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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 33

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.
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 p386  Epilogue

Old Mission Completed; New Mission Assigned

With the collapse of the Japanese Empire, naval aviation completed its wartime mission. In conjunction with the other American armed forces, it had been assigned the task of beating the enemy into submission. As we have seen, this had been a long and difficult process. Fields had been scraped clean of cornstalks or drained from swamps to make way for huge training and operational bases. To these stations had come young persons from all walks of life to learn their specialized jobs for war. Their training had been lengthy and often arduous and had continued in the combat areas. Practice and more practice, coupled with certain innate characteristics of American youth, provide a fundamental explanation of American victory.

With this highly trained fighting group had gone the finest equipment. Here again, the process of building up superiority in both quality and quantity had been slow. Our nation had first to get into a fighting frame of mind, and second to turn the great wheels of American production and the sweat of American manpower to the manufacture of the best planes and equipment that could be devised by our scientists and engineers. This machinery, once well under way, provided a second explanation for the success of naval aviation.

These two factors, highly trained men and excellent planes and equipment, had been vitalized by a third element that completes our understanding of victory. This was organization, or the "know‑how" of warfare. Once again, this was a factor that had been fused in the crucible of wartime experience. Gradually, naval aviation had built up the technique of warfare, from the co‑operation of two planes on patrol to the carefully worked‑out plan of a great task force. An important feature of this organization had been close correlation between the sea and the air forces, and the best evidence of this fact was to be found in the successes of the fast carrier task force.

Naval aviation had completed its wartime mission with the strikes  p387 over Tokyo. It had conquered the Jap air force. Together with the submarine service, it had accounted for 90 per cent of the losses of the Japanese navy, 78 per cent of the losses of the Japanese merchant fleet. It had thus contributed handsomely to the economic strangulation of the empire. Naval aviation is now confronted with a new mission — to aid in the maintenance of world peace. The new task is a difficult one; it will take a different type of work, and naval aviation must reorganize to carry out the mission. It is not within the scope of this report to suggest the nature of this reorganization, but it is hoped that certain lessons of the past will not be forgotten. Two points, especially, should be kept in mind. In the first place, this nation must be more careful than it was in 1919 and 1920 in throwing away the tools with which the war was won.​a In the second place, if the operations of naval aviation in peacetime are to equal in quality its work in World War II, naval aviation must remain a part of the framework of the Navy as a whole.

Thayer's Note:

a What the tools were, and how the United States threw them away at the Washington Naval Conference, from a combination of misguided idealism and governmental infighting, is detailed in Gerald E. Wheeler's book, Prelude to Pearl Harbor. It makes instructive if depressing reading.

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Page updated: 12 Dec 20