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Chapter 21

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,
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Chapter 23
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p238  Chapter XXII

The Lampert Committee and the Eberle Board

Notwithstanding their great enthusiasm for flying, the leaders in Naval Aviation still had one foot on a deck, to keep them in touch with their fundamental training as seamen. Thus Mustin, a foremost expert in gunnery long before he took to the air, never lost his vision of 16‑inch turrets thundering at an enemy far beyond the skyline visible from the bridge above them. Planes had their place in that vision and he meant exactly what he said when he told the General Board in 1922 that "our whole aviation program is laid out on the basis that the battleship is the dominant factor in Naval warfare, provided that it is properly supported by aircraft." Similarly, Ellyson and King no more forgot that they had once been "submariners" than did Whiting, whose name is standstill a tradition in the "Pig Boats." McCrary and Lansdowne, destroyer men long before they thought of climbing into an airship, could never look down on a "Black Can" making its 30 knots on blue water without a pang. This is to mention only a few at random, for there were dozens of others from small craft, cruisers, or battleships, who would always cherish the particular type in which they had gained their experience and very often earned their reputations for leadership.

As a group, these younger officers found substantial support among forward-looking older ones like Fiske, Taylor, Craven, Badger, Fullam, and Sims. Essentially, these and others had always thought of the Navy Department, the navy yards, the ships, and the personnel as existing for the sole purpose of maintaining at sea a fleet second to none afloat. They could think of any new weapon in terms of its relation to old ones, in terms of the contribution it might make toward the paramount objective, United States sea power. On the question of how to create and man an air arm they might differ quite widely, but they were fully agreed that this  p239 arm must be a part of the whole naval body and that every blow that it might strike must be under the direct control of the Navy itself. For example, it would not occur to them that concentrated bombing by any naval aircraft should be carried out independently of the supporting ships, and their viewpoint was the same on all matters of operation or administration. Thus, under the shrewd leadership of Moffett, there could be a strong effort to gain recognition for aviation, but no hope for any attempt to "take it out of the Navy."

On the other hand, it was not altogether easy to "get it into the Navy" in the sense that it should be a component part of the Fleet. This was because, to many seagoing officers aboard ships, aircraft were still experimental; indeed, they were regarded in some instances as rather a hindrance than a help. This is very clear in a memorandum addressed to Admiral Moffett, early in 1924, by Lieut. Arthur W. Radford, and of particular interest here because Radford has since been the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air) as well as Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and is today, as an admiral, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. He wrote that the Bureau of Aeronautics was then "in the peculiar position of having sold Naval Aviation to the Public but not to the Navy as a whole." Proceeding, he spoke of flag officers, ship's captains, and gunnery officers who must have "tangible evidence" of flying and were therefore not interested in experimental planes. He held, for example, that certain of the new designs were sent to the Fleet before their defects had been removed, with the result that they broke down on occasion and tended to destroy confidence. Further, he suggested that the many battleships equipped with planes should be made to use them by awarding credits, for example, to ships that used their own planes for spotting gun fire, thus making the aircraft and the aviators part of the ship's company to which they were assigned. He held that commanding officers of the day were apt to feel that their pilots went into the air merely to collect extra pay and these must be persuaded that the aviators, their planes, and the catapults that launched them must be kept in first-class trim at all times in order to count for the ship in competition with others.

Suggestions of this sort were to bear fruit during the twenties, and as differences of opinion were composed there could be more and more progress toward the real integration of aviation with the Fleet. Nevertheless, conservatives and radicals, both within the  p240 Navy and outside it, continued to press their views. Public interest grew greater as the Mitchell brew boiled over, leaving a residuum of ugly rumors of corruption inside the Army and the Navy, of excess profits made by the aircraft industry through what were reported to be monopolistic combinations. All these led the House, in March, 1924, to establish a special committee under Representative Florian Lampert of Wisconsin to make "Inquiry into Operations of the United States Air Service." This committee conducted months of hearings and investigations which included visits to New York, Pasadena, and San Diego by the group and numerous visits by individual members to plants and stations.

Early hearings covered the grievances of the aircraft industry, chief among which were: (1) the existing system of bidding for contracts; (2) the lack of continuity in governmental procurement programs; (3) the competition with private firms by the Naval Aircraft Factory; (4) the withdrawal of private capital; and, as a result of the others, (5) the low morale of the aircraft industry. The first on the list was of great importance because, both for the Navy and for industry, the making of contracts had long been a difficult problem. To an extent, this was due to the contracts being affected by laws, in some instances enacted as far back as 1809, which provided for competitive bidding and bound the government to accept the lowest bid irrespective of any previous demonstration that the low bidder could make good. To meet this situation, frequent use had been made of the "negotiated" contract, an agreement with some particular firm because it was the only one capable of making the item wanted. Similarly, there were numerous instances of the preliminary "development" contract, under which a qualified firm undertook, at an estimated cost to be met by the Navy, the making of a model embodying a naval design. Under such a contract it not infrequently happened that the firm in question either hit upon a new modification or made use of an element already patented by itself, either or both of which resulted in an improvement upon the original design furnished by the Navy. Such events immediately raised these questions. Who owned the finished article? Should the firm patent its new device and collect royalties or must the device be given gratis to the Navy? Should the firm that used a device previously patented by itself be paid the usual royalties by the Navy or not? Finally there were instances in which firms that had gone to considerable effort under development contracts found themselves confronted with competitive bids  p241 for mass production, only to lose the production contract to a lower bidder who had spent nothing upon development.

Typical of this was the building of the SC plane, an all‑metal scout. The Curtiss Company spent time, labor, and material upon developing this type to meet the Navy Department's design and then submitted its bid of $32,000 each, for mass production. When the Judge Advocate General of the Navy ruled that the completed design was the Navy's property and therefore subject to open bidding, the Martin Company proposed a figure of $20,000 each. Moffett himself objected to it as likely to bring about congressional action eliminating "negotiated" and "development" contracts. In the admiral's view such a step would force the Navy, regardless of the standing of a bidder or the quality of his product, to accept the lowest bid, and also have the probable effect of retarding the building program. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics favored the negotiated contract but many smaller builders, lacking both capital and personnel to make such contracts, insisted that the Navy was playing favorites and thus preventing the smaller firms from growing larger through government business. It is not to be wondered at that such sharp differences of opinion upon matters already sufficiently complicated made it difficult for the Lampert Committee to find a solution that would satisfy all concerned. Indeed, this controversy has continued through the years, intensified by the War Powers Act of World War II which necessarily gave the government agencies wide discretion in the making of contracts. It is only in the act of 1947 that a workable solution of the Navy's procurement problem appears to have been found.

As to competition by the Naval Aircraft Factory, the department had always regarded the factory as a plant for testing manufacturing costs even though "overhead" never was given the importance it must have in estimates made by private manufacturers. The factory, however, usually built only a few of any particular model, leaving the rest to industry, and this, in the bureau's view, appeared to be a fair procedure. Industry thought it should build all the planes but Capt. (now Vice Adm.) Emory Land, head of the Material Division of Aeronautics, insisted that industry had practically done just that, except in the two years immediately following World War I, before the Bureau of Aeronautics existed. This difference might have been composed but industry made the further complaint that the Army and Navy, by disposing of surplus  p242 equipment after the war, at ridiculous figures, had still further injured the private firms and, by keeping other old aircraft and engines too long in use, deprived those firms of more orders. Curtiss, for example, declared that he was running at a heavy loss and would have to liquidate unless a definite procurement program, preferably one covering the Army and Navy together, could be established. This naturally led to further argument, reviving such questions as that of a separate United States air force and of the true significance of the bombing tests, with spirited exchanges pro and con. Since it was just after testifying before the Lampert Committee that General Mitchell was relieved as Assistant Chief of the Army Air Service, a "routine rotation" according to the War Department, this event also meant that another bone of contention was thrown upon the committee's table.

Meanwhile the manufacturer, through a special committee of their own, declared that "a primary requisite for a useful and successful aircraft industry is confidence and cooperation among the members thereof," and proceeded to offer "a code of proper conduct" to which 17 major producers presently subscribed. In addition to proposing rules for industry, this code held that the government could get satisfactory equipment only from companies capable of producing that equipment within their own organization; that the companies should have design staffs capable of handling peacetime problems yet easily expandable in time of war. Design rights must be mutually respected between the companies, each of whom should specialize in its own product in order to avoid duplication and to help the government achieve economy. All this meant that the government, in its turn, should do many things. It should adopt a "standard procurement policy," recognize proprietary rights, stop competing, improve its research and testing, give as much repair work as possible to private firms, and "assist the industry in the procurement of non‑commercial supplies."

A conference, hastily called in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, appears to have concluded that the "code" was to be the basis of the findings of the Lampert Committee. Rear Admiral Moffett had some mental reservations that industry was using the investigation to "stampede" the government but he made no strong objections to the suggestions submitted. Unfortunately this resulted in congratulatory letters, addressed to him and to the Secretary of the Navy by industry and then made public, with the effect of making the Lampert Committee believe that the Navy  p243 fully agreed with industry. Mitigating this conclusion, however, was the committee's decision that there were no grounds for charges of corruption in the Army or Navy and that on the whole lack of progress really was due to paucity of funds, and this in turn was the result of too much attention by Congress to what the Bureau of the Budget said, rather than to the views of military and naval experts. The Budget Act was not amended to remove the gag rule but Congressmen became somewhat more thorough in their search for the facts.

The committee made numerous recommendations, including one for a separate air force and one central procurement agency. It wanted old equipment and material surveyed and condemned, and called for a five-year program from the Army and Navy under which not less than $10,000,000 each should be spent annually. It urged more training of aviators, specifically including reserves, higher pay all along the line, and special legislation defining the operations assigned to the Army and those assigned to the Navy. Insisting that aviators should be represented on the General Staff of the Army and on the General Board of the Navy, it recommended the further establishment of a single department of national defense under one civilian Cabinet member.

While the Lampert Committee was slowly reaching its conclusions, several other discussions of the national aviation problems were held and about a dozen bills, some similar in many respects, others diametrically opposed, were introduced in both the House and the Senate. As these went their way to appropriate committees, Secretary of the Navy Wilbur directed the General Board to "consider the recent developments in aviation," listen to "experienced officers of both the Army and the Navy," and then recommend "a policy with reference to the development and upkeep of the Navy in its various branches; i.e., submarines, surface ships and aircraft." This order resulted in the formation of a special group, the Eberle Board, which sat during the end of 1924 and the early days of 1925.

The members of the board all had high standing in the Navy. Next to Admiral Eberle in rank was Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune, outstanding marine and at the time commandant of his corps. The six rear admirals included Charles S. Williams, president of the Naval War College, Joseph Strauss, the budget officer, Henry Hough, the Chief of Naval Intelligence, Hilary Jones, chairman  p244 of the General Board's Executive Committee, Andrew T. Long, and William W. Phelps, both members of the General Board. Comdr. W. W. Smyth, also outstanding among his contemporaries, was secretary. As a group these officers were conservative, and Moffett, for one, doubted whether without an airman among them they could give aviation a full and fair hearing. The record, however, indicates that the board, in its hearings, actually was fairer and more open-minded than many who appeared before it. To be sure, they were a little reluctant to admit the threat of aircraft against those battleships to which they had devoted their best years; but it should not be forgotten that the results of bombing tets against the Washington, carried on while the board was sitting, served to confirm rather than to upset its inner beliefs.

Those heard included numerous officer of all ranks from all Services and all branches, many already named in these pages, many others called because their expert knowledge or their experience might make some contribution. Civilian engineers, physicists, and manufacturers were similarly represented in numbers. In accordance with the convening order, the hearings covered the mission of the Navy under the national policy, its manifold tasks in supporting that policy, and the ways in which these tasks might most efficiently be performed. The board examined the position of the United States in relation to other great powers, naturally with particular reference to the international treaties recently ratified. Covering so broad a field, the record could not but be a long one and to read it is to realize that there were sharp brushes, both on and off the record, between those of opposite view; for example, Capt. A. W. Johnson, the progressive airman, and Rear Admiral Strauss, the budget officer who had already cut deeply into proposed appropriations for Naval Aviation. An idea of the extent of the hearings may be had from the fact that it required 80 sheets typed in single space merely to report the conclusions, many of which were compromises that raised almost as many questions as they answered.

Aviation, said the board, "has introduced a new and highly important factor in warfare both on the land and on the sea . . . Its influence on naval warfare undoubtedly will increase in the future, but the prediction that it will assume paramount importance in sea warfare will not be realized." Because the airplane was "inherently limited in performance by physical laws" and because the airship was too vulnerable, neither could be wholly effective  p245 without support and supply from surface ships. Nevertheless, aircraft have "made possible the accurate control of fire at long ranges and . . . vastly increased its effectiveness" while demonstrating "their great value to the fleet in scouting . . . and bombing." What more might be accomplished when the recommended carriers had been built, as they must be, remained to be determined, and the same could be said of the use of planes with torpedoes or gas and for the laying of smoke screens to protect ships. Certainly aviation had "taken its place as an element of the fleet and cannot be separated from it." Moreover, to take its aviators away from the Navy "would be most injurious to the continued efficiency of the fleet in the performance of its mission."

In the board's further recommendations were included governmental encouragement of all forms of civilian flying through the establishment of airways, of methods of inspecting aircraft, the training of fliers, and the licensing of both pilots and the planes they were to fly. No reasonable and proper effort to encourage the aircraft industry should be spared, and the creation and maintenance of a trained Reserve including pilots, observers, and ground forces should not be neglected. Most important of all, the Fleet should promptly be brought to full treaty strength, especially in carriers, while the appropriate personnel for these and for all other branches of flying should be increased in number, better trained, and placed upon a secure footing in relation to their other naval duties. Finally, the board found all these conclusions quite in line with the United States naval policy laid down in December, 1922, which was "sound and should be adhered to," especially because it had been approved by every witness heard.

The board had concluded its hearings and was about to issue its report when Moffett, presumably aware of the board's forthcoming recommendations on personnel, made his Assistant Chief of Bureau, Captain Johnson, the head of a board of aviators, with instructions to report upon "the status of the personnel assigned to aviation duty as relating to the whole Navy." Since the Eberle report would come out while this new board was sitting, it appears that the admiral wanted the latter to be in a position to examine some of the former's findings. In effect, that is what followed.

Beginning at the usual point, the rapid technical expansion of aviation without adequate personnel, the Johnson Board in its report on April 30, 1925, asked for a gradual increase to meet the aviation needs of a treaty navy, described as four admirals, 22  p246 captains, 51 commanders, 123 lieutenant commanders, and 1,574 lieutenants of both grades, to be reached by 1935 and to represent an increase of about 50 per cent over the figures of the moment. Since such an expansion was impossible until the Navy as a whole and the Naval Academy in particular had been increased in size, the temporary expedient proposed was the assignment of ensigns to flight training at Pensacola without the two years of sea duty recommended by the Eberle Board. To cut attrition at Pensacola, stiff physical examinations should precede assignment and some training should be given at the academy.

On the question of allowable rank in aviation, the Johnson Board held that promotion should follow its regular naval course. To get commanding officers for the stations and for the carriers that might be built, a number of captains should be quickly qualified as naval aviators and then assigned to these commands, to be duly succeeded by younger men advancing in rank during their years of flying duty. On the other moot question, rotation or specialization, the board saw merit in both ideas but leaned toward the aviators by drawing attention to a report made by still another board previously appointed by Rear Admiral Shoemaker, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. The pertinent quotation made it "apparent that no officer can be really expert in all branches of the Naval profession," and found it "necessary that each officer specialize in at least one branch." To meet this, the Johnson Board presented a list of changes which should be made in postgraduate courses having to do with aviation, including the assignment of some officers to army flying schools. This last suggestion was evidence of the conviction that the Army, in certain respects, had taken the lead and that the Navy could benefit by catching up with army progress and then establishing similar schools and experimental stations of its own.

As to enlisted men, this board emphasized the lack of full success, thus far, in training them as pilots to make up the shortage. Instead, it proposed more clearly defined ratings and the making of more room for advancement through training at better schools covering the many branches of aviation other than actual piloting. Another important recommendation covered the training of the Reserve to such a high point that it could, after a short "refresher course," furnish 1,500 naval aviators within one year of the beginning of a war. The board had heard Whiting's "rotation" plan, under which graduates of the academy, during 36 years' service,  p247 could do 19 years of aviation duty at sea, 17 years ashore. It had also heard Bartlett's plan which was, in effect, an argument for a separate naval air corps, based chiefly upon the Bureau of Aeronautics' lack of authority to control its personnel without interference by the Bureau of Navigation, but also upon the idea that young officers would not under existing conditions volunteer as fliers. Both plans were sent in with the Johnson report made, as has been said, at the end of April, 1925. After studying that report Moffett, knowing that the Eberle Board had called for the determination of departmental policy on aviation personnel, and wishing to make sure that there would be no separate flying corps in the Navy, yet believing that other details of the Bartlett plan should be considered, prepared a request for still another board to draw up a final policy.

Meanwhile Rear Admiral Shoemaker, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, had been asked by the Secretary of the Navy to make recommendation along the lines suggested by the Eberle Board and, in doing this, he helped bring to white heat the conflict between Navigation and Aeronautics. Not only did he suggest that the number of commissioned pilots be limited to 750, but he also proposed that extra pay for flying be reduced to ten per cent of base pay, with a sop to aviators of additional life insurance provided by the government. In addition, he most unfortunately sent his report to the Secretary of the Navy through the Chief of Naval Operations, with no reference to Moffett, a procedure within his legal rights but certainly not in the spirit of the Secretary's order of 1921, suggesting that Aeronautics have its say on all matters concerning aviation personnel. Moffett, on the other hand, was careful to forward the Johnson Board report to Operations through Shoemaker and, if this was designed to smoke the latter out, it certainly succeeded. The comment by Navigation filled 48 pages, also typed in single space, in which Shoemaker repeated everything he had already said and added considerably more. Declaring that the Johnson Board's report was "built about a predetermined opinion as to the position and specialized status of the naval aviator in the Navy, as distinct from an attempt to solve the aviation personnel problem of the Navy for the best interests of the service," he also revealed his position on other points. This was by stating his view that aviation had received "as much funds as could profitably be spent considering the stage of advancement of the art and its unproved value at sea." Such funds, he did admit, might be increased  p248 in the future but this should be only when, in the "reasoned opinion of naval officers . . . aviation supports its claims, and as the art of design and building progressed to the point where a dollar is obtained in worth of equipment purchased for each dollar appropriated."

The reading of the Johnson report, with Shoemaker's lengthy endorsement, presented the Chief of Naval Operations with a problem. He did act to the extent of disapproving any separate naval air corps and the assignment of officers to aviation duty only, but for the rest he resorted to the old expedient of suggesting still another board to settle the ratio of enlisted to commissioned pilots and the question of appropriate tours of each duty for aviators. Moffett, hearing of this proposal, hastened to agree and on September 17 he suggested that Commanders Whiting and H. C. Richardson, with Lt. Comdr. R. R. Paunack, who were all aviators, be included in the new board's membership. This suggestion was of course referred to Navigation, where Shoemaker disagreed and made the counter proposal that the General Board conduct any further investigation found necessary.

Studying this mass of papers, the Secretary of the Navy began by disapproving any separate flying corps. He then asked the General Board to express its views and this group, perhaps because it had had enough of aviation for the time being, recommended that a wholly new board be appointed. This was on September 26, and very shortly the Secretary of the Navy made Rear Adm. Montgomery Taylor head of that new board, including four captains and two commanders in addition to Whiting and Paunack as proposed by Moffett, and one other aviator, Lt. Comdr. Marc Mitscher, who acted as recorder. Before this Taylor Board had been fully constituted, however, and while the Johnson report with its weighty endorsements was still a departmental shuttlecock, tragedy again struck Naval Aviation.

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