When Capt Eddie Rickenbacker returned from an official inspection trip to England made at the request of Gen Arnold he reported to the Secretary of War that "American conceptions of Army aircraft and their tactical employment are proving sound in combat and that the British look upon the practical application of our air war theories with increasing approval."
What are these American "air war theories?" When and where were they conceived? Who are some of the men responsible for their development?
Although the aviation contribution of this country in World War I was more considerable than is commonly supposed, it is safe to say that the real beginning of American air power, as far as the Army is concerned, may be dated from March 1, 1935. On that date the GHQ Air Force was established, embracing all tactical Air Corps units within the United States. The Army Chief of Staff, Gen Douglas MacArthur, secured a temporary brigadier generalcy for Col Frank M Andrews, of the Air Corps, and directed that he select a staff, proceed to Langley Field, establish his headquarters for the General Headquarters Air Force, and see what he could do on a year's trial.
Gen Andrews selected for his chief of staff Col Hugh Knerr, stationed at Patterson Field, and who from 1926 to 1930 was commander of the 2nd Bombardment Group, Langley Field. He was succeeded in 1938 by Brig Gen George H Brett.
Gen Andrews' air command consisted of four Bombardment groups, three pursuit (now called Fighter) groups, and two attack (now Light Bombardment) groups organized into three Wings. The First Wing had its headquarters at March Field, and its initial commander was Brig. Gen. (now Lieut. Gen.) H. H. Arnold. Some of its elements went back to the victorious climax of the World War I at St Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. Gen Arnold is now commanding general, Army Air Forces, which passed the million mark in November and is now well on the way to more than double that figure the most powerful air force the world has ever seen.
The First Wing was later commanded by Brig Gen Delos C Emmons, who in 1939 succeeded Gen Andrews as commander of the GHQ Air Force and who became the commanding general of the Air Force Combat Command in 1941 (which succeeded the GHQ AF). The first air officer to attain the rank of lieutenant general, he is now commander of the Army Department, air and ground forces, Hawaiian theater.
The Second Wing had its headquarters at Langley Field where, under the very shadow of the GHQ headquarters, it built up an amazing history of achievement through practical experimentation a veritable proving ground for new ideas, particularly as regards long range bombardment.
The Third Wing, stationed at Barksdale Field, comprised attack and pursuit groups (no bombardment). Attack and Fighter aviation was developed at Barksdale, as Bombardment was at Langley.
Main purpose of the GHQ Air Force was to coordinate the various systems of air training so as to produce uniformity and the ability to operate together as a team. Another accomplishment was the later development of the combat crew as a fighting team which could fly, bomb, and shoot. In practice, the same officers and men were assigned to the same airplane, and each team, through constant cooperation, was able to attain a high degree of proficiency.
Under Gen Andrews' leadership, in the brief period of four years, the GHQ Air Force achieved recognition as a vital element in our national defense set-up. Highly mobile and powerful, it repeatedly proved its ability, in strategic tests and maneuvers, to be moved quickly from one part of the country to another, to rendezvous hundreds of miles out to sea in all sorts of weather to break up "enemy" sea-borne attacks, etc. A foundation for American Air Power had been laid at last.
The GHQ Air Force, as we have seen, became the Air Force Combat Command in June, 1941. And in March, 1942, as a result of the reorganization and streamlining of the entire Army, it was integrated (with the Air Corps, which trained the personnel and procured the equipment) in the Army Air Forces, one of the three grand divisions of the Army, co-equal with the Army Ground Forces and the Services of Supply.
The first four Air Forces cover the limits of the continental United States; others provide for the defense of such vital areas as the Canal Zone, Alaska, and Hawaii; and still others are overseas, operating from bases in England, Africa, the Middle East, India, China, New Guinea, the Solomons, Australia, and elsewhere, smashing the enemy where it hurts most. A visit to the Air Conference Room for the daily report to the Chief of the Air Staff brought by the Air Intelligence officers who cover each of these areas, illustrated by huge wall maps showing complete details, is convincing testimony that the Army Air Forces are pushing ahead their offensive operations with all possible speed. They are fighting on more fronts than any other organized military force in the world.
All this is a far cry from 1935. Those were lean days for the Air Forces. Then, the United States ranked fifth in airplane strength among the seven great powers. The order, as it stood on Jan. 1, 1935, is of interest: France, Russia, British Empire, Italy, United States, Japan, Germany. There were already indications that 1935 was to bring out some tremendous surprises in world aviation. Six of the seven powers were making rapid strides in an international race for supremacy in both commercial and military aviation. Germany and Russia emerged as serious contenders for front rank position, giving Great Britain, France, and Italy cause for considerable worry. Japan was augmenting her aircraft strength with almost frantic haste.
Meanwhile, the United States ranked first in commercial aviation, first in military aircraft performance, and first in naval aviation, but as indicated above it was fifth in number of combat planes. Our program had not been set, except for the objective of the Baker board (1934-35), ie, to attain by June, 1940, a balanced Army Air Corps of 2,320 modern, serviceable airplanes, a proper complement of personnel, and to provide an adequate number of properly equipped bases from which to operate.
However, if we were short on officer pilots, men, and planes, there was no dearth of ideas. Air power was something big, with almost endless possibilities. Most of the men had been closely associated with Gen Billy Mitchell and had absorbed some of the sounder principles of Italy's Gen Douhet. The air doctrine these leaders hammered out, crystallizing earlier theories and ideas, was based on the needs and problems of America. Giving attention to our ocean barriers and huge inland areas separated from potential enemies by thousands of miles, and with traditional offensive rather than defensive fighting spirit, they developed the long range bomber as the keystone of air power. The American problem (as contrasted with that, say, of Britain or Germany) was long range offshore operations under favorable weather conditions which demanded sufficient altitude to fly above ships' anti-aircraft fire, and on the other hand required extreme bombing precision, since a ship is a small target from 20,000 ft and up. As a part of this emphasis, the precision bombsight was developed for daylight operations, and the large bombers were to be handled by highly trained combat crews which included specialized bombardiers and aerial navigators. Long range operations over land objectives were subject to the same general considerations.
The second problem was the development of attack aviation, cooperative work with ground forces consisting of suitable airplanes and technique for fast, low-flying sweeps against specified targets, with heavy machine gun, cannon fire, and light bombs.
A third subject for study and experimentation was fighter operation, with special emphasis on interception of enemy planes and air defense.
In addition to the above there arose a demand that air power be self-sustaining by means of a fully developed air transport service, with the slogan, "All air force supplies by air." These dynamic ideas have reached a high measure of fruition (1) in the outstanding success, in many widely separated areas, of the Boeing B-17 Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator high altitude heavy bombers, and the Sperry and Norden bombsight and intricate navigational instruments; (2) the light or attack bomber, of which the speedy, hard-hitting, versatile Douglas A-20 Havoc is the current example; (3) the specialized types of fighter planes for Army. cooperation and for interception of enemy planes; and (4) the amazingly expanded world-wide service of the Air Transport Command.
Certain other general principles governing the creation and operation of an air force were developed by these leaders, and they have been completely vindicated by recent events. These include the beliefs:
We have noted some of the air officers instrumental in the development of the long range bomber, Gens Arnold, Andrews, Emmons, and Col Knerr. Who are some of the others and where are they now? Notable are:
In most of the spectacular flights of the Flying Fortresses, such as the goodwill trips to South America, non-stop flights to inspect progress of the air defense bases in Puerto Rico, Canal Zone, etc, the big ships were usually piloted by Haynes, Olds, or George (then majors or colonels). The group of about a dozen long range bombardment specialists, plus a couple of fighter experts we shall name later, are the ones placed by the Army General Staff in the most strategic spots to blast the way to victory.
Another of these pioneers was Brig Gen Walter Eubank, commander of the 19th Bombardment Group, whose amazing record during the first year of our war in the Pacific is almost unbelievable. (He is now director of Bombardment, Air Staff, Washington.) His group flew B-17's across the Pacific during the autumn of 1941 in order to build up our strength in the Philippines. The last of them left March Field on Dec 6, arrived at Hickam Field on the 7th, then flew on to Clark Field, P I. Those who remained after the attack there (fifth columnists having destroyed the aircraft warning system) operated for a time from Mindanao, then flew to Java, and later to Australia, one squadron operating as reconnaissance and three as bombardment. Heavy raids were carried out against Rabaul, Lae, Salamau, and other targets in the Solomons and New Guinea, participating in the battles of the Coral Sea, Milne Bay, and the Solomons sea battles.
These air shock troops include many of our Pacific heroes such as Colin Kelly, "Shorty" Wheless (75-mi battle with 18 Zeros), Alvin Mueller (brought back B-17 with 1400 holes), etc. The group has been cited three times by Sec Stimson, and more than 1,000 medals have been awarded to the dead and living of the 19th.
In their engagements, the lessons hammered out at Langley Field received their baptism of fire and were fully vindicated. As a testimony to the value of close team work in heavy bombing operations, Gen Eubank states that if a couple of bombers with highly trained crews were sent on a mission, and eight or more with green crews on a similar chore, the results would be about equal. Gen Eubank, by the way, often accompanied his men on these raids, and on one occasion, after three narrow escapes from Jap Zero bullets, he remarked, "I am beginning to believe these so-an-so's of Jap pilots don't like me!" Another tenet of American air doctrine the generals lead their men, rather than send them. Exemplary, too, are Brig Gen Ken Walker ("Get the hell back in line" ) in New Guinea, Brig Gen Ira Eaker in the daylight Fortress raids over Europe, Maj Gen "Looie" Brereton, Maj Gen Jimmy Doolittle, etc.
The intrepid 19th Bombardment Group started off with B-17Cs and Ds, and the speed and ruggedness of these big Bs got them through many a tough spot. But when they and others began getting the B-17Es and Fs, with two of those wicked 50-calibre high velocity guns in the tail, the fun really began. Another point in American air doctrine was proved to the hilt the heavy bomber, on account of its long range, must be capable of self-defense, because of the impossibility of fighter planes going all the way with them for protection. The Fortresses shot Jap Zeros out of the skies by the score.
Before leaving the Pacific theater, it might be well to point out something that is often overlooked in regard to high level bombing at sea. Depending on the size of the bomb, it takes from 30 to 36 sec for a bomb to drop from 20,000 ft. If a single bomber is overhead, it is entirely possible that a fast ship could maneuver sufficiently in that brief space of time to evade the bomb. However and this has been particularly true since August, when substantial reinforcements of the latest Fortress models have been available in the southwest Pacific such bombing almost always is done in a close pattern by from 12 to 18 aircraft, and in these circumstances such evasion becomes impossible.
On the other hand, the weather and other considerations frequently make such high altitude work impracticable, and during the last few months, more and more it has teen found that both heavy bombers (Fortresses and Liberators) and medium bombers (B-25 Mitchells and B-26 Marauders) have been slipping down to 1,500 feet and even lower to get in their deadly work.
This seems as good a spot as anywhere to mention US Naval Aviation, generally conceded to be tops in all the world. Navy planes, including patrol bombers, scouts, torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and fighters, are without rivals anywhere, and Navy training and operating techniques are among the finest.
In the European theater, the Fortresses had to overcome the handicap of a well-settled conviction held for years in both England and Germany and largely supported by their own experiences in daylight bombing that no multi-engined plane could hope to stand against the small short-ranged, single-engined fighter, the so called "Queen of the Air." It was feared that our heavy bombers, both Fortress and Liberator models, would prove no match for the fast, maneuverable Focke-Wulf 190s and Me-109Fs and Gs, or for the very heavy flak encountered over enemy-occupied Europe.
Two factors were overlooked. First the effectiveness of our .50-calibre guns from all angles, many of them from power-operated turrets, as compared with the lighter .303-calibre guns carried by the British heavies, the Stirling, Lancaster, and Halifax. Second, the fact that in operating by daylight they could bomb from great heights with a precision bombsight and therefore avoid much of the anti-aircraft fire which night bombers encounter because they come in lower to sight their targets.
The remarkable success of the daylight raids from the start of the campaign in August, with scores of the best Luftwaffe pilots and planes shot out of the air at negligible cost to us, and with the smashing of railroad centers, shipping yards, war factories, airdromes, and other military objectives in Axis territory, bears witness to the potency of precision bombing by daylight. It has been reliably reported that the unexpected success of our heavy bombers in precision daylight operations ("where every bomb counted heavily" ) was the cause of a drastic "re-sorting of basic ideas on air warfare which have stood firm since the infancy of flying." It is noteworthy that frequent and highly successful daylight raids by Britain's ace heavy bomber, the Lancaster, have been carried out since early October.
High ranking British air officials have also stated their admiration for the strategic uses to which our air power was being put in the difficult Pacific theater, particularly in such well-planned raids as those by Gen Royce on the Philippines from Australia, and by Gen Doolittle on Tokyo.
The arrival of a flock of B-24 Liberators in the Middle East, and their effective use in long range operations by Gen Brereton's Bomber Command during July, constitutes a turning point in the desert warfare, and taken together with another type of aviation about to be described, may be regarded as a major factor in clearing the Afrika Korps out of Egypt. Smashing raids were carried out, resulting in heavy damage to Axis docks and shipping at Tobruk, Bengasi, in Libya, Crete, and Greece. Because of the activity of these long range bombers a corridor by sea and air, hitherto out of range of available RAF medium bombers, was all but closed, and Rommel's supply cut.
If and when all of North Africa becomes a great air base on the south, as Britain is on the west and Russia may on the east, the way will be prepared for devastating blows against the "soft side" of Europe.
Having defined America's significant doctrine of air power, we then classified its component parts Bombardment, Attack, Fighter, and Air Supply and told when and where each was conceived and credited the men responsible (in Part I,) we designated Bombardment, our first component, as the keystone, Let us now consider the second distinctive function emphasized in American military air doctrine
First, we have seen that heavy bombardment is an example of "pure" air power acting on its own. Attack aviation, on the other hand, works in close cooperation with ground forces. The use of the word "attack" denotes the type of missions performed during the First World War, when assaults against ground troops were initially developed from individual and uncoordinated action by planes mounting machine guns. They harassed and delayed the movements of enemy ground forces.
The 3rd Attack Group, attached to the Third Wing of the GHQ Air Force, was the original attack group in the US Army Air Corps and was a leader in the development of this type of aviation. Among the outstanding men of this group may be mentioned Col Horace Hickam, a very able and popular officer for whom Hickam Field, Hawaii, was named. Today, a leading enthusiast for attack aviation is Brig Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest, chief of staff for Gen Bob Olds' Second Air Force and great-grandson of the Confederate general of the same name who said a mouthful when he remarked that victory depended on "Gettin' thar fustest with the mostest."
Just as the heavy bomber is an extraordinary extension of the power and range of heavy artillery, so the attack bomber becomes one of the most effective pieces in the ground Army arsenal, with some of the same objectives as the tank. As yet "pure" air power has not had the opportunity to bring about as decisive results as "coordinated" air power, because of the strategic situation. Now that the necessary bases have been acquired and a sufficient quantity of heavy bombers and trained air crews are coming along, a greatly enhanced pounding of Axis industrial and communications centers is in order.
Requirements for the light or attack bomber are very stiff. Because the attack pilot is constantly hedge-hopping dodging terrain features so as to be able to swoop in on his objective with a maximum element of surprise his range of vision must be as wide as possible. Moreover, the rear gunner also requires an adequate sweep of vision so that he may effectively defend the plane, which must have as much inherent stability as possible, be of rugged construction, and be heavily armed with machine guns and preferably at least one cannon for anti-tank work.
The craft must be capable of carrying several general purpose bombs 100-, 250-, or even 500-pounders. It must have a high speed to carry out its mission quickly and get away before the enemy's rapid fire automatic weapons can be brought into play against it, and yet it must have a minimum takeoff and landing speed so as to use improvised airfields as near the actual fighting lines as possible. All this adds up to a considerable headache for the aeronautical engineer and designer. It should be mentioned that the land-based dive bomber (such as the Luftwaffe's single-engine Ju-87 Stuka and twin-engine Ju-88) is also a highly specialized type used in battle aviation. Although the dive bomber has its use in particular situations, low-level sweeping operations have been found more generally effective.
At present, the best airplane in the world for this type of work is probably the Douglas A-20 Havoc (RAF Boston III). It is a most versatile plane, having been used by the RAF as a day fighter, night fighter, attack bomber-fighter, and patrol bomber, and by the AAF as a shallow-angle dive bomber at Dieppe. Some new models are also equipped to carry torpedoes, and an improved version is in the works with higher horsepower, heavier armament, and longer range. A similar RAF ship is the fast, heavily armed Bristol Beaufighter, a development of the famous Blenheim and Beaufort medium bombers. Like the Boston, it has been used as a, specialized night fighter, a long range day fighter, and as a hedge-hopping attack bomber-fighter. It is of special interest that Beaufighters are now being produced in Australia and are frequently reported in action along with our Douglas Havocs and Martin Marauders. From last July to the end of October, hundreds of sorties per day were carried out by the RAF in their Bostons and Beaufighters against Rommel's forces. Supply depots, trucks, mobile guns, and tanks were repeatedly blasted all along the line. This formidable Anglo-American team of twin-engine fighter-bombers was assisted by another RAF-AAF combination consisting of light bomber versions of the Hurricane II, called Hurribombers, and of the Curtiss P-40D and E, known as Kittybombers.
These dual-purpose fighter-bombers have several advantages. They "come in” fast and low, the surprise element being strong. They do their stuff quickly and get away before anti-aircraft can get in its full licks. The plane then becomes a speedy, heavily armed fighter, capable of taking care of itself (or anything else) on the way home. Recently they have been using 500-lb delayed action bombs with great effect, as well as the deadly parachute bombs.
The Middle East RAF air chief, Sir Arthur Coningham, has declared that "those Bostons are lethal. Rommel does not like them, and we are dosing the Germans heavily with them right around the clock. They do more damage than dive bombers, and Rommel does not get our Bostons, while we do get his Stukas."
A typical report: "Thirty Ju-87s (Stukas) escorted by 15 Me-109s, were intercepted by RAF fighter-bombers. Seven of them were shot down; RAF losses were nil." It is also reported that "the low-level frontal attack of the fighter-bomber is far more effective than the dive bomber, since the troops under bombardment cannot guess where the bombs are likely to fall. They are compelled to break up and scatter far afield when under attack, adding greatly to the confusion." Attack aviation scores again.
And not only in the desert. Both RAF Fighter Command and Bomber Command have been using Bostons for fast, low-flying sweeps across the Channel for more than a year, shooting up locomotives, derailing goods trains headed for the Russian front and through Italy to Africa, blowing up small bridges, damaging rail centers, vita1 parts of small factories, and power stations, and raising hob generally.
More recently these Commands have been augmenting their scope by using Hurricanes and even Spitfires, and for longer range work Mustangs (our North American P-51s) and the new speedy deHavilland Mosquitoes. The Army Air Forces are getting deliveries of an attack-dive bomber version of the Mustang, designated as the A-36. AAF pilots also have been active with the RAF and on their own for several months. Attack aviation has become no small part, in the total air offensive now being directed against the Reich.
And don't overlook the neat job attack aviation did in shoving the Japs back from Port Moresby and into the sea at Gona and Buna. First of all, big Boeing Fortresses, in unprecedented low-flying sweeps, teamed up with speedy cannon-carrying Airacobras and raised merry hell with the Jap supply line. A little later another fast hard-hitting team came into action Douglas Havocs and Martin Marauders. The Havocs would swoop in and shoot up everything in sight, then be off like a scalded cat. And before the enemy could regain his honorable breath, the Marauders would streak through and finish off the job.
All this time Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, in as big an aeronautical surprise as the war has yet produced, left their high altitude specialty and did devastating work as hedge-hopping fighter-bombers!
Russia, too, has brought in her contribution. The Soviet Air Force has made a great point of what they called "storming" or assault aviation. The fast, heavily armed and armored I1-2 (Stormovik) plane is one of the outstanding developments of the war, as the German panzer divisions can well testify. The Russians regard the Havoc (A-20) as possibly our most valuable airplane, and they have made excellent use of a number we have sent them. Also they like our Bell Airacobra, with its heavy cannon firing through the nose.
All this adds up to Attack aviation, developed by our GHQ Air Force in 1936. It is safe to say that after "pure" air power has done its work from east, west, and south for a sufficient period, this type of aviation will have a tremendous part to play in the final push against Hitler's "New Order."
Formerly called Pursuit, Fighter aviation was also the subject of much thought and experimentation in the GHQ Air Force. Owing to its complexity, and also the varying points of view, each with a measure of validity, no clear-cut doctrine of fighter aviation emerged comparable to bombardment and attack aviation. Some of the questions are far from settled yet, by this country or any other, after more than three years of a global war in which air power has proved a decisive factor.
For example, what of the single-seater vs two-seaters? In short, should the pilot have a rear gunner to shoot down hostile aircraft? Should a fighter plane be a light fast-climbing interceptor, primarily for defense, or should it be a heavy slugging type, capable of staying in the air a considerable time and able to give and absorb a terrific amount of punishment? Do we need a long range fighter for escorting heavy bombers, or can the latter perform their missions independently? Can we "hit on" an all-purpose fighter which will perform well at all altitudes, though not exceptionally well at any? Or do we need several specialized types?
In the light of the importance of the fighter plane for air defense and as a proved battle-winner in gaining air superiority, these are vital questions. And an indication of American fighter doctrine, as evidenced by current considerations and types, is in order:
However, up to the present, the American .50-cal. guns, effective at 800 to 1,000 yd, with power turrets, semiautomatic gunsights, etc, have been taking a terrific toll of Nazi fighters, and another point in American air doctrine has been justified. That eventually the enemy will have some sort of an answer we can be sure, but we may be able to keep at least a jump or two ahead with our own developments.
Among those prominent in the development of American fighter aviation are Maj Gen Carl Spaatz, air chief under General Eisenhower, and Brig Gen Ennis Whitehead, in charge of the Fighter Command in Lt Gen George Kenney's hard hitting air force under General MacArthur, concerning which Capt Eddie Rickenbacker paid such a glowing tribute on his return to this country after the miraculous escape of his party in the South Pacific. And don't overlook Brig Gen Claire Chennault, wizard extraordinary, directing genius of the Flying Tigers, and now chief of the China Air Task Force. Although not linked directly with the original GHQ Air Force group, Gen Chennault ranks as one of the world's leading exponents of air fighter tactics and holds an important place in the development of American air doctrines. His eleven principles (as worked out in his well nigh unobtainable book on the subject) received a vindication in the amazing record of the American Volunteer Group, and by express invitation of Gen Arnold they are being incorporated in the instruction given fighter pilots at our advanced single-engine training schools and in operational training at fighter bases.
Another prominent air officer, Maj Gen Jimmy Doolittle, commanding the 12th Air Force in North Africa and hero of the first Tokyo raid. (General Arnold has promised some more!) should be brought into this total picture, although not connected with the immediate GHQ Air Force group. Jimmy Doolittle has had a tremendous influence in the technical development of military aviation in America as well as in our strategic conceptions of what air power can do. He appended a courageous one-man minority statement to the Baker Board report of 1934, opposing the majority opinion that Army aviation be left status quo.
Exploits of fast-flying fighter planes dogfights at 40,000 ft. and breathtaking dives at 700 mph and the feats of giant long-range bombers hold top public attention because collectively they offer the glamour of air power. But equally important is the primary, though more prosaic, supporting function of air service, the ways and means to "keep 'em flying." It is highly essential that rivets and spark plugs, engines and props, wing sections and rudders, wheels and tires, machine guns and ammunition, bombs and bombsights, radios and instruments, are available instantly for tactical units when needed.
For there is nothing so helpless as a grounded airplane. A rapid survey say, in a B-24 of the fighting fronts in 1941 and to a large extent in 1942 as well, would have revealed hundreds of fighters and bombers on the sidelines itching to get back into the scrap but useless for want of spare parts and servicing facilities. This is one of the main reasons why American air power could not exert its influence more fully until the late summer of 1942. It took time to get this service worked out for combat areas five to ten thousand miles away. But today that B-24, by way of example, has become the C-87 Liberator Express, and the story is different.
The importance of rendering air power largely self-sufficient by means of air transport was clearly seen a dozen years ago, and it is another fundamental of the American doctrine of air power. No doubt the great distances between our few and scattered air units had a great deal to do with this. Necessity is the mother of invention, and to prove that the impossible could. be done, Col Knerr, commander of the 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field in 1930, carried out maneuvers in an isolated part of the country, saying to his officers and men: "We don't fly or we don't eat unless our supplies can be brought in to us by airplane." They flew and they ate.
When the War Department organized the GHQ Air Force in 1935, the transport squadrons became a separate part of the Air Corps. The 1st Transport Squadron was organized at Patterson Field, and others were formed at the air depots located in Pennsylvania, California, and Texas. Bellanca C-27's were used at first, and then Douglas C-33's (converted DC-2's). Later, to relieve the Material Command in Ohio, which was badly overworked with defense contracts for aircraft and equipment, also engineering and experimental development, a Maintenance Command was set up at Patterson Field. This has now become the Air Service Command, under Maj Gen Walter H Frank, with a Domestic and an Overseas Division.
It is this outfit which has the responsibility of filling maintenance and supply needs of all Air Force units throughout the world, in cooperation with the Base Service Command organized as an integral part of each Air Force. To keep all this service going, hundreds of 2-engined Douglas C-47's and 53's, Curtiss C-46 Commandos, 4-engined Douglas C-54 Skymasters, and Consolidated C-87s are daily winging their way over six continents and the seven seas.
The pioneering and operation of four great air routes and the actual flying of airplanes, equipment and supplies, key personnel, and mail is the function of Maj Gen Harold Lee George's Air Transport Command. The vast operations of this amazing outfit constitute one of America's most remarkable "rabbits out of the hat" yet revealed in the war.
First titled The Air Corps Ferrying Command, it was created in May 1941 to deliver into British hands the combat planes allotted to the United Kingdom under the lend-lease program. Col (now Maj Gen) Robert Olds was in charge, and under his dynamic leadership, the organization grew rapidly, extending its special delivery service to the various democracies fighting the Axis, as well as to the tactical units of our own Air Forces, wherever found.
Within a few weeks an Atlantic route (1) was opened up, shortly to be followed by the survey of a South Atlantic-African route (2) laid out in cooperation with Pan American. It is safe to say that the task of clearing the Africa Korps out of Egypt and Libya was greatly aided by this remarkable trans-African airway. The South Pacific life line by air (3) has saved the day over and over again, and after the show is over will provide some of the most thrilling stories of the entire war. Then there is the route (4) to strategic Alaska, and the possibilities of this are yet to be realized. When they are, we will chalk up another victory for the vision of American air strategists.
The Navy counterpart of all this, with great activity in the Pacific theater especially, is the Naval Air Transport Service, under Comdr Clarence Schildauer. When we first entered the war, numbers of Consolidated and Martin patrol bombers of the PBM, PBY, and PB2Y types were converted into cargo carriers. More recently the trend has been toward land-based transports. This is confirmed by the fact that only the prototypes of such flying boats as the Boeing Sea Ranger and Martin Mars were accepted, also by the recent cancellation of the Nash contracts for Sikorsky VS-44's.
That the combined long range air service of the Army's ATC and Navy's ATS has turned the tide in the Solomons and New Guinea is the specific testimony of Capt Eddie Rickenbacker.
In the postwar world, the airplane will dominate as it now dominates during the war itself. A glance at any globe will show how thousands of miles are being saved by the new air routes, and with no important city in the world farther than 60 hr of flying time from any other, geographical barriers will be down. This war has proved to the hilt that there is no freedom anywhere unless there is freedom everywhere. The problems of maintaining world freedom will be as difficult as the problems of winning world freedom and will be with us much longer. The airplane will be decisive in both.
This article was originally published in the February and March issues of Aviation magazine:
Part 1 in the February, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 2, pp 112-115, 405-406, 409/-410, 413-414, 417.
Part 2 in the March, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 3, pp 96-99, 379-380.
Footnotes have been removed.
The PDF of this two-part article includes twenty-six portraits of officers mentioned in the article; it also includes captioned photos of B-17, B-19, B-24, B-25 and B-26.
Portraits credited to US Signal Corps, USAAC, USAAF; airplane photos are not credited, but are certainly from USAAF.