Category Archives: Reviews

Air Superiority from Four Who Did It

General “Pete” Quesada IX Army Air Force

General “Pete” Quesada IX Army Air Force (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On May 21, 1982, four retired U.S. Air Force generals – James Ferguson, Robert M. Lee, William Momyer, and Pete Quesada – sat down at a table in the officers’ club at Bolling Air Force Base outside of Washington and took a hard look at the lessons they and the air service had learned in the course of their careers. Free of the constraints placed on serving general officers, the four have a far more frank discussion as retirees than they would have had while in uniform, and through this pdf book the reader gets to be a fly on the wall.

Each of the men had played a key role in assuring air superiority over Europe. Ferguson commanded a fighter-bomber group in Europe and was air controller for the beaches above the invasion on D-Day. Lee was one of the staff officers who planned the tactical air war in Europe. Momyer was an exemplary pilot and combat leader, who may have been a household name but for his his inexcusable libel of negro (African-American) fighter pilots under his command. And Quesada was without a doubt one of the finest officers the country has ever produced, an innovator and a visionary who put his integrity before his career when he told Air Force Chief of Staff Hoyt Vandenberg that the USAF needed to be more than missiles and bombers.

The book is a superb and fast read, oral history at its finest. Most of these four men did not sport household names like Billy Mitchell, Tooey Spaatz, Hap Arnold, or Claire Chennault. Nonetheless, as any student of aerial warfare knows, these men each played a key role in the history of the development of air power doctrine that helped win World War II.

The Army’s Airman

The history of war is written not only by the victors, but the survivors. How much better we remember those who made it through the fight than those who fell, even when the fallen fought on the side of the victors.

Lieutenant General Frank Maxwell Andrews

Lieutenant General Frank Maxwell Andrews (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of those soldiers who fell in the allied cause was General Frank M. Andrews, who died in a B-24 crash enroute to take command of the U.S. Air Force in Europe in 1943. Andrew’s most important role in his career predated the war, when he was the organizer and commander of the General Headquarters Air Force (GHQAF), and as such the man who pulled the U.S. Army’s U.S.-based aviation units into a single, integrated operational force. if General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold is the man best remembered as the commander of U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, it was Andrews who made Arnold’s efforts possible.

Andrews was the officer, arguably, who sold Army Chief of Staff George Marshall on both the concept of strategic bombing applied in Europe during the war, and on the primary weapon used in that effort, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

In Frank M. Andrews: Marshall’s Airman, a brief but engrossing biography published by the Air Force History and Museums Program, historian DeWitt Coop goes further. He suggests that Andrews, in his advocacy of an independent air arm and the first commander of GHQAF, was one of the leading architects of an independent air force that came into being after the war. Coop thus places Andrews in that aerospace pantheon of air visionaries who, like Billy Mitchell, made an independent air force possible.

History has not been kind to Andrews or his vision. Andrews was virtually forgotten after his tragic death, eclipsed by Arnold, LeMay, and others who survived him. The ultimate benefits of the strategic bombing campaign he was to have led in Europe, once taken as a given, are now a matter of hot debate among historians. And the value of an independent air force, appreciable in a day when few non-aviators understood the role of aviation on the battlefield, is now much less so in an era of pervasive aviation, unmanned aerial vehicles, and combined-arms doctrine. But there was no way of knowing any of that then, and at no point has it been suggested that Andrews was anything but sincere in his beliefs.

I am a member of what I believe to be a small group of historians who think that we have more to learn from failed beliefs, doctrines, and strategies than winning ones. Understanding Frank Andrews, what he believed, and why he believed it offer us a mirror for our own passionately held beliefs, whether in war, in business, or in life.

Serving Out of Uniform

Cover of "Washington Goes to War"

Cover of Washington Goes to War

Reading through David Brinkley’s excellent Washington Goes To War provided a jarring reminder to this amateur historian that history during that period was made outside of the Armed Forces as well.

For those interested in studying the home front in World War II, an excellent resource is The Administrative Histories of World War II Civilian Agencies of the Federal Government. This is essentially a large bibliography, but it is exhaustive, and thus an outstanding scholarly resource.

The MacArthur Version

English: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur...

English: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur smoking his corncob pipe, probably at Manila, Philippine Islands, 2 August 1945. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are histories aplenty of World War II in the Pacific, and the biographies of General Douglas MacArthur would fill a long bookshelf. Anyone interested in the man or the period, however, would do well to read The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Volume 1.

This account of Douglas MacArthur’s World War II, published by the U.S. Army and compiled by MacArthur’s staff, is excellent source material, but should not be seen as a definitive history. Indeed, the work seems a tad more biased than both contemporary and recent works by distinguished historians, and there are those who would read into the portrayal of some of the events and battles a overly flattering picture of MacArthur, his generalship, and the performance of his staff.

That said, the account of the war against Japan could use a little bias away from the accepted narrative, if only to prevent important campaigns from vanishing from memory. As the saying goes, there were two wars being fought in the Pacific, the one between the Allies and Japan, and the one between the US Navy and the US Army. If history is written by the victors, the Navy won the latter, and as a result the role of the US Army in the region has been minimized by a focus on the Navy by academic and popular historians alike.

This begs for some rectification without taking from the sacrifices and achievements of the Navy/Marine Corps team. MacArthur’s account, although compiled by men intensely loyal to the general personally, is a first step in that direction.

Using this account as a starting point, it is also worth studying the experiences of General Alexander “Sandy” Patch with the Americal Division and XIV Corps on Guadalcanal and Walter Kreuger’s Sixth Army in New Guinea and the Philippines. The U.S. Army did a lot of brutally hard work in the Pacific and deserves its place in the sun.

The U.S. Navy’s Intramural Battles

English: Main Navy Building (foreground) and t...

English: Main Navy Building (foreground) and the Munitions Building were temporary structures built during World War I on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The buildings remained in use for several decades, and the Secretary of War was headquartered in the Munitions Building from 1936 until the Pentagon opened in 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Administrative histories of military forces rarely make for scintillating reading. Accounts of the activities of command bureaucracies are, however, treasure chests for the military historian. Without taking from the fighting men and women or their commanders, it is usually the force that has its stuff together in the rear and in the higher echelons of command that wins the battles. Administrative histories show us the terrain on which the bureaucratic battles were fought.

Some of those fights were spectacular and were felt on the battlefield. The fight between the OSS, the FBI, and the armed forces, for example over control of strateic intelligence; the denial of the Navy bureaucracy that there was something seriously, fatally wrong with the Mark 14 torpedo; the Army Air Corps’ struggle for independence from the ground forces that made tactical air support and battlefield interdiction permanent poor cousins to strategic bombing and air superiority; and the countless internal fights that determined the way the war would be fought and by whom. These conflicts not only dictated the nature of the battle, but cast the shape of the US armed forces for the remainder of the 20th century. And they are all chronicled in so-called “administrative histories.”

Thus, the Guide to United States Naval Administrative Histories of World War II is a bibliography of the internal accounts of these battles in the Department of the Navy. They serve, therefore, as glimpses into the birth and early growth of modern naval forces, as well as the conduct of the war itself. The resource is indispensible for the serious historian, and, if nothing else, serves as a guide when pursuing research into any significant naval topic.