Category Archives: U.S. Army Air Corps

Who WAS Jimmy Doolittle?

Jimmy Doolittle: The Commander Behind the Legend
Benjamin W. Bishop
AU Press 2015
123 pages
Free Download

A command biography that makes an effort to get past the mythos that surrounds Doolittle and probe who he was as both a commander and a man. Free for the moment – enjoy it!

From the publisher:

As one of the most well-known Airmen of the twentieth century, Jimmy Doolittle is the subject of a significant number of books and articles. Despite their many virtues, these efforts have largely overlooked a very important portion of his life—his command of the Eighth Air Force. This study seeks to fill that gap. It draws upon multiple sources, including the mature body of biographical literature, archival documents, and Doolittle’s personal and military records. The overall conclusion is that behind Jimmy Doolittle’s daring and dashing façade was a measure of humility that fostered his growth as a general officer. Although his technical expertise forged trails in aviation history, it was Doolittle’s moral qualities that most significantly hastened the demise of the Luftwaffe. This finding suggests that while it is indeed prudent to foster the technical education of future senior leaders, it is even more important to nurture leaders of courage, boldness, and humility.


Patton’s Air Force

Cover of "Air Power for Patton's Army: Th...

Cover via Amazon

One of the most consistently underrated factors in the Allied victory in Europe during World War II is the quality of tactical air support to the troops on the ground. Each for its own reasons, the Army and the Air Force tend to underplay the importance of tactical air support to their operations: the Army because it is afraid of admitting that it cannot do without air support; and the Air Force because the service has been built over the past 66 years as a temple to strategic bombing and air-to-air combat.

Air Power for Patton’s Army: The 19th Tactical Air Command in the Second World War offers food for thought to both services. By delving into how General George S Patton worked with his counterpart at the XIX Tactical Air Command, General Otto P. Weylandthis book reminds the Army of how strong air-ground coordination actually changes the traditional rules of battle, and that air support was arguably much of the “secret sauce” behind Patton’s successes in his advance across France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. When the planes flew, Georgie’s tanks advanced. When the weather grounded the planes, Third Army found the Wehrmacht a brutally challenging foe.

For the Air Force, the book is a reminder that the most important roles it played in World War II are not what service histories say they are. For all of the noise around strategic bombing, the parts of the USAAF that made the most difference were engaged in battlefield interdiction, close air support, and airlift both strategic and tactical.

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 Air Force and Base Defense

B-24 Liberator takes off from Kunming 7-9-44

B-24 Liberator takes off from Kunming 7-9-44 (Photo credit: SSAVE)

In his foreword to this excellent PDF book, Air Force historian John F Kreis notes that most histories of air warfare revolve around the actual combat, and far too few if any examine the issue of combat support or, as he does in this volume, air base defense. The author believes that this is an oversight, and I would agree.

Some of history’s more renowned tactical air commanders, most notably Air Force Major General Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers and later the 14th US Air Force in China in World War II, were late to discover that their ignorance of the challenges and necessity of air base defense undermined and sometimes erased their successes in the air.  It was almost as if, once liberated of the ground, these otherwise fine aviators and leaders forgot that it existed.

In this comprehensive (if not exhaustive) tome,  Kreis examines the entire topic of air base defense from the perspective of all the countries involved in combat, starting in World War I, and running all the way through the Vietnam War.  Despite hints that the air arm has learned its lessons about base defense, the author suggests that there is still more to be learned. Indeed,  if the recent experiences of the US Armed Forces and NATO in Afghanistan are any indication, air base defense remains as vexing as ever for both air and ground commanders.

This book belongs in the library of even the casual military historian.

Market-Garden: The Air Force’s Side of the Story

English: US Army paratroopers are dropped near...

US Army paratroopers are dropped near Grave, Netherlands while livestock graze near gliders that landed earlier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This book gives us the perspective of the US Air Force on the story made familiar in Cornelius Ryan‘s epic A Bridge Too Far. As you read through this account, even if you’re familiar with the events of Operation Market-Garden, you’ll realize that the Air Force’s side of the story has not been well told.

What is most fascinating about this account, however, is the Air Force’s own admission that while it did everything that it could to help beat back stiff German resistance, airpower was unable to secure the victory. This must come as a sobering realization to airmen dedicated to the proposition that air power is decisive in battle. Clearly at a tactical level in World War II, this was not the case, despite the presence of some of the best close air support tacticians, practitioners, and equipment ever produced.

If you have read other accounts of this campaign, you’ll find this work to be of great interest.

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.