AWAKENING of AIR POWER

American air power is expanding faster than any other air force. Although still spread too thin on world fighting fronts to deliver a knockout blow in any one campaign, America's airmen are striking offensively and men and equipment have been "tried by fire."

United States air power, consisting of men with skills and airplanes with qualities necessary to dominate the modern air enemy, has been growing more rapidly than any other air force. If it is not now, it soon will be superior to any other in numbers of. men and machines. But it is being dispersed throughout the world so thinly that so far control over the air, where it exists, is shared with other United Nations. That control does exist over Western Europe, over the Australian fighting line, and it seems to be near at hand in the Burma section. It is still contested over the Mediterranean.

While aviation seems unlikely to achieve a status separate from land and sea forces in the immediate future, it is, by virtue of its obvious dominance over many sea and land weapons, assuming actual preeminence in the public mind, and is accorded more and more "recognition" by the commands of other services, as evidenced by numerous instances of air officers' ascendency to high posts in all arms. The advocates of "pure air power" believe that the factories and the communications and the military works of an enemy with inferior air force can be reduced and the country subdued by means of overhead attack alone.

Whether or not military aviation can achieve such strategic self sufficiency, or somewhere near it, may be demonstrated in this war.

Probably the record of a recent period in United States air war tells a more accurate story than all the suppositions and analyses one can put together. This five-week demonstration of what the United States Army and Navy air forces will do when their man and machine power are doubled, trebled, or increased to whatever strength is necessary for a clean decision.

In the period between June 1 and the first week of July, Army Air Forces literally extended their operations around the world, striking offensively in most instances and operating on five continents and over the seas.

New fronts were opened for Army Air Forces operations under United States commanders, in Europe, North Africa, China, while forces already established in various areas were augmented.

The Army Air Forces aided in smashing at two enemy fleets while another was deflected from its objective by land-based American bombing and torpedo plane attacks. Operations were reported in the Aleutians, China, Burma, India, Australia, Malay Archipelago, North Africa, the Balkans, and Europe.

Jap invasion bases in the Southwest Pacific were repeatedly under American air attack.

Axis mechanized and motorized forces in North Africa were attacked.

Enemy troop transports were sunk in the Pacific.

A surprise raid was made by American bombers on Rumanian oil fields.

American air transports carried vast quantities of supplies urgently needed in various battle areas.

Every major Axis power — Germany, Japan, and Italy, felt American air power in a series of activities in which some victories of greatest importance were chalked in America's favor; others were spectacular raids, the preludes of heavier ones to come.

American airmen and airplanes proved superior in actual combat with enemy planes and pilots, consistently; Army Air Force gunners, pilots, bombardiers and ground crews, most of them seeing their first action in one or another of these engagements, proved their aggressive fighting qualities.

In no instance did American forces have a sufficient number of planes and trained personnel in any one of these to completely annihilate the enemy, after he had been dispersed or routed. The enemy was generally numerically superior.

The situation is being improved speedily through increased production and training programs.

The timetable for the most active five weeks in American military aviation history shows:

June 3 — Dutch Harbor, Unalaska. The North American continent was attacked from the air for the first time in its history, at 5:45 AM by approximately 20 Japanese bombers and carrier-based fighters; two other waves came over during the day, one to reconnoiter, the other to renew the attack. At least 6 enemy planes were destroyed.

Army planes retaliated quickly after the first alarm, sinking or damaging several Jap warships, and forcing the Jap task force to retreat to the western tip of the Aleutians, approximately 900 miles from Dutch Harbor.

Martin B-26 torpedo bombers were used effectively in this action. This and the Midway attack of June 4, marked the first time American land-based planes struck with torpedoes.

Japanese landings later at Attu and Kiska were kept off-balance by repeated Army Air Forces long-range bombing attacks, in which several Jap transports and warships were sunk and others severely damaged.

Successful attacks have been made on Jap installations on these islands, with the long-range battle growing in intensity.

June 3 — Midway. A few hours after the Dutch Harbor alarm, a Japanese invasion fleet of at least 14 troop and cargo ships, protected by battleships, cruisers and destroyers, was intercepted 570 miles west of Midway by 9 B-17s (Boeing Flying Fortresses).

Direct bomb hits were scored on two Jap battleships and two enemy transports, all burning when last seen. All American planes returned safe after a flight of 10 hr and 10 min.

June 4 — Midway. B-17s attacked another Japanese fleet, reported as a huge striking force consisting of battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers, 145 miles from Midway during the morning. During attack by our Army airplanes, two Jap carriers were crossed by patterns of bombs, were followed by two other attacks by smaller forces of B-17s later, in which a battleship and a burning carrier were hit.

Four Martin B-26s swept in at low altitudes through swarms of Jap Zero fighters to deliver torpedo attacks on Jap carriers and it is believed two hits were scored.

Two B-26s were lost; at least three Jap Zeros were destroyed. One B-26 returned to base with more than 500 shrapnel holes.

The score for the Army Air Force in this battle was: 3 carriers, 3 battleships, and 2 transports sunk or damaged severely during a two-day attack.

Navy bombers participated in the June 4 action, and scored hits on these and other Jap warships and other units of the Jap fleet.

More than 200 Jap bombers and fighters were destroyed on carriers or were unable to land on them, crashing at sea instead. United States bombers shot down several Zeros.

The first three flights of B-17s were by Lt Col Walter Sweeney, Jr, of San Francisco, son of Maj Gen Walter C Sweeney, commander of the California State Guard. Lt Col B E Allen led the final flight of B-17s on June 4. The torpedo attack by Martin B-26s was led by Capt James F Collins, Jr, Meridian, MS.

June 5-6 — Midway. Remnants of both Jap fleets were in full retreat. The Army Air Force was engaged in extensive mopping-up operations.

June 7 — Major General Clarence L Tinker, Army Air Force Commander of the Hawaiian Department was lost in action, leading a formation of heavy bombers from Midway to attack crippled enemy forces at Wake Island.

June 12 — Rumanian Oil Field Raid, A fleet of American Consolidated B-24s with a bomb load capacity of 4,000 lb and range of 3,000 miles made this raid. The total number taking part has not been disclosed. Four landed safely in Turkey after dropping all bombs on assigned targets. The planes landed with depleted gas supplies. Crews and planes were interned.

June 15 — Mediterranean. Attack on the Italian fleet which was trying to intercept a British convoy resulting in several units being damaged, and the warships fled without reaching the convoy. Army Air Forces planes shot down, en route to their North African base, a German Messeschmitt, and landed safely. No attacking airmen were injured. The operation was led by Maj Alfred F Kalberer, LaFayette, IN, a former commercial airline pilot.

June 18 — China. Formation of United States Army Bombardment command was announced. The command went into action July 1, destroying grounded enemy planes, river shipping and military installations at Hankow. The next day it struck at Nanchang; on July 4 it raided Canton. Japanese Zeroes were drawn from other operations in an effort to fight off these raids but their interference was characterized as having "little success."

June 20 — North Africa. The American Air Forces (Army) cooperated with RAF in bombing Bengasi, Rommel's chief supply port in Libya. American B-24s, flying with the RAF reached as far as Derna, 400 miles west of the present lines. American Air Forces also attacked Axis armored and mechanized columns in both day and night operations.

July 4 — Europe. Army Air action was initiated in Europe when six A-20 light bombers raided the continent, accompanied by a similar number of A-20's manned by the RAF, at more than 300 miles per hour over targets in German-occupied Holland — including airfields, hangars, administration buildings, and personnel. Pilots and crews of Nazi air units were caught in formation on the ground and machine gunned. Two American planes and one British failed to return.

July 6 — Australia. General MacArthur reported the United States' airplanes had destroyed or damaged approximately 284 Japanese planes compared to only 30 of the former, and Japanese raids in the area were reduced from 28 in April to 6 in June. Since April 21, American and Australian planes have made 125 raids to Japanese planes' 48. Between June 27 and July 6, Jap advance bases have been steadily under attack.

India — Raids were staged in June by Maj Gen Lewis H Brereton's command against Japanese forces in Burma, also airplanes in this command transported a tremendous volume of supplies to China.

American Army Air Forces has been on the offensive everywhere, and have compiled what is described as "an outstanding record during this brief period." American airmen, in the opinion of official quarters have established themselves as without superiors on any front. At Midway Japanese Zeros gave little trouble to B-17s, while Martin B-26s have stood combat tests well.

Europe — Maj Gen Carl A. Spaatz has been named commanding officer of Army Air Forces in Europe, with Brig Gen Ira C Eaker in command of bombardment groups. Gen Spaatz was named on July 7. He is former assistant to the chief of staff of the Air Force.

Mediterranean — Army bombers in North Africa, some of which participated in attacking the Italian fleet on June 15, are under Col Harry Arthur Halverson, of Boone, IA, and Army pilot for 24 years.

China — Brig Gen Claire L Chennault commanding Air Force, with Col Caleb V Haynes commanding the Army Air Force bombardment group. Col Haynes formerly commanded the Assam-Burma-China Ferrying Command. Col Robert L Scott commands a pursuit group there (China.)

Aleutians — Col William O Eareckson commands the bombardment group, and has personally flown on many action flights of his command. Capt John S Chennault, son of the general, commands an Army Air Force fighter unit in this area.

At Army Air Forces headquarters Maj Gen George E Stratemeyer is chief of staff succeeding Maj Gen Millard F Harmon, who remains in Washington on what was termed by the War Department as "an important assignment." Gen Stratemeyer formerly commanded the Southeastern Training Center, Maxwell Field, AL.

The Air Ferry Command was consolidated in June under Brig Gen Harold L George and is now called the Air Transport Command, which began functioning July 1.

The new organization comprises the Ferry Command, Cargo Division of Ferry Command personnel of the Air transportation priorities, formerly under the Transportation division, of the Service of Supplies.

Glider training has been greatly accelerated and expanded during June, to increase the effectiveness of air attack; primary and advanced training, with tactical centers for training tactical teams of pilots and infantry, infantry-artillery, and tanks, etc.

Gliders in cargo trains will augment the Army's air transport which is hauling 500 tons a week in this country in converted airline planes alone, and vast quantities in Army transports in Africa, Australia, and the Caribbean. Supplies being flown into China apparently are small in volume, and obviously not enough.

This article was originally published in the September, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 9, pp 102-103, 305-306, 309.
The PDF of this article includes photos of TBD, B-17E and B-25 and an aerial photo of battle action at Kiska.
Photos credited to US Navy, Wide World, Press Association; B-17 photo is not credited.