Our Planes and Their Record


By HONORABLE JOHN J. McCLOY, Assistant Secretary of War

Delivered at Encampment Veterans of Foreign Wars, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 2, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 758-761.

A FEW days ago shortly after I had heard reports of General Eaker's raid on Rouen a man from the Navy came in with further word from the fighting in the Solomons. Americans were fighting hard and successfully in sectors over ten thousand miles apart. Major General A. D. Surles then came in with an invitation to speak to this encampment of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I don't enjoy speeches, generally, and I don't make many of them. But the mention of an encampment of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at that particular juncture was appealing.

You have fought in many of the places in which our soldiers are now fighting. You have been in China, in Cuba, in the Philippines, and larger numbers of you have fought in France. You are veterans of those places, just as the Americans fighting there now and elsewhere will shortly be. Indeed, I am told that some men who have fought overseas in this war are already in your ranks. And so when I speak to you, I feel in a sense that I am speaking to those who are now fighting in foreign lands because I am talking to those who have followed the paths that they are now on.

You, however, were in these foreign lands over a period of many years, and the wars which you represent were not one war, but a series of them, unrelated to each other. We never had to face the problem of supplying troops in theBoxer Rebellion at the same time that we had to send men and supplies to Cuba or Pago Pago or France. We could concentrate on one zone, and we did pretty well in spite or lack of preparation. Today we must concentrate on many zones. At the same moment we must send equipment and munitions to men in the Arctic and to men in the tropics. At the same time we must train thousands—millions—of men to fight in highly civilized and concentrated countries as well as in the jungle and the desert. We have just so many ships and just so many men and just so much equipment. Most strategists seem to agree on the principle of concentration of force, but to concentrate that force it becomes necessary to hold in one place and strike in another The holding forces can consume many men and supplies and one section if not firmly held can readily pass from a minor theatre into a major one overnight. We have to decide, therefore, what share of each is to go where—with the risk of underdoing or overdoing it at all fronts or at some fronts. The decisions are complex and to carry them out effectively requires carefully thought out plans. The only true standards are those applied in actual warfare and in a sense we can be certain of nothing until those standards are applied. We can with some reason, however, feel relatively secure on some things. Our training is good; most of you have

seen our camps or have heard about them directly from your sons. The system was well designed and it has paid dividends in well-knit maneuvers and exercises. For many, the basic training is over. This summer for the more experienced divisions the training has been and is going to be largely combat training—night fighting and reconnaissance, combat exercises with live ammunition and the vitally important air-ground coordination. Of this we can be absolutely sure—the extent and character of the training are far beyond anything you had in preparation for your wars. Our supply system, so far as it has been tested, has shown itself to be good. And our equipment is excellent. Starting from worse than scratch, with an industry that knew next to nothing of the manufacture of munitions, we have produced planes, tanks and guns which as to quality and quantity we have reason to be very proud. Our tanks have been tested in battle and they are good, and so have our planes.

It seems to be a concomitant of any war fought by a democracy that there be a flow of criticism directed at some phase of the war effort. One of the choice points of attack is always the adequacy of the soldier's equipment. Nothing is so apt to gain attention, nothing is so apt to stir comment and resentment, as the charge that our men are being sacrificed through inferior weapons, food, or means of transport due to the stupidity of the higher ups. If the touch of scandal can be added, the matter becomes a paradise for commentators. Too frequently people who are in a position to influence opinion are tempted to follow that line without taking the time to get at the facts or to examine it objectively before they initiate such comment or pass it on.

On the other hand, sometimes I think those whose work is attacked, or who think their work is attacked, are much too prone to spring to a resentful defense,—emphasizing the good points and sliding over the really weak ones. When both sides are thus guilty we reach a demoralizing level of discussion and no one gains but the enemy.

Today this country is alive as it has never been in our history to the significance of air power. Everywhere planes and the power of planes, are the subject of discussion, and in spite of the fact that our planes are fighting effectively all over the world, the cry has gone up through the land that our air program is no good. Every charge that our fighters can't fight and our bombers can't bomb is news. If I get away from Washington, or even in Washington, friends come up to me and say, "what is this I hear about our planes not being any good?"

I am going to do my level best to be objective about this matter and tell you gentlemen, who deserve to know, what I believe are the facts.

All of our planes are not, in each category, the best planes in the world. One day we may reach that desirable position but no one can today maintain that only we have the best. In some respects, however, we do have the best but whether the line as a whole is going to prove out in combat, only prolonged combat experience will tell.

I am going to start in by giving our combat experience thus far in an endeavor to see what light it sheds on the question. Admittedly, it is not in itself the answer for our experience is too short and the trend of the war may develop in new directions which we have not foreseen, but it is of vital interest to know really what our planes have shown since the war began.

At the beginning of the war, largely because of the surprise element and because we had not fully learned the principles of protection of planes on the ground, We lost heavily in planes destroyed at the airdromes. Today one hears less and less of planes so lost and we can now fairlycompare our losses with those of the enemy. The figures I give you are checked figures. There is no propaganda element about them. They are the actual box scores of the contests we have had, they have been subjected to the very stringent checks which the Air Forces apply before reporting and they are the figures on which our staffs act and plan.

The criticism of our planes is levelled mainly against our fighter planes and our heavy bombers. I think everyone concedes that in the medium bomber field we are in a class by ourselves. At least, I have heard nothing but praise of our medium bombers and I have heard no one suggest there were any better ones. As you know, it was a flight of our medium bombers that flew over Tokio.

In the war with Japan, not including planes lost on the ground or by anti-aircraft, the total score from February 1, 1942 to August 30, 1942 (the period over which we have accurate reports) is Japanese planes destroyed by the Army in the air, 234; American Army planes lost, 109. That does not include damaged planes or the AVG record of General Chennault, which alone is: Jap planes destroyed, 218, against 84 AVG's lost. These records are due mainly to the performance of P-40's. The figures I have quoted do not include the records of American-made planes fighting in other armies, such as the Russian and British.

During the month of August the P-39 came into action in the Southwest Pacific area. Of these, we lost 4, and the Japs lost 18 of their planes which engaged the 39's. We have no accounts yet of our fighters in this area, such as the P-38's or the P-47's, but before very much longer we should be hearing from them.

To show that we are not operating on a descending curve, the figures for the last week in August for all Army planes in all theaters are 41 enemy planes destroyed, 26 probably destroyed, and 6 damaged—for a total of 73 casualties as against 1 American plane destroyed, 3 missing, 3 damaged— for a total of 7 casualties.

The Zero can climb faster and maneuver better than our planes, but it is frailer, is unarmored, or is lightly armored, and does not have leak-proof tanks. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The box score tells the story as does the fact that our pilots in spite of some very just criticisms of the P-40's, I am told by all who return from the Southwest Pacific, would never think of swapping a P-40, with its armor and gas tank protection, for the Jap Zero. The truth is that the P-40 in its heavier-powered and armed models is a formidable fighter at lower altitudes. A more recent fighter, the P-51, is merely another development of the P-40. Some of these are already fighting with the British and you will begin to hear more and more of the 51—or the Mustang, as the British call it. It is a beautiful plane and performed brilliantly over Dieppe the other day. The 38's and 47's are high altitude, quick climbing planes, the latter only recently in solid production; the former has already been in action in Alaska to a limited extent and soon will be in action in other quarters.

Much was made the other day of the fact that Spitfires had accompanied our bombers on their raids over France. Our pilots were reported to have said that the Spitfire was a better plane for the job than our own fighters, and here was the proof of it. Perhaps the new Spitfire will prove itself better in combat than anything we can produce. If so, more power to the British. The fact is, however, that the Spitfires were used to protect our bombers only because we had made a deal with England whereby we would get our bombers into action faster by using their excellent fighters as support pending the arrival of our own. When oursarrive and are properly coordinated with the bomber flights we know we shall be able to make a much deeper sweep into the Continent with our fighter protection than the Spitfire can afford us. Our fighter will go just as high and we shall see how well it fights at the high altitudes. In tests against captured enemy planes it has performed better at 25,000 feet and over than anything we have so far met on the European front. Our high altitude fighter, and I am speaking particularly of the 2-engined P-38 now, will have at least as great firepower as the Spitfire, will climb and perform as high and it will for all practicable purposes go wherever the bomber goes, which the Spitfire having a very limited range and time in the air, cannot do. The P-47 which is now in production, will, we think, also out-perform and outfight any fighter that we know about at any altitude.

Just before I came out here I attended a meeting at which reports on the very recent fighting in the Solomons and Milne Bay were given. I cannot relate the most recent victories to a particular type of plane; that is, whether the successes were achieved by P-40's or P-39's or to what extent the carrier-based planes of the Navy were involved, but if we keep it up against the Japs at the rate we are going with our present equipment we should feel much encouraged about what we can do to them with the new planes that are shortly to be in action.

There has also been some publicity to indicate that our heavy bombers are not well suited for serious work. The criticism here centers around the B-17, the Flying Fortress. In spite of the known perversity of some critics, it is difficult to see how they can pick out that plane, in the light of our experience.

North of the Solomons several B-17's made contact with a portion of the Jap Fleet on August 24. Before the show was over they had placed four bombs on one large Jap carrier, five bombs on another believed to be a carrier or converted carrier and broke a large destroyer or light cruiser right in the middle so that it sank. They accomplished their mission and were attacked by Zeros coming back. They knocked down 5 of them and probably two others. Two of our bombers were damaged by gunfire but they were not knocked down. Our planes are hit frequently but they continue to function and they get home in shape to carry on again. I have heard no serious criticism of the B-24's, the other four-motored plane which we are using in quantity. The chief accomplishments of the B-24 have been thus far in the Middle East.

The B-17 was designed over 8 years ago,—with its present improvements it has already made a remarkable record. It is a great aeronautical achievement and we can be proud of it. Here is further record of some of its more recent missions:

On July 31, one B-17 flew over Wake Island on a photographic mission. It was attacked by 6 Zeros and all 6 were destroyed, and the B-17 got home with no casualties.

On August 21, nine B-17's started for a bombing mission over the Continent. On their way back they were intercepted by FW 190's and ME 109's off the Dutch Coast. For twenty-three minutes 25 German fighters attacked these bombers. Although unescorted by any fighter planes, we shot down at least two 190's probably 4 more, and damaged 6 others, including two 109's. And all our bombers came back home with the co-pilot of one plane killed and two of the engines of the same plane knocked out. Our B-17's have been in eight important daylight missions on the Continent and thus far all planes have come back.

Just as many of you know that you can't get a satisfactoryall-round golf club or fishing rod, so you cannot get an all-round airplane; at least, you have difficulty in getting such a thing in bombers.

The English bombers generally fly at somewhat lower speeds, are considerably less heavily armed but carry a substantially greater bomb load. They fly, in the main, at night. If we can fly in the daytime with faster, longer-range planes and lighter loads, we may soon start round the clock bombing which may give even the German people something to think about when they recall Goering's promise that hostile bombers could not operate over German soil.

There is another concomitant of a democracy at war which I wish we could avert and that is the habit of accepting each new and relatively painless method of procedure as the short cut to victory. It is natural, I suppose, to long for a cure-all to carry us to victory without the loss of men or relatively few men. It is not essential, perhaps, that we lose great bodies of men such as the Russians have lost in order to win the war but the palatable thought that by some shortcut method we are certain to win it if only the brass hats in Washington would not interfere is a very prevalent one. It will take more than cargo planes or even bombers to win this war. The great achievements of this war to date have been accomplished not through air power alone but through men, as of old, moving over the ground this time with planes and tanks helping them along. The great achievements have not been the bombing of London, Tokio or Berlin, but the march through France and the Low Countries, the march down the Malay Peninsula and across the grain fields of the Ukraine and through the Balkans. Stalingrad is today almost knocked out of existence by bombs but the strategic place on the map still holds out and so does Moscow because determined men still defend these places. Murmansk and Malta are bombed and bombed and still ships painfully work their way in. Rommel seems to be able to achieve remarkable success even though air superiority is with his enemies. We would be most negligent if we did not have a good fling at bringing Germany to her knees by the concentrated use of air power and we intend to give it a full test but we must also be prepared to go out, fight and occupy. Already we have outside the United States over a half million men and like the Bon Homme Richard we have not yet begun to fight. Some of us may cherish the thought that all we need to do is make many airplanes at very good wages and send them abroad with the loss of a relatively few courageous young men, preferably someone else's young man to carry devastation to Japan and Germany but it is not apt to be so simple, or undisturbing to our present pursuits.

One word more and then I am done. I'm not here to defend all that your wartime leaders have done in preparing this nation for war. Mistakes have been made, some in our air program, good as it is. To state a few—we were slow in building up a good dive-bomber or in realizing its possibilities although we were the first to show its use. We should have had more and better planes to sling torpedoes and we should have had more and better designed torpedoed for this type of work. As I look back on it, good as it is, our training could have been improved and made more varied. Many other things could have been done or started earlier than they were but good men make mistakes and frequently because of their mistakes they become more useful men. Your present Armed Forces are made up of human beings keenly aware of their terrific responsibilities—each mistake they make is not a scandal even though in wartime we must frequently pay dearly for it.

You men are veterans and as such you are looked up to in your communities. As veterans on every field have alwaysdone, you are expected to give balance and steadiness to the line. Civil populations will in many places be in greater danger than will many of our troops in the field. Never before have our enemies sought so vigorously to destroy the strength and determination of the people at home, our confidence in ourselves and our willingness, if need be, to face all that the brave people of England and Russia have already endured.

We can be certain there are elements here stimulatedfrom abroad who wish to shake our confidence and determination. We cannot afford to make it easier for our enemies to operate by following headlong every suggestion that our weapons are faulty or that our plans overlook the easy way out. Your job as veterans is to give balance to the judgments of our communities and if you do that you will be again serving your country well. It is a less active role perhaps than you once played but it can help immeasurably in winning the war.