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Chapter 2: The Twentieth Air Force

The plan adopted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 10 April 1944 was to remain, in spite of subsequent modifications, the basic guide for the strategic bombardment of Japan. It is a bulky document, about as long with its appendixes as an average mystery Novel and less quickly read. Much of its content was devoted to problems of command and control. The Joint Chiefs hoped to provide operational control by establishing the Twentieth Air Force under command principles radically different from those governing the other Army air forces. Whether the method would prove feasible, experience only would show; there were not a few who expressed grave doubts. Feasible or not, the special command system was to affect the history of the VLR force so importantly in both its operational and administrative aspects that it is useful to describe here the processes by which that system came into being. For convenience the story has been broken into three parts. The first deals with the establishment of the Twentieth Air Force. The second tells how the XX Bomber Command was fitted into the CBI structure. The third is devoted to the organization and training of the 58th Bombardment Wing (VH), the whole of the bomber command’s combat force. This order exactly reverses that of the dates of activation of the organizations, but here it seems better to follow military protocol by coming down the chain of command, rather than the chronological sequence. Actually, the three stories are so interdependent that any division is artificial, though perhaps helpful in the exposition.

The Strategic Air Force

During the first two years of the war, command procedures for Army air forces in the several theaters had taken on a standardized

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pattern. Under prevailing doctrines of unity of command, air units were assigned to a theater commander working under broad directives from the Joint or Combined Chiefs of Staff. Those units were organized into a theater air force, usually bearing a numerical designation and divided into the conventional commands – fighter, bomber, air service, etc. Though the theater commander enjoyed control of air (as of ground) forces in carrying out his broad mission without interference from Washington, he usually had learned to delegate to his air force commander a wide latitude in the choice of means by which air power might be used. The system, if not perfect, had proved eminently satisfactory in tactical air operations. Strategic air operations seemed to pose certain special problems, and it was in an attempt to solve them that the Twentieth Air Force was set up.

Neither the problems nor the solution were wholly Novel. The problems indeed were inherent in the very nature of strategic bombardment. Its mission might be relatively detached from the current campaign on the ground; diversion of forces to help that campaign would interfere with the mission. Strategic operations were usually at long range and theater boundaries might cramp the flexibility necessary for such a program. These problems, with their implications, had been recognized by the British during World War I, when in the spring of 1918 they had developed the first articulated program for long-range bombardment. In May of that year Sir William Weir, Secretary of State for the RAF, had said:-

Long- and extreme-range bombing machines for operations by day and night, utilized against targets outside the range of machines designed for [tactical] functions, involve for their efficient utilization operational considerations of a purely aerial character, and require for their conception and execution a large measure of freedom and independence from other military schemes.1

The practical solution was the Independent Force, RAF, directly responsible to the Air Ministry and wholly outside the control of Field Marshal Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Armies in France. In the last month of the war this principle had been extended by an agreement to form an Inter-Allied Independent Air Force.*

In World War II the British had adopted a comparable arrangement whereby the Chiefs of Staff Committee directed the RAF Bomber Command’s campaign against German industries. When the Eighth Air Force joined its efforts with those of Bomber Command,

* See Vol. I, pp. 15-16, 37.

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it had fitted naturally into this system, since the European theater was one of “prime strategic responsibility” for the British. This arrangement was formally recognized after the issuance of the Casablanca Directive on 21 January 1943, which put the Combined Bomber Offensive under direct control of the CCS with Sir Charles Portal, Chief of Air Staff, as its executive agent.*

Had the earliest B-29 units been assigned to the ETO, there is no reason to doubt that they would have operated under the same command structure as the B-17 and B-24 groups. Instead, the B-29 was dedicated entirely to the war against Japan. Neither in Asia nor the Pacific was there unity of command. Rivalries within the CBI and between Nimitz and MacArthur would make it difficult to shift a VHB force from one command to another, and the flexibility of the B-29 might be compromised by hemming it within the artificial boundaries of a single theater. None of the theater commanders – Nimitz, MacArthur, Stilwell – had shown himself an enthusiastic advocate of the type of mission for which the B-29 was being prepared, and it was not unnatural that the AAF should be reluctant to assign permanently to those leaders its most potent bomber.

In his postwar memoirs General Arnold stated that during his tour of the Pacific in the autumn of 1942 he decided to retain command of the B-29, but reluctantly: “There was nothing else I could do, with no unity of command in the Pacific.” “It was,” he continued, “something I did not want to do.”2 With the heavy pressure of his various offices, Arnold may well have been loath to take on another heavy responsibility. Yet there was another side of the picture. In World War I, in spite of strenuous efforts to get an overseas assignment, Arnold had been held to an administrative post in Washington. Now, in the second war, he had seen contemporaries and the younger men he had raised go out to combat commands, and he would have been unlike his kind if he had no regrets in commanding the world’s largest air force without being able to direct a single bomber mission. A headquarters air force would give him at least a role comparable to that of his British opposite number, Portal, and one might suspect that his reluctance was tempered with some satisfaction. At any rate, the formal papers which tell of the Twentieth Air Force bear no trace of demur on Arnold’s part. If Arnold conceived the idea of the headquarters force in the autumn

* See Vol. I, pp. 306-07.

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of 1942, it lay dormant for nearly a year. His latest air plan (AWPD/42, 9 September 1942) contemplated using the B-29 in the ETO within the existing command structure.* In the following summer, when it seemed probable that the earliest VHB units would be deployed in the CBI, plans emanating from that theater and from AAF Headquarters carried no hint of an unusual arrangement for control. It was only when Arnold’s planners began to consider future deployment of B-29’s in the Pacific areas as well as in the CBI that the idea of an independent strategic air force appeared in staff discussions. In a plan dated 16 September 1943 which anticipated the use of VHB bases in the CBI, Marianas, Aleutians, Luzon, and Formosa, the Air Staff advanced what was to become the standard AAF formula. The simultaneous use of widely scattered bases would demand careful coordination of attacks, and

such integration of timing and effort, fully capitalizing upon the mobility of aircraft, requires a cohesive overall control of strategic air operations, free of the direction of local areas and subject only to the Joint or Combined Chiefs of Staff.3

The choice between the Joint and Combined Chiefs was not an easy one to make. Precedent for the latter could be found in their control of the Combined Bomber Offensive in Europe. The VHB force would be wholly American, and in Pacific areas administration, supply, and defense would be provided wholly by U.S. commanders who reported to the JCS. But for units based in the CBI, those functions would come under the general purview of British commanders, and the British members of the CCS would have therein a legitimate interest. Further, the Combined Chiefs were responsible for the general strategy of the war and for allocation of forces and materiel, so that any project which threatened to disrupt existing strategy might naturally come under their administrative, if not tactical, control. In this dilemma, the AAF early favored the policy of keeping the VLR project wholly under U.S. control, turning to the CCS only for directives instructing British commanders to make available such facilities and services as were needed.4 This policy the JCS accepted in principle, and when in November they asked their British counterparts for aid in establishing VHB airfields in India, there was no suggestion of CCS control.5 After the approval of MATTERHORN at Cairo, the Joint Chiefs

* See above, pp. 10-11.

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found it necessary to provide some machinery whereby it might exercise direction of B-29 units in the CBI and later those in the Pacific. The AAF staff favored the establishment of a “Headquarters Strategic Air Force.” This would be not unlike the GHQ Air Force of 1935-41,* with the JCS substituted for General Headquarters; presumably, administrative control would fall to the AAF member of the Joint Chiefs. Within the Washington planning agencies this idea was opposed by those officers, chiefly from the Navy, who were attempting to block the MATTERHORN project.6 The issue was carried to the White House. There in conferences on 11 and 19 February it was decided, with Roosevelt’s approval, that control of VLR forces would be retained in Washington under the JCS; Arnold, as Commanding General, AAF would exercise “executive direction” for the committee.7 But in this matter, as in deployment, formal action lagged far behind initial approval by the President.

The Joint Planning Staff, engaged in mid-February in revising its paper on optimum use of VLR bombers, incorporated in that plan the suggested control by the Joint Chiefs, but in the version presented on 2 March there was no reference to Arnold’s executive functions.8 Arnold suggested the addition of a paragraph defining his responsibilities according to the White House agreement, and Admiral King proposed that the idea of “control” might be rendered more precisely by substituting “strategic deployment and the designation of missions,” with the theater commander being vested with responsibility for local coordination.9 The JPS accepted King’s amendment, but again made no reference to Arnold as executive agent; instead, they stated merely that he should be authorized “to communicate directly with VLR forces in the field for purposes of coordinating their operations,”10 a policy dictated by a current issue in the CB1.† This redaction of the JPS paper the Joint Strategic Survey Committee approved, subject to certain addenda including one requested by the British Chiefs of Staff – that theater commanders might in an emergency divert the VHB’s from their primary mission.11

The report of the JSSC came before the Joint Chiefs on 28 March. Admiral Leahy recommended its approval, but General Arnold offered as an alternative certain proposals made by Admiral King. King had advocated, he said, the creation of “an air force, known as the

* See Vol. I, pp. 31-32, 48-51.

† See below, pp. 43-52.

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Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force, to be commanded by the commanding General, Army Air Forces, who will be the executive agent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff .” The JCS would determine the employment and deployment of the force, charging their agent with responsibility for logistical support, administration, and transfers. This was unequivocal. Arnold would command the force, acting under specific directives which he, as a member of the JCS, would help to frame. The proposal was accepted informally by the Joint Chiefs, who asked their planners to put King’s ideas into proper form.12 Actually it was AC/AS, Plans who drew up the statement on command relations, and this the JPS included in its final revision.13 In view of the Navy’s attitude toward strategic bombardment in general and the MATTERHORN project in particular, Admiral King’s advocacy of the AAF view in this issue is difficult to explain; but the record is as precise as the motives are uncertain.

Accepted by the Joint Chiefs on 10 April, the new paper on command constituted the formal charter under which the Twentieth Air Force operated. These were, in essence, its terms: 1) a strategic Army air force, designated the Twentieth, was to be established, to operate directly under the JCS with the Commanding General, AAF as executive agent to implement their directives for the employment of VLR bombers; 2) major decisions concerning deployment, missions, and target objectives were to be made by the JCS and executed by the Commanding General, AAF; 3) should a strategic or tactical emergency arise, theater or area commanders might utilize VLR bombers for purposes other than the primary mission, immediately informing the JCS; 4) responsibility for providing suitable bases and base defense would rest with theater or area commanders as directed by the JCS; 5) to obviate confusion in the field, the JCS would vest theater or area commanders with logistical obligations for Twentieth Air Force units operating from their commands, with the responsibility of establishing equitable and uniform administrative policies, and with the duty of providing local coordination to avoid conflicts between theater forces operating under general directives of the JCS and VLR forces operating under their special directives; 6) JCS directives for VLR operations would be so framed as to minimize possible friction within theaters; and 7) Arnold was to have direct communication with VLR leaders in the field, advising appropriate theater commanders of communications thus exchanged.14

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Already the AAF had begun to fill in the details of the proposed plan. Early in March AC/AS, Plans had set up in the Pentagon an Operations Section, U.S. Strategic Air Force; like other offices connected with the B-29 project, it was on a secret basis.15 The director was Col. Cecil E. Combs, a heavy bombardment officer who had fought against the Japanese in the Philippines, the Southwest Pacific, and the CBI. After the JCS action of 28 March, the Air Staff rapidly worked out a more formal organization. On 4 April the Twentieth Air Force was constituted and ordered activated in Washington.16 Arnold was named commander, and each member of his staff was designated to perform his normal role for the Twentieth as well as for the Army Air Forces.

Obviously neither Arnold nor his staff members could devote to the new organization the requisite amount of time and energy. The actual working staff of the new air force was made up of a group of deputies. As chief of staff Arnold named Brig. Gen. H. S. Hansell, Jr., currently Deputy Chief of Air Staff and Acting AC/AS, Plans. Hansell had served a tour as commander of the 1st Bombardment Wing in England but was best known as a planner and as one of the most articulate exponents of strategic bombardment in the AAF. He had contributed importantly to the series of over-all air plans, which began with AWPD/I, and had served on joint and combined planning staffs in the ETO and in Washington.* He had played an important part in shaping the MATTERHORN plan and in steering it through the joint agencies, and his choice was indicative of the sort of operations which Arnold had in mind for the B-29’s. Hansell held his first staff meeting on 12 April and began the difficult task, with the help of the AAF’s Management Control, of developing an organization for which no exact precedent could be found. Liaison was established immediately with the two other services through representatives of OPD and the Navy in recognition of the Joint Chiefs’ over-all control.17 But it was Hansell (with Combs as his deputy for operations) who would run the show – Hansell, vice Arnold, vice the JCS. The new air force would retain a secret classification until the public announcement of the first attack on Japan on 15 June.

Whether the device of a headquarters air force would work remained to be seen. Certainly the tangled command system in the CBT –

* On his earlier career, see Vols. I and II, passim.

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where the first B-29 had landed on 2 April – would provide an acid test for the remote-control system. Some features of the system had, in fact, been dictated by practical issues which had already arisen between U.S. and British leaders in India,* and it was from the CBI that the wisdom of the new arrangement was first challenged. The issue turned on Joint Chiefs’ control rather than on the idea of a headquarters force. In the early negotiations the British seem to have accepted without demur the propriety of JCS control of VHB operations. After the establishment of the Twentieth Air Force, however, British policy changed. Current difficulty in fitting the B-29 force into SEAC command channels may have justified some anxiety on the part of the British; more important were Mountbatten’s views on strategy in Asia and the concern of the British Chiefs of Staff with future plans for strategic bombardment of Japan.

The JCS advised Stilwell on 3 April of the decision to establish the Twentieth Air Force.18 On the 19th they described its peculiar command system to the CCS and offered a draft message for the British members to dispatch to SACSEA.19 A month later the British chiefs replied, raising certain questions relative to control of VHB units within British theaters of responsibility. Because of problems currently involved and because of their intention to assign RAF units to the bomber offensive against Japan after V-E Day, they proposed modification of the new command system: Arnold would still control all VLR aircraft (including eventually those of the RAF) but under CCS rather than JCS directives. His role would thus be analogous to that of Portal in respect to the Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany.20

Asked to report on this proposal, the Joint Planning Staff found it not to their liking. Conditions in the war against Japan differed from those in Europe, where the RAF had long borne the brunt of the bomber offensive and where even yet their forces were comparable to those of the AAF. Current plans called for the deployment in the CBI of only four VHB groups. All others – about twenty-five groups by summer 1945 and forty-nine eventually – would go to areas controlled solely by U.S. commanders. The British would not allocate RAF units for the strategic bombardment of Japan until mid-1945, and not possessing a bomber with VLR characteristics, they could not reach the Inner Zone from bases now in prospect. If they turned toward

* See below, pp. 43-52.

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Malaya and Singapore, as seemed likely, strategic bombardment in the Far East might never be “combined” in the sense understood in the ETO.21

Following this negative report, the Joint Chiefs on 31 May declined the British proposal. With the four B-29 groups in India already fitted into the CBI organization and all subsequent units designated for the Pacific, no early change seemed necessary. The JCS, in short, thought that command of VLR units should be left to them “until such time as British VLR forces are in fact allocated for employment against Japan, at which time this question of control of the Strategic Air Force (VLR) should again be examined.”22 There the matter rested, to be revived only as the war against Germany dragged to a close; actually, this decision was to insure U.S. control of all VLR operations until the Japanese surrender.

XX Bomber Command and the CBI

The XX Bomber Command was activated at Salina, Kansas, on 27 November 1943. At Cairo the MATTERHORN plan was then under consideration; its previous indorsement by Roosevelt augured approval, which meant that the new command would go to the CBI. The internal organization of the command had been determined in part by that probability, involving as it did combat operations by a complex and untried bomber in a theater where logistical conditions were exceedingly difficult. By the time the Twentieth Air Force was established, XX Bomber Command had been mortised into the CBI organization, but only after long debates. Foreseen in part, the difficulties in adjustment had helped determine the command principles under which the headquarters air force would work. Earlier agreement was made difficult by the tactical concept of MATTERHORN and by conditions in the CBI. The China–Burma–India theater was huge, great in land mass and housing the largest civilian population of any theater. Distances were formidable, communications slow. Armed forces of three Allies were fighting a common foe but with inadequate forces and indifferent success. Material weakness was aggravated by radical differences between the several Allies in war aims, in temperament, and in the make-up of forces; principles of unity of command and of integral national forces, commonly accepted in other theaters, were hard to apply. According to MATTERHORN, B-29 units would base in India,

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bomb from China. A foundation for such an arrangement existed already in an American command in China–Burma–India under Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell. Like most commanders in the theater Stilwell held several offices. He was chief of staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Supreme Commander in China, and deputy to Louis, Lord Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia. As Commanding General, U.S. Army Forces in CBI, Stilwell had to bridge a psychological barrier between his two allies as formidable as the physical barrier of the Himalayas.

The Chinese were without representation in the CCS; the Generalissimo tried to make good that deficiency by approaching Roosevelt directly with scant regard for military channels. Chiang Kai-shek’s obvious military objective was to drive the Japanese out of China, but that task was complicated by concern with maintaining his political party in power and by fear of Communists in the north. The British were interested only incidentally in China’s efforts to expel the enemy. Their chief objectives were to protect India from Japanese invasion and from civil discord among the natives, to reconquer Burma and Malaya, and to regain in the Far East prestige lost through successive defeats by the Japanese. British operations in 1942-43 had lacked aggressiveness; improvement was hindered by the noncooperation of native India and a complicated chain of command dividing forces between British Army Headquarters, India, and SACSEA. Little love was lost between the Chinese, suspicious of Britain’s political aims, and the British in India with their traditional contempt for a “native” army.

Stilwell’s mission was to keep China in the war as an active ally and as a potential base for future large-scale operations against the Japanese homeland. This involved equipping, supplying, and training the Chinese army rather than committing large U.S. combat forces. After the Japanese cut the Burma Road, China could be supplied only by an LOC stretching from Calcutta to Kunming. In 1943 supply over the last link in this route, Assam to China, was entirely by air transport, and protection of the airlift was the prime function of AAF units in the CBI. As an auxiliary, the Ledo Road was being pushed with high priorities, and ground operations planned for northern Burma were to serve both the air and the ground route. Hence it was that Stilwell, by training and temperament an exponent of ground warfare, headed an American command consisting largely of air and service forces. His primary mission lay in China; India was for him only a terminus for

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his LOC, Burma the site of its route. Yet his chief personal interest seemed to be in the reconquest of Burma.The theater’s two Army air forces – the Tenth in India and the Fourteenth in China – had as a common mission defense of the air route to China and of the bases at either end. Together their meager forces were hardly sufficient for even an average air force, but separation had been dictated by different policies followed in China and in India. Stilwell as the Generalissimo’s chief of staff commanded Chinese troops as well as U.S. forces. Chennault commanded the Fourteenth Air Force under Stilwell but was air adviser to Chiang Kai-shek and commander of the Chinese Air Force. Relations between the two Americans were more often strained than cordial; Stilwell was suspicious of the close rapport, fruit of Chennault’s long service with the Chungking government, between his air general and the Generalissimo. In Washington, AAF Headquarters was loath unreservedly to commit a VHB force to Stilwell with his preoccupation with the Ledo Road, or to Chennault because of his special position vis – his Chiang Kai-shek.

The situation in India was no happier. Southeast Asia Command, created at the QUADRANT conference in August 1943,was supposedly modeled after the Allied command structure which had proved so successful in the Mediterranean. Mountbatten, as Supreme Allied Commander, had an American (Stilwell) as deputy and in the subordinate combined commands (air, ground, naval) a comparable alternation of British and U.S. commanders was followed. In spite of the fact that U.S. air forces were more active in SEAC than the RAF and were destined to become more numerous, Mountbatten had named as his air commander Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse. Because the mission of the AAF in India differed so sharply from that of the RAF, Mountbatten’s control, through Peirse, of all air operations was not wholly satisfactory to the Americans.The creation of SEAC had brought a reorganization of Army air forces in Asia. On 20 August 1943, the AAF India-Burma Sector (IBS), CBI was activated at New Delhi under Maj. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer, senior AAF officer in the theater. By virtue of this office Stratemeyer controlled directly (but under Mountbatten and Peirse) the Tenth Air Force and X Air Service Command. As air adviser to Stilwell, Stratemeyer had certain responsibilities which lay outside SACSEA’s jurisdiction: supply and maintenance for the Fourteenth Air Force, training of Chinese pilots at Karachi, coordinating

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activities of the ATC’s India-China Wing (whose command channels ran straight to Washington), and protecting the wing’s over-the-Hump haul. In spite of valiant efforts on the part of Stratemeyer (known throughout the AAF as a skilled diplomat), the new scheme had not worked smoothly, Now the proposal to base VHB’s in India and operate them from China threatened further to confuse a command setup which Arnold, in a rare bit of understatement, had described to Stratemeyer as “somewhat complicated.23

Stratemeyer, learning that MATTERHORN’s needs would be subordinated to scheduled operations in Burma, was anxious that the CCS should establish some definite policy which would insure sound logistical support for the B-29’s, whatever might be done about their operational control.24 It is only when viewed against this background of tangled commands and divided interests that the difficulties involved in establishing the XX Bomber Command in the CBI can be appreciated.

The MATTERHORN plan had stipulated that administrative control of B-29 units should be vested in the Commanding General, AAF IBS (Stratemeyer), and that operational control and security of advanced bases should devolve upon the Commanding General, Fourteenth Air Force (Chennault).25 Whether the omission of any reference to Stratemeyer’s relation to SACSEA was deliberate or not, it accorded with AAF Headquarters sentiment and reflected Stratemeyer’s concern lest MATTERHORN suffer from SACSEA’s other interests.26 MATTERHORN’s approval had been qualified by the provision that it not interfere with “planned operations,” which would include those in Mountbatten’s area. At SEXTANT the interested leaders (Marshall, Arnold, Portal, Mountbatten) attempted to clarify the air command in SEAC, and on his return to India Mountbatten established the Eastern Air Command. This gave Stratemeyer command over an integrated AAF-RAF operational force (Tenth Air Force and Bengal Air Command), but his channels still ran through Peirse to Mountbatten.27 In describing this latest reorganization to the Chief of Air Staff (Maj. Gen. Barney McK. Giles) , Stratemeyer wrote on 15 December:–

We are most anxious to know what decisions were finally made [at SEXTANT] as to who will control Twilight [MATTERHORN]. Lord Louis naturally takes the position that any operations based in India must come under his Command. I am still hoping, however, that General Arnold can sustain the position that Twilight should be an all American show.28

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Mountbatten must have realized after SEXTANT, if not before, that he would have no operational control over the B-29’s. His concern rather was with administration and with coordinating VLR operations with those of his own air forces. The establishment of Eastern Air Command did little to clarify the picture. Stratemeyer held that the planning and executing of VLR missions fell outside the purview of Mountbatten’s air commander, Peirse. Peirse agreed, so far as missions from China were concerned, but insisted that “the actual building up, expansion and operation of any Air Force within the South East Asia area must initially, under our Allied Air Command, fall to be my responsibility.”29 A normal assumption under existing command principles, Peirse’s declaration was negated by decisions made outside the CBI.

At Cairo the command system advocated in the original MATTERHORN plan had not been acceptable. By that time the utility of maintaining control of all VHB units under the JCS had become apparent, and on 5 January Marshall advised Stilwell of a new arrangement currently under consideration.30 Because VLR operations would involve both SEAC and China, XX Bomber Command would not be assigned to either-in fact, it would not be assigned permanently to any theater. The force would operate under general direction of the JCS, and Stilwell would exercise direct command and control, utilizing facilities of the Tenth and Fourteenth Air Forces in fulfilling his directives.

After consulting with Stratemeyer, Chennault, and his own deputy, Maj. Gen. Daniel I. Sultan, Stilwell reported that the scheme was feasible if difficult. He proposed to delegate direct command and control to his air adviser, Stratemeyer, and to charge Chennault, through Stratemeyer, with responsibility for fighter defense of staging areas, for fighter escort on China-based missions, and for airdrome construction and supply in China. For missions in SEAC, Stratemeyer would furnish escort by Tenth Air Force fighters.31 With Stilwell’s concurrence thus registered, the JCS on 18 January informally accepted the proposed command system; Marshall’s cable of 5 January became, in effect, Stilwell’s directive.32 On 13 January Brig. Gen. Kenneth B. Wolfe arrived at New Delhi with the advanced echelon of his XX Bomber Command staff. After he had conferred there with Stratemeyer but before he had seen Stilwell, Rear Echelon Headquarters, USAFCBI issued over the latter’s

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name General Order No. 13, 30 January 1944, describing the command setup for XX Bomber Command: under general directives of the JCS, Stilwell would enjoy direct command and control, but would delegate his authority to Stratemeyer as air adviser.33 Stratemeyer was authorized to make needed arrangements with the appropriate headquarters, and he immediately issued a directive to Chennault regarding the initial B-29 missions and the methods of administration and supply to be followed.34

Stratemeyer wrote Arnold on 3 February that “entirely satisfactory” meetings between Wolfe, Chennault, Stilwell, and himself had resulted in a complete mutual understanding of their respective responsibilities for the VHB force.35 Chennault, however, was not entirely satisfied. He had written on 26 January to Arnold, “as a member of the JCS,” an unfavorable critique of MATTERHORN; the proper coordination of tactical (Fourteenth Air Force) and strategic (XX Bomber Command) operations and logistics could be assured, he said, only by establishing a “unified air command to consist of all Air Forces and supporting services operating in China.”36 Chennault neglected to nominate a commander, but the inference was obvious.

General Arnold liked neither the idea nor the approach, which had skipped a couple of echelons in the normal channel of communications and which was bolstered apparently by an appeal via the Generalissimo. Arnold indorsed the letter in his own hand: “Gen. Kuter. This looks like another one of Chennault’s independent thoughts and ideas – with no coordination with Hdqr. He has already expressed these sentiments to CKS who sent them here. H.H.A.” But before Washington could answer Chennault, his relations to XX Bomber Command were re-stated in the theater.

On 11 February Wolfe arrived at Stilwell’s advanced headquarters in the north Burma jungles. There, on the following day, Stilwell rescinded the directive of 30January issued without his approval, substituting instead General Order No. 16, which was flown out by Wolfe and promulgated at New Delhi on 15 February.37

In the new directive, Stilwell charged Stratemeyer, as Commanding General, AAF IBS, with responsibility for logistics and administration of XX Bomber Command; after consulting Wolfe, he was to make recommendations for VLR missions in SEAC. Chennault had responsibility for fighter defense of B-29 bases in China and for complete support of XX Bomber Command there; after consulting Wolfe, Chennault

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was to make recommendations to Stilwell through Stratemeyer (this time as air adviser) for B-29 missions from China. In essence, Stilwell, not Stratemeyer, would exercise operational control and would coordinate the activities of the two theater sectors. Washington was apprised of the new arrangement and apparently found it acceptable.38 No notice was sent to Mountbatten.

Mountbatten had left Cairo before the final action on MATTERHORN was taken. When the Tehran decisions had negated earlier SEXTANT agreements concerning the CBI, alternative suggestions had been debated: whether to continue large-scale operations in Burma without BUCCANEER, or to concentrate on augmenting Hump tonnage to the end that a major air effort, particularly by B-29’s, might be made from China bases. A choice between those alternatives had been deferred pending opinions from SACSEA and Chungking.39

Mountbatten was inclined toward the latter plan, wishing to curtail north Burma operations and to carry the Ledo Road (“out of step with global strategy”) only to Myitkyina. For 1944 he favored putting all possible resources at the disposal of the Fourteenth and of MATTERHORN; later he would move southeastward toward Sumatra, utilizing B-29’s in the campaign.40 For reasons not pertinent here, these suggestions could not be accepted in full; what is of immediate concern is Mountbatten’s interest in the B-29’s.

At New Delhi, in conference with Wolfe and Stratemeyer, he had suggested that XX Bomber Command perform long-range reconnaissance in SEAC and strike missions against Bangkok.41 Such operations were not mentioned in Marshall’s radio of 5 January – in fact, despite the obvious interest of Mountbatten and Peirse in the B-29 force, there was no mention of SACSEA in that message, in Stilwell’s reply of 9 January, or in the two general orders emanating from the latter’s headquarters. Nor had any of those documents been formally presented to SACSEA. The desire to keep MATTERHORN “an all American show” was natural; failure to consult the Supreme Allied Commander was impolitic. Receiving belatedly – on 26 February – a copy of General Order No. 16, Lord Mountbatten was disgruntled at not having been consulted before its issue and perturbed at its silence concerning SACSEA. In a signal to the British Chiefs of Staff he quoted the order in full, deplored Stilwell’s neglect, and suggested certain modifications.42 He argued that the JCS, commanding all VHB units, should

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issue mission directives simultaneously to the theater commander of the B-29’s (Stilwell) and the commanders (currently, Chiang Kai-shek and Mountbatten) of those theaters in which they would base, over which they would fly, and in which they would bomb. Stilwell would coordinate and issue mission orders. Local fighter defense would fall to the pertinent theater commander; in SEAC this would be delegated to the Commanding General, EAC (Stratemeyer) through Peirse. Since Stratemeyer was Stilwell’s air adviser, this would leave operational control of B-29’s in SEAC in one hand.

The average civilian, American or British, might have found this a little confusing; the military did not. Marshall was informed by the theater of the contents of this cable on the same day and two days later, on 28 February, the British Chiefs of Staff referred the message, with their indorsement, to the CCS.43 Sir Charles Portal seconded the formal statement with a personal plea to General Arnold, who gave assurance of the AAF’s desire “to arrange for smooth coordination.”44 On the heels of Portal’s message came a radio from General Kuter who, momentarily in New Delhi, had talked with Mountbatten and Stratemeyer.45 Kuter referred to the serious oversight of the JCS in not having provided SACSEA with a copy of their 5 January directive to Stilwell and suggested an apology; in the future, Mountbatten would be satisfied with information copies of all directives and orders to XX Bomber Command. Pending formal action by his associates in the JCS, Arnold radioed Stilwell on 6 March, expressing regrets for the oversight and promising for Mountbatten copies of future action papers.46 He added, though, that the JCS were currently revising their directive to Stilwell and gave the résumé of its contents.

These incidents, recorded in a matter-of-fact manner and read literally, may give the impression of a squabble over protocol. Certainly protocol was involved, but to planners in Washington the misunderstandings had a graver significance: they pointed up the difficulty of coordinating B-29 operations in the CBI under the existing command structure and with the personalities involved. Thus recent experiences in that theater seemed to confirm the decision made at the White House in mid-February and must have influenced the Joint Planners, when on 2 March they recommended that control of VHB units “be retained directly under the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”47 This proposal differed sharply from the 5 January cable which recited that XX Bomber Command should operate under the general directives of the JCS and the direct command and control of Stilwell.

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The new directive for Stilwell, of which he was advised tentatively on 6 March, had been framed by the AAF in consonance with the new JPS paper. Stilwell would command the U.S. Strategic Air Forces (VLR) in his theater, running missions under the operational control of the JCS. He would coordinate operations in China with Chennault, operations in or from SEAC with Mountbatten. In case of unresolvable conflicts, Stilwell and Mountbatten would appeal to the U.S. and British Chiefs of Staff respectively. Defense responsibilities would devolve upon Stilwell in China, upon Mountbatten in SEAC, and the former would render maximum logistical support to the VLR project. The final warning: the JCS might move B-29 units from the theater at any time. With old-world courtesy, the AAF included a draft apology to Louis, Lord Mountbatten.48 The JCS approved the directive on 7 March, passing it on to the Combined Chiefs and to Stilwell.49 This time he was requested to “have Stratemeyer keep Mountbatten informed.”50 Once bitten, twice shy. With minor revisions the CCS approved the new directive on 25 March, and Stilwell – and Mountbatten – were so informed51 Mountbatten received the new arrangement apparently with little enthusiasm. Both he and Peirse considered the “command and control set-up for VLR bombers unusual” (as did the JCS); they asked for information copies on all important decisions (which had been promised); and they requested, through Sultan, that Arnold “not send instructions to Wolfe direct” (which ran counter to current plans).52

The directive to Stilwell was again short-lived. The decision of the JCS on 28 March to set up a headquarters air force with Arnold as commander lessened the responsibilities of the theater commanders. After the Twentieth Air Force had been established, the Joint Chiefs on 19 April dispatched to Stilwell a new directive.53 The XX Bomber Command was assigned to the Twentieth Air Force (and not to the CBI). All major decisions as to deployment, missions, and target objectives would be made by the JCS and executed by Arnold. Stilwell would coordinate B-29 missions with other operations in the CBI, consult with Mountbatten on missions affecting SEAC, and inform Chiang Kai-shek (to the extent that security would permit) of missions planned from China bases. Mountbatten would provide and defend bases in SEAC, Stilwell in China; the latter was responsible for logistic support in both sectors. In a tactical or strategic emergency, Stilwell might divert the B-29’s from their primary mission, immediately informing the Joint Chiefs. As an afterthought, the office of

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Commander in Chief, India was added to that of SACSEA in appropriate passages.54

The directive thus included some provisions suggested by the British on 28 February but it disregarded Mountbatten’s protest over channels of communication with Wolfe. Direct communications between Arnold and Wolfe were specifically authorized. The JCS informed their British counterparts of the new arrangement and asked that SACSEA and Commander in Chief, India be instructed to fulfill obligations stipulated for them.55 It was this announcement which provoked the unsuccessful attempt of the British to shift control of the VHB’s from the JCS to the CCS. The Joint Chiefs stood pat: the command system outlined in the radio of 19 April was that under which XX Bomber Command would begin its operations in June. The inclusion of Chiang Kai-shek among the “coordinators” reflected perhaps an effort by him which seemed to give further justification to the idea of the headquarters air force.

From purely military considerations there had been ample reason for Mountbatten’s desire for a clear understanding of his responsibilities for logistics, coordination, and base defense: port and transportation priorities for the B-29 project would impinge on those for other planned operations, and as events had recently showed, Calcutta was not immune to Japanese air attack. But it seems probable that considerations of prestige were not wholly absent. The British had lost face in the oriental world, and if they were to regain their former ascendancy in southeast Asia, their efforts should not be overshadowed by that of the Americans. Command prerogatives were of more than military importance. This was true in China too. The choice of China as a staging area for the B-29’s, it has been suggested,* was determined in part by the need of shoring-up the Chungking government. Chiang Kai-shek had accepted Roosevelt’s offer to send the Superforts to China and was cooperating – at no financial loss, to put it conservatively – in providing the required bases. He had supported Chennault’s effort to have the B-29’s put under a “unified air command” in China. Now in April pressure from the Japanese in east China led Chennault to suggest to Stilwell that MATTERHORN’s air transport allocation be temporarily diverted to the Fourteenth and, in an emergency, the diversion of “all MATTERHORN’s resources to tactical rather than strategic purposes.” The B-29’s would hit enemy bases in China, not industry in the home islands.56

* See above, pp. 13-15, 17, 24-25.

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A few days later, Stilwell advised Marshall that the Generalissimo was insisting that he himself command the VLR project in China, just as he commanded (as Supreme Commander in China) the Fourteenth Air Force. Stilwell believed that this demand was motivated by Chiang Kai-shek’s concern over face and that it might be countered by an explanation of the peculiar nature of the JCS air force. Marshall passed this information on to Roosevelt, who cabled Chiang Kai-shek on 12 April.57 the President would command the force from Washington; the Generalissimo would have the responsibility for coordinating VLR missions with other operations in the theater in which he was Supreme Commander, and would accordingly be informed of the pertinent directives from Washington. This removed any possible slight by placing Chiang Kai-shek on the same plane as Mountbatten, and apparently mollified the Generalissimo. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the remote-control system was liked by Chiang Kai-shek and his air adviser – or for that matter by most of the ranking officers in the theater. They might have asked, as the French general had in 1918 when told of the plans for an independent bomber force, “Independent of whom – of God?” The Twentieth’s chain of command did not run that high, but it had jumped some important brass in a theater where personalities counted heavily.

There were, of course, wholly impersonal reasons for suspecting the new system. What may be called the theater point of view had changed little since the invention of the telegraph had allowed distant headquarters (or governments) to interfere directly with the details of a military campaign. The Crimean War of 1854–56 was the first war fought under such circumstances, and an American military observer thus reported the results:–

The electric telegraph was another novelty in the art of war, first used in this memorable siege [of Sevastopol]. It was used for communicating the wants of the armies to their respective governments and was so far useful. For conveying the orders of the governments to their respective commanders (if I attach any weight to the opinion of officers at the seat of war), its advantage was somewhat questionable. By it orders were sometimes given that more circumstantial information, only to be gained in sight of the enemy, would have shown to be highly inexpedient.58

This, roughly, was the theater point of view. The JCS had built an unusually fine record of commanding through general directives, leaving the theater commander to work out the details. The headquarters air force would depart from that practice: in the crucial details of

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target selection and mission directives full control would remain in Washington. Only the emergency clause in Stilwell’s general directive left to him any chance of operational control over a bombardment force for which he had administrative and logistical responsibility. The tactical situation in China promised to provide soon an emergency which would threaten the whole MATTERHORN plan.

XX Bomber Command and the 58th Bombardment Wing (VH)

As plans for the employment and control of the VHB’s were debated by the Allied leaders, the combat force which was to carry the air war to the Inner Empire slowly assumed form. By the time the Twentieth Air Force was established on 4 April 1944, its striking force, XX Bomber Command, had been organized, trained, and dispatched overseas – its units then being strung out in either direction between Salina in Kansas and Chengtu in China. MATTERHORN planners had originally conceived of two B-29 combat wings, the first to begin operations from the Calcutta area in spring 1944, the second in September. The Joint Chiefs on 10 April diverted the latter, in anticipation, to the Marianas, and the combat story of MATTERHORN becomes thereafter the story of the 58th Bombardment Wing (VH), whose first B-29 had landed at Kharagpur only a few days before. At that time the B-29 project which had fostered the 58th was about a year old, and one year – to the day – elapsed between the establishment of the wing at Marietta, Georgia, on 15 June 1943 and its first strike at the Japanese homeland. Successive delays in production and modification, natural enough with a new and complex airplane, had caused cumulative delays in training and deployment. Like many another AAF force, XX Bomber Command had to complete its training and weld its organization in the theater of operations.

In an earlier passage it has been shown how the need for a VLR bomber had encouraged the AAF to adopt the unusual procedure of ordering large numbers of B-29’s before the plane had ever flown.* By combining the resources of Boeing, Bell, Fisher Body, Martin, Wright, and other firms, production experts had worked out a schedule which promised to deliver 150 B-29’s during 1943. The fatal crash of 18 February 1943 threatened to retard the schedule seriously, but

* See above, pp. 6-7.

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General Arnold immediately established on an exempt status the B-29 Special Project, naming Brig. Gen. Kenneth B. Wolfe, B-29 expert from Wright Field, as its head and directing him simply to “take necessary action to commit the B-29 airplane to combat without delay.”59 This was an order to build a strategic bombing force around an airplane then represented by two experimental models powered by a new and untried engine.

Current schedules suggested that B-29’s would not be available for training purposes before late summer.60 Wolfe thought that if production held up it would be possible to build his organization and conduct training and service testing concurrently. This would be a gamble – a “calculated risk” in more formal military parlance – but of a piece with the whole B-29 program. Arnold had given the project high priorities, including what amounted to a carte blanche for personnel needs. Wolfe stripped his office at Wright Field of key officers to man his technical staff, taking along as his deputy his leading B-29 expert, Col. Leonard F. Harman. To direct the training program, he secured as A-3 Brig. Gen. LaVerne G. (“Blondie”) Saunders, who had commanded the 11th Bombardment Group in the battle for Guadalcanal.61 Part of the technical staff went out to Seattle to test the XB-29.62 By 7 May Wolfe had evolved and Washington had accepted a tentative organization to utilize the first 150 planes. His scheme called for a bombardment wing which would include four combat groups and a fifth group to remain behind as an OTU when the others moved out. Of 452 combat crews to be trained, 262 would be assigned to this original wing (providing double crews for each plane and initial reserves) and 190 would be used for replacements and OTU’s.63 To implement the plan, the AAF directed the Second Air Force to assign certain designated units.64 During May, Wolfe consulted with the Second Air Force, the Technical Training Command, and other agencies in an effort to determine training needs and methods for B-29 specialists.65

On 1 June 1943 the 58th Bombardment Wing (VH) was activated; on the 15th it was established at Marietta Army Air Field (near Bell’s B-29 factory), where General Wolfe assumed command on the 21st.66 The Second Air Force provided four training fields in the general vicinity of Salina, Kansas – in the heart of a flat, rich wheat country and close to Boeing’s Wichita factory, whence would come most of the 1943 Superforts. Wing headquarters was transferred from Marietta

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to Salina on 15 September, some of the groups having already moved into the Kansas area, and within a few weeks the 58th Wing had taken on a definite, if imperfect, form. It was not an orderly process. Delay in adopting tables of organization added somewhat to the confusion caused by the frequent assignment and reassignment of units and individuals and by housing shortages.67

Originally under control of AAF Headquarters at Washington, the 58th Wing was reassigned on 11 October to the Second Air Force, which had supplied much of the wing’s combat personnel and which was to continue the B-29 unit training program after the 58th went overseas.68 The last important change in organization grew out of Wolfe’s operational plan and its variant, MATTERHORN, based on the deployment of two VHB wings in the CBI. On 27 November XX Bomber Command was activated at Salina with Wolfe as commander.69 He carried over into his new headquarters part of his staff, leaving his deputy, Colonel Harman, to command the 58th-now called, as were all the combat units, Very Heavy instead of Heavy. At the same time the 73rd Bombardment Wing (VH) with four constituent groups was activated.* The 73rd, designed to absorb the second increment of 150 B-29’s, grew slowly; diverted in April from


Unit Commander Location
XX Bomber Command Brig. Gen. Kenneth B. Wolfe Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas
58th Bombardment Wing (VH) Col. Leonard F. Harman Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas
468th Bombardment Group (VH) Col. Howard E. Engler Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas
472nd Bombardment Group (VH)† Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas
40th Bombardment Group (VH) Col. Lewis R. Parkes Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas
444th Bombardment Group (VH) Col. Alva L. Harvey Pratt Army Air Field, Pratt, Kansas
462nd Bombardment Group (VH) Col. Richard H. Carmichael Great Bend Army Air Field, Great Bed, Kansas
73rd Bombardment Wing (VH) Col. Thomas H. Chapman Walker Army Air Field, Victoria, Kansas
497th, 498th, 500th Bombardment Groups (VH) In process of activation Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas

† To remain behind as an OTU.

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MATTERHORN to a force intended for the Marianas, that wing passes out of the present story.70 By 13 January the tables of organization for the combat units had finally been authorized. The aim had been to make the command as nearly independent of outside agencies as possible, a sort of air task force which could operate under relatively primitive conditions with a minimum of help from the theater. The force would consist of a bomber command headquarters, a wing headquarters, and four groups each containing four bombardment and four maintenance squadrons – the latter comprising the ground echelons of the combat squadrons organized separately for greater elasticity. The assignment of double crews with members capable of performing first and second echelon maintenance was to comply with the system of rear and advanced bases called for in MATTERHORN. The composition of the crew was long under discussion with various suggested teams ranging from ten to fourteen men, eleven finally being adopted: pilot-commander, co-pilot, two navigator-bombardiers, flight engineer (all officers) ; engine mechanic, electrical specialist, power-plant specialist, central fire-control specialist (these last four trained in gunnery); radio and radar operators. Command headquarters and each group had a photo-laboratory. Aircraft were assigned at the rate of 7 per squadron, 28 per group, a total of 112 for the wing. The use of double crews with 5 officers each gave the wing an unusually high percentage of commissioned personnel – 3,045 officers with 8 warrant officers and 8,099 enlisted men.71 Because of the desire to make the command as self-sufficient as possible, there was need to provide service units to perform third and fourth echelon maintenance and housekeeping services. These, with the aviation engineer units temporarily assigned for construction of the India airfields, brought XX Bomber Command units arrival overseas to something over 20,000 officers and men.

While the B-29 force was thus rounding out its organization, training had been carried out under difficulties stemming from the Novelty of the project and the emphasis on haste. For some types of ground units, standard AAF training procedures were satisfactory, but for all B-29 specialties, courses had to be cut to pattern. Scheduled to go out to India by water in a two-month voyage, ground echelons had to leave early in the new year, but as late as 21 December there was a shortage of 40 per cent in authorized maintenance personnel. While the numerical deficiencies were rapidly made good, current tasks and

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preparations for overseas movement interfered with programs to the degree that training would have to continue on shipboard and in India.72

For flight echelons the problem was more complex. Instructors had to be trained before they in turn could initiate crews into the intricacies of the B-29. As a nucleus for his training staff Wolfe was authorized to procure twenty-five pilots and twenty-five navigators with high qualifications and with experience in long over-water flights in four-engine planes.73 The chief difficulty lay in the dearth of planes. The first XB-29 was turned over to the AAF just as the 58th Wing was activated, and it was August before the first production model flew into Marietta for modification. Service testing was conducted in Kansas during September as the combat groups settled into place; by 7 October flight characteristics of the B-29 had been approved by Wolfe’s experts, and a number of key pilots had been checked out.74 Meanwhile, training directives had been prepared and crews had begun their transition work – but not in B-29’s. First some fifty B-26’s were used, then B-17’s, a better substitute for the larger Boeing plane.75 Delays in production of aircraft and engines, which had held up deliveries of the Superforts, had practically disappeared by the end of 1943, but modifications were numerous and time-consuming (especially installation of a four-gun turret). For want of trained maintenance personnel, an unusually high percentage of planes remained out of service. When XX Bomber Command was established on 27 November, there was only one B-29 for each twelve crews; a month later the crews had flown only an average of eighteen B-29 hours and half an hour in B-29 formations. Only sixty-seven first pilots had then been checked out.76 In recognition of these conditions, the number of crews to be trained was cut back to 240 and the date of completion was advanced from 1 February to 1 March.77 During January there was some improvement; practically all the ground school work was completed and most of the scheduled flying in B-17’s. But by the end of the month, when by the original plan the program should have been completed, no more than half the required B-29 flying had been done, and in certain phases – high-altitude formation flying, long-range simulated missions, gunnery and central fire control practice – the wing’s accomplishments were negligible.78

The delays in production and modification which hampered flight training also made it impossible to ship out at the expected time. By

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mid-February the situation at Salina had become critical, and General Arnold sent out from Washington a “PQ Project” team to get the B-29’s ready for overseas flight and combat. Eventually Maj. Gen. Bennett E. Meyers, whose personal conduct was later to bring embarrassment to the AAF but who was then an effective troubleshooter, assumed charge of the task force of representatives from various contracting firms and AAF agencies and GI and civilian mechanics. The project, carried out during the tail-end of a hard winter, was known locally as “the Kansas Blitz”; it was a fitting send-off for men headed for Bengal’s heat. With this unavoidable extension of the stay in Kansas, ambitious training requirements were readjusted to suit the needs of individual groups and, as modified, were achieved by the beginning of March. Partly modified aircraft were delivered to the squadrons during February, and the squadrons themselves spent much time in effecting engine changes and certain modifications. To secure the other modifications needed for combat, regular crews ferried their planes from one center to another, thus piling up flying time.79 At the time of their belated departure for India the combat units still had much to learn about their untried plane, but even so they had an experience level higher than that of the average group shipping overseas. And, for reasons which lay outside the ken of XX Bomber Command, there would be no little time for training in the theater before the first mission was run.