The Movement Toward Air Autonomy

The prolonged discussions in the summer and autumn of 1940 on the summoning of the National Guard, the enactment of the Selective Service Act, the enrollment of the 16,000,000 in the draft registration, and the hurried construction of cantonments for the housing and training of the new soldiers-most of whom were intended for the Army ground forces-tended to obscure from public view momentous events which at that same time were under way in the air establishment. The German Air Force's large part in the swift march from the Rhineland to the English Channel in May and June and its initiation of the heavy bombing raids over England again quickened the American air program, the progress of which since the late 1938 alarm had been but moderate. New pressure was put upon the Air Corps to speed the training of more pilots, and upon industry to speed the output of planes. It was pressure for airplanes rather than for ordnance which brought about the National Defense Advisory Commission, previously discussed. It was the Chief of the Air Corps whom President Roosevelt summoned to the White House with the Chief of Staff on 14 May 1940 in order to learn his personal views about a more energetic air training program. The result of that meeting was the replacement of the old program not yet developed 1  which had originally been designed to produce 4,500 pilots in two years with a new program (outlined by the Air Corps late in May and started immediately) under which 7,000 pilots would be produced in one year.2


The 7,000 were produced on schedule, too, but this goal itself had been superseded meantime by the Presidential direction on 8 August 1940 of a 12,000-pilot program, and this in turn by the 30,000-pilot program of 17 December 1940. Yet these immense bounds in the plans for new personnel, and attendant bounds in the plans for plane and engine production, were not by any means the sum of 1940 achievement by the Army's air establishment.

Whatever the method of measurement-in men or machines or cost or destructive power or diversification-the largest wartime development of all existing elements of war was that of the Air Forces. The magnitude of their growth following the potent impulse of the White House conference of 14 November 1938 and the merit of their performance are recognizable in the factual records of number of men trained, number of planes produced and engaged, bomb tonnage dropped, enemy planes felled in battle, and other data. That there should have been some such expansion was inevitable, in view of the enormous increase in air power in other countries.

The development in American Army air power, however, was not merely an expansion of a lesser arm of the Army (smaller in numbers in 1939 than the field artillery and less than one-eighth of the whole Army)3  into a very large arm (larger in numbers after 1941 than any of the older combat arms and by 1946 if all its personnel was counted-exceeding all other combat arms combined). Along with this growth in size came growth in authority almost to the point of autonomy as a recognized requisite of efficient operation: complete autonomy, with Air Force co-ordinate with Army and Navy, did not come into being until 1947.

In neither respect was growth spontaneous, nor wholly generated from the air establishment, insistent as aviators in and out of the service had been for many years upon the establishment's "right" to autonomy in varying degrees up to full separation from the rest of the Army. Before World War II the idea of a separate Air Force was unacceptable to the Army as a whole.4  Certain air functions such as local liaison and artillery observation were recognized, after warm argument, as an essential part of ground force responsibility.5  Others,


such as local tactical support for infantry, it could be argued, were subject to full control by the commander of the ground forces concerned, under the tactical theory then prevalent. That there was a semi-independent character in long-range bombing was recognized as early as 1923, but performance of the semi-independent function was not regarded as a sufficient cause for giving the Air Force autonomy in all functions, or any. Even a grant of partial autonomy would have required a reshaping of the War Department's organization and there was wide disagreement among the aviators themselves on how reorganization might be brought about. They were of two minds as to which aviation function, operations or design-and-supply, should be dominant, much of the historic disagreement on that subject being traceable to strong personal differences between leaders in the operating force and the supplies branch.

Attitude of the New Chief of Staff in 1939

On the eve of World War II a new factor began to advance the interests of the Army Air Forces, not by supporting the principle of separation from the ground command but, rather, by seeking a more efficient integration of air and ground elements of the Army, and by accepting a greater measure of air autonomy as a means to that end. This factor was the new Chief of Staff himself, as the military head of an Army which included all elements of air and ground forces alike. Before assuming the Chief of Staff's duties General Marshall made a tour of air stations and manufactories with General Andrews of the Air Corps, learning much more of the air elements' needs than was commonly understood by ground officers. More receptive than his predecessors to the arguments of the Army aviators (themselves more tactful than some of their predecessors had been), General Marshall channeled the air spokesmen's abundant energies into programs that approximated aviation objectives and yet were tolerable to the leaders of ground-force opinion. In January 1941 another factor, external to America and wholly fortuitous so far as America was concerned, was largely responsible for gradually endowing the Air Forces with practical equality with Army and Navy in strategic planning and eventually in operations as well. This was the mere fact that the British armed services were themselves already organized as distinct autonomies when the several representatives of the British Army, Navy, and Air Force came to the United States for the military discussions which became known as ABC. It was this circumstance that suggested


ultimately the formal creation of a Combined Chiefs of Staff on which would be these representatives of the British Army, Navy, and Air Force and, correspondingly, representatives of the United States Army, Navy-and now of necessity Air Force as well. At the Atlantic Conference of August 1941, in something like a foreshadowing of later organization, the Chief of the U. S. Army Air Force sat opposite the representative of the Royal Air Force and also alongside the U. S. Army Chief of Staff and the U. S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations. (The President's personal Chief of Staff was added in mid-1942.) Under these circumstances it was inevitable that at intervals when the British and American Chiefs separated into two national groups for wholly national discussion the Chief of the U. S. Air Force would continue to sit with his American colleagues on terms of equality, and also that the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, thus composed, would survive as a necessity of war planning. By this easy transition the Chief of the Army Air Forces (Gen. Henry H. Arnold) who in all other respects was subordinate to the Chief of Staff of the Army (Gen. George C. Marshall) became thus early a coordinate member with him of the Combined (British-American) Chiefs of Staff which devised the grand strategy of the war, and as well of the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff which directed the preparation and employment of American forces in pursuit of the grand strategic program. That this coordinate rank would soon have been achieved anyway, because of Air's mounting importance, was inevitable (General Arnold was frequently summoned to the White House for consultations in 1940), and that General Marshall himself came to feel that this relationship for the land-based air forces was as desirable as it was inevitable is likely. Certainly, however, the American Air Forces' advance toward autonomy was greatly facilitated by the circumstance that the Royal Air Force had already attained autonomy and an "opposite number" in the Combined Chiefs of Staff was desired.

For portrayal and appraisal of the enormous role of American Army air power in World War II, in strategic missions, in tactical operations, in combat and transport alike in all their varied forms, one must turn to histories of the Air Forces. But in the Office of the Chief of Staff before the war began was the responsibility for planning the military establishment that national policy required, and hence for the balancing of the Army's air, ground, and service elements in such a way as to carry out the plan. This responsibility called for determination of the means whereby the Army's air component, as well as its infantry or artillery or any service component, could develop highest efficiency


for its recognized individual functions as well as for co-operative enterprise. Properly exercised, this responsibility would have recognized that full development of air power called for more than a mere increase in the numbers of men and planes; that the employment of air power called for more intensive knowledge of air power's capacities and limitations than was possessed by the most enlightened of ground-trained officers, and at the same time for more diversified staff experience than the air personnel of the prewar Army possessed. This had been the contention of numerous air power advocates for two decades; it was long resisted in the Army and it was in fact formally accepted as the basis of a new organization only in 1941. From that time forward the Air Forces moved with greater speed and directness of purpose toward combat efficiency, which was the primary aim, and likewise toward the full autonomy which rationally could come to pass only upon evidence both of the whole military establishment's actual need for it and for the Air Forces' readiness to exercise it. This readiness was slow in coming. Air officers capable of performing high command and staff duties could not be developed instantly. Organization suitable for grand-scale operations never before essayed could not be created without study. Planes which were indispensable for advanced training of the new torrent of eager young pilots had to be sent, rather, to overseas Allies already engaged in combat, and throughout much of the war General Marshall had to cope, on the one hand, with advocates of granting still larger foreign shipments (President Roosevelt among them) and, on the other, with passionate advocates of more planes for home training. The shortage in factory production was obvious; a large number of insufficiently informed but highly vocal critics attributed it to Army opposition to air development.

The Slow Progress Toward Air Autonomy

The steps toward autonomy, and the changing views of Army command on that subject down to 1940, can be swiftly reviewed with after-the-fact perspective free from the passions that distorted much of the discussion of this subject during the twenties and thirties and which by their vehemence may have deferred Air Force autonomy quite as much as they promoted it.

The flight of the first airplane was followed by Army examination of the military significance of flight as a new means of observation and communication. This limited initial purpose explains the early development, from 1907 onward,


of aviation within the "Aeronautical Division" of the Army Signal Corps (which for some time had been using balloons). In 1914 the division became the "Aviation Section" of the corps, and in 1918 it gained a separate status from the Signal Corps as the "Air Service." As early as 1919 the Crowell Board (headed by Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell) advocated an air force separate not only from the Signal Corps but from the Army as well. This separation was opposed by Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and also by the Army board (headed by Maj. Gen. Charles T. Menoher, Chief of Air Service 1920-21), which in 1920 was created to study the situation and prospects. The issue was kept very much alive, however, by the widely publicized complaints of Brig. Gen. William Mitchell and by the battleship-bombing tests of 1921, with the result that in 1923 a new board, headed by Maj. Gen. William Lassiter, was directed to make a new study of air needs. With notable foresight it recommended a ten-year plan for building up simultaneously the Air Service personnel and the nation's aircraft industry, looking toward a force of 4,000 officers, 2,500 flying cadets, and 25,000 enlisted men, and also toward an American airplane industry capable of quick production in emergency, this last recommendation, neglected though it was, being the fruit of painful experience with airplane nonproduction during World War I.

With extraordinary prescience the Lassiter Board conceived for the Air Service two functions, which in its judgment involved a partition of command. Function 1 was to aid the ground forces: therefore the air elements involved would serve as an integral part of divisions, corps, and armies except for a reserve air force retained under GHQ. (Here was a burgeoning of the Tactical Air Force of two decades later.) Function 2 was to serve a strategic mission in areas remote from the ground forces: hence it called for great mobility and justified the creation of "a large, semi-independent unit." (Here is the burgeoning of the Strategic Air Force of World War II.) The far-reaching character of this proposal so impressed Secretary of War John W. Weeks that he proposed for Congressional consideration the working out of a joint Army-Navy aviation program, which met with no support from the Navy Department and died forthwith. Feeble and short-lived progress was recorded in the 1926 Air Corps Act, which again changed the air establishment's official title with the apparent purpose of recognizing in name, if nothing else, the distinctive field of Army aviation. Besides form, the act possessed modest substance to the extent of adding air personnel to the General Staff in judiciously small numbers, encour-


aging the preparation of a five-year program (rather than the ambitious ten-year program of the Lassiter Board's recommendation) and creating an Assistant Secretary for Air (this post to be abandoned in 1933 in the economy wave, but re-created when World War II proved the imperative need for it).

It was, however, a season of national apathy over the military establishment in general, and from this apathy the Air Corps suffered as seriously as did the rest of the Army. Against its discouragement advocates of an independent service continued to argue and in 1934 the whole issue was again put in the hands of a board, this time headed by Former Secretary of War Baker, which undertook a "once-for-all" decision, without attaining it. The Baker Board opposed a separate air force, a separate staff, a separate promotion list, and a separate budget. It held firmly to the traditional and prevailing view of a close integration of air and ground establishments, with ground forces overwhelmingly dominant in numbers and influence. It did, however, approve the creation of a GHQ Air Force which as a combat element would be distinct from the supply and training aspects of the Air Corps. This GHQ Air Force remained (so far as policy was concerned) under the General Staff of the Army (in which, as noted, ground force personnel was overwhelmingly dominant) and had no immediate normal contact with the Chief of Staff himself, who in successive installations had historically been far closer to the ground forces than to the air. Even so, there was prompt recognition in and out of the air establishment that the GHQ Air Force which came into being in 1935 marked a major advance toward ultimate attainment of that coordinate rank of air with ground forces upon which airmen unceasingly set their sights.

Numerous bills continued to be advanced in Congress, seeking either a single Department of National Defense in which air, ground, and sea forces would be coordinate, or an independent air force free even of that form of co-ordination. None of them won War Department support or, for that matter, any extended support in Congress itself. Independent of these proposals, a larger measure of autonomy for the Air Corps was being hewn out within the existing organization of the War Department. The slowness of its development no doubt was chiefly due to the conviction with which the Army as a whole held to its views on the necessity of close integration of air-ground operations, with ground forces dominant, as in the past. But also, and in considerable measure, the delay was due to uncertainties within the Air Corps itself.

After two years of trial, both the Commanding General, GHQ Air Force, and the Chief of the Air Corps were dissatisfied with the administrative organi-


zation of the air arms as set up in 1935. The Chief of G-3, after studying their reports, observed to the Chief of Staff: "There is no single controlling head for the Air Corps below the Chief of Staff. This is the crux of the matter and the root of many present difficulties.6   He believed that the defects of organization could be remedied only by placing the GHQ Air Force under the command of the Chief of the Air Corps in time of peace (in war he would inferentially be immediately under the Commanding General of the Field Forces) and he so recommended. This proposal, made early in 1937, was the basis of a reorganization that the Chief of Staff approved in principle in mid-1938 and ordered placed in effect 1 March 1939.7  The Chief of the Air Corps was authorized to exercise direct supervision and control over all Air Corps activities (including the GHQ Air Force) not specifically exempted by the Secretary of War. This movement may have been hastened or delayed by the influence of personalities and by old animosities and rivalries, but its culmination at this time was, in the words of The Adjutant General's letter, "to meet the difficult problems relating to personnel and training due to the augmentation of the Air Corps." 8

It would appear that centralization of control was the principal objective in early 1939, but wider authority for the Air Corps was also envisaged. In the unused (but initialed) memorandum of General Craig, then Chief of Staff, for the Secretary of War, evidently prepared in mid-1939, there was the proposal "to assign certain functions of a Deputy Chief of Staff to the Chief of the Air Corps." 9  It was clearly not acceptable at the time. The prospect in Europe, however, brought a revival of demands, in and out of the Air Corps and in and out of Congress, for a separate air force. They became stronger and more frequent when the German Air Force's successive sweeps across Poland at the very outbreak of war destroyed Polish air resistance, blinded the Polish command, and paralyzed Polish ground operations. The Luftwaffe's powers were demonstrated still more convincingly in 1940 over the Low Countries and northern France, and this stimulated anew in America the clamor for a separate air force on the broad assumption that a separate air force would inevitably be a more powerful air force.


General Arnold Advises Against Haste

This public clamor, the resulting Congressional agitation, and most important, the War Department's own observations of military events forced a reconsideration of the place of the air arm. Within the Air Corps itself, however, it was skillfully guided by General Arnold, a distinguished pioneer in Army aviation who certainly had never been backward in pressing the Air Corps' major claims, but who wasted no effort on untimely causes. When pressed at Congressional hearings on the expansion program, early in 1939, he expressed the belief that any radical organizational change might impede the program."10  Early in 1940 the Plans Division of his office, when making studies to implement the Air Board Report, emphatically declared its dissatisfaction with the existing relationship between the Air Corps and the War Department, but, with equal emphasis it concluded "That no radical changes should be made or proposed in the organization of the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps at this time." 11  General Arnold agreed, and as late as June he stated in private that he did not favor current suggestions for a Congressional reorganization of the armed forces designed to provide air force autonomy. "Right at this minute it looks to me as if it might be a serious mistake to change the existing set-up when we are all using every facility available in order to take care of the present expansion of the Air Corps."12  Such cautious opposition to separation movements put an effective damper on well meaning friends of the Air Corps but did not silence them.

This softening of Air Corps militancy on the separation issue may have resulted from a feeling of well-being that accompanied expansion, from a genuine conviction that reorganization would be harmful to the Air Corps and the country, or from a knowledge of changes contemplated by the Chief of Staff. Regardless of any unrecorded exchanges between General Arnold and General Marshall, the former, and all interested observers, could anticipate sympathetic treatment from a Chief of Staff who had selected Gen. Frank M. Andrews for his Chief of Operations and who had welcomed and approved the Air Board


Report of late 1939.13  General Arnold was anxious, therefore, that Staff planning be allowed to proceed without Congressional interference. How sound was his foreknowledge is shown by the development of later months, when air power achieved within the Army organization much of the authority which airmen had been saying could come only through separation.

These changes did not come easily, however, and their timing may have been influenced by events and personalities outside the General Staff. In mid-September of 1940, G. de Friest Larner, presumably speaking for the National Aeronautic Association, pointed out to Assistant Secretary Patterson that, though he was a warm admirer and friend of General Marshall, he believed that ground officer attitudes in the General Staff were responsible for serious bottlenecks in air matters.14  He suggested that it would be possible and desirable to nullify current newspaper criticism of the Air Corps, without taking cognizance of such criticism, by certain shifts in organization. Specifically, he recommended the appointment of General Arnold to a new post called Deputy Chief of Staff for Air, giving him wide authority previously exercised by the General Staff, and the appointment of Gen. George H. Brett as Chief of the Air Corps. After obtaining the advice of Col. J. H. Burns, the Executive in his office, the Assistant Secretary, in a memorandum to the Secretary, 18 September 1940, endorsed the idea anti observed: "There has been considerable agitation for a separate air force. There has also been the suggestion that an Assistant Secretary of War for Air be appointed. Changes along either of these lines may be unnecessary but the criticism may well cause us to look over our present organization and see whether our air force could be handled more effectively."15  The Secretary noted his approval and prior to 1 October forwarded the communication to the office of Chief of Staff, who received it with some irritation, not because of any opposition to General Arnold, but because he disliked "outside" interference with his staff. At a conference on 1 October the Chief of Staff stated that he understood that General Arnold and Maj. Gen. Delos C. Emmons of the Air Corps were both opposed to the idea,16  but he evidently was misinformed.


On 26 September the Chief of the Plans Division of the Air Corps had already requested his staff to prepare a study to show why the GHQ Air Force and all other air units should remain under the Chief of the Air Corps. He added that the present organization was unsatisfactory, and continued: "An organization which would meet our minimum requirements would be a Deputy Chief of Staff for Air, with an Air Corps General Staff which is in effect the organization we now have in the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps but which operates under the General Staff instead of a Deputy Chief of Staff for Air." 17  When General Marshall asked General Arnold about the proposal of the Assistant Secretary,18  General Arnold forwarded on 5 October a four-page memorandum, which, with accompanying papers, attempted to demonstrate the inadequacy of the existing organization, the need for appointment of the Chief of the Air Corps as a Deputy Chief of Staff, the need for certain other changes, and the need to seek legislative authority to put his proposed reorganization into full effect at once.19

After citing current delays, stating the need for the "most efficient organization possible to train personnel . . . and secure materiel," and referring to "ever increasing cries" for a separate Air Corps, General Arnold outlined the desired organization. He proposed three Deputy Chiefs of Staff, one each for Ground, Air, and Services, each to have control of all activities in his field under broad authority delegated to him by the Chief of Staff, and each to issue orders, through The Adjutant General, in the name of the Secretary of War. Various devices were suggested for reconciling differences among the three Deputies, but the Chief of Staff was to be the final arbiter. A War Plans Council and a War Department Budget Section were to be created directly under the Chief of Staff. The Ground and Air Deputies were to have their own general staffs, built from existing staffs, and the Service Deputy was to have a special staff. It was recommended that the Deputy Chief of Staff- for Air remain Chief of the Air Corps, that an acting chief be appointed to carry out certain functions, and that command of GHQ Air Force be given to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Air until the time when elements of it should be allotted to theater commanders in order to meet specific situations.20


The Chief of Staff referred General Arnold's plan to the chief of his G-1 Division and to his two Deputies. Those officials were emphatic in their opposition. The two Deputies pointed out: "The present tendency has been a rapid organization toward a separate Air Corps with reference to jurisdiction, stations and separate service detachments. The proposed Staff organization will virtually complete this by the organization of a separate Air Corps in the War Department directly responsible to the Chief of Staff alone." 21  They probed close to the heart of the issue when they observed: "The Air Corps believes that its primary purpose is to defeat the enemy air force and execute independent missions against ground targets. Actually, its primary purpose is to assist the ground forces in reaching their objective." In their opinion there were only two good reasons for the creation of the position of Deputy Chief of Staff for Air: (1) to soothe adverse public opinion, and (2) to meet the need for an arbiter between the Chief of the Air Corps and the Commanding General, GHQ Air Force, when the latter might be removed from the control of the former. All three officials advocated removal of the GHQ Air Force from control of the Chief of the Air Corps; Brig. Gen. William E. Shedd (G-1) specifically recommended that it be placed under the recently established General Headquarters.22

An Unsuccessful Compromise in October 1940

The Chief of Staff had to resolve the differences and somehow keep a working team. This he did by a compromise, which may have met public criticism but which did not stand the test of practical operation. General Arnold was appointed an Acting Deputy Chief of Staff, but the unity and control that he sought were lost. The GHQ Air Force was removed from the control of the Chief of the Air Corps and placed under GHQ (as G-1 had suggested); the Chief of the Air Corps remained in approximately the same position as the chiefs of other arms; and the Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for Air was "to operate with relation to the General Staff and to the Chief of the Air Corps as do the other Deputies." 23  Fortunately General Marshall and General Arnold were


able to maintain personal relationships in such a way as to overcome defects in the administrative machinery, but they were not able to quiet fresh demands for changes in the establishment.

General Arnold apparently accepted outside criticism unperturbed, and suggested "that the present organization be given an opportunity to prove itself before any more readjustments are made." 24  Whatever satisfaction existed among the air power proponents themselves was transitory. Less than two months after the changes of November, General Brett, now Acting Chief of the Air Corps, revived General Arnold's recommendations of October and forwarded them again to the Chief of Staff. While his report detailed new instances of imperfect operations arising out of defective organization, its only new feature was a proposal that there be three Assistant Secretaries of War to correspond to the three Deputy Chiefs of Staff.25  Already steps had been taken, quite independent of the General Staff, to carry out this suggestion. Robert A. Lovett, whose voluntary and independent study of the possible role of heavy bombardment in the European war had attracted respectful attention, in December 1940 became Special Assistant to the Secretary on all air matters; 26  in the following spring he was advanced to the re-established post of Assistant Secretary of War, vacant since 1933, but now destined for extremely important work. He undoubtedly gave the discussion on reorganization considerable momentum when, after a conference on 10 March 1941, he submitted to the Secretary a fresh and forceful exposition of the differences between the airplane and the older weapons of war. He concluded that "to be fully effective to the General in Command of the Armies, this weapon needs a tight-knit, flexible organization as modern as the instrument itself."27  About a week later Col. Robert Olds, of the Air Corps, wrote a memorandum in which he advocated a separate department of aviation. He introduced his memorandum as follows: "Action


should be postponed no longer, leading toward the creation of an air force in this country prepared for efficient and effective operations . . ."28

General Marshall's Move of March 1941 Toward Solution

The turning point in the movement for autonomy and unity of the air forces came in March of 1941. One day toward the end of the month, while General Marshall and General Brett were waiting at the Capitol to appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee on matters pertaining to the Air Corps, General Brett indicated that it was very difficult to get action from G-3 and G-4 on Air Corps matters, and a general discussion followed. Thereafter, in lengthy conferences on 26 and 27 March General Brett and General Arnold elaborated upon their views, which remained consistent with those that they had expressed again and again during the previous year. 29  General Marshall now appeared to have his mind made up and, as usual, his concern was with results rather than forms. He did not immediately put into operation the plans of the Air Corps, but instead issued a simple directive that said in effect that the Chief of the Air Corps would thereafter prepare for final action all papers, studies, memoranda, and other particulars pertaining to purely Air Corps matters, except those pertaining to war plans and intelligence; and that the Deputy Chief of Staff for Air would be responsible for coordination in air matters.30  In conference General Marshall left no doubt as to his determination to bring about a genuine reformation. He was quoted as saying:

In brief, I want this new procedure put in force without delay. The Air Corps has a tremendous procurement program tied in with new developments and now has a tremendous personnel problem-a great school setup In a few weeks, they will be turning out pilots at the rate of 7,000 a year .... It involves 152,000 men, and we have to operate on a simpler basis than our present system. I want to make a better use of the DCS for Air and make it easier on General Brett. This directive . . . is properly placed in general terms, and I desire to proceed on a basis of evolution and general understanding between all. Specific decisions as to its method of operation will have to be made as we progress ....

We are not operating. The big thing is planning . . . . 31


General Marshall was emphatic in his assertion that G-1, G-3, and G-4 should not delay matters affecting the air establishment and in the expression of his belief that coordination of these matters should be through General Arnold. General Brett was of the opinion that the changes would engender among the air people a feeling that they were being brought into the center of planning activities, and that this would result in greater co-operation. Although these conferences produced no structural changes-no formal organizational orders were issued-they mark a decided step in the movement toward autonomy for the Air Forces.32

The basic principles decided upon at the March meetings needed implementing, and General Brett, in cooperation with his staff and Assistant Secretary Lovett, quickly prepared charts of proposed organization. These he presented to the Chief of Staff on 3 April, and there ensued a long conversation, chiefly between Mr. Lovett and General Marshall, during which the Chief of Staff, directly and by implication, presented his views on the question of a separate Air Corps.33  In general these men were in entire agreement. Both were conscious of the need for change; both knew the magnitude and complexity of the job; both saw what they regarded as a need for autonomy and unity in the air forces; both believed that sudden autonomy or separation without proper organization and resources was dangerous. General Marshall, as usual, stressed the necessity for getting results:

I am sincere in wanting someone of your qualifications, which will permit these fellows to work . . . at present they are battered around in a maelstrom. As to the organizational part, . . . it is a desperate thing to settle. For instance we have the destructive effect on Emmons. We ripped up his air force to send planes to Alaska. Then we had to do the same thing for Hawaii. He blamed Arnold. Arnold didn't do it. I did it. However, I didn't do it because I wanted to but because of the Japs . . . . The problems are all interrelated. If I have to spend my time battling others, I am lost. Offhand, this plan looks all right to me. However, I want to study it more.34

The First Step: Consolidating the Air Elements

In accordance with understandings concluded in March and April, study of reorganization continued, chiefly in the Plans Division of the Air Corps. It was


evidently the intention of the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff to place the entire air arm under one head, and thereby dispose of the old internal discord between combat and supply units. Steps were to be taken to provide the ground forces with air elements that would encourage and develop joint operations. The air force was to be permitted autonomy "in the degree needed," an expression purposely vague in order to permit further consideration of numerous proposals and an experimental approach toward the goal of autonomy. From outside the military there still came renewed agitation for a separate air force, sometimes based on incomplete or inaccurate citations of experience in the European war and often based upon faulty estimates of the immediate readiness of air force personnel for assuming independence. Within the Air Corps itself there was so full a knowledge of essential preliminaries to autonomy that responsible air chiefs opposed immediate separation as an "injury to preparedness" for war.35

In May the Air Corps submitted a draft revision of Army Regulation 95-5, the basic regulation defining the status, functions, and organization of the Air Corps.36  By 20 June 1941 an interim organization designed to carry out the earlier agreements had been hammered out, and it was announced to the public shortly thereafter. Army Regulation 95-5, as issued on 20 June 1941, created the Army Air Forces, headed by a Chief who was also the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Air and who possessed authority to coordinate the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, the Air Force Combat Command (successor to the GHQ Air Force), and all other air elements. The new organization served the essential purpose of co-ordinating combat work with training and supply, it created an Air Staff to encourage more intelligent planning for the future, and it provided more of that freedom of action of which air advocates had long been desirous.37  Unhappily it still permitted conflict between the General Staff (at that time still numerically dominated by ground force officers) and the Air Staff. Also, this and related changes operated to keep the Air Force Combat


Command, despite its change in name, subject to the same ground force direction that the aviators had previously found onerous.

It was on this last question that differences of opinion became so great as to give rise to further changes. The Chief of Staff, in accordance with his ideas as expressed to Mr. Lovett in April, allowed his subordinates to iron out details, and he expected Mr. Lovett to carry the burden of the public relations problem including relations with Congress on air matters. On occasion, however, the Chief of Staff himself laid down in explicit terms the Army's views, which the Office of the Secretary loyally supported. In the autumn of 1941, when the orderly establishment of the Air Corps on its new basis was being jeopardized by further irresponsible talk of a separate air force, the Army's military and civilian chiefs co-operated in discouraging such a movement. A letter from Secretary Stimson to the chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee was drafted in General Marshall's Office. The Chief of Staffs feelings, even then, on the necessity for unity of command in military affairs (they were still more strongly expressed later in his fight for unification of the land, sea, and air forces) are evident in the letter:

The War Department in previous reports to the Congress had opposed the proposal to separate the aviation forces from the Army or the Navy, either as one of three components charged with national defense or as one of the three components of a single department of national defense. To date, nothing in the current European war has caused the War Department to alter its opinion ....

In German military thought it is fundamental that the creation of a single high military command for all forces, whether of the land, sea or the air, is the first requirement for success in modern war .... In fact the key to the military success of Germany in the present war has not been the operation of the air forces on an independent basis but rather the subordination of air power to the supreme command of the armed forces .... This system of combining air, ground, and naval forces when required, under one commander for training and combat operations has resulted in the marked German successes ....

. . . The British system . . . is intended to provide union of command approximating unity. In reality the result is a three-way partnership which becomes increasingly less effective as the theater of operations is more distant from the Prime Minister's and the Chiefs of Staff's immediate supervision and control .... The recent disastrous setbacks in theaters of war other than in the immediate vicinity of the British Isles are directly attributable to lack of real unity of command, and have forced the establishment of a ground cooperation air arm to be placed under the direct tactical control of the commander of the armed forces . . . .

The Army Air Forces now occupy within the framework of the War Department an autonomous status. The Chief of the Army Air Forces, who is also Deputy Chief of Staff


for Air, has full responsibility for every phase of Army aviation . . . . Coordination and unity of command is obtained through the Chief of Staff, and the organization of the "Task Forces" for training and combat operations, under GHQ.

It is the considered opinion of the War Department that the organization now in effect will permit free and unrestricted development of an air arm under the full control of qualified officers and at the same time permit the very keystone of successful military operations, Unity of Command. . .38

Command Responsibility Requires a New Arrangement

The problems of politics and public relations which have been referred to could be divided with other officials. The problem of command, newly critical but not new, was one for the Chief of Staff himself. Prior to mid-1941 questions of training and supply remained uppermost, and the direction of troops in actual or potential theaters of operations remained a secondary consideration. But the movement of forces to Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland brought new and complex problems to GHQ, and in late July Brig. Gen. (later Maj. Gen.) H. J. Malony in that headquarters recommended the creation of theaters, and the placing within those theaters of means to operate them under the control of theater commanders.39  General McNair's endorsement of this idea raised anew the whole question of the command powers of GHQ, and the Chief of Staff directed a restudy of that institution's functions, responsibility, and authority. The WPD tentative recommendation (of 30 August 1941) that there be no enlargement of GHQ functions, but rather certain reductions, pleased no one. General McNair, Maj. Gen. Wade Haislip, and Gen. Carl Spaatz disagreed in numerous respects,40  but General Spaatz' comments, an outgrowth of the continual organizational planning in the Air Staff, were extensive and explicit. He recommended the elimination of GHQ, the placing of over-all command in the Chief of Staff, and the delegation by him of responsibility to commanding generals of Ground, Service, and Air Forces (the last already in existence).


The General Staff would then confine itself to certain duties of a broad nature, which General Spaatz outlined.41  Nothing effective was done, however, and in November General Arnold and General Spaatz were still insisting: "It is clear that the advisability of continuing GHQ as an agency under the War Department for control of Theaters of Operation and Task Forces is open to question. Therefore, it is most important, at this time, that the organization of the War Department be modernized and streamlined to insure maximum efficiency in the prosecution of war. It is recommended earnestly that the most careful consideration be given to the type of organization referred to in previous recommendations from this office." 42

Meantime the Air Forces were consolidating their gains of June, appraising their basic deficiencies with regard to autonomy and preparing directives to eliminate such deficiencies. By early November there had been drafted a revision of Army Regulations which for a time seemed to satisfy every desire of the air people insofar as relations within the War Department in Washington were concerned.43  It provided for an Air Staff completely co-ordinate with the General Staff. The chief of WPD took strong exception to this proposal, chiefly on the grounds that there must be one General Staff to coordinate all activities and that the Air Force plan would, in effect, create two General Staffs.44  The War Plans Division had, for some time, been concerned with units of command and was aware of a connection between autonomy for the Air Forces and the necessity for an over-all command agency.45  The Air Forces recognized the WPD criticism as having some force and submitted a revised proposal which provided for a "superior coordinating staff, embracing both ground and air personnel," provided unity of command within the Air Forces, unity of command in the Ground Force, and a Military Policy Staff to assist the President. On advice from General Embick, WPD concurred in numerous broad principles to be sought in a reorganization of the War Department but opposed the creation of a Presidential staff. General Marshall and Mr. Stimson thereupon approved an


exploration of the other parts of the air proposal and WPD was charged with developing details.46

The Air Forces' plan was still under consideration when the attack on Pearl Harbor, temporarily causing great confusion, actually embarked the Army upon activities so enormous as to force a rearrangement of the entire Army organization. The coming of war changed the political and legal circumstances that might affect organization. The First War Powers Act of 18 December 1941, for example, gave the President sweeping authority to reorganize the government. This act gave the Air Forces another opportunity to state their case-by this time a case for a separate Air Force under a Department of National Warfare. The air establishment was clearly dissatisfied with its degree of autonomy under Army Regulation 95-5.47

No Autonomy, but Great Progress Toward It

The drastic reorganization of 9 March 1942 did not satisfy all the demands of the air power proponents, but it did create a three-force Army and a greatly reduced General Staff in which the dominant section, Operations, would in fact have a considerable representation of air personnel.48  One cannot examine this 1942 structure without recognizing its strong resemblance to the basic structure which in various forms had been proposed by the Air Forces spokesmen during the previous year or more. It provided approximate equality for Air Forces and Ground Forces under the Army Chief of Staff. The creation at almost the same time of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously referred to, had the odd and inconsistent effect of putting the Chief of the Air Forces on a still higher level than was contemplated in the March reorganization. For in the Joint and Combined Chiefs assemblies, in the realm of strategic planning he had an equality of rank with the chief military officers of the Army (General Marshall) and of the Navy (Admiral Ernest J. King).


In these two all-important respects the air establishment between 1939 and 1942 made most of the distance toward its long-sought goal of autonomy and absolute equality with the ground and sea services. It had made this progress without excessive rancor in the air establishment itself and without recourse to Congressional legislation, but simply through directives of the War Department, based upon recommendations of air chiefs and the two Assistant Secretaries and decisions of the Army Chief of Staff uniformly approved by the Secretary of War. The war was just beginning, so far as American participation was concerned, and developments of the next three years were destined to disclose by test of battle the wisdom of this deferment of absolute autonomy until the Air Forces' own organization and personnel, modified to the changed and changing environment, were prepared to exercise it. The immense role of the Air Forces in the war now was integrated with the role of the Ground Forces (and the Navy) rather than a part of it, but certainly was not separated from it even in field performance. That there would have been wisdom in actual separation in 1940, doubtful at the time because of the paucity of staff-trained air officers, is still doubtful. On the contrary it is difficult to see how in 1942-45, by any larger degree of autonomy than then acquired, the Air Forces could have developed from their 1940 status more effectively than they did. The 1942 reorganization was brought about for the efficient operation of the armed forces as a whole in their conduct of the war. It was only secondarily for the benefit of the air establishment as one element. Both objectives were attained.


page created 12 December 2002


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