Magazine article Risk Management

Follow My Lead

Magazine article Risk Management

Follow My Lead

Article excerpt

In the outstanding documentary The Fog of War, former defense secretary and World Bank president Robert MacNamara recalls his role as an analyst for U.S. bombing operations in World War II. Prior to long-range fighter escorts, daytime bombing raids into German territory were an extremely dangerous business. Losses were so high that crews were sent home after their 25 missions, and the percentages were such that most airmen figured they had a 100% chance of dying before they finished that final bombing run.

MacNamara and his colleagues noticed that nearly 25% of all planes that went up on daytime bombing runs turned back before they ever reached their target. The reasons cited were diverse, but usually involved some kind of mechanical error, pilot sickness or other such calamities. MacNamara figured the planes were fine, but the pilots were scared--and with good reason--and would invent reasons not to enter combat.

MacNamara brought these findings to his boss, General Curtis LeMay, a short-spoken, combative individual who expected his orders to be followed to the letter. After reviewing MacNamara's findings, LeMay told the pilots under his command that from that point on, he would be in the lead plane of every bombing mission. He also told them that anybody who turned back would face a court martial. Just like that, MacNamara says, the abort rate went to zero. "That was the kind of leader LeMay was," MacNamara says.

Later in the war, LeMay and MacNamara worked together in the fight against Japan. By then, the B-29 was in service and could bomb from such altitudes that it was safe from anti-aircraft fire. But, the bombers' efficiency went way down. MacNamara brought this to LeMay as well, who ordered the B-29s to 5,000 feet on their next run. They decimated their targets, but took some losses. At the post-mission briefing, an angry pilot demanded to know who issued the order that exposed the flight to unnecessary risk and got his wingman shot down. In a most uncharacteristic display, LeMay told the room he issued the order. They may have lost some men, true, but they destroyed the target, which was what they had been sent to do. But more than that, LeMay empathized with the pilot. I know you are upset that you lost your friend, LeMay told him. I am too; I am the one who made him go.

LeMay orchestrated not only the firebombing of Japan's cities, but the atomization of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.