United States Army Air Forces (USAAF)

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). General Henry 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.

In February 1942, Air Marshall Arthur Harris, the new head of RAF Bomber Command, decided to adopt the Nazi policy of area bombing (known in England 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.

Whereas the Royal Air Force bombed German cities at night the USAAF under the command of General Carl Spaatz used its B-17 Flying Fortress and B24 Liberator aircraft for precision daylight operations. In August 1943 repeated incendiary attacks on Hamburg caused a firestorm and 50,000 German civilians were killed.

In early 1944 the USAAF introduced the long-range Mustang P-51B fighter. This new aircraft could escort bombers all the way to targets deep inside Nazi Germany. It was an outstanding combat plane and inflicted considerable damage on the Luftwaffe.

Another great success was the Vought Corsair. In the Pacific War it downed 2,149 enemy aircraft during 64,051 missions. This kill ratio is the greatest recorded in the history of air warfare.

Despite objections from Arthur Harris and Carl Spaatz, the bombing campaign changed during the summer of 1944. As part of Operation Overlord, the task of the RAF and the USAAF was to destroy German communications and supply lines in Europe. The destruction of German oil production was also made a priority target and by September, 1944, the Luftwaffe's fuel supply had been reduced to 10,000 tons of octane out of a monthly requirement of 160,000 tons.

By the end of 1944 the Allies had obtained complete air supremacy over Germany and could destroy targets at will. On 3rd February, 1,000 bombers of the USAAF killed an estimated 25,000 people in Berlin.

Arthur Harris now devised Operation Thunderclap, an air raid that would finally break the morale of the German people. To enable maximum impact to take place Harris chose Dresden as his target. This medieval city had not been attacked during the war and was virtually undefended by anti-aircraft guns. On 13th February 1945, 773 Avro Lancaster bombers attacked Dresden. During the next two days the USAAF sent 527 heavy bombers to follow up the RAF attack. The resulting firestorm killed around 135,000 people.

Tokyo , the capital of Japan was a major target of the USAF during the Second World War. The first raids began in late 1944 when the new B-29 Stratafortress heavy bombers began operating from bases in the Mariana Islands.

After the US Army captured Iwo Jima the USAF was able to use the island to increase its bombing attacks on Japan. The large number of Japanese buildings made of wood made it easy for the bombers to create firestorms. On the 9th and 10th March 1945, a raid on Tokyo devastated the city. This was followed by attacks on Nagoya, Kobe, Oska and Yokohama. An estimated 260,000 were killed and 9.2 million left homeless.

By the summer of 1945 the USAAF was ready to mount its final strategic bombing campaign. On 6th August 1945, a B-29 Stratafortress bomber dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. Japan continued to fight and a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. On 10th August the Japanese surrendered. The Second World War was over.

The peak wartime strength of the USAAF was 75,000 aircraft and 2,411,294 personnel. The total wartime casualties amounted to 115,382. This included the deaths of 52,173 pilots and aircrew.

Primary Sources

(1) William Mitchell, Military Aviation and National Defense, Aviation Magazine (14th September, 1925)

I have been asked from all parts of the country to give my opinion about the reasons for the frightful aeronautical accidents and loss of life, equipment, and treasure that have occurred during the last few days. This statement, therefore, is given out publicly by me after mature deliberation and after a sufficient time has elapsed since the

terrible accidents to our naval aircraft, to find out something about what happened.

About what happened, my opinion is as follows: These accidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence, and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War departments. In their attempts to keep down the development of aviation into an independent department, separate from the Army and Navy and handled by aeronautical experts, and to maintain the existing systems, they have gone to the utmost lengths to carry their point. All aviation policies, schemes, and systems are dictated by the nonflying officers of the Army or Navy, who know practically nothing about it. The lives of the airmen are being used merely as pawns in their hands.

The great Congress of the United States, that makes laws for the organization and use of our air, land, and water forces, is treated by these two departments as if it were an organization created for their benefit, to which evidence of any kind, whether true or not, can be given without restraint.

Officers and agents sent by the War and Navy departments to Congress have almost always given incomplete, miserable, or false information about aeronautics, which either they knew to be false when given or was the result of such gross ignorance of the question that they should not be allowed to appear before a legislative body.

The airmen themselves are bluffed and bulldozed so that they dare not tell the truth in the majority of cases, knowing full well that if they do they will be deprived of their future career, sent to the most out-of-the-way places to prevent their telling the truth, and deprived of any chance for advancement unless they subscribe to the dictates of their nonflying, bureaucratic superiors. These either distort facts or openly tell falsehoods about aviation to the people and to the Congress.

Both the War and Navy departments maintain public propaganda agencies which are supposed to publish truthful facts about our national defense to the American people. These departments, remember, are supported by the taxes of the people and were created for the purpose of protecting us from invasion from abroad and from domestic disturbances from within. What has actually happened in these departments is that they have formed a sort of union to perpetuate their own existence, largely irrespective of the public welfare, and acting, as we might say about a commercial organization that has entire control of a public necessity, "as an illegal combination in restraint of trade."

The conduct of affairs by these two departments, as far as aviation is concerned, has been so disgusting in the last few years as to make any self-respecting person ashamed of the clothes he wears. Were it not for the patriotism of our air officers and their absolute confidence in the institutions of the United States, knowing that sooner or later existing conditions would be changed, I doubt if one of them would remain with the colors - certainly not if he were a real man.

The story is a long one, beginning practically with the inception of aviation in this country, so I shall mention only a few things in connection with the disgraceful performances which have occurred this summer.

Seeing no progress in our efforts, which had been continued for years, to convince or even seriously interest the governing bodies of the War and Navy departments to better our aeronautical condition, we were stirred to further action by the killing of Lieutenant Pierson -and Captain Skeel in the dilapidated racing airplanes during last October's air meet. This was caused by an arrangement between the Navy and Army that the Navy should take the races one year and the Army should take them the next year, thereby equalizing propaganda, not service. Instead of building new airplanes, our men were given the old crates to fly at those terrific speeds. Of course, they came to pieces, as they were designed for only one race two years before. This was done, in spite of the fact that we had sufficient money to build new ships according to entirely advanced patterns and new safety factors.

(2) In the summer of 1942 the Royal Air Force began dropping leaflets on Nazi Germany.

America has only just entered the fight in Europe. The squadrons, forerunners of a whole air fleet, have arrived in England from the United States of America. Do you realize what it will mean to you when they bomb Germany also? In one American factory alone, the new Ford plant at Willow Run, Detroit, they are already turning out one four-engined bomber able to carry four tons of bombs to any part of the Reich every two hours. There are scores of other such factories in the United States of America. You cannot bomb those factories. Your submarines cannot even try to prevent those Atlantic bombers from getting here; for they fly across the Atlantic.

Soon we shall be coming every night and every day, rain, blow or snow-we and the Americans. I have just spent eight months in America, so I know exactly what is coming. We are going to scourge the Third Reich from end to end, if you make it necessary for us to do so. You cannot stop it, and you know it.

You have no chance. You could not defeat us in 1940, when we were almost unarmed and stood alone. Your leaders were crazy to attack Russia as well as America (but then your leaders are crazy; the whole world thinks so except Italy).

How can you hope to win now that we are getting even stronger, having both Russia and America as allies, while you are getting more and more exhausted ?

Remember this: no matter how far your armies march they can never get to England. They could not get here when we were unarmed. Whatever their victories, you will still have to settle the air war with us and America. You can never win that. But we are doing so already now.

One final thing: it is up to you to end the war and the bombing. You can overthrow the Nazis and make peace. It is not true that we plan a peace of revenge. That is a German propaganda lie. But we shall certainly make it impossible for any German Government to start a total war again. And is not that as necessary in your own interests as in ours?

(3) Homer Bigart was one of eight war correspondents selected to fly with the United States Air Force. He reported on his first flying mission to Germany in the New York Tribune on 27th February 1943.

Our target was Wilhelmshaven. We struck at Fuehrer Adolf Hitler's North Sea base from the southwest after stoogeing around over a particularly hot comer of the Third Reich for what seemed like a small eternity.

I could not quite make out our specific target for obliteration, the submarine pens, because at our altitude the installations along the Jade Busen (Jade Bay) seemed no larger than a pinhead. But the street pattern of the Prussian town stood out in perfect visibility and so did the large suburb of Rustringen, down the bay.

Our Fortress, "Old Soljer", piloted by Captain Lewis Elton Lyie of Pine Bluff, Ark., led the squadron. I was up in the nose with the bombardier. Second Lieutenant Reinaldo J. Saiz of Segundo, Colo., and the navigator. First Lieutenant Otis Alien Hoyt of Dawn, Mo. We were lucky. Just before our arrival a heavy cloud formation cleared the northwest tip of Germany, drifting east and disclosing Wilhelmshaven to our bombsight.

And there was no Focke-Wulf on our tail when we started our bomb run. We had a good run and we were squarely over the town. I watched Saiz crouch lower over his sight. I heard him call "Bombs away."

Our salvo of 500-pounders plunged through the open bomb bay. From where I stood I could not see them land, but our ball turret gunner. Staff Sergeant Howard L. Nardine of Los Angeles, took a quick look back and saw fires and smoke. Frankly, I wasn't so much interested in the target. What intrigued me was the action upstairs. Flak was bursting all around the squadron just ahead and to our left. The shells were exploding in nasty black puffs, leaving curious smoke trails of hour-glass shape.

Enemy fighters were darting in all directions. "Hoss" Lyie said there must have been 35. They were out for stragglers and they let us alone. There was a flak burst about 200 yards off our starboard wing, but that was the nearest we came to the casualty list.

(4) The German newspaper, Voelkischer Beobachter, reported on the Allied mission on 26th February 1943 when Robert Post was killed.

An air battle of exceptional ferocity took place on the 26th of February in which fighters and marine flak artillery emerged victorious with seventeen enemy airplanes shot down.

Wilhelmshaven was the target of the attacking formation of U.S. bombers. The city on the Jade Bay, which has had to withstand several night attacks in the past two weeks, was now targeted for a daylight bombing attack in good visibility. But fighters and marine flak artillery destroyed the enemy's plan, knocked the opponent back, and gave the Americans an idea of the striking power of our aerial defense. The air battle that was fought here ranks as one of the biggest days in the German bay, where once thirty-six enemy bombers were shot down by the Schumacher squadron. This time it was seventeen "four-motors" that found their end in the course of less than an hour. Outside in the Watt Sea, in the swamps, in the meadows, and in the marshes - everywhere lay the rubble of destroyed enemy machines. Already they are covered by the incoming tide or buried deep in the swamp. A flyer reported that the sky at the time was so speckled with white parachutes that one might have assumed that the enemy was dropping paratroopers if it had not been for the firebrand of crashing machines which left no doubt as to their origin. Trucks with prisoners drove quickly through the streets. Out of all regions, captured Americans were rounded up by the police, civil authorities, and military installations.

While enemy planes were hunted and shot down outside the approach to the city, on the coast, and above the Watt Sea and the Ems River, a few of them managed to reach the city of Wilhelmshaven. Encircled by the exploding shells of the marine flak artillery, the bombers indiscriminately unloaded their bombs. Again apartment houses here collapsed, again people were left homeless, and again, almost without exception, civil and public establishments were hit. Above the residential areas bombers were again severely attacked by the marine flak artillery.

As the last enemy bombers reached the wide sea and our fighters flew back to their air bases, we drove to the city of Wilhelmshaven. The population has gone through a lot in recent days. Many times they have been named in armed forces reports as a target of British bombers. But the people have held "their front." They are standing firm on ground made dear by battle and pain. Most of all, they are happy about the success of our fighter pilots and flak artillery gunners and are grateful to them for the battering of the enemy air forces.

(5) John Steinbeck, Once There Was A War (1958)

26th June, 1943: The bomber crew is getting back from London. The men have been on a forty-eight-hour pass. At the station an Army bus is waiting, and they pile in with other crews. Then the big bus moves through the narrow streets of the little ancient town and rolls into the pleasant green country. Fields of wheat with hedgerows between. On the right is one of the huge vegetable gardens all cut up into little plots where families raise their own produce. Some men and women are working in the garden now, having ridden out of town on their bicycles.

The Army bus rattles over the rough road and through a patch of woods. In the distance there are a few squat brown buildings and a flagstaff flying the American flag. This is a bomber station. England is littered with them. This is one of

the best. There is no mud here, and the barracks are permanent and adequate. There is no high concentration of planes in any one field. Probably no more than twenty-five Flying Fortresses live here, and they are so spread out that you do not see them at once. A raider might get one of them, but he would not be likely to get more than one.

No attempt is made to camouflage the buildings or the planet - it doesn't work and it's just a lot of work. Air protection and dispersal do work. Barbed wire is strung along the road, coils of it, and in front of the administration building there is a gate with a sentry box. The bus pulls to a stop near the gate and the men jump down, adjusting their gas masks at their sides. No one is permitted to leave the place without his gas mask. The men file through the gate, identify themselves, and sign in back on the post. The crews walk slowly to their barracks.

The room is long and narrow and unpainted. Against each side wall are iron double-decker bunks, alternating with clothes lockers. A long rack in the middle between the bunks serves as a hanger for winter coats and raincoats. Next to it is the rack of rifles and submachine guns of the crew.

(6) Arthur Harris, Bomber Command (1947)

If I were asked what were the relations between Bomber Command and the American bomber force I should say that we had no relations. The word is inapplicable to what actually happened; we and they were one force. The Americans gave us the best they had, and they gave us everything we needed as and when the need arose. I hope, indeed, I know, that we did everything possible for them in turn. We could have had no better brothers in arms than Ira Eaker, Fred Anderson and Jimmy Doolittle, and the Americans could have had no better commanders than these three. I was, and am, privileged to count all three of them as the closest of friends. As for the American bomber crews, they were the bravest of the brave, and I know that I am speaking for my own bomber crews when I pay this tribute.

(7) Studs Terkel interviewed John Ciardi of the USAAF about his experiences during the Second World War for his book, The Good War (1985)

I had dreams of being a pilot, so I signed up as an aviation cadet. The army decided I was not pilot material. The army was right. They sent me to navigation school. I would have come out as a navigator and been sent to the Eighth Air Force. As a graduate student, I had signed some petitions in favor of the Spanish Loyalists. When I came up for graduation from the navigation school, I was classified as a PAF - a premature anti-fascist. The Dies Committee had wired in. I did not get a commission. A year later, I heard that all forty-four men of my graduating class were either dead or missing in action.

When we got to Saipan, I was a gunner on a B-29. It seemed certain to me we were not going to survive. We had to fly thirty-five missions. The average life of a crew was something between six and eight missions. So you simply took the extra pay, took the badges, took relief from dirty details.

On the night before a mission, you reviewed the facts. You tried to get some sleep. The army is very good at keeping you awake forever before you have a long mission. Sleep wouldn't come to you. You get to thinking by this time tomorrow you may have burned to death. I used to have little routines for kidding myself: Forget it, you died last week. You'd get some Dutch courage out of that.

We were in the terrible business of burning out Japanese towns. That meant women and old people, children. One part of me - a surviving savage voice - says, I'm sorry we left any of them living. I wish we'd finished killing them all. Of course, as soon as rationality overcomes the first impulse, you say. Now, come on, this is the human race, let's try to be civilized.

I had to condition myself to be a killer. This was remote control. All we did was push buttons. I didn't see anybody we killed. I saw the fires we set. The first four and a half months was wasted effort. We lost all those crews for nothing. We had been trained to do precision high-altitude bombing from thirty-two thousand feet. It was all beautifully planned, except we discovered the Siberian jet stream. The winds went off all computed bomb tables. We began to get winds at two hundred knots, and the bombs simply scattered all over Japan. We were hitting nothing and losing planes.

Curtis LeMay came in and changed the whole operation. He had been head of the Eighth Air Force and was sent over to take on the Twentieth. That's the one I was in. He changed tactics. He said. Go in at night from five thousand feet, without gunners, just a couple of rear-end observers. We'll save weight on the turrets and on ammunition. The Japanese have no fighter resistance at night. They have no radar. We'll drop fire sticks.

I have some of my strike photos at home. Tokyo looked like one leveled bed of ash. The only things standing were some stone buildings. If you looked at the photos carefully, you'd see that they were gutted. Some of the people jumped into rivers to get away from these fire storms. They were packed in so tight to get away from the fire, they suffocated. They were so close to one another, they couldn't fall over. It must have been horrible.