Independent in thought and action, Cy Caldwell has long been a vital force in aviation. Writer, lecturer and radio commentator, his own years oi experience, daring back to combat flying in World War I, guide his incisive and critical analyses of today's war in the air. Canadian-born, but an American citizen since 1929, Cy now is 50 years old and lives at Island Park, Long Island, NY Ed.
The people of the United States must wake up and face facts. We must realize that we are in the most decisive war in the history of the world, a war that will decide the world's destiny for possibly hundreds of years to come.
This is not merely a war between conflicting imperialisms. It is far more than that. It is a world revolution; it is ruthless tyranny imposed upon the peoples of the world: the peoples of Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as upon the peoples of nations those despotic powers already have conquered and now hold in subjection. If these despotic powers at last overwhelm the remaining free nations, if they then deprive them of military force and seize the war industries of those nations, the conquerors, by retaining to themselves the sole right to manufacture the weapons of war, will be able to enforce a despotism that will rule the world for centuries.
We are in the war. But we did not go into it boldly, taking a reasoned decision to go forth and fight these forces of oppression. On the contrary, we helped Britain, China, Russia to fight a war that should have been our war from its start; we supplied them with the weapons of war, even paying for them ourselves under the lend-lease act, under the mistaken idea that we could hire others to do our fighting for us.
With such a muddled peace-war national psychology, it is not surprising that we did not enter the war until we were stabbed in the back by Japan, slapped in the face by Germany's war declaration. We had tried to buy off this war though history tells us that no nation ever bought off a war or a revolution.
Thus, hampered by our reluctance to fight, lulled to a sense of security and complacency by our mistaken wishful thinking and underrating the power, the resourcefulness and the audacity of one of our enemies we have lost every one of the opening moves of this war. If we continue as we have begun, if we suffer a series of defeats and retreats, we may lose the war.
That is not defeatist thinking. It is an honest facing of realities. The sooner we realize that we can lose this war, the sooner will we take the stern measures necessary to win it.
It is my purpose to comment critically upon the opening moves of the war in the Pacific, with special reference to the vital part played by Japanese aviation and the pathetically small part played by our own numerically inferior air forces.
It may fairly be asked: by what right and by what authority does this civilian speak his mind and dare to criticize the actions or rather lack of action of the responsible military authorities? The question is answered by Louis A Sigaud, former lieutenant colonel, Military Intelligence Reserve, US Army, in his book, Douhet and Aerial Warfare:
"War is no longer," he says, "the sole concern of military forces. It is a struggle in which all the resources of the nation are involved. There are no longer combatants and noncombatants. There are, in effect, no longer any civilians. When war becomes so closely the concern of everyone, the problem of national military doctrine or policy becomes the problem of every individual. It is not exclusively a question of purely military competence. As Douhet has said, "All citizens realize they are belligerents, and all take part in the war which is no longer a matter of indifference to anyone."
Secrecy of necessity cloaks the grand strategy of a nation at war. No citizen expects to be told by his Government what moves are in progress, for this information would be invaluable to the enemy. However, when the strategical plan of a campaign, or a part of it, has been carried out to end in disaster, then the citizen of a democracy has every right to study the campaign and come to his own conclusions. Such inquiring and sometimes bitterly complaining critics are often brushed aside as "armchair strategists," markedly inferior to professional soldiers who have made a lifelong study of war, and who hence may be expected to know far more about it than the civilian, even if he served as a soldier himself and also spent much time studying war.
But if professional soldiers, assisted or hampered by professional politicians, know so much about war then why, in the name of common sense, do so many of them make such a ghastly mess of it when the fighting starts?
Why did the French and English general staffs so grossly underrate the devastating power of the German army and air force? Why did they fail to see in advance the coordination of mechanized armies and air forces, which resulted in knifing their armies into impotence? Why did Goering and his air staff so completely misjudge the fighting ability of the RAF and the stubborn strength of the English people to endure bombing? Why did Hitler and his general staff make such a bad guess about the supposedly dreamy and incompetent Russians, and pronounce them utterly defeated three months ago? Why did the British first smash the Italians in Libya, then underestimate the daring of the Germans in putting an expedition into Africa? Then, in turn, why didn't the Germans foresee the difficulties of supplying that force, against British naval and air opposition? And why didn't the British, with the submarine experience of the last war before them, have a force of warships adequate to convoy supplies to England, instead of being so weak that shipping losses rose to 5,000,000 tons a year?
These few examples of misjudgment, lack of intelligent planning and preparation and general inability to foresee probable events could be expanded at great length, piling up proof that while there are experts in various phases of warfare, there seem to be no experts on war, a science so complex that its very immensity baffles its most earnest practitioners. Napoleon, who undoubtedly knew as much about war as anyone, came a cropper on the Russian army and the Russian winter climate.
So, for that matter, did Hitler. It is indeed cheering, in our own muddled and confused national state of mind, to recollect that two of the most efficient war-makers of all time tripped over a thermometer. It assures us that no conqueror is unconquerable, that no early disaster is irretrievable. But it should warn us to profit by the lessons of experience, particularly the air experience of this war, which seems to have been wasted upon our responsible authorities, military or political, or both together, asleep at the switch.
As this is written Manila has fallen, Corregidor still is in our possession, denying the Japs a fleet base. Gen Douglas MacArthur's army, obviously ill-equipped with tanks and as obviously lacking any effective air support, is fighting a desperate and what appears to be a losing battle. It seems clear that only a miracle can save the Philippines: a miracle of transportation of men, munitions, airplanes, tanks and the thousands of tons of supplies that such a force needs and across 10,000 miles of sea, in vulnerable transports and supply ships convoyed by our Navy, against the opposition of a possibly or probably more powerful Japanese fleet, assisted by land-based Japanese aviation, already in the Philippines, already based in the Japanese mandated islands which flank our route to Singapore.
While long-range bombers can be flown to the Philippines, the gasoline and bombs and ammunition and the facilities to operate them must go by sea. This war in the Pacific is primarily a naval and land war due to lack of intelligent planning. It should have been chiefly a naval and air war, with special emphasis on land-based (as distinct from carrier- based) aviation. But the evidence of the Japanese bombers flying at will over the Philippines, now with little or no interference from our pursuits, shows in unmistakable terms that our air power in those islands is almost nonexistent. Unopposed Japanese planes have ruthlessly bombed Manila; they have smashed bases and shipping; they have covered the landings of their troops swarming up the beaches to attack the American and Filipino forces and drive them into the mountains. None of this could have been effected if we had possessed an adequate air force in the Philippines.
The defense of the Philippines should have been conceived along this basic strategy no secret but a strategy that has been discussed in Army Air Corps circles for many years past at least 10 years, to my knowledge: The defense of those distant islands must depend primarily upon our ability to supply them with the weapons of war, and to keep them supplied, for they make nothing of their own and cannot of themselves re- place the losses of war. This means naval forces strong enough to convoy those supplies against the expected opposition of a Japanese fleet, plus the opposition of Japanese land-based bombers from Formosa or the China coast and also carrier-based Jap aviation.
Against such expected opposition, naval and air, it should be obvious and was obvious to many Air Force officers if not to the General Staff that our Navy alone, with its air arm, would not and could not be sufficient. What was needed, therefore, was our own land-based aviation in the islands themselves and not on a few air bases that conceivably could be bombed to destruction, but spread out and dispersed over many war-operational flying fields. The numbers of bases and the numbers of planes needed for the defense of the Philippines, I shall not try to estimate, for factors not within my knowledge enter the problem. But ordinary common sense should have dictated that enough air power should have been in the islands, not only recently but for many years past, adequately to defend them. And if, as the war went on, the enemy, nearer to his source of supply by many thousands of miles, should at last have managed to overwhelm our air defenses by the use of superior numbers, we at least would have made him pay dearly for his gains. In fact, we might so have weakened him even though he won in that theater that his farther advance to the south, to Malaya and Singapore and the Dutch Indies, might have been long delayed, or even held off until the Japanese nation fell victim to exhaustion of its resources and be forced to give up the struggle.
Such a strategical conception involves no strain whatever upon the military and political planning minds of our nation, for every bit of it is time-honored Air Forces thinking, its soundness amply proven by the experience of the British during the past year and a half in the defense of Britain. Like the Philippines, England, Scotland and Ireland are islands, separated from their powerful enemy on the continent of Europe only by a narrow stretch of water, 22 miles across at its narrowest part, little more than a hundred miles at its widest. Surely there is an ideal condition for an invasion by sea, supported by nearby land-based German air power. Yet, with the British Expeditionary Force evacuated from France with the loss of all of its equipment, with only a partly trained home defense force standing guard in England, the huge German army found it inexpedient to attempt invasion though their shipping and barges could have got across the Channel in the darkness of a single night, unless they were attacked and sunk en route.
Why didn't the Germans attempt that invasion any time during the past year and a half? Because the German air force never managed to wipe out the powerful RAF of Great Britain and never managed to attack and destroy enough British warships to render the attempt other than an extremely hazardous and doubtful one. To a large extent the existence of the British Home Fleet, but to a far larger extent the magnificent fighting qualities of the vastly outnumbered RAF, is responsible for the failure of the German-planned invasion to come off. Incidentally, permit me to hazard the opinion that when and if Hitler finally determines to risk invasion of Britain, his first objective will be an invasion of Ireland by parachute troops, airborne troops and tanks and armored cars and supplies carried in large gliders towed by transports and bombers. Ireland, with its small defense force, bears an ominous resemblance to Crete or Norway. In the hands of an enemy with a powerful air force, it will prove an effective stopper to the already narrow bottleneck through which supplies from the Americas, of food and munitions, now pour into Britain.
If the Philippine Islands had been protected by an American air force of any strength, the task of the Japanese invaders would have been far more difficult, far more hazardous, than a German invasion of England though less difficult than a German air invasion of Ireland. Instead of crossing a narrow channel during a single night, the fleets of Japanese transports, numbering in all nearly a hundred ships, exclusive of landing barges and motor boats, had to come 300 miles or more from Formosa, nearest Japanese island; much farther from many other bases. An efficient American air force, had it been in existence in the Philippines, could have taken a costly toll of these vessels while they were yet far distant; could have rained destruction upon them when survivors of the journey reached the beachheads. Dive bombers could have made a shambles of those transports and of the landing barges, precipitating men and guns and tanks into the sea and preventing the landing of more than a few scattered and thoroughly disheartened groups, easy victims for our Army. Against the opposition of a strong American air force not thousands of planes, but perhaps as few as 500 bombers and 200 pursuits, though I'm guessing, it would seem to be utterly impossible for the Jap invasion to have succeeded. All of this, I assert, could have been foreseen and should have been foreseen after the lessons of British-German non-invasion experience.
Now the Japanese are on the islands with their own air force, in what numbers we are not told. Naturally those numbers will be reinforced. The American air opposition that the Japanese navy and transports and air force should have faced, and knew to be practically nonexistent, has been replaced by Japanese air forces. And it is the Japs who now enjoy the military advantages that we should have enjoyed for at least the last five years during which Japan demonstrated her intention of unlimited expansion. It may be asserted that by our failure to assess air power at its real value we have made the Japanese a present of the Philippines, when we easily might have held them, or made the cost of their taking excessively high.
Now, although for many years and especially since that great American air strategist, Gen Billy Mitchell died I have been urging the creation of a distinct American Air Force, in addition to the Navy and Army air forces that work in close cooperation with those services, I feel that in the turmoil of a great war nothing should be done to disrupt our two functioning air organizations, but that every effort should be made to give increasing power to those experienced airmen of the Army and Navy and take it away from slumbering admirals and generals, who all these years have been so indifferent to the growing importance of air power that they have not considered it of interest even to learn to fly.
Had we possessed an independent air force, in addition to aviation that properly belongs to the Fleet or the Army, I feel that the disaster in the Philippines would have been avoided. For there, more even than in continental United States, was the need for a strong air force to oppose an enemy who could fly over our Navy, fly over our small Army and win command of the air. Our airmen could see that our admirals and generals in high places evidently could not unless they asked for adequate air protection and were denied it by political authority.
We must remember that officers in command of our armed forces do not always get what they ask for. Political authority outranks military authority; We have long pursued a political policy of appeasing, in fact until last summer, of aiding the Japs and aiding the Chinese at the same time, an odd contradiction of policy. Perhaps it was considered inexpedient to base a large air force in the islands for fear of annoying the Japs. But that policy was a futile one, for the Japs have been annoyed with us for a quarter of a century. Whatever the reason and whose ever the blame, this fact stares us in the face: Political expediency or military ineptitude, which failed to appraise correctly the vital need for air power in the Philippines, has brought bitter defeat in the opening moves of this war.
The road to victory will be a hard one and a long one. To paraphrase General Forrest, the victory at last may be won by those who get there fustest with the mostest airplanes. So much, at least, our enemy seems to have demonstrated to us in the Philippines. May we, in good time, confirm that in Tokyo.
This article was originally published in the March, 1942, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 30, no 3, pp 41, 80, 82, 84.
The original article includes a portrait of the author. Photo is not credited.