Strategic Bombardment Help for WWII Series

Hi Indy and crew:

This is G. A. Blume. I contacted you guys via e-mail some months back offering my services as a historian specializing in strategic bombardment. You had suggested that I join your forum and I apologize for being so tardy in doing so. I have been working with the rebuild of a Boeing B-17F in Asheville, North Carolina and consulting with the National Museum of the US Air Force on their restoration of Memphis Belle. Things have been busy!

Still, with today being the anniversary of the invasion of France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands, I am sorry to be getting such a late start.

Hopefully, I can be of some use to you guys.

For now:

The Allied air situation in May 1940 was not particularly good.

Prior to the war, the general consensus had been that it was impossible to develop a successful long-range fighter. After all, carrying more gasoline would require a larger airframe, and larger airframes meant lower performance. As such, the fighters of the 1930s tended to take on interceptor qualities (perfected through years of racing tournaments and speed record attempts). For this reason, fighters on both sides had to operate from forward bases to have any effect on local air superiority as, for example, even the latest British fighters could barely cross the Channel before having to turn back.

And it must be stressed that the war began on the cusp of a new generation aircraft. Aircraft development is never easy and usually takes years to perfect. As such, while new designs were available, Europe went to war with decidedly 1930s-style aircraft, such as the British Hawker Hurricane, German Messerschmitt Bf-109, and French Morane-Saulnier MS406. This would hurt France considerably as, already hampered by SEVERE interservice rivalry and an indifferent government, the French Armée de l’Air had too few next-generation fighters (namely, the Dewoitine D520) to seriously combat the Germans.

For what it’s worth, one big issue was armament. The introduction of cantilever wings and metal airframes in the 1920s had raised the issue of cartridges larger than the .30/.303 caliber MG. The US opted to use the .50 caliber MG. Most others favored 20mm autocannon, but since it was bulky and unreliable, it was used in limited numbers. The Germans led the way in cannon development – which worked to their advantage – while the British increased the number of .30 caliber MGs in its fighters to often ridiculous amounts. Those French fighter pilots who managed to down German aircraft on the first day (some 47 bombers and 25 fighters) often complained about how much ammunition it took to down a German aircraft.

In regard to bombers:

Britain and the United States were the only major powers to seriously study the possibility of a strategic air campaign. (And even then, only Britain had a military structure willing to do so.)

RAF doctrine on strategic bombardment was unclear at best. International law prohibited the bombing of civilians but made allowances for civilian deaths provided the target was of legitimate military value. (Obviously, Germany stressed this law in regard to the bombing of Warsaw.) For the British, the memory of panicked civilians in the Great War, combined with the collapse of Germany in 1918, solidified the belief that SOMETHING could be done along these lines. Civilians might be killed as collateral damage, but the targets would have to be of military value. Still, for the British, the economic impact of targeting an industry was not nearly as important as the psychological.

The RAF was keenly aware that their bomber force was outdated. (Of the RAF mainstays – the Fairey Battle, Bristol Blenheim, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, Handley Page Hampden, and Vickers Wellington – only the Wellington would not see a hasty retirement.) The introduction of radar had destroyed the possibility of daylight operations and the RAF was willing to accept this – after all, accuracy wasn’t the issue. As such, when the RAF began strategic operations on 17 May, it targeted synthetic oil refineries and steel mills: targets with features easily identifiable at night (i.e., storage tanks, blast furnaces, and smokestacks.)

Of course, blackouts and poor weather would prove this to be rather difficult in practice – but that’s for later…

Without anyone to champion the cause for strategic bombing (as well as a lack of funds to invest in it), France, Germany, and the Soviet Union focused more so on interdiction and tactical bombardment.

The invasion of France showed the world what effective tactical airpower was capable of. Starting on 13 May, Ju-87 Stukas provided continuous support to the German forces below rather than simply serve as “aerial artillery.” This significantly hampered the French efforts to halt the German advance upon the Meuse. By contrast, the British would see their tactical bombers – namely, the Fairey Battle – suffer incredible losses without achieving much success at all.

In the end though, it was the Germans who, inadvertently, brought about the strategic air war. With the German advance stalling (slightly) at Rotterdam, an opportunity was presented to surrender the city prior to a formal engagement. Rudolf Schmidt had called upon the Luftwaffe to conduct a Stuka strike should the Dutch hesitate, but somewhere along the upper channels the decision was made to launch a level-bomber strike. On 14 May, the Luftwaffe launched 54 aircraft from II and III/KG54 under Oberst Walter Lackner and 46 He-111s from I/KG54 under Oberstleutnant Otto P. W. Höhne against the city. 57 aircraft dropped their loads into the city before spotting a flare signaling them to abort (the recall order had not been heard).

Rotterdam was mostly wooden and its fire brigades almost all volunteer. Because of evacuations, the dead was limited to 884, thought this was still a huge figure when compared to previous bombings.

Considering the almost helpless state of the Dutch military (no German bombers were lost, for example), the bombing of Rotterdam caused international outrage. On 17 May, the RAF lifted its restrictions against bombing Germany proper, launching 24 Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys, 52 Vickers Wellingtons, and 54 Handley Page Hampdens against the railyards of Cologne and the oil refineries of Hamburg and Bremen, Germany. No RAF aircraft were lost, though 47 civilians were killed.

Hope this helps.

Cheers!

G. A. Blume
Historian
www.GBlume.com
www.HangarThirteen.org

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I would not say that the french government was “indifferent”. I think the french government really realized (and early!) that strategic bombers would win the war.

The french government said that they had to sign the Munich treaty in 1938 because they had no bombers at the time and their aviation was lacking. So it was a huge problem they were really aware of.

The french did invest lots of money into aviation, actually they started thinking about it in 1928.

But the french industry never made before 1940 a good and powerful french engine to support their planes and french politics forbade the use of a foreign engine. Also the constructors never made a shift to full modern airplane factories and they prefered using old ways of making planes, which really was a problem, but they got more money this way, the planes cost were higher.

Seeing the inabilities of french industries to make a good long range bomber, and with a huge political opposition, the french government in 1938/39 started to check with US constructors for new bombers and fighters.

But they somehow faced the same problems with the US industries, which was not willing to create modern factories to build all those planes when the US politics still forbade the export of weapons to the allies.

With a huge amount of money and with Roosevelt reassurance that the export will be possible soon, the french (and english) started some bomber programs with the US, which would lead later for instance to the B-24 bomber (most produced bomber of the war), and they could manage to have delivered for 1940 (Douglas B-7 or A-20) and fighters as Curtis (H-75 french designation or P-36 for the US).
The french paid enormous amount of money per airplane, like a H-75 was costing 2 or 3 times more than a local made french fighter.

If I remember correctly, at first the US industries was not really able to keep up with the new orders from England and France and they also prefered to keep some production for use in the US first. But the money sent by the allies really helped to modernize factories and launch successful planes that would later really benefit the US.

Also, not to be forgotten the french made the first bombing raid to Berlin the 7th June 1940.

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(it’s not clear from french sources if Cot was indeed a soviet agent before the war, it’s not really proved, just that later he had some contact during/after the war).

But anyway the French did order 120 B-24 bombers (in 1939?), maybe you know more about it?

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Your episode for 18 May was incredible guys. Probably the best and most balanced treatment of the breakthrough into France I have ever seen. You’re setting the bar high.

In quoting the heavy losses of RAF Advanced Air Strike Force (AAST), I feel there needs to be some discussion about the poor quality of British “light” bombers; namely the Fairey Battle and Bristol Blenheim. The Battle was widely known as a “flying coffin” and on 14 May, for example, a maximum effort by AAST of 63 Battles and 8 Blenheims saw 35 Battles and 5 Blenheims lost.

There was some feeling in the upper echelons that ‘something was better than nothing.’ Portal (CINC RAF BC) had warned about this on 8 May:

I am convinced that the proposed use of these units is fundamentally unsound, and that if it is persisted in, it is likely to have disastrous consequences on the future of the war in the air. . . . It can scarcely be disputed that at the enemy’s chosen moment for advance the area concerned will be literally swarming with enemy fighters, and we shall be lucky if we see again as many as half the aircraft we send out each time. Really accurate bombing under the conditions I visualize is not to be expected, and I feel justified in expressing serious doubts whether the attacks of 50 Blenheims based on information necessarily some hours out of date are likely to make as much difference to the ultimate course of the war as to justify the losses I expect.”

Hastings, Sir Max. Bomber Command: The Myths and Reality of the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939-1945 . New York, NY: Dial Press/James Wade, 1979.

Portal’s predictions were accurate.

Even with fighter cover, Battles and Blenheims suffered heavily. From 10 May to 15 May, Battles averaged a loss rate of approx. 50%. As a point of comparison, the bloodiest month of the US bomber offensive averaged 8%.

It should be noted that the UK refused to send over the large numbers of fighters Barratt had requested. There was a cold logic to this. Between 19 May and 1 June, the British had built 190 Hurricanes and Spits while losing 194 Hurricanes and Spits during that same period. Dowding’s (CINC RAF FC) concerns about his ability to defend the UK were well-justified.

And let us not forget that the RAF had a grand total of 408 aircraft in France, of which 299 were lost.

The 14 May failure heralded a shift in tactics by AAST, with Blenheims units slowly being returned home and Battle units increasingly operating at night. Considering the tactical and interdiction roles they were expected to fulfill, this helped with fighter interception, but hurt accuracy and did nothing to cope with ground fire.

In regard to the French, the massive aircraft build-up had been poorly organized, resulting in severe serviceability problems. As such, there was a great disparity between French air strength on paper and in reality. The numbers for 10 May state the French possessed some 2,402 fighters, 1,023 bombers, and 1,601 aircraft of various other types. The reality was far smaller, with only a third actually being fit for combat. (Nic might have concrete figures on this.)

There were several reasons for this state of affairs. Keep in mind my previous post on the shifting generation of aircraft design – the French had to go through this shift while fighting for its survival. Frontline units were struggling to maintain aircraft that were either too old to effectively maintain or too new to find parts for. This situation was complicated when, not only were there a myriad of differing types in service (including foreign imports), but the communications system was struggling to cope with redeployments and German air attack.

Despite poor leadership, the French air forces put everything they had into the fight. The Germans lost somewhere between 1,290 and 1,389 aircraft against France (depending on the source). The loss of various Allied records likewise leaves it unclear as to whom to credit these victories. Still, the French note that the Curtiss P-36 (imported from the US) accounted for a large portion of these numbers despite having only 131 P-36s on hand. No matter how you look at it, that is hard fighting.

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian

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Part Two:

The greatest obstacle in justifying strategic airpower in the Interwar years was timing. After four years of war, the world was finally at peace and no-one wanted to hear about the apocalyptic capabilities of airpower. What good could come from a weapon of war that the airmen themselves claimed was inherently offensive? Civilians did not want to think about the horrors of bombardment, and armies and navies resented having to compete for resources against a service they felt was better off under their command. Noting this, the fact that Great Britain was able to maintain an independent air force in the Interwar years at all is a testament to the efforts of its first CAS, Lord Hugh Trenchard.

Hugh M. Trenchard stands tall amongst the plethora of colorful characters in airpower history. Tall and gaunt, with a walrus mustache and a loud speaking voice (he was called “Boom” behind his back), Trenchard was nevertheless a beloved figurehead in the Royal Air Force. Sir Max Hastings relates an illustrative example:

Even among conscript aircrew later in the war, the old man cast a powerful spell. Visiting 76 Squadron in 1942, he walked into the mess tent set for lunch in his honour, sidestepped his intended place among the ‘Brass’, and sat down instead with the young pilots below the salt. He noticed one man wearing the single ribbon of the DFC, and glanced down at his own vastly decorated chest: ‘Don’t worry, my boy,’ he boomed, ‘Once you’ve got one, they grow on you like measles.’ They loved him.

Hastings, Sir Max. Bomber Command: The Myths and Reality of the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939-1945. New York, NY: Dial Press/James Wade, 1979.

Born in Taunton, England in 1873, Trenchard followed British second-son tradition by joining the military when he came of age. Painfully struggling in education, it was Trenchard’s success at polo that saw him gain a command of mounted infantry in the Boer War. Stumbling into a trap at Dwarsvlei Farm on 9 October 1900, Trenchard was severely wounded, losing a lung and paralyzed from the waist down. A devoted athlete, his convalescence saw him take up bobsledding, shockingly regaining his ability to walk after a crash in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Handley Page Type Os of the Independent Force in France during the Great War.

Trenchard’s tenure with aviation ostensibly began out of boredom, earning his pilot’s license just weeks shy of his 40th birthday – which would’ve made such a stunt legally impossible. An admittedly poor flier, Trenchard proved a capable administrator, quickly climbing the ladder to command the British air forces in France during the Great War – his tenacious, often cold, views on aerial offensives found a kindred spirit in Douglas Haig, who often served as Trenchard’s patron. As such, he was the natural choice to command the newly-created Royal Air Force in early-1918, though differences with Secretary of State for Air Harold Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere, saw Trenchard resign in just a matter of days. With the government embarrassed by the scandal, Rothermere was sacked and Trenchard was given command of a specially-designed “Independent Force” to carry out strategic operations against Imperial Germany. As mentioned earlier, operations carried out by this Force actually tended toward interdiction, still it is worth noting that Trenchard’s tenure here had a marked impact not only on RAF Interwar thinking, but that of the US as well (they were closely entwined).

Trenchard returned as CAS in 1919 at the invitation of Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill, and would hold this position until his retirement in 1930. Historian Phillip Meilinger writes:

Airmen of the Somali-land Field Force use a modified DH.9 as a field ambulance.

Trenchard has had many detractors, but few would deny his ability as a bureaucratic infighter. Given the weakness and unsettled nature of his service; his relatively junior rank; his lack of a strong faction in Parliament, the press, or the public; and his notoriously poor writing and public speaking skills; his ability to get his way with the government and the other services was remarkable.

Meilinger, United States Air Force, Colonel Phillip S., ed. The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory. 1997. Reprint, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1998.

Constantly under attack by the other services (who sought to disband the RAF entirely), Trenchard appealed to CNS David Beatty and CGS Henry Wilson’s sense of fair play, requesting a one year reprieve from their attacks. Having secured this, Trenchard requested Churchill that the RAF be given responsibility for dealing with Mohamed Adbullah Hassan (the ‘Mad Mullah’) and his Somali Dervish rebellion. Bombing noted areas of insurrection, the success of the RAF was dramatic, accomplishing at a cost of £77,000 what the Army had predicted would cost £6 million. Building upon this rather unglamorous role, the RAF was able to survive the Interwar years by policing the British Empire.

Trenchard was by no means an academic, being a poor writer and public speaker – his talks on the nature of air superiority tended to be flowered with football analogies, for example. Ever aware of this, Trenchard surrounded himself with exceptional minds he called his “English merchants”, being instrumental in the careers of future leaders like Arthur Harris, Hugh Dowding, Arthur Tedder, and John Slessor, regardless of whether or not they were of like-mind. Still, it is particularly important that one does not conflate the RAF’s actions in WWII with its Interwar theories – they were not the same.

Of the myriad of theorists who rose to rank under Trenchard’s watch, few were as impressive as Jack Slessor. His Air Power and Armies (1936) remains the most impressively nuanced of Interwar air writings, even though he admitted to shying away from strategic bombardment discussions to avoid controversy. In wartime, Slessor became a major figure in dealing with the German U-boat threat and formulating Allied bombardment strategy.

According to Meilinger, Trenchard’s core beliefs might be summarized as follows:

-Air superiority is essential to military success

-Air power is an inherently offensive weapon

-While the material effects of strategic bombardment may be great (and desirable), the psychological effects are greater still

Despite the adoption of these theories into RAF doctrine, their specifics were frustratingly vague. Experience in the Great War had shown that bombing airfields (known as ‘potholing’) was ineffective, the ground being easily repaired. Recognizing that fighters lacked the ranges of the bombers, RAF leaders tended to emphasize targeting those industries that were easily identifiable in the relative security of night, like steel mills and oil refineries. After all, the British concept of air superiority was primarily psychological: just forcing the enemy on the defensive meant that one had achieved a degree of air superiority.

One 1923 address put it Trenchard put it succinctly: “[I]f we could bomb the enemy more intensely and more continually than he could bomb us the result might be an early offer of peace.” This was not a Douhetian argument of airpower winning wars on its own, rather Trenchard sought to cultivate conditions through “which our Army can advance and occupy his territory.” The goal was morale, not through the bombing of cities, but through the bombing of industry. If the targeting of war industries proved beneficial, all the better, but the goal was to crush public confidence. If workers refuse to work, their disillusionment might spread like wildfire, eventually reaching a point where the enemy people call upon their governments to bring the war to end.

Adhering to a 1925 international law prohibiting the use of poison gas and keenly aware of their own vulnerability to air attack, British leaders were stringent in their calls to avoid targeting civilians – after all, what goes around can easily come around. An except from Prime Minster Stanley Baldwin’s famous 1932 speech:

Disarmament in my view will not stop war. . . . [W]hat you can do by disarming and what we all hope to do is this – to make war more difficult, to make it more difficult to start, to make it pay less to continue, and to that end I think, we ought to direct our minds. . . . What the world suffers from is a sense of fear, a want of confidence, and it is a fear held instinctively and without knowledge . . . [T]here is no one thing more responsible for that fear . . . than the fear of the air. . . . I think it is well also for the man in the street to realize that there is no power on earth than can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through. . . The only defense is in offense, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves.

Baldwin, Stanley. “International Affairs,” Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates .10 November 1932.

It is vital that Baldwin’s speech not be misinterpreted. Baldwin was a noted proponent of unilateral disarmament and was certainly not advocating a Douhetian view toward warfare. Rather, he was warning of it.

When the Baldwin administration was criticized for maintaining a weak military in comparison to other European powers in 1936, he controversially appointed Thomas Inskip Minister for the Coordination of Defense. Inskip lacked Churchill’s zeal (who fumed at being passed over) and radically implemented the budget cuts demanded by Baldwin’s successor, Neville Chamberlain. However, Inskip was also responsible for reorienting RAF appropriations toward fighters, investing heavily in the new technology of radar to create early-warning systems for the nation’s defense. It was a shrewd move that proved correct in the long run. Unfortunately, as an unintended side-effect, RAF Bomber Command went to war with aircraft that were criminally out of date.

By the time Arthur Harris was made CINC RAF Bomber Command in 1942, Britain’s desperation at striking back at Germany had reached a point where British leaders were willing to set-aside their moral qualms: British cities had already been bombed indiscriminately, what was the point in holding back now?

Stay tuned for Part Three.

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian

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Interesting. Was Lemay preparing for strategic bombardment before US entrance and, if so, how? Also, Chuck Yeager is still alive and on Twitter. Do you think we should try to get in touch with him? I’ve tried by myself, but to no avail. To be fair, I probably didn’t ask the best questions.

Questions: How did the Luftwaffe prepare to handle the US Army Air Force in advance? Was the V2 strategically misused? Were British jet factories well-defended?

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Just to mention a new book in english about french bomber and their history in WW2 just got out:

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Hi guys,

Just got the notice for your B2W episode “From Aerobatics to Terror Bombing.”

It was nicely done, but I got the feeling you were having trouble fitting in everything you wanted to say.

If you don’t mind, I thought I might offer some constructive criticism:

  • Please be careful when using the term “air force.” Few nations had true, independent air forces throughout the Interwar years, much less the Second World War. In regard to the US, the air branch was the Aviation Section-Army Signal Corps (1914-1918), Army Air Service (1918-1926), Army Air Corps (1926-1942), and Army Air Forces (1942-1947).

  • Likewise, be careful when using terms like “terror bombing” and “doctrine” as well. As I mentioned before, ‘doctrine’ is a VERY specific term, and few nations had fully developed aerial doctrines prior to the war (Germany and Great Britain certainly came the closest). Similarly, ‘terror bombing’ is a loaded term – it was created by Joseph Goebbels as propaganda against Allied air operations. I understand the powerful connation it brings, but it must be emphasized that ‘terror bombing’ and ‘strategic bombing’ are not necessarily synonymous.

  • Whenever one is not comfortable with a subject, there is a tendency to get a bit too formal when describing it. I noticed Indy tends to do this with aviation. As happy as I am to see the attention to detail, this can lead to problems later on when subjects get more complex. ‘Fokker F.VIIb’ for example could just as easily have been ‘Fokker Trimotor.’ There is nothing wrong with saying this – in fact, it is the more popular term for this particular airplane. The same can go with names - in fact, I don’t think I have ever heard someone call Jimmy Doolittle ‘James’ before.

  • You trace the origin of American airline aircraft to the Ford Trimotor, then go on to the Douglas DC-3. There is an important story missing there. You mentioned in the comments that you may do another aviation episode later. If so, this may be useful:

Wichita locals gawk at the remains of TWA Flight 599.

On 31 March 1931, TWA Flight 599 (a Fokker Trimotor) from Kansas City, MO to Los Angeles, CA crashed during the first leg of its flight to Wichita, KS (8 killed). The crash ignited a firestorm of media attention as one of the passengers was Knute K. Rockne, coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, recognized by the NCAA as the coach with the highest winning percentage in football history (a record that still stands). Investigation into the crash revealed that it was caused by moisture breaking apart the laminated wood in the wings. The US Department of Commerce immediately grounded all Fokker Trimotors, eventually passing legislation requiring greater safety standards in their maintenance. The long-term effects of this event saw a greater expectation regarding the government’s role in aviation safety standards, the near bankruptcy of TWA, and massive growth of all-metal monoplane aircraft designs in the airline industry. The Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-3 were the result of this new push.

This event ties into the Air Mail Scandal – a very big deal.

Partially due to the Post Office’s safety struggles delivering airmail but more-so to encourage the growth of commercial aviation, an act sponsored by Rep. M. Clyde Kelly (R-PA) in 1925 allowed the Post Office to subsidize private airlines to deliver the mail. Since rates were determined on the basis of weight, airliners began to carry large amounts of junk mail and freight to raise profits. This forced the creation of another act in 1930, sponsored by Sen. Charles L. McNary (R-OR) and Rep. Lawrence H. Watres (R-PA), that fixed rates according to aircraft capacity. This act gave Postmaster General Walter F. Brown (R-OH) unprecedented authority, allowing him to grant ten year contracts to any airline with at least two years of service, and more importantly, the power to force mergers between airline companies. Brown’s goal to consolidate the carriers into three major carriers resulted in a series of painful mergers, dividing the routes between the north for United Airlines, center for Transcontinental Western Airlines (TWA), and south for American Airlines. These forced mergers were termed “Spoils Conferences” when their existence were made public.

Postmaster General Walter F. Brown (R-OH)

Bill E. Boeing

Air mail was such a boon in the early years of the Great Depression that it created distrust amongst the public for the success it brought to its companies. Virtually all the major carriers were subsidiaries of aircraft manufacturers, and it was the success of these air mail routes that often sustained sister companies producing engines, propellers, and air frames. The scandal was revealed by Hearst columnist and noted conservative Fulton Lewis, Jr., who uncovered a 1931 bidding war between Ludington and Eastern Airlines over an east-coast route where the cheaper bid was dismissed in favor of the larger carrier. As a result of Lewis’s arguments, Sen. Hugo L. Black (D-AL) began hearings on this issue in early-1934. When it was revealed that Assistant Secretary of Commerce William P. MacCracken, Jr. (R-IL) oversaw the Spoils Conferences, MacCracken refused to testify, calling on his airline clients to destroy subpoenaed documents. The immediate result was the forced breakup of aircraft conglomerations, focusing particularly on Boeing, whose United Aircraft & Transport (which controlled nearly half of all air mail with its United Airlines) was forcibly dismembered, making it illegal for aircraft manufacturers to own their own airlines. The scandal nearly destroyed the US aviation industry and Bill E. Boeing, CEO of the here-to most successful US aircraft producer, retired from public life shortly afterward.

It was because of this fiasco that the newly elected Roosevelt cancelled all domestic air mail contracts on 7 February 1934, giving responsibility of the mail to the USAAC on 18 Febuary.

In protest of the takeover, Eddie V. Rickenbacker of Eastern Airlines and W. Jack Frye of TWA piloted a Douglas DC-1 from Burbank, CA to Newark, NJ on the last civilian-operated air mail flight on 8 February. The obvious success of the flight served as a source of embarrassment in Washington when, in the coming months, the USAAC struggled to operate with equal efficiency. Averaging 210 mph, the DC-1, deemed City of Los Angeles, beat the previous transcontinental record by five hours time (13 hrs, 5 mins). The DC-1 was a prototype competitor to the Boeing 247 and was used as the basis for the mass-produced DC-2 (first flown on 11 May 1934) and DC-3 (first flown on 17 December 1935).

A United Airlines Boeing 247 circa 1934. A twin-engine all-metal monoplane, the 247 boasted an auto-pilot, trim-tabs, de-icer boots, retractable landing gear, a heated sound-proof cabin, a fully cantilevered wing, and the ability to fly on one engine. Despite boasting that passengers no longer need to change planes on cross-country flights, Boeing’s inability to meet demand, combined with the aircraft’s small passenger size, resulted in the aircraft quickly falling out of favor after the arrival of the Douglas DC-1 later that year. Some 75 Boeing 247s were built throughout the 1930s, with some carriers still using them well into the 1960s.

The Boeing 247 carried an average complement of 10 passengers.

A Douglas DC-3 in United Airlines colors circa 1947. Without a doubt the most successful prop-driven airliner in aviation history, some 805 DC-2/DC-3s were produced and, while production stopped in 1942, many still remain in use to this day.

The Douglas DC-3 carried an average complement of 21 passengers. The previous DC-1 and DC-2 designs carried 12 and 14 passengers, respectively.

Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-NY) relieved the USAAC of mail-carrying duty on 11 June. MG Benjamin D. Foulois had assured Roosevelt of the Army’s ability to handle the mail without consulting CSA LTG Douglas MacArthur and the results of doing so proved disastrous. Army aircraft were, by civilian standards, pitifully outdated, still flying open-cockpit biplanes in an age of all-metal monoplanes. Lacking the navigation equipment standard on civilian airlines, junior Army pilots – almost half of all Army pilots had less than two years experience – had any experience whatsoever with night flying. These factors, combined with an unusually fierce winter, resulted in 66 accidents and 13 deaths in a period of less than five months.

The scandal proved disastrous for USAAC credibility and a 1934 board chaired by former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, Jr. (D-OH) was established to investigate the affair. An extension of the 1933 Drum board, the Baker board reached many of the same conclusions. The board concluded that the USAAC should remain an Army auxiliary but recommended a separate air headquarters that reported directly to the General Staff.

MG Oscar M. Westover. Westover was killed on 21 September 1928 in Burbank, California when his Northrop A-17 stalled on landing. His successor as CG USAAC was MG Henry H. “Hap” Arnold.

MG Hugh A. Drum’s hostility toward air power, combined with his embarrassing capture during the Carolina Maneuvers, later saw him being passed over for command in the Second World War.

This newly created General Headquarters (GHQ) Air Force (1 March 1935) was to be commanded by MG F. Max Andrews and saw all air combat units combined under a single continental command. This was the first time US air units were commanded by fellow airmen rather Army field commanders. The USAAC retained control of services, supply, and training while field commanders retained control of airstrips. Foulois, as CG USAAC, was held responsible for the air mail scandal and a congressional investigation spearheaded by Rep. William N. Rogers (D-NH) threatened to withhold funding until Foulois’s relief. Foulois’s confrontational personality during these proceedings failed to endear and in 1935 he voluntarily accepted early retirement. Foulois’s replacement was MG Oscar M. Westover, former XO to MG Charles T. Menoher, and like Menoher, Westover was a firm believer in keeping the USAAC within the Army. It is likely that this was a major factor in his selection, as in the coming years, Westover clashed constantly with Andrews.

The government was rather heavy-handed in its regulation of the airline industry, going so far as to virtually force the creation of Pan-American Airways in 1927 as a civil means of enforcing the Monroe Doctrine. This close relationship between the government and airline industry was a major reason why there was such vicious opposition to TWA entering the international market in the postwar years. Still, it is worth noting that this situation was typical, with European nations likewise not only creating national airlines (like Germany’s Lufthansa and Britain’s BOAC) but forcing consolidation of small aircraft industries into giant national firms.

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian

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Excellent series on aviation history. You mentioned Gen. Frank Andrews and sadly very few people realize the importance he had in the lead up to war and during it. A few years ago we had a gentleman who lived in the area, Jim Lux, tell a story he learned of from a WWII veteran golfing buddy, George A Eisel who crossed paths with the fate of General Andrews. https://www.statesman.com/news/20160813/monument-to-preserve-memory-of-hot-stuff-and-her-historic-crew
Despite the collective experience in the room of 500 plus years of military aviation, no one had heard of that story. From some recent websites: http://warbirdsnews.com/warbird-articles/wwii-b-24-liberator-hot-stuff-setting-record-straight.html. Not to give it away but the Memphis Belle was not the first US bomber to complete the fabled 25 missions in the ETO.

I had the privilege to meet Gen. Andrews’ granddaughter coming home from Iceland in 2018 on the flight to NY following a long delayed and deserved dedication of a memorial of that event. https://www.usafe.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1513704/us-iceland-remember-wwii-heroes-with-monument-dedication/
I hope someone can expound on the effect Gen. Andrews had prior to the US’ entry into WWII. What I have heard was hearsay and with some more time and research could verify it. From what I have heard however it was profound.

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Your quick response with those facts and details are both illuminating and a credit to knowledge. Thank you. I will ask/ post info in a contemporary context as we get into the US war years. I did not want to give away too many secrets. LOL.

As a former USAF pilot based in Germany many years during the Cold War and a child of the German Occupation I find the WWII history and especially aviation history a passion and a pastime. I have learned more in the past decade due to the declassification of WWII and Cold War documents than I had up to the start of the millennium. I thank Indy, Spartacus and now this whole TGA (Zeitgeist Armee) for this incredible project and look forward to many years of sharing knowledge and insight that drive where our future as a people and nation will go.

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Just in relation to that aviation based episode. Many of the transatlantic flights (successful or otherwise) had their start at Harbour Grace Airstrip here in Newfoundland, including Amelia Earhart’s flight. I was out in Harbour Grace the other day, and was inspired to make a brief write up here.

Information from the Town of Harbour Grace website:

"… During the summer of 1927, Stinson Aircraft Corporation and Waco Oil were sponsoring an around-the-world flight. However, they had a minor problem: Newfoundland, an ideal waypoint between eastern North America and Europe, had no official airstrip.

Fred Koehler, a representative of Stinson Aircraft Co., was soon sent to Newfoundland, where he met John L. Oke, of Harbour Grace, on a train out of St. John’s. Oke suggested he knew just the spot: near Crow Hill, Harbour Grace, the grade and length of the land suited an airstrip. As well, the promontory, Crow Hill, offered an ideal natural landmark for wayward flyers.

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(John Oke, date unknown, photo courtesy of the Town of Harbour Grace website)

Koehler successfully pitched his plan to the Town of Harbour Grace in 1927. The townspeople considered the airstrip a worthwhile endeavor too, a way to put Harbour Grace on the map in this new, exciting era of transatlantic aviation. At public meeting at the Town Hall on July 25, a twenty-one-person committee was formed, the Harbour Grace Airport Trust Co. Each member contributing monies on a non-profit-sharing, non-interest-bearing basis. The officers of the committee were Magistrate John Casey (president), H. Herman Archibald (vice-president), and Ernest Simmonds (secretary-treasurer). The flight’s backers also made a contribution, which Koehler relayed to the town. The Newfoundland government also provided a financial grant toward clearing and levelling the runway. T.A. Hall, government engineer, and R.H.K. Cochius, of the Highroads Commission, offered technical advice.

Work began in earnest on August 8, 1927. With money and equipment from private investors and the Newfoundland government, local labourers clear cut an area measuring 4,000 feet in length by 300 feet in width. The work took eighteen days, finishing on August 26, just in time for the arrival of the Pride of Detroit and pilot William S. Brock and Edward Schlee, president of Waco Oil Co.

Brock and Schlee arrived on August 26 at 4:16 p.m. The two were attempting to break the record for the fastest round-the-world trip, set by Edward Evans and Linton Wells in 1926. Sir John R. Bennett, colonial secretary, was in Harbour Grace to welcome the crew. On arriving in town, Brock and Schlee praised the new airstrip as one of the finest they’d seen.

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(The Pride of Detroit on the newly constructed airstrip. August 1927. Photo courtesy of the Town of Harbour Grace website.)

The pair spent the night at the Cochrane House, which would become a popular overnight establishment for aviators in Harbour Grace. In the early morning, at 7:43 a.m., the Pride of Detroit left Harbour Grace and headed for Croyden, England, the first call for their proposed round-the-world flight…"

The flight of the Pride of Detroit would ultimately fail to break the records that it had set out to conquer. However, with the airstrip constructed and functional, it became the starting point for many aviators seeking to cross the Atlantic.

Many attempts were cancelled before they could get going, and some were cancelled upon hearing about other failures.

Sir John Carling: Crewed by Terrence Tully and James V. Medcalf. Attempted to cross the Atlantic, with the goal of reaching London, England. Left Harbour Grace September 7th, 1927, never heard from again. Their sudden loss prompted the cancellation of an attempt by Phil Wood and Duke Schiller aboard aircraft Royal Windsor

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(James V. Medcalf and Terrence Tully in front of their aircraft.)

Columbia: Attempted to bring the first female passenger across the Atlantic, but they were beaten to the punch by Earhart, Stultz, and Gordon. Their Fokker Trimotor Friendship was a seaplane, and took off from Trepassey Harbour on the south coast of the Avalon peninsula. Columbia’s flight was thereafter cancelled.

DeHavilland Gypsy Moth: Lieutenant Commander H.C MacDonald attempted a crossing on the 7th of October 1928. Last seen by the steamer SS Hardenburg about 700 miles east of Newfoundland.

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(Gypsy Moth, circa 1928)

Golden Hind: Piloted by Urban F. Diteman. He left Harbour Grace on October 22nd, 1929 at 12:20 PM in the afternoon. He left behind a written letter stating he was bound for England. Never seen again.

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(The Golden Hind on the airstrip after arriving on the 19th of October)

Southern Cross: With an aircraft and crew that were already famous for completing the first trans-pacific flight from the US to Australia, they made the first successful East to West crossing. Charles Kingsford-Smith (pilot), Everett Van Dyke (copilot), J.D. Soul (navigator), and John W. Stannish (radio operator) landed in Harbour Grace on the 25th of June, 1930 at 8:25 in the morning after departing from Dublin, Ireland. They stayed for most of the day before departing for New York later that evening.

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(The Southern Cross on the Halifax Airstrip. The large rock formation in the background is at the easternmost end of the airstrip. It drops off almost 100 feet straight down on the other side. Very visible and distinctive from the air.

City of New York: Crewed by John Henry Mears and H. J. Brown. Crashed on takeoff.

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There were a number of other flights, many successful, that used the Harbour Grace Airstrip as a starting point. Some others were forced to land there after encountering mechanical difficulties ( like the Lady Peace, which took off from Musgrave Harbour, Nfld, but was forced to land at Harbour Grace). After 1936, aircraft mostly stopped using the aircraft for transatlantic flights.

In 1936 the Miss Dorothy was the last plane to use Harbour Grace as a hop-off point to cross the Atlantic. In 1941, during WWII, the Royal Canadian Navy leased the airstrip from the Harbour Grace Airport Trust Co., to construct a high frequency direction finding site. Called the Harbour Grace Special Wireless Telegraphy Station, the site consisted of an operations building and direction finding shack. RCN radio operators were responsible for tracking enemy U-boat locations, intercepting messages, and providing other valuable intelligence data. Operators came from all over Canada, with residents providing private lodgings. A civilian operator with a station wagon transported operators between the station and their lodgings in the community.

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(The High Frequency Direction Finding Shack was removed in 1945. Nothing remains on-site to mark that it existed.)

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(The airstrip today. It is maintained by locals, and can still serve as an emergency landing area for small aircraft. This photograph faces the west end of the field. the large rock formation is behind them.)

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(The monument to Amelia Earhart near the entrance to the town. The DC-3 behind the statue is the Spirit of Harbour Grace. It was built in 1943, and served the USAAC in North Africa until the end of the war. Post-war, she was owned by a number of civilian airlines, before she was purchased by Quebec Air in 1951. In 1977, a native of Harbour Grace, Roger Pike, purchased the aircraft to fly goods and dairy products from Stephenville on the west coast of Newfoundland, to Goose Bay in Labrador. Pike flew the aircraft himself under private registration. In 1983 Pike purchased Labrador Airways Ltd, and the aircraft moved to Goose Bay, flying mail and cargo around Newfoundland and Labrador. She was finally retired in 1988. The Pike family donated the aircraft to the town in 1993 to serve as a permanent monument to the aviation history that occured there. She was renamed the “Spirit of Harbour Grace” and restored to a pre-war configuration.)

(Video Footage of the aircraft on her final flight to Harbour Grace)

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Hey I was there and booked a Escort mission of 14 DAkS on a Harvard on June 3rd. Awesome experience. I also went to Normandy for the drop and met the pilots (I am a CAF Colonel support er) again.

I did some more flight training in Duxford and every one including the control tower was very happy. Duxford is an awesome museum although the Spitfires, Catalina’s are a bit of a distraction while flying.

Another heads up 18-20 September Battle of Britain Tix went on sale today :-).

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