General George C. Kenney

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George Churchill Kenney

Birthdate: (88)
Birthplace: Yarmouth, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Canada
Death: August 9, 1977 (88)
Miami, Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States
Place of Burial: Section 30-Grave 389, Arlington Cemetery
Immediate Family:

Son of Joseph Kenney and Louisa Anna Kenney
Husband of Sarah Elisabeth Kenney

Occupation: U.S. Air Force General
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About General George C. Kenney

George Churchill Kenney (August 6, 1889 – August 9, 1977) was a United States Army Air Forces general during World War II. He was commander of the Allied air forces in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) from August 1942 until 1945.

Early life

Kenney was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and graduated from Brookline High School in 1907. He left MIT after three years to take a job at Quebec Saguenay Railroad as an instrument technician. In June 1917 he enlisted as a flying cadet in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, where he received flight training from noted aviator Bert Acosta. As a lieutenant in France during World War I, Kenney flew 75 combat missions and shot down two German aircraft while serving with the 91st Aero Squadron. (It is believed that one of the two German pilots he shot down was Hermann Göring, later the head of the Luftwaffe in World War II.) After the war, Kenney remained for a time with the Allied occupation forces in Germany. He was promoted to Captain in 1919 and was appointed commander of the 91st Aero Squadron.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Kenney attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and the Army War College in Washington, D.C. From September 1927 to July 1931 he was an instructor at the Air Corps Tactical School. He was also involved in surveying airfield sites in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Kenney was active in aeronautical research and development during this period, and pioneered the use of machine guns mounted in the wings of Air Corps pursuit planes.

By 1939, Kenney, now a Lieutenant Colonel, commanded the Air Corps Experimental Division and Engineering School at Wright Field, Ohio. In 1940 he went to France as U.S. Assistant military attaché for Air to observe Allied air operations during the early stages of World War II. As a result of his observations, he recommended many important changes to U.S. Air Corps combat tactics. In 1941, Kenney was promoted to Brigadier General and was made commander of the Fourth Air Force, an air defense organization based in California.

World War II

Kenney reported to General Douglas MacArthur on July 28 of 1942, and his initial interview was a two hour 'dressing down' discussing the Supreme Allied Commanders negative opinions of the shortcomings of his air arm, which Kenney didn't yet command. In August 1942, as a major general, Kenney took over command of both the Allied Air Forces in the SWPA (South West Pacific Area) and the newly-formed US Fifth Air Force, thereby becoming the senior Allied air officer under overall theater commander General Douglas MacArthur.

MacArthur biographer William Manchester in "American Caesar" credits Kenney's arrival with a re-invigoration of an offensive spirit in MacArthur who was moping about in something of a funk after the recent fall of Bataan and surrender of Corregidor, and under the stress of having been charged with seemingly impossible tasks but given very little logistical support or military reinforcements under the Germany First strategy of the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCoS). Initially from his headquarters in Brisbane, Australia, and later from his both his forward base in Papua and the relocated GHQ in Hollandia New Guinea as well as after relocating his HQ to the Philippines, Kenney commanded all the American, Royal Australian Air Force, British Royal Air Force and Dutch air units in the South West Pacific Area Theater. Further, Manchester relates how Kenney encouraged MacArthur to follow his natural aggressive inclination and the controversial decision to conduct a forward defense of Australia from the closed-in, slimy, wet, triple canopy jungles of New Guinea, rather that waiting for a battle of maneuver where ever the Japanese chose to land along the immensely long but sparsely populated coastline of Australia.

It was by solving the logistics problem for MacArthur in early September 1942 after barely two weeks on the job, as MacArthur saw it, that Kenney made his spurs with MacArthur when in a staff meeting he stated confidently he could put MacArthur's entire ground component onto New Guinea, ferried by air lift onto New Guinea with ample supplies in a mere five days, and resupply them indefinitely after that. One staff officer objected that trucks couldn't be ferried across by air, to which Kenney said they could, provided their frames were cut in two with torches, then re-welded together once across the Coral Sea. This was an important and decisive meeting and decision: Japan's forward bases and command of the seas threatened any sea borne transport, but if Kenney could promise full logistical air lift, then it was good enough for MacArthur. "The defense of Australia will be conducted by defending Port Moresby" MacArthur directed his staff. MacArthur's willingness to trust Kenney came naturally— he was already, after only a few weeks, providing tangible results with his units already 'dueling for air parity' over Papua and regularly making a bid for eventual air supremacy in a battle of attrition. MacArthur had grave concerns about the ongoing Battle of Guadalcanal which was only 600 miles off, Manchester tells us, and he felt an obligation to turn the heat up on the Japanese to as much as possible distract them from bending their full force on the Slot and the beleaguered island. To meet that end, Kenney already had forces almost daily systematically attacking the Japanese' Solomons bases, suppressing forces that might damage allied forces, and by postwar analysis, these spoiling attacks were definitely successful, siphoning off a portion of the strength which could attack Guadalcanal. Air shuttles and cargo transport meant MacArthur could forget the menace of Japanese air forces, surface raiders and submarine threats, and just get on prosecuting the war without any significant threat to his logistics tail, for his fighters safeguarded the air logistics on the far side of the trip, in effect helping establish a bridgehead. Soon after, MacArthur began calling Kenney, Pirate' for his out of the box thinking, and tendency to always locate supplies or other material.

Kenney was promoted to lieutenant general in October 1942 after only two months of working for MacArthur, and such wouldn't happen without a request from MacArthur, who'd twice before been Chief of Staff of the Army. Kenney had impressed the Commander in Chief, in a short amount of time, and rightfully so, for he'd opened no less than five forward air bases about the town of Port Moresby even as a Japanese army was attacking the area over the lofty difficult Owen Stanley Mountains. "Kenney's Boys", as MacArthur called them soon could do little wrong in the MacArthur's eyes for they were working relative miracles opposing the Japanese.

Forward forces supplied by air lift became a characteristic of the tactics and modus operandi MacArthur and Kenney would employ for the next two years as they bypassed Japanese strong forces and most fixed defences with tactical 'hops' down the coast by air and/or amphibious assault, using a leapfrogging strategy that forced the Japanese to waste energy and attack instead; attack onto his prepared defenses instead of vice versa. For three years he directed an aggressive air war against Japanese positions in and around New Guinea (including the surrounding islands), the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, and the Philippines. Further, he pushed his people to work out and develop low level skip bombing techniques for use as anti-shipping measures.

One of Kenney's most successful air operations was the destruction of a major Japanese reinforcement fleet during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in 1943. The loss of most of this huge armada, loaded with supplies and troop reinforcements, ended Japanese hopes of retaining control of New Guinea.

In 1944 Kenney was appointed commander of the revived US Far East Air Force (FEAF), which came to include the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Seventh Air Forces. After the liberation of the Philippines, units under Kenney's command took part in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. C-46 and C-47 transport aircraft of the FEAF were the first American planes to land in Japan following the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.


Kenney received the four stars of a full general on 9 March 1945, and after World War II served in Europe as a staff officer. In April 1946 he became the first commander of the newly formed Strategic Air Command (SAC), but chose to spend most of his time in the political battle surrounding the establishment of an independent United States Air Force. As a result, SAC's efficiency suffered. In 1948 Lieutenant General Curtis LeMay replaced Kenney as commander of SAC.

Kenney then served as commander of the Air University until his retirement in 1951. During a career which spanned over 30 years, Kenney was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with one oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart (for meritorious service, not wounds), and several foreign decorations. After his retirement, Kenney lived in Bay Harbor Islands, Florida, where he died in 1977. He is survived by five sons and one daughter.

Kenney wrote three books about the SWPA air campaigns he led during World War II. His major work was General Kenney Reports, a personal history of the air war he led from 1942 to 1945. He also wrote The Saga of Pappy Gunn and Dick Bong: Ace of Aces, which described the careers of two of the most prominent airmen under his command (P-38 pilot Major Richard I. Bong remains the top-scoring American ace of all time, having shot down 40 Japanese planes).

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General George C. Kenney's Timeline

August 6, 1889
Yarmouth, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Canada
August 9, 1977
Age 88
Miami, Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States
Section 30-Grave 389, Arlington Cemetery