Aviation's War Communique No 1

US-Jap Naval-Air Forces Battle Long-Range. Will Fight Mostly From Aircraft Carriers.

In war with Japan, United States air forces must maneuver against the enemy over a 7,000-mile area with water underneath. This means distances far greater than any extensively flown in the European war. But, fortunately, this country embarked on production of long-range equipment when Britain emerged from the defense stage and called for distance equipment to go after Germany and Italy.

Reliability and durability of equipment will count for much; fortunately, US air arms and air transport have concentrated on ruggedness and quality for years.

Points of defense and attack are not few but literally scores, on islands and Asiatic mainland. This means precision navigation, in which both Army and Navy excel. Pan American Airways' years of overseas experience have contributed much to the Services' skill in this art.

First impression from a look at the map of the Pacific (better begin right and get one) is that most of the fighting ground is on Japan's side of the midway. But a vast preponderance of these lands are Dutch and British, and the United States has its Philippine bases, ill-prepared though they are. Here is a list of distances you, will find useful; compiled for Aviation by the National Geographic Society.

WAKE to GUAM1510

Luzon is the northernmost island of the Philippines; Taongi is the nearest of the Japanese Marshall Islands to Hawaii; Oahu is the Hawaiian Island on which Pearl Harbor Naval base is situated; Attu is the westernmost point in the US Aleutian Islands, "bird-bill" of Alaska; Hokkaido is the northernmost big island of the Nipponese group; Somerset is the northernmost tip of Australia. These are some of the distances both US and Jap planes and plane carriers will have to contend with. A plane with a range of 4000 miles usually does not go on bombing missions farther than 1000, thus saving half its range for headwind and maneuvers. But several American planes can do substantially more than 4000 miles.

Aviation reported Japanese air power in its September, 1941 issue. All of the planes revealed in this survey were powered with air-cooled engines. So far as could be learned, Japan, while other powers were stepping up 2000-hp engines, had yet to fly a 1000-hp plane.

Only one airplane in the Jap air force, except the Me-109, is recorded as exceeding 300 mph; and it is a wheel-pants pursuit, as are several other models. Japan's air power is divided between their Army and Navy, with no separate command.

Nippon has an apparent production rate of about 250 planes a month, and its entire force is estimated at 3000 to 5000 first-line planes. Details are lacking, but it is known they are mostly undergunned.

Japan designs mostly from imported planes, and naturally she does not get anything new, even from her ally Germany. Italian aircraft have been modeled more than any others. The best of the Japanese planes in Hawaii, however, were Messerschmitt 109's which had been built in Japan.

Due to many distances too great for any airplanes, much of this war will be fought from carriers. Japan has seven, and the United States has seven. But American carriers have almost twice the plane capacity of the Jap ships, and then Britain's carriers will be in the balance against the little yellow men.

Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor began in a rain squall, exactly on the minute, according to a Jap commentator in Germany. Some of the planes carried bombs and others torpedoes. The commentator said it was the first time the Japanese had used torpedoes.

Success of the Pearl Harbor attack is attributed in Washington to two major causes: audacity and vigor of the onslaught, and complete surprise, due to a feeling in the Navy that the Gibraltar of the Pacific would not be approached, and due to the fact negotiations were going on in Washington, and duplicity was not expected. Practically all military observers acknowledged the raid as one of the best-executed of War II so far.

Army Air Forces officially report 20 Japanese airplanes shot down in the Pearl Harbor fracas, and it cites several young and green pilots for spectacular victories. Navy Secretary Knox puts the Jap losses at 41. The difference in reports is not accounted for.

The initial rate at which the Japs put Allied war ships out of the way, including two British battleships, must have put the Germans to shame, if indeed the Germans themselves did not help engineer and execute the attack. If they did, they will continue, and that is regarded as serious. However, Germany will have great difficulty in delivering many airplanes to Japan, even if she has them to spare. And the Japanese air force, weak as it is, must grow weaker with time if the Allies can shoot them down at a reasonable rate.

In putting Allied war ships out of action, the Japanese actually accomplished what the British did in their torpedo raid on Taranto: a navy power proved itself vulnerable to airplane attack. In other words, if warships are as vulnerable to air attack as initial Pacific action indicates, Japan is at a disadvantage against the superior air power of the United States.

Again, as they have for a generation, the admirals who order the battleships are scratching their heads over the now demonstrated fact, not the possibility, that their sea wagons can be sunk by planes. House Naval Affairs Committee Chairman Carl Vinson announced that no battleships would be included in a new expansion program. This was regarded by some observers as the ominous beginning of the end of heavy war ships. It was noted that battleships have done nothing in this war except shoot at each other, and sink. It should be remembered, however, until the final official report is written, that the Japanese used submarines at Pearl Harbor in addition to planes.

The Japanese asserted that they had destroyed 300 American planes in Hawaii and the Philippines during the first two or three days of action. This is no doubt an exaggerated figure. US Army and Navy said that losses were replaced almost at once. What happened at Pearl Harbor apparently was as discouraging as it was described in the newspapers. One bright spot appeared in the dark picture; 12 Boeing Fortresses (B-17) arrived in the midst of the raid, apparently because they had not been warned to turn back. They were trimmed for travel and not for a fight. One of them was shot down, but the other eleven scurried for outlying fields, and landed with a few minor scratches.

Pan American Airways announced that its ships and men on the Pacific are still "in harness" and implied that operations are going on by saying that commercial freight and passengers are no longer accepted, saving all the space for "urgent transport of men and materials" needed in the East.

It is a fair guess that PAA could not operate on its regular San Francisco-Manila route while any one of its stepping stone islands is rendered untenable by enemy action. Presumably flights would be made on alternate routes, most likely its present line south from Hawaii to New Zealand and from there over the Dutch islands to Singapore and Manila. Or, if that got too tough, you may suppose that all PAA traffic could go the other way around the world, via Miami and Brazil to Leopoldville on the Congo, to Egypt, and thence, over seven or eight thousand miles of route to be established, to Singapore and Manila.

Within 32 minutes of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the entire 20,000-mile Pan American system had been switched to a war basis under its long-rehearsed "Plan A." That means radio and lights out, secret schedules, and zig-zag flight.

PAA came off with the loss of one ship and no lives. An S-44 got into Hong Kong just in time to unload passengers and mail before a strong force of Jap aviation arrived and started diving. They saw poor old Myrtle and kept pitching until they hit her squarely. At Wake Island, an old Martin 130 was just ready to make a patrol trip at request of the Navy commander there, before departing westward, when a force of Japs came over. All their bombs missed the Martin, but she took a spray of machine gun bullets, which did no harm.

The airline announces business as usual on the Atlantic and South American systems. The British have been getting along all right between London and Lisbon, so far as is known. Indeed on the European front commercial planes seem to get into very little trouble, apparently under a tacit truce among the belligerents. In Asia the Japanese display no such chivalry. They have long forced PAA's China National Airways to fly in dark or storm. Remember what they did to the DC-3 on the ground, which flew away later with a DC-2 wing on one side!

Other evidence that Europe is fairly safe for transports is seen in the expressed willingness of American Export Airlines, which has filed for a route to Ireland, to fly into the combat zone.

Incidentally, rumors persisted that the Navy would take the three Sikorsky S-44s nearing completion for American Export. One report had the Administration turning the S-44s over to Pan American Airways but such information is practically useless.

Regardless of oversea airline operations, the mail and important goods and official passengers will go through. Bombers would carry them. Airworthiness of planes, and skill of pilots, in oversea operation is now well established. To stretch imagination, Navy could absorb Pan American and Export, with all their ships and skills.

To meet the added burden of fighting the Axis ourselves, as well as equipping others to fight, OPM immediately began to expand production, including airplanes. OPM Director William Knudsen said the heavy bomber output objective is raised from 500 a month to 1000 a month by late next year. All plants were asked to go on a 7-day week. No time was set because the throttle is wide open anyway. A White House call for an appropriation of half a billion dollars was in preparation, as this was written, for the Navy air arm. You can reasonably look for a special program of Navy patrol bombers. There is no use of rushing carrier-based planes because the carrier capacity is the limiting factor there.

On October 1, 1941, the Navy air arm had a total of 4535 planes of all kinds. This is probably about equal to, or greater than, the entire Japanese army and navy air power. Deliveries to the US Navy in the first four months of 1941 were 297, 183, 203, 273. These figures are about equal to the total monthly aircraft production of Japan. Of the total 996 Navy planes for those first four months, 600 were combat planes, and the rest were trainers. Navy's objective is 15,000 planes but this no longer means anything.

Navy is receiving only one aircraft carrier in 1941 — the Hornet, just commissioned, which brings the US total to eight. Eleven more are in the Navy program for completion in 1945, although this may be speeded up. If the French liner Normandie is converted, its 83,000 tons would equal three ordinary carriers. Some merchant ships are being built for conversion and many of them will carry autogiros, for their own lookout jobs. Probably some large liners of Allied countries will be taken over and converted to carriers.

For three or four years now, domestic airline people have speculated so much on what would happen when war came, that there was nothing new for them to chew on. Managements warned their personnel that government take-over of the airline system would be rumored, advised them to take aspirin and do their jobs. So far as anyone could see in the first weeks of hostilities, the airlines are a highly necessary gear in the war machine. And they are and have been teaming it so well lately that no one could think of any good reason for being taken over by Washington.

The Army did borrow ten transport planes from the airlines, to perform an "administrative mission" but said it would return the planes in a few days. The mission was not explained, but "administrative" means it was not tactical. As we have said before, the airlines will be subject to requisition of their equipment throughout the war. How much of this will be done no one can guess.

Being grounded was no surprise for the private flyers. Only they are not really grounded. Any pilot who can prove his citizenship and loyalty can get recertified and get back into the air.

Civil air patrol got itself organized just in time, with considerable hard work on the part of the Office of Civilian Defense, the Air Forces, National Aeronautic Association, and others. War Department has assigned Maj Gen John F Curry to the Office of Civilian Defense. Director Fiorello LaGuardia has appointed him National Commander of the Civil Air Patrol. Reed Landis, World War ace, is Aviation Aide to LaGuardia. Each state will be organized as a Wing of CAP with a Wing Commander and Executive Officer. Each state will be subdivided into groups, determined by the number of available planes and pilots in the state.

What to do. If you are a pilot and want to be assigned to CAP, get an application blank from a CAA office, a state aviation officer, or an airplane dealer, now or soon. File a fingerprint card with it, and send a 1½ in by 1½ in photo, Then, don't telephone Washington, and don't write to the government. And don't come to Washington; there are no rooms to be had. If you can't stand waiting, write to the National Aeronautic Association, Willard Hotel, Washington, DC.

CAP will enlist for the duration approximately 90,000 licensed pilots, 90,000 student pilots who will be licensed by Spring, and about 100,000 ground personnel. It will include something like 23,000 civil airplanes, and 2000 airports on which there are no military or scheduled air operations.

At this writing there had been some discussion about Army taking over the CAA Civil Pilot Training Program, but no definite word had been received.

The question whether Russia would permit the use of its air bases for bombing Japan was not settled as this went to press. Russia had declared common cause with the United States, but had not declared war, disliking to open up an additional front just yet. Litvinov, newly-arrived ambassador from the Soviet, would not say that use of bases would be denied. The United States probably wants bases on the Peninsula of Kamchatka, too.

It seemed more probable each day that unoccupied China's army, rising with new strength, would fight its way to occupation of some of the Chinese seaports, which then could be used by America as bombing and naval bases.

Protection of plants, especially aircraft, moved over from something for cranks to talk about to a reality. Troops were thrown around most plants, and anti-aircraft guns were set up. Factories on the West Coast struggled with blackout problems.

The President asked for an $18,000,000 Naval air base at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York.

The Civil Aeronautics Board announced a drastic curtailment of hearings on pending applications for route certificates.

Civil Aeronautics Administrator said that seven centers for training airport and airway traffic control operators are being established, as CAA prepares to take over additional airport control towers.

This article was originally published in the January, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 1, pp 52-53, 190.
The original article includes photos of a carrier deck full of planes (F4F and SBD), the carriers Saratoga and Lexington off Hawaii, and anti-aircraft guns at Oahu.
Photos credited to Wide World, Press Association.