Lineage Of The United States Air Force
What is now the United States Air Force (USAF) was formerly a part of the U.S. Army, namely the United States Army Air Corps or USAAC. It was established under this name by an act of Congress on July 2, 1926. The lineage of the United States Air Force is that it was started in 1907 as the Aeronautical Section of the Signal Corps, it then became the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps from August 1, 1907 to July 18, 1914. It was the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps from July 18, 1914 to May 20, 1918, the Division of Military Aeronautics from May 20, 1918 to May 24, 1918, and the U.S. Army Air Service from May 24, 1918 to July 2, 1926. The U.S. Army Air Corps lasted from July 2, 1926 to June 20, 1941.
On August 1, 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed an Aeronautical Division. This action came only three-and-a-half years after the Wright brothers flew the world's first powered airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. At first, however, the Aeronautical Division was mainly interested in balloons and dirigibles instead of heavier-than-air flying machines. The Army had already used manned balloons for aerial observation during the Civil War and Spanish-American War in the 19th Century. The Aeronautical Division accepted delivery of its first airplane from the Wright brothers in 1909.
On July 18, 1914, as a result of congressional legislation, the Army established the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps to improve its fledgling flying capabilities. Just a few weeks later, Europe plunged into World War I. The Central Powers (primarily Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire) fought the Allied Powers (led by Britain, France, Italy and Russia). By April 1917, when the United States entered the war on the side of the Allied Powers, each of the major combatants had developed aircraft industries far superior to those of the United States.
Despite optimistic plans and ample funding, the United States proved unable to catch up to the European nations in aviation technology. Responding to criticism of the American aircraft effort, President Woodrow Wilson created the Army Air Service and placed it directly under the War Department on May 24, 1918. By the time of the armistice in November 1918, the Air Service had grown to more than 19,000 officers and 178,000 enlisted men while American industry had turned out 11,754 aircraft (mostly trainers like the JN-4 Jenny). The Air Service soon lost most of these people and planes in a rapid demobilization right after the war.
Although failing to deploy competitive combat aircraft, the United States had sent many fine Airmen to Europe. Flying mostly French-built planes, they distinguished themselves both in Allied units and as part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) led by Gen. John J. Pershing. By the time Germany surrendered, Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell had honed many of the AEF's aero squadrons and groups into a formidable striking force. While the outcome of the Great War was decided primarily by horrible attrition on the ground and a strangling maritime blockade of Germany, air power had shown its potential for autonomous offensive operations as well as providing valuable support to surface forces. The United Kingdom had recognized the importance of air power by creating the Royal Air Force, independent of the British Army and Royal Navy, in April 1918.
Notwithstanding a bitter struggle by visionaries such as Billy Mitchell, the United States did not follow the British lead and create a separate air force. The Army Reorganization Act of 1920 made the Air Service a combat arm of the Army, and the Air Corps Act of 1926 changed its name to the Air Corps on July 2 of that year. On March 1, 1935, General Headquarters Air Force (GHQ AF) assumed command of U.S.-based Air Corps tactical units, which previously had been parceled out to regional Army corps commands. Yet even after Germany, Japan and Italy began to build up their armed forces, the Air Corps (as well as the rest of the Army) remained a small, peacetime establishment with only limited funds for growth or modernization.
After September 1939, when Adolf Hitler launched World War II by invading Poland, the Air Corps began a steady growth from 26,000 personnel and fewer than 2,000 planes. On June 20, 1941, the Department of War created the Army Air Forces (AAF) as its aviation element and shortly thereafter made it coequal to the Army Ground Forces. The Air Corps remained as one of the Army's combat arms, like the infantry.
Expansion of the AAF accelerated after the surprise Japanese attack on Hawaii in December 1941 propelled the United States into the war. Under the leadership of Gen. Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, the Army Air Forces oversaw mobilization of the nation's aviation industry and deployment of the largest air armada of all time. The AAF's inventory encompassed a wide range of training, transport, pursuit, attack, reconnaissance and bomber aircraft. These included the ubiquitous C-47 Skytrain, the splendid P-51 Mustang, the rugged B-17 Flying Fortress and the awesome B-29 Superfortress. Drawing upon American industrial prowess and human resources, the AAF reached a peak strength of 80,000 aircraft and 2.4 million personnel organized into major commands, numbered air forces, air divisions, groups and squadrons.
By the last year of the war, the quantity and quality of AAF aircraft and Airmen dominated the skies over both Germany and Japan, all but paralyzing their war economies. Air power did not win the war by itself but did make possible the Allies' total victory over the Axis powers, punctuated in August 1945 when two B-29s dropped atomic bombs on Japan.
Much as it did a quarter century before, the United States immediately demobilized its armed forces after World War II. Based on the AAF's wartime achievements and future potential, however, the U.S. Air Force won its independence as a full partner with the Army and the Navy on September 18, 1947.
During World War II its role grew greatly; the Air Corps eventually became the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) on June 20, 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor. The United States Army Air Forces, or USAAF lasted from 20 June 1941 to 18 September 1947. The Air Corps became a subordinate element of the Army Air Forces on June 20, 1941, and it continued to exist as a combat arm of the Army (similar to Infantry) until disestablished by Congress with the creation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
The USAAC was a corps-level, subsidiary organization within the U.S. Army, and had little autonomy. Due to the efforts of several key USAAC officers and the changing political times, the Air Corps obtained greater organizational independence in 1941. Renamed and considered a separate arm of the Army, the new USAAF had an equal "voice" with the Army and Navy.
The Lassiter Board, a group of General Staff officers, recommended to the Secretary of War in 1923 that a force of bombardment and pursuit units be created to carry out independent missions under the command of an Army general headquarters in time of war. The Lampert Committee of the House of Representatives went far beyond this modest proposal in its report to the House in December 1925. After eleven months of extensive hearings, the committee proposed a unified air force independent of the Army and Navy, plus a department of defense to coordinate the three armed services.
Another board, headed by Dwight D. Morrow, had already reached an opposite conclusion in only two and one-half months. Appointed in September 1925 by President Coolidge to study the "best means of developing and applying aircraft in national defense," the Morrow Board issued its report two weeks before the Lampert Committee's. It rejected the idea of a department of defense and a separate department of air, but it recommended that the air arm be renamed the Air Corps to allow it more prestige, that it be given special representation on the General Staff, and that an Assistant Secretary of War for air affairs be appointed.
Congress accepted the Morrow Board proposal, and the Air Corps Act was enacted on 2 July 1926. The legislation changed the name of the Air Service to the Air Corps, "thereby strengthening the conception of military aviation as an offensive, striking arm rather than an auxiliary service." The act created an additional Assistant Secretary of War to help foster military aeronautics, and it established an air section in each division of the General Staff for a period of three years. Other provisions required that all flying units be commanded by rated personnel and that flight pay be continued. Two additional brigadier generals would serve as assistant chiefs of the Air Corps. The position of the air arm within the Department of War remained essentially the same as before, and once more the hopes of air force officers had to be deferred. Even the new position of Assistant Secretary of War for Air, held by F. Trubee Davison from 1926 to 1932, did not help very much.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of the act for the Air Corps was the authorization to carry out a five-year expansion program. However, the lack of funding caused the beginning of the five-year expansion program to be delayed until 1 July 1927. The goal eventually adopted was 1,800 airplanes with 1,650 officers and 15,000 enlisted men, to be reached in regular increments over a five-year period. But even this modest increase never came about as planned because adequate funds were never appropriated in the budget.
The emergence of the heavy bomber in 1935 coincided with the advent of the General Headquarters (GHQ) Air Force. The circumstances leading up to the two events were closely related and actually influenced each other. The idea of an "air force," separate from the support aviation assigned to the Army units, had been urged by Major General Mason Patrick and his successor, Major General James Fechet, Chief of the Air Corps from 1927 to 1931. But the Army General Staff had not been able to see what mission the air arm could have apart from army support. Nor did it agree that aviation should be concentrated under a single air command for use in the field. However, the growing importance of coastal defense provided the Air Corps with a mission that could be performed independently of the ground armies, thus helping pave the way for the GHQ Air Force.
In October 1933, a War Department board headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Hugh A. Drum, reviewed the Air Corps proposal and endorsed the idea of a GHQ Air Force, although it did not accept the emphasis placed on air power by the Air Corps. The Air Corps had recommended a GHQ Air Force comprised of bombardment, attack, and pursuit planes under its control to provide coastal defense. The Drum Board suggested that the force be used for tactical and strategic operations, including attacks on major installations in enemy territory.
The War Department appointed former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to head a board to study operations of the Air Corps and what its proper relation to civil aviation should be. In July 1934 the board released its findings. It rejected the proposal for an independent air force and a unified defense department. It denied the claims made by Air Corps officers and their adherents and clearly expressed its attitude: "Independent air missions have little effect upon the issue of battle and none upon the final outcome of war." The Baker Board did recommend creation of a GHQ Air Force made up of air combat units capable of operating either independently or in cooperation with ground forces.
On the last day of 1934, the War Department ordered the creation of the GHQ Air Force as of 31 March 1935. The new command went to Brigadier General Frank M. Andrews, a member of the General Staff and one of the ablest officers in the Air Corps. From his headquarters at Langley Field, Virginia, Andrews concentrated tactical units under three wings, at Langley, Barksdale (La.), and March (Calif.) Fields.
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