Aviation's War Communique No 4

Army command stripped for action, with Air Force attaining full status equivalent to combined ground forces. Billancourt raid start of belated Allied aerial offensive.

President Roosevelt and his general staff made one of the important tactical moves in this world war when they stripped the Army down for action. With one devastating order the Commander in Chief reduced it to its three fundamentals: Air Force, Ground Force, and Supply. Most of the tangled military bureaucracy and sacred cows of several generations were swept away with the stroke of a pen.

The autonomous commands of Infantry, Artillery, Armored Force, are abolished. No longer do these unit commands confer and agree what each will do. They get their orders direct from the Commanding General of the Ground Force. They are all coordinated by a single Command, like men on a chess board, with the single purpose of carrying out a mission. The Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, etc., still exist and it is proper to refer to them as such, but not as branches


Air Force, Ground Force, and Service of Supply appear to be equal in rank. They are autonomous, except that they are under a single command: the General Staff, headed by the President. These three divisions, like the various services of the Ground Force are geared together for one purpose: to prosecute successful war.

You can think of the new Army in still another way — as only two parts. One part is the fighting men — the ground troops and the air men. The other part is the supply service, which designs, procures, delivers, and maintains the supplies and weapons for the fighting men.

The logic of this is obvious. Compare it with a job in an operating room. The surgeon is the man at the front, with a staff of experts handing him the tools he wants when he wants them. In our new Army, the warriors will confer with the suppliers at odd times about how their tools work, and what changes should be made, but that is all. There is no overlap of authority.

Look at the effect of the reorganization on the Air Force. Since World War I, the air arm of the Army has been procuring its own planes. A few months ago the Air Corps was reorganized as the Army Air Force, with two divisions: the Combat Command, and the Air Corps. The Air Corps had charge of training, ferrying, personnel, intelligence, material. Thus, the Chief of the Air Force was responsible for the fighting, and procurement, and everything else.


The new set-up abolishes the Air Corps. As this was written it seemed almost certain that procurement of airplanes, including research and development, such as that done at Wright Field, plus maintenance, was being transferred to the Service of Supply, where the logic of the scheme seemed to indicate it belonged. This is indeed drastic reorganization — a housecleaning that removes the horsehair sofa from the attic, the high-wheeled bicycle from the cellar, the skeletons from the closets and the stuffed shirts from the parlor.

Likewise the Air Force Combat Command is abolished. This consisted of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Air Forces. You will recall that this command was the GHQ Air Force until the recent formation of the Army Air Force. Now, the Combat Command is out, and the various units report to, and receive their orders directly from, the Chief of the Air Force. A number of other commands: training, ferrying, etc, also report directly to the Chief of the Air Force. Thus, after growing up with the airplane as a fighting machine, General Arnold becomes one of the three commanders of the United States Army.

Reorganization does not mean that we have the "independent" air force which some sincere congressmen and others have been calling for. It is possible, even probable in the minds of some, that, as the versatility of war planes is developed, the air arm may take precedence over all others. But it becomes increasingly apparent that we are not to have a separate air power in this war. To say never, would be presumptuous. As near as can be determined, there is now no separate air command in the world except RAF. That independence of course is not complete. And even if it were, RAF has several failures chalked up against its brilliant successes.

While the Army Air Force, along with the Army, cast away its excess drag, events abroad indicated it was high time for just such a make-ready. American eyes were still on air action in the Far East, for it looks as if the Japs are our job.


Following close on the heels of the Army changes, a reorganized and streamlined Navy Command was announced. Again, emphasis was placed on the air arm by the appointment of Admiral Ernest J King as Chief of Operations. During the 1930's Admiral King held just about every command post in connection with naval aviation. He is one of the few high ranking officers qualifying as a naval aviator.

There is a close parallel between the new Navy staff organization and the Army set-up. Admiral King's administrative aids will consist of Rear Admiral F J Horne, in charge of planning, organization, and procurement; and Rear Admiral Russell Wilson, supervising details of operations at sea. This set-up eliminates the overlapping and division of commands that heretofore existed in the Navy High Command.


Nippon's air power figured boldly in the conquest of the East. But now, after four months of war, indications increase that Japanese success in the air is due largely to lack of opposition. They controlled the air in the Philippines, at Singapore, and in Java, because practically nobody else was in the air. This happy circumstance for the Sons of Heaven will taper off, though, as more and more B-17s and other Allied craft show up on the other side. Long-range bombers are even more important now than ever, since they will have to hit from Australia and Alaska. They can also attack from Russia, if the Japanese tangle with that country.


Observers had been wondering all winter what ever happened to the projected British air assault on Germany and occupied Europe. Now, it seems that the long winter nights they were counting on were accompanied by unflyable weather. This has been pretty much true with the Russians and Germans also. Their airplane losses have been far less than their production, and it doesn't take a columnist to predict that there'll be a hot time over many of those towns this spring.

The British turned in a grim sample of what can be done, at Billancourt near Paris, laying waste the great Renault motor and plane works, and killing an enormous number of persons. You may wonder why, if it's so easy to destroy factories, there are still any in Europe. The answer, reading from this distance, seems to be a surprise. The Germans just didn't expect it, because the Allies have tried so long to keep from offending France. Since Europe has so many important cities to defend, against Britain's few, air surprise may work against the Nazis again and again. Superiority in the air, by either side, would accomplish the same devastating result as that at Billancourt.


It still seems unlikely, with the Russians getting closer and in better bombing range of Germany, that the Germans will ever again muster enough air power to rip England apart as they did before. Chances are that Germany will be heavily attacked by air from both fronts this summer, and she will have to split her air forces accordingly.

Incidentally, the raid on Billancourt was a hedgehopping job. The planes went down and laid their eggs right on the spot. This apparently was true also of MacArthur's little but destructive attack on Jap shipping, with small bombs lugged in P-40's.


The sinking of a Jap battleship by Colin Kelly's air crew is old now, but it's not too late to clear up a popular misunderstanding of it. Most people thought Kelly flew a torpedo plane, against the ship's fire. He didn't. A member of the crew has been permitted to tell the story. The crew of eight or ten, in a four-engined bomber, spotted the ship, a short flight off Luzon, and, after looking things over, decided to let go on her. They made a run from a low altitude, seemingly about 10,000 feet, and dropped all three of their big bombs at once. One of them hit the deck, and the other two straddled the ship. It was a bombardier's dream. Then some Jap pursuits shot the bomber up. It went into a scud of cloud, disintegrating. Kelly ordered his men out. staying with his ship to the last. Apparently he was unable to get clear due to the violent movement of the crippled plane.

This article was originally published in the April, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 4, pp 52-53, 199.
The original article includes portraits of 4 senior officers — three Army and one Navy — mentioned in the article, British paratroopers forming up next to a Whitley, and a paratrooper armed with a BREN gun.
British photos credited to Press Association; officer portraits not credited.