Aviation / History / Warfare

Power Projection

Yesterday I began responding to Luke Parsnow’s “An Apology for Hiroshima is Unnecessary,” specifically pointing to the shocking conclusions in a 70-year-old interrogation report.  Sixth Army was arrayed to assault Kyushu on X-Day (Operation Olympic scheduled for 1 November 1945, the first stage of the larger Operation Downfall against the Japanese Home Islands) and Walter Krueger’s men instead took up occupation duties on Kyushu and southern Honshu.  Sixth Army’s Intelligence section determined in September 1945 the Japanese defenders on Kyushu were far less formidable that previously thought (354,833 troops versus the 800,000 that had been projected).  Worse, the navy had been annihilated:

Japan’s third largest naval base was at Sasebo, but the Japanese navy had all but ceased to exist because of heavy losses and lack of fuel, leaving thousands of shipless sailors to serve in various roles on the island, including manning guns that had been removed from battleships for use as coastal artillery. The numbers of total military personnel were also swelled by the presence of numerous recent naval recruits. While the naval personnel could have been used to fill in the ranks of combat units, most had received little training in ground combat and would have been a stopgap measure rather than an effective fighting force. Plans were made for naval personnel to take over duties from army personnel such as coast watching and manning of fortified positions protecting Kyushu’s harbors, but they had not been implemented by the time of the surrender.

The IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) had suffered devastating losses during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 that should have ended the war immediately.  The killing strike was the destruction of the super-battleship Musashi, a behemoth the IJN mistakenly believed to be unsinkable but in reality was totally helpless against the crushing might of Admiral Marc Mitscher’s fast carrier task force.

The Admiral Whose Fast Carriers Won The Pacific War…

Mitscher’s fast carriers (fleet and light aircraft carriers capable of 32-35 knots that embarked large air groups versus much smaller 15-18 knot escort carriers) had severed trade between Borneo and Japan,

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a sealane that requires transit through Philippine waters (the primary reason for the 1941-42 Japanese invasion of the Philippines and oil-rich Borneo in the first place) which was now teeming with MacArthur’s and Nimitz’s sea, air and land forces.  Mitscher had restricted the Japanese military to home islands petroleum production, which was minimal.  The IJN essentially ceased functioning as a seagoing force after 7 April 1945, when Musashi‘s sister-ship Yamato was sunk by Mitscher’s airmen as the Combined Fleet flagship attempted to break through the U.S. fleet besieging Okinawa.  Upon leaving Tokuyama, Yamato and her escorts did not have sufficient fuel for the return leg to Japan–the last fleet sortie was centered around a 70,000-ton kamikaze.

With its ships confined to base, the only Japanese forces remaining after the Okinawa disaster that were capable of disrupting the American landings on X-Day were aircraft.  This was a troubling development for the Japanese considering the kamikaze corps had decimated their remaining air forces after expending the bulk of the Empire’s air power during the Okinawa bloodletting:

It was believed that kamikaze attacks would have started while the invasion fleet was somewhere between Okinawa and Kyushu and would have continued through the landings and against the troops after they were ashore. The Second General Army officers told a different story.

No Plans to use Kamikazes

In answer to the question of how many combat-type aircraft they expected to have available and how they were to be used, they replied that they had 800 bombers and that most would be used in the special attack or crash-landing role against the transports while the invading force was still at sea. They also stated that a reserve of some 70 percent—560 aircraft—would be held on Kanto and in Korea for use against later landings. In short, the Japanese officers revealed that there were fewer than 1,400 airplanes, not 10,000, available for use against an invasion of the Home Islands.

The Japanese indicated that although some aircraft would initially be used as conventional bombers, as the attacks continued they would also be ordered to the crash-landing role. They stated that there were no plans to use kamikazes against troops during and after the landings and that no air support was planned for the ground troops as the supply of aircraft would be exhausted in attacks on the fleet. The officers also responded that there were no jet- powered missile launching sites on Kyushu at the time of the surrender. Ten possible launch sites in northern Kyushu had been surveyed, but construction was never begun. They further revealed that rocket-powered aerial bombs were still in the experimental stage and were not yet in the inventory.

The number of aircraft the Japanese actually had arrayed against the anticipated American invasion of Kyushu was similar in size to the forces flung against Spruance and the Fifth Fleet in June 1944 in the Philippine Sea.  The fast carriers defending Fifth Fleet naturally were commanded by Mitscher, whose fighter pilots engaged in such a decisive rout the U.S. Navy informally referred to the battle as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.  On X-Day Spruance would have been accompanied by two more fleets under Halsey and Kinkaid, which just had happened to mop the floor with the blood of the IJN battle fleet at Leyte Gulf (and Halsey had finished off the IJN off Okinawa).  Mitscher undoubtedly would have commanded the fast carriers, whose bombers had been tearing across the Japanese Home Islands since February.  Truly, victory wasn’t far off in the summer of 1945 thanks to USN and USMC Avengers, Corsairs, Dauntlesses, Helldivers and Hellcats.

Considering the vaunted precision daylight bombing campaigns the USAAF swore by were failing so spectacularly the Japanese press was dubbing the B-29 a white elephant, somehow these events leading up to the Japanese surrender put a particular swagger in the stride of the CO of the Twenty-First Bomber Command, the Marianas-based force which burned then nuked Japan’s cities:

A recent article by historian Gar Alperovitz, after noting that Eisenhower had strong misgivings about the use of the bomb on Japan, states:

General Curtis LeMay, the tough cigar-smoking Army Air Force “hawk,” was also dismayed. Shortly after the bombings he stated publicly: “The war would have been over in two weeks….The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”

Curtis “Iron Ass” LeMay again.  My subterranean opinion of the XXI Bomber Command’s head honcho should be set in stone, but he did institute highly effective firebombing raids in response to the discovery of the jetstream…

Iron Dumbass

…wait.  What the HELL?

The factories on Honshu, the main island, got over 80% of their coal from Hokkaido in the north. Disrupting the rail lines on Hokkaido would further hamper the transport of coal from the mines southward. On 14 July alone 850 sorties were carried out against various targets in Hokkaido from airfields, rail lines and harbors. Many of the harbors were crowded with merchant ships who were trying to avoid the minefields that had been sown by the B-29 Superfortresses.

It was during the strikes on Hokkaido that the Navy discovered the Achilles heel of the Japanese industry. As there were no bridges or tunnels linking Hokkaido to Honshu at the time, they relied on train ferries to move coal cars from the port of Hakodate on Hokkaido across the Tsuguru Strait to the port of Aomori on Honshu. In the 1920s as Japan’s industrialization increased, four 3,400 ton ferries were built that could carry 25 rail cars across the Tsuguru Strait. Larger ferries were built in the late 1920s that could carry up to 43 rail cars. A dozen of these ships were the only way to move coal from the mines in Hokkaido to the factories in Honshu. Eight of the ferries were sunk by TF38’s aviators and an eighth was forced aground. The air wing of the USS Essex alone accounted for four of the precious train ferries. Coal shipments were quickly moved by the Japanese to smaller coastal merchantmen, but they were inadequate for the task and they were just as much targets for the prowling aircraft of TF38 as the train ferries. The effect was dramatic- in just two days, the amount of coal available to factories on Honshu dropped by a staggering 80%.

Was LeMay $%#^&* stupid?  Why wasn’t this the primary objective in every B-29 raid until the coal ferries were a smoldering ruin? Well, it must be the Peter Principle in action.  Better yet, ‘wrong man in the right place at the right time.’  For a man whose personal credo seems to have been “I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate,” Curtis LeMay was the recipient of a remarkable amount of dumb luck. 

LeMay was promoted to brigadier general in the wake of the 17 August 1943 Schweinfurt-Regensburg raid “success” that was the among the first American deep-penetration missions (beyond the range of RAF and USAAF fighter cover) which featured such LeMay innovations as the combat box and shuttle bombing.  Success requires quotation marks because the destruction of 60 B-17s in the raid were severe losses and shuttle bombing was a logistical nightmare where inadequate armaments and maintenance facilities outside of the main RAF bases the 8th Air Force sortied from led to numerous bombers being abandoned in North Africa.  Moreover, the combat box did little to mitigate the Luftwaffe threat two months later, where another 60 bombers were shot down raiding Schweinfurt on Black Thursday (14 October 1943).  Turns out German ball-bearing production was practically impervious to strategic air attack…

The bombs took a fearful toll in Schweinfurt, killing 276 Germans, mostly civilians. All five ball-bearing factories had been hit, and Allied commanders at first labeled the raid a success. Only after the war did they learn the damage to the machines producing the bearings had been limited, and production quickly bounced back. The Nazis scattered the factories around the country, so there would be no crippling blows in the future.

…a recurring problem when it comes to employing air power against non-military targets.  Strategic bombing was a singular failure over Europe.  Industry is remarkably resilient when decentralized, and the very concept of bombing civilians until national morale breaks tends to instead breed extreme hostility towards enemy air forces and an acute desire for revenge.  This was and remains a very unpleasant truth about air power.  Even the vaunted Oil Campaign that supposedly brought Germany to its knees was a spectacular failure when USAAF B-24s attacked Ploesti on Black Sunday (1 August 1943):

Survivors of the attack fled south alone or in small groups trailed by Axis fighters which took a toll of the weakened force. Bombers crashed in fields or disappeared into the water; some diverted to Allied bases in the region; others sought sanctuary in neutral Turkey. Some 88 B-24s, most badly damaged, managed to return to Benghazi. Personnel losses included 310 airmen killed, 108 captured, and 78 interned in Turkey. Five officers: Kane, Baker, Col. Leon W. Johnson, Maj. John L. Jerstad, and 2nd Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes, earned the Medal of Honor; Baker, Jerstad, and Hughes posthumously.

Despite the extreme heroism of the airmen and their determination to press the mission home, the results of Operation TIDAL WAVE were less than expected. TIDALWAVE targeted nine major refineries that produced some 8,595,000 tons of oil annually, about 90 percent of all Rumanian oil production, and the attack temporarily eliminated about 3,925,000 tons, roughly 46 percent of total annual production at Ploesti. Three refineries lost 100 percent of production. Unfortunately, these losses figures were temporary and reflected much less than the planners had hoped for. The Germans proved capable of repairing damage and restoring production quickly, and they had been operating the refineries at less than full capacity, anyway. Ploesti thus had the ability to recover rapidly. The largest and most important target, Astro Romana, was back to full production within a few months while Concordia Vega was operating at 100 percent by mid-September.

The U.S. Army Air Forces never again attempted a low level mission against German air defenses. 

Note the loss of 53 B-24s at the failed Ploesti raid were still seven fewer than LeMay’s day in the sun two weeks later.  The Mighty Eighth could not avoid the same ignominy the Ninth Air Force suffered after Ploesti; as the scale of Schweinfurt II’s failure on Black Thursday was so jarring that the USAAF called off deep-penetration missions until a massive overhaul could be completed:

As with the first Schweinfurt mission, the majority of bomber losses came after the Allied fighter escort turned back. Although the Schweinfurt plants were badly damaged, the mission failed to achieve any lasting effect. Ball bearing production resumed within six weeks and Germany’s war industry was able to rely on a previously built-up surplus inventory of bearings.

Realizing they could not sustain such heavy losses, the USAAF leadership put the bombing campaign on hold to review its strategy. This doctrine had been ingrained in the USAAF culture. It was as a staple of air power theory and had been taught at the Air Corps Tactical School for over a decade. The second Schweinfurt mission was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” and provided justification for the American leadership to re-examine its doctrine.

As a result of this reevaluation, USAAF leadership placed a higher emphasis on long-range fighter escorts. They worked with the Pentagon to alter aircraft production priorities and put the production of fighters ahead of bombers. Fully understanding the importance of fighter wing tanks to solve the fighter escort problem, they also pushed for an increase in the monthly production rate of the 150-gallon wing tanks. Previously, the wing tanks were in extremely short supply and held smaller quantities of fuel, thereby limiting their effectiveness. The additional fuel of the 150-gallon tanks gave Allied fighters enough fuel to complete their bomber escort missions and then drop down to lower altitudes to strafe enemy airfields. Furthermore, Eighth Air Force gave the fighters the freedom to take to the offensive.  Eighth Fighter Command was finally able to take the initiative and sent out long ranging fighter sweeps deep into Germany where they would catch the German fighters on the ground, preventing their attacks on the American bombers. This change in tactics greatly disrupted the German practice of rearming and refueling for additional sorties against the heavy bombers. The fighter sweeps also hindered the Luftwaffe’s ability to train and replace their pilots.

Within a few months, 8th Air Force restarted the daylight bombing campaign. This time the bombers had “little buddies” along for the whole mission and could bomb their targets much more effectively with much fewer losses. Also, the long range escorts, flown in concert with the fighter sweeps, forced the Luftwaffe to drain other fronts of precious fighters to counter the bombing, allowing them to be hunted down and destroyed by the Allied fighters. These changes in strategy shifted the balance of air power in favor of the Allies. This air dominance would be the key to the Allies’ successful D-Day landings and sweep cross Western Europe.

In short, American heavy bombers were rescued from oblivion by tactical air power.

Evolution Of Effective Air Power

This was anathema to LeMay and many other “the bomber will always get through” purists.  Nurtured at the ACTS (Air Corps Tactical School) since at least 1930 was a concept of invincibility as dangerous to the USAAF as the IJN thinking that led to the “unsinkable” super-battleships Musashi and Yamato:

General Lawrence Kuter, reflecting on his tour as a B–17 commander during World War II, stated in an interview in the 1970s that he lost twenty–five percent of his aircraft per month for three months. When asked whether there was an awareness within ACTS during the 1930s about the need for fighter aircraft, Kuter, who instructed bombardment at ACTS and later helped develop the WW II offensive bombardment plans, stated “I wish I could say yes, but I can’t. We just closed our minds to it; we couldn’t be stopped—the bomber was invincible.”

ACTS led to the widespread belief in the Air Corps and its USAAF successor that the Wehrmacht could be defeated intact; that when (not if in the minds of USAAF commanders) American heavy strategic bombers had completely destroyed German industry with relative ease, Hitler would capitulate.  This mindset strangely ignored that while American fighters typically sported only machine guns, German fighters sported 15/20 millimeter (and after 1943 deadly 30 mm) airborne cannons standard on Bf-109s, Bf-110s, Fw-190s, etc.  The bomber purists (known more derisively as the ‘Bomber Mafia‘) had no reason to overlook European fighter armament as the Luftwaffe specification was itself a copy of the French fighter armament standard.  Moreover, American bomber worship led to dangerous wartime tactical aviation deficiencies:

The Allies had learned through the blood of many men that a German counterattack could come at a huge cost, if not complete failure, during the Anzio landings in Italy.  On 22 January 1944, Allied forces landed at Anzio and swiftly moved inland, facing light resistance at first.  The perception was that the Mediterranean Army Air Forces had, in pre-invasion action, neutralised the possibility of a German attack against the beachhead by heavily bombing rail lines, thus sealing off the invasion area.

That perception, however, was terribly wrong; the Germans launched 14 divisions against the Allies on 16 February 1944, drawing on units from as far away as Yugoslavia and France.  125,000 German troops stopped the Allied advance in Italy, succeeding in pushing back the outnumbered invaders towards the Anzio beachhead.  Only with the direct support of tremendous air and sea power was this German offensive overcome.  Looking ahead to Operation OVERLORD, Eisenhower and the Allies knew that this could not be repeated, and no such risks could be taken with Rommel and his divisions.

Fortunately for the Allies, Eisenhower as SAC (Supreme Allied Commander) could and did order  Arthur Harris at RAF Bomber Command and USAAF European Theater commander Carl Spaatz to commit all western Allied strategic forces to implement the Transportation Plan.  Designed to savage logistics links, the all-out attacks ensured the success of Overlord:

Some 76,200 tons (71,000 on rail centres, 4,400 on bridges and 800 on open rail lines) had been dropped before 6 June 1944, causing catastrophic damage to the German Army’s ability to resupply and reinforce its Normandy defences.  The Allies would, once the beachhead was secure, be able to build its forces faster than the Germans could reinforce; to that end, the “Transportation Plan” had been nothing if not a universal success, “opening the door for the invasion” as Carl Spaatz put it.

Neither Harris nor Spaatz had been too keen before D-Day to use their heavy bombers to smash railroads, but at least Spaatz finally turned from the uselessness of bombing ball bearings to a useful strategic target:

The controversy over the transportation plan also centered on the most effective means of bringing the entire war to an end. Again, this concerned the use of the heavy bombers in the oil plan, which was not strictly part of the Overlord air plan. However, the controversy over the transportation plan versus the oil plan promised to have great impact on the invasion preparation.

The main advocate of the oil plan was USSTAF commander Spaatz, but the idea of hitting German petroleum facilities dated from Air War Plans Division-Plan 1 (AWPD-1) Munitions Requirements of the Army Air Forces.35 The argument for the advocates of the oil plan centered around the vulnerability and scarcity36 of Germany’s fuel supply, and the fact that the machinery used by the Germans to produce synthetic products “was complex, very expensive, not at all mobile, and difficult or impossible to hide.”

Spaatz and AWPD-1 were right on the money; once Eisenhower released the 8th AF to resume the full strategic air campaign, the Wehrmacht had enough fuel to mount one last western offensive before the tanks essentially ran dry in January 1945.

An astute reader would ask at this point–what about Ploesti?  Synthetic petroleum might be highly vulnerable, but what about the traditional oil fields and refineries in Romania

Deep interdiction took on a new scale and comprehensiveness in the antioil campaign of 1944. By the end of that year, the Allied oil interdiction campaign had attacked both natural and synthetic oil facilities in Germany, Austria, and Romania. The aviation and motor gasoline of the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht provided a common type of target for both the Eighth Air Force in England and the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy. The importance of aerial fighter escort was well recognized.

In contrast to the Ploesti raid of 1943, the bombers in 1944 did not neglect the second element of air interdiction: attacking the movement of supplies to the battle area. The Royal Air Force (RAF) dropped thousands of magnetic mines into the Danube River. There the mines destroyed some petroleum products coming up river by barge, and they held up other shipments of oil while the Axis conducted minesweeping operations. Such a holdup tends to congregate, compress, and make more visible the traffic upstream of the bottleneck. In Romania, the Combined Bomber Offensive attacked pertinent rail marshaling yards while the U.S. attacks on the Ploesti refineries assumed the character of a siege.

This aerial siege of the oil refineries began on 5 April 1944 with a high-level daylight strike of more than 200 B-17 and B-24 aircraft accompanied by P-38 and P-47 fighters. Despite partly overcast weather, the bombers visually aimed and dropped 587 tons of bombs onto the target area. On 15 April 1944, 137 bombers followed up the first strike with another. Damage was considerable from both raids. More attacks followed on 24 April and on 5 May.10

Through a combination of warning systems, antiraid procedures, and dogged rebuilding, Ploesti remained surprisingly resilient in the face of repeated aerial bombardment. One of the more effective procedures was to increase the use of smoke pots to obscure the target area. Large raids of 761 and 377 bombers took place on 23 and 24 June, respectively, but smoke screens at Ploesti forced both groups to resort to blind bombing into smoke. Later it was learned that only one refinery had been hit by the large raids. In July, the H2X radar method was used to bomb through the smoke screen with mixed results. Later assessments showed the hits from the raids to have been largely haphazard. A few raids produced better results. Nonetheless, the quality and the quantity of German opposition indicated that the defenders still considered Ploesti to be worthy of protection.11

The aerial siege continued with little letup until Ploesti fell. On 10, 17, and 18 August 1944—1039 Liberators and Flying Fortresses dropped 2200 tons of bombs on the active refineries in little over a week. The once aggressive German fighter defense had suddenly deteriorated; the bombers were able to attack in such a long stream that the smoke screen thinned considerably before the attacks were over. Sixty-five bombers followed up on 19 August, the third consecutive day of air strikes, to keep the fires burning. The RAF attacked at night. Oil production at Ploesti dropped to about 10 percent of original capacity.

At the end of August 1944, the Red Army arrived and took possession.

The Ninth’s failure was supplanted by the Fifteenth’s success.  So, strategic bombing had redeemed itself over Ploesti?  Not in the slightest. 

Mitscher’s Mirror

The Allies in 1944 finally understood that the concept of combined arms that the Wehrmacht so skillfully employed as blitzkrieg actually applies across services.  In concert with American troops advancing up the Italian peninsula, Fifteenth AF took advantage of fighter types that were falling out of favor (with the introduction of long-range P-51s) to launch concerted attacks against Romanian oil refineries, especially as the Red Army was closing in.  The 15th was mimicking the best USAAF commander (tied with the best the USN could offer, Admiral Marc Mitscher) of the Second World War:

Every major war produces leaders whose influence is long felt by succeeding military generations. General George Patton was such a man, General Douglas MacArthur another. One airman of World War II whose influence is still felt more than 50 years later was General George Churchill Kenney, Allied air commander in the Southwest Pacific.

Kenney was a rare breed; a USAAF general that could think outside the box.  Helps to be a contrarian.  Not all Air Corps Tactical School students swallowed the Bomber Mafia kool-aid:

Kenney had come to Australia with orders to begin an offensive campaign against the Japanese in New Guinea, but he had also been told that he would have to operate on a shoestring. Unlike most of the other prewar officers who would rise to prominence during the war, he was not ingrained in the daylight precision-bombing philosophy. Kenney was a tactician, one whose theories would become major features of the postwar military, and his tactics centered on the use of air power as a “force multiplier,” to purloin a 1990s military buzzword. This was accomplished by using the airplane to advance the Allied lines as far forward as possible as quickly as possible. His philosophy was to take the war to the Japanese rather than waiting for them to bring it to the Allies.

Figures someone took the “tactical” in ACTS to heart.  Moreover, he had an eye for talented pilots…

In March 1942, Major General Kenney took command of the Fourth Air Force, the air arm of the Fourth Army, which was based at the Presidio in San Francisco. He later began his biography with a Fourth Army story that has been often repeated. He was sitting in his office when word came that a brash young Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter pilot had been observed performing loop the loops around the Golden Gate Bridge and buzzing Market Street so low that he was seen waving to secretaries on the second floor of buildings. Kenney called that bad boy into his office and gave him a mild chewing out, then sent him to Oakland to do some work for a woman who reported the low-flying fighter had blown her clothes off the line. No sooner had the young lieutenant left Kenney’s office than Kenney’s direct line from General Henry H. Arnold’s office began blinking. ‘Hap’ Arnold wanted Kenney to come to Washington to be briefed for a new job. When he arrived in the capital, Kenney was told that he was going to the Pacific to work for a man who had a reputation for cutting no slack for his air commanders–General Douglas MacArthur. Kenney would command the Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific and the Fifth Air Force.

Before departing for the Pacific, Kenney hung around Washington for three days, trying to gather as much data as he could. He also got Arnold to assign 50 P-38s with 50 pilots from the Fourth Air Force to his new command in the Pacific. And Kenney made sure that Richard Ira Bong, the aggressive young lieutenant who had looped the Golden Gate, would be one of those pilots. Today, Bong is remembered as the leading U.S. fighter ace of WWII.

…developing innovative bombing methods…

Another of Kenney’s requests was for 3,000 parafrag bombs to be sent to Australia, where he thought they might come in handy against the Japanese. While en route to Australia with his aide, Major William Benn, in July 1942, the two discussed low-altitude bombing. During a layover at Nandi in the Fijis, Kenney and Benn requisitioned a Martin B-26 Marauder bomber and went out to test a theory–that a bomb could be made to skip along the water like a stone. Their theory proved to be correct and the technique of skip bombing was born.

In the Pacific, Kenney found himself in a forgotten theater of war. Europe had priority for new aircraft and personnel. MacArthur’s forces were expected to fight a holding action to protect Australia from the advancing Japanese. Kenney quickly organized his new command so that every available asset could be put to good use. He went through his command with a fine-tooth comb, weeding out officers who were not ‘operators’ and sending them home to be replaced by men who were. He reassigned Benn to work as a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress squadron commander, and Benn began teaching his pilots the new skip-bombing techniques he and Kenney had worked out during the trip over from the States.

…and the ability to draw strength from weakness:

Kenney had Pappy Gunn assigned to him and put him to work installing racks for parafrag bombs on Douglas A-20 Havoc bombers. When the task was far enough along that other men could do the work, Gunn was put in charge of making good airplanes out of more than 100 wrecks that had been designated for salvage. To build up his air force, Kenney also requested airplanes that he knew were in disfavor in Europe–including Consolidated B-24 Liberators, North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, A-20s and P-38s.

Kenney also was politically brilliant

Shortly after the movement of the 128th Infantry to Port Moresby, General Henry H. Arnold arrived in the theater on an inspection tour. Kenney told Arnold that the 19th Bomb Group—both air and ground crews—was worn out, and that he would like to exchange them for the 90th Bomb Group, a brand new outfit equipped with B-24D Liberator bombers that had recently arrived in Hawaii. Arnold approved the swap.

When Arnold asked him about the problems of maintaining two different types of bombers, Kenney replied that he did not care. He would take whatever he could get. The daylight bombing crowd in England preferred the B-17, but Consolidated Aircraft and Ford Motor Company were gearing up to turn out B-24s at an unprecedented rate. Within a year, all of the B-17s in the Southwest Pacific had been replaced by the longer range B-24s.

…setting up the other side of the Pacific Oil Campaign:

The establishment of B-24 bases in northern New Guinea brought Japanese installations in the southern Philippines in range of U.S. heavy bombers. The extended-range cruise techniques Lindbergh had taught the P-38 pilots enabled them to fly escort. To secure an advance base closer to Mindanao, the original objective for the return to the Philippines, the Allies elected to capture Morotai, an island in northern Indonesia. Morotai fell into Allied hands in early October.

In addition to providing a base from which to launch an invasion of the Philippines, the capture of northern New Guinea allowed Allied bombers to wage a strategic bombing campaign against the oil refineries at Balikpapan on Borneo and in the Netherlands East Indies. Kenney had asked General Arnold for a heavy bomber group equipped with long-range Boeing B-29 Superfortresses for the task of destroying Balikpapan, but Arnold had other plans for the huge bombers and refused to allow any to be under theater control.

While the distances involved were on the edge of their range, B-24s flying from Biak were able to reach the refineries. Several attacks were flown against the refineries in October 1944, and by the middle of the month reconnaissance photos indicated that they had been effectively destroyed.

Kenney requests that B-29s take out Japan’s oil, right in the middle of the concerted European oil campaign, and Arnold says no.  Undeterred, Kenney takes care of the mission with his own forces, right in time for Leyte Gulf.  By the way, what was so important the XX Bomber Command’s B-29s couldn’t be bothered to knock out the Empire’s go-juice?

His Royal Ironness

His men refer to him as a ferrous asshole, and he was making an absolute mess of things.  @!#$%&^ LeMay…

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