and 137,000 replacements, of whom 35,000 would belong to the AAF – all to be placed in the United Kingdom by the end of March 1943.197 But at the end of July, as has been noted elsewhere, it had been decided to abandon SLEDGEHAMMER,* to mount instead TORCH, and to postpone ROUNDUP, probably until 1944. The BOLERO committee
* See above, pp. 572–73.
thus found its work reduced to an academic status, except insofar as it provided assistance in the planning for an invasion of Northwest Africa and for distant objectives in the United Kingdom.
Even before the first heavy bomber mission of the Eighth could be flown, Operation TORCH had cast its shadow over the hopes of the AAF for a major share in the strategic bombardment of Germany. It would be the chief task of the Eighth Air Force through the ensuing weeks to prepare the Twelfth Air Force for the invasion of Africa. JUNIOR was the name pinned on the new air force, but JUNIOR would outgrow its parent and less than three months after Mission 1 of the VIII Bomber Command, General Spaatz could well ask: “What is left of the Eighth Air Force after the impact of TORCH?”198