Billy Mitchel is a controversial character. His achievement is still debated today. In his time, like Icarus, he pursued his goal so high that his wings burned and he eventually fell. Nonetheless, he struggled so hard for his cause that he succeeded in sacrificing himself. His posthumous legacy is evidence of his success. Despite his stubbornness, his political awkwardness and his insubordination, his vision, energy and courage are unanimously praised, and he is considered today the founder of the US Air Force. More importantly, he is considered the founder of American airpower. To achieve this, he first used his reputation as a war hero and all the relationships he built during WWI to oblige Department of war elites to create the Army Air Corps (AAC). Then, as a civilian, he continued to speak and write to promote his ideas, both at a tactical level in the AAC and at a strategic level in the political arena; the strength of his ideas led to the creation of the Army Air Forces (AAF). Finally, WWII lessons learned confirmed most of Mitchell’s predictions and theories and led the administration not only to create an independent air force, but also the Department of Defense (DoD) that we know today.
When he came back from Europe after WWI, Mitchell was not only a national hero. He was also an international one. As a reward for his outstanding service, he earned many honors and decorations in UK, France, and Italy. He tied very close relationships with airmen and senior officers in these countries. He was the one, who planned and led the air battle in Saint-Mihiel, which is considered the first air battle. He carved out American credibility proving American capabilities to the allies. Hurley underlined this success writing “St-Mihiel was most significant as the scene of the greatest concentration of aircraft during the war… Mitchell was, in a loose sense, the commander of the force…. His achievement, however, in quickly gaining air superiority … motivated Patrick to recommend Mitchell’s promotion to brigadier general.”
Hurley also captured Mitchell intentions in “Mitchell returned to the United States fully determined to bring about a revolution in American military policy…” Unfortunately, his ideas of an independent Air Force, equal to the Army and the Navy and grouped in a department of defense, echoed neither in the army nor in the government. In 1920, he had already lost his fist battle on his crusade for airpower.
He therefore embraced new tactics and decided to prove publicly his assertions. For instance, he managed somehow to convince both the Army and the Navy to test an aerial bombing on a ship. The Navy chose a supposedly invulnerable boat that Mitchell’s planes sank on one go. Instead of gathering support to his cause, this event upset both the Army and the Navy. Nonetheless, Mitchell woke up the Navy and he literally gave birth to its aviation.
Frustrated with the course of events, Mitchell decided to go one step beyond in order...