Toward Independence: The Emergence of the U.S. Air Force 1945-1947 - Organizing for World War II, Postwar Military, Eisenhower and Truman Support Independence, Sherman-Norstad Agreements
This document describes the political, military, and technological context during 1945-1947 that led to the establishment of the independent United States Air Force. The author emphasizes the interaction of service disputes with Congress. More
From the Wright Brothers' first flight, a long, convoluted road led to the creation of the modern independent United States Air Force. Despite frustrating bureaucratic delays and political maneuvering, the ultimate goal was clear. Two world wars had devastated whole continents and threatened long-term global peace. Only a well-prepared American military establishment, fully utilizing its Air Force, could provide a strong national defense and help ensure world peace. As aerospace technology took off, an independent Air Force would lead the way into the atomic age, and a new military structure would be required. Just as important as technology, however, would be the vision and energy of air power advocates. Over five decades, Air Force people would build the world's finest air organization by following a simple creed: putting service above self.
This document describes the political, military, and technological context during 1945-1947 that led to the establishment of the independent United States Air Force. The author emphasizes the interaction of service disputes with Congress. Holding center stage in this fast-paced narrative are Symington, Truman, Forrestal, Norstad, Sherman, Arnold, Spaatz, and other key players in the struggle for air independence.
Nearly a century ago, U.S. Army aviators began experimenting with balloons and airships and eagerly anticipated the military use of the new "heavier-than-air" flying machines developed by the Wright brothers. As new technologies and capabilities emerged, a new organization would be needed to exploit aviation's military potential. In August 1907 the U.S. Army Signal Corps took the first step, forming an Aeronautical Division under Capt. Charles deF. Chandler to take "charge of all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines and all kindred subjects." Some early visionaries foresaw that the airplane would revolutionize warfare, and they became advocates of a more prominent, more independent air arm. It would take forty years for this dream to come true. The intervening decades would see air power advocates wage legislative battles to give the Army's air arm status equal to that of the other Army branches—and eventually to create an independent United States Air Force.
World War I demonstrated the usefulness of the air element in various roles—observing troop movements, supporting ground action, and even strategic bombing. To military aviators, the strategic role seemed a harbinger of air power's future. The trench warfare of World War I had proven costly and self-defeating; aerial bombing behind the lines, the theory went, could destroy the enemy's supply network and break his will to fight. One out-spoken airman, Brig. Gen. William [Billy] Mitchell, argued that the airplane was more economical and militarily effective than the battleship and that an independent air service was the best way to exploit aircraft, especially for strategic missions and coastal defense. Mitchell seemed to prove his point in 1921 when bomber planes under his command destroyed obsolete warships off the Virginia Capes including the battleship Ostfriesland, thought to be unsinkable.
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