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The History of the USAF; RAF Fairford, July, 16 – 17, 2017

The United States Air Force, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

Before 1947, the responsibility for military aviation was divided between the United States Army, the Navy and the United States Marine Corps. The Army was the first to create a variant of the Air Force at the Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps on August 1, 1907, when worldwide aviation was still in its childhood.

The Air Force of the United States became on September 18, 1947, for the first time in history a separate military service with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947. The law created the National Military Establishment which was later renamed as the United States Department of Defense which was composed of four of the five US military branches, namely; the US Army, the Marine Corps (USMC), the Navy and the Air Force (USAF). The real history of today's USAF dates back to the year 1907. The Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps was the first military aviation organization in the period from 1907 to 1914. This part of the army had for the first time in history material heavier than air and is the oldest precursor to the Air Force of the United States. The Signal Corps of the US Army became associated with aviation during the American Civil War, when Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was appointed head of the Balloon Corps of the Union army. As part of the Signal Corps, this division purchased the first powered military aircraft in 1909. Pilot schools were also set up to train pilots and the component started an appraisal system for pilot qualifications. The Signal Corps installed the first permanent American aviation unit in 1913, namely the 1st Aero Squadron. This aviation department trained 51 officers of the Army and 2 recruited men as pilots. During this period, the Aeronautical Division had 29 factory-built aircraft in its inventory of the Wright Flyer type. Aviation was still very young in this period and many accidents occurred with aircraft.

The Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was the United States Air Force during the First World War from 1914 to 1918. This part of the US Army was the successor of the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps. The Aviation Section contained the first squadrons of the aviation branch and carried out the first military operations of the US aviation on foreign soil. The Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was established by the 63rd Congress on July 18, 1914. From July 1914 to May 1918, this aviation section

of the Signal Corps was a unit prepared in its organization for a deployment in the First World War. Despite the mission of the army command to bring stability and structure within the unit, the signal corps was completely inadequate for the task of supporting the army in the struggle after the United States entered the First World War on April 6, 1917. When the United States became involved in the First World War, the first major US military force for aviation was created when the Aviation Section was classified as part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Major General Mason Patrick was in charge of the Air Service of the AEF and his deputy was Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. These aviation units, some of which were trained in France, provided tactical support to the US military forces. The units were mainly used during the offensives of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. The tasks of the Aviation Section were not resumed after the First World War and the unit was formally dissolved in 1920.

The Americans were fascinated by aviation in the 1920s and 1930s but refused to allow innovation by conservatism of the War Department. General Billy Mitchell, the deputy director of the Air Service, tried to remove the coastal defense from the United States Navy which is defending the coastline with ships only. He publicly insisted that his planes could sink battleships every day. This claim was proven with a series of tests which resulted in the sinking of the ship Ostfriesland. Mitchell lost his self-control in 1925 when he accused the Navy in a press release of "incompetence, criminal negligence and almost vain administration of the national defense". He received the highly published court-martial he wanted, and he explained his theory that the Air Force alone would be sufficient to win the next great war. He was convicted and resigned. He became a popular hero and public opinion forced the Department of War to strengthen the Air Corps. Mitchell's main argument was that the Air Force should be autonomous. Until his death in 1936, Mitchell, as a citizen, was a tireless prophet of the Air Force for many citizens. President Roosevelt had become a regular supporter of the Air Force and had both the public opinion and Congress behind him. When the mobilization started in the spring of 1940, Roosevelt was as energetic as anyone else in expanding the role of the Air Corps. Eventually, Billy Mitchel got right when during the Second World War it was shown that a strong Air Force was decisive.

The biggest war ever involving the American air forces was the Second World War. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the lead and started strategic bombing over long distances for the first time in history. In 1941, the Army Air Corps was renamed as the Army Air Forces (AAF). In this major reorganization of the army by the War Department Circular 59, the newly established Army Air Forces were assembled from parts of the army and navy on March 9, 1942. This reorganization brought together all aviation elements of the air arm in the Army Air Force. Major General Carl A. Spaatz was given command of the Eighth Air Force in London for the bombing campaign over Germany from 1942. At the end of 1943, Spaatz became commander of the new Strategic Air Forces and started daylight bombardments. He did this using the pre-war doctrine of flying bombers in close formations, relying on their combined firepower for protection against attacking enemy aircraft. This doctrine proved flawed when missions were flown deep into enemy territory out of the reach of escort fighters, because German fighter planes had free play. The large formations were very vulnerable to enemy aircraft in combination with anti-aircraft guns in Germany. American pilots suffered heavy losses during attacks on the oil refineries and the ball bearing plants in Schweinfurt and Regensburg in Germany. Only with the introduction of escort aircraft with a large range, the US air force finally got its necessary air superiority at the beginning of 1944.

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