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Chapter 27

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of
United States Naval Aviation

Archibald D. Turnbull
and Clifford L. Lord

published by
Yale University Press
New Haven

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p308  Chapter XXVIII

Aviation Meets the Test

Two weeks before the Naval Reserve Act of 1939 became law Cook was succeeded as Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics by Rear Adm. John Towers. For Towers this landing at the top came after a long flight because, since Ellyson's death in 1928, he had been the Navy's most experienced flier, the oldest living graduate of the school established by Glenn Curtiss in 1911. He could vividly recall the days when primitive engines, mounted in "orange-crate" planes, might stall or fly apart at any moment; when to stay in the air for half an hour was to be a redoubtable pilot; when a night landing on the water, in the glare of flaming gas torches, was both dramatic and epoch making. More thoroughly than any of his predecessors in office he knew the heavy odds against which Chambers, Richardson, Westervelt, Hunsaker, Taylor, Craven, and many others had struggled to bring dependable planes and proper administration into Naval Aviation, while Smith, Bellinger, Mustin, Geiger, Chevalier, Byrd, and dozens like them lifted aircraft to their proper level as an arm of the Fleet. Escaping his own death in the air by a miracle of coolness and strength, he had been the shipmate of all those, from Billingsley through Floyd Bennett to Moffett, who had given their lives to an idea. Word for word, he knew the chapters of bitter disappointment, the chapters of brilliant achievement written into the record of a generation. Having had much to do with the pages that covered the Navy's flying in World War I, he was well fitted for a leading part in the writing of far more important pages in World War II.

Within three months after Towers took office the outbreak of war in Europe emphasized, to military and naval minds, the general unpreparedness of the United States for what was dangerously apt to follow. Once again the Navy, particularly Naval Aviation, realized the vital truth of that old pronouncement of Horatio Nelson's on "the relatively far greater importance of personnel, compared with that of its weapons." To meet war, planes and more  p309 planes certainly would be needed, but the chief essential would be a tremendous increase in the number of trained men. It was therefore encouraging that the new reserve act set the minimum strength of aviation officers of the Naval Reserve at 6,000 and also, by improving the position of the aviation cadets, offered inducements to those who might wish to enroll with them. Commissioning at the end of their training period was authorized, and after three years of active duty they would be eligible, after examination, for promotion. They would be required to serve at least four years, after which they could leave the Navy with a bonus of $500 or, at their own request, serve another three years. All cadets with the Fleet on the day the act became effective were to be commissioned immediately as ensigns, with the option of accepting the pay of that grade and the new bonus, or continuing at the pay rate and bonus provided by the act of 1935 described earlier. That the cadets responded well to these changes is proved by the quality of their later performance.

Under a clause in the new law directing the Secretary of the Navy to appoint a board to "investigate . . . the regular and reserve personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps," such a board was convened under Rear Adm. (later Adm.) Frederick J. Horne, soon to be prominent as the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, right hand of Admiral King in keeping the fleets up to fighting strength. In its report this board reaffirmed opposition to anything like a separate flying corps, the stated reason being that such a corps would tend to "disrupt that unity of thought so essential in Naval Operations," and "seriously reduce the present high efficiency." In the board's view, anything likely to "divorce Naval Aviation from the line of the Navy . . . might bring disaster in time of war"; on the contrary, there must be forged an even closer bond between airman and seaman, in order that each might fully understand what the other planned to do and recognize what the other was about when he began to do it. Anyone who reads the story of the Navy's war in two oceans can see how this bond was destined to become stronger with each passing day.

Based on the authorization of 3,000 planes by 1945, the Horne Board estimated aviation personnel requirements by that date at 4,300 pilots, 980 ground officers, and 35,000 enlisted men. To meet such numbers of officers, the original plan for 1,050 regulars by 1939 would have to be amended to 1,730, a figure which, after allowing for training periods and for attrition, could be reached only by the assignment of 450 regulars to aviation each year. Since but  p310 85 at the most could be obtained from each class graduating at the Naval Academy, such a total of assignments was out of the question; even halving the allowance of pilots from the regular Navy to planes and the setting the total at 225 would not produce enough. The only recourse was to the reserves, and to make this possible the board urged immediate legislation to permit calling them back to active duty. Under such new laws officers of the Reserve should be given, while on active duty, the full pay and allowances of regular officers of the same rank. And since who had served three years should be eligible for promotion to lieutenant, junior grade, and the latter, at the end of four years, should become eligible for lieutenant. In peacetime any officer who had served at least four years and wished to return to inactive status should be permitted to do so, with the bonus of $500 for each year of service up to eight. He should be urged to continue periodic training with a Reserve unit, and to make this possible there should be a great increase in appropriations for that training as well as for reserve air stations.

Another recommendation strongly advocated continuing the assignment of warrant officers to aviation, urging an increase in the number annually assigned to 30, particularly in the grades of boatswain, gunner, and radio electrician; all to be regarded as permanent and not subject to arbitrary shifts to other duties. A third recommendation proposed dropping the class of partially trained fliers known as "observers." A fourth suggested a sliding scale of physical requirements for pilots on the ground that men of 40 or more, while fully able to fly under ordinary conditions, should not be expected to equal the running, jumping, and weightlifting, the practically unlimited endurance to be found in youths of 20. All these recommendations were made in much greater detail as to officers because the board found that existing laws and procedures governing enlisted men were good, leaving appropriate expansion in numbers as the only requisite. Although the board did include a statement of estimated mobilization requirements, its report as a whole should be regarded as a program for orderly peacetime expansion, rather than one for overnight mushrooming in time of war. Its ideas, however, were quite constructive enough to furnish Congress with the basis for action.

The time for action was at hand. Although the average American, clinging to his wishful belief that his country would manage to keep out of a world war, apparently failed to see that theoretical neutrality was fast becoming belligerency, those on the inside could  p311 no longer have many doubts. Within a few days after Europe began shooting, the Atlantic Squadron had been ordered to establish air and surface patrols — called, to be sure, neutrality patrols — over areas extending as far east as the 65th meridian, as far south as Trinidad. The squadron commander was Rear Adm. Alfred W. Johnson, long prominent in aviation but at the moment flying his flag over a few battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, all of old types, with some 80 aircraft. The battleships and cruisers had 25 planes between them, while the squadrons from Patrol Wings 3 and 5 mustered 54 all told. There were a few planes operating in the Canal Zone, but except for these and the groups in training for the Ranger and the Wasp every other element of aviation was in the Pacific. Stretching that small force to its utmost, Johnson carried out his orders through the winter, but probably he would have found the task impossible had not the war in Europe, after Germany's attack on Poland, moved into the "phony" stage, with little action anywhere. The coming of spring made the task stiffer, for in April the Nazis seized Denmark and Norway; in May they began moving through Holland and Belgium, to make the fall of France only a question of days. What the Navy was doing in the Atlantic was not publicly described as war but whatever the United States could do to make the going harder for the U‑boats was done, lest the war be lost to the allies. Meantime, many astonished Americans awoke to the realization that between them and the conquering Germany lay only Great Britain, whose ability to hold out was seriously debatable. Suddenly, over clubs, shops, and street corners in the United States there loomed the black shadow of Hitler's mighty air force.

On May 16, 1940, Pres. Roosevelt suddenly demanded that the aircraft of the Army and the Navy be increased to 50,000 and that building capacity be expanded to provide for that same number each year. Civilians were stunned by this pronouncement and so, too, were soldiers and sailors, for they had been accustomed to estimate in tens and twenties rather than in thousands. The airplane industry, its production methods not much advanced in some respects beyond the handicraft stage, was staggered because it was still thinking of the Navy's order for 200 Catalinas in one year as enormous. Moreover, military men and the industrialists alike could recognize that any such expansion in the air would almost be accompanied by a similar expansion in ships and shore stations, all involving the manufacture of unheard‑of quantities of equipment  p312 of every conceivable kind. Whereas the common expectation had been that there would be a gradual strengthening of forces afloat and ashore, with a corresponding increase in available resources, to be followed by mobilization and a declaration of war, this sudden ballooning seemed to presage a headlong plunge into the fighting. Under such circumstances it was fortunate that the President could invoke a World War I statute, never repealed, to re‑establish the National Defense Advisory Commission with members drawn from every business and profession, to study the complicated problems certain to arise. Fortunately, too, American industry was led by men not to be long daunted by anything in the way of organizing and supervising stupendous enterprises. Most fortunately, the ordinary citizen had an extraordinary faculty, the ability to doze under his blankets until emergency thundered at his bedroom door and then leap, like a fireman, into his overalls and boots. Between them all, they manned innumerable offices, agencies, and plants to create a production fabulous in conception, record breaking in accomplishment.

In the Bureau of Aeronautics there came, of necessity, a violent readjustment and thinking. After years of being pinned down by economies, the bureau had to learn how to spend uncounted dollars. Since the facilities of the contractors with whom it had been accustomed to deal were wholly inadequate, it must seek new ones, often only to find these already overloaded with orders from the War Department or from the British; forced to look still further, it frequently found those who had little to offer until they could adjust themselves to the crisis. As procurement and production daily grew more complicated, it became impossible for the bureau to make all the decisions on what to do and then supervise what was done, a situation which was saved by the re‑creation in 1941 of the office of Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air, abolished in 1932 to save money. To fill this post the President appointed a man whose brilliant record as a flier with the Yale Unit in 1917 had been supplemented by years of broad experience in finance and industry, Artemus L. Gates. He shouldered the responsibility for coordinating the expansion programs — men, aircraft, bases, and ships — and, by surrounding himself with men of similar ability and experience, he solved innumerable problems. In the great number of these problems that bore heavily upon army procurement and production activities Gates was very fortunate in having, as  p313 his opposite number in the War Department, another member of the old Yale Unit, Robert A. Lovett.

In June, 1940, under the 3,000‑plane program, Naval Aviation had had 1,741 aircraft and 2,965 pilots. That it was then still optimistic over what might be accomplished in war by this small force is strong by the uncertainty of its early recommendations. On the 14th of the month Congress authorized 4,500 planes, next day raising the number to 10,000. When the fall of France and the German attacks on Britain encouraged the Japanese war party to increase pressure in the Far East, the Navy went back to Capitol Hill and this time the ceiling rose to 15,000. In addition this latest legislation provided that if in the judgment of the Secretary of the Navy the total number of aircraft was insufficient for national defense, he might, with the approval of the President, make such plans for additional procurement as proved necessary. It was with this wholly unprecedented latitude that most of the wartime increases were made. Problems were many and solutions were often complex, but it is not within the scope of these pages to recount these nor to retell the many stories told by others of what was accomplished with the huge store of planes and equipment finally assembled during four years of war. Here it is possible only to suggest what was acquired, to hint at what was done with that, as these two subjects appeared to have followed logically from what has been discussed in earlier chapters. In the designs of planes, the Bureau of Aeronautics soon discovered that its 20 years of research, in collaboration with industry, had produced valuable results. In 1940 the F2A or Brewster Buffalo and the F4F or Grumman Wildcat were in production, while the F4U or Corsair, by Chance Vought, and the F6F or Grumman Hellcat were well along in the design stage. Other carrier types, already generally accepted, included two from Douglas, the SBD or Dauntless dive bomber and the TBD or Devastator torpedo plane, both to prove useful until the former was replaced by the SB2C or Curtiss-Wright Helldiver, the latter after the battle of Midway, by the TBF or Grumman Avenger. The big flying boats for patrol duty included two from Consolidated, the two-engined PBY or Catalina and the giant four-engined PB2Y or Coronado, with one from Martin, the PBM or Mariner. For cruisers and battleships to spot and to patrol close aboard, the Curtis biplane, Seahawk, more familiarly known from its designating letters as the "SOC," was gradually being superseded  p314 by Chance Vought's OS2U, the Kingfisher. All these were supported by numerous training, utility, and transport planes, designed through the years and still very useful, and by a few blimps.

It is to the credit of the Bureau of Aeronautics and of the aircraft industry that so many of the original naval types remained appropriate for service through most of the war, but this does not mean that no improvements in these types were found desirable. Many such improvements were introduced and one or two types were dropped because they could not accommodate new equipment developed as practice and experience in war came to the help of designers. That most of the original designs were sound, however, was shown by planes like the Wildcat, which came out of the war carrying additions including armor for the pilot, self-sealing fuel tanks, more powerful engines, increased firepower, radar, and innumerable gadgets, yet remained essentially a Wildcat.

The one real lack in designs was a land-based plane suitable for naval use, a lack naturally resulting from that earlier division of air responsibility which left the use of this type to the army. During the winter of 1940-41 operations in northern waters demonstrated the difficulty of getting seaplanes off the surface in cold weather, and this led to a modification of the Catalina which made it amphibious but left it still unable to meet all that would be required of it. Late in 1941 the Army supplied a number of Lockheed Hudson landplanes, first of several types, like the PV‑1 or Vega Ventura and the PB4Y‑1 or Consolidated Liberator, used with excellent results in reconnaissance, patrol, and antisubmarine attacks. For strictly naval purposes however, all these required many changes, at a cost in labor nearly equal to one half that represented by original building; an obvious waste of time and money, with results never wholly satisfactory. Later in the war the PB4Y‑2 or Consolidated Privateer, an army design modified to meet the Navy's needs, began coming off the assembly lines, but it was not until after hostilities had ceased that a landplane designed from the start for the Navy was adopted.

To keep pace with plane building, work was pushed, as funds became available, on those essentials of a fighting air force, bases and ships. Among the former were the big training stations which began to grow up at Corpus Christi, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida, and the smaller ones at Quonset Point, Rhode Island and Alameda, California. All the old bases, including those assigned to the reserve units, were considerably improved, and a program of  p315 building fields got underway on Pacific and Caribbean islands owned by the United States. As much advantage is possible was taken of the opportunity to cover the approaches to the Atlantic coast with "foreign" bases acquired in the historic exchange with Great Britain which gave her 50 World War I American destroyers.

As to ships to support aircraft, there came an unforeseen slant to the program for building these. The Royal Navy, in its fight against the U‑boats, very soon learned the importance of aircraft and then realized the inability of land-based planes to cover all the oceans. What was needed was a small carrier with enough speed to make her useful in the protection of merchant convoys. When this was brought to the attention of President Roosevelt, he asked the Navy Department to study the possibility of converting merchantmen, already afloat and in service, into makeshift carriers. By a coincidence, this request reached the Navy Department at the same time as a similar one, made for a different reason by Rear Adm. (later Fleet Adm.) W. F. Halsey, Junior. Halsey, then Commander Aircraft, Battle Force, foresaw that fighting a war would mean using all existing carriers in operations against the enemy, leaving none available for the demands of training pilots or for transporting aircraft overseas. His recommendation that merchant ships be converted to these auxiliary purposes, with favorable endorsements from both Adm. J. O. Richardson and the latter's successor as Commander in Chief, Adm. H. E. Kimmel, got to Washington in time to suggest that the solution of the convoys' problem and the Fleet's problem might be the same. On March 4, 1941, the cargo ship Mormacmail began the conversion from which, in just under three months, she emerged as U. S. S. Long Island, first of more than 100 CVE or escort carriers converted or built in American shipyards for the United States and Britain. The east central difference between the Long Island and earlier designs for light carriers lay in the idea that she would be noncombatant — an idea which would be very soon go overboard as escort carriers found themselves in some of the hottest actions of the war.

With planes, carriers, ships, and bases coming into being, where were the men to be found and how were they to be trained? In the days when Naval Aviation had been small, it had been a comparatively simple matter to take a graduate of the Naval Academy, already thoroughly grounded in the regulations and customs of the Navy, send him to Pensacola and from there to the Fleet to become  p316 a combat pilot. On the new scale, thousands of physically fit young Americans must be found and then, in the absolute minimum of time, taught both how to fly and how to be naval officers; a very large order indeed. To fill it the Navy, like the Army, reread its Kipling and turned to the "playing fields" of the colleges for the generation whose fathers had made their fine showing in World War I. To get these youths trained some requirements were dropped, for example the one demanding that every pilot must be able to fly every type of plane. Each man concentrated upon one combat type, and instead of spending a long training period in the Fleet, which was fully occupied with other and more pressing duties, he went to an operational training squadron to get his final polishing in group and squadron tactics. From the start all training was guided by the understanding that these youngsters were going into war, not preparing for a lifelong career, but as the war progressed and as the pilot shortage became rather less acute, it proved advisable to extend the one‑year training to two years, with obviously good results. Even so, the system was a very rigorous one, as indeed it must be to produce men to do their job.

What that job was likely to be was evident even before the system was firmly established. As Johnson's neutrality patrol took on broader duties, it became necessary to move more and more ships around from the Pacific. Many new ships built on the Atlantic side remained there, partly because of the patrol, partly because many in high places believe that the coming war would be fought chiefly in the Atlantic. All this made reorganization imperative and on February 1, 1941, the United States Atlantic Fleet was reborn with Adm. Ernest King as its Commander in Chief. His organization was of the "type-command" variety which, as to aviation, continued the distinction between patrol planes and carrier planes but made it clear that there would be plenty of work for both. It needed only a few weeks to prove that, for in March came the Lend Lease Act, in July came the garrisoning of Iceland by the United States, both steps which took the Navy into still wider areas of activity. This was not even yet officially called war, but it gave the units involved an experience far more realistic than anything ever afforded by Fleet exercises.

Through these events, and through the efforts made to meet events that were likely to follow, a few of the clouds of confusion were blown away, a few others were becoming thinner. At least some of the innumerable elements of preparedness had been acquired,  p317 while some others had been provided for, even though true preparedness was still not much more than a blueprint hope. The number of air craft available by December, 1941, was 5,260, and the number of pilots, including those in the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps, had reached 6,750. Added to these were 1,874 ground officers and a total of 21,678 enlisted men. The carriers, beginning with the little Long Island and ending with the Saratoga and Lexington, numbered eight. Even aircraft tenders for which Moffett had so persistently fought, had increased to 34. Nine of them, to be sure, still the old "bird-class" mine sweepers; one that converted veteran, the Langley, and 14 partially converted destroyers of World War I, but five large and five small tenders really designed and built specifically for that purpose. Material and equipment were slowly assembling at all points and this fact, together with the figures just given, might suggest that Naval Aviation was prepared to stand the test of war. Actually, what had been got together represented, by comparison with what would be needed, hardly more than a "sergeant's guard" with half-filled bandoliers and haversacks.

When the worst came at Pearl Harbor, it had but one redeeming feature. The damage to the battleships removed all possibility of what might otherwise have been expected, a demand by the American people that the Fleet at once attack Japan. With the pitifully inadequate protection in the air, this must inevitably have spelled disaster and probably a much longer war. As it was, through the lucky circumstance that the Japanese did not destroy the shops at Pearl, it became possible to rebuild the battleships to be much more powerful than they had been before they were damaged. In the end, protected by adequate aircraft, the Fleet was vastly stronger for the task it had to do.

During those months of repairs the Navy fought delaying actions when and where it could in the Pacific. While a handful of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines did their best to be in half a dozen places at once, the five Pacific carriers, in seven months, steamed 180,000 miles to make raids on targets that range from New Guinea to Japan itself. In the four days that began on May 4, 1942, the enemy was stopped in the Coral Sea even though the opposing surface forces never sighted one another. A month later, between June 3 and 6, the enemy was decisively beaten from the air above Midway, and it was these two successes that led to the first limited counteroffensive against the Solomon Islands, an operation  p318 supported by both carrier-based and land-based planes of the Navy and Marine Corps. During that first year of the Pacific war four of the six carriers engaged were lost and the other two were badly damaged but they held the front in the air. They made it possible, without losing the war in the interim, to gain time enough to create a fleet in which all units were adequate for their several parts, and it should be noted that the battleships of that fleet had been designed to win World War II, not necessarily to win some future war when aircraft might have become both invulnerable and wholly self-supporting.

In the early stages, aircraft of all types found themselves doing almost anything at any given time, often a job for which they had not been specifically designed. In all the theaters of action harassed commanders frequently broke through theoretical lines of division between what the Army's planes or the Navy's planes were supposed to do; to reach some immediate objective they used anything able to take the air at the moment. In 1942 and in 1943 army planes did valiant service in the Atlantic antisubmarine efforts while the Navy's planes flew many army missions from their Pacific bases.

On distinctly naval missions, the Catalina and Mariner flying boats carried out in bliss reconnaissance, accompanied invasion forces, and on numerous occasions began their operations from occupied islands before landing fields had even been taken, much less reconditioned. They attacked enemy merchant shipping, handled much of the sea-rescue work, and evacuated large numbers of the wounded. It was only their slow speed and their great vulnerability that led to their being replaced, for antisubmarine and reconnaissance work, by landplanes.

As has been noted, it was the inability of land-based planes to cover enough of the ocean led to the creation of the small escort carriers and this type very soon made a name for itself. Since larger carriers could not be withdrawn from the Pacific, it was the little ones with the help of the Ranger, that covered the North African and the southern France landings when these were made, doing the aerial spotting for the preliminary naval bombardments which did so much to clear the way for these landings. This was not to the neglect of their original mission, the protection of convoys, for their planes had a large part in the 83 sinkings credited to aircraft among the 174 losses counted against the U‑boats. Conspicuous among them were the Bogue and later the Guadalcanal, which fought one U‑boat practically hand to hand. After  p319 the war Grand Admiral Doenitz declared that his submarines, originally designed to proceed on the surface and dive only to make an attack or to escape one, had been beaten by aircraft equipped with radar. Certainly it was the effectiveness of planes which first drove the wolf pack out into mid-ocean and then forced the Germans to design a submarine able to remain submerged indefinitely and to make high speed underwater.

Out in the Pacific the effect of building became greater week by week. By the middle of 1943, when the total number of planes had risen to 16,691, the pilots to 26,651, ground officers to 23,377, and enlisted men in aviation ratings to 156,836, the increase in carriers was impressive. There were then 12 large ones including the 27,000‑ton Essex class and the 10,000‑ton Independence class. Incidentally, the latter class went back to a size rejected in 1925 and used, for its hulls, the designs made for the Cleveland class of cruiser. By the same period there were 17 of the escort carriers available, with as many more due to be commissioned within another six months. Their increasing usefulness was evident as soon as they began to appear in the Pacific as the only available carrier defense against enemy carriers in the Solomons; later they were almost everywhere. Towers, relieved by McCain as Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics and put in command of the Air Force, Pacific Fleet, used the carriers in the Gilbert landings, and their success at Tarawa and Makin resulted in their continuous use for landings after that. They could defend themselves, just as had been predicted by the board studying the bombing tests of 1921, when naval observers declared that the best defense against aircraft was to operate better aircraft. Their planes, with Navy or Marine pilots, achieved a great degree of accuracy in pin‑pointing revetments, pillboxes, and gun emplacements that were opposing a landing, and accuracy directly traceable to training methods developed from exercises in amphibious landings conducted years before and especially by the marines. To be sure, the little escort carriers supporting these planes were themselves extremely vulnerable, but since only five were lost in the Pacific it appears that they were not often hit, even though they were present at all the landings from the Gilberts through the Philippines to Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Between the day in 1929 when Adm. Pratt had sent the Saratoga on her lone-hand "bombing" of the Panama Canal, and the Marshall Island strike in February, 1942, Naval Aviation had  p320 moved a long way. Yet, even then, it was still held that carriers should act independently, to evade the enemy, and that even as many as two carriers in company represented a great risk. Only a month later, however, the Lexington and the Yorktown together raided Salamau and Lae in New Guinea, and the effectiveness of their coordinated attack was not lost upon such observers as Capt. (later Vice Adm.) Frederick Sherman, commanding the Lexington. His reports and recommendations combined with others to produce a revision of carrier tactics. By the fall of 1943, when the carrier numbers had increased to those given above, a fair-sized fleet of them was assembled for the Gilbert landings; 11 carriers, in four groups, all under the command of Rear Adm. C. A. Pownall, at this writing the Governor of Guam. As a matter of history, those ships formed the first actual Fast Carrier Task Force, each group with its own screen of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. With planes and heavy gunfire to protect them, it was these task forces which later, under Mitscher and McCain, led the way across the Pacific. Their dive bombers, equipped with self sealing tanks and with armor, proved less vulnerable than had been expected, while their accuracy became proverbial. Torpedo planes justified Fiske's old prediction — luckily while he was still alive to see the day — for, although they had to be protected by fighter squadrons, they too built up an impressive record of hits.

These were the planes that became famous, but behind those of the Utility Wings and the Naval Air Transport Service were doing everything that an aircraft is mechanically able to do or a pilot humanly able to think of doing. At one time or another they flew anything anywhere. To keep them in the air without neglecting the fighting planes had been, from the very first, and most important factor in the Fleet's ever-growing problem of logistics. Personnel must be where it was needed, fuel and oil must be instantly available, and not a plane must be idle for lack of upkeep and repair.

As early as February, 1942, Admiral Nimitz had reorganized the Pacific Command, abolishing the titles Battle Force and Scouting Force, but at that time he had left the planes divided into Patrol Wings, Utility Wings, and Carriers, each organized separately as was the Fleet Marine Force, with its planes dependent upon supplies from the Navy's sources. After the battle of Midway, however, he saw that it was impossible to continue dealing with two supply offices in San Diego and two more at Pearl Harbor,  p321 while at least three aviation commands had a hand in logistics; the only possible course was the creation of what had been proposed as long before as 1928, a single type command for all aircraft. In September, 1942, this became the Air Force, United States Pacific Fleet, at first commanded by vice admiral A. W. Fitch and later, as noted above, by Towers. It was this command which organized pilots and ground officers, airmen and ground crews into operating units where they could be trained for combat, and at the same time supervised the distribution of all aviation personnel as well as the maintenance and repair of all planes and all ships in aviation. Under the two commanders named, the force became so efficient that it was copied in the Atlantic in 1943, the force on that side being successively commanded by two veteran fliers, Rear Adm. A. D. Bernhard and Bellinger, by this time a vice admiral. Something of what this type command had to do may be inferred from the size of the Fleet's aviation forces by the end of 1944, when there were 36,721 planes, 55,956 pilots, 32,707 ground officers, and 312,146 enlisted ratings, with 25 larger or CV and CVL carriers and 65 of the CVE or escort types.

It goes without saying that among so many officers and men many who had joined the Navy, as their fathers had done in 1917, to fight in the air never had a chance to do it. Instead, they found themselves some rear-area base or at the desk in Washington, Chicago or San Francisco, at the everlasting job of administration. Since 1921 aviation had spoken through the Bureau of Aeronautics or, when there was one, through the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air. Twenty years later, with the war to be won these offices could not adequately handle, for the Chief of Naval Operations, aviation's share of logistics; new offices became essential.

In August, 1943, Admiral King was furnished with the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air under whom were presently grouped all divisions of King's office concerned with aviation as well as those divisions in the Bureau of Aeronautics concerned with planning, training, flight, and distribution of personnel, all of which had become too big for the bureau itself. Vice Admiral McCain, who had been Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics since October, 1942, turned that post over to Rear Adm. (now Adm.) D. C. Ramsey, and moved up to the new one. From it he and his successors could speak directly in the name of Adm. King and thus deal far more effectively with every element of logistics.

The office spread through numerous subordinates. During its  p322 first year a special board headed by Rear Adm. Radford produced the so‑called Integrated Aeronautic Program for Maintenance, Material, and Supply under which it became possible to deliver fully equipped planes just where they were needed, use them for a stated period, then dispose of those unfit for combat and bring the rest back to be repaired and used for training. Later, turning its attention to bases, the deputy's office found ways to save taxpayers' money by transferring equipment from a base which the course of the war made unnecessary to a base that was still active. Similarly the three types of training, primary, advanced, and operational, were finally grouped under a Chief of Naval Air Training, who later also administered the Technical Training Command. Personnel, for the obvious reason that no one could guess how long the war might last and how many men might be needed to win it, remained a problem, but another board under Rear Adm. (Later Vice Adm.) H. B. Sallada by the summer of 1945 completed a plan to meet such problems as the one created by testing young men, enrolling them, and then weakening their morale by bidding them await a call to active duty. All these were intricate matters since, by that time, the figures had again expanded. Naval Aviation came to V‑J Day with 41,272 planes, 60,747 pilots, 32,827 ground officers, and 344,424 enlisted men. Afloat, there were 28 larger, 71 smaller carriers.

There it stood when thousands of young men must be demobilized, when tons of equipment must be sold or scrapped, old plane models destroyed, and new ones, along with the carriers, laid up not in lavender but in cellophane. That was almost half a century after Theodore Roosevelt had listened to the story of Langley and then, without even Towers looking over his shoulder, written his historic memorandum. Theodore Roosevelt was dead and so, too, was Franklin Roosevelt, another who had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy and then President. Congressman such as Frederick Hicks of New York and others too numerous to name, who had authorized the Bureau of Aeronautics and voted money to sustain it, were long gone. Administrators like Chambers, Bristol, and above all, Moffett, had not lived to see what they had built stand the test. Ellyson and Rodgers, Bronson, Saufley, Chevalier, and all the honored men of two wars, had paid for their devotion with their lives, leaving only a handful who had known the beginnings. Only they could know the long road from the moment when it had been suggested that the Navy try the machine "on a scale to be of  p323 use in war." All could know, however, that this war, like every important war in history, had been won by sea power, but this time with a difference. Sea power could no longer be effective by controlling the waters of the earth on and under their surface. It must henceforth have one mighty arm reaching high into the air.

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Page updated: 25 May 15