Billy Mitchell’s Impact On American Military Aviation Development

1429 words - 6 pages

Billy Mitchell’s impact on America military aviation development is unquestionably profound but his progressive radical approach in convincing others about the significance of air power led other to articulate, “Mitchell had allowed his vision of the potential of aviation to cost him his perspective.” Believing in his results from combat in WWI Mitchell set out to prove the importance of the air domain challenging the establishment on the significance of air power. Mitchell started out with a balanced approach regarding of this “new instrument of warfare” but as time progressed he and his pupils in the Air Service departed from a vision of a balanced force to one concentrated solely on strategic bombing leading up to WWII. Billy Mitchell’s leadership, antics and influence affected how and the way this happened resulting in profound impacts on a service that ended up focusing on strategic bombing while having to learn air operations in support of ground forces in combat.
Mitchell stated, “future military operations could not proceed….without command of the air” and history has proven him correct. His relentless effort, which turned more radical over time, cost the Air Service in planes and lives as it could not deliver the decisive victory it promised. The gap between technology and the desired effects led to set backs until tactics and technology meet at an axis point where air dominance contributed to a team victory in WWII. Mitchell and his understudies should have realized that one airplane, such as the “Flying Fortress”, could not conduct all the missions required, protect its self from enemy fighters and win the war. They should have seen this coming as the founders of flight “knew that large airplanes built with the same shape and relative dimensions as small ones will not the same relative performance.” Consequently, neither one plane nor one service could win the war by itself a team effort was required.
How can this happen? “The very word ‘support’ always makes people think of air power as an ancillary weapon of the Army and Navy” Gen Henry Arnold stated, a friend and contemporary of Mitchell. This thought relegated close air support towards the bottom of air tasks at the outset of WWII and its minimization of instruction “to only a day at the ACTS.” The strong desire to make the Air Service an independent service during the interwar years caused a great deal of friction between the Army and its Airmen. With Mitchell in the lead supported by others, they championed that the Air Service could not develop the way it needed to while subordinate to the Army. Not only did Mitchell’s approach depart from the professional realm to one of insubordination his antics allowed for the “high-jacking” of his vision of a balanced Air Service comprising of strategic bombing, purist, and ground support capabilities to one concentrating on strategic bombing. As a result starting in the 1920s and all the way up to WWII, “the...

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