The "busy signal at the War Department, at the War Production Board and the Navy makes one curse but reveals the barometric pressure of work here. Mighty exasperating when one hears the connection all right and then after hearing the number ringing for some 60 seconds, on comes the "buzz-buzz." If that buzz-buzz would only come at once to indicate the line was busy, it would not be so bad. But with 250,000 calls per day, if 20 per cent of them waste one minute per call, 833 hours are lost here daily in this one, seemingly unimportant, manner.
Most readers appreciate that foreign pilots who have flown the Army P-47 Thunderbolt are keen about it. Some of them in their enthusiasm claim it is the best fighter in the world. The Thunderbolt must be good, for here are some of the data officially released on the best British fighter. It is the Hawker Typhoon created by Sidney Camm, who gave the RAF its Hurricane, Fury and the Hart, each supreme in its day and class. The Typhoon is a compact low-wing single-seater equipped with a Napier Sabre 24-cylinder H-type engine. The Sabre is one of the world's most efficient proven (in production) engines. Its efficiency is obtained by a high rpm rate and high brake mean effective pressure developing 2,350 hp for takeoff and 1,800 hp at rated altitude. The plane travels more than 400 mph top but its greatest asset is its high altitude performance and speed of climb and dive. The RAF officers take pride in pointing out that the Sabre develops more power than the engine which pulls the celebrated London to Edinburgh train, Royal Scot (exhibited at the World's Fair, New York, two years ago). Its armament would make even a tank camouflage itself green with envy. If our Thunderbolt is better, it sure is some ship!
Your correspondent has an extra bedroom in his office suite and has been fortunate in being able to save officers from a park bench on occasions when a hotel room was impossible to locate. Already from the 10 expeditionary forces mentioned by the commander-in-chief, postcards are beginning to arrive from some of these guests. This surely is a globular war!
It won't be necessary for the advocates of a separate air force to lobby any more. With six billion dollars for the Navy and nine billion for the Army Air Forces, together with all the personnel, fields and "what-not" that connotes, the Army and Navy are beginning to put up a fight for a separate Army and a separate Navy!
General Hershey, director of selective service, caused quite a sensation here when he warned the nation that its supply of manpower is not as endless as many people think. Already he has demonstrated a balanced liberal attitude on this vital subject by releasing essential key men of the motion picture industry from the draft. He appreciates that certain businesses, and key positions therein, are more important than foot-slogging. He bases his whole policy on two objectives, both inter-related raising an Army and producing the war goods. People here in Washington will be happy when all the "top men" follow this broad, sound line.
Dozens of men representing small businesses have been in Washington attempting to prevail upon Donald Nelson, head of the War Production Board (successor of OPM, the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board, the National Defense Advisory Committee and all the off-shoots of the original War Resources Board of August, 1939). They want him to take all production, except experimental, away from the Army and Navy; get the appropriations into his own hands, allocate it himself through a decentralized industrial control utilizing every little machine shop and employing every man possible for production.
These crusaders point out that most of the contracts handed out by the services have gone to big business (over 75 per cent to 56 of the 180,000 manufacturing establishments in the United States) and they claim that often in the past attempts have been made to revive the work of old communities where some special line had succumbed to changing national economic conditions. The Army ordnance department made a survey of prospective plants and found 89 per cent (850 out of 960 plants inspected) were convertible to ordnance production. A very influential man has remarked: "Will he (Nelson) fight to protect the United States or certain entities within the United States?" Nelson already has an executive order which gives him complete and unequivocal authority. He can do anything.
"Washington has become a megalosaurian city, its body all out of proportion to its brain," said one prominent visitor here. "The staggering and unwieldy size to which it has been swollen by the ill-considered effort to make it the industrial as well as the political capital of the nation explains much of the confusion and congestion that impede war production." A committee of the Senate is working especially on this one phase. The Truman report went over the heads of the American public largely because one newspaper got a scoop on it. While it looks now in retrospect as though prior to Pearl Harbor very few felt we would get into this war, one can safely prophesy that each success of our enemy which puts Americans nearer to having their backs up against the wall brings out more and more the good qualities of our people and kills off the bad. There will surely be some radical changes made by Nelson unless the steps taken by him upon appointment quickly result in marked improvement and definite indications of greater harmony. Maybe it was a mistake in the first place to wash out the work of the Army Industrial College back in 1939. It had worked on plans and surveys for 20 years just to prevent all this confusion.
The War Department hired 669 new employees on civilian status in a period of one day during the past month.
The speed with which the Congress put through the huge 25 billion dollar Naval bill and the half-billion dollar loan for China bespeaks louder than words the morale and harmony of both houses of our lawmakers.
C D Howe, Munitions Minister of Canada, stated here recently that Canada is sending a number of twenty-ton tanks to Russia per month, and that Canadian airplane plants are now producing at the rate of 10 planes a day. (However, they do not make the engines up there).
Aviation veterans salute assistant Secretary of War for Air Bob Lovett, Lieut Gen H H Arnold and the War Department on the selection of Maj Gen Carl "Tooey" Spaatz to head the Army Air Force Combat Command.
Those who served with "Tooey" in Mexico in 1916; who helped him turn Issoudun, France, from a mud-hole into a great flying field in 1917, or who were flying in the First Pursuit Group in 1918 and saw him "blow in" on Eddie Rickenbacker's 94th Squadron and shoot down a Hun before anyone knew he was about, will join in these salutations.
He bagged three Fokkers and was awarded a DSC for gallantry in action. For stamina in flying the endurance record plane Question Mark in 1929, he was decorated with the DFC.
Spaatz shuns publicity, but because he is destined to lead many successful aerial assaults in this war, his friends are certain to hear a great deal about him from now on. He talks little but thinks and fights hard. He'll gamble with anyone when it comes to a flying matter, but he always seems to win out. Your boys and mine will be lucky indeed to fly anywhere under Carl's leadership.
Washington proponents of a so-called separate air force respect the fight Maj Alexander P de Seversky has put up for air power, but disagree with him in one respect. Seversky stated recently: "The point that must be made clear is that the issue of a unified high command is something quite apart from the issue of a separate and unified air force."
Definitely, the feeling in Washington is that we will get (in due course) a unified command first, and that this will bring with it a separate, autonomous air force as a co-equal, one-third part of that command for two reasons mainly: (1) because otherwise it will be the case of two tails wagging two dogs and (2) because there cannot be unity of three equal entities if any one of the three is subservient to the other two. In light of this, Seversky, who has been right so often, has this time erred, for instead of being "quite apart" the issue is part and parcel of the whole thought and talk down here unity of command.
Washington taxi drivers are doubling up in the rush hour. We are back to "jitney days" for a try out and it works pretty well. Besides affording a ride during rush hour (and a 20-cent one at that), the conversations which go on the driver taking part are most enlightening and interesting. Here, as a sample, is one heard this morning:
Tom: "If we, the British and ourselves, have 39 battleships and the Axis only 15, why are we building more of them?"
Dick: "Oh, it's a big ocean and I guess we need them to protect our convoys."
Tom: "Yes, but they are no good near shore any more and what good would it be to have 39 of them cruising about out there in the middle of the Pacific?"
Taxi driver: "You're right. One of my fares this morning thought it would be a good idea to stop building battleships and use the material and skill on airplanes."
Tom: "Here I am, got to get out of here, driver, thanks a lot."
Driver: "My thanks. Gee, I make 85 cents this trip back. Would have had to dead-head if this pick-up jitney business hadn't been allowed."
Billy Parker of 100 octane gasoline fame, is in town. He flies anywhere at any time, day or night. Feels he is a slacker at not getting back into service, but the Axis don't. They know what the American 100 octane will mean to them and probably wish he had never lived.
Kenneth S Clapp, general manager of United States Air Compressor, Cleveland, came here after priorities had shut up his business. He is looking for subcontracting work for his idle plant and men. He was the first man in the 27th Squadron to get a DSC in World War I. His stories of training and learning to fly in Fort Worth, TX, during the last war brought back old days. They are so similar to those heard in the camps of today, both Army and Navy, that one is reminded how human nature never changes though equipment shifts, guns get bigger and bombs heavier. The human interest of any thousand men in a military unit today is about identical to that of a similar number of men in the time of Caesar.
This column was originally published in the April, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 30, no 4, pp 38, 100.
The original column was illustrated with a thumbnail portrait of the author.
The photo is not credited.