Several years ago, Dwight Morrow, in his report to Congress on military aviation said, "The next war will begin in the air, but it will end in the mud." It did begin in the air over Poland and Pearl Harbor and within eleven months of the latter attack the US Army Air Forces were engaging the enemy in the air in eleven widely scattered sectors fighting on more fronts than any other military force in history.
It may be well to pick up the threads and indicate briefly how the Army Air Forces went global in such short order. Under the Air Corps expansion program of 1940, the GHQ Air Force (the combat branch of Army aviation) was divided into four field armies of the ground forces. These later became the first four Air Forces for the defense of the northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest sections of the United States. Each was commanded by a brigadier or major general. Lieutenant General Arnold became Deputy Chief of Staff for Air, was named Commanding General, Army Air Forces, in March, 1942, then became a 4-star General on March 19, 1943.
As the world crisis became more acute, particularly in the Pacific area, the 6th Air Force in the Caribbean-Canal Zone area, and the 7th Air Force in Hawaii were strengthened. Alaska received the nucleus of what later became known as the 11th Air Force, with air transport playing a vital part in achieving the results.
When the Japs struck they grabbed Guam, and severed our stepping-stone airway across the Pacific. We had to develop another aerial highway and establish bases in the south Pacific islands and Australia. Within a few weeks of Pearl Harbor we began reading of long-range. bomber raids on Jap shipping from these bases. The bomber group based on Australia.and New Guinea, entered combat as the 5th Air Force under Lieutenant General Kenney. Our air arm in the Pacific islands was greatly strengthened after our attack on Guadalcanal and became the 13th Air Force under Lieutenant General Harmon.
Early in March, Major General Brereton, who had been commander of,our force in the Philippines, took one of the remaining h avy bombers and a handful of officers and men to India as the nucleus of the 10th Air Force, to build up air strength in India as a base for smashing Japan from forward airfields in China. With the loss of the Burma Road in April, the India-China ferry route was opened up to fly in urgently needed supplies to Yunnan province over the 16,000-foot "hump," the toughest air route in the world. Brig Gen Clayton L Bissell became commanding general of the 10th Air Force in July, was named a Major General in March, 1943.
Col Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group of "Flying Tigers," organized in the autumn of 1941 was in there pitching almost from the day of the first Jap attacks. Their amazing record during the next six months with limited equipment is one of the epics of the war to date. Late in June, the Army set up a China Air Task Force, with. fighter and bomber commands under Chennault, a Brigadier General in the Air Corps. These boys have made it hot for the Jap flyers in China and, early in March, 1943, the outfit was activated as the 14th Air Force on a rising tide of official statements that more aerial aid for China would be forthcoming. In March, 1943, Claire Chennault was made a Major General.
As part of the plan which culminated in the North Africa coup, General Brereton flew from India to Egypt in July and set up headquarters of the 9th Air Force. Bases had been established and soon a substantial flow of American planes to this area was in effect, greatly aided by the air route across Africa. The 9th Air Force and the RAF Middle East Command became the Western Desert Air Force and had a vital part in rolling the Afrika Korps out of Egypt and Libya. In November, the other half of the air pincers came into place with the setting up of the 12th Air Force in Algeria, Tunisia. With part of Air Chief Marshall Tedder's RAF this is now known as the Northwest African Air Force, under the operational command of Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz.
In July, General Spaatz had set up the 8th Air Force in England; with Major General Ira C Eaker in charge of the Bomber Command, then making the first eye-opening heavy bombing raids by daylight over Europe. When Spaatz went to Africa, Eaker took over command of the 8th, and Lieutenant General Frank Andrews, one of America' s ablest air officers, was appointed overall commander of the European Theater of Operations. In accordance with his first published statement this indicates a greatly intensified bombing of Germany. The big raid on Emden (Feb. 6), Rennes (March 3), Hamm (March 4), the highly successful. raid on the submarine works at Vegesack (March 18) and the third heavy raid on Wilhelmshaven (March 22) are early examples of this stepped up activity.
The greatest single reason for this remarkable spread of American air power within a few months is the phenomenal growth of the Air Transport Command. Taking advantage of the vast pioneering experience of Pan-American, and ably assisted by many of our domestic airlines, the ATC, under Major General George, has developed four great airways, and in terms of distance and volume of traffic has become the world's biggest airline. The four routes are the North Atlantic to England; the South Atlantic to Africa, via South America, and from Africa to Iran, India and China; the South Pacific to our island bases and Australia; and northwest to Alaska.Over these airways hundreds of transport and cargo planes are daily carrying men and munitions, parts and supplies for our 'round the world air force and for other fighting units. Victory-shaping policy at a Casablanca conference, a quick looksee by General Arnold and Admiral Nimitz in the South Pacific, a 35,000-mile trip by General Arnold to England, Africa, India, China all are completed in a matter of days by the use of this modern strategic weapon, the air transport plane. The joint award of the Collier Trophy for outstanding aviation achievement to the Army Air Forces and the airlines of America is a testimony to this vital development of 1942. No fighting front is more than fifty or sixty hours distant from any other front or from the home bases.
Setting up these aerial life lines was Problem No 1, and it is no exaggeration to state that it has been met with characteristic American ingenuity. "Impossible" obstacles and difficulties have been hurdled with an energy and determination which must have caused no little dismay to the Axis camp. Without them, Suez and the Middle East on the one hand, and Australia on the other would almost certainly have gone by the board, China and Russia would be isolated, and the war as good as lost. Time was gained to.build up and protect our vital sea lanes, and powerful counteroffensives are in the making which will eventually win the day. Logistics, or the art and science of military supply, constitutes 70 per cent of victory, and more wars have been lost on account of faulty logistics than mistaken strategy or tactics.
Although only a small proportion of the total men and munitions were brought to the fighting fronts by air, the important thing to remember is that speed was of the essence, and saving those particular situations saved the whole show. The best examples of this are the urgently required parts flown to Egypt in time to help stop Rommel short of Alexandria, and the fact that all men, supplies and equipment were flown in to enable our forces to prevent the Japs taking Guadalcanal and Port Moresby and to clear them out of eastern New Guinea altogether. The airborne troops flown some 1,500 miles and landed in North Africa at just the right minute was another outstanding case. In these operations the Air Force Troop Carrier Command has been doing its stuff, and similar successes by the enemy in the case of Norway and of Crete are not even in the same league. This is not to minimize the important part played by air transport in the German campaigns, with thousands of work-horse Ju-52s constituting a vital cog in the Nazi war machine. Without them, the Afrika Korps would not have been able to stage a come-back in the late spring of 1942, nor would some of the isolated advanced positions on the Russian front in 1941-42 have been able to hold out.
A more widely discussed problem of air warfare is that hardy perennial: How Good Are Our Airplanes? Is the Flying Fortress as good as the Lancaster? The Warhawk as the Spitfire? The Lightning as the Focke-Wulf? Or the Airacobra as the Zero? The simple but fundamental truth is just beginning to be understood: There is no "best" airplane. An airplane can do best what it is designed to do, and a compromise of conflicting qualities is always necessary. An airplane is not to be finally judged until it has been proved in combat against the best the enemy can throw up against it. It usually takes from three to five years from the first design to such final proof; therefore, in the nature of the case, military leaders have to go out on a limb. The most intelligent "guesses" will win out.
Let's have a look at some of these guesses and see how they turned out. Air power may be used independently, largely following Douhet, or it may be used as a battle weapon, in close cooperation with ground forces, following the classic tradition of Clausewitz. As a matter of fact, of course, we need both "pure" air power and "coordinated" air power for full victory. The dreaded Luftwaffe was, as a matter of fact, almost wholly set up as a short range army cooperation machine. Its chief weapons were the Ju-87 Stuka; the Me-109 short range single-seater fighter; the Me-110 twin-engine long-range fighter and light bomber; Dornier and Heinkel medium bombers, fast, but lightly armed; and as we have seen, the Ju-52 tri-motored transport. These were all in mass production in dozens of scattered plants by 1938. The entire set-up was geared to work with the army, including the fast-moving panzer divisions. Against nations ill-prepared in the air it worked like a charm, but there were other "guesses" in the picture.
One of them goes back as far as even Hitler's early schemes. In 1934, the British Air Ministry issued specifications for a speedy, fast-climbing, short range interceptor-fighter to carry eight .303-caliber machine guns. Two excellent designs were chosen above the others, Vickers-Supermarine winning the contract for the interceptor, which was called the Spitfire, and Hawker that for the fighter, which became the Hurricane. These first-class fighters, and the Defiant (equipped with another shrewd "guess", the power-operated gun turret for firing in every direction) saved the day over Dunkirk and during the battle of Britain. Stukas were shot down like clay pigeons and within three weeks were withdrawn from the conflict, the same thing happening over Smolensk a year later and Stalingrad two years later when up against the first class Russian fighters, the MIG-3 and YAK-1. Ignoring the Nazi escorting fighters, the Spits and Hurricanes went after the bombers and knocked them down by the score. Goering and Udet had turned down the idea of the well armed and armored long range heavy bomber, and this wrong "guess", plus Sir Hugh Dowding's correct guess and bull-dog insistence on eight guns for the British fighters may prove one of the turning points of history.
Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles Portal, on the other hand, with a truer instinct for strategic air power, followed to some extent the insistence of American air officers that the long range heavy bomber is the keystone of air power, and in 1936 (some time after our Boeing B-17 had started on its brilliant career in August 1934) designs went into the works for three heavy bombers. These were the 4-engine Short Stirling and Handley Page Halifax and 2-engine Avro Manchester, all of which came into operation under Bomber Command in 1941 after the worst of the Nazi raids on England were over, and the tempo of raids over Germany was beginning to be stepped up. The Manchester was succeeded in 1942 by the Lancaster, probably the best heavy night bomber in the world today. The Germans have their Heinkel 177 and Focke-Wulf 200-K heavy bombers, and others coming along, but it is doubtful if they will ever catch up with the parade.
How about some American guesses? Maj Gen Oliver P Echols, commanding general of the Army Air Forces Materiel Command has stayed closer to this problem of the quality of American warplanes during the past few years than anyone else. A few months ago in an address to a large group of engineers at MIT he stated: "One of the greatest military advantages of the aggressor nations is that they plan their aggression years in advance They choose the time and the place of the fight. In designing their aircraft the Germans, and also the Japanese, knew their problems. We did not know when the next war was coming or where our airplanes mere to be used. We planned a balanced Air Force, based on tactical and strategic principles. Our object was to build Air Power which could be used and applied anywhere in the world and under greatly varied conditions. These airplanes had to be ready for production at the beginning of the war, or else it would be too late." Incidentally, General Echols was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his valuable contribution to America's air strength by providing the superior airplanes now in worldwide service.
Our Air Force was thus planned as a balanced team, and designed for use as such. We outguessed the Axis by foreseeing the global character of the war and providing accordingly. Under the Air Corps expansion program of 1939 for airplanes, flying personnel, ground technicians and bases, the following nine types were set for production: In the fighter class, (1) Curtiss P-40 and Bell P-39 Airacobra for ground troop cooperation and medium altitude combat; (2) Lockheed Lightning P-38 fast-climbing, high altitude, twin-engine interceptor and long range fighter, and Republic P-43 high altitude fighter, which was developed into the P-47 Thunderbolt, with 2,000 hp radial air-cooled engine. The bombers were in three classes, (1) Douglas A-20 Havoc for fast, low-flying sweeps; (2) North American B-25 Mitchell and Martin B-26 Marauder, powerful, high-speed 2-engine bombers for destruction of objectives at medium range, with or without fighter protection; and (3) Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator, long range heavy bombers, backbone of American air power. (In most cases the names were given later.)
How well did these types fit into the pattern? Naturally some turned out better than others, but bearing in mind their designed purpose, all were good. This is the explicit testimony of Brig Gen Claire Chennault, commander of the 14th Air Force in China, who had nothing to do with their design but much to do with their tactical use. He has stated "The record of American aircraft is generally that of having completed the tasks for which they were designed." Under the stress of combat conditions some of them stepped out of their league and did an unusually good job in other ways too. Take the Lightning. This ship, designed as a high altitude interceptor, has proved invaluable as a fast reconnaissance plane, taking photographs of enemy objectives hundreds of miles away, often from heights of 25,000 feet or more. Its concentrated fire power in the nose, consisting of cannon and heavy caliber machine guns, with its speed and ability to carry light bombs has made it a powerful slugger for ground strafing operations. Or the Douglas Havoc, a sweet airplane to fly and a general favorite on a dozen fronts. This attack bomber has been used as a level bomber, day fighter and night fighter. Without bomb load and with heavy concentration of guns its speed and fire power make a dangerous customer.
The long range built into the Fortress and Liberator has saved the day in the Pacific over and over again. The same is true of our fighters, which have a far greater range than those of other countries. Or take the matter of adaptability. The Italian planes have fought only in the Mediterranean area, the Germans in Europe and Africa and the Japs in China and the Pacific. American planes are fighting in Alaska and Iceland, Tunisia and New Guinea, over China, Russia and Germany. Here is where our modification centers come in, where special last minute adaptations for climate, etc are made. During the past six months, these centers, scattered about the country, have risen to a first-rate importance in our continuing drive for top-notch quality in fighting aircraft. If one word had to be used in hitting off a description of American military planes, both Army and Navy, it would be "rugged." All classes and types have repeatedly proved their ability to take as well as give terrific punishment. The Navy, too, had its team of specialized types ready before the shooting started, such as patrol bombers, dive and torpedo bombers, carrier-based fighters, and scout observation planes, and improved models have come into action from, time to time.
Besides the mistake of being too ground-minded in their tactical conception of air power, the Nazis made the further mistake of freezing their designs to get an overwhelming quantity of planes quickly. They learned both of these lessons the hard way during the battle of Britain. More recently they have been coming through with improvements on their standard models more rapidly, They used the Me-109E for over two years, the Me-109F coming along in mid-1941. Less than a year later the high altitude Me-109G was in action, and by late winter (January 1943) the Me-109G-2, with 1500 hp Daimler-Benz engine with 2-stage supercharger, ceiling of more than 40,000 feet and speed of 380 mph, was in service, described by a qualified observer as one of the hottest things in the air over Tunisia. The Ju-87 Stuka is out, its place taken by the twin-engine Ju-88 level and dive bomber, also used as an effective night fighter. An improved Ju-288 with powerful radial engines is in the works. The twin-engine Me-110 long distance fighter and light bomber, the most formidable ship in the air during 1940-41, is giving way to the new Me-210, faster, more wickedly armed and very heavily armored, with over 900 pounds of armor so as to stand up to our Fortresses and Liberators. Much larger transports are coming into use such as the Ju-290 and a big six-engine plane, the Me-323. A new member of the team replacing the Heinkel 113 is the Focke-Wulf 190 fighter with radial engine, a first-class job between the 15,000 and 25,000 foot levels.
We have already noted how England has replaced her 2-engine bombers such as the Hampden, Wellington and Whitley with huge 4-engine planes carrying two or three times the load. A 300-400 plane raid will now do as much or more damage than the 1,000 plane raids on Essen and Cologne last June, with a far easier "traffic problem." The Spitfire I passed through the Mark V to the present Mark IX, with heavier armament, and much higher speed and ceiling, due to the 2-stage supercharged Merlin 61 engine and 4-bladed "airscrew." As a short-ranged interceptor it is more than a match for Germany's best. The versatile Hurricane has also been improved, an extremely useful version carrying light bombs and known as the Hurribomber. Another version carries an anti-tank cannon; still another is the "catafighter," catapulted from merchant ships to destroy enemy bombers. A new member of the British fighter team is the fast, heavily armed Typhoon, test flown in 1940 and in service since last summer, powered by the H-shaped 24-cylinder Napier Sabre engine. Another newcomer is the remarkable all-wood Mosquito reconnaissance bomber, a heavily armed low flying long range fighter version.
The American team went into action last of all and had the advantage of some of the air war lessons built in, such as self-sealing fuel tanks, power-operated turrets, heavy fire-power and long range. The earliest fighter, the P-40, went through several improvements, and the Airacobra is now in production in a new model using the more powerful Allison engine with 2-stage supercharger. General Arnold described this as a "vastly improved airplane." A new member of the team, the North American Mustang, was originally ordered by the British and used by them with great enthusiasm. A dive bomber-attack plane version known as the A-36 is in service with American air forces, fastest and best defended light dive bomber now in action. A new fighter model of the Mustang is coming along and has been hailed by some British and American authorities as likely to be the "best" fighter in 1943. Let's wait and see what the other entries are. Our bombers, too, have been improved as they go along.
The 1943 versions of the B-17F Fortress and the B-24 Liberator with their bomb capacity up to ten tons for short runs, being far superior to the 1941 models. New and bigger bombers are on the way, but we'll talk about them when we get them.
An important factor in the United Nations' combined air strength is the fortunate manner in which British and American types in particular complement each other. We have already referred to the fact that the Spitfire is probably the best short range, high altitude fighter in the air today. For low altitude work with troops and tree-top level sweeps for shooting up locomotives, goods trains, small bridges, supply dumps, etc, the North American Mustang and Douglas Havoc (RAF Boston) fill out the picture. For long range work at high or low level the Lockheed Lightning has emerged as one of the outstanding planes of the war, with air generals shouting for more of them from all quarters of the globe. The British have been so well pleased with American medium bombers, North American Mitchells, Martin Baltimores and Marauders, Lockheed Hudsons and Lockheed-Vega Venturas that they have become standard, and their own models have become available for other theaters. British heavy night bombers are unexcelled for their job (Essen, Cologne and Dusseldorf), while the Fortresses and Liberators, with their trained crews for daylight operations, complete the 'round the clock pattern.
In the light of recent discussion one or two things need to be said on this last point. (1) American heavy bombers can bomb Germany by daylight, because it is being done. Between January 27 and March 22 there have been three heavy raids on Wilhelmshaven, and one each on Emden, Hamm and Bremen, most of them unescorted by fighter planes, all of them with successful results, and in all cases with losses below the average of the British night bombing operations. In daylight precise targets can be seen and hit, and that is what counts, not the number of tons of bombs dropped. (2) Leading British air officers agree with General Andrews and General Eaker that the 'round the clock bombing is feasible and desirable, that it keeps Nazi defenses anti-aircraft and fighter squadrons on a 3-shift basis, and thinned out. But (3) to be really effective their scale must be greatly stepped up. This means more Fortresses and Liberators to Eaker, and equally justifiable to Chennault in China, and to Kenney in Australia, This brings us smack up against another. problem of global air war going on all over the place, all at once numbers of planes (so far we have mainly touched on quality, not quantity)
With the rapid overrunning of the Low Countries and imminent collapse of French resistance in May 1940 you will recall the President's startling demand for 50,000 airplanes and an annual productive capacity of that amount. Leading experts said it would take at least three years to reach that figure. Our overall air strength was then some 4,000 planes, about the same as that of Germany in 1936. With an all-out war effort and all the materials they needed, it took them four years to reach a total of 30,000 planes and annual production of that figure; they passed their peak some time ago, and will probably not recover it again. It is nothing short of a first class industrial miracle that in two and a half years our country could turn out bombers, fighters, transports and trainers„ with their necessary engines, propellers, instruments and spare parts on a scale of more than double the German figure, or 66,000 planes per year.
From less than 600 military planes in June, 1940, to 5,500 in December, 1942 an 800 per cent increase in thirty months! This figure has not advanced much since December. January was about 5,000, February was back to 5,500, March close to 6,000 and April should be up a few hundred more, approaching a rate of 75,000 per year. Compared with the overall 9 per cent increase over January the February increase in heavy bombers was 36 per cent over January and 20 per cent over December, which means that Ford, Consolidated (Texas), Douglas (Oklahoma) are coming along with their B-24s, and Douglas and Vega with their B-17s. New plants completed within the past few months, now fairly well tooled up, should boost total airplane production within the near future, as indeed it will have to if the country is to anywhere near reach the projected goal of 100,000 planes in 1943. The scale of annual deliveries has been running as follows: 1940, 6,000 planes: 1941, nearly 20,000; 1942, nearly 49,000, with almost three times the total weight of the 1941 deliveries, which is really what counts. Numbers of units mean very little. A training plane may weigh 2,000 pounds and a 4-engine bomber 50,000 pounds, but both count as an "airplane." The 1943 goal of 100,000 has been estimated to triple the weight of the 49,000 planes delivered in 1942, indicating a still higher proportion of the urgently required 4-engine heavy bombers and large cargo-transport planes. Our guess is that if the industry can turn out 90,000 planes, not counting gliders, it will be doing a right smart job. I mean a total of 90,000 delivered, not a production rate of 90,000, which we ought to attain well before the end of the year.
Coming to heavy bomber production development it may be recalled that during the summer of 1940 one of the big questions was the breakdown of 50,000 planes. What types of airplanes did me really need? Early in the fall contracts were let for some 500 each of the Boeing B-17 and the new Consolidated B-24, two percent of the proposed 50,000. This was the start of the heavy bomber program, soon to be augmented by the Knudsen plan of a new southwest plant for Consolidated and Douglas to be used for assembling parts and sub-assemblies of B-24s to be turned out in a large bomber factory to be built by Ford near Detroit. It was about this time that Mr Robert A Lovett, an investment banker and World War flyer, was brought into the Secretary of War's office as a special assistant for aircraft production and related matters. His appointment as Assistant Secretary of War for Air in April, 1941, coincided with the return of General Arnold from a trip to England, shortly after which the President announced that the heavy bomber program would be increased to a total of 500 per month. In planning, at least, the heavy bomber was beginning to emerge as the war's primary offensive weapon, a view long held by our air leaders, including Generals Arnold, Andrews, Echols, Emmons, Kenney, Olds and many others, and abundantly vindicated during the past year of fighting.
To meet the new program it was agreed that Consolidated and Douglas would do some manufacturing as well as assembling, and Ford's plant at Willow Run was projected on a vastly greater scale to turn out many more sub-assemblies than originally planned and also, after considerable discussion, finished planes as well, necessitating adding a large airfield to the project. In the meantime Boeing's greatly improved B-17E model had been accepted and plans went into high gear to turn this out in quantity as a still further improved B-17F at the main plant in Seattle, with parts and sub-assemblies from the Wichita factory, and at the new Douglas and Vega plants in southern California.
After Pearl Harbor, with the envisioned need of hundreds more of these big bombers for the long-ranged Pacific warfare, Donald Nelson announced that the heavy bomber program would be doubled again. No new plants were needed for the Flying Fortress pool, but North American was brought into the picture to build Liberators at a new factory in Texas to be completed early in 1943. In getting all this stuff rolling, tens of thousands of hours were saved in preliminary work by pooling the engineering staffs, blueprints, tooling set-up, etc, and in the process of approaching something like mass production, with completely interchangeable parts to facilitate servicing at the fronts, assembly line techniques, highly intricate machine tools, and also hitherto untried processes have been developed, all resulting in the amazing shrinkage of man-hours from over 100,000 per 4-engine bomber to around 30,000. The situation was complicated by the sudden demand for a large number of heavy cargo-transport planes to keep our global life lines going, and an excellent temporary solution was hit on by converting the B-24 Liberator bomber into the C-87 Liberator Express. At Consolidated's Texas plant (actually a longer factory than Willow Run) and at Ford's, both of these types are being turned out together. It begins to look as though Devers and Spaatz, Kenney and Chennault will get their big bombers after all, and the sooner they do, the sooner the show will be over.
How about engines for all these planes? At the Aviation Forum in Washington at the end of May, 1940, Col Jack Jouett, then president of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce, told me that high powered engines for combat aircraft (1,000 hp or better) would probably be a bottleneck in the program for at least eighteen months. Allison had at that time hardly got going, and for air-cooled radials Wright Aeronautical and Pratt & Whitney mere just beginning their plant expansions. (Earlier British and French orders for engines and propellers and few types of planes had helped this plant expansion picture.) However, by superhuman efforts (some of you may know something about how it was done) another rabbit was pulled out of the hat, and the situation was never serious except for a few weeks when Curtiss P-40 "gliders" were waiting for Allison engines, and Boeing B-17s were flown away from the factory to heavy bombardment bases, engines removed and flown back to Seattle by Air Corps cargo transports to fly the next Fortress away. Wright's huge new plant near Cincinnati and at Paterson, and Pratt & Whitney's expanded plant at Hartford, various satellite factories for parts, and a new plant at Kansas City helped a lot, and wholesale conversion of the automotive and other industries had also been a major factor. Ford came through months ahead of schedule in getting quantity production on Pratt & Whitney 2000 hp Double Wasps for the Thunderbolt and Commando, and Nash is now turning out similar engines for the Navy's powerful Corsair fighter. Buick is ahead of schedule on a huge number of 1200 hp Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasps for the Liberator and Liberator Express, and Chevrolet has also begun production of this engine. Studebaker is producing Wright Double Cyclones (1700 hp) and by summer a huge factory near Chicago should be turning out the big Wright R-3350 Duplex Cyclones (2,000 plus), which power the Lockheed Constellation high speed transport, and which will be used on other new models coming along in 1943. Yes, it looks like plenty of engines on the horizon, and when Hitler tied his war to the gasoline engine he ran it right down our alley. Millions of horsepower per month for victory.
All these engines kicking around brings up another first-class headache the task of overhauling and servicing to keep our planes flying. In many ways this is the most difficult problem of all, and one in which, despite the solid achievements and countless miracles of improvisation during the past 15 months, there is still a great deal to do. The Air Service Command, charged with the vital responsibility of providing supply and maintenance facilities to Army Air Force tactical squadrons in every part of America and the world, thus has one of the most difficult and exacting assignments of the entire war effort. Organized in the autumn of 1941, in less than a year and a half the ASC has grown to be the largest Command in the Army Air Forces, with more than a quarter of a million officers, enlisted men and civilian personnel, including tens of thousands of women.
The commanding general is Maj Gen Walter H Frank, who organized the tremendous maintenance set-up for the 8th Air Force in England. On the basis of his experience overseas, some months ago he recommended a reorganization intended to increase the speed and efficiency with which the Air Service Command can supply and maintain Army Air Force planes for combat service throughout the world. He has said, "Our planes and engines must be maintained on every front the world over. Unless we do that job and do it effectively, we shall prolong this war." The United States has been divided into eleven Air Depot Control Area commands, and the Overseas Division is organized into various Wings such as the Middle East Wing, which are now being strengthened as rapidly as possible with the necessary personnel, shops, depots, and other facilities to keep every bomber, fighter and transport in flying, condition until unchallenged air supremacy is secured and the way opened up for final victory.
As an important part of the general streamlining and realignment of functions of the Army Air Forces as a whole, effected about the end of March, Maj Gen Oliver P Echols, commanding general of the Materiel Command, was made an assistant chief of the Air Staff in charge of material, maintenance and distribution. It thus became his responsibility to see that all activities of the Materiel Command, Air Service Command and Air Transport Command were properly coordinated and kept humming. These inter-related functions, now so vast in their scope, were nursed along by General Echols (then a Colonel) a few years ago at the Air Corps Materiel Division, Wright Field.
There are really four prime necessities in successful military aircraft maintenance: (1) Maintenance bases and equipment, (2) parts and supply distribution, (3) personnel, and (4) transport.
1. Maintenance bases fall into two classes, (1) squadron and base engineering groups providing the smaller types of repairs and overhaul, known as 1st and 2nd echelon maintenance; and (2) the mobile service squadrons and large permanent supply depots well behind the lines, providing 3rd and 4th echelon maintenance. General Chennault laid down a very practical rule for his Flying Tigers, and has carried, it over into his 14th Air Force operations. "The AVG is a tactical fighting unit. As such we cannot possibly run a maintenance unit other than simple ground operations on the field, not to exceed 15 minutes in duration. If a plane cannot be prepared for flight within that quarter-hour, it should be withdrawn to a dispersal point for servicing by maintenance personnel." Here we see the distinction between the 1st or 2nd echelon maintenance on the field with hand tools, and the 3rd echelon maintenance at the base, with heavier, but mobile tools and machinery. The 4th echelon maintenance consists of major overhauls, rebuilding jobs, etc, carried on at a main depot, such as the recently completed huge supply, repair and maintenance Air Base, "somewhere in North India."
As part of the service set-up in the worldwide distribution and operation of their products, the aircraft manufacturers, engine and instrument companies are providing invaluable assistance in these bases. Lockheed has a huge establishment in England, for example, Douglas in Africa, with Curtiss, Bell, Boeing, Consolidated, Martin and the others in the picture; Allison, Wright and United Aircraft for engines and propellers; and Sperry, Bendix, etc. for instruments. At these big bases behind the lines all types of aircraft and engines actively in service in the area can be taken care of. The trained trouble shooters from these companies not only help keep things rolling at the front, but they also act as expert observers to keep the home front informed as to better methods and vital changes. In actual combat conditions structural failures and other "bugs" frequently develop which are not brought to light in even the most drastic tests.
2. At the moment the parts and supply distribution is one of our most serious problems. Consider the distances involved; the vast number of parts for planes, props, engines and gadgets; the various types of planes; the changes in models; the lack of local tools and facilities on many of our fighting fronts, and some idea will be gained of the staggering job to be done. While in command overseas, the late General Andrews is reported to have said that he wished the aircraft companies would quit making planes for a month and devote all their time to turning out parts so as to keep the planes we did have at the front in service. It is understood that the manufacturers are on the average 70 to 80 per cent up to schedule on their parts contracts and it is now largely a matter of distribution. Another Air Corps general has been quoted as saying "Spare parts will win the war." That may be an over-simplification on the part of a commander on the spot itching to do a more effective job but hindered because of an exasperating lack of a very minor but indispensable part, but there is a very real truth behind it. At the present time, with every airplane shipped or flown to the front, several months' supply of spare parts is included. In the case of engines, complete extra engines are sent, more per plane to a dusty theater like North Africa where engines wear out faster.
A recent story from the North African front is worth repeating. One day fourteen of our planes were damaged, some slightly, others severely. Every single plane counts plenty, and it is the job of the repair section to get these planes back into the air just a little faster than is humanly possible. The squadron engineers took almost a whole morning to survey in a jeep the entire situation, estimate the damage, plan the program and then get rolling. By that evening five of the planes were ready for action and three more the next day, with four more the day following. The other two had been turned into salvage for spare parts "cannibalizing" they call it, and that means two less planes for combat because of a lack of spare parts, a situation which has been in effect on practically all fronts since the start of the war, but now improving. Anyway, the point is that it would have taken a couple of months in peacetime, in well-equipped shops at home to have gotten those twelve planes fit to fly again. These impossibilities are being done every day on our advanced fronts.
3. The huge job of training the hundreds of thousands of lads to do the servicing is the responsibility of the Technical Training Command, whose motto is "Alas susteneo" I keep the wings up. From scores of schools, including dozens of the biggest hotels in Miami Beach, Atlantic City, Chicago, Detroit and elsewhere, tens of thousands of trained aircraft and engine mechanics, radio operators and technicians, armorers, welders, sheet metal workers and dozens of other specialists are rolling out every few weeks. Some of these go on to the various aircraft and engine factories and take short courses right on the spot to learn the ins and outs of the stuff they will have to service at the front. Periodical "maintenance maneuvers" are held, during which the boys work on damaged planes under simulated battle conditions, and with a minimum of tools and light equipment "get 'em flying" in the shortest possible time.
4. We have already covered air transport as a pace-setting function in modern warfare. For more than a decade this has been an important element in American Army aviation, with the slogan "All Air Corps supplies by air." The latest development is the huge air freight and fast express service, the newly activated 39th Air Freight Wing of the Air Service Command. This outfit speeds the delivery of aviation equipment and supplies for all arms and services to the various fighting fronts. Modern warfare is fast moving, not static, and keeping a constant flow of parts and supplies coming along by air is one of the most important jobs of all.
We have seen how the Army Air Forces within a few months of our entrance into the war were battling the enemy over practically every continent and every ocean; the airplanes they had with which to do the job, how they compared with those of other countries and how they have been constantly improved; how America has been winning the battle of quantity as well as quality; and the problems that are now in the process of solution whereby our planes can keep flying until victory is won.
This article was originally published in the June, 1943, issue of Air News magazine, volume 4, number 6, pages 13-15, 58, 60-62.
The PDF of this article includes two maps highlighting the air routes across the oceans, several photos of senior AAF officers and a photo of "the three titans B-17, C-54, B-24 in formation together.
The original was printed on 10½ by 13½ inch paper. Images in the PDF have been reduced to fit on letter size paper.
Photos are credited to International, European, US Army Air Forces, Acme. The map is credited to Air News, drawn by Robert Lindgren.