Henry H. Arnold

Henry H. Arnold

Henry Hartley Arnold, the son of a doctor, was born in Gladwyne, United States, on 25th June, 1886. He attended the West Point Military Academy and graduated in 1907 (66/111) and joined the United States Army.

Arnold took an early interest in flying and became the US Army's first pilot in 1911 and helped establish the Signal Corp's aviation school at College Park, Maryland. During this period Arnold set an altitude record of 6,540 feet.

Transfered to an administration post in Washington Arnold missed much of the early development in combat flying that took place during the First World War.

After the war Arnold joined William Mitchell in his campaign for more military air power. In 1936 Arnold was promoted to assistant chief of the Air Corps and took the top job when Major General Oscar Westover was killed in a crash on 29th September 1938. He also joined with Ira Eaker to write three books on flying, This Flying Game (1936), Winged Victory (1941) and Army Flyer (1942).

In 1940 Henry Stimson, the US Secretary of War, and General George Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the US Army, decided to reorganize the air force. The Air Corps that had been responsible for training and procurement, and the Air Force Combat Command, were merged to become the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). Arnold was appointed as commander of the USAAF.

In 1941 the USAAF had 25,000 personnel and about 4,000 aircraft. This included the fighters, Seversky P-35 and Curtis P-36, and the bombers, Lockhead Hudson, Douglas SBD-3 and the B-25A Mitchell.

This USAAF suffered badly during the Japanese Air Force attack on Pearl Harbor on 7th December, 1941. A total of 178 aircraft were destroyed on the ground and 159 were damaged. An estimated 2,403 men were killed and a further 1,778 were injured.

After the United States entered the Second World War aircraft production rose dramatically. In 1942 10,769 fighters and 12,627 bombers were built. The following year this was increased to 23,988 fighters and 29,355 bombers. The peak was reached in 1944 with 38,873 fighters and 35,003 bombers being built.

This included new fighters such as the P-51 Mustang, the Grumman Hellcat, the Chance-Vought Corsair and the Republic Thunderbolt. Dramatic improvements also took place in the production of US bombers such as the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B24 Liberator and the B-29 Stratafortress.

Arnold was a strong supporter of area bombing (known in Germany as terror bombing) where entire cities and towns were targeted. The US 8th Air Force, based in southern England, played an important role in this strategic bombing offensive.

In March 1942, Arnold was promoted to Commanding General. He was also a member of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff. In December 1944 Arnold was promoted which placed him fourth in ranking behind George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After the war Arnold suffered a heart-attack and was succeeded by Carl Spaatz. Henry Hartley Arnold died on 15th January, 1950, in Sonoma, California.

Primary Sources

(1) William Leahy, chief of staff to the commander in chief of the United States, wrote about Henry Arnold in his autobiography, I Was There (1950)

Regular meetings of the Joint Chiefs took place on Wednesdays, beginning with luncheon. Special sessions were held at any time, often on Sundays or even late at night. No one other than the Chiefs of Staff was present at the meetings, except that when an important theatre commander was in Washington he would usually be asked to discuss with us the situation and problems in his area. From time to time representatives of our allies - China, Australia, the Netherlands and the exiled Poles, for example-would ask to be allowed to present their case to the Joint Chiefs. On occasions, these requests were granted.

Throughout the war, the four of us - Marshall, King, Arnold, and myself - worked in the closest possible harmony. In the post-war period, General Marshall and I disagreed sharply on some aspects of our foreign political policy. However, as a soldier, he was in my opinion one of the best, and his drive, courage, and imagination transformed America's great citizen army into the most magnificent fighting force ever assembled.

In numbers of men and logistic requirements, his army operations were by far the largest. This meant that more time of the Joint Chiefs was spent on his problems than on any others - and he invariably presented them with skill and clarity.