STRATEGY is the art of war and is concerned with the ability to concentrate military force on the enemy at a given time and place. Air strategy involves all the methods by which a nation impresses its will through the use of air power. It concerns the selection of the enemy targets and the best means of their destruction from the air.
Strategy is as old as history and its general principles have changed but little down through the centuries. Air strategy, however, is as new as the long-range heavy bomber, with its ability to span oceans and continents with loads of destruction.
America's air doctrine for years has been based, solidly on the principle of long-range bombardment. Air forces are strictly offensive in character. This was not generally appreciated until recently, and efforts to gear our Air Force solely to defense or to limit it strictly to co-operation with ground forces were bound to fall short of our requirements.
No longer are broad oceans or "Maginot Lines" regarded as sufficient protection. War has become global. Statesmen as well as generals and admirals have been forced to study globes as well as maps, and many radical readjustments in thinking have resulted. Air power has shrunk distances so that we no longer speak of a place as so many thousands of miles away, but so many hours.
Modern war is three-dimensional. No longer are armies and navies to be regarded as effective means of preventing enemy incursions. War has become vertical. We are demonstrating daily that it is possible to descend from the skies into any part of the interior of an enemy nation and destroy its power to continue the conflict. War industries, communications, power installations and supply lines are being blasted by attacks from the air. Fighting forces have been isolated, their defenses shattered and sufficient pressure brought by air power alone to force their surrender. Constant pounding from the air is breaking the will of the Axis to carry on.
The days when a nation depended wholly on its army and navy for victory have gone forever. War has become total. Air power brings the reality of war to the people as a whole. The laboratory and the factory, the mine and the field all the nation's resources must be mobilized. There will be no permanent victory in the air or on land or sea without victory on the home front and that means that the enemy home front is a part of our legitimate target for air power. And the air strategy which brings victory must not be scrapped when the last bomb is dropped. For the security of a world in which the air will be a dominating factor our wings must not be clipped.
There are three principal ways in which air power can be used strategically, tactically and logically. These three aspects of air power stem back into the roots of American air thinking. Strategic air power is a war-winning weapon in its own right, and is capable of striking decisive blows far behind the battle line, thereby destroying the enemy's capacity to wage war. The highest development of strategic air power in the war to date is found in the activities of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command, our 8th Air Force Bomber Command (now called Strategic Air Force), and Major General Doolittle's Strategic Air Force, one of the component parts of the Northwest African Air Forces, commanded by Lieutenant General Spaatz.
People are only now realizing what a vital part strategic bombing played in the earlier part of the African campaign. All through the summer of 1942, General Brereton's Mitchells and Liberators and RAF Wellingtons and Halifaxes were smashing Axis docks and shipping at Tobruk and Benghazi, and ports in Crete and Greece. More than two-thirds of the shipping laden with supplies for the Afrika Korps was sunk, and large numbers of Junkers Ju-52 transports shot down. Rommel's heavy supply line was dried up by long-range air attack.
In the Tunisian campaign this operation was repeated on a grand scale by Major General Doolittle's Strategic Air Force and other elements of RAF Air Marshal Tedder's Mediterranean Air Command. By blasting away at airdromes, ports and shipping and shooting large numbers of air transport planes and huge powered, gliders out of the air in some of the most dramatic actions of the war, we were able to isolate the Axis forces and effectively prevent their being reinforced. with troops, supplies and equipment.
Strategic air power based in England played an important, although indirect, part in the battle for Tunisia by crippling or destroying war plants in Germany and occupied France. Production of new machine tools, antiaircraft guns, motor transport, aircraft, engines and tanks was slowed down and their flow to the front further reduced by disrupting railroad yards, blasting bridges, blowing up locomotives and freight trains.
Deprived of the weapons of war, the Axis forces collapsed as soon as the terrific drive on the battlefield, by coordinated ground and air forces, really got under way. Thousands of lives were saved, and weeks of time, as compared. with the mile by mile, village by village method of classical warfare, which has always proved so costly in a war of position. By this action we again proved the sky road to both Berlin and Tokyo can be utilized to the full to blast the heart out of the citadel before our combined operations take over for the final drive.
The Army Air Forces' principle of precision bombing, aimed at knocking out not an entire industrial area, nor even a whole factory, but the most vital parts of Germany's war machine, such as the power plants and machine shops of particular factories, has had many illustrations during the past few months. The mission against the submarine works at Vegesack in March was a notable example of precision bombing. With their eyes on the targets, and using an automatic device enabling them to exercise direct control of the plane during the bombing run, our bombardiers dropped some 250 tons of bombs, hitting seven out of 15 submarines actually in the construction ways, and inflicting heavy damage on the power plant and 17 other key buildings.
On May 14, in the 1,000-mile round trip mission against the U-boat yards at Kiel the actual bombing results were even better. About 287 tons of bombs were dropped by 125 of our heavy bombers, and reconnaissance photographs indicate that nearly every bomb landed smack in the target area, inflicting terrific damage.
A secondary result of these engagements (each one of which is sufficiently important to call an air battle) is that the Luftwaffe has been forced into defensive action. Single-engined day fighters of the latest types, including souped up, heavily armed versions of the Messerschmitt Me-109 and Focke-Wulf Fw-190 are being thrown in with desperate determination to stop these bombings at any cost, and many such fighters have been shifted from other areas. We have proved that they cannot stop us. Our heavy bombers are shooting them down in substantial numbers, and recently we have had the added protection of a number of modified fighter versions of the Flying Fortresses, so heavily armed they are called "flying hedgehogs." Knocking the Luftwaffe out of the skies continues to be one of our main jobs, During April, May and June our bombers and fighters shot down 821 German planes over Europe, against 183 of our own, a ratio of 4½ to 1; including "probables" it is about 6 to 1. In order to hold their own the Luftwaffe would have to destroy our planes at the ratio of 2 to 1. There is growing evidences that the Luftwaffe, spearhead of the early Nazi triumphs, will prove to be the Achilles heel leading to the collapse of Hitler's ill-fated "new order."
An outstanding example of the possibilities of strategic bombing dealing a powerful, paralyzing stroke, is the great attack on the Rumanian oil refineries at Ploesti by 177 Liberators of the 9th Air Force, Middle East. It is the most important single air blow of the war to date.
Two air engagements which took place during the first half of 1943 will have an important place in the history of warfare. The first is the remarkable victory of the Bismarck Sea during the first four days of March in which land-based air power alone decisively stopped and then annihilated an enemy invasion fleet. The second was the virtually all-air conquest of Pantelleria in June, another milestone in the development of military aviation.
The Bismarck Sea victory was notable for its completeness, for the perfect integration of various parts of the attacks and as an example of direct air assistance to ground forces by destroying an enemy division, with its supplies and equipment, before it could even get into action.
Probably the most far-reaching effect, however, was its conclusive demonstration of the effectiveness of minimum altitude bombing, sometimes referred to as skip-bombing, a phrase which is hardly descriptive of the main features of this important new technique. Developed at Eglin Field early in 1942, each theater has worked out its own application of the basic theory. It has been used with great success in the Mediterranean and the Aleutians as well as the Southwest Pacific, and has its applications to land as well as sea operations.
On the island of Pantelleria the all-out air assault was so overwhelming and so concentrated that the defense was saturated and surrender became inevitable. This engagement has often been compared to Crete, but the difference is fundamental. Crete was lost to airborne troops who landed and fought it out with defending ground troops. The white cross on Pantelleria's battered airdrome before a single soldier or sailor landed is a symbol of the ability of air power to capture any citadel once its own supremacy in the skies is established, and provided a sufficiently sustained and, powerful air assault can be brought to bear against it. It is simply a matter of mathematics (or physics). While air assault is not without cost, this type of warfare is actually cheapest on all counts and it is by far the greatest economizer in human lives.
The American doctrine of total air power, while emphasizing the tremendous possibilities of strategic bombing, has always included the idea of close co-operation with ground forces as a team. In our development of attack aviation in the early '20s it was established that the air arm was not to be regarded as merely for support of ground actions, but that it could act by itself, under the high command, by attacking from the air the same objectives as the infantry and artillery attacked from the ground.
This principle has seen its finest development to date in the operations of the Tactical Air Force in the Tunisia campaign. General Montgomery of the British 8th Army was convinced that to secure the concentration and the flexibility required of air power on the battlefield, the air operations should be under an air commander, the ground operations under a ground commander, and that both of these officers should be on the staff of the commander-in-chief of the theater and work together in the closest possible co-operation. This was done in Tunisia, and together with the work of the Strategic Air Force and the equally vital (if less spectacular) services of the Coastal Command, the Air Service, Air Engineer and Troop Carrier units, the Reconnaissance Wing and the Operational Training Command, the results were terrific. A pattern for victory has been clearly established.
Another highly significant development of the present war is that at last logistics, the art and science of military supply, has taken to the air on a grand scale. This does not mean, of course, that any considerable bulk of the requirements of the Air Forces (or of the Army generally) are being flown to the combat areas in transport planes. Shipping is vital in this war of immense distances, and our country's outstanding performance in exceeding its heavy quota of merchant ships and getting the stuff to our widely scattered theaters of operation will constitute no small part of the final victory. However, it is unquestioned that the remarkable spread of American air power to 10 fighting fronts in all parts of the world within less than a year of the attack on Pearl Harbor is very largely due to the rapid pioneering development of the Air Transport Command. Organized in May, 1941, to ferry lend-lease planes, the ATC has expanded in a little over two years to a world-wide airline operating more than 110,000 miles of airways over five great routes, with all the airfields, hangars, gasoline storage facilities, communications and weather reporting service that this implies. Over these routes a steadily increasing stream of combat planes is being ferried daily, and impressive quantities of high priority supplies and equipment, besides key personnel, are transported to the fighting front.
The articles in this issue give in as great detail as is permissible the full story of the development to date of the Army Air Forces at war. It is hoped that a vivid impression will also be gained of the splendid spirit of officers and men of the Air Forces and the unequaled teamwork of all its branches.
This article was originally published as the keynote of the "Special Issue US Army Air Forces At War" October, 1943, issue of Flying magazine, vol 33, no 4, pp 50-51, 352-353.
The PDF of this article includes a full-page color office portrait of General Arnold.
Photo credited to Pix, Inc.