Our Air Power


By GENERAL H. H. ARNOLD, Chief of the Army Air Forces

Delivered before the American Arbitration Association, at a dinner in honor of Mr. Charles E. Wilson of the War Production Board, New York City, February 17, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 430-43.

DURING the past two years I have had many meetings with Charles E. Wilson. We have sat across the conference table many times. However, if you asked me how good his golf game is, or what kind of a fisherman he is, I couldn't answer. We had little time for small talk. But if you asked me what he has done for the Army Air Forces, that is another story.

In December 1942, when Mr. Wilson became Chairman of the Aircraft Production Board, we had critical shortages in metals, in forgings and in fabricated parts. But soon the situation was on the mend. Instead of questioning our requirements, Mr. Wilson strove to increase supplies. Today, practically all of these shortages are over. At the same time we tackled the manpower problem. As plane production increased, the difficulties of hiring additional workers became more pronounced. Other industries needed men—and so did the fighting forces of the Army and Navy. There was no labor reserve to draw upon. The aviation manufacturers could hire some additional employees, but mainly they had to meet bigger production schedules with the labor immediately available.

By better distribution of labor, by cutting down on turnovers, by improving living conditions and by boosting morale, worker efficiency went up—and up. The output per aircraft employee gained 60 per cent during 1943. We would have needed 200,000 more people in the airframe factories alone, to equal the production gained through greater efficiency.

The members of the American Arbitration Association will be glad to know mat much of our plane production program has been carried on as a cooperative, share-and-share-alike enterprise, through the quick settlement of disputes. We have no time for argument: the war won't wait. We have made mistakes but we can all be proud of what has been accomplished in our air program, be it on the airplane side or on the training side, be it in the air over the South Pacific Islands, or over the heart of Germany.

The United States is scheduled to build 110,000 aircraft in 1944. However, mere numbers do not make an air force, nor do they give the full production story. The total weight of all airplanes produced means much more. In 1944 the poundage of planes produced will be 60 per cent above the poundage of planes produced in 1943.

This gain will come from both the increase in the number planes and the increase in the average weight per plane. We are building a much larger proportion of heavy bombers. The increase in weight of the average airplane reflects its continued development as a fighting machine. For example, fighter weighs about 7000 pounds-in the single-engine type—or 12,000 pounds in the two-engine type. The B-17 used to weigh twenty tons; today, it weighs nearly thirty tons. The B-29 weighs far more than that, and the pay-off comes with the far bigger load of bombs dropped on Germany and Japan.

Perhaps you saw a picture in the newspapers some time ago—a picture of the Flying Fortress called All American. A German fighter, running wild with a dead pilot at the controls almost cut this ship in two. Yet it returned to its base in North Africa. Another Flying Fort named Little Eva reached home with her nose smashed in, and here is a story that did not appear in the newspapers. AAF mechanics joined the two planes together. It was a painstaking and laborious job. Yet, today at its base you can see this rebuilt plane. It has been rechristened and is now called All American Little Eva. It takes off with our other Fortresses day after day to drop tons of bombs on German targets.

Most members of this audience are engaged in war production, and yet I usually find that few of my listeners are aware of the true range and magnitude of the air effort.

The Army Air Forces have written or initiated contracts totalling 52 billion dollars. Individual companies may have as much as two, three or four billion in orders. And yet out of our 11,000 major contractors nine out of ten had no previous aviation manufacturing experience. In many cases we had to teach them, and they taught their workers. A cash register company now makes computing gunsights. A manufacturer of silk ties weaves parachute cloth. A corset company makes the parachutes. So it goes.

Our labor situation was and still is formidable. Nine out of ten aviation workers had no aircraft employment before war began in Europe. Four out of ten of our employees are women, most of whom had to be trained, starting from scratch. With the help of government agencies, whole communities were built for workers to live in.

These things had to be done to get out the planes.

I would like to make it clear that we still do not have all the planes we need overseas, but we are growing to our full strength. This year will be a decisive year; we must produce weapons at an ever-increasing rate to replace those we will lose in combat against Germany and Japan. Don't let anyone get the idea that I think we have an easy time ahead. Such is far from my thoughts. Both the Japs and the Germans are tough antagonists, and we are going to have losses, but that will not stop us.

For the invasion of Europe we will need—and we will have—the greatest aerial umbrella ever assembled in any war. Germany will shoot the works. Germany will throw up every plane she has to stop us, but it won't do any good.

We can be confident of the outcome of this mass assault on the European fortress. The bombers we are sending over Germany in ever-increasing numbers are aerial invasions which fight through the German anti-aircraft fire and clear a path through her fighters. We are making it more difficult each day for Germany to wage war.

Our increasing airplane production has a direct bearing on combat operations. Our aerial offensive is increasing, correspondingly, in 1944. We must accustom ourselves to thinking in larger terms than ever before.

During 1943 we dropped nineteen times as much bomb tonnage as in 1942. Until fairly recently, many AAF achievements were brought about by comparatively limited numbers of men. It is all the more to their credit. But as we approach our contemplated strength in personnel and planes, we can look for larger bomber formations and more missions in all theaters of war.

We have the combat crews to to the job.

We have been building up an air force in Great Britain capable of performing the task assigned to it. When our bombing operations first started, about 1 1/2 years ago, the weather was fine and precision bombing easily carried out. The Germans doubted our ability to hit specific buildings but it did not take long for them to realize their error. It has been said that our bombers can drop a bomb in a hat from 20,000 feet—perhaps we can't do that, literally, but we can hit and destroy individual factory buildings. When this effectiveness was realized, the German airmen tried their best to stop us. They used their fighters, armed with cannon—rockets—everything else they could think of. They were instructed in orders to turn our bomber formations back; the fighter pilots were threatened with service with ground troops facing the Russians, a terrible assignment for German airmen. But these harsh measures had little effect.

The Germans have been licking their wounds ever since. When winter came, the weather—said to be the worst in many years—hampered us. Overcast skies were the rule. We had to bomb in spite of clouds, when we couldn't see the targets. It sounds impossible, but it wasn't. Today, and for the past several weeks, our bombers have flown to their destinations—dropped the bombs and returned to their bases without ever seeing the target. In spite of the bad weather, the icing conditions, and our not seeing the target—we are hitting our objectives with an accuracy which is giving the Germans much concern, and rightly so. Frequently they are unable to get their fighters up through the overcast to meet us, and yet if we are not stopped complete destruction of German industries may result.

Another point—some people are prone to think of our air operations as "raids" in which small groups of men participate. Such is far from the case. There are ten men in every heavy bomber—700 bombers means 7000 men. 600 medium bombers mean another 3000 or more men—and 1000 fighters brings the total above 10,000 men. Ten thousand men—carrying war to the heart of Germany—400 or more miles from our bases—creating within a couple of hours—destruction beyond the possibilities and capabilities of any other war weapon. Such operations are not small affairs. Each one is a mission of great military magnitude.

One of our objectives in the European theater is to make any invasion, any trans-channel operation, as economical as possible in manpower and materiel. We cut 500,000 barrels out of Germany's 1943 oil supply. We have drastically reduced the enemy's production of anti-friction bearings, rubber and aluminum. Our bombing missions have tied up a million and a half Germans in anti-aircraft and other defense work.

By our systematic bombing of German aircraft factories, we have wrought damage that prevented the German Air Force from reaching, by many hundred planes, her planned strength. We have relieved pressure against the Soviet Union and against Allied forces in the Mediterranean by forcing Hitler to concentrate at least half of his single-engine fighters in western Europe. Thus, the Allied Air Forces in the Mediterranean theater and on the Russian front have little German Air Force opposition. Thus will our bombing effort and any trans-channel air operations cut down losses to our armies by seriously impairing the efficiency of the enemy war machine.

The coming months are likely to be a decisive period—a period which may determine the life or death of the Luftwaffe as a powerful air force. By attrition through bombardment, the time will come when German fighter reserves cannot meet Hitler's demands. At that time, what AAF and RAF bombers, in round-the-clock missions, can do to the German war machine by attacks from all sides, will need no elaboration by me.

In the Mediterranean, air operations are proceeding according to plan. Aerial blockade forced the Axis into early surrender in Tunisia. Troop-carrier and airborne troop operations helped the Allies advance in Sicily and Italy. At Salerno beach-head, airpower helped save the day. Fortunately, the weather was fairly good. More recently at the Anzio-Nettuno beach-head the weather turned bad. Our ground forces had to withstand heavier attacks than would have occurred if our airplanes had not been grounded. However, the moment the weather improved enough to fly, our planes took off.

There is one other phase of Mediterranean operations that I should like to mention. You read in the newspapers about enemy ships being sunk, but it is difficult to realize how this tonnage mounts up. Three-quarters of a million tons of enemy ships have been sunk or damaged during the past thirteen months. On the other hand we have flown air cover for our own shipping to assure a continuous flow of troops and supplies to the front. Our ships, with the exception of relatively small losses, arrive at their destinations intact.

The Pacific theater is in many ways the toughest job we have. Obstacles that have to be overcome here—obstacles of distance, weather, and supply, jungles, mountains, swamps and fever—make our problems elsewhere seem small indeed.

From the start, when due to lack of strength we fought a holding war, we have changed to an offensive war, seeking out the Japanese, cutting off their supply lines. We are working with the Navy in amphibious operations. We have engaged in paratroop operations, in the destruction of Japanese aircraft and airfields by strafing and bombing. The technique of low-flying aircraft swooping down on Jap aircraft and destroying them in their revetments, with parachute fragmentation bombs, is one of the outstanding developments of the war. We are protecting our convoys with aerial umbrellas, and we are sinking so much Jap shipping that they have had to abandon one outpost after another, submit to costly defeat and occupation of their bases.

Yes, we must all think in larger terms of all phases of the air war.

Consider air transport, A year ago our Air Transport Command routes totalled 60,000 miles. Today they total 110,000 miles, and the figure is going up.

Consider air evacuation. Some 200,000 sick, injured and wounded men in all branches of service have been flown from the combat zones, and this figure, too, is also increasing.

Consider aircraft performance. Our airplanes of this year and next are improving in range, firepower, speed and bomb-loads. We recently announced that we had jet propulsion planes. We have other ships, equally startling.

Since Pearl Harbor the Army Air Forces have been in continuous struggle with the enemy. Our activity has increased in intensity and volume until the present, when we are now engaged in decisive air offensives.

With limited numbers of men we have already destroyed the myth of the German superman. We have punctured the "invincible" Zero bubble, run the Germans out of Africa and southern Italy, and we have pierced the outer defense of Japan.

Now, we are growing to our full strength, but we haven't Reached it yet. Thanks to the men and women who produce first-class airplanes, and thanks to the men who service and fly them, we can prosecute these great air offensives with resolution—and confidence in our ultimate success.