1-558 Memorandum for General Beck, February 15, 1939

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 15, 1939

Memorandum for General Beck

February 15, 1939 [Washington, D.C.]

With reference to the consideration you are now giving to the matter of command and supply for the GHQ Air Force, I am sending you informally—and confidentially—a memorandum on the subject, prepared by Colonel Maxwell, now in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War.1

General Craig has not seen this memorandum, and I have avoided showing it to him for fear that he might feel that Maxwell was putting his foot into something that was none of his business; and I wish to avoid inadvertently harming Maxwell in that manner.

What brought about the memorandum was this: Maxwell was Ordnance officer for the Cavalry Division during the period of its principal development as to munitions. He has been Ordnance officer of the GHQ Air Force during its great development. Therefore his personal experience has been rather unique, and he was talking to me about his estimate of the present situation without any knowledge of the fact that a new decision might be made.

To me, an interesting aspect of his experience was this: In the Cavalry Division the horse—as compared with the plane in the GHQ Air Force—was not a debatable question. There was no question of supercharging his engine and refiguring his aerodynamics. Also there was not much question about matters of Cavalry tactics, or of weapon technique and practices. The main thing that had to be accomplished was the proper equipment of the Cavalry as to weapons, reserves, and things of that sort; and I understand from Maxwell that the Cavalry Division exercised the determining influence in this matter, rather than the Office of the Chief of Cavalry.

Now in the GHQ Air Force, the situation has been almost entirely reversed. The Office of the Chief of Air Corps has been directly involved in the development of planes, constantly of a more modern type; but in questions of tactics, of bombing, of technique of weapons—and the consequent training of personnel in those matters, and the development of discipline towards those ends, and policies of leadership—almost everything had to be done. Therefore it was most fortunate that the command relationship was not set up under the Chief of the Air Corps.

Now Maxwell fears that we may step back to a situation where materiel and mere assignment of personnel become the dominant factors, rather than the ultimate purpose of the GHQ Air Force, which is its war efficiency—leadership, tactics, bombing, and the use of other weapons. Incidentally, he tells me that when it comes to the technique of weapons, other than bombing, the Air Corps has everything to learn and little standardization, and a different opinion from almost every individual as to how the weapons should be handled.

I talked to Arnold about this and he accepted most of the statements, but thought in view of the tremendous program now about to be realized, that it would be impossible to carry it out without a more intimate and direct relationship and well-ordered arrangement of authority between the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps and the GHQ Air Force.2

In view of Maxwell’s unusual service, and the clarity with which he expresses his ideas, I told him to reduce it to paper, and I pass it along to you. But I would prefer that you keep his name out of it.

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. Since 1935, the Army Air Corps command had been divided between the G.H.Q. Air Force, which exercised combat responsibility, and the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, which had charge of training and indoctrination of crews and of the development and procurement of equipment. The two agencies were on the same command echelon and reported separately to the army chief of staff. After considerable debate within the Air Corps, consolidation of the two was effected on March 1, 1939, and the G.H.Q. Air Force was made subordinate to the chief of the Air Corps. (Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, 1: 31-32, 114-15.)

The subject of Lieutenant Colonel Russell L. Maxwell’s memorandum to Marshall was “Chain of Command, GHQ Air Force." Maxwell argued that the divided responsibility should continue, because the conflict was “a symptom of a healthy growing condition,” and because the current chain of command was reasonable and proper. “The Chief of Staff has agencies available for the performance of referee duty, and if he should abdicate in favor of the Chief of the Air Corps, it will only be a matter of time until the now dormant clamor for a separation of the Air Arm from the Army, would again be heard, and the Army as a whole would be less well prepared to meet the issue than it is today.“

Maxwell urged increased contact between the airmen and the rest of the army, particularly with the General Staff. “There is only one way to know the Air Force, and gain a sympathetic understanding of its needs, powers, limitations, aims, hopes and ambitions, and that is to live with it and fly with it. I cannot overemphasize flying as the fundamental requirement for anyone who seeks to gain the confidence of an Air Corps officer, whose main interest in life is flying." (Maxwell Memorandum for Marshall, February 13, 1939, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

2. The chief of the Air Corps since General Westover’s death in September, 1938, had been Major General Henry H. Arnold. He had first met Marshall during the January, 1914, maneuvers in the Philippine Islands. “When I returned from the maneuvers,” Arnold recalled, “I told my wife I had met a man who was going to be Chief of Staff of the Army some day. . . . The young lieutenant was George Catlett Marshall." (Henry H. Arnold, Global Mission [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949], p. 44.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 698-700.

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