2-605 Memorandum for the Secretary of War, November 26, 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 26, 1941

Memorandum for the Secretary of War

November 26, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]


A proposed revision of AR 95-5, Army Air Force, General Provisions, (attached) was handed me by Mr. McCloy as a statement of what certain members of the Air Corps felt was desirable.1 It represents their interpretation of what a separate Air Staff involves.

The suggested regulation can be summarized quite briefly. (1) It contemplates complete separation of the Air Force from the rest of the Army;—control by the War Department of the Air Force being exercised only by the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff. (2) It establishes a separate Air General Staff described as “a component but autonomous part of the War Department General Staff.” This Staff operates subject to the direction of the Chief of Staff under a Commanding General, Army Air Force, who is given command of all air operations whether conducted independently or in conjunction with other forces.

A serious weakness in this organization is the establishment of two General Staffs, one for ground and one for air. This results in no staff at all in the sense of a General Staff to coordinate the operations of the Army as a whole, since only the Secretary of War or the Chief of Staff could exercise that authority personally. It is inevitable that much duplication of effort and great confusion would result from the absence of staff control in matters which affect both ground and air, such as war plans, combined operations and training, budgetary and legislative matters and particularly supply.

Another serious defect of the proposed organization is the centralization of military command of the air force exclusively in the Chief of Staff. Actually the Chief of Staff is only commander pro tem of the field forces.2 In the event of any major effort, a field commander must be designated, since effective command cannot be exercised from the War Department. Under the proposed regulation, the Commanding General, Field Forces, would be denied direct control of a powerful element, air support, necessary in the successful prosecution of combat operations unless he transmitted his requests to the Chief of Staff in Washington who, alone, would have authority to order air operations in support of a plan of action. This complicated system you will recognize as similar to the one that greatly embarrassed the British efforts in France in June of 1940, and is still embarrassing them in Egypt.

The reorganization of the Air Force contemplated in this regulation may be desirable if it is accompanied by a reorganization of the remainder of the War Department to permit an adjustment to the changed setup. Such a reorganization would provide for a real General Staff, functioning under the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff, to coordinate the operations of the air and ground staffs. Moreover, a system for command of combined operations in the field would be required if the mistakes of the present war are to be avoided.

The whole thing resolves itself into a question of timing. We have under consideration a proposal for the reorganization of the Army command system as illustrated by the attached diagram,3 and you will note that the important change is the grouping of air, ground and supply activities under their own commanders who are provided with operating general staffs. Coordination is provided by an over all general staff which it is contemplated will be much smaller and more compact than at present. My personal reaction to this plan is favorable, but I feel that its development on a practicable basis will be difficult. We have been working on it for some time.

It would be a mistake, I think, to make further changes in our present setup unless they fit in with the general idea, just outlined for a major reorganization. The ink is hardly dry on the original draft of 95-5 and General Spaatz (Arnold’s Chief of Staff) says that the Air Staff has not yet had time actually to work itself into the original set-up.4 Also, as a matter of practice many of the things proposed are actually being applied to daily business. I recommend that no further change be made at present.

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 June 20, 1941, revision of Army Regulation 95-5, which created the Army Air Forces is discussed in the note to Marshall to Baruch, August 19, 1941, pp. 591-92. Despite the gains they had made as a result of the regulation revision, airmen still disliked both the degree of control exercised over the Air Force by Army General Headquarters or the influence on air planning of the War Plans Division. (See Spaatz Memorandum for the Assistant Chief of Staff, War Plans Division, October 24, 1941, NA/RG 18 [Classified, 321.9].)

2. Concerning the official definition of Marshall’s Job as chief of staff, see editorial note #2-001, Papers of George Catlett Marshall [2: 3-4].

3. The diagram and attendant documents are in NA/RA 165 (WPD, 4558).

4. Brigadier General Carl Spaatz (U.S.M.A., 1914) had been the chief of the Air Force staff since October 1940.

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. 683-685.

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