The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945

By Alan J. Levine | Go to book overview

5
The Americans Join In during 1939-1943; The Emergence of the Eighth Air Force

Beginning in 1939, as the British held off the Germans, the United States prepared for eventual participation in the war. The United States Army's small air element began the spectacular growth that would turn it into the mighty Army Air Force, of 2.4 million men and 80,000 planes, the greatest air force in the world. By the fall of 1941 this force, which had been training 300 pilots a year in 1939, was preparing to train 50,000 a year. It is interesting to note that the Army Air Force was the least professional and most civilian-minded of all the American--and probably all Allied--armed services. This, and the high quality of the tiny group of leaders who directed its expansion, was one of the keys to its success. Its commander, General Arnold, was a soldier with a remarkably flexible mind. He was firmly backed by General Marshall, who treated the Air Corps as a quasi-independent service long before it had such status under the law. Arnold became acting deputy chief of staff of the Army in November 1940 and head of the newly created Army Air Force on June 20, 1941.


THE BRITISH AND THE B-17

Strategic bombing, and the four-engine heavy bomber, retained pride of place as the Army Air Force grew. That growth was necessarily delayed by aid to Britain. In May 1941 the British took over 20 B-17Cs, after the planes were refitted with self-sealing tanks, as "Fortress I's." The U.S. Navy would not release the Norden bombsight to the British, who received the harder-to-use Sperry. The Americans advised using the planes only to train a nucleus of crews for later-model Fortresses, but the British, although skeptical of the planes' ability to survive, sent them into combat. They were given to 2 Group, the stepchild of Bomber Command, for unescorted, very-high-altitude attacks deep in enemy territory, in daylight. The RAF again ignored American advice to use the B-17s

-71-

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