Strategic Bombardment Help for WWII Series


#1

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


#2

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.


#3

Hi Nic,

Thanks for the nice reply!

“Indifferent” may have been a clumsy choice of words, but I think my argument remains the same.

You are absolutely correct that France had indeed made significant organizational leaps in regard to its air forces. Largely thanks to the efforts of Air Minister Pierre Cot (1933-1934, 1936-1938), France had focused its production toward bombers starting in 1936. Cot’s Plan II called for some 1,339 bombers, 756 fighters, and 645 reconnaissance aircraft.

Cot pushed hard for a strategic bombing force – something that French airmen had called for as early as 1927, translating and sharing copies of Giulio Douhet’s writings. However, Cot had to do so fighting against a government opposed to offensive forces. Cot’s strategic bombing units had to be termed “heavy defensive aircraft,” for example. This is the exact same situation faced by airmen in the US.

Still, virtually everything Cot had pushed for was thrown out in 1938. Guy LeChambre undid Cot’s most important reforms in regard to command organization. Strategic air forces were disbanded, and “bomber and fighter groups reverted to the direct control of army regional commanders. [French CINC] General Gamelin insisted that the primary duty of airpower lay in protecting the army from enemy air attack, nullifying attempts to instill an offensive orientation…”

Like Great Britain, LeChambre also shifted the focus away from bombers toward fighters.

France’s biggest problem in regard to strategic bombardment was that it was a land power. Strategic air warfare is generally conceived in economic terms, which is traditionally the domain of the navy. With its greatest threat right next door, it was hard for the French to justify air power which operated independent of the army. The French did indeed pay close attention to the Spanish Civil War, and as a result, some investment was made in tactical and interdiction bombers in 1939. Still:

“Neither the events of Spain nor the desire of air force officers to reform air doctrine, however, had any considerable impact upon General Gamelin or Air Minister LeChambre. An army-dominated High Command, largely and profoundly ignorant of the capabilities of modern airpower, frustrated France’s last chance to develop an effective operational air doctrine.”

From my point of view, the biggest problem with French air power was its own government. The constant shifting of power, all more suspicious than the next, drowned out any voices that might have called for aviation reform. In Cot’s case, it didn’t help that he was suspected of being a Soviet agent – which turned out to be true!

The industrial restrictions you mentioned were also quite ridiculous. If the government had shown more initiative, French air power might have played a greater role. As it was, the French air force had to make do with what they had in 1940 – even if it meant doing so without a real strategic air arm.

After all, the strike on Berlin you mentioned, was made by a single Farman F223 (a converted transport named Jules Verne) operating under the control of the French Navy.

Quotes taken from:

(1) Corum, James S, “Airpower Though in Continental Europe between the Wars.” The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory. Colonel Phillip S. Meilinger, United States Air Force, editor. 1997. Reprint, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1998

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


#4

(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?


#5

Hi Nic!

Yeah, the extent of Cott’s Soviet involvement is unclear; I just thought it was a point worth mentioning.

In regard to French B-24s:

The B-24 prototype first flew on 29 December 1939. Without ever actually seeing it, the French ordered 60 B-24s, with an optional renewal for 120 more. Similarly, the British ordered 164. These export aircraft were given the designation LB-30.

This was prior to the US making any B-24 orders of its own.

Consolidated did not complete a production model LB-30/B-24 until nearly a year after the fall of France. The initial batch of seven test aircraft (completed in January 1941) was broken up, with six going to Britain and one to the US.

The British got the majority of the LB-30 contracts, with most serving in RAF Coastal Command. The US preferred to wait until Consolidated finished redesigning the B-24 to better meets to needs of European combat (just as Boeing was doing with the B-17). Still, the need was so great that the British were willing to order the early production models without waiting for improved variants.

Hope that makes sense.

Cheers!

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian


#6

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


#7

Just a heads up for Indy, Sparty, and crew:

If you can, you might want to head up to Duxford for the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. Douglas C-47s and C-53s (converted DC-3s) are coming from all over the world to participate this year. Thirty-eight C-47s/C-53s are scheduled to attend.

Most of these aircraft are D-Day veterans, though not all have been restored to wartime condition. (Nor can I testify as to the accuracy of these restorations.) Still, such a large number of airworthy Gooney Birds is not something you’ll want to miss.

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian


#8

Hey TimeGhost crew,

Before I post too much more about strategic air operations in the Second World War, I thought it might be prudent to give some background on how it got to this point in the first place.

You guys will be covering the Battle of Britain soon and, to be honest, the historiography is so rich on this subject that I doubt you would need much help. Still, feel free to contact me if there is anything I can clarify for you. In the meantime, I am going to work on detailing strategic air thought, theory, and practice in the Interwar years.

This information might be appropriate for a special episode, either in this series or the Between Two Wars series, for what it’s worth.

Part One

It is a rather remarkable fact that it took barely 10 years after the invention of the airplane for it to find roles over the battlefield. Virtually every role of military aviation can trace its roots to the Great War, be it air superiority, close air support, interdiction, airlift, reconnaissance, or strategic bombing. Indeed, airpower played a major part in the conflict, even if it did not play a decisive one.

In truth, the ‘strategic bombing’ that was attempted during the Great War could hardly be termed such. What period records refer to as ‘strategic bombing’ generally encapsulates what would later be called ‘interdiction.’ Still, harassment raids by dirigibles and multi-engine bombers opened a Pandora’s Box that captivated airmen in the years after the war. After all, the idea that targeting an enemy’s civilian infrastructure could bring about a hasty end to conflict was nothing new. This was the essence of total war – and the airplane was heralded as the instrument of total war par excellence.

Barely 50 years prior, the deadlock of the American Civil War had been broken by US armies waging war against the Confederacy’s civilian population. Already hamstrung by naval blockade and incapable of holding US forces at bay, Confederate cities were shelled and burned and the nation’s agricultural bedrock ruined. These actions had a dramatic effect on the Confederate military, with desertion skyrocketing and supply trains quickly running dry. While European observers saw little new in the war, they marveled at how quickly it had escalated into total war.

The ruins of Columbia, South Carolina following the shelling and burning of the city by US forces on 17 February 1865. The photo captures the view from the capital building, looking down Main Street.

To conceive that aviation, with its ability to bypass lines on land in sea, could do the same with greater speed was not a terribly difficult leap to make. By the turn of the century, many saw total war as a necessary evil to end the greater evil of protracted war. And, even while still in its infancy, the potential of airpower to fulfill this role was clear to many in the aviation community. Take France’s Clément Ader, for example:

[Bombers] can carry out with certainty the heavy and critical destructive tasks they will be given… Unfortunately their work will also require them to bomb enemy cities. And how can we expect to avoid such catastrophes? Don’t battleships bombard port cities? Since airplanes will drive away or destroy these naval monsters, they may be excused for a few misdeeds of their own! The great bombing planes will become veritable terrors! I am convinced that their awesome power and the fear of seeing them appear will provoke salutary reflections among the statesmen and diplomats who are the real dispenser of peace and war, and that in the final analysis these airplanes will serve the cause of humanity.

Ader, Clément. L’Aviation Militaire (Military Aviation). Translated by Lee Kennett. 1909. Reprint, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 2003.

The static slaughter of trench warfare in the Great War only emboldened the belief that total war through strategic bombardment could, and eventually would, serve as an inexorable alternative. A wartime selection from Zeppelin commander Peter Strasser’s private correspondence:

We who strike the enemy where his heart beats have been slandered as ‘baby killers’ and ‘murderers of women.’ . . . What we do is repugnant to us too, but necessary. Very necessary. Nowadays there is no such animal as a non-combatant: modern warfare is total warfare. A soldier cannot function at the front without the factory worker, the farmer, and all the other providers behind him. You and I, mother, have discussed this subject, and I know you understand what I say. My men are brave and honorable. This cause is holy, so how can they sin while doing their duty? If what we do is frightful, then may frightfulness be Germany’s salvation.

As quoted in: Dyer, Gwynne. War. New York, NY: Crown, 1985.

This argument was central to strategic air theory in the Interwar period: the only way to prevent another long, bloody conflict like the Great War would be to inflict so much destruction – quickly and horrifically – that a long war can be prevented before it starts.

There was a good amount of imagination at play here. None of the air raids of the Great War came close to dealing the levels of destruction theorists called for. Still, the psychological impact of airstrikes against England, for example, could hardly be overstated. Stories of the “Spanish Armada” of 1588 still carried resonance in British culture and H. G. Wells had even mused on the very complacency of the British public with his War of the Worlds (1897) and War in the Air (1908). All of a sudden the security of the English Channel meant nothing. First with Louis Bleriot crossing the Channel in 1909, then C. S. Rolls rounding it in 1910, and finally with the first Zeppelin raid on London on 30 May 1915, Britain was just as vulnerable as the rest of Europe. As such, it should come to no surprise that, while other nations wavered as the necessity of an independent air force, the Brits embraced it – if only in wartime. A quote from legendary British admiral Jackie Fisher:

By land and by sea the approaching aircraft development knocks out the present fleet, makes invasion impracticable, cancels our country being an island, transforms the atmosphere into a battle ground of the future. There is only thing to do to the ostriches who are spending these vast millions on what is as useful for the next war as bows and arrows. Sack the lot. As the locusts swarmed over Egypt, so will aircraft swarm in the heavens, carrying inconceivable cargoes of men and bombs, some fast and some slow. Some will act like battle cruisers and others as destroyers. All cheap and - this is the gist
of it - requiring only a few men as crew.

U. S. Congress, House of Representatives. Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee of Military Affairs. 66th Congress, 2nd Session. Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Military Affairs.

The epic scale of the war had numbed the world, leaving nations frightfully cautious as to any future conflicts which might boil over into another incontrollable furnace. Regardless of the prudence of the various steps taken in this light, airpower leaders turned to the deterrence of total war to justify their theories of strategic bombardment. For many, strategic bombardment was something akin to the Cold War’s ‘mutually-assured destruction’: the only way to protect one’s nation was to maintain a giant, strategic air force – ready to deploy at a moment’s notice – and be ready to level an enemy nation the moment war erupts.

The key word here is “strategic” as only a strategic air force could justify an independent air force equal in status to the army and the navy. The desire for an independent air service and the desire to prevent another war like the Great War were so intertwined in thought that they are almost indistinguishable.

Douhet, Esercito Italiano , Brigadiere Generale Giulio. Il Dominio dell’Aria (The Command of the Air). Milan, IT: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1932.

Collection Includes:

Douhet, Esercito Italiano , Brigadiere Generale Giulio. “Il Dominio dell’Aria,” Second Edition. Quaderni dell’Istituto Nazionale Fascista di Cultura (Journal of the National Institute of Fascist Culture), 1927.

–––. “Probabili Aspetti Della Guerra Futura” (Probable Aspects of a Future War). Quaderni dell’Istituto
Nazionale Fascista di Cultura (Journal of the National Institute of Fascist Culture), 1928.

–––. “Riepilogando” (Recapitulation). Revista Aeronautica (Aeronautical Review), November 1929.

–––. “La Guerra de 19—” (The War of 1919—). Revista Aeronautica (Aeronautical Review), March 1930.

Perhaps no-one codified the potential of strategic airpower in the Interwar years better than Giulio Douhet. Born in Caserta, Italy in 1869, Douhet was an artillery officer whose writings at the turn of the century urged mechanization of the Italian military as a means of making up for its noticeable shortcomings. His enthusiastic reports on military aviation in the Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912) resulted in scorn from his superiors, and an attempt to contract aircraft from Gianni Caproni without authorization in 1914 saw him transferred to the infantry. This hardly slowed Douhet, who regularly wrote his superiors on the need for reform. In 1916, a letter to cabinet minister Leonida Bissolati was intercepted and Luigi Cadorna had Douhet court-martialed and imprisoned on 15 October. Vindicated by Italian battlefield defeats, Douhet was released from prison mere days after the Battle of Caporetto, and though he retired in 1918, Douhet managed to have his court-martial formally overturned in 1920. A supporter of Benito Mussolini (who endorsed Douhet’s calls for reform), the rise of Italian fascism and Douhet’s subsequent reward of limited bureaucratic power failed to live up to his expectations. Once again retiring from active duty, Douhet spent the rest of his life writing on the possibilities of air power until his death in 1930.

The most famous of Douhet’s works was the 1927 edition of his Il Dominio dell’Aria (The Command of the Air), first published in 1921. The breadth of this work is indeed remarkable, though for the purposes of this write-up, I shall focus only on aspects relevant here. Douhet summarized his arguments thusly:

  1. The purpose of military airpower is air supremacy. Once achieved, strategic forces are to direct their campaigns against “the material and moral resistance of the enemy.”

  2. “[T]o avoid playing the enemy’s game,” military airpower is to have no other purpose than the two previously mentioned.

  3. Only an independent air force, composed of reconnaissance aircraft, bombers, and “combat planes,” can carry out this mission. Since long range escort fighters were an impossibility, Douhet argued in favor of large escort gunships (“combat planes”) to accompany the bombers; later works combined these concepts into a heavy-armed bomber he called the “battleplane.”

  4. Aviation resources cannot be diverted from the Independent Air Force toward local air defense, anti-aircraft batteries, or “auxiliary aviation” (i.e., support of the army or navy).

  5. The strategic campaign is to be carried out with the maximum destructive power possible and without restraint (explosives, incendiaries, gas, etc.)

  6. Civil aviation should be encouraged to build up a ready-supply of aviation personnel and equipment, as well as maintain a domestic aviation infrastructure.

  7. “Aerial warfare admits of no defensive attitude, only the offensive.” Air superiority comes not to who has the stronger air force, but to who acts first.

  8. Once air supremacy has been achieved (note the difference between ‘air superiority’ and ‘air supremacy’), the strategic campaign should go on “uninterrupted” and as violently as possible

  9. Interior lines must be effectively maintained to ensure maximum mobility.

  10. Because of the nature of this form of warfare, future wars will be decided rapidly.

  11. An Independent Air Force, maintained with all of the latest aircraft at the nation’s disposal and acting quickly and decisively, will overcome an enemy who fails to do the same.

While Douhet wrote for a decidedly Italian audience, his works found admirers all over the world. Copies of Douhet’s writings passed between airmen like underground works of art, only being appreciated in certain circles. For many airmen, Douhet’s work was the aviation equivalent to Alfred Mahan’s Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890).

In reality, Douhet’s work never got that far.

The degree to which Douhet’s works actually influenced theory and doctrine amongst nations in the Interwar period remains a matter of debate. After the war, major figures in the air forces of both Great Britain and the United States professed to having heard of Douhet, but admitted to knowing little of his actual arguments. In general, it seems that it was enough just knowing that Douhet was of like-mind. More than anything, airmen had to be heard before they could dictate theory, and throughout the Interwar years, the biggest obstacle was not formulating doctrine, but justifying strategic airpower in the first place. While Mahan’s book moved entire nations into action, no airpower theorist was able to do the same in the Interwar years.

Still, many tried…

Stay tuned for Part Two.

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian


#9

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


#10

Part Three

Strategic airpower development in the United States can be somewhat difficult to explain properly. FAR too often popular historians repeat the same tired mantra that American airmen were overconfident in the ability US bombers to defend themselves, and that this hubris was responsible for the bloody campaigns of late-1943. This is a gross oversimplification that borders on outright distortion. To be sure, over-enthusiasm amongst airpower theorists had always been an issue, and it was certainly present during the Second World War. Still, it must be stressed that American strategic thought developed without the benefit of an independent service branch. American airmen were free to theorize in the Interwar period but doctrine remained the domain of the US Army. As such, American airmen did not actually develop and codify their strategic air doctrines until war was already underway. American airmen certainly had concepts in mind, but these concepts took time and experience to develop in the nuance of war

American airmen came out of the First World War with a degree of embarrassment. While the US took pride in being the birthplace of the airplane, petty bureaucratic squabbling had seen the rest of the world quickly evolve past in technological capability. Not only had the US Army entered the war using British and French-made equipment for its ground forces, but the same was true for its aircraft. The US could hardly field a fighter and bomber force on its own because it simply didn’t have fighters and bombers to do it with. Pointing at the success of other nations – particularly that of Britain’s RAF – American airmen in the Interwar years sought to establish an air force that was at least on par with other world powers.

While the US made great strides in aircraft technology in the Interwar years, one need only compare the evolution of civil aviation to that of the Army to see how the US had retarded militarily in the air. In January 1939, CG GHQ Air Force MG F. Max Andrews told a National Aeronautic Association banquet that he personally ranked the US as a “sixth-rate airpower.” It was a brutally honest statement, particularly because it was true. It reflected poorly upon Secretary of War Henry H. Woodring (D-KS) and CSA GEN Malin Craig, and as such, saw to Andrews’s immediate relief. The onset of another world war forced change and within a year, both Woodring and Craig were replaced with more competent men, with Andrews being given back his command.

In actuality, Andrews’s outspokenness and the response it garnered was typical of the Interwar period. Throughout this time the infighting between the services reached levels that might have been comical if it were not all so painfully serious. It was a problem faced by former Great War participants all over the world. The militaries of these nations practically evaporated in the war’s aftermath, and with the onset of the Great Depression, the peacetime struggle for funding reached critical levels. Being the new kid-on-the-block, air forces had to fight to justify being an independent service branch. Against the army, this boiled down to control. Unifying a nation’s airpower under a separate service deprived ground commanders the ability to use aircraft as they pleased – which was usually little more than reconnaissance and ‘flying artillery.’ The navy presented a far more serious problem.

MG F. Max Andrews poses in front of a Martin B-10.

Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring (D-KS) and CSA GEN Malin Craig. Note how Craig is not in uniform, an example of a US isolationist policy that discouraged the wearing of uniforms in public.

Leaving aside the provision of defense against invasion and raid, naval war is in many respects economic war; although battles occur, the objective is to secure one’s own sea lines of communication, but to then cut the enemy’s so as to apply pressure on a country’s commerce and economy, thus causing such hardship that a country elects to change its policy. Airmen argued similarly, but insisted that they could apply such pressure more quickly. This competition over what is essentially the same mission of economic warfare, as well as the claim to be the nation’s first line of defense, is largely what put airmen and sailors at loggerheads. They viewed war through a similar lens.

Meilinger, United States Air Force, Colonel Phillip S. “An Introduction to Airpower Theory.” Seminar III. Lecture 6. Northfield, VT: Norwich University, 2009.

Nowhere in the Interwar years was the fight between sailors and airmen more vicious than in the United States, and at the forefront of this fight was BG Billy L. Mitchell. No power sought to create a strategic air force for strategic airpower’s sake throughout the 1920s and 30s, and Lord Trenchard had been quite clever by finding a use for the RAF in policing the British Empire. Similarly, Mitchell had hoped to buttress his air service by calling for airpower to be used as a means of coastal defense – in the process, alienating the US Army Air Service and the US Navy.

Billy Mitchell was born in 1879 to a powerful family from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and using his father’s influence, was commissioned an officer in the Army Signal Corps during the Spanish-American War. Beginning in 1900, Mitchell oversaw the establishment of communications systems throughout the most inhospitable areas of the US and its territories, running telegraph wires in Alaska, Cuba, the Philippines, and the deserts of the western US. The poor performance of US aircraft in the Pancho Villa Expedition (in comparison to European designs) and the public fallout of the CPT Lewis E. Goodier, Jr. court-martial pushed Mitchell to take an interest in aviation, earning his pilot’s license while serving as the Signal Corps representative to the General Staff. This “expertise” was the reason behind Mitchell’s observation assignment to Europe in 1916, apprenticing Trenchard’s command of the RAF.

Despite his brilliance and tenacity, Mitchell was too headstrong for his own good. Chaffing at being passed over for command of the new Army Air Services led to Mitchell and the Army’s first choice, BG Benny D. Foulois, both being pushed aside in favor of GEN John J. Pershing’s friend MG Mason M. Patrick (later revealed to be a wise move). Upon returning from the war, Mitchell was again passed over for the US air command, the new service-head being another Pershing friend, MG Charles T. Menoher (former CG 42nd Infantry Division). While Patrick had shown surprising enthusiasm for airpower (he actively sought a pilot’s license at age 59), Menoher had little patience for airpower and was instrumental in stopping a bill that would have created an independent air force in 1919. Recognizing the uphill battle he was facing, Mitchell directed his zeal toward the public-at-large, evangelizing the need for American airpower in speeches and magazine articles.

So many erroneous doctrines have been enunciated about aviation by the older services that see in the development of air power the curtailment of their ancient prerogatives, privileges and authority, that we consider it time to challenge these proceedings and to make our own views known. . . . Changes in military systems come about only through the pressure of public opinion or disaster in war. The Army and Navy have regularly organized publicity bureaus which can disseminate information about these services, but there is no medium through which essentially aeronautical information can be disseminated. The result is that the public and Congress are slow to get all the aeronautical facts.

Mitchell, United States Army Air Service, Brigadier General William. Winged Defense: The Development and Possibilities of Modern Air Power – Economic and Military. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1925.

Rather than go into a play-by-play of Mitchell’s actions throughout the Interwar period, it might be better to explain Mitchell’s motivations. In the isolationism of the Coolidge administration, a purely strategic air force simply was not going to find approval. As such, Mitchell and his followers vigorously justified military airpower as a means of coastal defense. Not only would doing so relieve the Army of the tired old Endicott fortress system, but it would give some security to US protectorates in the Pacific in light of an increasingly turbulent Japan. (It should be noted that Mitchell authored a report in 1924 arguing not only would Japan eventually attack the US, but that it would likely do so in a surprise air-attack against Pearl Harbor.) Combined with Mitchell’s open desire to assimilate naval aviation, this use of airpower was naturally viewed as a threat to the Navy’s peacetime role. While Mitchell was certainly no angel, the Navy’s actions were no more favorable. Even after Mitchell was court-martialed in 1925 for criticizing the Navy’s role in the crash of the airship Shenandoah (ZR-1), the Navy’s actions toward the Army Air Corps (created in 1926) throughout this period bordered on outright petulance. Still, Mitchell’s court-martial had a profound effect.

Mitchell’s accusations of criminal negligence were the final straw, and his court martial was directly ordered by Pres. J. Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (R-VT) as a violation of the 96th Article of War. The justification was hazy, but Mitchell’s verdict silenced any further outspokenness which might have been interpreted as insubordination.

Mason Patrick, who initially shunned Mitchell’s ideas on Air Service autonomy and regarded him as a ‘spoiled brat,’ submitted a study to the War Department in 1924 advocating ‘a united air force’. . . Patrick’s successors as chief of the Air Corps – James E. Fechet, Benny Foulois, Oscar Westover, and [Henry H.] Hap Arnold – were equally committed to Mitchell’s goal of an independent air force . . . Aside from [F. Max] Andrews and the outspoken Foulois, however, air leaders chose to restrain their advocacy. Most worked to improve relations with the War Department while securing high-visibility peacetime missions that stressed airpower’s ability to defend the nation. Although Mitchell the prophet remained uppermost in their minds, so too did Mitchell the martyr.

Clodfelter, United States Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Mark A. “Molding Airpower Convictions: Development and Legacy of William Mitchell’s Strategic Thought.” The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory. 1997. Reprint, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1998.

Because Mitchell was so single-minded in his goals – i.e. an independent air force – his writings reveal pitifully little as to his ideas on airpower theory. He was certainly far more publicized than any other airman of the time, and he never ceased to write until his death at age 56 ten years later. Still, Mitchell’s strategic theories were frustratingly vague. His book Winged Defense, for example, foresaw future wars opening with great battles for air superiority, only after which could the bombing offensive could begin. As such, Mitchell argued for an air force composed of two-thirds fighter aircraft and one-third bombardment and attack (close-air support) aircraft. The problem was, even though the essence of airpower is targeting, Mitchell did not really specify what kind of offensive the USAAS needed to prepare for. Since he was writing for a popular audience in an isolationist nation, Mitchell’s reluctance to thoroughly explore the distasteful subject of strategic airpower should come to no surprise. As such, the majority of strategic air theory in the US was created in the private auspices of the Air Corps Tactical School.

Founded in Langley, Virginia in 1920, the Air Corps Tactical School was intended to teach basic air theory to the branch’s officers, but after its move to Montgomery, Alabama in 1931, the ACTS also began to serve as the USAAC’s unofficial hub of ‘aerial doctrine’. Such a description is generous. In truth, the USAAC lacked experienced personnel to staff the school, resulting in the majority of its professors being just recent graduates with good grades. Airpower was such a new concept that there was little real-world experience, particularly in the tiny US air service which, to quote Curtis E. LeMay (future CO 305BG), was little more than a ‘flying club’ at this time. Leon W. Johnson (future CO 44BG) added that while he was disappointed with the ACTS, he later observed in England that “[t]hey were groping, too.” An interview conducted by historian Richard Kohn with Johnson, LeMay, and David A. Burchinal (future A-3 XX BC) described it thusly:

A navigation class at the ACTS of Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama.

Kohn: So the theory was always there. It was pretty generally understood that the great value of air power would be the strategic role if you had the airplanes and the capabilities. Of course, you had to fight the Army, and . . .

Burchinal: It wasn’t that well formulated.

Johnson: We knew if we had airplanes that could go someplace; we could take them there and hopefully bring them back. I think that was understood by all of us, and that the airplanes could bomb.

Burchinal: This was theory, but there was a minimum of doctrine, really. Doctrine was not formulated, not thought through, not put down. It was just there.

Kohn, Richard H., and Joseph P. Harahan, ed. Strategic Air Warfare: An Interview with Generals Curtis E. LeMay, Leon W. Johnson, David A. Burchinal, and Jack J. Catton . Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988.

The origins of American strategic airpower theory lay in a possibly apocryphal story involving the ACTS. The story goes that a class was forcibly cancelled when it was discovered that its aircraft had been grounded due to a lack of parts. Because of the economic Depression, the company which had produced these parts had gone out of business, permanently grounding an entire fleet of aircraft. The idea that a small part like a spring, once denied, could paralyze an enemy force intrigued the ACTS instructors and supposedly gave birth to the school’s industrial web theory.

The industrial web theory was the foundation of American strategic airpower thought in the Interwar years. Unlike European thinkers, the goal of American airmen was not the morale of an enemy nation but its ability to make war. If the proper industry was targeted and sufficiently attacked as to deny its resources, airpower may very well be capable of inflicting strategic paralysis. This was not a theory which claimed that airpower could itself win wars, but was one that sought to be a decisive force in war nevertheless. Such a theory was certainly far more humane in concept than Douhet’s massed attacks on cities. The supporting aspects of American bombardment theory fell into place based on simple logic:

-if the goal is the destruction of specific targets and the avoidance of unnecessary civilian casualties, such airstrikes require the sort of precision only possible in daylight

-if these strikes are flown in daylight, it must be assumed that the bombers will at some point be fired upon by AAA, requiring higher altitudes for greater security

-likewise, since daylight increases the chances of fighter interception, every effort must be made to protect the bombers with fighter escort

-since a long-range escort fighter is a theoretical impossibility, the bombers must be heavily armed and flown in tight formations

-likewise, since fighters lack the range necessary, air supremacy can only be attained through strategic paralysis of industries crucial to the enemy air effort

A formation of 20FG Boeing P-26s fly over Barksdale, LA.

One of the more interesting stunts using the Martin B-10 was an expedition of ten B-10s to Alaska to test the USAAC’s ability to respond to the area’s arctic conditions.

To be sure, there were airmen who carried this logic to the extreme, arguing that fighter aircraft were no longer necessary. Their motivation was technological. Aviation design skyrocketed in the 1930s, and in the case of the US, there was a long period where fighter design struggled to keep pace with that of bombers. The Boeing P-26, for example, entered service in late-1933 with a cruising speed of 200 mph. While the Martin B-10 bomber, which entered service just over a year later, could easily match the P-26’s cruising speed, it was not until 1938 that the P-26 was finally replaced. As such, extremists argued that, by the time a bomber force was spotted, it would be impossible for a fighter force to scramble and intercept the bombers before they hit their targets and leave. For a time, it appeared that this was true. Replacement fighters certainly existed, but they failed to make much of an impact with uninspired designs like the Curtiss P-36. (It certainly did not help that the Seversky P-35, while an excellent design, was turned down because its designer had foolishly sold the fighter to Japan.) Claire L. Chennault, the ACTS’s most famous fighter instructor, damned the so-called ‘bomber mafia’ after the war:

Claire L. Chennault remains one of the more devisive figures in aviation history. While reknown for his founding of the Chinese “Flying Tigers,” his blindness to Chinese corruption, and his unshaken belief that Japanese actions in China could be halted by tactical airpower, significantly harmed his reputation.

[Lessons] were calmly ignored by the bomber boys who controlled the development of the Air Corps at the time, and who were hell-bent for the Douhet air force of bombers only. The same Air Corps officers who ignored these lessons were in control of the air force in 1942 and 1942 when hundreds of unprotected B-24s and B-17s were shot down over Europe. They are responsible for the deaths of thousands of American boys who had been indoctrinated with the absolutely false theory that a bomber needs no protection from hostile fighters

Chennault, United States Army Air Forces (Retired), Major General Claire L. Way of a Fighter: The Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault. Edited by Robert Hotz. 1949. Reprint, Tucson, AZ: James Thorvardson & Sons, 1991.

Chennault’s assessment is likewise far too extreme. Setting aside the obvious overstatement of Douhet’s importance, it is worth noting that, of the 119 daylight operations launched by the US 8AF prior to using the North American P-51, only eight were flown without fighter escort. Likewise, while war games throughout the 1930s experimented with spotter-based early-warning systems, military investment in radar lagged far behind Europe. Chennault had a disturbing tendency to take criticism as a personal attack, and this as much anything, led to not only him losing precious influence as a fighter advocate, but his quitting the US Army altogether in 1937.

Fighter advocates bitterly resisted the escort role the bombardment theorists pushed for, instead advocating combat air patrols akin to those of the Great War – this would later prove unfruitful, as the enemy response was generally to ignore them. It certainly did not help that, in the eyes of the War Department, the US had no need for a long-range fighter. Haywood S. Hansell, an instructor at the ACTS and a member of the ‘bomber mafia’ described a failed attempt to adapt a failed multi-task aircraft into an escort fighter:

Haywood S. Hansell, Jr. was one of the prominent members of the so-called ‘bomber mafia,’ which included such men as Harold L. George, Larry S. Kuter, Robert Olds, and Kenneth Walker. These men would later go on to form the Air War Plans Division, drafting the air service’s official strategy in 1941. These works later proved quite prescient.

Progress toward a long-range fighter was the two-place PB-2 produced by the Consolidated Aircraft Company. But the rear gunner was merely an unnecessary burden with little firepower. Very fast and maneuverable for its day and with relatively long range, the aircraft might have been developed into an effective escort fighter. However, the idea for its tactical employment was fuzzy, and there was no charismatic leader to support its doctrine. It is tragic that this was so, for the lack of long-range escort fighters nearly halted the air offensive in 1943. Seeking the only avenue open to them, the bombers increased armament and massed defensive firepower from tight formations

Hansell, Jr., United States Air Force (Retired), Major General Haywood S. The Strategic Air War against Germany and Japan: A Memoir. USAF Warrior Studies. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1986.

The fact that the Air Corps was still part and parcel of the US Army can hardly be overemphasized. Funding for a long-range fighter simply wasn’t going to happen in a nation that officially had no purpose for its air force other than to support the army. The ultimate solution to the range problem – droptanks – certainly could not be justified in the Interwar period: fighter pilots simply dropping expensive fuel tanks whenever they pleased was a wasteful concept in a military strapped-for-cash.

The losses suffered by the US 8AF over Europe have sometimes been referred to as evidence of the ACTS’s ‘failure of imagination.’ This is probably as good a conclusion as any, particularly in reference to the unforeseen invention of radar. Still, it is clear that there was still a good deal of imagination at play. American airmen fetishized the Boeing B-17 (first flown in 1935) even though the US failed to approve its production until late-1938 – after all, an isolationist, financially-struggling US had no need for a big strategic bomber. Similarly, the US did not undertake any serious development of powered gun turrets or long-range escort fighters until after witnessing the British experience over Europe. Indeed, not only did the US not actually have any powered gun turrets, it lacked experience with aerial gunnery as a whole, not developing formations of interlocking fire until AFTER the first combat units began arriving in Europe.

The US went to war in 1941 with a theory for the strategic employment of bombers that would later prove remarkably effective. But, lacking any real doctrine - thoroughly tested with the equipment and tactics to carry it out - the US Army Air Forces were forced to learn their doctrine through the actual trials of combat.

Stay tuned for Part Four.

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian


#11

Part Four:

While Interwar air theorists were fond of arguing that strategic airpower was a cheaper alternative to massive armies and navies, the truth was that it was (and remains) extremely expensive. This is largely the reason that Great Britain and the United States became the dominant strategic airpowers of the Second World War - they were the only nations whose resources allowed them to invest in such a concept. This is not to say that other powers did not try.

France:

It is rather shocking to consider how far French airpower had fallen between the two world wars. At the end of the Great War, the French Aéronautique Militaire was the largest air force in the world, consisting of some 3,700 aircraft – all of which were the equal of any other major power. Regardless, heavy bombardment seemed to have made little impact on French high command, the 1918 interdiction campaign against the Briey-area, for example, being generally regarded as a failure. Still, like most of the nations described here, strategic airpower was seen by French airmen after the war as a means toward service independence, and as such, France was one of the few countries to readily translate and publish Giulio Douhet’s works.

Progress came with the establishment of an Air Ministry in 1928 and the Armée de l’Air in 1933, still final authority rested with the Chef d’État-Major des Armées, dominated throughout the Interwar years by army commanders who had admittedly little understanding of airpower. (As we have seen, this was not unusual). French airmen made a concerted effort to bring Douhet’s concepts into reality, particularly in regard to the heavily-armed bomber he called the “battleplane.” The problem was, in order to get military approval for such aircraft, French airmen had to classify these bombers as multipurpose units, resulting in pitiful BCR (bomber/combat/recon) designs like the Breguet 410. The old phrase that ‘to be a jack of all trades is to be a master of none’ certainly applied here, and it should also be noted that at the time of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, French documents were still referring to strategic bombers as ‘heavy defensive aircraft.’

While the Breguet 410 saw only limited use, its ungainly design was typical of French bombers of the 1930s.

With the socialist rejection of small-government conservatism growing throughout Europe in the wake of the Great Depression, the Aéropostale scandal of 1932 provided an impetus for Édouard Daladier’s Radical government to strong-arm France’s aviation industry into modernization. Under the leadership of Pierre Cot (1933-1934, 1936-1938), the Air Ministry began nationalizing France’s aviation industry, merging heretofore cottage industries into major corporations (a similar event occurred in the US). Cot was easily France’s leading proponent of military aviation reform and his position as a civilian administrator should be noted here: the French military traditionally took a hard line on dissent and certainly would have never tolerated someone as outspoken as Mitchell, Trenchard, or Douhet within its ranks.

Pierre Cot. As noted earlier in my discussion with Nic, Venona decryptions in 1943 revealed Cot as a Soviet agent under the code name “Dedal.”

Guy La Chambre and Prime Minister Édouard Daladier exit the council of ministers, 1938.

Air doctrine from Cot’s ministry show a strong Douhetian influence, arguing for the need to gain air superiority at the onset of war and dedicating much of his second term’s budget to bomber production. Still, many of Cot’s reforms were undone by his successor, Guy La Chambre (1938-1940), including Cot’s most important reform: giving air forces defensive command independent of army commanders. Indeed, failure to appease French army officers - Maurice Gamelin in particular - proved to be Cott’s undoing in regard to airpower reform. The success of tactical aviation in the Spanish Civil War had a global impact on airpower thinking, and for the French, it confirmed the army’s old argument that military aviation was best used in support of - and subordinate to - the Army.

Plan II (Victor Denain - 1935)
Bombers: 755
Fighters: 439
Recon: 326
Total: 1,500

Plan II Revised (Pierre Cott - 1936)
Bombers: 1,339
Fighters: 756
Recon: 645
Total: 2,740

Plan V (Guy La Chambre - 1938)
Bombers: 876
Fighters: 1,081
Recon: 636
Airborne Infantry: 24
Total: 2,617

Of course, before condemning La Chambre, it should be noted that he was not personally opposed to a strategic air role for the Armée de l’Air, and the decisions made during his tenure were by no means dissimilar to that of Britain at the time. The difference comes in management. Nationalization had not gone smoothly and while production-numbers increased, production-times still lagged. It was not uncommon for aircraft just entering service to have been designed over eight years prior, and it was this sort of problem that worried La Chambre enough to caution against a hard line on the Munich Agreement of 1938. Similarly, it is worth noting that there was little standardization in the French aviation industry, best exemplified by the myriad of fighter designs France had in 1939 compared to Germany, which had built its fighter force almost entirely around the Bf-109.

Underpowered and pitifully armed, the Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 was France’s most numerous fighter during the German invasion, with 453 serving in on frontline units as of 1 April 1940.

France’s most modern fighter in 1940, the Dewoitine D.520. Only 11 were on frontline service as of 1 April 1940, the number increasing to 57 the following month.

While making up only a tenth of France’s fighter force (140 in frontline units as of 1 April 1940), the Curtiss P-36 (purchased from the US) accounted for nearly a third of all French aerial victories in 1940.

This was a shame as there were several French companies that produced innovative and modern designs; it’s just that these were outnumbered by older designs unsuited for the task of modern war. It certainly did not help that the French government steadfastly refused purchasing foreign orders until domestic objection forced the issue – and even then, these orders were limited in scale. In hindsight, there seems to have been a reluctance in French leadership to decisively resolve these issues, being more interested in consolidating and maintaining power than resolving power structure. This quote is a long one, but I think it sums up the French situation nicely:

Despite the far-sighted though initially disruptive industrial restructuring of 1937, the adoption of an air rearmament plan worthy of the name in 1938, and the emergence of up-to-the-minute aircraft in 1939, war in and from the skies remained the Achilles heel of French defense right down to 1940. . . . French air rearmament right into the war remained an unsatisfactory half-way house, the product of competing views of its main purpose and of compromise as to the Armée de l’Air’s relation to Gamelin’s land forces. . . . The inadequacy of French air strength, 1938-9, originated, in Gamelin’s estimation, from the late start to French air rearmament. Exacerbating this basic problem, contended Gamelin, was the mismanagement of the aviation industry’s modernization in 1936-7 – a task which the general thought should have been entrusted not to a political ideologue such as Cot but to a proven businessman or a military technocrat. These handicaps to French air rearmament were, according to Gamelin, complicated further in 1938-9 by the failure of the political authorities to resolve unambiguously the place of the air force in national strategy and within the command structure. . . . Daladier shared as well the calculation of the Radicals (to say nothing of parties further to the left) that, historically, the more French military chiefs were kept divided and beset by their own rivalries, the less likely they were to challenge their submission to civil authority. . . . Consequently, resort was made to compromise: at the price of stepping back from direct command of the northeastern theatre facing Germany, Gamelin was empowered to distribute air as well as land forces between different theatres of operations wherever France had interests and military deployments. On this murky definition of attributions the issue of an integrated air-army command was left to rest.

Alexander, Martin S. The Republic In Danger: General Maurice Gamelin and the Politics of French Defense, 1933-1940. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 1992.

Soviet Union:

Despite its reputation for technological backwardness, Russia was actually one of the earliest nation’s to embrace the airplane. Scientist Nikolay Zhukovsky opened an aerodynamics institute in 1904 – the first of its kind – and Igor Sikorsky constructed the world’s first four-engine aircraft in 1913, a later variant of which (the Ilya Muromets) was arguably history’s first heavy bomber. Still, despite Russian ingenuity in the field, the lack of a powerful industrial economy left the Imperial Russian Air Service painfully dependent on foreign imports, which usually consisted of outdated leftovers from Western Europe. Naturally, the Eastern Front of the Great War failed to reach the heights of strategic incubation witnessed on the Western Front, and as a result, the new Soviet government saw little real use for aircraft aside from the obvious role of tactical ground-support.

The technological issue still remained in the Interwar years, the preceding years of economic ruin and civil war having brought the aviation industry to a standstill, with many of Russia’s brightest aviation minds fleeing Eastern Europe for their lives. The solution to this was quite shrewd: Germany, tied down by the Versailles Treaty, signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union on 6 May 1921 which, among other things, saw to the construction of a Junkers aircraft factory on the outskirts of Moscow. It was a mutually beneficial agreement, one that was absolutely critical to the development of a Soviet aviation infrastructure. The degree to which German air theory influenced the Soviets in unclear, but it is worth noting that the dominant concepts in both nations complemented one another. Air power was best used in support of the army, with tactical and interdiction strikes being used to aid in quick breakthroughs.

Soviet military theorist Mikhail Frunze, purged in 1925 during a routine hospital visit.

In large part the absence of strategic bombing from doctrinal debates simply reflected continuing shortages in materiel and personnel, a stunted industrial base’s inability to make good these deficiencies, and the limited capabilities of even the most advanced aircraft and bombs of that day. Yet it also reflected a widespread and long-lasting prejudice that bombing was merely an extension of the artillery. In 1928, for instance, the initial study by a leading VVS [Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (Military Air Forces)] theorist, E. V. Agokas, was entitled Aerial Artillery, and in 1932 the Soviet Military Encyclopedia still defined an ‘aviation bomb’ simply as ‘an artillery shell that is released from a flying machine.’ Not surprisingly, the Main Artillery Administration retained responsibility throughout this era for developing and designing aircraft bombs, and a VVS study of 1927 on ground attacks in effect equated the role of bombs with that of machine guns. Whatever the theory, this study concluded that given the equipment and weaponry available, flyers might act independently as direct participants on the battlefield, but they still could do so only as one major element in a complex of means, and in themselves they remained incapable of delivering the decisive blow (a la Frunze) at the tactical-operational, let alone at the strategic, level.

Jones, David R. “The Emperor and the Despot: Statesmen, Patronage, and the Strategic Bomber in Imperial and Soviet Russia, 1909-1959.” The Influence of Airpower Upon History: Statesmanship, Diplomacy, and Foreign Policy Since 1903. Edited by Robin Higham and Mark Parillo. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2013.

What interest the Soviet government had in strategic bombing seems to have come primarily from Joseph Stalin who, upon consolidating power in 1927, personally assumed control of Soviet defense. Stalin was easily swayed and the programs invested in by his government did not reflect any real doctrinal framework – the goal was modernization, at any cost. There was good reason for concern as, in 1929 for example, the USSR only fielded 50 bombers and 630 fighters in comparison to its whopping 1,800 reconnaissance aircraft. Andrei Tupolev’s all-metal TB-1 monoplane, designed in 1925, had been a giant leap forward by any nation’s standards, and Stalin eagerly pushed for developments based on this design. The same year the new design entered service – the 1935 Tupolev TB-3 – a Russian translation of Douhet’s work was made required reading for all Soviet air officers. Like Benito Mussolini, the influence Douhet and Mitchell had on Stalin is debatable as, for Stalin, strategic bombardment was primarily useful for propaganda. It certainly worked. 1934 saw the introduction of the Tupolev ANT-20, a converted bomber-turned-airborne-loudspeaker, which was by far the world’s largest aircraft, and remained so for the rest of the decade. That same year, the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award was specially-created to honor a group of airmen who had rescued the crew of the SS Chelysukin using TB-1s after they had been stranded on ice in the Chukchi Sea.

The effect of Stalin’s ‘Five Year Plans’ was mixed. They certainly succeeded in building aircraft numbers, as by 1939, aircraft output had risen from 2,509 in 1932 to 10,342. The problem was one of quantity over quality. Vasiliy Khripin could claim in 1936 that the USSR had the world’s largest bomber force and be more-or-less accurate, but the vast majority of these bombers were already horrendously out of date. In May 1941, for example, the Soviet heavy bomber force consisted of 11 TB-7s – a 1936 design and the latest Soviet heavy bomber – and 516 TB-3s; suicidally, the Soviet did not hesitate to take these ancient designs to war.

Aside from the usual Soviet resource issues, two reasons above all account for this state-of-affairs. First, Stalin had closely followed the Spanish Civil War and was thoroughly disgusted with the poor performance of Soviet aircraft against those of Italy and Germany. This, combined with the lackluster results from the area bombing of Spanish cities, thoroughly turned Stalin’s attention toward modernizing his fighter and light bomber force.

The Tupolev TB-3 was the world’s first cantilever wing four-engine bomber, and it remained the Soviet Union’s primary heavy bomber throughout the Second World War.

Originally designated the TB-7, the Tupolev Pe-8 was meant to replace the aged TB-3, but problems with its engines saw the design switch powerplants five times in its short service life. Lacking high-altitude turbochargers and flame-dampeners for night operations, the Pe-8 - like the TB-3 - suffered heavy losses.

The Soviets’ emphasis upon tactical aviation at this time was not solely a response to the experience in Spain but also a pragmatic approach to understanding their own position with respect to technology. The Soviet industry of this time did not produce the radios, navigation instruments, sophisticated bombsights, and other technology advanced materiel needed for long-distance strategic bombing campaigns. Creation of simple, rugged aircraft to serve as light bombers and fighters, however, lay within the capabilities of Soviet industry. Therefore, on the eve of war, the Soviets reoriented much of their aircraft production to the building of assault aircraft and light bombers, as well as fighter planes to escort them. It was a wise decision.

Corum, James S. “Airpower Thought in Continental Europe between the Wars.” The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory. Edited by Colonel Phillip S. Meilinger, United States Air Force 1997. Reprint, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1998.

Second was the ‘Great Purge.’ While the true rationale behind these executions may never be known, Soviet command officers were subjected to a slew of accusations of Trotsky-ist conspiracy against Stalin starting in 1937. Not surprisingly, these purges removed several of the USSR’s leading air theorists from life and memory, including such notable officers as Yakov Alksnis (killed 1938), Alexander Lapchinsky (killed 1938), and Mikhail Tukhachevsky (killed 1937), as well as aircraft designers like Andrei Tupolev and Vladimir Petlyakov (both imprisoned in 1937).

The onset of war with Germany eventually loosened Stalin’s hard-line on the military out of sheer necessity, and the Soviet Union’s heavy bomber forces did see limited, though costly, usage. The ever-so-clunky TB-7s fared somewhat better than their TB-3 predecessors, and even went so far as to make a few heavily-publicized strikes on Berlin (which accomplished nothing). Still, the primary usage of this small force of heavy bombers was in support of tactical operations and losses were always high. The Soviet Union unofficially ceased heavy bomber operations altogether on 1 August 1944, and would not undergo any further significant attempts at a strategic bomber program until acquiring US Boeing B-29s in 1945, replicating them as the Tupolev Tu-4 for Cold War usage.

CINC VVS Pavel V. Rychagov - one of over 300 officers executed during Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. When Rychagov referred to Soviet aircraft as obsolete ‘death traps’ at a state dinner, Stalin coldly replied ‘you should not have said that’ and had Rychagov and his family arrested.

Italy:

As was noted in Part One, despite the broad scale of his work, the degree to which Italian theorist Giulio Douhet actually influenced Interwar air thinking remains a matter of debate. Douhet’s works had always been careful to note that they reflected the needs of Italy first and foremost, regardless of whether or not they were strategically realistic.

A staged publicity shot of Benito Mussolini ‘piloting’ an airplane in 1935. In actuality, Mussolini was a poor pilot and his ‘piloting’ photos were usually taken either on the ground or with him in the co-pilot seat (as in this photo).

Italy was perhaps the best country to rely entirely upon Douhet’s principles, given that it would possess an army that seemingly was doomed to lose most of its campaigns and a navy that preferred convoy duties to open battles with the Royal Navy. Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini, was an advocate of aggression, if not specifically of Douhet’s theories, and he embraced aviation as representing the best of Fascist Italy. He learned to fly, and was often pictured at the controls of a Regia Aeronautica aircraft, very much the modern dictator. Italy lacked resources, but if it had taken Douhet at his word and reduced it conventional forces, it might well have been able to build up a strong strategic air force in the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately . . . Italy was desperately poor, and building a huge air force would have meant that the Italian Army and Navy would have been reduced almost to zero. This was politically impossible, particularly given the royalist backing of those services.

Boyne, Walter J. The Influence of Air Power Upon History. New York, NY: K. S. Giniger, 2003.

Douhet was an ardent fascist and indeed, Mussolini was quick to install him as Italy’s first air minister in 1926. Douhet did not stay in this post long, but regardless, Mussolini pushed Douhet’s successors to follow said example. Mussolini adored the use of aviation in propaganda and worked hard to build and publicize Italy’s air arm. Regardless, Douhet’s influence within the Regia Aeronautica itself amounted to little more than mere lip service. Airpower is expensive (strategic airpower, doubly so) and in the end, no nation – Italy being no exception – invested in strategic airpower to the extent that Douhet had argued

Unlike Trenchard and Mitchell, it did not help that Douhet lacked a following in the Italian air community. To quote Boyne again, Douhet “began and ended as an outsider, a one-man-band irritant whose arguments became more shrill and repetitive as time went on.” Superbly put. Douhet was not an airman and his critics were quick to point out how dismissive he was of friction in regard to aerial warfare: i.e., engines never needed servicing, payloads never contained duds, and units were always at full strength. Indeed, it was Douhet’s most ardent critic that, in the end, had the most influence over Italian airpower development.

Amedeo Mecozzi

Sometimes called the “anti-Douhet,” Amedeo Mecozzi was a Great War fighter ace who, in the Interwar years, became a major advocate of tactical aviation, publishing works while still holding various military air commands. Mecozzi’s opposition went beyond the practical, vigorously opposing the bombardment of civilians both before and after the Second World War. Instead, Mecozzi pushed for close cooperation with ground forces, with particular emphasis on interdiction strikes as Mecozzi was not a fan of close-air support. Mecozzi perceptively noted that strategic bombardment was ineffective against certain opponents, pointing out its limited usefulness in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1937) and Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Indeed, there had been limited need for heavy bombardment in either war, and what little bombing that was attempted – poison gas strikes against Red Cross units in Ethiopia and a ‘terror-bombing’ raid on Barcelona – accomplished little but to enrage public opinion against bombardment in general. In contrast, Italian tactical aviation proved critical in isolating Catalonia from the Spanish republic, and the overwhelming public success of German tactical aviation seems to have all but silenced Douhet’s remaining supporters.

Mecozzi wielded considerable influence over Douhet’s successor, Italo Balbo. A trusted member of Mussolini’s inner circle, Balbo took his newfound role seriously, not only earning his pilot’s license (something which Mussolini struggled for years to obtain) but participating in several record flights. Regardless of whatever resources Italy lacked to create a powerful, modern air force, Italy never lacked enthusiasm. In fact, Italian designers like Giovanni Caproni and Mario Castoldi managed to produce several excellent designs hampered only by limited access to quality engines and fuels, to say nothing of mass-production. However, the constant military campaigns of the 1930s served only to hold the Italians back. Military technology is difficult to advance during a state of war and this was particularly true for the Italians. Early-1930s designs – many of which were still biplanes – showed no immediate need for modernization over places like Ethiopia, and as such, by the time the Second World War broke out, were still locked into mass-production at the worse possible time.

Stay tuned for Part Five.

-G

G. A. Blume

Historian


#12

Part Five

Germany:

Germany came out of the Great War with an enormous degree of practical experience. At war’s end, the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (German Army Air Forces) had been the sole branch still capable of mounting any effective form of resistance, its prestige never faltering. The General Staff had shown considerable imagination with its use of airpower and it paid off: one need only look at the Armistice terms to note that Germany’s entire complement of night bombers and Fokker D.VIIs (the first mass-produced cantilever wing fighter) were specifically demanded for Allied confiscation. As such, there was never any real question in Germany about the practicality of an independent air branch – it was even suggested at Versailles! This may partially explain why Germany never showed the same passion for strategic bombing shown by other nations, the ultimate goal already being achieved. As noted before, the concept of strategic bombing was a difficult sell to traditionally land-based powers.

The Fokker D.VII, along with the Junkers J.I (the first all-metal airplane), set off a firestorm of concern throughout the aviation community upon its entrance in 1917. Amongst its legacies was a demand for heavier aircraft armament, including the .50 caliber MG and the 20mm autocannon.

German geography, history, and military culture combined to push development of strategic bombing in significantly different directions. Most Luftwaffe officers found the idea of strategic bombing attractive, but Luftwaffe officers also had to recognize Germany’s geographic and strategic vulnerabilities. No matter how successful the Luftwaffe might prove in attacking enemy cities or industries – and here the Germans initially thought in terms of Paris, Prague, and Warsaw – if enemy ground forces captured the Ruhr or Silesia, Germany would lose the war. British airmen could discount the loss of Western Europe in 1940, not only because such a loss involved someone else’s territory, but because it allowed them to concentrate on a strategic bombing campaign. The Germans confronted a different situation; since their country lay in the center of Europe, the Luftwaffe developed a more broadly based conception of airpower, one that included air superiority, interdiction, and even close air support for the army in addition to strategic bombing.

Millet Alan R., and Williamson Murray, ed. Military Innovation in the Interwar Period. 1996. Reprint, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

With the Italian Alps, English Channel, Atlantic Ocean, and the vast Russian frontier offering some degree of a buffer zone, Italy, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union could respectively afford the consideration of a strategic bombing force. France and Germany were less fortunate. Germany actually had some experience with strategic bombing, and came away from the Great War unconvinced of its effectiveness, noting the poor results of raids against Britain and the relative ease with which they repulsed British raids against Germany.

While the Versailles treaty did indeed handicap the German military logistically, officers lost no time debating strategy and theory. Looking back on the Great War, airmen argued that, despite their technological advantage, maintaining a defensive stance was what allowed the Allies to gain air superiority over German lines. Reflecting on the Allied victory, German air theorists called for first seeking air superiority, then carrying out a combined-arms campaign focusing on interdiction – much as had been done by the Allies. The brilliant Generaloberst J. "Hans" F. L. von Seeckt – the man responsible for modernizing the German army and for Chiang Kai-shek’s early victories against the Chinese communists – wrote in 1929:

…the war will begin with a simultaneous attack of the air fleets – the weapon which is the most prepared and the fastest means of attacking the enemy. Their target is, however, not the major cities or industrial power, but the enemy air force, and only after its suppression can the offensive arm be directed toward other targets. . . . It is stressed that all major troop mobilization centers are worthwhile and easy targets. The disruption of the personnel and materiel mobilization is a primary mission of the aerial offensive.

von Seeckt, Reichsheer, Generaloberst J. “Hans” F. L. Gedanken eines Soldaten [Thoughts of a Soldier]. Berlin, DE: Verlag fur Kulturpolitik, 1929.

This is not to say that strategic bombing was ignored. Works by Mitchell and Trenchard were eagerly translated and disseminated throughout the ranks (but not Douhet), and French industries and cities were quietly studied for theoretical war games, acknowledging in 1924 for the first time enemy morale as a legitimate, it not altogether important, target.

What enthusiasm for strategic bombing there was peaked with the rise of National Socialism in the early-1930s. Like Mussolini, German Führer Adolf Hitler leaned heavily into his nation’s technological prowess, an image strengthened by keeping Great War ace Hermann W. Göring as his right-hand man. Rearmament and Nazi ideology emboldened proponents of bombing enemy willpower, with Berlin-Gatow Air War Academy commandant Robert Knaus arguing that: the more materialistic (i.e., capitalist) or psychologically weak (i.e., communist), the quicker willpower will collapse. Such arguments never gained serious traction within the military, but amongst various members of Hitler’s inner circle, this was a legitimate strategy.

Walther Wever

More level-headed was LW CS Generalleutnant Walther Wever, Germany’s most pronounced strategic-bombing advocate. Still, it would be wrong to compare Wever to Trenchard or Mitchell as Wever’s conception of strategic bombing was far more limited in nature. His 1935 manual, Die Luftkriegfuhrung (Conduct of the Air War), argued that strategic operations could only occur when:

  1. There was a chance such operations could be quick and decisive

  2. Ground and naval forces were prepared for such a campaign

  3. Surface campaigns were at a point of stalemate

  4. There was no other way of striking the enemy’s economy

That said, this did not stop Wever from contracting Junkers and Dornier to produce designs capable of bombing Soviet industries across the Ural Mountains – a detail of great significance in German planning against the Soviet Union. Wever was killed in an accident in 1936, after which, the Ural bomber program and prototypes were quickly scrapped. The Ural bombers suffered from poor performance and abysmal powerplants and Wever’s successor, Albert Kesselring, rightly pointed out that these resources were better spent on building upon already proven technological trends. That same year saw the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and with it came the introduction of dive-bombing on a massive scale. What debate there had been over the merits of an interdiction-based force versus a strategic-based one were settled in the war’s aftermath, with Ernst Udet, heading the Luftwaffe’s technical development section, demanding that all future bomber designs be capable of dive-bombing. This ridiculous order served only to hamper otherwise excellent designs like the Ju-88.

An example from the 1936 Ural bomber program: the Dornier Do. 19.

An example from the 1942 Amerika bomber program: the Messerschmitt Me. 264.

Germany went to war in 1939 with some of the best fighter, light and medium bomber designs in the world. The He-111 and Ju-88, for example, far eclipsed contemporaries like the US Douglas B-18 and British Handley Page Hampden and Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. Similarly, research into the problems of long-range escort saw to the development of the Bf-110 fighter and the limited usage of external fuel tanks, and while the Bf-110 proved inadequate to the task and sheer economics prevented the concept of droptanks from gaining traction, these were steps in the right direction.

In regard to strategic bombing, however, Germany was unequal to the task. While many historians have criticized the lack of ‘lessons learned’ from British and American commanders observing the ‘blitz,’ the fact was that they saw little in common with their own strategic beliefs. Germany’s strategic campaign was not based on any sound strategy and was carried out with bombers obviously not designed for the tasks at hand. Following Wever’s death, the Luftwaffe made a lackluster effort to design a bomber capable of bombing the US, but in the end, abandoned the heavy bomber, with those few designs that entered service being little more than converted airliners classified on the basis of technicality. Göring supposedly grumbled in 1943 that ‘those inferior heavy bombers of the other side are doing a wonderful job of wrecking Germany from end to end.’ But for all of his bitterness, it should be noted that Germany never lacked technological ingenuity. Regardless of whether or not Wever’s Ural bomber program (or the later Amerika-bomber program) was prudent, its cancellation was ultimately Göring’s responsibility.

One of history’s most accomplished airmen, Ernst Udet’s tenure during the Second World War was plauged by alcholism and drug-addiction. These issues were largely the influence of Herman Göring, who often used Udet as a patsy for his own failures, then ‘medicating’ Udet due to the resultant fallout. Udet committed suicide on 17 November 1941, leaving behind notes directly blaming Göring for his mental breakdown.

A loyal follower of Hitler, Hans Jeschonnek was the Luftwaffe’s Chief of Staff throughout the Second World War. Flustered by US attacks against Regensburg and Schweinfurt and an RAF strike on Pennemunde, Jeschonnek committed suicide on 18 August 1943; his suicide note specifically requested that Göring not attend his funeral (who did so anyway).

One can characterize German interwar airpower theory as comprehensive, practical, and well adapted to German strategy and technology. The greatest failings in translating airpower theory into doctrine for an effective air force came from a senior leadership imposed by the Nazi system. The loss of General Wever in 1936 was a blow from which the Luftwaffe never fully recovered. Wever had enough prestige within the armed forces to successfully challenge the ideas of Herman Göring and Udet. With the loss of Wever, however, subsequent commanders of the Luftwaffe, although knowledgeable men, did not possess the authority required to prevent mistakes such as the appointment of Udet to the Office of Technical Development. The tenure of Hans Jeschonneck, an intelligent but flawed young officer appointed Luftwaffe chief of staff in 1939, proved disastrous for German air theory and doctrine as the war progressed. Infatuated with the concepts of dive-bombing, Jeschonneck ignored other vital missions of the air force and gave only minimal priority to important programs such as the buildup of transport aviation and the strategic bomber program.

Corum, James S. “Airpower Thought in Continental Europe between the Wars.” The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory. Edited by Colonel Phillip S. Meilinger, United States Air Force 1997. Reprint, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1998.

Hope this glance over Interwar strategic airpower theory is helpful. I might add a few extra thoughts in the coming weeks, but this should cover the major trends.

Cheers!

-G

G. A. Blume

Historian


#13

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?


#14

Hi

In regard to your questions, I’ll answer one at a time as best as I can.

Was Lemay preparing for strategic bombardment before US entrance and, if so, how?

Curtis LeMay was barely 32 and held the rank of Captain when the Second World War broke out in Europe. He was a gifted airman, and was somewhat known within the Army Air Corps as the navigator who located the ocean liner Rex in a 1938 publicity exercise. That said, he was by no means involved with war planning. LeMay was not an intellectual and was certainly not a member of the ‘bomber mafia.’ To put it bluntly, he was not all that important prior to 1942.

Of course, LeMay would rise rapidly through the ranks after the US entered the war. LeMay had an engineering mind and earned a reputation for solving problems that perplexed other commanders. When Haywood Hansell – a prewar ‘bomber mafia’ theorist – was replaced by LeMay after a short command attempt, he was bluntly told “LeMay is an operator, the rest of us are planners.”

LeMay eventually became the youngest Major General is US history at age 37. As an airpower commander, he was FAR more capable and insightful than most of his contemporaries, and I would personally rank him as one of the outstanding commanders of the war.

I look forward to the series following his rise through the ranks and hope they give him the recognition he deserves.

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.

I’m not so sure. Yeager is 96 years old and is not likely to be in the best of health (or memory).

Yeager was 18 when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, and became a pilot only because the USAAF was forced to lower its education standards to increase numbers. Yeager had unusually good eyesight, which served him well as a fighter pilot. He was shot down shortly after arriving in Europe and, despite official rotation policy, was allowed to return to combat after escaping to England. He ended the war with 11 aerial victories, five of which he shot down in a single day (catching them by surprise).

Considering his postwar experience as a test-pilot, Yeager would have an unusually balanced perspective on period aircraft technology.

That said, Yeager is renown in the aviation community for his brash personality, which can at times come off as downright conceited. While his recollections of past events can wonderfully honest, he has always had a tendency to go too far with his opinions, sometimes making critiques outside his area of expertise. (For example, some years ago he angered a great many veterans by attacking the record of Frances Gabreski shortly after his death; the attack was neither warranted nor accurate.) As such, I would be careful when conducting an interview with Yeager to stick to topics with which he was involved with personally.

How did the Luftwaffe prepare to handle the US Army Air Force in advance?

I don’t know if I should answer this sort of question in detail here or wait for Indy to do a Q&A episode.

I’ll make my answers brief.

In short, they didn’t .

The Luftwaffe had handled RAF daylight operations fairly well throughout 1940-1941 and made little changes to its defense structure in the months following. While it is true that aspects of the US air offensive did somewhat catch them off-guard, the Luftwaffe adapted pretty quickly to the fight.

Both the night and daylight offensives saw a steady evolution, with both sides constantly adapting to the other’s strategies and tactics. It is my hope that I can help the series cover these changes.

Was the V2 strategically misused?

Despite Nazi enthusiasm for ‘wonder weapons,’ the fact was that most were incapable of making any significant impact on the war. The V-1 and V-2 were both expensive and inaccurate weapons. Psychologically they were absolutely terrifying, but you must understand that the essence of bombardment is targeting: a bomb that doesn’t hit anything important is a wasted bomb.

If the V-weapons accomplished anything it was that they demanded Allied forces temporarily shift their focus toward taking/destroying launch sites, and it gave the German people a boost of confidence. Hitler and many of the other Nazi ‘true believers’ hoped the V-weapons would cause the Allies to panic, but everyone who had observed the Battle of Britain knew this was not going to happen. Still, considering how inaccurate they were, I’m not sure the V-weapons had too many other uses. The designer of the V-2, Wernher von Braun, certainly viewed its usage as a cruise missile as a waste.

Were British jet factories well-defended?

They were as well defended as other British factories.

German knowledge of British advances in jet technology was limited. The leading German figure in jet technology was Hans von Ohain while the leading British figure was Frank Whittle. While they did follow each others work both before and during the war (as far as was possible), it appears that this did not extent far beyond professional curiosity. I have certainly seen no evidence that the Germans were concerned over Allied turbojet programs. Had they felt British jet factories warranted special attention, the Luftwaffe might have made a special effort, but the Gloster Meteor (the first Allied jet) never crossed the English Channel so the threat was never realized.

Conversely, the Allies did see the German jet program as a serious threat, and several US airstrikes were directed against factories producing the Me-262 (the first jet fighter). Allied bombing made production of the Me-262 incredibly difficult, with the Germans finding it impossible to use them on a truly large scale.

Hope I answered the questions to your liking!

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian


#15

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


#16

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


#17

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.


#18

Hi Robert,

Thank you so much. It’s nice to know that people are reading!

It must have been fascinating to meet his granddaughter. I wonder if she might’ve had insight as to his preferred first name - I’ve seen sources refer to him both as Frank and as Max (his middle name). Did she say what his preference was?

It is WAY too early to go into the details of the history, but Robert’s post on LTG Andrews is in reference to his death in 1943. For everyone’s benefit, here’s a quick summary:

Despite adopting a war plan that accounted for a 20% monthly loss rate, the US 8AF did not receive the numbers of aircraft and crews necessary to wage such a campaign throughout 1942 and 1943. As such, loss rates - not loss numbers, mind you - became a serious concern very early on. On 9 March 1943, Chief Surgeon 8AF COL Malcolm C. Grow authored a report calling for a definite mission-limit for aircrew tours-of-duty. Since the average mission loss rate at the time was 4%, CG 8AF MG Ira C. Eaker settled on a 25 mission tour. The first airman to complete a 25 mission tour did so on 5 April: TSGT Michael Roskovich, radio operator on Old Faithful (41-24475, 306BG).

This raised media attention toward the aircraft themselves - which bomber would be the first to complete their tour?

Most people are familiar with the Memphis Belle (41-24485, 91BG). There is a good reason for this. Hollywood director William Wyler - who had been in England since February - had hoped to center his film’s narrative on whichever crew would complete their tour first. As such, he had his team film several bombers who were getting close to 25 missions. This was dangerous work. Cinematographer Harold J. Tannenbaum was killed along with the crew of B-24 41-23983 (93BG) on 16 April, and the favored aircraft, Invasion 2nd (42-5070, 91BG), was also lost the following day. The Memphis Belle was next in line and were told that other airplanes would be filmed if they were lost as well. The Belle flew her 25th and final mission on 19 May, returning home as a subject of an Oscar-winning film.

In actuality, other 8AF bombers had already beaten her to it. The most obvious was Hell’s Angels (41-24577, 303BG), who completed her tour on 13 May. Rather than return home, she flew 23 more missions before also being sent on a publicity tour. However, more tragic was the B-24 Hot Stuff (41-23728, 93BG).

Consolidated B-24D Hot Stuff (41-23728, 93BG)

A staged publicity photo of Boeing B-17F Invasion 2nd ’s (42-5070, 91BG) waist gunners taken by William Wyler’s team.

The crew of Boeing B-17F Hell’s Angels (41-24577, 303BG) celebrate the completion of their combat tour.

The crew of Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle (41-24485, 91BG) pose with their aircraft shortly after completing their final mission.

The Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle (41-24485, 91BG) is currently on display at the National Museum of the US AIr Force in Dayton, Ohio - one of four combat veteran B-17s still in existence. My work with Hangar Thirteen gave me the opportunity to work on Belle as a consultant, as well as contributing various pieces - a childhood dream come true!

Hot Stuff and her crew had actually already passed the 25 mission mark when Eaker gave the order. However, her unit, the 93BG, was on loan to the 12AF in North Africa at the time. When she returned, Eaker immediately earmarked her crew to return home on a publicity tour - the first aircraft and aircrew selected for the purpose. LTG Andrews, who was CG ETO, decided to accompany the crew on the flight back. Hot Stuff and her crew were lost in an accident over Reykjanes, Iceland flying home on 3 May.

It is a remarkable fact that, despite being one of the best recorded conflicts in human history, there is surprisingly little work covering the major figures of Second World War airpower. Not only has Andrews been criminally underrepresented in most histories, but the same can also be said of men like Carl Spaatz, Ira Eaker, and Pete Quesada. These latter examples survived the war, but because they did not bother to publish memoirs, their impact has been generally overlooked. Because Andrews was killed, his fate has been worse - many historians simply forgot him. His personality clashes with Westover and Arnold probably didn’t help. Like I mentioned with my comment on LeMay, I look forward to seeing TimeGhost cover these men and hope they give them the credit they deserve.

-G

G. A. Blume
Historian


#19

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.


#20

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.

image

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)