The Japs may have a task force at sea in the Northwest Pacific; the Huns may be sinking three merchantmen per day in the Western Atlantic; 3-A selective service men may be reporting for service; this globular war may be creating a dozen AEFs and worrying some of us as to how we will feed them but there is a healthy spirit of optimism here in Washington that cannot be suppressed. Columnists have frowned on this, preachers from the pulpit have even condemned it as being unpatriotic but still this surge of good old American confidence which some people decry is here and your correspondent thinks it is good, healthy and stimulating.
For we Americans, thanks to Pearl Harbor, are not the optimists described by Elbert Hubbard as being goosefleshed, teeth-a-chatter neurotics trying hard to be brave; we are just common or garden variety people who now are pretty well united. We realize that Hitler has missed the boat, that he has lost his opportunity and used up completely his edge of time and we are at last getting into our stride on quantity production, we have suffered but we have not perished, we have at times failed but the Axis "ain't seen nothin' yet."
Take for example our airplane production. When the President put forth his 50,000 a year plane production program two years ago at least 90 per cent of the aviation experts thought it was fantastic. Today it is a reality.
Last October when a writer in this magazine urged a million-man Army Air Force, he was scoffed at by many. Today it is a reality, yet it is but half of what it will be this time next year.
When another in this same book urged the employment of England as a base so that we might, if need be, use it as a jumping-off base it opened a veritable Pandora's box.
"Why should we defend England under such a pretext?" said one.
"Not a single Sammy will ever leave our shores even to act as a mechanic on such planes," said others.
"We won't be able to hide our airplanes there away from the devastation of the Luftwaffe even if we do try it," said many.
"It will be all over before we can begin to produce aircraft";
"We should keep our airplanes here for the defense of our own country before we start looking abroad," chimed in others.
"Attack on our shores and in our coastal waters? Nuts!" said the armchair strategists.
And they were often located right here in Washington, too. Where are they today? They are hedging, but to a good end. They are ashamed of their lack of foresight a year ago but in direct proportion as they are abashed, they are now ready to get in line and become part of the great new American machine of regimented democracy with its dander up, with its determination unflinching and unsullied.
It is good for Washingtonians to get out of Washington now and then. Statesmen often do; bureaucrats never. Down in Burlington, NC, where Americans are 100 per cent and Quislings only come out at night, I recently ran into a most interesting organization for offense. Five hundred young men, all hard working, some soon to be drafted, and some not, had grouped themselves into an "organization for offense." They didn't like the word defense and so gained the impression that the Office of Civilian Defense was too slow for wartime and so went out and bought themselves new uniforms, set aside nights for drill, oiled up their old Winchester shotgun or blunderbuss and performed their nightly task. Members of a spontaneous organization and with blood in their eye, they were an inspiration to the sojourner from Washington. They turned out for a patriotic mass meeting and parade and what one cannot understand to this day is how it was that in a town of 15,000 a total of 25,000 healthy, happy and well clothed citizens cheered the parade along the main street. Whole counties must have come over, gas-rationed or not.
There is cause for comfort and optimism now for no country in the world has ever in all history been as far along as ours after having been at war only six months.
Contributing in no small measure to our Army Air Forces' effort have been the Army Air Forces public relations officers and men, including a good friend of this department, Lieut Col Charles Wayne "Chuck" Kerwood on Col Art Ennis' staff. "Chuck" on some days makes as many as 10 speeches. Possibly you have seen him in some of the plants where recently he has been introducing the airman, Capt Hewitt T Wheless, whom the President lauded recently on a national hookup, and Capt William J Bohnaker of the Army Air Forces who destroyed two Jap transports. Chuck now is out with a bunch of QBs on the west coast making a film that will make Goering weep if he's alive to see it.
We hear daily of our boys and of their escapades literally from all over the world. A double DSC man of my World War I command was taking a short train journey in the Far East the other day. Only two columns ago he was helping me write my piece. Some bandits boarded his train. My friend, an ace of World War I, is one of those who believes that war is war and no foolin'. He was on a military detour of great importance and he is a good shot. A la Sergeant York he proceeded to kill them all, starting with the last man first.
From a point on the globe just 8,000 miles straight through the earth or directly, on the globe, opposite I hear of old Ash McKinley. He is a major now in the Air Forces. He was suffering from a slight defect of hearing, but General Arnold last summer allowed him a waiver, mostly because he was such an efficient officer but also because he was the Army photographic officer who First flew over the South Pole with Admiral Byrd. His work is censored so far but will be told some day very soon. This, coupled with the work of Jimmy Doolittle over Tokyo and our Eagle Squadrons over England and the European continent, awaken us to the extent of modern air warfare and the far-flung battle lines of our Army Air Forces.
Since writing last month, the RAF's "1,000-plane-per-good- night" bombing program as promised then has become a reality. There has been a great deal of newspaper comment and editorial writing but very little has been written by the high-up airmen who know what they are about, why they choose this as a second front or what the logic about it all is. Some of the most elementary prerequisites of such fighting are entirely overlooked by the average correspondent although this the second air front is indeed the turning point of the war if not the beginning of the end.
One factor completely overlooked by all the writers whose material I have studied is the effect of greater allied air supremacy over Germany.
Air supremacy is a term used here in Washington very lightly but by active tacticians overseas very seriously. Unlike Naval supremacy it is very fleeting and shifts from one side to another, sometimes daily; again, perhaps weekly or, in quiet sectors, monthly. Sometimes Air supremacy is prerequisite to victory; sometimes, it actually does not matter much who holds it. It is a new concept in human relationship and can be gained only by destroying enemy airplanes. "EAs" the pet name our pilots have for enemy aircraft or hostile aircraft, can be destroyed only in two ways one by destroying them in their nests, the other by shooting them out of the sky. They can be diverted elsewhere when economy of forces dictates that they are more useful elsewhere just as they are being kept in large numbers on the Eastern front today by the Russians' pressure on the German front out there. But to obtain supremacy of the air "EA" must be knocked out completely.
If the Allies obtain complete supremacy of the air over and beyond the channel, the success of the second front by air will mount up nightly until it may become completely unbearable and the Nazis, by this and by other factors coming along, be defeated before Christmas.
If the United Nations, however, obtain only about 50 per cent air supremacy over Europe they will not be able to send "1,000-planes-per-good-night." With a 50 per cent drop in aerial supremacy over Germany the drop in effectiveness of the air second front will not be 50 per cent but 75 per cent and we will only get on an average 250-planes-per-good-night and neither will we be able to penetrate so far inland.
Tom Lanphier is back as a major. Everyone in aviation will recall him; his work as commanding officer of the First Pursuit Group, Selfridge Field, from 1927 to 1929, and his part in organizing "TAT," now TWA airlines. Others will recall his work at Field 9, Issoudun, France, World War I, or possibly his association with Lindbergh and Colonel Breckenridge after the Lone Eagle flew the pond.
A H "Sheep" Alexander is now a major in the Air Forces (he was the bombing ace of the last war). "Happy-haven" Sam Moore is already a lieutenant colonel, as is Phil Bush. Aviation editor Capt Dick Kirschbaum of Newark, NJ, is on duty with Colonel Ennis here in Washington. Incidentally, Dick's book, entitled Fifty Famous Flyers, with Jimmy Doolittle's picture on the cover is something everyone should have what memories Dick's sketches therein bring back! Merien Cooper who, because he had kept up his commission in the years between came back as a captain, has already skyrocketed to a full colonelcy but none ever deserved it more. We miss him down here, he has gone to parts unknown like many another whose face was so familiar at headquarters last winter. Take, for example, Gen "Mike" Scanlon, former Chief of A-2 and before that air attache at London. They say here he already has 300 combat hours to his credit since February somewhere in a combat zone. Robert B Hotz of Milwaukee, the first man to bring out good stories from Burma on the work of Chennault and his inimitable pilot officers, has been commissioned and is on duty here in the Chief's office.
Our pet old-timer the colonel mentioned some weeks ago, whom everyone in the Air Forces loves, who gets about the whole country more than any other one officer and who wears on his breast more ribbons than anyone except General MacArthur, had an experience this week. So many people ask him the names of his different medals that he carries about in his pocket a little printed card which he presents to the inquisitive after telling them: "For a dime I will answer that question," when they want to know what they are all about.
At San Antonio, TX, he ran into Dorothy Lamour and she inquired, "What are all those medals for?" Promptly he produced the card, and she not only paid up but went out and brought in three others of equal charm. Our gallant officer left San Antonio forty cents richer and with three new telephone numbers. It pays to be courageous and gallant.
But with the "1,000-plane-per-good- night" raids the last of the fantasies has become a reality. Beautiful Cologne has gone forever. So terrific has been the results of big bombs dropped from a sky blackened by aircraft that one almost dreads the future. But, if we here in America are apprehensive what about the Germans not the Nazis alone but the rank and file of the great German folk to whom Hitler and his regime is but another milestone in the sweep of misguided political philosophy!
Imagine the blasted hopes, the agonizing disillusion, of these people who may recall the boasts of Reichmarshal Goering when he assured them that they need never fear air raids larger than "a handful of small airplanes ineffectively dropping single bombs." After all, this is the first real invasion of German soil since the aggression of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1870 by Prussia, then as now the invader, Bismarck, whose arrogant influence has made its imprint on the Teutonic mind ever since, was then in the ascendent. German children were brought up with his militaristic viewpoint, but I imagine the attitude of those children who lived through the invasion of Cologne will not be so easily won over to the "Blood and Iron" speeches of Bismarck, nor the browbeating pace set by his followers, as were those in 1870. Of course one cannot class small groups of raiding aircraft with an avenging army, but the "1,000-planes-per-good-night" can easily be termed an armed invasion.
The late Kaiser's mother said Bismarck's influence ruined her son, Wilhelm II, and produced the first World War, and now others say that Wilhelm's influence ruined Germany and the resulting ruin produced Hitler, but the sad truth is that no one influences the German people and all wars are started by those who crave and believe in war. Invasion and the fiery reality of warfare is the only language they understand.
One cannot but feel a pang of pity at the possible destruction of the beautiful Cologne cathedral and the ancient Rhine castles (unless one recalls Westminster Abbey and the ancient town of Coventry) but the simultaneous destruction of Bismarck's policies (not unlike those of Al Capone) make one rejoice.
Totalitarian autocracy may work for a short time, for a pirate or one who thrives on the privilege of brute force in some small community, but it can have no place in a great commonwealth of nations where private enterprise and the human individual, enlightened by science, and the order of modern life, seeks from its government only protection and security, and has the knowledge that his government will reward the individual in proportion to his services to society as a whole. An international holdup man may have seen the power of aviation before our people and attempted to use it as his weapon in world conquest he may have had some of us scared for a time but the crisis is past American plane production now is almost in its stride, and "it won't be long now," Armies and Navies notwithstanding.
Instead of Heil Hitler, it soon may be Heil Heel!
In place of the upraised, palm-outward, stiff-armed salute, the right arm will be holding the nose and the left pointing downward.
I doubt if there is any old-timer better known to our readers than "12,000-hour" Homer Berry. His friends will all be glad to know that he is now back with our own Air Forces as a lieutenant colonel. Homer, on finishing his tests of the prototype model Airacobra for Larry Bell, joined up with the RCAF. He was seconded to the RAF in England and rose rapidly to be a wing commander, sneaking in (unofficially) on one or two sweeps over France. When not struggling to expedite the American machines into service, he flew everything they had over in England, including all types of German craft. Although he almost bumped himself off flying the new Typhoon with its fast-revving Sabre "H"-type motor "sounds like a sewing machine," he says he likes it very much. The RAF were indeed sorry to see him come back to his own country and Air Forces, but, if given the chance, he will do even better work right here.
I have a pilot friend who comes in to see me now and then. He has many successful transoceanic flights to his credit in this war. He got a thrill on his last flight not easily forgotten. At 25,000 feet halfway over the ocean both right outboard engines suddenly quit cold and the "props" stopped dead. Receiving no response from his engineer officer, he turned over to the copilot and hurried back into the cabin. Ice had made the plane heavy and she was losing altitude rapidly. What was his astonishment when he found his engineering assistant had completely passed out from lack of oxygen. Like many proud stalwarts he had felt he did not need it and early drowsiness soon gave way to complete oblivion. In falling he had brushed against two switches, killing both those motors. My friend waited with bated breath as he snapped them back on. "It was like music to the ears," he said, "when both engines picked up lustily," and he was able to carry through as though nothing had happened. Wish I could report more on some of these flights. For example, one of our highest ranking generals just back from England saw the ground only twice once when he took off over there and again when he landed here in Washington!
It will be some satisfaction to note that there has been no enemy-directed sabotage to date and the insurance industry has not learned of any incendiary fire in an American Industrial plant since the declaration of war, according to a report at the annual meeting of the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
A five-year-old girl saw a small airplane land in her father's peaceful meadow in New Jersey. An alarm was sounded and our fighters took to the air. The craft proved to be a three-and-a-half-pound gas model monoplane with the name Guess Who on the fuselage.
Your correspondent has not found it very difficult to obtain passage on our airlines. With the announcement that most planes had been taken over by the Army, most people felt there would be no space. Here in Washington where it has always been difficult recently to obtain a reservation, things seem about the same. The public just cannot get on without the airlines, possibly we should change the policy and let them have all the planes they want. I have a hunch this will come about within six months. Certain it is that the production of motors would warrant it the power plants used by the airlines would never be missed. The general good resulting to the war effort would be great.
Hanson Baldwin writes in a metropolitan daily that the airfields built in Labrador, Greenland and Iceland will permit of the ferrying of short range fighter planes to Europe. I have been keen to tell this myself for some time but feared censorship.
People who lose their Government aviation jobs should never get mad and take it out on aviation. They should maintain their old crusading spirit, for flying is a matter of destiny. Lord Brabazon, pioneer airman and former Minister of Aircraft Production in Great Britain, has been going back on his old love, aeronautics, and has been attacking the present policies of the RAF and saying that bombing alone will not win the war. It may not without a few mopping up ground and sea forces but unless we have enough bombing we may lose it.
Donald Nelson of the War Production Board is reported down here as ready to set up an air cargo committee to study the possibility of speeding the development of giant freight-carrying planes which can be used to rush critical material to vital points.
Your correspondent knows of another agency of the Federal Government and it is not the one you might expect it to be doing exactly the same thing already. Grover Loening, early engineer for Orville Wright, has been stressing the possibilities of such cargo craft for years and the powers-that-be are only now beginning to comprehend his figures and what he has been preaching all this time.
This column was originally published in the August, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 29, no 2, pp 40, 69, 71, 74.
The original column is illustrated with a thumbnail portrait of the author.
The photo is not credited.