EVENTS of the past 30 days indicate that those of us who have placed our faith in the growing might of America's aerial arm will soon see our dreams translated into military reality. The signs which point the road American fighting power is to take are unmistakable. Within the short space of a year American military leadership has revolutionized its views on aerial striking power, and has gone most of the distance toward accepting the battle-plane as the primary instrument of combat. There is little left of the classic hostility which old line military men had once shown toward the independent strategical mission of the airplane.
I venture to predict that basic American strategy, in concord with a similar development in British thinking, will be directed in 1943 toward the smashing of the already wobbly German transportation system in an effort to precipitate an internal collapse of the Reich.
There will also be a fundamental revision of tactics in the Pacific Theater. Every effort will be made to utilize the Asiatic mainland as a base for aerial assault against the Japanese islands themselves. Combined with this operation there will be a vast acceleration of the submarine campaign, designed to tear Japan's sea communications to shreds. We will undoubtedly retain the strategic initiative, utilizing the fully unleashed force of air power as our primary striking arm. The scope of the recently laid out program and the inevitable strategy which must follow in its wake, is fantastic.
Some inkling into this imposing power structure was given in President Roosevelt's fireside chat of January 8th, in which he promised the Axis that "no matter where and when we strike by land, we and the British and the Russians will hit them from the air heavily and relentlessly, day in and day out."
The coming direction of American military development may also be seen in a joint statement issued a few days earlier by WPB and the War and Navy Departments, stressing that "great importance in the strategic plans for this year is placed on aircraft, merchant shipping, and naval and combat vessels." It is significant that the manufacture of tanks, ammunition, guns and military vehicles will be first reduced by 15 per cent (perhaps by more later) in order to release materials and facilities for the aircraft production line (which will receive the lion's share of the benefit from this move). The tank program itself has been reduced 20 per cent. At the same time it is planned to build "about twice the number and four times the weight of planes built in 1942, with emphasis continued on bombers designed to carry the maximum destruction to the enemy fighting forces and industrial centers."
Only a few months ago the suggestion that plants engaged in the manufacture of tanks or ordnance be converted to the production of aircraft was regarded as the outpourings of air power maniacs. Today it is no longer even radical.
It is plain that air power is stepping out of the "auxiliary" phase, and that America's streamlined forces are to be placed on wings in a determined effort to seize absolute control of the aerial ocean which will be the dominant battle sphere of the future. The view is given in the frank statement by Lieut Gen H H Arnold that mounting power of the Allies "will win the war in the air" during 1943, pressing inexorably toward complete victory.
The monthly American output of airplanes is now well over 5,000 of all types. In 1943 a production of 10,000 a month is planned, with special emphasis on huge bomb carriers which will make the present Fortress (B-17) and Liberator (B-24) types look small. According to Lieutenant General Arnold, the firepower in these newest ships will make the present .50-caliber machine guns "seem like peashooters."
The US Army Air Forces now contain something over one million men. In 1943 it is planned to increase these to somewhere around 2,500,000.
It is believed here that the total German production of all types cannot exceed 2,500 a month. Japanese production is certainly under 1,000, while that of our ally, Britain, must be near the 3,000 mark. With their installations and productive facilities under continual assault, the Axis air forces will have passed their peak and be on the down grade. At least this is the assumption of that section of our military planners who have been converted to the scheme of all-out air attack. Great satisfaction is expressed here over the account the Boeing Fortress and the Consolidated Liberator types have given of themselves. These have succeeded in various engagements in fighting their way through determined enemy opposition in broad daylight with relatively small losses, though it must be assumed that the Axis will find some method of again equalizing this situation. Lockheed's Lightning (P-38) seems to be justifying in actual combat the high opinion held for it by the writer in published comments almost a year back. Both in North Africa and in the South Pacific the Lightning, once described as a "hot" ship with an incurable tail flutter, has proved itself vastly superior to the Jap Zero and on the record a finer piece of combat mechanism than either the Focke-Wulf Fw-190 or the Messerschmitt Me-109G.
Republic's Thunderbolt (P-47), now in production, and for which high hopes are held, is said to have made contact with the enemy in an experimental encounter in North Africa and to have more than justified the expectations held for it. Much is expected of the Bell Airacobra (P-39), in production in a radically altered design, and the fast North American Mustang (P-51). In quantity these will be relied on to take over the routine sky slugging for the Air Forces.
Plastics and plywood are coming into heavy use. The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation has announced the use of a laminated paper plastic as a substitute for aluminum. Both Ryan and Fairchild have completed plastic-bonded jobs for the Army which practically eliminate critical materials. In the Ryan plane, a primary trainer, substitutes have been made for all strategic metals with the exception of the engine cowling. Other companies are eliminating aluminum by the use of wood or thin sheet steel.
The extraction of aluminum and magnesium themselves has been vastly accelerated. Production on the former alone is said to have exceeded one billion pounds during the year, and to be rising rapidly.
A great deal of attention is being centered on air cargo, on which a spectacular expansion is looked for. The Fairchild company has announced the development of a long-range tank carrying plane which is now in production. Consolidated Aircraft Corporation has drawn plans for a huge transport capable of carrying 400 passengers at 500 miles an hour to Europe and back without refueling. The Curtiss-Wright Caravan (C-76), to be built with 65 per cent of the work subcontracted to the wood industry, also is capable of carrying a battle tank and is said to have a range in excess of 3,500 miles. Among others, the shipbuilder Andrew Higgins has an order for 1,200 Army cargo planes (Caravans) to be built largely of non-strategic materials. First deliveries of these huge craft are planned by early summer.
Cargo carriers now are rolling off the production lines of many companies in quantity. It is believed that the existence of these facilities will completely revolutionize all transportation for the postwar period. Present figures indicate that the cost of air-carried freight can be brought to less than four cents per ton-mile. At this figure the economic factor overwhelmingly would favor the air carrier for all first class travel, shipments of perishables, or goods in which the time factor entered.
That there will be an international race for control of the air 1anes after the war cannot be seriously doubted. With an eye to this development Croil Hunter, president of Northwest Airlines recently issued a statement urging that the principle of Freedom of the Air be adopted as a corollary to the Freedom of the Sea principle. He asserted that this would be "a great boon to the war program and the peace to follow."
There is complete certainty here that air installations and production facilities will not be allowed to decay as after World War I. Glenn L Martin looks for a demand for commercial planes in quantities so huge as to be "bigger than anything we ever dreamed of." The signs of the times are written in the deep interest evidenced by the Congress. In the House, Minority Leader Joe Martin joined the movement for the establishment of a standing Committee on Civil Aviation, asserting that "we believe that while we concentrate on our war aviation needs we must also plan the place America must occupy in air transportation in the post-war world." He seeks a continuing committee to deal with aviation problems and development.
The best opinion here is that there will be inevitably a Secretary for Aviation in the President's Cabinet as soon as the improvisations due to insistent war problems have lost their usefulness. The mushrooming post-war industry will touch every angle of American life, social and economic as well as political and military. It will require some type of control in the best interests of the nation.
WILLIAM B. ZIFF,
This column was originally published in the March, 1943, issue of Flying magazine, vol 32, no 3, pp 44, 134.
The PDF of this column includes a thumbnail portrait of Mr Ziff.