Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers

Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917–1945

David E. Johnson
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers
    Book Description:

    The U.S. Army entered World War II unprepared. In addition, lacking Germany's blitzkrieg approach of coordinated armor and air power, the army was organized to fight two wars: one on the ground and one in the air. Previous commentators have blamed Congressional funding and public apathy for the army's unprepared state. David E. Johnson believes instead that the principal causes were internal: army culture and bureaucracy, and their combined impact on the development of weapons and doctrine.

    Johnson examines the U.S. Army's innovations for both armor and aviation between the world wars, arguing that the tank became a captive of the conservative infantry and cavalry branches, while the airplane's development was channeled by air power insurgents bent on creating an independent air force. He maintains that as a consequence, the tank's potential was hindered by the traditional arms, while air power advocates focused mainly on proving the decisiveness of strategic bombing, neglecting the mission of tactical support for ground troops. Minimal interaction between ground and air officers resulted in insufficient cooperation between armored forces and air forces.

    Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers makes a major contribution to a new understanding of both the creation of the modern U.S. Army and the Army's performance in World War II. The book also provides important insights for future military innovation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6711-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    D. E. J.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    “History is lived forward,” the English historian C. V. Wedgwood perceptively noted, “but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was like to know the beginning only.”¹ This cognitive constraint is particularly compelling in a study of the U.S. Army between the two World Wars. Conditioned by the reality of World War II and some fifty years of a large, standing postwar army, we find it too easy to assume we know what needs to be analyzed.

    The most familiar version of the Army’s fate...

  6. Part I. Soldiers and Machines:: 1917–1920

    • 1 America, the Army, and the Great War
      (pp. 19-29)

      On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson stood before a special session of the U.S. Congress and asked for a declaration of war against the German Empire. Almost overnight, public opinion shifted from cautious, albeit increasingly pro-Allied, neutrality to overwhelming enthusiasm for intervention to stamp out the evils of “Prussianism.” Americans’ idealism was shared by their president, whose words before Congress echoed their sentiments: “The world must be made safe for democracy.”¹ Wilson, who was convinced that only the United States could ensure a just peace, framed the war as a crusade, one worthy of American intervention:

      We shall fight...

    • 2 The Tank Corps
      (pp. 30-39)

      In the early morning hours of September 15, 1916, the crews of forty-nine British Mark I tanks made their final preparations for battle. They were part of General Sir Douglas Haig’s renewed Somme offensive, which had begun with high hopes on July 1 but stalled before the withering fire of German Maxim guns. Casualties were high. On the first day, the British Army lost 57,450 men—the highest toll of any single day in its history. But Haig, ever the optimist, was convinced a positive outcome was possible. He staked his hopes on a belief that the Germans had suffered...

    • 3 The Air Service
      (pp. 40-53)

      When the United States entered World War I, the airplane, unlike the tank, was an accepted technology within the Army. Indeed, the Army’s interest in aeronautics had begun during the Civil War. On June 9, 1861, James Allen and Dr. William H. Helme conducted a balloon demonstration for the Army in Washington. Thereafter, balloons were used intermittently for observation until 1863, when the nascent Federal Balloon Corps was disbanded. Army interest in aeronautics remained dormant until 1892, when a balloon section was incorporated in the Signal Corps. When the Spanish-American War began, the Army deployed its one balloon to Cuba,...

    • 4 The Army in the Aftermath of the Great War
      (pp. 54-60)

      The Great War marked the end of the Army’s conception of itself as a frontier constabulary. Things had changed fundamentally, although many Army officers had difficulty articulating the change. To the Army’s leadership the war offered clear lessons: Modern war required big armies and vast quantities of munitions. To meet these needs, Secretary Baker and General March framed a bill that provided for an unprecedentedly large 500,000-man standing regular army to serve as a cadre for a huge national army. They also recommended a comprehensive reserve component, maintained at a fairly high state of readiness through a system of universal...

  7. Part II. Inertia and Insurgency:: 1921–1930

    • 5 Peace and Quiet
      (pp. 63-71)

      On July 2, 1921, the United States ended its technical state of war with Germany by a joint resolution of Congress, having failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or join the new League of Nations. In August separate treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary formalized the legislative action.¹ The U.S. Senate quickly ratified the documents, thereby rejecting President Woodrow Wilson’s vision of American internationalism, since the revised treaties “confirmed her in her privileges but not in her responsibilities under the treaties of Versailles, Saint-Germain, and Trianon.”² Many saw the Senate’s rejection of an international role for the United States...

    • 6 Infantry Tanks
      (pp. 72-80)

      When the infantry absorbed the Tank Corps in June 1920, the Army did not radically shift its views on tanks. The only perceptible changes were in matters of form. Sam Rockenbach, former chief of the Tank Corps, wore the eagles of a colonel; his stars disappeared with his billet as a branch chief. The Tank Corps School at Camp Meade, Maryland, became the Infantry Tank School. Many signs were repainted. Finally, the officers serving with tanks had to decide whether to return to their former branches or to become infantry (tank corps) officers.

      Doctrine changed even less because the Tank...

    • 7 The Failed Revolution and the Evolution of Air Force
      (pp. 81-94)

      Major General Charles T. Menoher, the chief of the Army Air Service, had his hands full in the year following the passage of the National Defense Act of 1920. He had to oversee the reorganization of his arm in accordance with the act and establish the eleven Air Service schools authorized by the War Department in February 1920.¹ Furthermore, Menoher had to implement the recommendations of the General Reorganization Board, approved by Secretary of War Baker in September 1920, for the peacetime structure of the Air Service.² Still, the most vexing task facing Menoher must have been the need to...

    • 8 The War Department
      (pp. 95-104)

      From the War Department’s perspective, the 1920s were a decade of frustration. After considerable effort, the Army had gained passage of a defense act that promised to provide the nation a small yet viable defensive force. This policy, which provided six field armies under a general headquarters, attempted to accommodate what the leadership of the Army saw as the principal lesson of World War I: the importance of mobilizing a mass army. Although the desired 500,000-man Regular Army had been almost halved under the National Defense Act, the War Department thought it could adapt to the new constraints. When the...

  8. Part III. Alternatives and Autonomy:: 1931–1942

    • 9 From Domestic Depression to International Crusade
      (pp. 107-115)

      For those who did not live through the turbulent years preceding American participation in World War II, it is difficult to capture the immense changes that occurred between 1931 and 1942. In the space of eleven years Americans experienced incredible contrasts that carried the population from the depths of a national malaise caused by the debilitating depression to the elation of another great crusade for democracy, from zealous isolationism to enthusiastic interventionism, from “hard times” to the “good war.”¹

      The Great Depression pervaded every aspect of American consciousness. Confidence in national economic policies and institutions was shattered by the plunge...

    • 10 Alternatives for Armor
      (pp. 116-152)

      The mechanization policy that governed American tank development until 1940 was established by General Douglas MacArthur on May 1, 1931, when he disbanded the Mechanized Force at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Thereafter, the infantry and the cavalry shared in the development of the tank. To avoid the provisions of the National Defense Act of 1920, which dictated that all tank units be assigned to the infantry, the euphemism “combat car” became the designation for cavalry tanks.¹ MacArthur later explained that he felt compelled to choose between two schools of thought on the future direction of Army mechanization efforts. One advocated the...

    • 11 Autonomous Air Power
      (pp. 153-175)

      The Army Air Corps entered the 1930s with the outlines of a concept for the employment of military aviation that promised a decisive role in warfare—strategic bombardment. For a generation of insurgent air officers who believed that the War Department had repressed the potential of the airplane, strategic bombardment had a seductive appeal. The most important issue for these officers was control of military aviation. As long as the Army Air Corps remained an auxiliary of the ground battle or part of an integrated Army-Navy coast defense effort, a cogent argument for independence from the War Department could not...

    • 12 A Crisis in the War Department
      (pp. 176-184)

      On September 1, 1939, the same day Hitler unleashed his blitzkrieg against Poland, George C. Marshall became chief of staff of the Army—an army that was in no way prepared for a modern war. To begin with, as Marshall later recalled, the active Army was small and dispersed and “consisted of approximately 174,000 enlisted men scattered over 130 posts, camps, and stations.” Furthermore, “within the United States we had no field army,” and “there existed the mere framework of about 31/2 square divisions approximately 50 percent complete as to personnel and scattered among a number of Army posts. ....

  9. Part IV. Dying for Change:: 1942–1945

    • 13 The Arsenal of Attrition
      (pp. 187-188)

      Shortly after the March 1942 War Department reorganization General McNarney stated that its purpose had been “to decentralize, giving officers in charge of activities greater powers of decision and responsibility in matters under their control.” The General Staff streamlined its operations and abandoned the time-consuming rituals of excessively formal staff paperwork. The emphasis shifted to finding answers and taking action rather than satisfying bureaucratic protocols. General Marshall was freed from the day-to-day oversight of the institution and concentrated on strategic issues.¹

      Decentralization, however, did not prevail. Beyond the broad policy apparatus, which the General Staff agencies (G-1, G-2, G-3, and...

    • 14 Armored Bludgeon
      (pp. 189-201)

      American armored doctrine and equipment were first tested in combat in North Africa. One of the first illusions to evaporate in the heat of battle was the effectiveness of the light tank.

      On November 26, 1942, Lieutenant Freeland A. Daubin and his platoon of M₃ light tanks from Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, fought the first engagement of the war between American and German tanks. Daubin and his crew entered the battle with a “great and abiding faith in the prowess of the 37 mm ‘cannon’” with which their tank was armed.¹ When a German...

    • 15 Air Force Triumphant
      (pp. 202-211)

      The early successes of the Eighth Air Force—particularly the October 9 attack on Lille, France—gave its commander, General Hap Arnold, leverage in the intense interservice battle for resources. In a memorandum for Roosevelt confidant Harry Hopkins, Arnold claimed that the Lille mission proved “the contention by the Army Air Forces . . . that B-17s in strong formations can be employed effectively and successfully without fighter support.” The crews of the Flying Fortresses claimed that 107 Luftwaffe fighters were “destroyed, probably destroyed, or damaged.” The 107 planes represented nearly one-fourth of the single-engine fighter strength of the Luftwaffe...

    • 16 Coequal Land Power and Air Power
      (pp. 212-217)

      The evolution of the tank and the airplane in the U.S. Army resulted in technologies and doctrines for their use that were fraught with inherent operational vulnerabilities. Another dimension of the interwar experience of America’s ground and air forces was the absence of cooperation between the two institutions to develop doctrines and procedures that would enable them to operate jointly. The results of this inability to fight together became tragically clear in July 1944.

      General Omar Bradley faced a difficult situation in mid-July 1944. It had been almost six weeks since D day, and the advance of his First Army...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 218-230)

    The sober realities of combat revealed the serious flaws in the technological assumptions underpinning the U.S. Army’s tank and airplane doctrines. American tanks had to fight superior German tanks, and unescorted heavy bomber formations could not defend themselves against enemy fighter attacks without incurring unacceptable losses. Both doctrines had to be adapted to the realities of war, and the decisiveness expected by American planners from the tank and the heavy bomber was never fully realized. Instead, each machine simply became another weapon in America’s arsenal of attrition. Unfortunately, the Army’s tank and bomber crews paid the price for the doctrinal...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 231-276)
  12. Primary Sources
    (pp. 277-284)
  13. Index
    (pp. 285-288)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-291)