2-604 Editorial Note on Air Corps Demands for Independence

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on Air Corps Demands for Independence

March-June 1941

The long drive by the army’s air component toward either autonomy within the army (at least) or independence from the army (at best) gathered renewed momentum with the heavy bomber’s advent and with the General Staff’s increasing organizational problems as mobilization progressed. (H. H. Arnold, Global Mission [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949], pp. 161-65; Otto L. Nelson, Jr., National Security and the General Staff [Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1946], pp. 314-34.) The author of the official army history of the Office of the Chief of Staff noted that “the turning point in the movement for autonomy and unity of the air forces came in March of 1941” when Marshall held a series of meetings with his air staff on the relation of the Air Corps to the General Staff. (Mark S. Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1950], p. 291.) What resulted on June 20 was a revision of the basic regulation defining the status, functions, and organization of the air component (Army Regulation 95-5) creating the Army Air Forces. Leonard T. Gerow, the infantryman who was head of the W.P.D., noted in his office diary that the airmen had gained “a complete autonomy similar in character to that exercised by the Marine Corps of the Navy.” (June 13, 1941, Gerow Diary, NA/RG 319 [OPD, Exec. 10, Item 1].)

While supporting increased autonomy for the air forces, Marshall had long opposed independence, in part because he believed that the airmen had not developed an adequately trained and experienced staff. (Marshall Interviews, p. 436) In addition, he told Assistant Secretary for Air Lovett and Generals Arnold and Brett, “the big problem in establishing a separate Air Corps would be the necessity for setting up administrative personnel—Quartermaster, Engineer, Medical. I saw what the Air Corps ran into in Chicago when they undertook to fly the air mail” in early 1934. (William T. Sexton Notes on Conference in the Office of the Chief of Staff, April 4, 1941, NA/RG 165 [WPD, Chief of Staff Conferences File].) The new version of A.R. 95-5 represented a notable gain for the airmen, but “in actual practice a number of defects soon appeared,” and the Air Force continued to press for a more fundamental reorganization of the War Department. (Craven and Cate, Plans and Early Operations, pp. 114-16; Nelson, National Security and the General Staff; pp. 337-42.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 682-683.

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