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Memorandum for the President
November 13, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]
Subject: Test of Flying Fortress Aircraft1
Our aviation program includes the construction of a large number of long range bombers of the Flying Fortress type. These airplanes, which we consider of paramount importance to successful Hemisphere defense, have been given extensive technical tests, but thus far no airplane having comparable characteristics has been used in war.
The determination of the combat efficiency of this airplane would be of great value to us, as this would permit improvements to be incorporated in later deliveries under present contracts.
With this purpose in mind, I suggest that if a way can be found, legally and diplomatically acceptable, to secure such a test of these planes, that the necessary arrangements be made to do so.2
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.The question of delivering to the British some of the Air Corps’ most modern bombers— the B-17 “Flying Fortress”—had been under discussion since mid-June 1940. Marshall had agreed to include five of the planes in the United States portion of the destroyers-bases agreement of September 2 with Britain. (See Conference Notes, August 20, 1940, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-244 [2: 292].) The B-17s were ultimately not included with the destroyers in that agreement, but by mid-September, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., had convinced President Roosevelt to share B-17 production equally with Great Britain. (Notes on conferences in the Office of the Chief of Staff, September 18 [meeting of September 17] and November 13 [meeting of November 7], 1940, NA/ RG 165 [OCS, Chief of Staff Conferences File].) An important problem for Marshall was how the delivery of thoroughly modern materiel could be justified under the provisions of the Walsh Amendment. (See note 1, Certificate of Compliance, July 12, 1940, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-216 [2: 262].) He consulted with representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, and a carefully worded certificate of compliance was written, based upon arguments expressed in this memorandum, which he agreed to sign. (Claude M. Adams Notes on Conference in Office Chief of Staff, November 13, 1940, NA/ RG 165 [OCS, Chief of Staff Conferences File].)
2. At a meeting on the morning of November 14 with Major General Henry H. Arnold, deputy chief of staff for air since October 1, and Major General George H. Brett (V.M.I., 1909), acting chief of the Air Corps, Marshall said: “Battle test will enable .us to eliminate errors sooner. Battle tests are better than years of peace tests. . . . The earlier the test the sooner we can standardize” airplane construction with the British. Arnold and Brett agreed that twenty planes was the minimum number necessary for the test. Moreover, giving twenty of the eighty-six B-17s on hand would not seriously interfere with crew training, Arnold thought. Brett hoped that this agreement would eliminate the need to divide production evenly with the British. (Orlando Ward Notes of Conference in Office of Chief of Staff, November 14, 1940, ibid. The issue of sending B-17s to Britain is discussed in Watson, Chief of Staff pp. 306-9.)
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. 348-349.