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United States Army Air Forces

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The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF or AAF) were the military aviation service of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, successor to the United States Army Air Corps and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force. The AAF were a component of the United States Army, which in 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply (which in 1943 became the Army Service Forces), and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.

The AAF administered all parts of military aviation formerly distributed among the Air Corps, General Headquarters Air Force, and the ground forces' corps area commanders, and thus became the first air organization of the U.S. Army to control its own installations and support personnel. The peak size of the AAF during the Second World War was over 2.4 million men and women in service and nearly 80,000 aircraft by 1944, and 783 domestic bases in December 1943. By "V-E Day", the Army Air Forces had 1.25 million men stationed overseas and operated from more than 1,600 airfields worldwide.[2]

The Army Air Forces were created in June 1941 to provide the air arm a greater autonomy in which to expand more efficiently, to provide a structure for the additional command echelons required by a vastly increased force, and to end an increasingly divisive administrative battle within the Army over control of aviation doctrine and organization that had been ongoing since the creation of an aviation section within the Army Signal Corps in 1914. The AAF succeeded both the Air Corps, which had been the statutory military aviation branch since 1926, and the GHQ Air Force, which had been activated in 1935 to quiet the demands of airmen for an independent Air Force.

Although other nations already had separate air forces independent of their army or navy (such as the British Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe), the AAF remained a part of the Army until a defense reorganization in the post-war period resulted in the creation of an independent United States Air Force in September 1947.

In its expansion and conduct of the war, the AAF became more than just an arm of the greater organization. By the end of World War II, the Army Air Forces had become virtually an independent service. By regulation and executive order, it was a subordinate agency of the War Department (as were the Army Ground Forces and the Army Service Forces) tasked only with organizing, training, and equipping combat units, and limited in responsibility to the continental United States. In reality, Headquarters AAF controlled the conduct of all aspects of the air war in every part of the world, determining air policy and issuing orders without transmitting them through the Army Chief of Staff. This "contrast between theory and fact is...fundamental to an understanding of the AAF.

The roots of the Army Air Forces arose in the formulation of theories of strategic bombing at the Air Corps Tactical School that gave new impetus to arguments for an independent air force, beginning with those espoused by Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell that led to his later court-martial. Despite a perception of resistance and even obstruction then by the bureaucracy in the War Department General Staff (WDGS), much of which was attributable to lack of funds, the Air Corps later made great strides in the 1930s, both organizationally and in doctrine. A strategy stressing precision bombing of industrial targets by heavily armed, long-range bombers emerged, formulated by the men who would become its leaders.[4]

A major step toward a separate air force came in March 1935, when command of all combat air units within the Continental United States (CONUS) was centralized under a single organization called the "General Headquarters Air Force". Since 1920, control of aviation units had resided with commanders of the corps areas (a peacetime ground forces administrative echelon), following the model established by commanding General John J. Pershing during World War I. In 1924, the General Staff planned for a wartime activation of an Army general headquarters (GHQ), similar to the American Expeditionary Forces model of World War I, with a GHQ Air Force as a subordinate component. Both were created in 1933 when a small conflict with Cuba seemed possible following a coup d'état, but were not activated.

Activation of GHQ Air Force represented a compromise between strategic airpower advocates and ground force commanders who demanded that the Air Corps mission remain tied to that of the land forces. Airpower advocates achieved a centralized control of air units under an air commander, while the WDGS divided authority within the air arm and assured a continuing policy of support of ground operations as its primary role.[5] GHQ Air Force organized combat groups administratively into a strike force of three wings deployed to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts but was small in comparison to European air forces. Lines of authority were difficult, at best, since GHQ Air Force controlled only operations of its combat units while the Air Corps was still responsible for doctrine, acquisition of aircraft, and training. Corps area commanders continued to exercise control over airfields and administration of personnel, and in the overseas departments, operational control of units as well. Between March 1935 and September 1938, the commanders of GHQ Air Force and the Air Corps, Major Generals Frank M. Andrews and Oscar Westover respectively, clashed philosophically over the direction in which the air arm was moving, exacerbating the difficulties.

The expected activation of Army General Headquarters prompted Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall to request a reorganization study from Chief of the Air Corps Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold resulting on 5 October 1940 in a proposal for creation of an air staff, unification of the air arm under one commander, and equality with the ground and supply forces. Arnold's proposal was immediately opposed by the General Staff in all respects, rehashing its traditional doctrinal argument that, in the event of war, the Air Corps would have no mission independent of support of the ground forces. Marshall implemented a compromise that the Air Corps found entirely inadequate, naming Arnold as acting "Deputy Chief of Staff for Air" but rejecting all organizational points of his proposal. GHQ Air Force instead was assigned to the control of Army General Headquarters, although the latter was a training and not an operational component, when it was activated in November 1940. A division of the GHQ Air Force into four geographical air defense districts on 19 October 1940 was concurrent with the creation of air forces to defend Hawaii and the Panama Canal. The air districts were converted in March 1941 into numbered air forces with a subordinate organization of 54 groups.

Army Air Forces created

The likelihood of U.S. participation in World War II prompted the most radical reorganization of the aviation branch in its history, developing a structure that both unified command of all air elements and gave it total autonomy and equality with the ground forces by March 1942.

In the spring of 1941, the success in Europe of air operations conducted under centralized control (as exemplified by the British Royal Air Force and the German Wehrmacht's military air arm, the Luftwaffe) made clear that the splintering of authority in the American air forces, characterized as "hydra-headed" by one congressman,[n 2] had caused a disturbing lack of clear channels of command. Less than five months after the rejection of Arnold's reorganization proposal, a joint U.S.-British strategic planning agreement (ABC-1) refuted the General Staff's argument that the Air Corps had no wartime mission except to support ground forces. A struggle with the General Staff over control of air defense of the United States had been won by airmen and vested in four command units called "numbered air forces", but the bureaucratic conflict threatened to renew the dormant struggle for an independent United States Air Force. Marshall had come to the view that the air forces needed a "simpler system" and a unified command. Working with Arnold and Robert A. Lovett, recently appointed to the long-vacant position of Assistant Secretary of War for Air, he reached a consensus that quasi-autonomy for the air forces was preferable to immediate separation.

On 20 June 1941, to grant additional autonomy to the air forces and to avoid binding legislation from Congress, the War Department revised the army regulation governing the organization of Army aviation, AR 95-5. Arnold assumed the title of Chief of the Army Air Forces, creating an echelon of command over all military aviation components that ended the dual status of the Air Corps and GHQ Air Force, which was renamed Air Force Combat Command (AFCC) in the new organization. The AAF gained the formal "Air Staff" long opposed by the General Staff, and a single air commander,[9] but still did not have equal status with the Army ground forces, and air units continued to report through two chains of command. The commanding general of AFCC gained control of his stations and court martial authority over his personnel, but Army General Headquarters retained the power to detach units from AFCC at will by creating task forces, the WDGS still controlled the AAF budget and finances, and the AAF had no jurisdiction over units of the Army Service Forces providing "housekeeping services" as support nor of air units, bases, and personnel located outside the continental United States.

Arnold and Marshall agreed that the AAF would enjoy a general autonomy within the War Department (similar to that of the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy) until the end of the war, while its commanders would cease lobbying for independence. Marshall, a strong proponent of airpower, left understood that the Air Force would likely achieve its independence after the war. Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, in recognition of importance of the role of the Army Air Forces, Arnold was given a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the planning staff that served as the focal point of American strategic planning during the war, in order that the United States would have an air representative in staff talks with their British counterparts on the Combined Chiefs. In effect the head of the AAF gained equality with Marshall. While this step was never officially recognized by the United States Navy, and was bitterly disputed behind the scenes at every opportunity, it nevertheless succeeded as a pragmatic foundation for the future separation of the Air Force.

Reorganizations of the AAF

The Army Air Forces consisted of three major components: Headquarters AAF, Air Force Combat Command, and the Air Corps, thus bringing all Army aviation activities under the authority of one airman for the first time. Yet the reforms were incomplete, subject to reversal with a change of mood at the War Department, and of dubious legality.[n 5] By November 1941, on the eve of U.S. entry into the war, the division of authority within the Army as a whole, caused by the activation of Army GHQ a year before, had led to a "battle of memos" between it and the WDGS over administering the AAF, prompting Marshall to state that he had "the poorest command post in the Army" when defense commands showed a "disturbing failure to follow through on orders." To streamline the AAF in preparation for war, with a goal of centralized planning and decentralized execution of operations, in October 1941 Arnold submitted to the WDGS essentially the same reorganization plan it had rejected a year before, this time crafted by Chief of Air Staff Brig. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz. When this plan was not given any consideration, Arnold reworded the proposal the following month which, in the face of Marshall's dissatisfaction with Army GHQ, the War Plans Division accepted. Just before Pearl Harbor, Marshall recalled an Air Corps officer, Brig. Gen. Joseph T. McNarney, from an observer group in England and appointed him to chair a "War Department Reorganization Committee" within the War Plans Division, using Arnold's and Spaatz's plan as a blueprint.

After war began, Congress enacted the First War Powers Act on 18 December 1941 endowing President Franklin D. Roosevelt with virtual carte blanche to reorganize the executive branch as he found necessary.[17] Under it, on 28 February 42 Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9082, based on Marshall's recommendation and the work of McNarney's committee. The EO changed Arnold's title to Commanding General, Army Air Forces effective 9 March 1942, making him co-equal with the commanding generals of the new Army Ground Forces and Services of Supply, the other two components of the Army of the United States. The War Department issued Circular No. 59 on 2 March that carried out the executive order, intended (as with the creation of the Air Service in World War I) as a wartime expedient to expire six months after the end of the war. The three components replaced a multiplicity of branches and organizations, reduced the WDGS greatly in size, and proportionally increased the representation of the air forces members on it to 50%.

In addition to dissolving both Army General Headquarters and the chiefs of the combat arms, and assigning their training functions to the Army Ground Forces, War Department Circular 59 reorganized the Army Air Forces, disbanding both Air Force Combat Command and the Office of Chief of the Air Corps (OCAC), eliminating all its training and organizational functions, which removed an entire layer of authority. Taking their former functions were eleven numbered air forces (later raised to sixteen) and six support commands (which became eight in January 1943). The circular also restated the mission of the AAF, in theory removing from it responsibility for strategic planning and making it only a CONUS "training and supply agency", but from the start AAF officers viewed this as a "paper" restriction negated by Arnold's place on both the Joint and Combined Chiefs, which gave him strategic planning authority for the AAF, a viewpoint that was formally sanctioned by the War Department in mid-1943 and endorsed by the president.

The 9 March 1942 reorganization directed the AAF to operate under a complex division of administrative control performed by a policy staff, an operating staff, and the support commands (formerly "field activities" of the OCAC). The former field activities operated under a "bureau" structure, with both policy and operating functions vested in staff-type officers who often exercised command and policy authority without responsibility for results, a system held over from the Air Corps years. The concept of an "operating staff," or directorates, was modeled on the RAF system that had been much admired by the observer groups sent over in 1941, and resulted from a desire to place experts in various aspects of military aviation into key positions of implementation. However functions often overlapped, communication and coordination between the divisions failed or was ignored, policy prerogatives were usurped by the directorates, and they became overburdened with detail, all contributing to the diversion of the directorates from their original purpose. The system of directorates in particular handicapped the developing operational training program (see Combat units below), preventing establishment of an OTU command and having a tendency to micromanage because of the lack of centralized control. Four main directorates—Military Requirements, Technical Services, Personnel, and Management Control—were created, each with multiple sub-directorates, and eventually more than thirty offices were authorized to issue orders in the name of the commanding general.

A "strong and growing dissatisfaction" with the organization led to an attempt by Lovett in September 1942 to make the system work by bringing the Directorate of Management Control[n 8] and several traditional offices that had been moved to the operating staff, including the Air Judge Advocate and Budget Officer, back under the policy staff umbrella. When this adjustment failed to resolve the problems, the system was scrapped and all functions combined into a single restructured air staff.] The hierarchical "command" principle, in which a single commander has direct final accountability but delegates authority to staff, was adopted AAF-wide in a major reorganization and consolidation on 29 March 1943. The four main directorates and seventeen subordinate directorates (the "operating staff") were abolished as an unnecessary level of authority, and execution of policies was removed from the staffs to be assigned solely to field organizations along functional lines. The policy functions of the directorates were reorganized and consolidated into offices regrouped under six assistant chiefs of air staff.

Most personnel of the Army Air Forces remained members of the Air Corps. In May 1945, 88 per cent of officers serving in the Army Air Forces were commissioned in the Air Corps, while 82 per cent of enlisted members assigned to AAF units and bases had the Air Corps as their combat arm branch. While officially the air arm was the Army Air Forces, the term Air Corps persisted colloquially among the public as well as veteran airmen; in addition, the singular Air Force often crept into popular and even official use, reflected by the designation Air Force Combat Command in 1941–42. This misnomer was also used on official recruiting posters (see image, above left) and was important in promoting the idea of an "Air Force" as an independent service. Jimmy Stewart, a famous Hollywood movie star both before and after the war, enlisted in the then-Air Corps in late March 1941, and served as a USAAC officer through the late June 1941 transition period into the "new" USAAF, and used the "twin" Air Corps/Air Forces terms interchangeably in his narration of the 1942 recruiting short, "Winning Your Wings". The term also appeared prominently in Frank Capra's 1945 War Department indoctrination film "War Comes to America", of the famous iconic "Why We Fight" series, as an animated map graphic of equal prominence to that of the Army and Navy.