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Chapter 12: Allocation and Distribution of Aircraft

ALTHOUGH the United States produced almost 300,000 aircraft between 1 July 1940 and 31 August 1945, the demand for planes exceeded supply during the greater part of that period. Hence, the allocation of aircraft among the various claimants – of which the chief were the AAF, the U.S. Navy, Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R. – remained an acute problem throughout most of the war. Within the AAF itself there were also critical decisions to be made on the allocation of available aircraft among its many commands, though the decisions of higher authority on over-all strategy tended usually to govern the choice. And once the decision on allocation had been made, there remained the problem of delivery, a problem made difficult by shortages of shipping and by supply lines so elongated as literally to encircle the globe. It is with these two aspects of the logistical problem that the present chapter is concerned.


During 1939, when foreign and commercial orders often received priority over Air Corps claims, there had been no compelling reason for the establishment of special controls over the allocation of U.S.-produced aircraft. Such questions as arose were easily enough settled by such consultations as that which led to the Air Corps’ agreement in March 1940 to defer deliveries on its own orders in favor of British and French claims on American production.* The American defensive effort required time to get into high gear, and the urgency

* See above, pp. 302-3.

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of Air Corps needs was not so great as to preclude considering deferment of its orders as an actual military advantage which would give it later aircraft models. But the German conquest of western Europe in the late spring of 1940 radically altered the American strategic outlook. That only Great Britain stood now between Germany and the Atlantic approaches to North America was a fact which strengthened the argument for doing all that was possible to bolster Britain’s defenses. But at the same time, no responsible U.S. official could be certain of England’s ability to withstand further German assault, and this consideration argued for a greatly accelerated development of the United States own rearmament programs, among which the aircraft program stood first. Expansion of the aircraft industry itself had only begun, and plans for still larger expansion would require time for their implementation. The immediate demand for aircraft pressed hard upon existing facilities, and how to allocate the limited production most wisely became a most difficult and important problem.

As the British took over French contracts early in the summer of 1940 and prepared to place additional orders that would bring their total demand on U.S. production to some 14,000 planes, the Air Corps was fixing its requirements at 21,485 planes (including 2,844 undelivered on old orders), and the Navy planned procurement of 7,997 planes (including 941 undelivered on old orders). All purchasers desired the earliest possible delivery; hence, to avoid the disruptive and wasteful competition of unregulated purchases and deliveries, the War Department took the lead in bringing about an understanding among the three major agencies involved. At a meeting on 23 July 1940 representatives of the Air Corps, the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, and the British Purchasing Commission arrived at an agreement on allocations to be made through 1 April 1942. Deferring to the greater and more immediate need of the British, the Air Corps reduced its requirements from 21,485 to 12,884 planes, and the Navy scaled down its share to 6,208.1 These Air Corps and Navy concessions made it possible for the British to receive a larger allocation – 14,375 planes – for the same period.* The Air Corps expected that the 8,601 airplanes it had agreed to defer until after 1 April 1942 would be advanced models comparable to the best foreign ones.

* For the delivery schedule, see above, p. 267.

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The Joint Aircraft Committee, established in September 1940 as the chief agency for coordination of Anglo-American aircraft requirements, had its jurisdiction extended in January 1941 to include review of all foreign contracts. This committee, a combined Anglo-American agency,* was concerned more with the allocation of production resources than with that of completed aircraft. However, since production allocation determined what planes eventually came from the factories, JAC played an important part in regulating the final allocation of accepted aircraft. The ultimate power of decision lay at the highest political and military levels, and for the basic policy underlying allocation and deliveries of aircraft during 1940 and 1941, a policy of maximum aid to the British even at Air Corps and Navy expense, President Roosevelt himself was responsible. In November 1940 the President ruled that planes coming off the production lines should be divided 50–50 with the British. During 1940–41 the frequent deferment of American deliveries and allocation to the British of planes from Air Corps contracts delayed the fulfillment of the Air Corps’ own program.2

Passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941 firmly established the concept of an American production pool from which allocations would be made to the several claimants. Policies that would govern these allocations were clarified by American and British staff conversations held in Washington during the first three months of that year for the purpose of determining the common strategy to be followed “should the United States be compelled to resort to war” against Germany and her allies.† The Americans agreed to a further stretch-out of Air Corps expansion in order to meet increased British requirements during the coming year: in addition to the 14,375 planes agreed upon in July 1940, the British would receive 12,000 more aircraft, and, until such time as the United States might enter the war, the production resulting from new capacity. Actual deliveries would be governed by the ability of the recipients to “absorb material usefully, either for the equipment of operating units, or for reserves of such magnitude as may be agreed upon, according to Military circumstances.”3 The conferees adopted no definite schedules but confirmed the general principle that current military need might override all other considerations. To adjust to such

* For a discussion of its organization, see above, pp. 273-74.

† See Vol I, pp. 136-39.

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military contingencies, the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Staff, after coordination with the British Staff Mission in Washington, were responsible for advising the President on specific allocations.4 The Joint Aircraft Committee continued to serve as the coordinating agency, and through it AAF and British representatives shaped agreements for submission to higher authority. The work of the committee was of special importance to the AAF, not merely because the immediate interest of the AAF was so deeply involved but also because the committee had assumed responsibility, under the Defense Aid Control Office and later the Office of Lend-Lease Administration,* for cognizance over the production of most of the aircraft allocated to other powers. Thus, though the committee represented only the Anglo-American services, it also made necessary recommendations on the claims of the other Allies.5

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Russia became an additional claimant. The President proclaimed the Russian resistance to the German invaders vital to the security of the United States and directed that the U.S.S.R. be given top priority in allocation of materiel. In August, as a beginning, the United States promised the Russians forty P-40’s and five B-25’s; in October American and British representatives at Moscow, after conferences with Stalin and his staff, promised that each of their countries would deliver approximately 1,800 airplanes to the U.S.S.R. before 1 July 1942. A substantial portion of the British contribution would, of course, have to come from the planes allotted to it from United States production. This first Soviet protocol (dated 1 October 1941), like the three subsequently entered into by the United States, was regarded as a contract so binding as to leave no room for debate as to its possible revisal. There was a certain flexibility as to Anglo-American agreements, and the two powers possessed in the JAC an agency through which adjustments could be made by common agreement. But with Russia, relations were on a fundamentally different basis. The four protocols were negotiated on the highest political level, and they left the AAF no real choice but faithful administration of the responsibilities for execution assigned to it.6

These new demands on American production caused grave concern to AAF leaders over the actual and potential effect on the buildup

* This office, established in October 1941, succeeded the Defense Aid Control Office, which had been set up in May 1941.

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of its own forces. At the end of November 1941 the AAF had sixty-four operational groups, but only forty-seven of these were of combat type, the rest being troop carrier and observation groups. In other words, the goal of fifty-four combat groups set in June 1940 had yet to be attained, not to mention the 84-group program approved in March 1941. As of 30 September 1941 AAF combat planes suitable for use against a modern air force numbered 1,599. The 2,846 first-line combat planes on hand at the end of November, just on the eve of Pearl Harbor, included models which were at best obsolescent. Out of the total production for 1941 of 8,540 combat planes, the AAF received 2,919 or less than 35 per cent of the total, and this number included types like the B-34, A-29, A-30, and P-43 which proved of little utility in actual combat service. In contrast, the RAF received almost 50 per cent of the total production of combat types-4,211 planes.7 This division was in accord with established policy, and from the long-range viewpoint there can be little question that the policy was sound. Not only did the bolstering of British strength promise additional time for mobilization of the United States, but the emphasis placed on aid to nations actually fighting the Axis powers broadened the base of prewar industrial mobilization with results that gave the United States many advantages during the war years. It should be noted, moreover, that the nearly 6,000 training planes received during that year by the AAF were of more fundamental importance to its ultimate development than were combat aircraft.

Nevertheless, the AAF had cause for concern in the fall of 1941. The very emphasis which the RAF placed on heavy bombers promised conflict with the AAF’s ambition to equip itself for the strategic bombing campaign set forth in AWPD/1 of September 1941. This was also the time when plans for strengthening the defenses of the Philippines as a deterrent to Japanese aggression emphasized the early deployment of four heavy bombardment groups to that area, a deployment which the AAF as yet lacked the resources to perform fully.* Of more general importance, the whole situation in the Pacific carried a warning that the AAF might be involved in war at an earlier date than had been anticipated. In these circumstances, and with Russian claims on American production threatening new limitations on AAF expansion, it was only natural that Arnold

* See Vol I, pp. 176-85, 192.

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should have felt compelled to press the claims of U.S. defenses.

In September 1941 he proposed that an anti-Axis pool of aircraft be created to include all lend-lease planes, all production on earlier British contracts with American manufacturers, any other foreign contract production, and 15 per cent of combat planes produced for the AAF. He estimated that the pool would receive 66 per cent of all combat aircraft (excluding Navy planes) to be produced by 30 June 1942; out of an estimated total production of 14,802 combat planes, the pool would get 9,708 and the AAF 5,094. This last figure would permit the AAF to attain its minimum required strength of fifty-four combat groups, and upon attainment of that strength 30 per cent of the aircraft produced for the AAF could be diverted to the pool.8 The proposal, in short, was to fix some limit on foreign claims in order to insure early achievement by the AAF of the minimum goal set in the 54-group program. On the question of giving first claim on heavy bomber production to the equipment of four groups for the Philippines, the AAF had its way, but the President continued to support a view that the British should share the production thereafter.* And on the general question of allocations, the AAF had to be content with a lower figure for itself than had been hoped for in September. A schedule announced by Arnold on 29 October, with approval of the Chief of Staff, indicated that production through 30 June 1942 would be allocated as follows: the AAF, 4,189 combat planes; Great Britain, 6,634; the U.S.S.R., 1,835; China, 407; and other nations, 109.9

The immediate effect of Pearl Harbor was a drastic alteration of the balance of considerations theretofore governing aircraft allocations. The President agreed to Stimson’s request of 9 December that the War Department be permitted to take over planes produced for lend-lease and on British contracts in order to build the AAF up to its 54-group strength by 1 January 1942, and two days later Arnold could report that the AAF had taken over 1,100 planes originally intended for shipment to the RAF. But many of these were subsequently released to the British, and the final number retained was only about 500.10 It was evident that the organization and equipment of U.S. combat units had to proceed at a rate as rapid as the programs of recruitment, training, and production would permit. But it was also evident that the complex interrelationship of the several programs was such that for many months to come Allied forces more heavily engaged

* For fuller discussion of this and related issues, see Vol I, pp. 133-35.

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with the enemy would have claims on American production that could not safely be ignored. Upon striking a proper balance between the two classes of claims might depend the outcome of the war itself.

Fortunately, the American and British governments moved promptly to provide the necessary machinery for an effective collaboration on this and other problems. At the Anglo-American conferences in Washington which followed hard on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it was agreed that “the entire munitions resources” of the two countries should constitute a “common pool” for support of their respective armed services. A Munitions Assignments Board* was established in intimate association with the newly established Combined Chiefs of Staff as the agency through which agreement on allocations would be reached. Like the Combined Chiefs, the new board was a dual organization. In effect, there were two boards, one in Washington and another in London; but the two boards worked closely together, with the services of both countries represented in each case, and for practical purposes the board in Washington, with Harry Hopkins serving as its chairman, was the Munitions Assignments Board. The body functioned through three major subcommittees – for naval, air, and ground materiel respectively. The Munitions Assignments Committee (Air) was composed of American and British representatives under the chairmanship of a high-ranking AAF officer. Through subcommittees of its own, the Munitions Assignments Committee (Air) prepared for the board’s formal approval the assignments schedules for air materiel; the board’s decisions could be reversed by appeal to the CCS. As with JAC, the committee might exert a very real influence in the shaping of policy, but the power to decide rested at a higher level of authority.11

Questions involving the two U.S. services required the creation of no special machinery, since the newly developing agencies of the Joint Chiefs of Staff served well enough to work out necessary agreements. Except where Navy demands for Army-type planes met AAF resistance,† there were few problems, for the two services depended basically upon different types of planes, and the original agreement of 1940 as to the proportionate division of the President’s 50,000-plane

* See Vol I, pp. 256-57.

† The AAF particularly resisted Navy efforts to secure large numbers of land-based bombers, especially B-24’s and B-25A’s.

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program stood up well enough.* The division of airplane production agreed on for 1942 and 1943, using the President’s January 1942 target goals, was as follows.12

1942 1943
AAF 34,830 78,210
Navy 10,170 21,790
TOTAL 45,000 100,000

This was an agreement on the division of “futures” and, as such, was subject to frequent adjustment. The totals also included planes scheduled for lend-lease, most of which were of the Army type.

The greater part of the production scheduled for foreign use was allocated to the British and the Russians. Shipments to the Russians under the first protocol, signed in October 1941, fell into arrears almost immediately and were further delayed by the overriding priority asserted by the AAF in the weeks immediately following Pearl Harbor.† Thereafter, President Roosevelt consistently urged that the protocol commitments be met in full and on schedule, and only the most urgent considerations could justify deviations from the schedule. Nevertheless, the AAF steadily opposed the shipment of heavy bombers and scaled down the quantities of scarce transport planes made available. In the spring of 1942, for instance, with the strong support of General Marshall, Arnold succeeded in having the CCS reverse a decision of the Munitions Assignments Board to send twenty-nine transport planes to the Russians in May and June of 1942.13

Subsequent protocols were for fiscal years 1943, 1944, and 1945, during which time the United States offered and made good on delivery of more than 9,000 planes. Including the 1,800 planes for the period of the first protocol, 1 October 1941–30 June 1942, the total was close to 11,000. In addition, the United States shipped American-built planes to the U.S.S.R. on the British account. In all, the United States between 22 June 1941 and 20 September 1945 delivered to Russia, on its own and on the British account, almost 15,000 aircraft, of which all except 186 were AAF-type planes. P-39’s, P-40’s, P-63’s, and A-20’s comprised more than 80 per cent of the total.14

Although the successive Russian protocols constituted a first charge on American aircraft production during most of the war, the British

* See above, p. 265.

† See above, p. 403.

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remained the chief foreign recipient of United States planes.* Allocations of American aircraft production, therefore, became essentially an Anglo-American affair, with due, and sometimes overriding, consideration given to the requirements of the U.S.S.R., China, and other countries. In practice, the master allocations agreements were made at intervals (generally semiannually after 1942) between General Arnold and his staff on one side and ACM Sir Charles Portal and his staff on the other. These agreements were then submitted to the CCS for final approval. They were frequently amended in detail, as circumstances dictated, and the Munitions Assignments Committee (Air) carried out the work of allocating the completed planes as they came from the assembly line.

At the beginning of 1942 the British had been at war for more than two years and had trained and deployed large forces. They argued that forces in being which could be brought to bear against the Axis should have first priority in the allocation of munitions. The Americans, on the other hand, facing the task of training and equipping a force of 115 combat groups, which was the program adopted in January 1942 for fulfillment by the end of that year, desired to avoid obligating large quantities of materiel too far in advance. They feared also that the more experienced and better-organized British would come to dominate the military relationship between the two countries, leaving the American military services with less freedom of action than they wanted. Conferences between the two air services in Washington resulted in the Arnold-Portal agreement of 13 January 1942, specifying a month-by-month allocation of planes to the United Kingdom during 1942. From American production the British were to get 589 heavy bombers, 1,744 medium bombers, 2,745 light bombers, 4,050 pursuit planes, 402 observation planes, and 852 transports – a grand total of 10,382 planes exclusive of trainers.† The Munitions Assignments Board, by accepting the agreement as a guide to allocations, set a procedure that would be followed thereafter.15

Within less than two months Arnold concluded that the allocations to the British and Russians would not permit the AAF to equip the 115 combat groups it hoped to have by the end of 1942. He pointed out to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at every opportunity during ensuing months that the RAF maintained a 100 per cent reserve of aircraft

* See above, p. 352.

† See Vol I, p. 248n, for full table.

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while the AAF did not have enough planes to equip its programmed groups, that the many uncrated American planes in Great Britain showed that the RAF could not use all of the aircraft allotted to it, and that American operational commitments could not be carried out unless the AAF received a larger share of United States aircraft production. With these and other arguments he sought to secure adoption of the policy that U.S.-built planes wherever possible should be fought by American pilots.16 Plans then under discussion for an early offensive against the Germans and the adoption of a program for a preliminary build-up of U.S. air forces in the British Isles* lent support to his arguments.

After intense study by the War Department and the Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff, Arnold’s proposal went to the President for decision. On 19 May Roosevelt notified Churchill that it was evident that

under current arrangements the U.S. is going to have increasing trained air personnel in excess of air combat planes in sight for them to use. We are therefore anxious that every appropriate American-made aircraft be manned and fought by our own crews. Existing schedules of aircraft allocations do not permit us to do this. ... My thought is that the CCS, with your approval and mine, would determine the strength of aircraft to be maintained in the respective theaters of war.17

At a White House meeting with his military advisers on the following day the President affirmed his adherence to the principle that all “American built combat planes in all the various theaters of the world would in general be manned and operated by American personnel.” The chief exception to this rule would be Russia, where because of “geographic, logistic, and racial problems the American planes will in general be flown and maintained by Russians.”18

In a quick follow-up to the President’s message to Churchill, General Arnold and Rear Adm. John H. Towers, head of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, flew to London, where they met with British leaders during the last week of May. The resulting agreements were essentially a compromise of the British and American positions, but the British allocations were scaled down substantially. The final Arnold-Portal-Towers agreement,† formally signed in Washington on 21 June with AVM John C. Slessor acting for Portal, was approved

* See Vol I, pp. 563-66.

† Sometimes referred to as Arnold-Slessor-Towers agreement.

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by the JCS on 25 June and by the CCS on 2 July.19 British allocations from AAF production for the seven months from June through December 1942 were cut from almost 7,000 to a little more than 3,000 planes.* The cuts were especially heavy in the categories of planes most important to the AAF – heavy bombers and fighters – but the United States agreed to continue through 1943 the allocation of aircraft necessary to compensate for attrition in British squadrons equipped with American aircraft and operational on 1 April 1943. In return for the British concessions, the agreement specified the American air units to be assigned to British and combined theaters, thereby preventing any decline in air power which might result from the loss of plane deliveries to the British.

In the AAF view this agreement had established a principle which should govern all subsequent allocations for British forces. In support of its commitment to provide the crews for U.S.-built planes, the AAF devised a 273-group program, which was approved in the autumn of 1942; at that time the AAF planned for an additional allocation of only 2,125 combat aircraft to the British to cover replacement requirements for the last nine months of 1943 in British units fighting with American equipment. The British, however, requested 3,870 aircraft for 1943.20 To resolve differences of opinion arising as to the units covered by the previous agreement, the rates of attrition to be used, and other points, Sir Oliver Lyttelton, British Minister of Production, headed a delegation to Washington which conferred with the President and his advisers. The outcome, with reference to air materiel, was somewhat more generous to the RAF than the AAF had originally intended. Under the provisions of the new Arnold-Evill-McCain-Patterson agreement of December 1942,† the British were to receive 4,174 combat aircraft from AAF production during 1943 This allocation was based on an estimated production during 1943 of 59,000 combat aircraft. In addition, 600 C-47’s were tentatively allocated to the British, along with 437 U.S. Navy planes to the RAF and 1,901 to the Royal Navy. The United States would also send 1,800 aircraft to the Russians under the United Kingdom account. Should production exceed estimates, allocations were to be reviewed in May 1943.21

* Annexes A and B, giving details by type and the agreed assignments to the several theaters of American air units, are reproduced in Vol I, pp. 568n, 569n.

† In addition to Arnold, the signers were AM Douglas C. S. Evill, RAF; Rear Adm. John S. McCain, USN; and Rear Adm, Wilfrid R, Patterson, R.N.

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In the months which intervened before the adoption of another allocation agreement in July 1943, the rapid acceleration of American aircraft production promised to provide the AAF with all of the planes it could profitably use and possibly more. The result was a relaxation of the attitude that had governed previous negotiations. In April 1943 Arnold could advise his staff that a controlling principle on the question of allocations thereafter would be this: “Planes which cannot be absorbed in units by the United States within the period of a month will be given to other nations.” At the end of June he notified the President that in the current review of proposed 1944 allocations “we have proceeded on the assumption that we must meet every bid made by our Allies except where such actions: a. Require a modification in our production program. b. Encroach upon our own deployment and training program. c. Result in an obvious wastage of airplane resources.”22 Nonetheless, the preliminaries to the signing of the Arnold-McCain-Courtney-Portal agreement* early in July 1943 were, as usual, essentially “horse-trading” sessions which reconciled the British bids for aircraft and the AAF’s counteroffers. The total deliveries from AAF production of combat planes to the RAF for 1943 were revised and set at 4,187 (including 550 transports), and the allocation for the first half of 1944 was set at 3,221 planes (including 715 transports). The substantial increase for 1944 reflected higher production prospects as well as the approaching aircraft saturation of the AAF. From U.S. Navy production the RAF would get 1,254 planes during 1943 and 216 during the first half of 1944, and the Royal Navy was to get 1,778 planes. The agreement also stipulated the allocation to the AAF of 120 Mosquitoes and 350 Spitfires from British production for the period 1 June-31 December 1943.23

Before the next Anglo-American review in November 1943 of aircraft allocations, Arnold asked the President to establish as guiding principles that the AAF should have first priority on U.S. production for completion of its 273-group program and that aircraft should be allocated among other countries in proportion to their ability to use those aircraft in planned operations. Arnold also requested the President to approve as a fundamental rule the principle that commitments should be made with the understanding that all participants would share proportionately in any reduction which might be caused by actual production’s failing to meet that estimated. He pointed out that

* The British signers were ACM Sir Christopher L. Courtney and Rear Adm. Reginald H. Portal.

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the AAF would have received 1,555 more airplanes during 1943, based on 30 September 1943 estimates, if all nations had shared proportionately.24

The President appointed Arnold and the Navy’s Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air) as a special committee to negotiate an allocation agreement with the British to be based on these principles. The resulting Arnold-Courtney agreement was approved by the President and the CCS in February 1944. Out of its estimated production of 57,876 combat planes, the AAF agreed to provide 11,148 for lend-lease (including the British planes). After allocating planes to the U.S. Navy also, the AAF would have left an estimated 43,018 planes for its own use. These estimates were based on delivery of 90 per cent of the 1944 production schedule.25

Anglo-American allocations agreements concluded during 1944 and 1945 presented fewer problems than had those of preceding years. Both British and American aircraft production reached their highest levels during 1944, and both the RAF and the AAF attained their maximum aircraft strength. After the middle of the year, except in special cases of which the B-29 is the outstanding example, aircraft requirements were primarily for replacements rather than for initial equipment of units. The AAF anticipated, however, that the British and the Russians would probably request allocations of planes with which to equip units for participation in the war in the Pacific after the defeat of Germany. As early as April 1944 AAF leaders were concerned about this probability and how the impending surplus of aircraft production might affect the question. Arnold did not wish to provide the British with the types of bombers and fighters which would permit them to play an important role in the Pacific war, which had been the private preserve of the AAF and the U.S. Navy almost from its inception. Considerations other than service prestige were involved. The extension to the Pacific of the coalition type of warfare familiar in Europe would have created serious logistical problems, among which the provision of adequate bases perhaps ranked first. The advantages of a virtually unilateral direction of the war in the Pacific were obvious to AAF and Navy leaders, and they were reluctant to accept the disadvantages of large-scale British and Russian participation in the Pacific air and naval wars at such a late date.*

* This is not to imply that the Navy and the AAF saw no advantage in the participation of Russian land forces or objected to the assumption of responsibility by Commonwealth forces for clearing out the Netherlands East Indies.

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But the existence of a surplus of aircraft would make it difficult to deny British and Russian requests for planes. Accordingly, the AAF seriously considered cutting production schedules in order to eliminate indicated surpluses. Substantial production cutbacks did occur, beginning in the summer of 1944, but the motivation did not stem solely from this particular source.26

In order to strengthen further its control of air materiel in the period after the defeat of Germany, the AAF, through the JCS, secured Presidential approval of a corollary policy concerning lend-lease assignments to nations outside of the Western Hemisphere. Broadened by the JCS to include all munitions rather than only air materiel, the policy stated that

upon the defeat of Germany, assignment of Lend-Lease munitions will be limited to materials which are not available to the Allied Nations concerned and which are necessary to support that portion of the forces of such nations as, in the opinion of the U.S. JCS, can and will be profitably employed against Japan in furtherance of our agreed strategy.27

The July 1944 agreement between the British and Americans allocated 2,546 planes to the RAF for the second half of 1944 and 2,546 for the first half of 1945. As the identity of these figures suggests, it was policy now to provide replacement aircraft only. Further broadening their heretofore somewhat restricted freedom of action in dealing with foreign allocations, the U.S. chiefs of staff reserved the “right to modify allocations of aircraft as military considerations indicate the necessity for such action.”28

In November 1944 Arnold and ACM Sir Christopher L. Courtney once more reviewed the aircraft situation and agreed that the British would receive 2,280 combat and transport planes (chiefly B-24’s, P-51 ‘s, and C-47’s) from AAF production during the first half of 1945. They stipulated that an inventory should be made in January 1945 with a view to adjusting allocations for 1945. As a result of this inventory, the allocation to the RAF was cut from 528 B-24’s to 478 and from 785 P-51’s to 605.29 These were plane types for which the AAF had acute need at the time, particularly for use in the Pacific.

As the end of the European war approached, the American tendency was to reduce allocations still further in order to avoid unnecessary production of items no longer required for prosecution of the war. A survey of RAF and AAF aircraft strengths as of 1 January 1945 disclosed that the former had in its inventory 26,473 first-line combat planes and the AAF had 33,179. Since the unit-equipment

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first-line aircraft strengths were 12,488 for the AAF and 7,758 for the RAF, the latter obviously had a higher percentage of reserve strength. The War Department and the AAF felt that this disproportion of reserve strength in the RAF was based largely on the American planes which had been allocated to the RAF over the years, sometimes at the expense of the AAF’s expansion. Downward readjustments in British allocations were made during the first half of 1945, and the agreement in June for the second half of 1945 allotted only 654 aircraft to the RAF, 500 of which were used AT-6 trainers. In July the President directed that all lend-lease munitions issued thereafter be limited to those used in the war against Japan.30 The Japanese surrender in August brought to an end the program of defense aid whereby the United States had played such an important role in supplying its allies with military equipment.

Deliveries generally failed to meet allocation schedules throughout the war because production seldom came up to established goals, especially during the first two years. During 1943, for example, when 79,878 planes had been allocated, deliveries numbered only 68,138. The Russians received 100 per cent of their allocation of 3,431 planes while the AAF received a little more than 80 per cent of its allocation of 56,666 planes and the British almost 90 per cent of their allocation of 9,262.* Even during the first six months of 1945 total deliveries of AAF planes were some 2,500 less than allocations. Among the various recipients the AAF fared best this time, receiving more than 97 per cent of its allocation – 20,986 planes of the 21,621 ordered. The Russians received 94 per cent of their allocations and the British less than 70 per cent.31

Distribution of AAF Aircraft

The distribution of aircraft within the AAF eventually involved a complicated mechanism which reached from the topmost level of the War Department to the combat unit in the field. The establishment of priorities and the allocation of planes to commands was centered in AAF Headquarters, while the actual distribution was directed and carried out by the Air Service Command and the Air Transport Command. The overseas theaters of operations completed the chain, operating their own systems of allocation and distribution.

Prior to Pearl Harbor the Air Corps did not require an elaborate

* The remainder of the 79,878 planes went to the U.S. Navy or to countries other than those mentioned above.

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system for allocating and distributing aircraft, because the relatively small numbers of planes involved permitted effective control direct from OCAC. In July 1939, shortly after the 5,500-airplane program got under way, the Air Corps had 2,400 planes on hand. A year later, when the major expansion began, it had only 3,100 planes. By November 1941 aircraft strength had passed the 10,000 mark, but the most significant increase had been in trainers which at the time constituted almost 65 per cent of the total AAF strength. The number of planes delivered to the AAF for its own use between July 1940 and 31 December 1941 was 9,932, an average of little more than 550 per month. Of this number, 6,533 were trainers, 138 transports, 233 communications planes, and only 3,028 combat planes.32

The training planes presented only routine allocation problems because their limited capabilities automatically determined their assignment to training stations in the United States. Transport and communications planes, although in great demand, were few in number and their allocation to a limited number of units was also more or less automatic. But bombers and fighters were the cutting edge of the air force, and their distribution could well affect the security of the country. With only uncertain political and strategic guidance, the Air Corps sought to reconcile immediate demands for combat strength in being with the need to expand its strength to meet the greater demands of the future.

The allocation problem during 1940 and 1941 was essentially one of priorities. The small number of combat planes – an average of one or two deliveries per day during the second half of 1940 and seven or eight per day during 1941 – precluded establishment of an automatic system of allocation and supply of aircraft to combat units. The constantly changing situation as to size, number, and kinds of units, types of planes, and diversions of scheduled deliveries required frequent, almost continual, adjustments of priorities and deliveries. The problem was further complicated by the division of responsibility between the Air Corps and the GHQ Air Force. The latter, which controlled the combat units, sought to secure for itself the power to decide when and where the aircraft allocated to it should go, but since the air units in the overseas military departments – Panama, Hawaii, and the Philippines – were not under GHQ Air Force jurisdiction, and since the number of planes available for distribution was severely limited, the Air Corps argued successfully that the allocation function should remain under its control.33 General Arnold and his planners established

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priorities for equipping groups in accordance with strategic priorities determined by the War Department General Staff. The OCAC Plans Division, and occasionally a committee appointed for the purpose, usually drew up a statement of priorities which was accepted or modified by Arnold personally. Orders would then be issued to the Materiel Division which had responsibility for accepting planes at the factory and turning them over to the pilots sent by Air Corps units to deliver them to their destinations.34

Pearl Harbor produced feverish improvisations in deployment of combat units in response to a rapidly changing strategic and tactical situation. In the months immediately following 7 December 1941 aircraft allocations were in a constant state of flux, and the AAF found it extremely difficult to develop a stable system for allocating and distributing its resources. But the enormous demands of the air war produced a huge outpouring of planes from the factories which made mandatory a distribution machine dwarfing anything previously contemplated by the AAF.35

Beginning in 1942, the allocation and distribution of AAF aircraft was carried out within a context developed at the highest levels of direction of the war. Decisions on strategy by the heads of government, the CCS, and JCS were followed by deployment priorities set by the JCS. These priorities provided part of the framework within which the AAF determined the allocation of its aircraft resources.

At AAF Headquarters allocation remained centered in the A-3 staff section* under a variety of titles during the whole war. During the first two to two and a half years of the war the great need was for combat planes to equip new units; thereafter, most of the planes were allocated as replacements. On the basis of airplane – availability estimates made by the materiel staff section of the headquarters, A-3 would prepare allocation charts for periods as much as six months into the future. These charts would specify priorities for the various theaters and commands, showing the quantities of allocations by type and model of plane, and by sequence among recipients.† They were

* The Directorate of Military Requirements, which performed many A-3 functions, played a key role in allocations during 1942–43.

† In 1942 the AAF, with the agreement of the British, instituted a block allocation system in place of a fixed monthly allocation to recipients. This system allocated production in the quantity and in the order of approved allocation, by splitting the monthly quotas into blocks (ranging from 5 or 10 planes to 100) without regard to a month-end audit. Under this plan, if 100 B-25’s were to be allocated in a given month, the first 20 produced might be for the AAF, the next 15 for the RAF, the next 5 for China, the next 25 for the AAF and so on. This scheme was the most practicable one because it avoided the disproportion in deliveries which resulted from over- or underproduction during given months.

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subject to amendment as new priorities were determined in response to military needs.36

The distribution of aircraft required the combined efforts of three major commands-Materiel Command, Air Service Command, and Air Transport Command – under the general direction of AAF Headquarters. Once the detailed allocations to units had been determined, AAF Headquarters notified these commands. The Materiel Command issued detailed shipping instructions to its resident factory representatives, and the ATC Ferrying Division undertook to move such planes as would go by air. The ASC received planes at its depots for storage or modification, and directed all overseas shipments of aircraft by water. In July 1943 the Aircraft Distribution Office, directly under the supervision of AAF Headquarters, was established at Patterson Field as a central agency for controlling the movements of aircraft from the factories to their destinations and among air forces in the United States. Apart from the consolidation of functions resulting from the merger of the Air Service Command and the Materiel Command in the summer of 1994, there were no substantial changes in this system of aircraft distribution during the remainder of the war.37

The movement of more than 230,000 planes accepted by the AAF between July 1940 and August 1945 was one of the great logistical feats of the war. Most of these planes, probably two-thirds, were ferried to their destinations. The actual number of ferrying flights was considerably greater than the number of aircraft accepted at the factories since planes were often ferried more than once. Many were ferried initially from the factories to modification centers or storage depots in the United States, and subsequently to overseas destinations. Within the overseas theaters they usually made at least one ferrying flight. This was particularly true of replacement aircraft.

During 1940 and 1941 ferrying flights probably had not exceeded 20,000 planes (including those for the British), and almost all of these were within the continental United States.38 Overseas ferrying of planes was initiated by the British in 1940, when they began flying American-built bombers, including the two-engine Lockheed Hudson, across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Scotland. The AAF began ferrying some of its planes to overseas destinations in the late summer and fall of 1941, when first a squadron and later a group of heavy

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bombers threaded their way along the Pacific island chain to the Philippines.* But these were pioneering efforts, and the great majority of planes sent overseas during 1940 and 1941 went by water, crated and loaded in the holds of vessels.

In June 1942 responsibility for both domestic and foreign ferrying of aircraft was placed in the hands of the Air Transport Command. This command and its predecessors made 268,000 ferrying deliveries between January 1942 and August 1945, of which 219,000 were to domestic stations and 49,000 to active combat theaters. Approximately 20 per cent of the planes delivered to overseas destinations were lend-lease aircraft for foreign countries. The ATC provided crews for more than 20,000 planes ferried overseas while the remainder of the 49,000 were flown by their own crews. For the latter, the ATC generally provided lead crews for the longer overwater flights. More than 85 per cent of the planes ferried overseas were two- and four-engine bombers and transports, although a number of fighter planes were also delivered via the North and South Atlantic routes.† A total of 594 planes were lost in overseas delivery and 419 went down within the United States.39

The development of the overseas ferrying routes by the ATC permitted a greater and much more rapid deployment of American air power than would otherwise have been possible. Most of the medium and heavy bombers were flown to their overseas stations and, all told, more than half of all the planes deployed by the AAF in combat theaters. But this still left a large number, especially of fighter aircraft, to be delivered by water.‡ Despite the fact that water transport was used chiefly for delivery of the smaller models, the difficulties encountered

* See Vol I, pp. 178-82, 313-14.

† For a fuller discussion of ferrying of aircraft during 1941–42, see Vol I, Chapter 9. Vol. VII of this series will carry the Air Transport Command story through the end of the war.

‡ There is no satisfactory figure for total water shipments of aircraft by the AAF during World War II. Accurate statistics were not kept until early 1943. For the period 1 March 1943–31 August 1945 water shipments amounted to 39,109 planes. An informed but rough estimate places the average monthly shipment of planes by water during 1942 at approximately 240. If one projects this average through February 1943, and includes December 1941, the total would be 3,600 for the fifteen-month period and 42,709 for the whole war. This is, at best, an approximate total. The Statistical Review of the Army Service Forces for World War II lists 47,851 AAF planes as having been dispatched overseas by water between January 1942 and August 1945. It seems clear, at any rate, that the total figure is somewhere between 40 and 50 thousand.

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presented a major problem, whether measured in terms of the money, man-hours, or time devoted to the effort. The basic problem stemmed from the size and shape of the airplane itself. At best, whether crated or uncrated, it was bulky and difficult to handle, taking up a great amount of space above or below deck on the average freighter. With shipping space at such a premium during World War II, it became necessary to find or devise superior methods of transporting airplanes by water.

Before the war the AAF had considered developing vessels designed specially to carry assembled or partly assembled aircraft to overseas stations in order to increase the speed with which they could be made ready for combat on arrival. In 1940 the Air Corps explored the possibility of building a vessel similar to an aircraft carrier which would carry partly assembled planes both above and below deck and would have a catapult on its prow for launching the planes when they arrived overseas. Aircraft carriers were the most desirable vessels already in existence for carrying planes, but the Navy did not have enough for its own use, and the Air Corps feared that if it built any, the Navy would lay claim to them.40

As an immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor the United States was faced with a critical shortage of cargo shipping which persisted for much of the war period and seriously influenced strategy. Deployment of our own forces and materiel to overseas theaters in accordance with strategic plans, and delivery of arms and equipment to our allies, required an enormous increase in our shipping tonnage. Meanwhile, with the situation rendered still more critical by the German submarine campaign, it was necessary to establish a control of shipping resources which was fully as tight as any other resources control system established during the war.

Dry cargo vessels were the only ships available for movement of aircraft, and they could carry only five or six assembled or partly assembled planes on their decks. Most airplanes, therefore, had to be disassembled and crated for shipment. Crating and uncrating of aircraft were expensive and time-consuming. Deck-loaded aircraft, on the other hand, were easier to prepare for shipment, could be loaded and unloaded more easily, and could be made ready for combat more quickly than crated planes. Consequently, the AAF renewed its effort to find some method of shipment that would make deck-loading possible. The search was intensified as a result of increasing pressure on

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the AAF for construction of “knock-down” planes that could be more easily crated, for the adoption of such a device would have required a vast readjustment of production methods at great cost to production schedules.41

An AAF suggestion in August 1942 to carry fully assembled aircraft on barges to be towed behind other vessels could not be seriously entertained because convoys containing barges would have been easy targets for the aggressive German submarines. The Services of Supply recommended that the AAF ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make available to it a number of the escort carrier vessels being built for the Navy. Since the beginning of the war the AAF had been trying to get some of the Navy’s escort carriers to transport planes over-seas but had met with consistent refusal on the grounds that the Navy needed all of its carriers for combat or convoy operations. On certain special occasions, notably during the North African campaign, the Navy transported AAF planes by carrier to a combat theater and the planes were flown ashore from the flight deck of the vessel.42 But understandably the need had to be special in order to justify the diversion of carriers from their regular mission.

In January 1943 General Arnold requested the JCS to arrange for the Navy to release seven escort carriers, or two seatrains* and five escort carriers, to the AAF for transport of planes. Because of the Navy’s pressing need for carriers (the antisubmarine war was still at its height), the Joint Chiefs refused the request but indorsed the principle that AAF aircraft should be delivered deck-loaded, either partly or wholly assembled.43 The demands and uncertainties of combat operations prevented the Navy from meeting the AAF’s full requirements for carrier loadings both then and later, but some help came from the British Admiralty which agreed early in 1943 to permit escort carriers being delivered to it in the United Kingdom to carry AAF planes.44

Concurrently with its ceaseless efforts to secure additional sources of shipping for its smaller planes, the AAF explored all possibilities of flying its planes to their overseas stations. Since four-engine and many two-engine planes could make the necessary jumps, the critical problem was to move the fighters. During the summer of 1942 the pilots

* Seatrains were ships equipped with railroad tracks onto which railroad can could be loaded, thereby saving the great amount of time which went into unloading the can for original shipment and then discharging the cargo and loading railroad cars at destination.

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of the 1st and 14th Fighter Groups flew their two-engine P-38’s across the North Atlantic to England. A number of replacement P-38’s followed in their wake, and before the route was closed for the winter, 179 of 186 P-38’s taking off from U.S. bases for Britain had reached their destinations.* Early in 1943 about 50 P-38’s flew the South Atlantic to North Africa, and the AAF gave consideration to a proposal to ferry three to four thousand P-38’s annually over this route. The 356th Fighter Group flew its P-47’s across the North Atlantic to the Eighth Air Force in the United Kingdom in the summer of 1943, but this proved to be the last large overseas air movement by fighter planes, and few if any fighters were thereafter delivered to overseas destinations by air. The Allied success in breaking the back of the German submarine offensive by the summer of 1943, coupled with the tremendous production achievement of American shipyards, made available greater tonnages than had been anticipated. Moreover, the increasing use of tankers as carriers of fighter planes provided still more space. It was clear to the AAF by autumn 1943 that it was more economical and more desirable to ship fighter planes by water than to ferry them to overseas destinations. Once the required shipping was available, plans for flying fighters overseas were dropped.45

The successful conversion of tanker decks for transporting planes proved to be the most important development in providing aircraft shipping space. These vessels were available in large numbers and sailed frequently to every theater of operations. The potentialities of the tanker as a carrier of aircraft had long been recognized, and in February 1942 a shipment of A-20’s loaded on steel stands welded to the deck of a tanker had been sent to the Russians. During 1942 the AAF considered adoption of this method as the standard means for delivery of its planes, but the Services of Supply, the Office of the Chief of Transportation, the Navy, and aircraft manufacturers opposed it, maintaining that the planes would be seriously damaged in transit. The AAF persisted, however, and in December 1942 equipped a tanker with steel stands, loaded it with P-38’s, and dispatched it to the European theater. The experiment was successful enough to encourage more extensive use of this shipping method, and the AAF requested the War Shipping Administration to equip all tankers in the Atlantic with steel stands for carrying P-38’s.46 In April 1943 the JCS

* See Vol I, pp. 641-45.

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directed that the possible use of tanker decks, on which no cargo was being carried, be thoroughly explored.

But the use of steel stands did not prove to be the solution to deck-loading aircraft on tankers because it was necessary to provide a different stand for each type of aircraft, and if a tanker changed from carrying one type of aircraft to another, the stands had to be cut and rewelded to the deck. Accordingly, the War Shipping Administration experimented with superstructures built over the deck of the tanker and finally developed one known as the meccano deck. Partly assembled and processed aircraft were lashed on this deck which was essentially an openwork steel bridge at the level of the catwalk, extending the full length of the well deck from the forecastle to the poop. The immediate success of the meccano deck permitted the AAF to drop consideration of plans for ferrying fighter planes to overseas theaters. In June 1943 AAF Headquarters established the policy that all single-engine and all twin-engine fighter-type aircraft would be shipped by water “insofar as shipping space was available.”47

During 1943 deck-loading far surpassed crating as the chief method of transporting aircraft on shipboard. In December 1942 the AAF shipped 475 aircraft by water – 356 crated and 119 (all P-38’s) partly assembled and deck-loaded. A year later, in December 1943, 973 airplanes were shipped by water, of which 130 were crated and 843 partly assembled and deck-loaded. All fighter planes were deck-loaded, the crated aircraft being small liaison (L-4, L-5) and utility (UC-64, UC-78) planes. Tankers carried 60 per cent of the 843 partly assembled deck-loaded aircraft. Finally, between 1 March 1943 and 31 August 1945 tankers carried 17,718 out of a total of 39,000 planes shipped by water.48

In spite of this impressive record achieved by the tankers, they did not meet the AAF’s full need for assistance. Gasoline and oil, not aircraft, were the primary cargo of the tankers and determined their operations. Aircraft had to be discharged at ports where oil and gasoline were discharged, regardless of the facilities for unloading planes. Unloading of aircraft, which took longer than discharge of gasoline, interfered with the proper scheduling of tankers, and it became necessary at times to place restrictions on the number of tankers which could carry aircraft to certain areas, restrictions which disrupted the processing and scheduling of shipments by the AAF.49

Meanwhile, the AAF had been pursuing its goal of securing vessels whose only, or chief, function would be the transportation of aircraft.

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In April 1943 the Joint Chiefs had directed exploitation of every possible means of delivering assembled airplanes, and they had specifically indorsed a program for altering cargo vessels for use as carriers of airplanes. The AAF began during the summer of 1943 to press for conversion of C-3-type cargo vessels (Liberty ships) into carriers of airplanes to be known as ZEC-2’s. It proved impossible to make the ZEC a vessel capable of carrying fully assembled planes which could be flown ashore, but the AAF came to regard it as the most satisfactory carrier for aircraft. In January 1944 the first successful experiment in loading a ZEC-2 was made, and the AAF requested the War Shipping Administration to allocate twelve of the vessels for exclusive transportation of AAF aircraft and supplies. For the first time it became possible to load partly assembled fighter aircraft below deck.50

The AAF received eight ZEC-2’s in February 1944 and found them so satisfactory that in April it asked for nineteen more. The first ZEC-2 to carry a full load of aircraft discharged the planes in seventeen hours on arrival in the United Kingdom in February 1944, but conditions there were optimum; at ports where equipment and experienced personnel were limited, unloading took longer. In September the AAF initiated action for further modifying the vessels to permit underdeck storage of the larger fighters-P-38’s and P-47N’s – whose wing-spans were too great to pass through the existing hatches. Failure to utilize fully the holds of the ZEC-2’s might well have caused the vessels to be used for general cargo rather than exclusively as carriers of aircraft. The JCS approved the AAF request, and the latter was allocated sixteen of the nineteen ZEC’s it had requested in April, receiving the first only in February 1945 because of the redesign required. Twenty-four additional ZEC-5’s (the new designation of the modified ZEC-2’s) were to be prepared for delivery in the second half of 1945, but the end of the war put an end to the project. The ZEC’s lifted an average load of forty-two aircraft, as compared with approximately fifty-six for escort carriers and fourteen for tankers. Although ZEC’s did not begin operations until February 1944, they lifted 7.2 per cent of all aircraft shipped by water between 1 March 1943 and 31 August 1945, and more than 12 per cent of all partly assembled planes shipped during 1944–45.51

The chief problem encountered in the use of the deck-loading system was the damage to airplanes caused by corrosion and other hazards. The search for a method which would minimize the effects

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of salt spray, weather, and the high seas led eventually to development of special techniques for systematic preparation of planes for water shipment. These included partial disassembly of the aircraft and crating of detached parts, the use of protective devices and anticorrosion preparations on the engines and airframes, and the installation of special fittings and devices to be used in loading and lashing the planes.52

The search for protectives which would be equally effective under a variety of climatic conditions, ranging from the blistering heat and tropical rains of the South Pacific to the intense cold and ice of the North Atlantic went on throughout the war. Occasional complaints from overseas, especially the European and the China–Burma–India theaters, of the great amount of work required to clean up badly corroded planes spurred the search for better methods of preparing planes for water shipment.53 Although the ideal was never fully attained, the degree of success was more than sufficient to warrant continued use of deck-loading for shipment of aircraft.

During the first part of the war deck-loaded planes were covered with cosmoline, a heavy petroleum or grease, but its effectiveness was limited. With the initiation of large-scale shipment by tankers in 1943, there was a need for a more satisfactory anticorrosive, and paralketone was developed. This heavy petroleum derivative proved moderately successful, especially in cool and cold weather and was therefore especially useful in the Atlantic. Its chief deficiency was the difficulty encountered in removing it. Continued experimentation led to development of a plastic coating* which was first used in November 1943. Adopted for standard use in 1944, it remained the chief means of protecting deck-loaded planes from the elements for the remainder of the war. The chief advantage of the plastic coating was that it required only 3 to 4 man-hours to peel off, compared with 200 man-hours to remove paralketone. In spite of its decreased effectiveness as a protective device during winter weather, the plastic coating was used on more than 10,000 of the 14,000 processed aircraft shipped overseas during 1944.54

Processing and deck-loading aircraft was also more economical than crating them, according to a study made in March 1944. The cost of transporting and delivering the processed plane was only $890, compared with $1,357 for the crated plane. The processed plane also

* These plastics had a variety of trade names, including Eronol and Plastiphane.

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weighed less and required less floor space than the crated plane. It used more cubic footage, but since this was on deck rather than in the hold, it was less significant than the other factors.55

The Final Test

The final test of the AAF’s logistical system was the extent to which it provided the means with which to fight a global air war. The remarkable growth of the Army air arm’s combat strength after 1941 is suggested by the following table:56

Airplanes on Hand in AAF (by Major Type)

End of Year Total Heavy Bombers Medium and Light Bombers Fighters Reconnaissance Planes Transports Trainers Communications
1939 2,546 39 738 492 378 131 761 7
1940 3,961 92 639 625 404 124 2,069 8
1941 12,297 288 1,544 2,170 475 254 7,340 226
1942 33,304 2,079 3,757 5,303 468 1,857 17,044 2,796
1943 64,232 8,118 6,741 11,875 714 6,466 26,051 4,267
1944* 72,726 13,790 9,169 17,198 1,804 10,456 17,060 3,249
Aug. 1945 63,745 13,930 8,463 16,799 1,971 9,561 9,588 3,433

* In July 1944 the AAF reached its peak of 79,908 aircraft on hand.

The number of first-line combat airplanes on hand was, of course, much less than the total number of planes on hand.* Because more than half of the 1941 production of first-line combat planes went to our potential allies, chiefly the British, the number available for the AAF was small. First-line combat strength rose rapidly from 1,599 in September 1941 to 4,000 in December 1941, when the desperate need for planes caused the definition of first-line to be somewhat broadened and when the AAF took possession of a large number of planes awaiting shipment to the AAF. By the end of 1942 the number of first-line combat planes had grown to 10,885, increasing thereafter to 23,807 at the end of 1943 and to 33,179 at the end of 1944. At the end of August 1945, when the European war had been over almost four months, the AAF still had a first-line combat strength of 31,235 planes.57

But it was overseas strength which eventually determined the outcome of the air war, and here the AAF build-up was slow until well along in 1943 when the aircraft production and combat-crew training programs began to approach their peaks and the required shipping became available. The phenomenal build-up of American overseas strength from 1943 forward is indicated by the following table:–58

* First-line planes are those considered capable of performing the mission for which they were originally designed and thus are distinct from planes no longer capable of performing their original mission because of age or obsolescence.

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Overseas Combat Aircraft Strength of the AAF*

End of Month Total Combat Planes Overseas First-line Combat Planes Overseas
Nov. 1941 1,024 870
Dec. 1941 1,105 957
June 1942 1,998 1,902
Dec. 1942 4,798 4,695
June 1943 9,001 8,586
Dec. 1943 12,719 11,917
June 1944 20,814 19,342
Dec. 1944 22,876 19,892
Apr. 1945 24,122 21,752
Aug. 1945 17,315 15,100

* These figures include planes en route, so that effective strength on hand was actually somewhat less than shown in the table.

Still another measurement of the over-all achievement is provided by figures on the deployment of combat units overseas:59

AAF Combat Group Strength

End of Month Total Overseas*
December 1941 67 15
June 1942 114 29
December 1942 167 69
June 1943 234 103
December 1943 269† 135
June 1944 234 203
December 1944 242 214
April 1945 243 224
August 1945 213 155

* Since this figure includes groups en route, the actual number on hand was usually less than shown here.

† The peak number of combat groups organized was 269, but this includes many per units. In January 1944 the number was cut back to 218, rising thereafter to a maximum of 243 in 1945. Most of the increase was accounted for by new B-29 groups.

The biggest build-up of strength came during the first half of 1944 when sixty-eight combat groups moved to overseas theaters, most of them to the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces in the United Kingdom, where the invasion of western Europe would be mounted. The peak strength of 243 groups, of which 224 were in overseas theaters, was reached in April 1945. Thereafter both the total and overseas strength declined as the defeat of Germany reduced requirements for combat units.60