Aviation's War Communique No 22

Invasion of Italy and its forthwith surrender launches fifth war year as Nazi vitals are targeted within Allied noose … Pacific successes noted … Manpower remains big problem at home.

Power of allied arms, tightly forging a band of steel around Fortress Europa, marked the opening of the fifth year of war. Most significant, that band newly impinged the very neck cords of the Axis as the Allies invaded the Italian mainland and wrested unconditional surrender from that southern pole of the Axis; also additional victories were won on the Russian front. Within the shortening noose highly augmented air power was blasting with new tempo at the German vitals.

New pressure, too, was evident in the Pacific theaters. There was the sweep-out of the Aleutians; the raid on Marcus Island, striking closer than ever to the Jap homeland and bringing first action reports of the Grumman Hellcat; further assaults on the Kuriles; telling blows by our 14th Air Force at Canton and Hong Kong; the noteworthy 1,000-mi raid by B-24s upon Nicobar Island off the Burma Coast; paratroop landings in force to bottle the Japs' Lae-Salamaua bases; and the record of 191 enemy aircraft destroyed in the Solomons during August at a loss of a mere 14. Further, the check-off of the Italian navy hastens the day when new American and British naval forces can be sped against Japan.

Meanwhile, this 22nd monthly report finds a major problem back home. Airplane production, now running wide open, is being pressured to get above the level (August) of 7,600 aircraft per month. The limiting factor is manpower, with the worker market now picked clean. We ran out of skilled labor long ago. Then we began training people. Now, all available males suitable for training have been raked in; only a few women over and above those needed to maintain national housekeeping remain to be found.

There are many reasons for the airplane man-power shortage. Army and Navy took too many of the young and alert workers, and they also took too many of the key supervisors, designers, bosses. Better pay in shipyards and in numerous other pursuits generated by the flood of war money attracts workers away from plane plants which are covered by wage ceilings. And there are the country people, initially attracted by the glamour of airplanes and fat pay, who find the jostling and the hall bedrooms intolerable and go back to the old front yard.

But the main problem is that the shelves are bare of workers. Practically speaking, there aren't any more. And much of the additional manpower necessary to run production up to 10,000 per month will have to come out of somebody's hide. Which means that still more ground and sea weapons and supplies will have to be cut back. That is where the rub comes. Officers in command of these services won't let them go without a tussle.

In other words, the high command of the United States (and of the Allied nations) is trying to run a total air war — a strategic all-air war — while it tries also to run a full-scale surface war with all its trappings, afloat and ashore. Our 10,000,000-man Army (minus the Air Forces) and our seven-ocean Navy are a heavy burden, even for these incredible United States. But on top of that we have to maintain a fairly wholehearted attempt at air war. Time will tell whether the Allied chiefs are mistaken or not. At present, they themselves are not quite sure enough of their standing to take their feet off the ground and let drive through the air.

Churchill said that it would be worth while to try to bomb Europe out of the war. But the all-air people do not admit that it is being tried. It could not be tried, they contend, unless a major portion of Allied energy were put into the production, maintenance, and operation of warplanes.

In so far as aircraft production is in competition against other war equipment — the manpower problem is up to the Executive. But there is more to it. Large numbers of capable, draft-exempt males are working at non-essential jobs in production and services for the civil population. Other thousands are working in shipyards and other essential occupations (but less essential than aircraft) simply because they want to. The government has no power (yet) to tell a man where he shall work. This may seem strange indeed, since it has power to put him in a uniform and deprive him of all liberty, even his life. Such power has been under consideration all along, but the people have been against it. However, the solution of the aircraft manpower problem may take the form of a manpower draft bill in the Congress just reassembled. The final solution probably will be a compromise between Executive and Congressional action.

Congress also will have before it several aviation bills of first importance. One of these is HR 1012, drafted to revise the civil aeronautics law. This little document may become the magna carta of world air transport. The highest government officials, including the President, will take a hand in the inevitable controversy over domestic and international air rights. And because the United States is a world leader, other governments will notice what is done and will try to influence our action.

The main bout will be between the Executive and the Congress. Some weeks ago a group of Senators took note of quiet efforts of the Administration to make a bilateral air transport deal with Britain. Sen Champ Clark thereupon called upon the President and other officials and made it clear that Congress intends to sit in on the planning of the postwar aviation world.

Aircraft manufacturers still are not satisfied with the contract renegotiation law, under which the government recaptures any profits which are considered "excessive" by Army and Navy price adjustment boards. The manufacturers say they do not wish to profit by the war, but they do want to be allowed to accumulate cash reserves with which to rehabilitate themselves and their employees after the war. Congress has turned down several attempts to revise the law, even for industries whose futures are more precarious than aircraft, and the outlook is not bright for. the current attempt. However, these matters are unpredictable because, the temper of the people changes as the war passes into new phases.

Contract termination may also call for Congressional action. After the last war, quibbling over settlement of many war contracts went on for months and even years. This time, war manufacturers want a system which will enable them to get out clean in order to put their energies to a new beginning. Many of them say they would rather take a moderate trimming from the government and get out quick than fool around indefinitely. Some government contract executives feel that War, Navy, and other procurement agencies should risk losses to attain speed.

The Army has already terminated some 5,000 contracts, and the Navy about 1,500. This comprises "good practice" for the big close-out events yet to come. And incidentally, this war is so much bigger than the 1914-18 job — in terms of materials — that cutbacks already add up to more than total contracts terminated in the post-armistice days of 1918.

It is doubtful if any high and responsible official in the government has made up his mind, just what should be done with the war plants, and how. This problem is enough to send all the economists from Harvard to a boogie-woogie session. But Congress will have to deal with it — as well as with all the fast political and promotion schemes that will come in its wake. The public will never quite understand what goes on. You may look for said public to approve of whatever schemes are most simply presented, and which seem to pay off in some form or other. This is a tremendous deal: About one-fifth of the industrial power of the United States is now owned by the government — and a big slice of it is airplane factories. Responsible authorities, both private and official, have estimated the postwar requirement for aircraft at from 10 percent down to 1 percent of the present output — implying that most of our plants will have to make something other than airplanes, if they make anything.

As stated, on the battle fronts all goes favorably at this writing. During recent months the AAF command could hardly believe in the comparative weakness of the German Luftwaffe. Even Under-Secretary of War Patterson thought that Goering might have stored some aviation up his sleeve for a last-ditch fight. But now it is clear to all that the vaunted air machine which once frightened the world with its power and its banshee whistles is not what it used to be. It can still fight wickedly in defense of city strongholds. But it cannot muster enough power from its three-sided front to make an attack in force. Probably any one of Germany's three enemies is now superior to her in point of aviation. The USAAF estimates that Germany has around 5,000 combat, planes capable of action on any given day (with 5,000 in reserve). The Russians say that 3,000 of those planes are on the eastern front, leaving 2,000 to face the western and southern fronts.

The effect of bombing is a sort of creeping paralysis; it hasn't yet crept from Germany's manufacturing centers to the fighting arms. When it does, the Allied command will feel more certain whether or not it wants to take any long steps toward more purely strategic action. It is commonly said that Russia is taking the brunt of the war. That certainly is true in terms of lives sacrificed. But history may show that Allied aviation delivered the punch that glazed the monster's eyes and sagged his knees.

We are getting a first view of aviation limitations in this war. When we passed the President's 50,000-plane goal, many persons wondered whether we could run the figure on up ad infinitum. When the British staged a 1,000-plane attack on Europe, many wondered if the scale could be stepped up to several thousand. The answer is now clear to see. If we run full-scale land and sea wars, we can manage only a limited amount of air war. We were busting our suspenders passing the 50,000 plane mark, and regular 1,000 plane assaults are still in the future.

In the Pacific we have damaged Japan's navy, and we have taken a prophetic toll of Hiro's aircraft. But land and manpower losses to the Nippons remain small. Still we have taken their measure and we know now that when we hit them they drop. We are booting them out of base after base. But to fight Japan in close, from this distance, we need to have several times their power. We are building the increased power by increased production, but it's still said that the big decisive bulge against the Japs will only come when we start pulling mountains of materials plus veteran soldiers and airmen out of Europe. Of course, we may have enough steam to wear them down to some extent while we are still fighting Hitler.

Our fleet of aircraft carriers is surprisingly large now and is growing rapidly. There have been indications lately that we may be able to hit Japan hard with ship-based aviation in addition to our land-based campaign, which will continue to be a struggle. Recent offensive actions by our fleet in dangerous waters comparatively close to Tokyo tend to show that ship-based attacks will he practical as soon as we have the necessary fleet superiority. Meanwhile, there is always the chance that the Japanese fleet can be caught and decimated in a show-down battle.

Some, estimates of Japan's aircraft output now run as high as 1,000 per month. But whether it's 500 or 1,500 won't save the Nipponese when England and the United States join forces against them Japan is showing a serious lack of elasticity in airplane design; the improvements come slowly and none of them shows true facility in the military competition.

Germany's war leaders know now that they are licked. They are only hoping that time will wear us down, thus enabling them to negotiate for their necks and their original domain. The average Jap, on the other hand, considers himself farther removed, sitting out of range on a vast empire which, as yet, has hardly been scratched.

This article was originally published in the October, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 10, pp 117, 342, 345-346.
The original article includes a photo of an upgunned version of the A-20.
Photo not credited.