AMERICA AT WAR

Aviation's War Communique No 20

All-out air assaults are commended by Gen Spaatz … and Hitler newspaper confesses air war is "damned serious" … Channel, Russian, and Mediterranean theatres split Luftwaffe three ways … Japs "at least status quo-ed" … Home front gages potential headaches.

Air power applied in overpowering force against an enemy objective can eliminate it. This is the reported statement of Maj Gen Carl A Spaatz, deputy commander of Allied air forces in North Africa. It is the first declaration by an Army official which would meet the full approval of a "pure air power" advocate. However, Gen Spaatz did not say that Allied aviation is being used in accordance with this theory. Fact is, it is not being so used and probably won't be, in this war. But more and more of the men up high, including Gen MacArthur and Secretaries Stimson and Knox, are in agreement on the theory, and practice is coming closer to it.

Each month brings new evidence of weakness in Germany. Several times recently, the Axis radio has made surprising admissions of damage done by air attack. They predict invasions in the same way that the British did when they were scared stiff. One announcer recently went so far as to mention the possibility of Axis defeat. Multitudes of people are being pulled out of the Ruhr Valley, and what industry is haulable is being trundled eastward as fast as possible. Production of some essential goods recently has been observed in hastily constructed plants under the open sky. Months ago the Army had information that Germany would run out of some essential stuff at an early date. Perhaps it has happened. But at this writing no report, official or otherwise, has shown the enemy short of anything except airplanes. Everybody, on both sides, is still short of aviation, but the Germans are chaotically short. Their industrial works, cities, and transportation are frequently being hit without adequate defense.

As Germans were reported leaving their bombed cities in large numbers, Berlin dispatches to Stockholm reported that raids were having an "awful" effect on morale. "The air war is a damned serious affair," Hitler's newspaper said.

Many people have wondered why the Nazis have shown up with so relatively few planes for attack and defense in the West. This Communique has discussed it before, quoting various sources who admitted they were guessing. The matter has recently been explained rather logically. The original Luftwaffe was, initially, strong enough to take on and defeat with ease the combined air powers of Europe, with the United States thrown in. Never did Goering intend that any enemy should survive long enough to build a strong opposing air force. (He thought the United States would not really get started until after Europe and England were knocked out.)

But a little matter of qualitative superiority in the Spitfires and Hurricanes bought some time for the British and for the United States. Then Hitler crossed the Russian Rubicon, and that split his air force between the Channel and the Soviet front. And when the Allies invaded Africa that split the Luftwaffe three ways. The press will tell you that the Axis has its hands full in both the Russian and Italian theaters.

All this was not according to Axis plan. Furthermore, what had seemed to prewar visitors in Germany, and to early Nazi victims, like an unbeatable air machine, was really bush league when the big boys got going. It's now held that Germany never, at any time, had more than 5,000 first-line planes in operation, with another similar number in reserve.

True, that is a lot of airplanes, parked in dispersal and ready for action, as we ourselves found out when we first began to equip both the Allies and ourselves. But it was far from being enough. So it is that weak as the Nazis are in the air, and taking the beating they are, they show no weakness on the ground, as yet, as a result of it. Maybe they really are getting tired of their rations; maybe they have lost 80 or 50 or 70 percent of their war spirit; maybe their internal enemies are within a few pounds of popping-off pressure. Still, it doesn't show and you can't count on it. In our Allied airminded hearts is the hope, and probably the wishful belief, that signs will soon appear, indicating that overhead attack will turn the trick, making occupation by the walking Army nearly bloodless. But nobody can depend on it.

It is interesting to imagine a peek, from the other side of the fence, at the German people taking a pounding very much worse than the English towns ever took. The English were free to yelp and call quits if they wanted to. The Germans are not. If they were their own masters, would they have hollered uncle before now? Or are they taking in the manner they formerly dished it? The history books will tell.

Nazi propaganda already indicates that, when the time comes, a "poor Germany" campaign will be set afoot. Therefore, if you have tears to shed, as Antony said at Caesar's funeral, prepare to shed them — at the front bench with those who will plead for the people versus their wicked rulers. And incidentally, now that we have long range airplanes, on the day that the Axis is certain is "no go," the head men of Germany and Italy may be expected to beat it for neutral ground, there to be interned in lifelong comfort. This, if it happens, may bring a grim rush on the Allied box office by multitudes who have been paying their 20 percent tax to see the lot of them hanged.

In the Far East, we have at least status quo-ed the Japs. Tojo may make his little drives, but it's much doubted that he now retains the reach to hit Australia, Hawaii, or the United States successfully. We may grab another island now and then — a blood-sweating job that is much to be praised. But seizures made at this writing merely snub-back the Nips and protect our routes to Australia. Our high commanders themselves have said that there's little logic in going to Japan by the island route. There are hundreds of islands. Ask the responsible men, as the editors of these pages have done, and they will tell you that the Japs just have to wait for their real beating.

We could put bombers in China that could easily hit Japan, but not consistently without the necessary huge stores of gasoline, equipment, and all the rest. Nothing can get there now, except by airplanes crossing 16,000-ft mountains from India and carrying enough gasoline to get themselves out again. That flying man's run into Cathay is so tough and dangerous that, it makes a trans-Atlantic hop seem like a Sunday afternoon joyride.

In the Aleutians, Kiska remained the single Jap foothold on American terrain. As this was written, it was getting a double-plus softening up.

The Japs planned an effective war. They knocked out half of our capital fleet in about 20 min; they pushed the British down the Straits and took Singapore, whose guns pointed the wrong way; they captured a magnificent empire in the Philippines and the Indies; and they caught the Russians, who alone were close enough to sock them, otherwise engaged.

But they made mistakes, too. They underestimated the time of our recovery from the Pearl Harbor Sunday punch; they miscalculated the ability of the English to stay in India and turn it into a base of operations; and worst of all they bet on the wrong horse in the big-money race. Hitler was touted to win, but he is losing.

As we have said before, an enormous amount of war-making gear will be free for action on the Japan front when the Nazis fold. There have been no figures for a long time on Japanese aircraft production. Reports never did agree. Your can only guess for yourself. But if the Germans had 10,000 combat planes at their fronts, half of them in reserve, the Japs have had less. The reasoning is that they never show up in action with nearly as many planes as the Germans do. Most important: No matter how many they have it won't be enough. For we will have tens of thousands, pulled out of Europe, out of transit, and out of our factories and British factories, maybe out of Russian factories eventually, too. One officer, whose opinion is worth something, said he thought it would take six months to move our shooting equipment and camp outfits over there and get ready for action. That does not include the job of fighting our way into the jumpoff places, precise layout of which is all problematical now because we don't know what Russia will do. Of course the British and American navies combined can plow through the Japs, but considerably losses would have to be expected in mined waters and against Hiro's shore-based planes. Our commanders want to do it the life-saving way if they can.

Here on the home front, aviation is a major consideration, just as it is on the war fronts. To put it in a quick summary: People have gone nuts about helicopters, even girls in offices — and for all we know, rightly so …. It looks as if renegotiation of contracts is gong to skim off the profits from aircraft production as long as the war lasts, thus playing havoc with intentions of accumulating reserve funds …. All ground transportation — bus, railroad, and steamship lines — are going after the Civil Aeronautics Board and Congress with hammer and tongs for rights to establish air services of their own, although the present law says they can't do it …. The House Commerce Committee, busy redrafting the Civil Aeronautics Act since last February, has been forced by pressure groups to pull many of the bill's new teeth, and still hasn't made a report. There will be a honey of a fight about this bill next fall …. Schemes for liquidating the vast fleet of cargo airplanes that will be owned by the Army and Navy when peace comes, are beginning to rattle around in Washington's head. And schemes for liquidating the vast plants that are building warplanes also are being concocted, promising some terrible headaches.

In closing: If you have information about new military airplane development work, keep it under your scalp. The Army and FBI mean business in their current drives against the lunch hour confidence men.

This article was originally published in the August, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 8, pp 112-113, 290, 293-294.
The original article includes photos of a C-47 escorted by P-39s, Adak — the rutted tundra before Seabees got to it and a Ventura sitting on PSP after — and bombs falling on Leghorn, Italy.
Photos are not credited, but are probably AAF.