Section 1: The Organization and its Responsibilities
Chapter 1: Origins of the Army Air Forces
In military annals revolutionary changes are rare indeed, but no one can dispute the radical influence of the airplane upon the composition and organization of American military forces during World War II. A sharp reversal in official attitudes toward the role of aviation in U.S. defenses had been foretold as early as the fall of 1938, when defensive measures instituted by President Roosevelt gave the heaviest emphasis to the production of aircraft. By 1941 the Air Corps already had taken important steps toward a new autonomy that would develop into virtual independence for the Army Air Forces, first established in June of that same year. The postwar decision in favor of a separate air force merely gave legal sanction to a decision shaped by the experience of the war years.
When President Roosevelt inaugurated the new defense program in 1938, policy had been guided for four years by the findings of a special board headed by former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. Called into existence in 1934 for a final and authoritative review of the repeatedly agitated question of an independent air force,1 the Baker Board ruled once again that the air arm should remain “a homogeneous part of the Army, under General Staff control.” The final report declared: “The ideas that aviation, acting alone, can control sea lanes, or defend the coast, or produce decisive results in any other general mission contemplated under our policy are all visionary, as is the idea that a very large and independent air force is necessary to defend our country against air attack.”2
Taken alone, this summation offered no encouragement whatsoever to the Air Corps. The board, however, had made one concession to the airman’s point of view by indorsing the recommendation of an Army board in the preceding year for the establishment of a General Headquarters (GHQ)
Air Force to combine under a single command all of the Air Corps’ combat elements. The new organization, which was activated in 1935, got its designation from current plans for the command of Army field forces in the event of war. It was assumed that the Chief of Staff on the outbreak of hostilities would take active command of the field forces through such a GHQ as had served Pershing in France during the last war.3 Since this GHQ would be the ranking Army command, its air force would enjoy the advantage of close identification with the highest echelon. Whether GHQ fought in direct defense of our own shores or once more at the head of an expeditionary force, as in 1918, the GHQ Air Force could expect to control in large measure the employment of the aircraft assigned to it, and this was a point of no small importance to all airmen. There were many grounds for their objection to the general proposition that an air force existed only for the support of other forces, but none was more important than the simple fact that this assumption promised to leave the control of aviation in the hands of ground officers who had little understanding of the weapon they employed. The establishment of a GHQ Air Force five years before GHQ itself was activated in 1940 lent a certain confusion to the Army’s organization; more especially, it imposed upon the structure of the Army’s air element a dichotomy that proved inimical to effective administration until the scheme was finally abandoned in the spring of 1942. But this disadvantage became more apparent in the light of experience than it seems to have been in 1935.
At that time the Air Corps quite evidently had elected to make the best of the opportunities offered by a GHQ Air Force without renewed protest on the larger issue. The decision reflected no doubt a sensible adjustment to the lessons of experience. Although eight separate bills providing for a department of aeronautics had been introduced in Congress between 1916 and 1920,4 the Reorganization Act of 1920 had gone no further than to recognize the Air Service as a combatant branch of the Army. Billy Mitchell’s colorful campaign through succeeding years had won nothing more than minor concessions in the Air Corps Act of 1926. Now, for the third time, the issue had been put to a test and the airmen again had lost. Perhaps, too, it had come to be recognized that the contest was no simple fight between the top brass and farsighted subordinates, as Mitchell had undertaken to dramatize the debate. The airplane, as airmen were fond of reminding
themselves, was primarily an offensive weapon, and the national attitude was one of defense, so much so that little tolerance existed even for the age-old maxim that the best defensive move may be to take the offensive. In rejecting Wilson’s League of Nations the people of the United States had adopted a negative policy, and even the efforts subsequently made to establish positive elements of policy – as in the disarmament conferences and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 – served chiefly to reinforce a popular assumption that America might be an island of peace in a sea of world conflict. Nowhere did that hope find stronger expression than in the Neutrality Act of 1935, which recorded the dominant view of the American people in the year after the Baker Board had reported.
A more important argument for acquiescence in the decision of that board seems to have come from circumstances linking its recommendation of a GHQ Air Force with the very hopeful opportunities of a new mission recently given the Air Corps. In January 1931 the MacArthur-Pratt agreement between the Army and the Navy had established, or so it was thought, the right of Army aviation to participate to the full extent of its capacities in coastal defense. Plans subsequently
drawn by the Air Corps emphasized the need for long-range planes to extend the reach of offshore reconnaissance, to permit rapid reinforcement of outlying bases without dependence upon inter-mediate facilities, and to provide striking forces that might deny an enemy the advantage of a close approach to our own coasts. By 1934 War Department approval had been given for the development of bombers with ranges as high as 5,000 miles, and contracts had been let as early as 1933 for shorter-legged planes that would still be capable of performances greatly exceeding those of current models. Work on one of these – the later B-17 – had gone so far that the first prototype was flown in July 1935.* To put the point briefly, the Air Corps at the time of the Baker report was well on the way toward achievement of a long-cherished ambition to build a truly big bomber.
The big bomber, combining longer range with a heavier lethal load, promised to demonstrate, as could no lesser plane, the fundamental propositions on which the airman based his claims: that the air is an area of military conflict no less distinct than the land and the sea, and that it offers opportunities for inflicting destruction upon an enemy which do not necessarily depend upon the fortunes of war on the land or the sea. With the GHQ Air Force serving to concentrate control of the new weapon in a single air command, it could be anticipated that the Air Corps might soon have a striking force of great power and flexibility. It is not without significance that this prospect was accompanied by a new emphasis in the Air Corps on the doctrines of strategic bombardment.† Nor is it without interest that Arnold, despite the disappointments experienced in the years immediately after 1935, could look back on that year – a year which produced the B-17 in the United States and the Manchester bomber in England – as the turning point in the history of air power. In retrospect, he felt inclined to argue that the autonomy denied the Air Corps in 1934 would have made little significant difference. The RAF “had had its own ministry, its own uniform, ... its own budget,” but only with the development of the Manchester bomber did it begin to acquire real striking power.5
Viewed in terms of the Air Corps’ preparation for the heavy responsibilities it was so soon called upon to carry, the year 1935 undoubtedly
† See Vol. I, pp. 46-53.
assumes an importance of the first rank, if only because of the B-17. But the three years which followed were full of difficulty and disappointment. The opportunity to secure a striking force of its own brought also a dual organization of Army aviation which violated the military maxim that responsibility for a single function should never be divided. The Chief of the Air Corps controlled funds, the development of equipment, and training, but tactical squadrons with few exceptions were assigned to GHQ Air Force, whose commander was responsible directly to the Chief of Staff. In theory, a necessary coordination of effort was to be provided by the General Staff, but its officers had only a limited understanding of the technical problems involved and friction between the two branches of the air arm inevitably resulted. As early as January 1936, a special board reported that sharp factionalism already had “damaged Air Corps morale.”6
The next year brought delivery of thirteen B-17’s, first of the long-range bombers to reach production, but when one of the planes “intercepted” the liner Rex some 600 miles at sea in the spring of 1938, a protest, presumably by the Navy, quickly followed. To the dismay of the Air Corps, verbal orders limited all overseas flights thereafter to distances within 100 miles of the coast. Airmen, in the words of General Arnold, were “burned up about it,” the more so because they could never get the order in writing.7 Still more disheartening was a subsequent stop-order on long-range bomber development. Directives of May 1938 gave air planners three sharp reminders: national policy contemplated defense only, operations over the ocean were Navy functions, and the superiority of a B-17 over “the two or three smaller planes that could be procured with the same funds” remained to be established.8 These propositions having been confirmed by a Joint Board ruling of 29 June,9 the War Department also put a stop to planning for new designs with the blunt assertion that “there would appear to be no need for a plane larger than the B-17.”10 For fiscal year 1940 all funds were to be put into light and medium bombers,11 a policy hailed by Time magazine as a step taken “to catch up with foreign developments.”12 If the airmen had traded the hope of autonomy for the promise of strategic bombers, they had reason in 1938 to assume that they had lost the gamble. Indeed, the prospect on all counts seemed a discouraging one. Although the Baker Board had set a goal of 2,320 aircraft, the Army in 1938 had only 1,250 modern
But if 1938 brought profoundly disheartening trends of policy, it was also the year which saw them sharply reversed. This was the year of Munich when Czechoslovakia was lost to Hitler through a diplomatic defeat widely attributed to blackmail tactics backed by the threatening power of the German Air Force. The tension leading up to the Munich conference of September 1938 converted President Roosevelt into an advocate of an enlarged air program; his determination equaled the authority he possessed to place that program in the very front of the effort to build up America’s military strength.
The new Presidential policy coincided with a significant change in the leadership of both the Army and of its Air Corps. Maj. Gen. George C. Marshall was ordered to Washington in July 1938 to begin the assignments which would prepare him to succeed Malin Craig as Chief of Staff a year later.15 On 21 September 1938 a tragic accident took the life of Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, Chief of the Air Corps.16 His replacement was Henry H. Arnold, a personable airman who yielded to no one in his belief in air power but who also represented the moderate views which had prevailed in the Air Corps after 1934. The newly developing opportunity to build an air force was not to be sacrificed for the uncertain rewards of a renewed campaign for independence.
The Presidential Program
The tension which preceded Munich had built up over the years since the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, but it had been greatly intensified by the Austrian Anschluss in the spring of 1938, a move which showed that Hitler’s appetite was large and that the democracies lacked the weapons with which to check his greed. The pressure against Czechoslovakia, personalized for Americans by the shrill stridency of Hitler’s radio delivery, reached a new intensity with the Fuhrer’s speech at Nurnberg on 12 September. According to Robert E. Sherwood, it was after hearing this speech that Roosevelt sent Harry Hopkins to the west coast for an estimate of the possibilities for expanding aircraft production. Hopkins later recorded his conviction that “the President was sure then that we were going to get into war and he believed that air power would win it.”17 Of greater pertinence to the present discussion, perhaps, are the advices received by Roosevelt from Ambassadors Hugh Wilson, in Berlin, and William
Bullitt, in Paris, that it was the German air potential which explained the fatal weakness of British and French policy.18 Many other Americans held the same view, agreeing with the appraisal of George Fielding Eliot: “It is blackmail which rules Europe today, and nothing else: blackmail made possible by the existence of air power.”19
The timing of the moves by which the President translated his new interest in air power into military programs of action is not entirely clear from the evidence now available. It has become customary to date the launching of the Presidential program from a White House conference of military and civilian advisers meeting on 14 November 1938.* But General Arnold has contended that there was an earlier conference at the White House on 28 September from which the AAF received its “Magna Carta.”20 A check of White House records fails to confirm his recollection of such a conference,† but there is strong evidence to support the view that the President had given a new impetus to War Department planning well in advance of the November conference.
By mid-October the President had begun to talk with newsmen about the mass production of aircraft, attributing his interest to trends that had “come to a head in the past month.”21 On 26 October he took the occasion of the Herald-Tribune Forum in New York to warn that “neither we, nor any nation, will accept disarmament while neighbor nations arm to the teeth.”22 Two days later he received the report of a special committee appointed on the 25th to survey the possibilities of a major boost in aircraft production.23 Meanwhile, the War Department was busy with the drafting of plans for the expenditure of
* Those who met with the President at that time included Harry Hopkins; Secretary Morgenthau and Mr. Oliphant from the Treasury; Robert H. Jackson, the Solicitor General, who shortly thereafter became Attorney General; Secretary of War Woodring; Assistant Secretary Johnson and his executive assistant, Col. James Burns; Marshall; and Arnold.
† It is possible that Arnold, who cites notes taken at the meeting in question, may have mistaken the date. But there are differences in the accounts of the two conferences, if there were two conferences. For example, Jackson is not included by Arnold in his account of the meeting in September, and it is clear that he did attend in November, which was the month in which Attorney General Cummings resigned to be replaced by Jackson. In any case, War Department activity in October precludes the possibility that Roosevelt waited until the November conference to get the ball rolling. It should be noted in this connection that the President conferred with Woodring on 28 September and that on the next day he had an appointment with Chief of Staff Craig. (See Appointment Diary, Papers of the White House Office of Social Entertainments, Group 20, Roosevelt Library.)
new funds reaching as high as $500,000,000.24 An “air” program ready by the middle of the month called for 400 million of this total; a counterproposal within a few days set forth the claims of ordnance to 349 million.25 The issue was referred to the White House on 25 October, and this action seems to have provided the occasion when General Marshall is reported to have warned the President in the strongest terms that a program limited to air power would be “contrary to the considered judgment” of the General Staff.26
But that the President wanted aircraft was made abundantly clear at the White House conference on 14 November. Arnold colorfully, and correctly, expressed the President’s mood during the fall of 1938 when he later recalled that Roosevelt well understood that new barracks in Wyoming “would not scare Hitler”; what was wanted was “airplanes – now – and lots of them.”27 To his advisers on 14 November the President talked in terms of 20,000 planes annually, but he indicated a willingness to think in terms of half that number.28 In the end he actually settled for an Air Corps program of 6,000 planes, which left $200,000,000 for ground force purposes out of the original half-billion.29 When Roosevelt presented the new program to Congress in January 1939, Arnold already had briefed the aircraft manufacturers on the need to plan for a major expansion.30
In a special message to Congress of 12 January 1939, the President announced that “the Baker Board report of a few years ago is completely out of date.” “Increased range, increased speed, increased capacity of airplanes abroad,” he declared, “have changed our requirements for defensive aviation.”31 Senator Lynn Frazier, of North Dakota, countered the President’s proposal with a resolution making “war for any reason illegal,” but, as Time commented, “never since 1917 was such a proposal more out of keeping with U.S. temper.”32 It was not that all Americans agreed with the President’s purpose, which events soon made clear was to bolster the resistance to Hitler in Europe, but most citizens could agree on the need in the circumstances to strengthen our own defenses. That the Air Corps stood to benefit by this sentiment was indicated by a Gallup poll showing that nine out of ten Americans questioned favored an immediate increase in air strength.33 On 3 April the Congress passed the program substantially as proposed.34
Events had overruled the Baker Board. But airmen were not long in finding out that their own aims were not in complete harmony with
those of their new ally, Mr. Roosevelt. Indeed, during the fall conferences it had been made clear enough that the President’s attention was focused on plane production, that as yet he had acquired only a secondary concern for the creation of that larger – and more complex – entity which is an air force. Thinking in terms of the growing tension in Europe, he primarily sought the means to bolster immediately the capacity of European powers to resist Hitler; his plans, in other words, foretold the early development of a policy which viewed America as an arsenal for the democratic states and which inevitably clashed at times with the programs of those whose primary job was to put the United States in a state of military readiness. The Air Corps readily agreed that foreign orders were in the national interest, but once the new program opened the way for an unprecedented development of the Air Corps, clashes of interest naturally followed. The difficulty became apparent early in 1939, when newspapers revealed the presence as a passenger of a French officer in the crash of a new Douglas plane on 23 January.35 Congressmen, quizzing General Arnold, found that the War Department had cleared the officer at the request of the Treasury, where Morgenthau was acting as the Presidential coordinator for foreign orders. It was the President, of course, who was under attack when the congressmen demanded of Arnold: “Does the Secretary of the Treasury run the Air Corps?”36 Later, Morgenthau and Secretary Woodring of the War Department clashed openly on the plane-release issue. The President was deeply disturbed, and called a press conference to defend his policy. His displeasure seemed to center on General Arnold. In the midst of a later staff conference, the President, looking directly at Arnold, threatened exile – to Guam, perhaps – for any official who could not take care of himself at committee hearings. Until war began in Europe, nearly nine months later, Arnold regarded himself as “taboo” at the White House.37
From the point of view of the Air Corps, however, the advantages of the new administration policy far outweighed any of its disadvantages. Among the earliest gains was an improvement in the internal organization of the Air Corps. General Arnold, who had been recognized in the rearmament discussions as premier adviser on air matters, suggested in February 1939 that he be named “Chief of Aviation, GHQ”38 and allowed to develop a superior air staff with control over both the Office, Chief of Air Corps (OCAC) and the GHQ Air Force. The War Department accepted the need for better coordination,
but it rejected the title suggested and refused permission for a separate air staff. Instead, it was provided that as of 1 March 1939 the Chief of the Air Corps would also “supervise” the GHQ Air Force.39 Any immediate increase in autonomy for the air arm had been rejected in a ruling foretold by Mr. Roosevelt the preceding October. When at that time reporters had asked if the new air program might lead toward a unified defense department incorporating an improved status for the air arm, the President dismissed the question as “a pure detail of later administration.”40
But if organizational changes stopped short of the desired goal, there was promise of an early and most helpful clarification of the Air Corps’ mission. Studies undertaken by Col. J. W. Anderson of the General Staff led to suggestions for the employment of airplanes in “an active and aggressive defense involving operations beyond our territory,”41 and on 23 March 1939 General Craig appointed an “air board” to study the problem of the use of aircraft in hemisphere defense. Its findings were reviewed for the Secretary of War on 1 September by General Marshall, who added his own conclusion that “the report establishes for the first time a specific mission for the Air Corps.”42 That mission emphasized greatly expanded responsibilities under a scheme of national defense now interpreted in the broader terms of hemisphere defense. No longer could the nation’s security be guaranteed by naval forces and the conventional types of coastal defense; the approaches to the United States by way of the North Atlantic island chain and Latin America must be guarded, and for this purpose the long-range airplane had acquired special significance, both for the striking power it could provide and the flexibility it could lend to all defensive preparations. Indeed, the report called for the acquisition of outlying bases to extend even further, in Marshall’s words, the “radius of action of our airplanes.” The Air Corps not only had acquired a “specific” mission of its own, but that mission opened the way for the fullest development of the long-range bomber program so recently rejected.
1940: The Blitz Provokes Full-scale Rearming
Munich had aroused the President, but public opinion in the United States followed his leadership with evident reluctance until the Nazi conquest of France in May and June 1940. If thereafter resistance to the implications of Roosevelt’s policies continued, there was little disagreement on the need for greatly strengthened defenses. As Life
reported, the blitzkrieg, “biggest political fact that has hit the world within the memory of living man,” had stirred a “chilling fear that the national existence of the United States might soon be threatened.”43 Shortly before, on 3 April, Congress had cut an Army request for 166 planes down to 57, and had refused to provide long-range bombers on the grounds they were “aggressive” weapons.44 But in June, Senator Lodge, a Republican, could advise General Arnold that Congress was anxious “to provide all of the money necessary for the National Defense, and so all you have to do is ask for it.”45 As Arnold later put it, “In forty-five minutes I was given $1,500,000,000 and told to get an air force.”46 President Roosevelt, who had talked of 10-20,000 planes in 1938, now spoke of stepping up output to a rate of 50,000 per year. In the twelve months beginning with July 1940 the Air Corps was to spend more than loo million dollars on research alone, including 42 million dollars in tests of the very heavy bombers for which the General Staff in 1938 had foreseen no need whatever.47
The promise of greatly increased air strength emerged from new appropriations both for the Army as a whole and from special programs for the Air Corps itself. On 10 July the President went to Congress with a “total defense” budget just short of four billion dollars, roughly half of the sum being earmarked for 18,000 airplanes.48 The unprecedented legislation of 16 September for a peacetime draft resulted from initiative outside the administration,49 showing how far public opinion had moved. At a White House conference with Marshall and Arnold on 14 May the President had shown, in contrast to his original preoccupation with plane production, a fuller appreciation of the need for trained personnel – which is the core of an air force.50 An as yet unrealized goal of 4,500 trained pilots in two years was then replaced by a program which anticipated the training of 7,000 pilots in a single year. Such a program depended upon tremendous expansion of existing training facilities, but the program was scarcely under way before new plans made it look modest indeed. On 8 August the President ordered a 12,000-pilot-per-year schedule, and by 17 December 1940 the goal had been set at 30,000.51 Expressed in terms of organizational units, the 1941 effort was to focus on achievement of a 54-group program, with an 84-group air force as the ultimate goal.52 Thus expansion of the Air Corps had become – in complexity and in lack of precedent – the leading element in a wholesale effort to prepare the nation for war.
After June 1940 the problem facing the Air Corps was no longer a
struggle for recognition and adequate funds, but rather the mounting difficulties of hugely expanded programs of procurement and training. Limited in its own resources – its strength at the beginning of 1939 had been some 2,300 officers and 19,000 men – and forced to concentrate all energies on a quick build-up, the Air Corps found in its new opportunity strong arguments against any renewal of the old fight for independence. The more critical the defense problem became, the less likely was it that the surgery required to separate the Air Corps from the Army could be tolerated. Air leaders paled at the diversion of energy which would have been involved in taking over the housekeeping and supply services provided by the War Department; with autonomy they would have to provide “out of their own pockets” even for such earth-bound necessities as cooks and bakers.53 Willingness to work within the Army did not blind Air Corps leaders, however, to the critical need for a better organization – one that would give to the air arm a helpful degree of autonomy. The search for “a reconciling formula” went on, if anything with new vigor, but it was now an issue to be settled among friends, and the personal relations among key leaders in the defense effort naturally played a major role.
The President, no mean political strategist and never content to be merely a nominal commander in chief, held the ultimate key to reorganization. His experiences in World War I as Assistant Secretary of the Navy had predisposed him to distrust the airmen. In 1919, Mr. Roosevelt had written disparagingly in the New York Times about the vanity of the airman, who thirsted “to be known as the man who tore wide open existing governmental organizations,” and he had predicted that “not until we do away with armies and navies altogether, or until the development of aircraft relegates land forces and the Navy to the scrap heap will the time arrive for a United Air Service.”54 Trends after 1920 weakened any threat air autonomy ever held for the right of the Navy to control its own air arm, however, and by the time Mr. Roosevelt became President, he was counted – even by Billy Mitchell – as a friend of aviation. Until 1938 no substantial token of this interest was manifest and even then Mr. Roosevelt was more interested in plane production than in the development of a full-fledged American air force, but he soon displayed an alert awareness of the long-term requirements of such a force. No mention of the part played by the President would be accurate without acknowledging that the shortest distance from the War Department to the White House was by way of Harry Hopkins. Fortunately for the airmen
they had in Hopkins a friend at court, one placed by General Arnold among “the most enthusiastic supporters of American Air Power.”55
In the critical month of June 1940 the President named a new Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson.56 By his acceptance of the post, Stimson, who described himself as “a Republican doing nonpartisan work,” helped lift the defense effort above politics.57 His immense prestige came from, distinguished service as Secretary of War for President Taft and as Secretary of State under Hoover. Under Taft he had helped establish the supremacy of the Chief of Staff and had learned that “the vast inertia of somnolent inbreeding” in the Army could be overcome only by forceful measures.58 Although he was never at ease in what he termed “the inherently disorderly” Roosevelt administration,59 he enjoyed the warmest personal relations with the President and was given a free hand in the War Department. The new Secretary was willing to delegate authority, but periodically “dipped down” to make certain that critical problems were swiftly solved. Of decisive importance for airmen was his advocacy of new weapons and of close relations with scientists. An outstanding example is provided by Stimson’s initiative in speeding radar development.60
Convinced by 1940 that “air power has decided the fate of nations,”61 Stimson quickly saw the need for an assistant who could be, in effect, an acting “Secretary of the Air Force.” The Air Corps Act of 1926 had provided for an assistant for air, but the post had never been filled. Stimson brought Robert A. Lovett into his office in November 194062 and the following April named him Assistant Secretary of War for Air, turning over to him the heaviest burdens of Air Corps procurement, organization, and public relations. Lovett’s original interest in flying went back to his membership in the Navy “Yale Unit” in World War I, in the course of which he had won the Navy Cross. After the war he became a successful banker, but kept up his interest in aviation. When he took over in 1941, he found air matters in what he called “a hell of a mess,”63 but his energy and tact were major contributions to the rapid progress which followed. Although he shared the general views of Mitchell about air power, Time noted a complete contrast in the way the two men worked: “Lovett gets things done by pushing the right button instead of wrecking the keyboard.”64 This estimate misjudges the problem Mitchell faced, but it does properly emphasize the finesse which helped Lovett win with a minimum of friction substantial autonomy for air.
It was fortunate that the man who began on 1 September 1939 a
six-year tenure in the office of Chief of Staff was George C. Marshall, an officer of remarkable selflessness and exceptional organizing ability. As a product of the General Staff system, he might have been expected to take a dim view of air force ambitions, and during the lean years between wars he had not escaped the Army’s feeling that each gain for the Air Corps had been bought at the price of further “emasculation of the basic ground forces.”65 But after 1940 the whole picture had changed: no longer were inter-service relations governed by a basic competition for survival. Marshall quickly demonstrated what General Arnold has called the “ability to digest what he saw and make it part of as strong a body of military genius as 1 have ever known.”66 His open-mindedness toward airmen already had been demonstrated when Marshall brought in Maj. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, the first commander of the GHQ Air Force, as the first Air Corps officer to serve as Chief of Operations (G-3) of the General Staff.67 Marshall was not one to rush into “change for change’s sake,” but once convinced of the need for reform, he never let orthodoxy or vested interests stand in the way.
The Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff could remove traditional barriers to air autonomy, but in the final analysis the problem had to be solved by Lovett on the basis of professional advice drawn from Arnold’s “tiny” staff. That “Hap” Arnold led the new air effort was in large part the result of historical accident, but there was peculiar justice in the fact, for he epitomized the Air Corps at its enthusiastic best. Arnold had learned to fly in 1911 at the Wright brothers’ school, and somehow he had survived the physical perils of early planes and the political hazards of the Mitchell period. He was commanding the 1st Wing, GHQ Air Force, when summoned “over the fence,” into the OCAC. Reporting to Washington in January 1936 as Assistant Chief, he was advanced at Westover’s death in September 1938 to the post of Chief of the Air Corps.68 In this new assignment, it soon became evident that he would need all his familiarity with every branch of the air service, plus new political skills of a high order.
Strong public pressures influenced the War Department action in providing greater recognition for air power. When the President spoke in May 1940 of the need for 50,000 planes per year, Al Williams, journalistic spokesman for aviation, retorted that it was “the sheerest folly to paint a vision of adequate defense until we
have, as the first essential, a separate and independent air force.”69 The writings of Williams, Alexander de Seversky, and others kept aviation matters in the public’s mind, but were not always temperate or helpful to those in power. In the presidential campaign of 1940 Wendell Willkie brought some of these issues into politics by advocating a Department of Defense to include a separate air force.70 Because of its direct effect in the War Department, however, the suggestion of greatest interest was one made by G. de Friest Larner, who represented the point of view of the National Aeronautics Association. Lamer told Assistant Secretary of War Patterson that despite his admiration for General Marshall he was convinced that General Staff attitudes still impeded progress. To quiet criticism, Larner suggested that Arnold be made Deputy Chief of Staff for Air. Patterson endorsed the idea to Stimson on 18 September 1940 with the observation that the “considerable” agitation for action “may well cause us to look over our present organization and see whether our air force could be handled more effectively.”71 Stimson agreed that a review was in order, but Marshall received the idea with marked reservations because of the suggestion of outside pressure.
Even so, General Marshall’s mind was open to proposals for change. Since the General Staff organization, depending on time-consuming concurrences, was proving unsuited to the vigorous action needed for raising a mass army, General Marshall on 26 July 1940 activated GHQ, with Maj. Gen. Lesley J. McNair in command, and transferred to it the immediate task of training tactical units through the four field armies which had been set up in 1932. This action at once raised a question of the relation of the GHQ Air Force to the new headquarters, whose function as a training command was different from that originally envisioned for it.72 This question was coupled with that of a Deputy Chief of Staff for Air in a request from Marshall that Air Corps planners submit a study of the problem of organization.73
Fundamental reforms of the entire War Department structure were proposed by General Arnold on 5 October 1940 in a paper which presented the Air Corps philosophy of the proper place of aviation in defense organization.74 Noting the “ever increasing cries” for air autonomy, Arnold proposed for the Army three deputy chiefs, one each for ground, air, and service forces, each deputy to
have his own staff and issue orders in the name of the Secretary of War. The Chief of Staff would reconcile differences and retain final power of decision. The Deputy Chief for Air would control all troops of OCAC and GHQ Air Force except those committed to war theaters. This plan, which so closely foreshadowed the reforms achieved in 1942, gave the three essentials of the airmen’s program: a separate air staff, a unified air arm, and an air force coequal with ground and service forces.
The plan immediately met emphatic opposition from key officers of the General Staff. German tactical success with ground-air support had confirmed their old faith that aviation was an auxiliary arm, and they now told General Marshall: “The Air Corps believes that its primary purpose is to defeat the enemy air force and execute independent missions against ground targets. Actually its primary purpose is to assist the ground forces in reaching their objective.”75 In line with this philosophy, G-1 recommended that the GHQ Air Force be removed from the control of the Chief of the Air Corps and placed, instead, under GHQ.76
General Marshall met the sharp conflict with a compromise which disappointed the airmen. Arnold was made Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for Air, as of 30 October 1940, but the real fight was lost when an order effective 19 November assigned the GHQ Air Force to the ground-dominated GHQ.77 All elements of the air program were left unsatisfied: there was to be no high-level air staff, no unity of the air arm, and no equality with ground forces. Maj. Gen. George H. Brett, who became Acting Chief of the Air Corps when Arnold was made Deputy Chief for Air, was sharply critical in a memo of 26 December 1940. The new system was cumbersome in peace and would be disastrous in war, Brett insisted. The idea of having General Staff review of the plans drawn “by the best qualified air staff available” would produce “interminable delay, [and] the emasculation of basic plans and policies.”78
An important internal change of the period improved the ability of the air arm to direct the major expansion involved in the 54-group program. Originally the GHQ Air Force was so small a command that its headquarters could direct work through three wings, but the need for close control of the details of the expansion program made new territorial subcommands essential. The plans of late 1940 therefore provided four air districts to serve as both tactical and administrative
units. These were tactical because they operated bomber and air defense commands in the continental area and because they were to provide fully trained units for task forces. Administratively the districts were to supervise all aspects of the work of aviation units except for service functions reserved to the corps areas.79 Activated on 16 January 1941, the new Air Districts (Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, and Southwest) moved rapidly to expand existing air bases, to select new ones, and to form and train the squadrons of the new air force.80 Individual training and air materiel continued to be the concern of OCAC.
The Army Air Forces
Though the reorganization of 1940 disappointed the hopes of U.S. airmen, the march of world events was in their favor. For a year after the fall of France only Britain stood in active opposition
to Nazi pretensions. All resistance on the continent had been crushed, and it was clear that for many months to come the only offensive that could be mounted against Germany would have to be an air offensive – a fact which strengthened the case for an increased emphasis on aviation in U.S. defensive preparations.
With the coming of 1941 these preparations were increasingly geared to the assumption that the United States might have to fight as an ally of Britain. To the public the most significant indication of the trend of American policy was the Lend-Lease Act of 11 March 1941, but within the War Department secret American-British staff conversations beginning on 29 January in Washington exercised the greater influence on military planning. These conversations avoided any hint of an alliance, but the agreements embodied in ABC-1 of 27 March outlined measures of collaboration to be taken if events compelled the United States to enter the war. In ABC-1 the territorial integrity of the Western Hemisphere was recognized as the paramount concern of the United States, but the report outlined seven possible lines of combined action against Germany. Of these, only two could be viewed as early possibilities: a blockade of the Axis powers and “a sustained air offensive to destroy Axis military power.” A separate annex, ABC-2, gave detailed measures for air collaboration.81
The primary role accorded aircraft was recognized in an official War Department review of the ABC agreements: “United States operations initially are limited to providing combat aviation in support of the British Isles.”82 Not only did this refute the General Staff argument of October 1940 denying that the air arm might have a mission independent of the ground forces, but air officers soon found themselves assuming roles of expanding importance in the implementation of new plans for the assistance of Britain. The ABC planners had agreed that planes would have to be released in greater numbers for Britain, even at the expense of the 54-group program, and that planning should begin for an American bomber command capable of operating from British bases if events made this necessary. To correlate plans in these matters, General Arnold was sent to England in April 1941. Intimate talks with Churchill and top British staff officials brought home to Arnold the fact that as the leader of the air force he had entered “the big leagues.”83 A second evidence of the same trend was the appointment as head of the Army
mission to Britain of Maj. Gen. James E. Chaney, an air officer.84 Whatever the organizational charts might show, the Air Corps was acquiring a position of new and expanding responsibility. As General Arnold remarked, the stepchild of 1918 had become in 1941 the only military branch with a mission: “No Allied soldiers could even get near a battleground in Western Europe except the airmen.”85
Even in the lower echelons developments abroad served to encourage the assignment of heavier responsibilities to air commands. Experiments with the concept of regional defense commands in the Caribbean and Alaskan areas led in March 1941 to the constitution of four such commands within the United States: the Northeastern (later Eastern), Central, Southern, and Western Defense Commands.86 These commands were for the time being hardly more than appendages to the staffs of the four field armies, whose geographical location corresponded with the designation given the new commands, but since in time of war the armies might be moved in accordance with tactical requirements, the defense commands carried the responsibility for planning a permanent and integrated air-ground defense for the region. To make air force designations correspond with those of the four field armies with which they must cooperate in defense planning, an order of March 1941 converted the air districts of the GHQ Air Force into four separate Air Forces,87 numbered First through Fourth. A warm fight over the right of these air forces to control air defensive preparation had by then been settled in favor of the airman’s view.
The battle-proved methods of the RAF, fully reported as the Battle of Britain progressed, carried great weight, though at first only with airmen. In December 1940, Air Corps leaders were disturbed at rumors that air defense would be assigned to ground commanders, and they made strong recommendations to General Marshall in favor of “the highly successful” British pattern of integrated air defense (fighter) commands under air force leaders.88 By 10 February, the War Plans Division (WPD) completed a General Staff study which urged, instead, that air defense be an integral part of the defense command mission. Arguing that the British fortress-type air defense would not be needed in America, WPD could not visualize air defense units as active aviation commands, but rather as control agencies to coordinate the total civilian-military defenses.89 A major conference, on 18 February, recommended air defense
units under a single commander – but did not specify which commander.90 On 20 February General Arnold urgently pressed on Marshall the Air Corps’ conviction that any move to split command agencies from the highly complex team of fighter planes and aircraft warning units would have disastrous effects on combat-readiness.91 At the same time, air planners also feared that if all combat units were assigned to theater-type (ground) defense commands “the GHQ Air Force will then be divided in four parts, under four separate commanders.”92 The leaders feared a return to conditions which had existed before 1935, when striking force had been lost by a parceling out of air units.
The airmen won the contest for control of air defense and for the integrity of the air striking force. Perhaps the decisive factor was the deep impression made on Marshall by his study of reports from observers in England. On 18 February 1941 he ordered speedy acquisition of superior RAF air interception and air communication equipment, in order that “full advantage be taken of British war experience.”93 This may well have conditioned the action Marshall took on 28 February on the issues of organization: “I have come to the decision that the Air Defense set-up should be in time of peace under the direction and control of the Commanding General of the GHQ Air Force.”94 The orders which in March 1941 established the defense commands also made the GHQ Air Force responsible for preparing “the aviation and air defense portions of defense plans” and for organizing and training the active air defense machinery.95 Creation of an aircraft warning service was reassigned from the four Army commanders to the GHQ Air Force, which delegated immediate control to interceptor commands – the air defense commands of earlier plans – to be set up in each of the four new continental air forces. In addition, each air force was to set up a bomber command organized as a mobile aviation task force for offensive operations. Thus the 1941 mission of the four air forces involved heavy new responsibilities: in addition to training units for the 54-group program, each air force had to create a strategic bomber force and had to direct a vast net of ground observers, radar stations, filter and information centers, antiaircraft artillery, and fighter plane squadrons which – it was hoped – could provide by August 1941 a full-scale continental air defense.
March 1941 was also a decisive month in settling the general issue
of the proper relation of the air force to Army structure. As late as February, the War Department, speaking through Mr. Patterson, opposed bills for a separate air force and contended that nothing in the European war had altered its conviction that the existing organization was best suited to the integration of ground-air efforts. The confusion involved in any experiment, it was submitted, “might well result in a national tragedy.”96 An utterly different point of view was presented by Robert Lovett, who on 10 March sent Stimson a vigorous statement of his view that the airplane was a revolutionary weapon which demanded “a tight-knit, flexible organization as modern as the instrument itself.”97
What finally persuaded General Marshall to make changes was not, however, the lesson of foreign experience, but rather the administrative clumsiness of existing channels. One day late in March while waiting to testify before a Senate committee, Marshall learned from General Brett how difficult it was to get prompt action from the General Staff on air matters.98 Extensive conferences on 26–27 March convinced Marshall and Stimson that a genuine reformation was essential. Stimson therefore ordered that steps be taken “to develop an organization staffed and equipped to provide the ground forces with essential aircraft units for joint operations, while at the same time expanding and decentralizing our staff work to permit Air Force autonomy in the degree needed.”99 Air autonomy “in the degree needed” was to be accompanied by a single command for the air arm, and the first action Marshall took to implement the directive ordered (28 March) that thereafter the Deputy for Air, General Arnold, would coordinate all air matters. Recognizing that the Air Corps had “a tremendous procurement program tied in with new developments, and now has a tremendous personnel problem,” Marshall admitted that “we have to operate on a simpler system.” Nevertheless, the Chief of Staff wanted to progress carefully: “I desire to proceed on a basis of evolution and general understanding between all.”100
The first public move toward the new air force structure was the appointment, in April, of Robert Lovett as Assistant Secretary of War for Air.101 Lovett was already at work with Marshall and Air Corps leaders to explore the possibilities of change. In a conversation of 3 April Marshall and Lovett agreed that quasi-autonomy for air would be preferable to a sudden separation from the Army.
Marshall recognized that air officers had been “battered around in a maelstrom,” and that his own position was involved: “If I have to spend my time battling others, I am lost.” Marshall saw in Lovett someone who “will permit these fellows to work.”102 Lovett began by working with the Plans Division of the Air Corps on details of new organization charts. These moves were not known to the public, and meantime the crusade for radical change reached a new intensity on 29 April when Congressman James Scrugham of Nevada contended that the opposition to a separate air force came from “the dead hands of entrenched bureaucracy” and that the “hydra-headed air authority” caused both waste and weakness.”103
Despite recognition by top leaders of the need for reform, there was still vigorous disagreement within the War Department on what autonomy should mean. By 13 May the Air Corps had drafted a plan to unite all Army air units under a Chief of Aviation, but proposals for an air staff touched off a sharp debate.104 Marshall’s G-3 said that no new General Staff section was needed to handle air matters and that existing offices, working with “a small personal or secretarial staff” for the new air chief would be entirely adequate.105 A major conference at the War College on 13 June worked out a compromise, but neither airmen nor traditionalists were satisfied. General Brett felt that plans fell far short of the “reasonable autonomy” which had been promised and that there would be legal problems involved in creating new agencies to take over functions assigned to the Air Corps.106
The Army Air Forces emerged on 20 June 1941 from these compromises. Congress did not have to take action; rather, the changes were effected by a revision of Army Regulation 95-5, defining the War Department view of the status, function, and organization of its air arm.107 The new Chief of the Army Air Forces, who was also to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff for Air, was to coordinate the OCAC agencies and an Air Force Combat Command (AFCC) – the latter being a redesignation of the GHQ Air Force. An Air Council was provided as a policy board for periodic review of major aviation projects; it included the Assistant Secretary for Air, the Chief of AAF, the Chief of WPD, the commander of AFCC, and the Chief of the Air Corps. Merely to list these officials shows how badly divided the air organization still remained, but the provision of an air staff for the new Chief of the AAF represented a distinct
step forward. Aviation units still reported through two chains of command, with the AAF on the same echelon as GHQ. The Chief of the Air Corps continued to direct training and materiel procurement, but the structure of his office became more complex as new functions, such as ferrying, led to the creation of new commands or bureaus. The AFCC was the striking force, or tactical branch, controlling the four continental air forces and their subordinate bomber and interceptor commands. The air defense mission formerly assigned to GHQ Air Force was now given to the Chief, AAF,108 but was delegated to AFCC and its interceptor commands.
These changes of June left the air force as a subordinate division of the Army, but two actions in the summer of 1941 showed that forces outside the War Department were pushing the air commander to the very highest military level. With approval by the President on 10 July the Joint Army-Navy Board added to its membership the Deputy Chief of Staff for Air of the Army and the Chief of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, though their participation in the work of the board was limited to air matters.109 When the Atlantic conference of August 1941 was being planned, Harry Hopkins insisted that an American airman must be included to deal with issues the RAF might raise.110 By a little-noted transition General Arnold was taking his place as a junior member of the top military command.
The creation of the AAF in June 1941 had given the airmen only part of their three-point program: there was now an air staff, and a single commander of the air arm, but to achieve equal status with the ground forces a fundamental reconstitution of the War Department was required. General Marshall was not yet convinced that so drastic a step was wise. In September 1941, in a letter drafted for Stimson to send to a Senate committee, Marshall firmly opposed a separate air force because of the danger to unity of command. German success, Marshall thought, had come by “the subordination of air power to the supreme command of the armed forces.” He believed that the changes of June gave air autonomy in a frame of careful Army control: “Coordination and unity of command is obtained through the Chief of Staff, and organization of ‘Task Forces’ for training and combat operations, under GHQ.”111
The way for basic reform was finally opened by the need for resolving a critically confused division of authority in the highest Army command. Although on its activation in July 1940 GHQ had
been limited to supervision of training, the expectation was that it would eventually control troop deployment and combat operations, and by an order of 3 July 1941 Marshall made GHQ responsible for the command in potential theaters of operations – Iceland being one of the first assignments.112 The original concept of GHQ, as influenced by Pershing, had anticipated a single-theater war, but by 1941 the prospect that combat operations might not be limited to a single theater had become all too clear. Already the existence of GHQ served to complicate the exercise of the over-all authority of the War Department. Marshall administered some defense areas through WPD, and others through GHQ. The latter agency was caught in a cross fire: its chief concern was training, but it shared planning functions with WPD, supply matters with G-4 of the General Staff, and operational planning with the newly created air staff. By mid-August sharp conflicts led Marshall to convene a committee to study the issues in the larger context of ultimate Army functions.113 A complex “battle by memos” ensued, in which key officers of WPD sided privately with the air force view that GHQ should be eliminated. For the record, though, WPD deferred to Marshall’s desire to continue with a command post outside the War Department, and on 30 August recommended that GHQ be left substantially unchanged. Of more significance was a study made by Lt. Col. William K. Harrison of WPD, which apparently did not go to Marshall but which air force planners reviewed.114 Harrison proposed separate Zone of Interior commands for air, ground, and service forces, plus a command section inside the War Department. Here was the essence of the solution finally achieved, and it fitted in perfectly with the airmen’s desire for equality with ground forces. On 24 October Brig. Gen. Carl Spaatz, for the AAF, formally submitted a reorganization plan which incorporated these ideas, including abolition of GHQ, but the plan was unanimously opposed.115
By November 1941 the lack of clear channels of command had produced disturbing failures to follow through on orders given to defense areas. On 3 November, Marshall admitted that he had “the poorest command post in the Army and we must do something about it, although I do not yet know what we will do. ...”116 The AAF had very definite ideas about what should be done, and on 14 November General Arnold provided Marshall with a detailed proposal
which became the basis of final agreement: this converted GHQ into a ground force training command, grouped supply services under a service command, and called for a unified air command. The Chief of Staff, through a superior staff, would direct the entire Army effort.117 On 18 November, WPD concurred with the broad outline of the plan. General McNair had already indicated (21 October) that GHQ should be abolished if the existing conflicts could not be otherwise resolved. For the first time Marshall was ready to consider a command device other than GHQ, and on 25 November he expressed himself as “favorably impressed by the basic organization” of the Arnold plan. With the approval of Stimson, Marshall ordered WPD to develop detailed charts.118 Two weeks later came the Pearl Harbor attack, but this, while delaying action on proposed changes, served also to reinforce the conviction that a basic change was imperative.
The Munich crisis had awakened the Roosevelt administration to the growing significance of air power in world politics. The swift debacle in France had confirmed the need for a rapid build-up of America’s strength in the air. The attack on Pearl Harbor cleared the way for quick reform to give the Army’s air forces equality with its ground forces.