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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Navy's Air War

the Aviation History Unit OP‑519B, DCNO (Air)

Harper & Brothers Publishers
New York and London

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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Chapter 1
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p. ix  Foreword

It has often been noted that aviation came of age in World War II. This is true of naval aviation as it is of the air forces of our Army, our allies, and, indeed, of our enemies. This book gives the people of the United States a picture of naval aviation as it was organized and functioned during the recent conflict. It not only includes the story of air's part in operations already well known but also sets forth less publicized and less exciting activities. There are chapters on training, on maintenance, on procurement, and on many other matters not hitherto given much space but vital to the success of the Navy's air war. In a word it attempts not just to hit the high spots but rather to give to the people the story of the naval air force as a whole, as a team reaching from a desk in Washington to the fighting areas.

For thirty years I have had the honor to play a part in naval aviation. During that time I have watched it grow through two world wars. If this book seems to indicate that many changes in equipment, tactics, and organization were made while the conflict was in progress, that was because aviation was a relatively new weapon and we learned as we went. That in itself augurs well for the future. When new equipment and new tactics are developed, naval aviation will prepare to meet them in the same spirit and with the same determination that it showed in the war just past.

Personally, the greatest memory of my years with naval aviation is of those with whom I served, of all those who through the years have contributed to the development and growth of naval air power, and especially of those who gave their lives that this nation might emerge victorious from the greatest war of all time.

Marc A. Mitscher

Admiral, USN

[decorative delimiter]

 p. xi  Why This Book Was Written

For the past few years the American public has been deluged with literature about the Second World War. Magazines, books, newspaper articles have well-nigh engulfed the reader with a mass of information and misinformation about the War. Why has the Navy Department chosen to authorize the addition of one more book to the list?

A few moments' consideration should explain and justify the Navy's action. In the first place, much that has been written has been based on inaccurate or inadequate information, or, in some instances, on sheer guesswork. Because of the termination of this war, it is possible to release certain information that will clarify points that have until now been obscure.

In the second place, this book has been written because naval aviation feels that it has an obligation to the American people. The American people made naval aviation possible. A fundamental reason for our success­ful war against the Axis is that it was a concerted effort of a united people. Possibly this fact has been exemplified nowhere better than in the case of naval aviation. Millions of Americans have been involved in this process in one way or another. They have helped build the planes, lay down the carriers, and make the munitions. Their brothers, sons, and husbands have operated and maintained naval aircraft in all parts of the world and in all phases of the conflict. These Americans want, and are entitled, to know just what part their individual effort played in the whole picture. The Wave aerographer at Lakehurst, the welder in the Grumman factory at Bethpage, Long Island, the machinist's mate working in sub‑zero weather in Alaska, the PV pilot operating off South America, the fighter pilot with a task force in the South Pacific, the yeoman at NAS, Olathe, Kansas — these and hundreds of thousands like them have a right to know how they fitted into the grand and everspreading mosaic of naval aviation.

In the third place, the Navy Department has authorized the writing  p. xii of this book because it feels it owes a tribute to the achievements of naval aviation. Of course, naval aviation did not win the war alone, but it would not be an overstatement to say that were it not for the Navy's war in the air, Americans would have fought much longer throughout the world in an effort to bring the war to a success­ful conclusion. From relatively small beginnings, naval aviation built itself into a power­ful fighting arm that played a major part in sweeping enemy ships from the seas and hostile planes from the skies. An all‑important fact to be remembered, also, is that naval aviation performed this tremendous task within the framework of the United States Navy. Appreciating the fact that ships and planes operating in close co‑ordination make a well-nigh unbeatable combination, naval aviation has constantly striven to increase this unity, rather than to build up a separate entity of its own. Recognizing, too, that many months of training can be saved by careful construction and use of land bases, naval aviation has built an imposing network of naval air stations throughout the nation and in advanced areas. Many of these possessed an operational function in that they could be used as bases for coastal patrol and for convoy sweeps.

The purpose of this narrative, therefore, is to give the American people a summary report, an over‑all picture of the work of naval aviation. It is felt that Americans will be interested in more than a mere condensed battle account, important though that is. War is a business, an all‑consuming business. Naval aviation is more than a TBF laying its torpedo in the vital organs of an enemy battle­ship, or a task-force squadron striking at a Jap‑infested island. It includes the backbreaking effort of producing planes, and the scientific labor of devising the right sort of planes for the specific tasks to be accomplished. It involves the dreary hours of patrol over extensive convoys, or along miles of home shores, and the bitter struggle against that most impervious of foes, the weather. It includes the headaches of attempting to create a suitable organization to handle tremendous operations with the increasing problems of supply, transportation and maintenance.

This account does not purport to be a definitive history of the Navy's war in the air, nor does it pretend to be a critical or professional analysis of operations and performance. In the first place, a single volume could in no way do justice to the complicated problems that have been woven into the fabric of naval aviation. Action reports of a single engagement have equaled the length of this volume. The number of documents available almost defies description. Years of serious study will be needed to analyze all phases of the Navy's war in the air. The complete story cannot  p. xiii be told until the Japanese side of the struggle is made clear to us from an examination of their records. In view of the immensity of the task of assimilating all this information, there is no point in asking the American people to wait for the completion of this research. There are certain basic developments that are now well known, and it is believed that a reasonably fair picture of the general achievement of naval aviation can be presented to the public.

This volume is dedicated in all humbleness to the living and the dead: to the living — the aircraft worker, the machinist's mate, the aerologist, the aviator, the desk worker (both in and out of uniform), the administrator; to the dead — the training casualty, the man whose parachute did not open, the one whose parachute did (in the line of Japanese fire), the man standing in the way of a Kamikaze plane — it is dedicated to each person who contributed to the development of naval aviation and to final victory.

[decorative delimiter]

 p. xiv  Acknowledgments

The editor wishes to express his appreciation to Captain E. W. Parish, USN, head of Aviation Information and Security; to Captain A. D. Turnbull, USNR, special assistant to the director of Naval History, and to Lieutenant Commander C. L. Lord, USNR, head of Aviation History Unit, for their co‑operation in the preparation of this manuscript. Lieutenant Commander H. M. Dater, USNR, not only contributed much material for the book but was unflagging in his assistance in ways too numerous to mention. He and Lieutenant C. F. Stanwood, USNR, gave valuable aid in proofreading the original. R. E. Barton, chief yeoman, and his clerical staff kept pace with the usually hectic claims made on them in the technical preparation of this manuscript.

I should like to express my deep appreciation of the fine work of the members of the Aviation History Unit, listed below, who alone made possible the preparation of this manuscript. They laid aside their regular duties of research to facilitate the production of The Navy's Air War.

Lieutenant (jg) F. A. Abbott, USNR

Lieutenant Commander H. M. Dater, USNR

Lieutenant J. DuVon, USNR

Lieutenant R. J. Doyle, USNR

Ensign G. M. Fennemore, USNR

Lieutenant A. R. Hilen, USNR

Lieutenant M. E. Jarchow, USNR

Lieutenant J. E. Jennings, USNR

Lieutenant R. W. July, USNR

Lieutenant J. P. King, USNR

Lieutenant W. G. Land, USNR

Lieutenant Commander C. L. Lord, USNR

Lieutenant M. D. Schwartz, USNR

Lieutenant W. O. Shanahan, USNR

First Lieutenant E. L. Smith, USNR

Lieutenant C. F. Stanwood, USNR

Lieutenant (jg) A. O. Van Wyen, USNR

Lieutenant (jg) G. H. Wright, USNR

The illustrations are drawn from various Navy Department film collections including those of Captain E. J. Steichen, USNR, the Bureau of Aeronautics, and the Office of Public Information. I should like to express my appreciation to Lieutenant (jg) B. J. Westervelt, USNR, for her assistance in collecting the illustrations, and Lieutenant (jg) Elaine Morrell, USCGR, for material on the Coast Guard.

A. R. Buchanan

Lieutenant, USNR

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Page updated: 12 Dec 20