Twenty-one years ago, a twin-engine Martin MB-2 biplane bomber, capable of carrying one 2,000-1b bomb in a closed bomb bay, sank an obsolete American destroyer, the G-102; the old battleship Alabama; the captured German battleship Ostfriesland; and the captured German cruiser Frankfurt. All were mortally hit, while under way, in the demonstration of air power vs. surface ships, conducted by Gen Billy Mitchell in his effort to convince the Army it should embark upon a strong aviation program.
A year and a month ago, a Japanese ship-borne air mission took the Hawaiian garrisons by surprise and put out of action half the capital ship force of the United States Navy, plus eleven other war vessels and more than halt of a force of nearly 500 Army and Navy airplanes.
Though not the biggest, it was the most decisive naval victory in modern history, for it cost the enemy but 48 relatively cheap airplanes and three vest pocket submarines. As the Navy itself has said, the Japanese victory laid our Hawaiian Gibraltar wide open to capture, in which case many more thousands of American lives and billions of dollars might have been sacrificed before the inevitable defeat of the sons of the rising sun.
Now, 18 months later, we have thanks to the technological prowess of the country recovered all that was lost and more, in a space of time even more miraculous than the 30-min blasting by the Mikado's minions. That a second front could be opened within a year is due to that technological prowess.
And that prowess, both on the ground and in the air, will make it increasingly tough for Hitler, Goering, Goebbels & Co, the boys who were always going to dish it out a thousand for one. For they are already within a three-sided air squeeze from England, Russia and Africa.
Germany has the advantage of the inside position with shorter lines of communication and supply, but the Allied nations already are outproducing the Axis by a constantly growing margin. Great Britain is producing almost, if not as many, planes as Germany. It is possible this country can send to the European theater alone as many planes as Germany can produce. Meanwhile, Russia's capacity is one of the war's best kept secrets, but it is possible they, too, can come near equaling the Nazi output.
Odds against Hitler grow more and more staggering, a fact which Hitler must know well. Germany's power is small compared with that of all the nations arrayed against her. The threat which worked so well for a time comprised long preparation plus a belligerent disposition.
Churchill, nearly always a trustworthy source of information (though he once said that Singapore would stand) for the first time in this war says that Hitler's air power is on the wane. He says the Luftwaffe is not receiving full replacements for its losses and that the quality is perhaps not up to Nazi standards. It is a question now whether Hitler can withstand an Allied force crossing the English Channel at the same time another crosses the Mediterranean and while angry Russians dive at him from behind. These Nazi bad boys of the air, who attacked refugees along the roads of Europe, blowing banshees on their Stukas, are now by way of taking their "thousand fold" going the other way.
This year brings the "end of the beginning," as Churchill called it. In Asia the Japs have been defeated in several battles, but no military authority has ventured to see any general faltering as yet. It seems clear they haven't got what it takes to overrun Australia or New Guinea, or even any more of the Solomons. Their aviation shows determination and skill, but their quality and their numbers do not seem to gain. People who know from watching them in their own factories say that the job of retooling (many of their machine tools are imported) and turning out new fighters and bombers, will work a hardship on them.
They seriously need a completely redesigned fighter, for one thing. Their Zero, with its hairpin-turn ability and mountain-goat climb, is no match for the heavy, fast, big-gunned American plane it has to combat.
The Japanese, in their thousands of islands, mined passages, and jungle trees, have spread far and wide and will be hard to squeeze back into their narrow slot. Nevertheless, their shipping is stretched out like a web to be torn to pieces. Secretary Knox says Nipponese war and merchant shipbuilding is now barely able to keep up with the toll our submarines and planes are taking.
But you can't trust signs of weakness in determined fighters like the Japs and the Germans. Even ten counts is not enough. In this ring, you don't let up on your man until he is in the morgue.
This article was originally published in the January, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 1, pp 90-91, 309.
The original article includes photos of a flight of B-24s as seen from the bombardier's station of a B-24, a Martin MB-2 with red-blue-white bullseye insignia in flight over Washington DC, and a naval action in the Pacific.
Photos credited to International News, US Navy.