The war's outcome seems to hinge more and more on aviation. Over against the conservative element, who believe that the principle of balanced land, sea and air forces must be adhered to, the minority all-air-power group grows constantly more articulate.
This "pure air power" school contends that military aviation, given enough equipment, can put the enemy's production and his distribution out of action, and thereby defeat him without huge land forces of occupation.
They argue that if 1000 bombers can prostrate Cologne in one night, several thousand bombers could knock it out cold and for keeps in one night. And if this devastation is brought to bear on all of the enemy's production and communications centers, he must eventually fold.
The balanced power school answers back that the Nazis tried it on England, and it didn't work. Back comes the reply that German air power was then merely piddling as compared with what the United States and Britain can soon let go against the Reich.
It's easy to talk a thousand-plane raid, and on up to several thousand. Even the British government optimistically foretold 3000-plane jobs shortly after its two or three one-thousand plane sweeps. The patience of air enthusiasts will be tried more than it is now before such swarms of aviation can hit Europe regularly.
In large measure, those blows are being struck from the United States, with England as a springboard. We furnish much of the food, the oil, and other supplies necessary to the job, including some of the airplanes. Assume two thousand engines in one of those raids, each drinking 50 gal of gasoline an hour, for eight hours, and you find it costs a million gal of fuel alone to stage the show for one night. It's a burdensome job.
To this the air power men reply, of course, that if we stopped building and servicing just a moderate portion of ground and naval forces, there would be plenty of capacity to build an air force far beyond anything now contemplated. They insist that the war will be won that way in the end, and they urge that the course be set in that direction now, without further delay.
It seems unlikely that you will see any such abrupt move; if aviation takes over it will do so by steps. The reason is that the heads of the United Nations, even though many of them believe in autonomous aviation, will not take a chance on an experiment. They know they can slug it out with shot and bayonet and win, though at terrific cost. Another reason you won't see an early try at victory with air force is that the average human creature resists change, and, for better or worse, the Army and the Navy are just people.
Don't feel badly about this truth if it is one. Army and Navy are giving aviation more elbow room every day, and if air forces can keep on winning battles, as they have been, they will be given the wherewithal to win the war. For even the hardest crustacean, in a showdown, would rather lose his job than let the Nazis into his safe deposit box. (When Jerry lands he goes to the bank first.)
The recent agitation for conversion of shipyards to the production of big cargo planes should be viewed from these same premises. People, and that includes Congress, know that airplanes can get up with heavy loads and go over the top of everything in their way. They feel that aviation is the answer to sea ships wallowing along for weeks on end with vital cargo and then getting plugged by a submarine. When anybody of proved competence, like Messrs Kaiser and Higgins, offer to make their wish come true, the deal is on.
It would take a hard man indeed to stop a thing like that. Nelson and Army and Navy and the United Nations officials ordered it turned over and around for inspection. They had agreed, at this writing to give the shipbuilders a go at airplanes. We have already a vast air cargo program, and if the shipbuilders fail, it will still grow, correctly proportioned to other war needs.
Whether or not we get a flood of planes from shipyards, it is certain that air transport will take a considerable portion of. war traffic off the land and water into the air. Consolidation of the Air Force air ferrying and air transportation commands into a single group, the Air Transport Command, under Brig Gen Harold L George, presages an American airline system never before dreamed of. Several of our domestic airlines are being extended overseas. Our war airlines will reach into every populous area of the United Nations to Latin America, to North and South Africa, probably over the top of the world to Russia, across the Atlantic on even more routes than the six already operating.
In addition to ferrying all aircraft to our allies and to our own forces overseas, the Air Transport Command transports personnel, material and mail for all our war agencies except those served by the troop carrier units, and it is responsible for the control and maintenance of all route facilities of the Army throughout the world.
In August the airlines began taking delivery on new airplanes for operation on this expanded system. No official information is given, but it is understood that two- and four-engined Douglas transports will predominate.
Additional equipment does not mean more room on the airlines, although seats are still available for nearly all comers. The new priorities system, directed by Col Ray Ireland, formerly United Air Lines traffic manager, is getting ready to tighten down on priorities. There will be more space than ever, but when this country really plunges into the war, the movement of persons and goods will increase enormously, and much of the traffic will be expedited by air.
Peace will find the United States master of a web of airways around the world, equipped with planes, ground facilities and trained men, all ready to take on whatever is to be done. The British will have some lines operating, but practically all other former services will be subject to new negotiations under whatever treaties are made. Incidentally, competition for Pan American Airways will be a fait accompli, and it looks as if all these last ten years of conversation have been wasted. And, by the way, you might have seen press notices of persons having landed here on American Export Airlines, which serve as announcement that Export at last is in operation. A huge amount of war-end jockeying will be necessary to discontinue some routes and assign others.
Effect of this new-world air system on the life of the United States and other countries will be far-reaching and probably equal to almost anything you want to imagine.
Going back to war, during the past few weeks our aviation has moved up to all the battle fronts in the world. An article on page 102 in this issue gives a chronological account of this operation. Our forces are still small at nearly all points, because we have to divide them among so many places. But our production rate of over 4000 a month is taking care of that. One of the first results of action on these fronts will be new knowledge of needed changes in airplanes for different jobs in different places.
There are two examples. The editors have information that one type of plane used by the British is slow in retracting its wheels after take off. This is serious, because it cuts the speed where all depends on getting up quickly to meet the enemy. This fault is being remedied.
American bombers are built to carry big loads over long distances. But when these bombers are used on the short ranges of Europe, less of the load is fuel and more of it is bombs, and there was not enough room for all the bombs the plane could carry. A change had to be made. And the bombs have been made bigger recently, as you know, and that called for changes.
Moving up to the war fronts confirmed other information which is not nice to hear. We find that some of our friends and some of our enemies have better airplanes of some types than we have. If you add up in all categories, though, you find that we have more superior types than most other countries, and that we are second to no country in this regard. In the types in which we are inferior, we have completed testing and are going into production on models which, our officials believe, will be superior, at least, to all enemy equipment.
Saving your hide in military aviation is a hard grind. Several types of Allied and enemy planes, firstline equipment only a short time ago, no longer dare get in range of today's fighters. One of these is the Stuka which was terrorizing Europe only two years ago. Now it's like shooting fish in a barrel if you catch one. That goes for our old planes as well as the enemy's.
A foretaste of what could happen on all our coasts and borders came with an order from Lieut Gen Hugh Drum, commander of the First Army, stopping all military and civil aviation not necessary to the war effort, in a 200-mile strip of Atlantic seaboard from near the Canadian border to the Carolina capes. The ban includes civil and military training and all news photography and pleasure flying.
A point not to be overlooked by aviation people is the appointment of Admiral William D Leahy as chief of staff to the Commander in Chief. There is no precedent in our history for this setup. 1t means that the President, instead of delegating his powers to military men, is keeping it himself; that he personally will head up the strategy of this country and of all its associates.
Admiral Leahy is one of those balanced-power men we mentioned at the beginning of this report. He has supported military aviation, and his friends say he will give it full scope as part of the naval and ground forces. The President is a balanced-power man, too, and so you need not look for any immediate separate air force moves.
All of which is such serious business it seems to call for a joke, which is supplied by Paul Manning, NEA London Staff writer.
A Wellington bomber was returning from a German target. Over Holland the rear gunner's oxygen froze and he passed out. The ship ran into heavy AA fire, which tore into the bottom and wounded the second pilot. A moment later another charge of shrapnel set the Wellington's belly on fire. Most of the cloth on the fuselage burned, and the door had to be kicked out. Down to 1000 ft, they took another AA blast, which put the hydraulics out, and the wheels dropped away, taking part of the floor. A first sergeant stepped down and fell through the hole but hung onto the remaining spars till he could climb back in. At 200 ft, the rear gunner regained consciousness and reported a night fighter on their tail. The pilot got into a cloud bank. They passed over a coast at 150 ft, through fog and rain, no landing lights. Nearly out of gas, they made a slide landing in a barley field, and brought, up in front of a Dutch windmill. "My God, we're back in Holland.!" they groaned. But it was one of the few Dutch windmills in England.
This article was originally published in the September, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 9, pp 92-93, 318, 321.
The original article includes photos of the forward part of a Martin Mars and a flight of B-17Es.
Photos credited to International News, Boeing Aircraft.