A Concise History of the U.S. Air Force/World War II―Global Conflict
World War II―Global Conflict
Despite the heroics of such airmen as Lieutenant George Welch, who was credited with having downed 4 enemy aircraft, the surprise strike on Pearl Harbor showed the limitations of the USAAF's preparations for war. The Hawaiian Air Force lost 66 percent of its strength on December 7, 1941, while the Japanese lost only 29 pilots. Across the International Dateline, Lieutenant Joseph Moore claimed 2 Japanese aircraft the next day in the skies over Clark Field in the Philippines, but General Douglas MacArthur's air force of 277 aircraft, including 2 squadrons of B-17s (35 aircraft in all), was destroyed. These greatest concentrations of American air power at the time had failed to deter or hinder the Japanese.
At the start of World War I a solid industrial infrastructure on which to construct the world's greatest air force had not existed in the United States. At the start of World War II this was not the case. The aircraft manufacturing sector was large and growing daily. Before the war, General Arnold had established nine civilian primary flight training schools, two Air Corps basic flight training schools, and two Air Corps advanced flight training schools. The number of trained pilots had jumped from 300 in 1938 to 30,000 in 1941 (plus 110,000 mechanics). On December 7, 1941, the USAAF had a running start and was in the war for the duration.
Arnold planned first for vastly expanded production, training, and research, with the long-term military interests of the nation in mind. While German factories maintained a one-shift peacetime work week until 1943, American plants ran around the clock. Swelled by hundreds of thousands of women, more than two million American workers built nearly 160,000 aircraft of all kinds for the Army and 140,000 for the Navy and Allied nations during the war. America's aircraft production overwhelmed that of every other nation in the world. Altogether, its factories turned out 324,750 aircraft for the war effort; Germany's factories turned out 111,077 and Japan's 79,123. Where other nations stopped production lines to make modifications, or manufactured models long obsolescent, the United States, according to Arnold's orders, left its factories alone to insure high production levels and established separate depots to modify and modernize older models. Until the German Me 262 jet, American aircraft set the standard for performance and combat success with their ruggedness (the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, and P-47 Thunderbolt); their range and bomb load (the B-29 Superfortress); their range, speed, and agility (the P-51 Mustang); and their utility (the C-47 Skytrain). Eventually, they were to equip 243 groups, consuming about
Devastation and Renewal
Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Japan's surprise attack against American naval and air forces, above, at installations on the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu, precipitated the entry of a shocked United States into World War If. It also set into motion an unprecedented arms buildup as America's factories, below, churned out weapons of war such as these Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation B-24 Liberator bombers on an around-the-clock basis. 35 percent of America's total investment in equipment and munitions for the war. They were supported and flown by two and a half million men and women, nearly a third of the U.S. Army's total strength.
As important as production to Arnold was training. The demands of flight required the best from the brightest. Voluntary enlistments swelled the USAAF initially, supplemented by a pool of deferred flyers previously enrolled in the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve. Flying Training Command prepared nearly 200,000 pilots, nearly 100,000 navigators and bombardiers, and many hundreds of thousands of gunners and other specialists. American pilots received more uninterrupted training than those of any other nation, again because of Arnold's strategic vision and America's bountiful resources. Primary, basic, and advanced training were for individual flyers, brought together at operational training units under the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Air Forces and I Troop Carrier Command for forming into new units. Technical Training Command prepared over two million others, mostly mechanics and specialists to keep aircraft airworthy. Arnold and others labored to insure that the equipment these legions employed was the most advanced available. Research centers and test facilities sprang up all over the United States, dedicated to stretching aviation performance to the limit―and beyond. High octane aviation gasolines, radars, jets, rockets, radios, and special bombs were all products of the USAAF's commitment to basic and applied research and development.
This enormous aerial force was wielded by General Arnold, who assumed control over all USAAF units, with the War Department reorganization of March 1942. He quickly agreed with General George Marshall to postpone any discussion of an independent air force until after the war. However, Arnold was a member of both the American Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the joint American and British Combined Chiefs of Staff. The March 1942 reorganization and Arnold's position on the Combined Chiefs of Staff, nevertheless, gave the USAAF a large measure of autonomy, which was subsequently enhanced with the formation of the Twentieth Air Force (responsible for the B-29 campaign against Japan and under Arnold's direct command). A tireless commander, Arnold sacrificed his health building a winning air force.
Before the United States entered the war, American and British officials met from January to March 1941 for the ABC-1 talks and agreed on a strategy for defeating the Axis nations. They decided that because Germany represented the stronger enemy, British forces in the Mediterranean would hold their positions. In the Pacific, American forces would go on the strategic defensive, while Allied armies in Europe built up for an eventual landing on the continent followed by a victorious march to Berlin. After December 1941, however, events worked to modify this strategy. First, the U.S. Navy successfully bid for higher priority in the Pacific in an early two-pronged assault on Japan, one from Australia and New Guinea through the Philippines, the other through the islands of the South and Central Pacific. Second, in Europe, British demands for action in the Mediterranean and the immediate need for a reduction of German pressure on the Soviet Union diverted British and American forces to fight in North Africa. These developments left only the England-based Allied air forces to attack the German homeland through a strategic bombing campaign.
On June 12, 1942, the USAAF inaugurated operations in the Mediterranean, striking against the Ploeşti, Romania, oil fields, a target American airmen would come to know well. Large-scale action began with Operation TORCH―the invasion of North Africa―six months later on November 8. American doctrinal and organizational problems allowed the German Luftwaffe to achieve early domination in the air. Allied ground commanders demanded that air units maintain continuous air cover over Army formations. Their firepower thus diluted, "penny packets" patrolled the skies constantly, rarely finding the enemy, and were therefore not available in sufficient numbers when the Luftwaffe made concentrated attacks. German pilots achieved a three-to-one advantage in aerial victories. At the Casablanca Conference, in late January 1943, the United States adopted a tactical doctrine formulated by British commanders Arthur Coningham and Bernard Montgomery after bloody fighting against Germany's Afrika Korps. Air superiority became their first objective for the air arm, including deep sweeps against enemy airfields, followed by interdiction to isolate battlefields, and then close air support to assist ground units in their movements against the enemy. Air and ground commanders would work together, neither auxiliary to the other.
Codified as Field Manual 31-35, this new doctrine of tactical warfare served the USAAF well. With their air forces organized into an independent Northwestern African Air Forces under General Carl Spaatz, including a Strategic Air Force under General Jimmy Doolittle and a Tactical Air Force under Coningham, the Allies achieved air superiority in the spring of 1943 and cut the flow of supplies and reinforcements to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's army in North Africa. Allied commanders had the assistance of ULTRA intercepts, the top secret code-breaking operation, that provided detailed information about German ship and aircraft schedules. Axis armies in Tunisia, numbering 270,000 men, surrendered in May.
Principal American participants at the Casablanca Conference in French Morocco. Hanning meetings on Allied war strategy between President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff in January 1943 included Lieutenant General Henry Arnold, Commanding General, USAAF. Seated, left to right, General George Marshall, President Roosevelt, and Admiral Ernest King. Standing, left to right, Harry Hopkins, General Arnold, General Brehon Somervell, and Averell Harriman.
These initial steps toward organizing air power as an independent, unified force also led Army Chief of Staff George Marshall to issue Field Manual 100-20 in 1943. This document, the USAAF's "declaration of independence," recognized "land power and air power" to be "coequal and interdependent forces." In the Mediterranean, the Twelfth Air Force neutralized the Luftwaffe when Allied forces invaded Sicily in July and the Italian peninsula in September. Tough fighting slowed Lieutenant General Mark Clark's forces as they pushed northward, forcing him to rely increasingly on USAAF assistance to break through German lines. Since the bombing of the abbey at Monte Cassino failed to break the stalemate on the ground, USAAF units focused their attention on interdiction. Operation STRANGLE hoped to cut the flow of supplies to German defenders in Italy. The Twelfth Air Force learned how difficult that could be. Downing bridges, strafing trains and trucks, and bombing supply dumps contributed to eventual victory in 1945, but the protection of darkness gave the enemy opportunities to supply its forces.
AWPD/I had called for a strategic bombing campaign against the sources of Germany's power as the most efficient and effective means of achieving victory. With the United States on the defensive in the Pacific and Allied units bogged down in North Africa, the Eighth Air Force in England joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the largest strategic bombing campaign ever attempted. Progress was slow through 1943. Airfields had to be built, crews trained, aircraft modified. Circumstances diverted Eighth Air Force units to pressing needs elsewhere in the world. The first official bombing mission did not come until August 17, 1942, when twelve B-17s of the 97th Bomb Group, accompanied by Eighth Air Force commander Ira Eaker, attacked a marshalling yard in France. The Eighth Air Force, along with the RAF and the Italy-based Fifteenth Air Force (beginning in late 1943), would be the only Allied forces attacking targets inside Germany's borders until late 1944.
Missions through the summer of 1943 were trial and error, as the Eighth Air Force slowly pushed deeper into German-occupied territory. Prewar doctrine dictated that unescorted self-defending bombers could fight their way through air defenses to destroy targets in an enemy's heartland. Attacking in small numbers (AWPD/I had called for a force of 6,834 bombers), the USAAF was severely tested by poor weather, bombing inaccuracy, diversions of bombers to North Africa and against submarine pens, and stiff enemy defenses as it attempted to get at Germany's industrial web.
While the Eighth Air Force labored to overcome these challenges, the Air Staff, the AWPD, and the Committee of Operations Analysts worked to identify for destruction chokepoints in the German war economy. Although RAF Bomber Command's Arthur Harris wanted the USAAF to join him in a night campaign of area bombing to destroy Germany's cities, the Combined Chiefs of Staff at the Casablanca Conference gave its support for daylight precision strategic bombing. AWPD/I had identified 154 targets. A new plan, AWPD/42 found 177. In late April 1943 at the Trident Conference, the Combined Chiefs approved a list of 76 targets as Eighth Air Force objectives. The Eighth Air Force, with the RAF, was to win air superiority, an "intermediate objective second to none in priority," and weaken Germany enough to allow an invasion. Its undertaking was to be known as Operation POINTBLANK, the Combined Bomber Offensive.
The pace of operations intensified for the 17 groups General Eaker had available in July 1943. Brigadier General Laurence Kuter and Colonel Curtis LeMay worked out combat formations at the wing and group levels to maximize the number of defensive machine guns to be brought to bear against attacking fighters. Day after day, weather permitting, the Eighth Air Force struck at German airfields, aircraft depots, and aircraft industry, hoping to win air superiority by bombing the Luftwaffe on the ground; in late July alone it lost 10 percent of its attacking bombers. In August it struck at ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt aircraft factory at Regensburg while the Twelfth Air Force hit oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania, and aircraft factories in Wiener Neustadt. Eighth Air Force P-47 Thunderbolt fighters were soon outfitted with drop tanks, which extended their range and were intended to reduce losses as they escorted the bombers, but the Luftwaffe simply withheld attacking until they ran short of fuel and had to return to England.
The second week of October 1943 marked the high point in the Eighth Air Force's initial campaign. Scoring some bombing successes, General Eaker's command lost 8 percent of its bombers over Bremen, 8 percent over Anklam-Marienburg, 13 percent over Münster, and 26 percent in a return trip to Schweinfurt. The loss of over 1,000 crewmen and nearly 150 bombers forced a change in American strategy. First, Arnold ordered all long-range P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang groups completing training in the United States to England to provide escort for the bombers for the duration of the war. Second, he created a new strategic air force in Italy, the Fifteenth, to attack Germany from the south. Third, he revised the command structure of the strategic bombing effort, moving General Spaatz to England as head of United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF) to command the bombing campaign against Germany, assisted by Fred Anderson and Jimmy Doolittle as operational commanders and William Kepner as fighter commander. Eaker went to command the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, including the Fifteenth and Twelfth Air Forces.
Change came quickly. Kepner revised fighter tactics to include phased and relay escort to extend the range of the fighters accompanying the bombers deep into Germany, especially when P-51 groups began arriving in December 1943. Doolittle ordered Kepner to unleash his fighters, assigned not just to escort bombers, but to go out, find, and destroy Luftwaffe aircraft. Kepner told his pilots to strafe German fighters on the ground if necessary. On February 20, 1944, Spaatz and Anderson began an all-out bombing offensive against German aircraft production. Five days of bombing, nineteen thousand tons worth, impaired some production; but the key to Big Week's effectiveness was the Luftwaffe's loss of one-third of its strength through aerial combat, and the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces growth in theirs.
To keep up the pressure, Spaatz and Anderson resolved to bomb industrial targets in Berlin, under the assumption that the Luftwaffe would make an all-out effort to defend its capital. Their assumption was correct. Two days of the heaviest fighting yet seen in the skies over Germany so depleted the defender's forces that on the third day, March 9, 1944, the Luftwaffe failed to rise and give battle. Anderson relished reports that Berlin radio was "squealing like a stuck pig." The Luftwaffe grew weaker and the USAAF grew stronger as new groups, both fighter and bomber, arrived from the United States. A flood of men and materiel bespoke Arnold's 1941 commitment to prepare for a long war. Further attrition of the German defenders would be necessary in future months, but air superiority was now firmly in American hands.
To Arnold and Spaatz, this hard-won victory finally opened German industries to destruction from the air. Two conditions affected the strategic bombing effort and delayed the final bombing campaign. The pending V-weapon assault by Germany on England forced a massive preemptive Allied bombing campaign against it, diverting 6,100 sorties from POINTBLANK strategic targets. The cross-channel invasion,
American air leaders in Europe. Center, Carl Spaatz, Commanding General, United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF), in the top command position over America's air chiefs; left, Ira Eaker, Commanding General, Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF); right, Frederick Anderson, Deputy for Operations, USSTAF; and, below, William Kepner, Commanding General, Eighth Fighter Command, and Jimmy Doolittle, Commanding General, Eighth Air Force. scheduled by the Allies for late spring, diverted Eighth Air Force bombers against transportation targets in France to isolate the invasion area. In support of the invasion, Spaatz wanted to go after German oil targets to ground the Luftwaffe and force the German army to park its vehicles. Invasion commander General Dwight Eisenhower overruled him on March 25, assigning USSTAF to interdict the landing area. VIII Fighter Command under Kepner continued to strafe German airfields and other ground targets through June.
When eight Allied divisions landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944, they did so under conditions of near total Allied control of the air, courtesy of USSTAF―only two Luftwaffe fighters appeared in the area that day. In late July USSTAF bombers again proved critical to the ground campaign as they blasted a hole through German lines at St. Lô for Lieutenant General George Patton's Third Army. Allied tactical air forces, which included Major General Elwood Quesada's IX Tactical Air Command for the First Army and Major General Otto Weyland's XIX Tactical Air Command for the Third Army, provided protective cover and close air support, in line with procedures established in North Africa, for Allied armies sweeping across France toward Germany. At Argentan-Falaise in August air power plugged the gap between encircling American and Canadian armies, destroying hundreds of German armored vehicles and aiding in the capture of fifty thousand German troops. During the Battle of the Bulge in December, airlift, aerial interdiction, and close air support helped turn a near-disaster into an Allied victory.
Eighth and Fifteenth Air Force attacks on Germany's fuel industry provided immeasurable help to the ground offensives, restricting severely the ability of German ground forces to maneuver their armored and mechanized units. Allied air superiority, a product of the Eighth Air Force's aerial campaign, had permitted the landings in Europe, the Allied armies freedom of maneuver, and resupply without concern for the Luftwaffe. Germany had shown the world in 1939 and 1940 what close coordination between tactical air power and ground armies could accomplish. The USAAF repaid the favor with a vengeance in the drive from Normandy into Germany in 1944 and early 1945.
Eisenhower held first call on Spaatz's strategic bombing force through the summer of 1944, but allowed it to return to POINTBLANK objectives with an assault on Germany's oil production when it was not bombing targets in France in support of ground units. ULTRA intercepts confirmed that the USAAF had finally found a true chokepoint in the German industrial economy. German armaments minister Albert Speer predicted that continued attacks on it would have "tragic consequences."
America's Air War in Europe
The formidable aerial armada unleashed by the USAAF's victorious Eighth, Ninth, Twelfth, and Fifteenth Air Forces against enemy targets in Europe during World War II included, top to bottom, Consolidated B-24 Liberator and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, and, performing fighter, escort, and close air support duties, North American P-51 Mustangs and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. Despite heroic efforts to restore production, Germany found its tanks and aircraft immobilized because of growing fuel shortages. The entrance of the Me 262 jet fighter into combat inflicted occasional heavy losses on USSTAF, including thirty-three of the 445th Bombardment Group's thirty-seven bombers on September 27, 1944, but it could not change the war's outcome.
Adding Germany's railroad network to its priority target list in the autumn of 1944, USSTAF brought Germany's economy to the point of collapse by February 1945. Responding to temporary German successes during the Battle of the Bulge, Soviet requests, and a desire to hasten the enemy's surrender, USSTAF joined with the RAF in area-bombing Berlin, Dresden, and other German cities in February. Assigned targets remained industrial and transportation chokepoints in keeping with precision strategic bombing doctrine, but clouds and other factors made these missions, in effect, terror bombings. Spaatz declared an end to the strategic bombing campaign on April 16, 1945.
American airmen had decided that they could defeat the enemy most efficiently by destroying its industrial web through precision strategic bombing. In so doing they hoped to prevent a repeat of World War I's trench warfare. Ironically, the contest they found in the skies over Europe from 1942 to 1945 was in many ways just as bloody as the earlier war's contest on the ground. Medal of Honor recipient Lieutenant William Lawley of the 305th Bombardment Group flew a B-17 back from Heiterblick, over 550 miles, with a face full of broken glass and shrapnel, a dead copilot draped over the controls, wounded crewmen, and only one engine running. The numbers associated with the USAAF's tactical and strategic campaigns against Germany reveal the ferocity of the air war: 1.6 million tons of bombs dropped on Europe, 765,000 bomber sorties, 929,000 fighter sorties, 31,914 airmen dead (by combat and accident), and 27,694 aircraft lost (by combat and accident).
In the waning days of the war against Germany, Arnold ordered an independent team to evaluate air power's accomplishments and failures. Their product, called the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) and supported by 216 volumes of analysis and documentation on the European war (another 109 covered the war against Japan), concluded "that even a first-class military power―rugged and resilient as Germany was―cannot live long under full-scale and free exploitation of air weapons over the heart of its territory." The USSBS admitted that a slow buildup of aerial forces and inaccurate bombing had kept air power from reaching its potential, but judged as "decisive" the diversion of Germany's capabilities from the supporting of armies to the defending of its own skies, the attrition of enemy air forces, and the destruction of enemy oil supplies and transportation networks. The strategic bombing campaign forced Germany to divert 40 percent of its industry to aerial defense, 2 million of its workers to manufacturing supplies and equipment for air defense, 2 million of its soldiers to manning ground defenses, and 2.5 million of its laborers to cleaning up the damage. Victory in the air was "complete," and air power had helped "turn the tide overwhelmingly in favor of Allied ground forces."
Despite Europe's priority in Allied planning, America's first strategic bombing effort of the war began against Japan, when sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and launched from the USS Hornet attacked targets on the Japanese home island of Honshu in mid-April 1942. Although militarily insignificant, the Doolittle raid embarrassed and infuriated Japanese military leaders and raised Allied morale. It was an omen of what Japan could expect from America's air power.
All the while, the Pacific war was more than just half-a-world away. In Europe the United States had powerful allies to consult and support at every turn. Except for the British Empire's forces in India, Burma, and Australia, the war against Japan was an American show. Europe had Eisenhower to unite British and American armies, navies, and air forces. In the Pacific, the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy competed in the drive toward the Japanese homeland. In General Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area, the U.S. Army fought from Australia through New Guinea to Leyte and Luzon in the Philippines. In Admiral Chester Nimitz's Pacific Ocean Areas, the U.S. Navy moved among the islands from the Solomons and Gilberts through the Marshalls, Carolines, and Marianas to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Combined with a lesser American effort to support China's war against Japan, the distances involved insured a major role for the USAAF.
In the Army's initial fighting on Papua New Guinea, thick jungles, rugged terrain, and inadequate forces restricted the help the USAAF could provide for MacArthur's hard-pressed command. By December 1942 the Fifth Air Force under Major General George Kenney had sufficient numbers of P-38s to seize air superiority over the island, allowing its B-17, B-24, B-25, and A-20 bombers to cut the flow of Japanese reinforcements and supplies. Kenney proved the master tactical innovator, developing skip bombing to sink enemy ships and arming his medium bombers with extra nose-mounted machine guns and even 75-mm cannon to improve their firepower. Kenney took a "seamless" approach to air power that had, in Carl Spaatz's words, "no line of cleavage
Holding the Line in the Pacific
Top, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his Tokyo Raiders on board the USS Hornet, from whose deck they flew a formation of North American B-25 Mitchell bombers to attack the home of the Japanese empire and raise the spirits of discouraged Americans in 1942. Captain Marc Mitscher, the Hornet's skipper, stands at Doolittle's left; center, left, Major General Claire Chennault, leader of the legendary Flying Tigers and, bottom, left, Major General George Kenney, Commanding General, Fifth Air Force, fought the conquest-hungry Japanese valiantly while Allied resources were directed to "Europe first"; center, right, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport, an indispensable workhorse in Asia. C-47 "Hump" flights from the U.S. Tenth Air Force's hastily-built base in Assam, India, over the Himalayas relieved the beleaguered Allies fighting in China after the Japanese cut off their overland supply route; bottom, right, Brigadier Generals Heywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay, first and second leaders of XXI Bomber Command of the Twentieth Air Force. LeMay employed the command's B-29s, prone to engine fires and imprecise targeting at high altitudes, as successful medium-altitude bombers in incendiary raids over much of Japan. between strategic and tactical air forces." One day his heavy bombers would attack enemy troop formations hundreds of feet from American lines; the next, they pursued enemy shipping hundreds of miles behind enemy lines.
General MacArthur adopted an island-hopping strategy, skipping over large enemy forces in the American drive northward, and, because of the Fifth Air Force's command of the air, leaving isolated Japanese garrisons to starve, cut off from resupply and rescue. The range of General Kenney's aircraft determined the distance to the next objective. By October 1944 MacArthur's army was ready to leap from New Guinea to Leyte in the Philippines, a target beyond the range of land-based air power. Admiral William Halsey's carriers provided air cover until Kenney's Far East Air Force (FEAF), which combined the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces, could move to the Philippines. There, FEAF became engaged in the Army's longest Pacific land campaign, which continued until the end of the war.
The USAAF also became involved in the frustrating and costly effort to keep Chiang Kai-shek's China in the war, tying down dozens of Japanese divisions. Initially this involved Claire Chennault's small mercenary force of private American pilots in China's pay, the Flying Tigers, who captured headlines in the United States when victories of any kind were few in number. With their occupation of Siam and Burma by mid-1942 the Japanese had isolated China, blockading it by sea and cutting supply roads. The USAAF had little choice but to launch a resupply effort into China over the "Hump"―the Himalaya Mountains―from India. The route took American crews above some of the most dangerous terrain in the world in overloaded C-46 and C-47 transports not designed for the weather and high altitudes the missions required. By war's end Hump pilots had ferried 1.18 million tons of supplies from India into China for the fight against Japan.
Although America's original Pacific strategy sought to choke the enemy through a naval blockade, after three years of war Japan remained unwilling to surrender. For Hap Arnold, a strategic bombing campaign employing B-29s would force it to capitulate, obviate the need for an Allied land invasion, and present an opportunity to prove the war-winning potential of an independent air force. The JCS had approved Arnold, as their executive agent, to command the Superfortresses of the Twentieth Air Force. They could strike from fifteen hundred miles, but even their great range left few options for bases from which to launch the air assault. Nimitz's drive through the Marianas in the summer of 1944 freed Tinian, Guam, and Saipan to base the B-29s of Brigadier General Haywood
America's Air War in Asia
Hard-won victory. Top to bottom: USAAF airmen of the Fifth, Seventh, Thirteenth, and Twentieth Air Forces helped American soldiers and seamen achieve a stunning Allied triumph in World War II's Asian theaters. Facing the vastness of the Pacific, they fought grueling and costly island-hopping battles to gain forward bases from which they could launch aerial attacks against a seemingly implacable enemy, and time and again they sought out jungle-shrouded coastal and mountain strongholds, airfields, and well-armed, heavily escorted ship convoys. Atomic bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima finally ended the war and saved the lives of thousands of Americans who would have perished invading the Japanese home islands. Hansell's XXI Bomber Command, the combat arm of the Washington- based Twentieth Air Force. Iwo Jima, conquered after heavy fighting in February 1945, provided an emergency landing field for damaged B-29s and a base for P-51 fighter escorts. After a largely futile strategic bombing effort from India and China in 1944, XX Bomber Command joined Hansell's growing force in the Marianas early in 1945 for the final strikes against Japan.
Hansell, an author of AWPD/I, stayed true to high-altitude daylight precision strategic bombing doctrine, beginning with XXI Bomber Command's first mission against the Japanese home islands on November 24, 1944. His assignment was to "achieve the earliest possible progressive dislocation of the Japanese military, industrial, and economic systems and to undermine the morale of the Japanese people to a point where their capacity and will to wage war was decisively weakened." He faced technical problems (including B-29 engines that tended to burst into flames), unanticipated 200 mile-per-hour winds of the jet stream over the home islands, and bad weather when striking mainly at Japan's aviation industries. At high altitude bombing accuracy was minimal; only 10 percent of bombs dropped fell within 1,000 feet of a target. Twenty-two missions disabled only one factory.
Arnold replaced Hansell with Major General Curtis LeMay in January 1945, with orders to achieve immediate results. During January and February 1945, LeMay's results were no better than Hansell's. He then surmised that Japanese industry was too dispersed and bombing accuracy too poor for a precision campaign from high altitude in daylight. Recognizing that Japanese air defenses were far weaker than those he had encountered in Germany, but still taking a great gamble to produce immediate results, he ordered his crews to remove their defensive guns and fly low (at seven thousand feet) by night to carry heavier bomb loads, and burn down Japan's cities with incendiaries. The initial raid against Tokyo on March 10, 1945, burned 15.8 square miles of urban area, killed almost 85,000, wounded almost 45,000, made almost 1 million homeless, and became the most deadly air attack in history. By August LeMay's air force had burned 150 square miles in 68 Japanese cities―few of significant size remained undamaged. Faced with an implacable enemy unwilling to surrender and the prospect of a costly invasion, but equipped with a new weapon of tremendous destructive capability, President Harry Truman ordered the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and a second on Nagasaki three days later. Japan surrendered on August 14 after strategic bombing had levelled all of its major cities and killed or injured 800,000 of its people.
Given the great flying distances over open sea, the Pacific war cost the United States over 13,000 aircraft. Most were lost in transit, to battle damage, and through general wear-out. At war's end, the USAAF claimed 9,100 Japanese aircraft destroyed in combat. America's top ranking ace of all time, Medal of Honor recipient Major Richard Bong, became one of the war's last statistics when he crashed in California, test-flying a jet. The Allies used 502,781 tons of. bombs against Japan, 160,800 of which were dropped on the home islands. The the B-29 mining campaign and the naval blockade had destroyed Japan's economy, but only a strategic bombing campaign convinced its leaders to surrender.
From 1939 to 1945 the USAAF's personnel strength grew from 24,000 to 2,253,000; its aircraft inventory from 2,400 to 63,715. It dropped 2.05 million tons of bombs in World War II, flying and fighting over every ocean and six continents. Strategic bombing and air power did not live up to doctrinal expectations and win the war independently, but the USAAF forced enemy nations to divert enormous resources and effort toward defending their skies against it. If the USAAF did not make the Army and Navy obsolete, it insured that they rarely had to face the full force of enemy counterparts. Generals learned that air superiority and close air support were essential to the success of any ground campaign and that battlefield air interdiction was perhaps the most difficult of air power functions. North African operations proved that air power worked best when its forces were concentrated and directed as an independent or at least autonomous arm to achieve wartime objectives―coequal to the ground forces, auxiliary to neither. Finally, and to Arnold perhaps most important, the USAAF learned that air power meant planning, organization, training, and harnessing technology and science to produce new ord-