The Army Air Forces Dominated The Skies Of World War II

Pilots of the Army Air Forces 64th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group, in front of one of their Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters in North Africa, April 1943.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time at the beach with my grandparents in Ocean City, New Jersey. I have fond memories, many of them of my grandfather humming something while working or cooking. Once I asked him what song he was singing, and he answered “the Air Corps song.”

During World War II, my grandfather was a bombardier aboard a B-24, and was proud of his service. When he sang the song, the words were, “Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps.” Since 1947, the lyrics have been “U.S. Air Force,” but for my granddad it was always the Air Corps. I grew up thinking that was what it was supposed to be,  but what I didn’t know was that even when he was serving, it wasn’t known as the Air Corps. In fact, the Air Corps didn’t exist after June 20, 1941 when the name of the service changed to the U.S. Army Air Forces. Even during my own 20 years of service, I didn’t realize the Air Corps became the Army Air Forces just before we entered the war.

Since aircraft were brought into the military in 1907, American air forces have gone by numerous names, and were actually under the Signal Corps for most of World War I. The aviation section of the Signal Corps became the U.S. Army Air Service just before the end of the war, but was largely demobilized at the conclusion of hostilities.  What was left continued as the Army Air Corps starting in 1920, and with the help of firebrand Gen. Billy Mitchell, focused on innovations (such as air refueling) and the development of all-metal planes and bombers.

Related: ‘Beyond The Call’ Captures An Airman’s Heroic Covert Mission To Rescue POWs During WWII »

By 1940, it was clear that the United States would become involved in World War II, so President Franklin Roosevelt began rebuilding the military. Aircraft were produced by the thousands, many destined for Great Britain to aid in their defense against the Nazi onslaught during the Battle of Britain. The rest would be produced and sent to military airfields across the nation so pilots and aircrews could begin training. In June 1941, the Department of War knew that the Air Corps, which had been relatively small, could not function very efficiently as an Army combat arm (much like the infantry). Partly to allow American air forces greater autonomy, and partly as a concession to the separate-service proponents, the Army created the Army Air Forces.

To talk about the U.S. Army Air Forces is to talk about World War II. Its creation was a big deal. With greater independence, Army Air Forces leadership could better grow strategic bombing capabilities — Roosevelt’s main focus — and manage its assets, which in 1943, reached a peak of 2.4 million people, 80,000 aircraft, and 783 installations. Within a year of its creation, the Army Air Forces also got a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, giving it a voice equal to that of the Army and Navy.

The reorganization of air forces had a profound effect on the war, and indeed the future of warfare. With a larger degree of autonomy, the Army Air Forces was able to develop the B-29 bomber, P-51 fighter, and jet engines. Additionally, the murky lines of authority in the Army Air Corps were eliminated, with overall command and a large “air staff” granted to chief of the Air Forces, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold. Under Arnold, the Army Air Forces developed solid doctrine, particularly for strategic bombing. A fairly new concept, bombing of targets from the air came of age during this period, kicking off with a bang when then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle famously launched 16 B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier to bomb Japan. While not a significant military victory, the April 1942 Doolittle Raid served as a lightning rod for American morale, and was a crushing blow to the Japanese, casting doubt in the minds of its citizens on their leaders’ ability to defend their country.

Later in the war, tactics used in the aerial bombardment of Nazi Germany and the Japanese home islands matured. The Army Air Forces learned the pros and cons of daylight and nighttime missions, and after staggering casualties, developed doctrine that included the use of fighter escorts. The establishment of air superiority over hostile territory, destruction of industries and war making capabilities, and the negative impact on enemy morale arguably won the war for the Allies.

The greatest impact, however, was the Army Air Forces’ participation in the Manhattan Project and the devastating atomic bombing of Japan, which ushered in the nuclear age. It was a B-29 — the service’s newest bomber — that changed history on Aug. 5, 1945. Col. Paul Tibbets piloted the aircraft, named “Enola Gay” after his mother, which carried a gun-type atom bomb codenamed “Little Boy.” At 8:15 am, the city of Hiroshima was leveled in atomic fire, hotter than the surface of the sun. Nagasaki was destroyed a few days later by another bomb, codenamed “Fat Man,” which brought Japan to its knees and quickly ended the war.

The Army Air Forces would be a fairly short-lived service. Two years after the conflict ended, air power advocates within the Army successfully lobbied for a separate air service, even though the Army Air Forces essentially functioned as one already. The National Security Act of 1947 created the Department of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, and of course, the United States Air Force. In its nearly 70 years of existence, the Air Force has been decisive in numerous conflicts and its airmen are among the best-trained military personnel in the world.

But what is the Army Air Forces’ legacy? It has many, not the least of which is the powerful story of the Tuskegee Airmen — the first black combat aviators, who proved themselves in European skies in World War II. But perhaps one of the greatest is Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets IV. Tibbets attended the Air Force Academy, graduating in 1989 to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. He is a command pilot with almost 4,000 hours in the Air Force’s only three bombers — the B-1, B-2, and B-52 — and is now the wing commander at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri – the home of the B-2.

Paul, Jr., the famous pilot of the Enola Gay, would be proud.

A UH-60 Black Hawk departs from The Rock while conducting Medevac 101 training with members of the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, Feb. 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

A Minnesota Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with three Guardsmen aboard crashed south of St. Cloud on Thursday, said National Guard spokeswoman Army Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens.

At this time, the National Guard is not releasing any information about the status of the three people aboard the helicopter, Heusdens told Task & Purpose on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

The Pentagon's latest attempt to twist itself in knots to deny that it is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East has a big caveat.

Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said there are no plans to send that many troops to the region "at this time."

Farah's statement does not rule out the possibility that the Defense Department could initially announce a smaller deployment to the region and subsequently announce that more troops are headed downrange.

Read More Show Less

The Navy could send a second aircraft carrier to the Middle East if President Donald Trump orders a surge of forces to the region, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Thursday.

Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported the United States is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to deter Iran from attacking U.S. forces and regional allies. The surge forces could include several ships.

Read More Show Less

I didn't think a movie about World War I would, or even could, remind me of Afghanistan.

Somehow 1917 did, and that's probably the highest praise I can give Sam Mendes' newest war drama: It took a century-old conflict and made it relatable.

Read More Show Less

An internal investigation spurred by a nude photo scandal shows just how deep sexism runs in the Marine Corps

"I will still have to work harder to get the perception away from peers and seniors that women can't do the job."

(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Some years ago, a 20-year-old female Marine, a military police officer, was working at a guard shack screening service members and civilians before they entered the base. As a lance corporal, she was new to the job and the duty station, her first in the Marine Corps.

At some point during her shift, a male sergeant on duty drove up. Get in the car, he said, the platoon sergeant needs to see you. She opened the door and got in, believing she was headed to see the enlisted supervisor of her platoon.

Instead, the sergeant drove her to a dark, wooded area on base. It was deserted, no other Marines were around. "Hey, I want a blowjob," the sergeant told her.

"What am I supposed, what do you do as a lance corporal?" she would later recall. "I'm 20 years old ... I'm new at this. You're the only leadership I've ever known, and this is what happens."

She looked at him, then got out of the car and walked away. The sergeant drove up next to her and tried to play it off as a prank. "I'm just fucking with you," he said. "It's not a big deal."

It was one story among hundreds of others shared by Marines for a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Finalized in March 2018, the center's report was quietly published to its website in September 2019 with little fanfare.

The culture of the Marine Corps is ripe for analysis. A 2015 Rand Corporation study found that women felt far more isolated among men in the Corps, while the Pentagon's Office of People Analytics noted in 2018 that female Marines rated hostility toward them as "significantly higher" than their male counterparts.

But the center's report, Marines' Perspectives on Various Aspects of Marine Corps Organizational Culture, offers a proverbial wakeup call to leaders, particularly when paired alongside previous studies, since it was commissioned by the Marine Corps itself in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.

The scandal, researchers found, was merely a symptom of a much larger problem.

Read More Show Less