Army Air Forces Report

Gen H H Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces, has revealed in detail the story of the gigantic strides made by this country in creating an air force superior in numbers, materiel and achievement to that of any other nation in the world. That such a development took place during the first two years of war when all phases of industrial, commercial and personal life were undergoing a tremendous upheaval is all the more remarkable. In the carefully selected excerpts which comprise this article, Flying presents for the first time in an aviation publication, a comprehensive condensation of General Arnold's report, including those details hitherto held highly confidential by the AAF for military security reasons.



In the nineteen-thirties, when air power was the unseen guest at those grim conferences which marked the Nazi march to power, the Army Air Corps, which preceded the Army Air Forces, had drawn its blueprints for war.

We operated under these principles:

  1. The No 1 job of an air force is bombardment. We must have long-range bombers which can hit the enemy before he hits us.
  2. Our planes must be able to function under all climatic conditions, from the North to the South Pole.
  3. We believed in daylight operations.
  4. We operated with a precision bombsight.
  5. We developed highly-trained crews, accustomed to working as a team.
  6. We believed in the strategic precision bombing of key targets deep in the enemy's territory, such as airplane factories, aluminum plants and submarine building bases — as illustrated today by 8th Air Force operations from England over Germany.
  7. We practiced tactical operations in cooperation with ground troops. We used fighters, dive-bombers, and light bombers for attacking enemy airfields, communication centers, motor convoys, and troops by means of hedge-hopping aircraft. Such operations have paid dividends in North Africa.
  8. We planned combined operations with the Army Ground Forces and Navy, such as have taken place in the Aleutians, in Italy and in the Southwest Pacific.
  9. Our research program put special emphasis on high-altitude flight, and we refused to become discouraged when, on October 30, 1935, the first experimental Flying Fortress, the XB-17, crashed and burned on its test flight at Wright Field. We ordered 13 more at once.
  10. The General Headquarters Air Force was also responsible for our present ideas of organization, maintenance and supply.

It was obvious long before 1935, that mere numbers of planes were not enough. A powerful air force was the combined result of airmen, air bases, air supply and airplanes.

Before we entered the war we had resources that we could count on:

  1. We had the best aircrew material in the world. Our youth were accustomed to teamwork, competition and mechanical processes.
  2. Our commercial airlines were flying more miles than all the rest of the world' s airlines put together. The airlines had trained men whom we could call on to increase our experience level. We also had in 1939 some 30,000 civilian pilots who could fly or train others.
  3. The aviation industry was spending substantial sums on research projects, although it could not match the millions being poured into Nazi-subsidized laboratories.
  4. At the time of Pearl Harbor, our principal airplanes were flying successfully. The production of Flying Fortress bombers had begun in 1938. The Liberator was designed in 1938, and mass production begun early in 1941. The North American Mitchell medium bomber was designed in 1938, and mass production was begun in February,1941. The Martin Marauder medium bomber was designed in 1939, and production started in February, 1941. Design of the Lockheed Lightning fighter began in May, 1936; the first flight was in February, 1939, and the first planes came from the production lines in January, 1941. Bell Airacobra and Curtis Warhawk fighter production began in 1940. Republic Thunderbolt fighter production began in November, 1941. The North American Mustang fighter was in production for the British at the time of Pearl Harbor.
  5. Great as our industrial production was, we were faced with the staggering job of conversion.
  6. Since the last World War the Air Corps had followed two policies in relation to the aviation industry.

The Air Corps always endeavored to nourish the aviation industry with experimental and sustaining orders. Although at our air bases for many years we were often grounded for lack of gasoline due to lean appropriations, experimental work went on. The Air Corps also followed the policy, in contrast to foreign nations, of having two or more companies endeavor to develop the same general type of plane. We believed in competition and individual enterprise. As a result, designers came up with somewhat similar planes of different qualities, such as the Fortress and Liberator, and the Mitchell and Marauder, and our many types of fighters.

As of January 1, 1944, it can be revealed that the Army Air Forces number 2,385,000 officers and men, as was planned two years ago. Yet only a few years ego the Commanding General knew literally every man in the Air Corps.

The expansion of our personnel began in 1938 when the Army Air Forces had about 1,300 officers and 18,000 men, with a Reserve of 2,800 officers and 400 men. In 1938 we were building 100 military planes a month. We had 1,600 planes. We then ranked about seventh among the nations of the world in military aircraft, but not in plans and ideas.

In November, 1938, the chief of the Air Corps called aviation manufacturers together. He asked them to plan for unprecedented expansion. He could guarantee them no funds, offer them no contracts. He asked them to prepare to double and triple their plants, to become assembly plants, with sub-assemblies to be produced by the automotive and other industries — whoever could do the job. The aviation industry began making heavy outlays for expansion.

To provide airmen to fly the planes then being built it was necessary to expand Army Air Forces training facilities at once. The idea was criticized as being against precedent, but heads of our civilian flying schools were called in by the Army Air Forces. They were to get ready to teach huge classes in primary flight. The Army Air Forces could offer them no contracts at the time to justify complete change-overs of their programs, but the flying schools immediately prepared to help handle the pilots.

After war broke out in September, 1939, the Army Air Forces took advantage of the bloody lessons being learned in the skies over Europe. Although foreign nations were buying planes in this country, they were reluctant to release any combat data. This kept us from producing combat planes with the latest features. We were not building the world's best or latest combat planes.

An understanding was reached whereby the foreign purchasers could buy from our American factories providing

  1. they furnished us with the latest information on combat improvements, and
  2. our planes then in production were modified by our aviation industry to be up to date without additional cost to the United States.
It was clear that modern combat put a premium on heavier guns, leakproof gas tanks, greater fighter range, protective armor, and tail guns for bombers. The Army Air Forces put its faith in the American .50-caliber machine gun. The gun was based on the .30-caliber Browning.

When Germany attacked Norway in April, 1940, it was another victory for air power. When prevented from moving thousands of troops in ships, the Germans moved them by air. The Germans would have been in a difficult situation had Norway destroyed its airports. The control of airports was shown to be of paramount importance. We learned many things from those operations — ideas and practices that were invaluable to us later. Today, for instance, in the South Pacific, we are forcing the Japs out of one locality after another by seizing airports which are then used by our planes to cut off Jap supply lines, and thus make their bases untenable.

After Dunkirk, Great Britain needed planes to stave off the threatened invasion. The Army Air Forces sent its own desperately needed aircraft to the Royal Air Force. During the fiscal year 1940, the Army Air Forces actually received only 886 airplanes of all types from the manufacturers. However, as Hitler's conquests continued, the Army Air Forces production goal was jumped to 10,000 airplanes. With the fall of France in May-June 1940, the goal was set by our commander in chief at 50,000 planes a year.

By January 15, 1941, the Army Air Forces had grown to 6,180 officers, 7,000 flying cadets, and 88,000 enlisted men. Meanwhile we were short of aircraft of all kinds, due in part to sending planes to our Allies.

In mid-1941 we were building up our aerial lines of communication and supply across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In April, 1941, we established weather stations and airfields in Greenland, and we went into Iceland in July of that year.

Germany required 10 years to create her Luftwaffe; we were required to build our air force in one, and to fight with it in four corners of the world at the same time. By December 7, 1941, our expansion program had been well started. The Army Air Forces then had a two-fold task: to build up a gigantic training system, and to hold off the enemy until we could build up strength to take the offensive.

There was no question as to whether the training program could be carried out; the Army Air Forces had to become the largest single educational organization in existence in a very short time. Facilities were secured, teachers were hired, and textbooks were written while the first classes were being held. At the start there was little training equipment, such as bombsights, navigators' sextants, or drift meters. Worst of all, actual planes were lacking. Instructors were somewhat in the position of a man teaching another to swim by showing him a glass of water, but we improvised until teaching materials were ready, working with mock-ups and synthetic aids. Nearly 500 hotels, plus garages, theaters, warehouses, exhibition halls, parking lots, athletic fields and other structures were leased.

Our training system could be compared with assembly line production. Individual training produced skilled specialists, such as the mechanic or bombardier, and the specialists were assembled along the line into fighting teams. Further along, they were assembled into still more complex combat teams; for instance, the reconnaissance units had to become thoroughly familiar with ground force operations; troop carrier units had to practice with the ground units they carried into battle.

As a result of tremendous effort, the Army Air Forces equipped and trained airmen to defeat the enemy who had been preparing feverishly for a decade — and shoot him down in aerial combat at a rate of never less than two planes for one in any theater of war, and at an overall rate of four to one. (Enemy planes destroyed in aerial combat compared with US planes destroyed in aerial combat, Feb 2, 1942 - Oct 31, 1943.)

Flying safety is vital both to our individual men and to our program; we need every soldier. From the outset, the Army Air Forces have taught the men at home the maneuvers that they would execute in combat abroad.

Despite the tremendous expansion of Army Air Forces flying, the rate of accidents per 1,000 hours flown did not increase as anticipated in the fiscal year ended June 30, 1943, but was, in fact, reduced fractionally from .739 to .716. This rate of accidents was lower than the average rate for the 10 peacetime years of 1931-1940, although more than three times more miles were flown last year than in the whole preceding 20-year period. As a result of the increased proportion of larger and heavier planes carrying more personnel, of faster military aircraft and of newly trained pilots, the rate of fatal accidents was up fractionally from .077 in 1942, to .083 for the full fiscal year of 1943. The trend near the end of the year was downward and in the last quarter the rate was below that of 1942.

Starting with only two officers and one clerk in a small room, today's Air Transport Command totals over 85,000 officers and men.

The first ferried plane was delivered to the British on June 7, 1941. By December 7, 1941, approximately 1,200 had been flown to the British and our own Air Forces, and the first delivery had been made across the South Atlantic to Egypt. From that time to this the number of planes in the air and the volume of freight carried have steadily increased. On one recent day 680,000 pounds of materiel, munitions and supplies were delivered by air to one theater of operations.

By July, 1942, it had been determined that military air transportation had grown up; the Ferrying Command was reorganized as the Air Transport Command, to perform all kinds of air ferrying and air transportation. Under its control the various airlines, on contract with the War Department and flying aircraft issued to them by the Army, render transport services for the armed forces and our Allies.

To help meet the tremendous need for personnel, women pilots were first employed by the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command in September, 1942. At the same time a training program was begun to train women pilots for ferrying and other duties. Now known as the Women's Airforce Service Pilots or WASPS, they are doing an effective job of delivering aircraft in the United States, from the smallest planes to Thunderbolt fighters, Flying Fortress bombers and Skytrain transports. By January 1, 1944, about 1,000 women, including trainees, were on duty.

Since the Ferrying Command was established in May, 1941, the transport and ferry systems of the Air Transport Command now extend over some 110,000 miles of routes. In recent months an average of more than 12,000,000 miles a month have been flown in ferrying operations and more than 10,000,000 in air transport. It will be realized that air transportation itself does not solve the whole problem of supply, but the ability to fly in vital cargo on short notice can and has turned the tide of battle.

Members of the Women's Army Corps are now serving 20,000 strong at airfields and air bases in the US. WACS are filling 200 different jobs in the Army Air Forces, such as Link trainer operators, parachute riggers, cryptographers, camouflage technicians, weather observers and flight control tower operators.

The Air Service Command, formed in October, 1941, surpasses in size and is doing a wholesale round-the-globe business greater than any mercantile establishment in the world. It employs 300,000 civilians, of whom 43 per cent are women. The Air Service Command's 300 warehouses contain 500,000 different items — five times as many as are listed in the Sears Roebuck catalog. Every one of them is needed for the 150 aircraft types of the Army Air Forces. The storage space in the US alone is equivalent to a building 75 feet wide and 100 miles long.

The Air Service Command prepares equipment and supplies — which are moved by ship to 210 foreign ports. It can now be stated that for every pilot overseas, the Air Service Command sends out the surprising average of nine tons of aviation supplies monthly, not including food and other items handled by the Quartermaster. The Air Service Command supplies 4,000,000 barrels of aviation gasoline per month.

Since our Air Forces fight all over the globe, their officers and men are subject to health hazards unknown at home. When an airplane goes from one theater to another it is carefully inspected so that it does not transport germs or disease-carrying insects.

Calculating the medical and dental supplies needed in all war theaters — for jungle, desert, mountain, and arctic operations — is another task of the Air Surgeon. During the past fiscal year the Air Surgeon's office has coordinated the development and purchase of several hundred thousand aeronautic first aid kits, Navy type first aid kits for life rafts, airplane ambulance chests, and frying pan kits which are placed in the seat of the flier's parachute.

Still another task of the Air Surgeon is directing the air evacuation of wounded men. Since Pearl Harbor, over 125,000 casualties (sick, wounded, and injured) have been flown from combat zones in American transport planes.

The safety of transporting wounded by air has been demonstrated beyond doubt. In the Mediterranean theater from the beginning of the Tunisian campaign in November, 1942, to the close of the Sicilian campaign in September, 1943, more than 25,000 men with all types of illnesses and wounds were transported 8,000,000 miles by air. Only one patient died — one in 25,000.

Trips which would take weeks by hospital train or ship are now flown in a day.

Complete hospital service now moves with the mobility of war itself. Six days after the Army hospital in Nome, Alaska, burned down, a new and complete 25-bed hospital had been flown in from a distance of 3,400 miles. Two field hospitals were flown over the Owen Stanley Mountains in New Guinea. In Sicily, a 50-bed hospital was moved by air 44 miles in two and one-half hours from dismantling until it began receiving patients.

In designing Thunderbolt fighters, which maneuver at 400 mph, and Flying Fortress bombers which can climb to 40,000 feet altitude, aeronautical engineers have carried aircraft performance far beyond the natural tolerance limits of the human body. To make their planes humanly, as well as technically, practicable, the engineers have formed a close partnership with the medical scientists.

The main oxygen engineering achievement of the past two years has been the production of the demand type oxygen system, replacing the continuous flow type still found in the older planes. The demand system automatically supplies the flier the amount of oxygen he needs at any altitude up to 40,000 feet.

Constant research is being done on flying fatigue. Rest camps have been established in theaters of operation and in the US.

The convalescent training program, which was begun with our men in training, is now being extended to flyers overseas.

Modern war is a war for air bases; the bulldozer must accompany the plane. Aviation engineers operate normally under control of an Air Force, and have been termed an essential part of the air combat team. Airborne aviation engineer battalions, a new type unit initiated by the Air Engineer and unique in our Army, can be flown with their light equipment to locations inaccessible except by air, as has been demonstrated in the Southwest Pacific.

One of the elements of victory in North Africa was the speed with which our aviation engineers constructed airfields behind the front lines and pressed the attack.

When the United States forces first landed in North Africa there were nine airdromes that our planes could use. Within a few months there were a hundred. Mud, and later dust, were the worst problems. With the Axis on the run, airfields were built even faster. One request was received to build several fields in the Sbeitla sector; 72 hours later all were in use.

The portable steel landing mat, used in all theaters, has been one of the outstanding developments of the war. After experimentation with other types, our Allies now use the pierced steel plank type of landing mat developed in America. Today's production is concentrated on this type mat. To date approximately 175,000,000 square feet of the pierced steel type mat has been sent to the combat theaters, and 300,000,000 square feet is on order for the calendar year of 1944. Some conception of the logistics problems of modern war can be gained from the fact that some 60,000 pierced steel sheets 15 inches by 10 feet are required for a 150 by 5,000 feet runway, weighing nearly 2,000 tons, required 35,000 cubic feet of cargo space to be shipped overseas perhaps ten or twelve thousand miles. However, portable steel landing mats have proved to be worth many times their cost.

Weather is a critical factor in this war. The expansion of the Army Air Forces necessitated a corresponding increase in the weather service to fill the basic need for operational weather information. This has been done, and today the Army Air Forces Weather Service has units in every theater and along the air routes linking them to the United States. Personnel working on the Air Weather Service has increased 9,000 per cent.

This world-wide service, manned by thoroughly trained personnel, still did not completely fill our needs. Special climatic studies, based on historical records, permitted the selection by comparison of the best and worst periods of the year for a particular military operation. After selection of the proper season, it was necessary to wait until within 24 to 48 hours of "D" day before actually determining the weather possibility of a successful mission. The gap existing between climatic studies and short-range weather predictions had to be filled. Our only answer was in long-range forecasting — a determination of future weather well in advance of the mission planned.

Some conception of the size of the Army Air Forces may be gained from the recent statement of Robert A Lovett, Assistant Secretary of War for Air, that over one-half of the Army's entire production in 1944 will be aircraft and its equipment.

During January, 1942, the number of aircraft produced in this country totaled 2,972. In January, 1943, the total had risen to 5,013. In September, 1943, the total reached 7,598. Even more interesting, however, is the September, 1943, total of 7,598 as compared with 117 for September, 1939, when the war started. During November, 1943, approximately 8,800 planes were produced. At the same time that these gains in numbers were made, greater gains had been made in the size of the planes produced and in their quality as fighting weapons. Weight is a better gauge of production growth than numbers. Production of airplanes, measured on a weight basis, has increased more rapidly during the past half year than during 1942.

It can now be announced that up to October 1, 1943, a total of 26,900 planes have been exported to our Allies by lend-lease or direct purchase. These aircraft are being flown over Europe from the United Kingdom, Africa, Italy, the Middle East and the Mediterranean area by British, French, Polish, Czech, Norwegian and other airmen. In the Far East, aircraft produced in the US are being flown in combat by Chinese, British, Australian, and New Zealand airmen. On the front from the Baltic to the Black Sea, USSR pilots have operated our aircraft as well as their own against the common enemy.

One hundred and forty-five thousand planes are scheduled for completion by the War Production Board in the next 15 months. They will be heavier and more elaborately equipped. The average airframe weight of airplanes being produced now is twice as great as it was a year ago. The weight of heavy bombers to be produced in the next 18 months is scheduled to exceed that of all types of planes produced in our first year and a half of war.

Not one of our Air Forces has the planes it should have. Every one could use double the number it now possesses. The Salerno beachhead was one of the turning points of the war, and we had just enough aircraft to cover our landing forces. The biggest battles in the air and on land are yet to be fought. We will need every plane we can produce. At Wright Field, Dayton, OH, the Army Air Forces have thousands of engineers and specialists who spend all their time groping, creating, studying to attain and maintain aircraft, superior to those of our enemies. Wright Field designs, develops, tests new planes, engines and equipment, and supervises their procurement and production. It also tests enemy planes: German Messerschmitts, Junkers, Jap Zeros, Italian Macchis, and thousands of pieces of enemy equipment are evaluated.

Some of the more recent developments of public interest are dual-rotating propellers which offset torque, six-bladed propellers, higher horsepower motors, amazing navigational instruments, new types of disposable fuel tanks and the like. Wright Field made valuable advances in night color photography and in methods of detecting enemy camouflage.

December 7, 1941, (December 8, Hawaiian time) found the Army Air Forces equipped with plans but not with planes. When the Japanese struck, our combat aircraft strength was little better than a corporal's guard of some 3,000 planes; of these only 1,157 were actually suited to combat service.

We had 159 four-engined bombers. At the various bases outside of the United States, we had only 61 heavy, 157 medium and 59 light bombers, plus 636 fighters — a total of 913 combat planes. These were apportioned among Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Panama, Trinidad, Newfoundland, Iceland, Greenland, The Virgin Islands, British Guiana and the Windward Islands.

Of our total 1,157 combat planes, 526 were strategically located to meet possible attacks on the Hawaiian and Philippine Islands. Within a few hours that number was reduced to 176.

On Luzon, it must be said, we had maintained an air alert since November 15. Even so, General MacArthur reported that at the end of the first day of war there were only 17 heavy bombers and approximately 70 fighters left out of a force of 35 Fortresses, 30 medium and eight light bombers, 220 fighters and 23 other airplanes. In the days that followed, 14 of the Fortresses managed to get to Australia, but the fighters were destroyed one after the other.

Our last two worn-out Warhawks sank a couple of Japanese ships with 500-pound bombs that had been hitched to the wings. This was the origin of our fighter-bombers.

In January, 10 of the 14 Fortresses plus 38 other heavy bombers, flanked by a few Dauntlesses and Warhawks, were used in Java with the then prevailing 10-to-1 odds against them. They supplemented the Dutch, Australian and British strength in another doomed attempt to stop the relentless Japanese push to the south. They gave a good account of themselves in the Battle of Macassar Strait. On the day before the surviving 14 bombers left for Australia (the first week of March) they flew 10 missions, sinking five enemy ships and damaging four others. But not by the most sanguine stretch of the imagination could they be called an Air Force.

Those same 14 bombers formed the nucleus of our 5th Air Force. The 5th is now one of 15. The Army Air Forces which the Axis calculated would be the weak link in our chain of battle, has instead turned out to be our greatest strength and has so far supplied our margin of victory.

We have proved that our prewar plane designs and prewar concepts of air strategy and tactics were sound. From the wreckage of a score of airfields scattered in the Pacific area rose an air force of 2,385,000 officers and enlisted men — a number still growing. As of October 31, 1943, those men have already flown over a quarter of a million combat sorties, expended in combat more than 40,000,000 rounds of ammunition, used up nearly 2,000,000,000 gallons of gasoline, destroyed in aerial combat 8,478 enemy airplanes, probably destroyed 2,555 more and damaged another 2,834. These figures do not include enemy planes destroyed on the ground nor the extraordinary score run up by the American Volunteer Group in China.

Offense is the essence of air power. This principle of modern war was amply demonstrated in the Coral Sea and Midway actions of May and June respectively. In both engagements, Army Air Forces bombers, operating with Navy aircraft and surface ships, helped dramatically to confirm the long standing conviction of this country's air leaders — air power, properly deployed and employed, can stop a sea-borne force. In the Coral Sea 19 enemy ships were sunk or damaged. At Midway, American forces sank at least 10 vessels, including four aircraft carriers and two heavy cruisers. They damaged a number of other ships and destroyed an estimated 275 airplanes.

Although the opposing ships never came within sight of each other during the entire Battle of the Coral Sea, it was largely a Navy show. The efficacy of our land-based planes operating alone against a large naval force was finally proved in the Bismarck Sea 10 months later.

The crew of one of General Kenney's bombers spotted a large Japanese convoy heading toward New Guinea on March 1, 1943. Thus began the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. During the three days that followed, the crews of 162 Allied planes repeatedly attacked this convoy and its protective cover of land-based fighters.

Both tactically and strategically it was an outstanding operation. Besides the ships sunk, from 59 to 83 planes had been shot down and at least nine others damaged. The Army Air Forces lost one Fortress and three Lightnings in combat, and a Mitchell and a Beaufighter through other causes. Total Army Air Forces personnel losses came to 13 while the Japanese lost approximately 12,700 officers and men. Entirely unassisted, the 5th Air Force, besides disposing of large numbers of airmen and sailors, wiped out an entire division of troops.

All Japanese efforts to reinforce the Buna-Gona region were frustrated by our long-range heavy bombers. Our Troop Carrier Command flew a complete striking force — troops, equipment and food — into the area. In one air movement 3,600 troops were brought from Australia to Port Moresby, and 15,000 from Moresby over the high Owen Stanley Mountains to the air strips near Buna. These troops were not only transported but were supplied by air at a rate of more than 2,000,000 pounds a week. Construction equipment and steel mats and asphalt moved by the same route. A four-gun battery of 105-mm howitzers was ferried over by a Fortress. Sick and wounded were evacuated on the way back. The entire operation proved to be of far-reaching tactical consequence.

Our bombers have begun to make their presence felt in China, although in that theater we have not yet assumed the offensive. Supply is our problem in China.

It may throw some light to consider this fact in terms of gasoline alone. In the round-trip over the hump between Assam and Kunming, the Liberator Express transports now in use can deliver four tons of 100-octane gasoline. To do so, the airplane must consume three and a half tons of the same precious commodity.

The crews of a heavy bombardment group in China must ferry over their own gasoline, bombs, replacement parts and everything else in their own Liberators. Before this bombardment group can go on one combat flight, it must make four trips over the hump.

The pilots who fly our transports are as exposed as any in actual combat. Seventeen-thousand-foot mountains have to be cleared by instrument flying; if our men veer over to the north they meet 22,000-foot peaks while to the south they drift over Japanese-held Burma.

That is the route our supplies must travel after they have already been shipped more than 10,000 miles — supplies not only for our 14th Air Force but to help equip the Chinese Army and to build and defend China's airdromes.

And yet the 14th Air Force is in the skies over China. Under the command of a master tactician, Maj Gen Claire L Chennault, American flyers of the 14th from February 2, 1942, to October 31, 1943, have brought down 351 Japanese aircraft with a loss to themselves of only 68, an unrivaled record. That is not counting enemy aircraft probably destroyed or damaged.

The Italians, oddly enough, taught us a fine lesson in Africa as far back as the summer of 1940. They started the Libyan operations of that year with a large, powerful and modern air force. This weapon, which might well have won the campaign for them, was under the direct command of the Italian Ground Forces. Local army commanders wasted air power in penny packets to protect their own sectors or to help advance small detachments. The Royal Air Force, consisting of a handful of obsolete aircraft but employed in concentrated mass as a true air force should be, completely destroyed some 1,100 Italian planes.

Many of our present ideas about the Tactical Air Force were evolved in the heat of these desert campaigns. There is no doubt but that experience and new conditions modify many of our notions but the present concept of the Tactical Air Force can be regarded as tried and proved in North Africa, Italy and New Guinea.

The Tactical Air Force works in partnership with all the other components of air power. In North Africa it worked with the Strategical Air Force which concentrates on long-range destruction of targets like munitions establishments and supply ports; it worked also with the Coastal Air Force whose functions consisted of cutting the enemy's sea-borne supply route and of protecting our own. The Tactical Air Force is also intimately concerned with the battlefield itself.

It is misleading to say merely that the Tactical Air Force provides support to the ground troops. The word "support" always makes people think of air power as an ancillary weapon of the Army or the Navy in a land or sea operation — as long-range artillery directed by subordinate ground commanders. This narrow conception appears to be firmly imbedded in the public mind as well as in the thinking of the inexperienced soldier subjected to his first enemy strafing. Fortunately for us, it was a conception shared also by highly experienced Axis strategists.

Air support was found more than adequate by the Germans in their blitz through France where their domination of the skies was all but unchallenged. Both Germans and Italians found another state of affairs in North Africa. There they were first knocked out of the air and then left with the choice of being driven into the sea or surrendering. Our combined air forces and navies saw to it that no Dunkirk took place.

The Royal Air Force and the Army Air Force functioned as a unit in Africa.

The battle for the capture of German forces in Tunisia began not on April 22, when the ground forces pushed. off, but four days before when we sent 90 night bombers against the German airdromes. We had guaranteed to reduce the Luftwaffe to relative impotence by the dawn of the 22nd, and we did. In two days we destroyed 112 German airplanes.

The precision and effectiveness of our bombing became dramatically evident as our ground forces moved into Ferryville, Bizerte and Tunis. The entire town and port of Bizerte had been filled with German establishments, and our planes went into attack with the intention of blotting it off the map. Gen Laurence S Kuter's automobile entered the town on May 9 and he drove around for over an hour without coming across a single inhabitant. In that time, he could not find a single building, however small, that had been left unscathed.

Ferryville, on the other hand, had been heavily populated with refugees. When our first troops came through, no evidence whatever of war could be discerned. Ferryville's waterfront area, however, was a twisted shambles of steel, broken concrete and sunken ships. Similarly, the residential and business sections of Tunis remained intact, but its military installations had been reduced to debris.

With the date of our landing at Salerno set, our air force swept forward with its full power. Our first objective was to disrupt the enemy's flow of supplies and reinforcements, and to isolate German divisions by dislocating the entire rail and communications system. To this end, we raked Italy from the toe to the Brenner Pass, flying 4,419 sorties and dropping 6,230 tons of bombs between August 17 and September 6, The damage we inflicted on key railroad junctions, rolling stock and repair facilities is still crippling Nazi resistance on the peninsula. In the first phase we also concentrated on destroying airdromes as well as aircraft in the air and on the ground.

From September 9 to September 11, we set about isolating the battle area. In this phase we flew 1,006 sorties and dropped 1,679 tons of bombs, achieving virtually complete interruption of traffic on the main lines leading to the contested region.

On September 12, our Strategic Air Force joined the operations. On the next day, nearly all our bombers flew two sorties apiece. By September 14, whole towns in the area had been obliterated, motor transport concentrations smashed, and severe casualties inflicted on enemy troops. In those four days we flew 2,407 sorties and dropped 3,122 tons of bombs.

On the morning of September 13, the commanders of our airborne troops were notified that air reinforcements were required by the United States Fifth Army within 24 hours. At 2045 hours on the same day, pathfinder units of the air-borne task force took off from their Sicilian base, reaching the drop zone prepared by the Fifth Army on the Salerno beachhead at 2314. Twenty-five minutes later the first elements of the paratroopers arrived. In one and one-half hours 90 aircraft dropped 1,300 paratroopers and equipment in an area approximately 1,200 x 800 yards. By 0200 hours, September 14, these paratroopers were completely organized and marching into position on the front line. Many of the units had had less than two hours to give their planes a final servicing, arrange take-off plans and to load men and equipment.

On September 14, the operation was repeated, this time with 131 Skytrains dropping 1,900 paratroopers in the same zone (an average of 14.5 per plane) while 40 Skytrains carried a battalion of infantry and a company of engineers to a zone five miles southeast of Avellino, behind the enemy lines. Just 24 hours after completing these three jobs without a fatality, the troop carriers were back at work, flying in essential supplies to the Fifth Army and evacuating wounded.

During one year's operations (from November 8, 1942, through November 7, 1943) in the Mediterranean Theater, Allied aircraft of the Northwest African Air Forces dropped 92,233 tons of bombs on enemy installations and supply routes. Of this total 65,377 were dropped by the AAF. We hit targets in Austria, Jugoslavia, Greece, Albania and France as well as in North Africa and Italy.

In this theater we destroyed in aerial combat and on the ground 5,511 enemy aircraft, probably destroyed 750 and damaged 1,903. Of the total destroyed it is estimated that 4,100 were German, the rest Italian. Aircraft found abandoned in enemy territory including Tunisia, Pantelleria, Sicily, Italy and Corsica total 3,491; of these 1,986 were German and 1,505 Italian. Complete reports on Sardinia have not been received at this writing. An additional 231 aircraft were found at the Castel Benito airdrome, near Tripoli, but these are excluded from the above totals because they had previously been reported by the Middle East Command.

During the same year, ended November 7, 1943, the Northwest African Air Forces sank a total of 185 merchant ships, totaling 173,400 tons; probably sank 110 ships, totaling 187,000 tons; and damaged another 243, totaling 373,700 tons.

In the meantime, the Malta, Middle East and Ninth US Air Forces accounted for at least another 2,500 enemy aircraft, and dropped at least 45,000 tons of bombs.

Our strategic air plan is predicated on the fundamental fact that our bombers can fly deep into enemy territory, drop an effective load of bombs, and return to base without losses disproportionate to the damage accomplished. We have proved that we can do this.

Our first step in the strategic bombing offensive is the destruction of the enemy's fighter strength. This is the logical operation to be carried out while we are developing our bases and building up our bomber fleet. It is a course dictated not only by logic but by the prime necessity of protecting our own aircraft.

Fighter strength can be knocked out on the ground, in air combat or in the various stages before it rolls off the production line. We know that the nearer to the final assembly stage we attack enemy aircraft, the less time he will have to replenish his front line strength, Conversely, the farther away from the assembly stage his fighter aircraft industry is bombed, the more time he will have to take remedial steps.

For quick results, we take out the assembly plants, but for some of the more lasting effects we concentrate on a system of targets deeper in the industry. The destruction of a plant making steel for airplanes is felt in a matter of weeks while the destruction of a coal mine does not affect the industry for months. The next objective of our bomber offensive is the smashing of industrial targets vital to the enemy's military strength on the ground.

No bombing mission can be regarded as single, self-contained operation. Each mission is thoroughly planned, with long-range objectives in view. Probabilities of error and minimum resultants are considered. Our strategy is based on a blueprint of scientifically calculated attrition.

When our heavy bombers led by the (then) Commanding General of our 8th Air Force, Ira C Eaker, attacked the railroad yards at Rouen on August 17, 1942 — that could be called a raid. But assaults such as the ones on the Renault works, Huls, Ploesti, Heroya, Regensburg, Marienburg, Schweinfurt or Wilhelmshaven were major battles that had to be planned as such. The effects of some of our four-hour operations are felt a great deal more keenly than a long drawn out ground struggle for a particular locality.

In some of these major battles, our losses have been negligible. In our attack on the Focke-Wulf assembly plant at Marienburg in East Prussia (October 9, 1943), only two out of 100 Fortresses were lost. The concentration of bomb bursts on this target was so great that there is sound reason to evaluate this as one of the finest examples of precision bombing to date. The attack was made in daylight from altitudes between 11,000 and 13,500 feet. Several hundred 500-lb GP bombs and 1,300 100-lb incendiaries were dropped. Study of reconnaissance photographs has convinced photo interpreters in the United Kingdom that every factory building and all the hangars had been damaged. And this plant had been turning out about one-half (110 per month) of all of Germany's Fw-190 fighters.

It stands to reason that not all our attacks should be so successful. At Stuttgart (September 6, 1943) we lost 45 out of 338 Fortresses (over 13 per cent), destroying 84 enemy aircraft, with 30 probables and 25 damaged. The bombing itself had poor results. Heavy clouds obscured the primary objective, and it was necessary for our bombers to select secondary targets and even targets of opportunity. Forty-five Flying Fortresses, fully crewed, are a big price to pay.

The equipment of our escort fighter aircraft with extra long-range disposable fuel tanks now enables them to give our bombers continuous cover to and from targets formerly out of tactical range. Another factor of great importance is the development of navigational aids so accurate that enemy targets can now be attacked by bombing through the overcast or at night.

The general pattern of German reaction to 8th Air Force operations shows a number of significant trends:

  1. General unwillingness of fighter forces to join combat with invading aircraft other than heavy bomber formations.
  2. Furious all-out attack, with little heed of fighter losses, on heavy bombers dispatched against key targets; this is true particularly when bomber formations are unescorted.
  3. Increasing employment of fighters equipped with cannon of larger than 20-mm caliber, and of fighters (in many cases twin-engined) firing long-range rocket projectiles.

These factors point definitely to:

  1. The need of Germany to conserve available fighter strength.
  2. The effectiveness of our bombing which forces on the Luftwaffe the necessity of stopping such attacks at any cost.
  3. A search for effective new weapons; in particular long-range weapons that permit attack from outside the lethal range of our formations' .50-caliber machine-gun defense.

In view of the high rate of attrition of German fighter aircraft on the western front, the near future appears likely to be a crucial period which may determine the survival or destruction of the Luftwaffe as an effective air force.

Nowhere in the world are the lives of men as interdependent as in a bomber on a mission. The pilot must be quick, daring, cautious. The gunners must draw a bead on shadows flashing past them at 600 mph. The navigator has the plane in the palm of his hand from start to finish; every minute he strays off the course makes it 60 seconds less likely that he and his comrades will return. If the bombardier misses, the sortie has been pointless.

Heroes or not, our men have done heroic things. Privates, sergeants, generals have put their lives on the line — not without regard to consequences, as some like to think — but knowing full well what the odds were.

On the training fields of the United States other men are making another kind of sacrifice. Top flyers themselves, they have been wanting more than anything else to get into combat. Cadets whom they have taught to fly return home loaded with honors and higher than they in rank, perhaps. But every German or Japanese plane brought down is a tribute to the quality of their work. They are the instructors.

There are weather observers in lonely Aleutian outposts, communications men in a globe-circling network, Army engineers who built fighter strips where no human being had ever penetrated, Navy crews who brought in supplies under skies filled with Zeros — men who kept the Army Air Forces in the air as surely as any pilot. Behind them and behind every man in uniform are the men and women who work in our aircraft factories, the farmers who raise their food, the miners who bring up the ore, the women who make parachutes, the 600,000 volunteers who acted as plane spotters until they could be released for other defense work.

But final tribute must be to the airmen who pit their flesh, skill and steel against the flesh, skill and steel of our enemies. It is they who are fighting this war.

This article was originally published in the March, 1944, issue of Flying magazine, vol 34, no 3, pp 54-57, 98, 102, 104, 106.
The PDF of this article includes charts showing the increase in military airplane production, time for effects of strategic bombing to be felt, and increase in AAF manpower strength, along with the map above, showing HQ locations of the 15 Air Forces and the ATC routes among them.
Graphs credited to AAF; map by Hal Morris.