The genesis of what became known as AWPD-1 lay in the long-expressed complaint by successive Secretaries of War and their key military advisors that the White House did not have a consistent and clear policy with regard to the war. As Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson viewed the situation, there was a dangerous state of drift, a failure by President Roosevelt to provide a plan and a stirring call for united action. As he sourly put it: “The President takes his advice from the last person he speaks to.”
The result, as Secretary of State Cordell Hull continued to repeat wearily, was that “Everything is going Hellward.”
Although the German invasion of the USSR took some of the pressure off the British, as the summer ran on it appeared that both countries were on the brink of disaster, and President Roosevelt was anxious to act vigorously on their behalf.
Overall Production RequirementsSome months earlier, as a result of General Marshall’s worry that he could not legally request funds for an Army larger than 2,800,000, President Roosevelt had asked both services to make studies of the production and force requirements needed to defeat the Axis. In May, Marshall and Chief of Operations Adm. Harold Stark asked their staffs to begin work on strategic estimates for an orderly production expansion, but it was not until the Soviet Union was invaded that any real momentum developed in the endeavor. It began on July 9 with a secret request by Roosevelt to Stimson and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox asking them to have drawn up “overall production requirements required to defeat our potential enemies.”
During the 1930s, Hal George had spent five years at the Air Corps Tactical School, first as Chief of the Bombardment Section and then as Director of Air Tactics and Strategy. He headed a small cadre of exceptional officers who were refining the air warfare theories of Douhet, Mitchell, and Trenchard.
Still, the two schools of thought were far apart. Ground officers could argue with pointed accuracy that in France, and now in Russia, German airpower was tied to the unparalleled sweep of the Wehrmacht and not to bombing far-distant industrial targets. In this latter regard they saw that England had withstood a siege of sixty-seven consecutive nights of bombing while its industry continued to operate and its public remained undaunted.
Maj. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, as Deputy Chief of Staff for Air, was officially appointed a member of the Joint Army-Navy Board on the same day Roosevelt asked for an assessment of what it would take to win a war. Arnold expected that plans for an air war would be drawn in the War Plans Division of the War Department, and that is the way it would have been in the momentous weeks that followed had it not been for Hal George. Few realized that the opportunity George was about to grasp would be as important in its ramifications as the reorganization of the air arm itself.
They were soon joined by a fourth member cut out of the same strategic mold. He was Maj. Haywood S. “Possum” Hansell, Jr., former instructor at the Air Corps Tactical School at the same time George and Walker were teaching forbidden theories. Hansell, younger, a crack pursuit pilot in spite of his bombardment convictions, had been serving in the equally small Air Intelligence Division, heading up a section on strategy and analysis. He had just returned from England loaded with RAF Intelligence digests on German industrial targets. George wanted him on his team.
The President had specified that he wanted the production estimates in a matter of weeks. Under whatever time limits, the order was viewed in the War and the Navy Departments as staggering. To begin with, the members of the Joint Army-navy Board knew that there had to be a military strategy on which to base production and manpower figures. The only guidelines were Rainbow 5, at best a broad contingency plan, supported by the general agreements reached with the British in the American-British Conference No. 1 (ABC-1) talks back in January, when US and British planners had secretly met to discuss joint strategy. The overall concept was that offensive war would be waged against Germany and Italy while defending against Japan.
The ranking air officer in the War Plans Division was Lt. Col. Clayton Bissell, combat veteran, Billy Mitchell aide, and bomber proponent. Wedemeyer expected that Bissell and other air personnel assigned to the Division would prepare an “Air Annex” that would be appended to the Army estimates. But their numbers were few and they needed help.
What is the Air Objective?George didn’t like the idea at all. He went to “Tooey” Spaatz and told him why. It was obvious the Army would base its estimates on the size of the ground forces it had to defeat. It would do the same when figuring air strength, and it simply couldn’t be done that way. There was no record to show how many fighters you needed to shoot down one bomber, or how many bombers you needed to destroy a target when the bombers were flying under varying circumstances, in varying numbers, and with differing range and firepower.
Spaatz and George were combat veterans of the First World War, and veterans of all the lean, hard years in which they labored and fought to establish an air objective. Hal didn’t have to spell it out for Spaatz. If the War Department prepared the Air Annex, the emphasis was bound to be on tactical air strength as an auxiliary support of the troops. Strategic airpower would be secondary.
It might seem that Arnold would automatically accept the idea, but George was worried. Arnold was one of the few early airmen who had not attended the Air Corps Tactical School. That didn’t mean he wasn’t in favor of what was taught there, but George believed that the impatient Arnold was not excited by long-range plans. That “Possum” Hansell had been innovative enough to get target information on German power-generating plants by going to New York banks once involved in their financing and asking for blueprints was the sort of action that made Arnold grin. But contingency plans for far in the future when he was tied up with God-awful production problems right here and now! What the hell, let WPD handle it! Or so thought Hal George and his confederates. Happily, they were wrong.
Rainbow 5 and ABC-1 called for providing air forces in the Western Hemisphere; an air offensive against Germany while preparing to invade the Continent; close support for the invasion and subsequent ground operations; and air defense and support for strategic defensive operations in the Pacific.
“Perhaps no other military operation in all of history presented such an awesome task without providing a usable past experience and at least a few lessons of history. … But if the task was staggering, so too was the opportunity. In a very real way, we sensed that the future of American airpower depended, in large part, on what we accomplished. …”
But, to the air planners, it was as much a matter of what as it was when. What types of aircraft would be coming off the production line around which they could build the air offensive against Germany? For the immediate future there were the B-17 and B-24, and beyond them longer-range, more-powerful bombers were in development—the Boeing B-29 and the Consolidated B-32. At the very time George and his team were weighing the problem, Assistant Secretary of War for Air Robert Lovett was meeting with Chief of the Army Air Corps Maj. Gen. George Brett and Wright Field engineers to review design studies of a bomber (eventually the Consolidated B-36) with a 10,000-mile range carrying a 10,000-pound bomb load. Like the B-29, it would have a pressurized cabin.
Contradictory reports filtering through on the performance of the Fortress and the Liberator could not for one moment dissuade and/or deflect the planners from the determined course. They had no doubts as to the capability of the equipment involved or the tactics that should be employed. Their lives were meshed into the development of one end interwoven into the concepts of the other.
Aside from the shortness of time to finish the job, they were faced by another time factor. How soon after US entry into the war would the available forces be ready for operations? They saw as their main objective the destruction of German industrial might. To accomplish this goal, they broke down targeting into four major headings: the enemy’s electrical power system; transportation system (railroads, highways, canals); oil and petroleum industry; and, contiguous with all three, the destruction of German interceptor defenses both on the ground and in the air. In all, 154 targets were selected, but central to the plan was the belief that not until the strategic force reached full strength could its effect be felt, and then only be no less than six months of sustained attack.
Huge by Any StandardThe numbers of men and planes arrived at to accomplish the global purpose were huge by any standard. More than 135,000 pilots and crews; nearly 900,000 technicians and ground crews; more than 60,000 nonflying officers. Aircraft in all categories were estimated at close to 70,000, with more than half the number designated for training. Replacement aircraft were figured at more than 2,000 a month. With these production figures and their breakdown as to location and type were included munitions estimates based on how often each target would have to be hit to keep it out of commission.
A Select AudienceThey knew when they presented the plan the whole thing could be rejected—nullified—called back—canceled out, with the attendant effect on their careers. They did not have to remind themselves that they were proposing that the War Department abandon its prevailing doctrine that the principal use of army aviation was in support of the troops. What they believed was going for them was the nature of the war, the fact that airpower could be used against Germany long before an army would be ready to invade.
Still, the program had to be presented to the high brass, and George decided they would put together a formal explanation of the plan with each of them describing a part of it. They would use maps and charts but no script or notes.
There was little doubt that the assembled were impressed with what they heard, perhaps even a bit overwhelmed. In using the provisions of Rainbow 5 and ABC-1, George knew he was on firm ground when he described the primary air objective “to conduct a sustained, unremitting air offensive against Germany and Italy to destroy the will and capability of Germany and Italy to continue the war; and to make an invasion either unnecessary or feasible without excessive cost.”
Others thought differently. Known as “gee” to his friends, Gerow, like Dwight Eisenhower, was considered by Marshall to be an intelligent and broad-minded officer. To the enormous relief of the air quartet he proved he was just that. Gerow had questions, as did others, but he seemed satisfied by Hal George’s answers. When it was over, the planners felt they were past another mighty hurdle, but the biggest jump of all lay ahead.
“The Plan Has Merit”When the questions and answers and objections died away, Marshall, who had remained noncommittal, rose and gave the verdict. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I think the plan has merit. I would like the Secretary and the Assistant Secretaries to hear it.”
Marshall asked for a repeat performance and brought National Defense Advisory Commission overseer William S. Knudsen and his production chiefs. Gerow was there again, as was Arnold. Once more the searching questions, mostly from Knudsen and members of OPM (Office of Production Management), and once more the answers, this time well supported by Lt. Col. Edgar Sorensen’s A-4 Division of the Air Staff.
The four departed jubilant. At long last the use of strategic airpower had been officially accepted in principle by the Army. It was a thunderous victory! But one thing was sure: There was going to be a helluva fight with the Navy and the production people, not to mention the Lend-Lease eagles, in trying to implement the handiwork of Hal George, Ken Walker, “Possum” Hansell, and Larry Kuter.
The least they could do was take time to hoist a glass in celebration of having accomplished what many would have deemed impossible.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
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