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United States Army Air Forces

Aerial warfare branch of the United States army from 1941 to 1947

Top 10 United States Army Air Forces related articles

United States Army Air Forces
AAF Shoulder Sleeve Insignia
Disbanded18 September 1947
Country  United States
Branch United States Army
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Size2.4 million airmen (March 1944)
80,000 aircraft (July 1944)
Garrison/HQMunitions Building, Washington, D.C. (1941–1942)
The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia (1942–1947)
EngagementsWorld War II
GA Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, (1941–1946)
GEN Carl Spaatz, (1946–1947)

The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF or AAF)[1] was the major land-based aerial warfare service component of the United States Army and de facto aerial warfare service branch of the United States[2] during and immediately after World War II (1941–1945). It was created on 20 June 1941 as successor to the previous United States Army Air Corps and is the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force, today one of the six armed forces of the United States. The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which on 2 March 1942[1] was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the United States Army Services of Supply (which in 1943 became the Army Service Forces), and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.

The AAF administered all parts of military aviation formerly distributed among the Air Corps, General Headquarters Air Force, and the ground forces' corps area commanders, and thus became the first air organization of the U.S. Army to control its own installations and support personnel. The peak size of the AAF during the Second World War was over 2.4 million men and women in service and nearly 80,000 aircraft by 1944, and 783 domestic bases in December 1943.[3] By "V-E Day", the Army Air Forces had 1.25 million men stationed overseas and operated from more than 1,600 airfields worldwide.[4]

The Army Air Forces was created in June 1941 to provide the air arm a greater autonomy in which to expand more efficiently, to provide a structure for the additional command echelons required by a vastly increased force, and to end an increasingly divisive administrative battle within the Army over control of aviation doctrine and organization that had been ongoing since the creation of an aviation section within the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1914. The AAF succeeded both the Air Corps, which had been the statutory military aviation branch since 1926, and the GHQ Air Force, which had been activated in 1935 to quiet the demands of airmen for an independent Air Force similar to the Royal Air Force which had already been established in the United Kingdom.

Although other nations already had separate air forces independent of their army or navy (such as the British Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe), the AAF remained a part of the Army until a defense reorganization in the post-war period resulted in the passage by the United States Congress of the National Security Act of 1947 with the creation of an independent United States Air Force in September 1947.

In its expansion and conduct of the war, the AAF became more than just an arm of the greater organization. By the end of World War II, the Army Air Forces had become virtually an independent service. By regulation and executive order, it was a subordinate agency of the United States Department of War (as were the Army Ground Forces and the Army Service Forces) tasked only with organizing, training, and equipping combat units, and limited in responsibility to the continental United States. In reality, Headquarters AAF controlled the conduct of all aspects of the air war in every part of the world, determining air policy and issuing orders without transmitting them through the Army Chief of Staff. This "contrast between theory and fact is...fundamental to an understanding of the AAF."[2]

United States Army Air Forces Intro articles: 9


Unity of command problems in the Air Corps

The roots of the Army Air Forces arose in the formulation of theories of strategic bombing at the Air Corps Tactical School that gave new impetus to arguments for an independent air force, beginning with those espoused by Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell that led to his later court-martial. Despite a perception of resistance and even obstruction then by the bureaucracy in the War Department General Staff (WDGS), much of which was attributable to lack of funds, the Air Corps later made great strides in the 1930s, both organizationally and in doctrine. A strategy stressing precision bombing of industrial targets by heavily armed, long-range bombers emerged, formulated by the men who would become its leaders.[5]

A major step toward a separate air force came in March 1935, when command of all combat air units within the Continental United States (CONUS) was centralized under a single organization called the "General Headquarters Air Force". Since 1920, control of aviation units had resided with commanders of the corps areas (a peacetime ground forces administrative echelon), following the model established by commanding General John J. Pershing during World War I. In 1924, the General Staff planned for a wartime activation of an Army general headquarters (GHQ), similar to the American Expeditionary Forces model of World War I, with a GHQ Air Force as a subordinate component. Both were created in 1933 when a small conflict with Cuba seemed possible following a coup d'état, but were not activated.

Activation of GHQ Air Force represented a compromise between strategic airpower advocates and ground force commanders who demanded that the Air Corps mission remain tied to that of the land forces. Airpower advocates achieved a centralized control of air units under an air commander, while the WDGS divided authority within the air arm and assured a continuing policy of support of ground operations as its primary role.[6] GHQ Air Force organized combat groups administratively into a strike force of three wings deployed to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts but was small in comparison to European air forces. Lines of authority were difficult, at best, since GHQ Air Force controlled only operations of its combat units while the Air Corps was still responsible for doctrine, acquisition of aircraft, and training. Corps area commanders continued to exercise control over airfields and administration of personnel, and in the overseas departments, operational control of units as well.[n 1] Between March 1935 and September 1938, the commanders of GHQ Air Force and the Air Corps, Major Generals Frank M. Andrews and Oscar Westover respectively, clashed philosophically over the direction in which the air arm was moving, exacerbating the difficulties.[7]

The expected activation of Army General Headquarters prompted Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall to request a reorganization study from Chief of the Air Corps Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold resulting on 5 October 1940 in a proposal for creation of an air staff, unification of the air arm under one commander, and equality with the ground and supply forces. Arnold's proposal was immediately opposed by the General Staff in all respects, rehashing its traditional doctrinal argument that, in the event of war, the Air Corps would have no mission independent of support of the ground forces. Marshall implemented a compromise that the Air Corps found entirely inadequate, naming Arnold as acting "Deputy Chief of Staff for Air" but rejecting all organizational points of his proposal. GHQ Air Force instead was assigned to the control of Army General Headquarters, although the latter was a training and not an operational component, when it was activated in November 1940. A division of the GHQ Air Force into four geographical air defense districts on 19 October 1940 was concurrent with the creation of air forces to defend Hawaii and the Panama Canal. The air districts were converted in March 1941 into numbered air forces with a subordinate organization of 54 groups.[8]

Army Air Forces created

General of the Army Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold

The likelihood of U.S. participation in World War II prompted the most radical reorganization of the aviation branch in its history, developing a structure that both unified command of all air elements and gave it total autonomy and equality with the ground forces by March 1942.

In the spring of 1941, the success in Europe of air operations conducted under centralized control (as exemplified by the British Royal Air Force and the German Wehrmacht's military air arm, the Luftwaffe) made clear that the splintering of authority in the American air forces, characterized as "hydra-headed" by one congressman,[n 2] had caused a disturbing lack of clear channels of command. Less than five months after the rejection of Arnold's reorganization proposal, a joint U.S.-British strategic planning agreement (ABC-1) refuted the General Staff's argument that the Air Corps had no wartime mission except to support ground forces.[9] A struggle with the General Staff over control of air defense of the United States had been won by airmen and vested in four command units called "numbered air forces", but the bureaucratic conflict threatened to renew the dormant struggle for an independent United States Air Force. Marshall had come to the view that the air forces needed a "simpler system" and a unified command. Working with Arnold and Robert A. Lovett, recently appointed to the long-vacant position of Assistant Secretary of War for Air, he reached a consensus that quasi-autonomy for the air forces was preferable to immediate separation.[10]

On 20 June 1941, to grant additional autonomy to the air forces and to avoid binding legislation from Congress, the War Department revised the army regulation governing the organization of Army aviation, AR 95–5.[10] Arnold assumed the title of Chief of the Army Air Forces, creating an echelon of command over all military aviation components for the first time and ending the dual status of the Air Corps and GHQ Air Force, which was renamed Air Force Combat Command (AFCC) in the new organization. The AAF gained the formal "Air Staff" long opposed by the General Staff,[n 3] and a single air commander,[10] but still did not have equal status with the Army ground forces, and air units continued to report through two chains of command.[11] The commanding general of AFCC gained control of his stations and court martial authority over his personnel,[12] but under the new field manual FM-5 the Army General Headquarters had the power to detach units from AFCC at will by creating task forces, the WDGS still controlled the AAF budget and finances, and the AAF had no jurisdiction over units of the Army Service Forces providing "housekeeping services" as support[n 4] nor of air units, bases, and personnel located outside the continental United States.[13][14]

Arnold and Marshall agreed that the AAF would enjoy a general autonomy within the War Department (similar to that of the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy)[12] until the end of the war, while its commanders would cease lobbying for independence.[n 5] Marshall, a strong proponent of airpower, left understood that the Air Force would likely achieve its independence following the war. Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, in recognition of importance of the role of the Army Air Forces, Arnold was given a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the planning staff that served as the focal point of American strategic planning during the war, in order that the United States would have an air representative in staff talks with their British counterparts on the Combined Chiefs. In effect the head of the AAF gained equality with Marshall. While this step was never officially recognized by the United States Navy, and was bitterly disputed behind the scenes at every opportunity, it nevertheless succeeded as a pragmatic foundation for the future separation of the Air Force.[15]

Reorganizations of the AAF

Circular No. 59 reorganization

Under the revision of AR 95–5, the Army Air Forces consisted of three major components: Headquarters AAF, Air Force Combat Command, and the Air Corps. Yet the reforms were incomplete, subject to reversal with a change of mood at the War Department, and of dubious legality.[n 6] By November 1941, on the eve of U.S. entry into the war, the division of authority within the Army as a whole, caused by the activation of Army GHQ a year before, had led to a "battle of memos" between it and the WDGS over administering the AAF, prompting Marshall to state that he had "the poorest command post in the Army" when defense commands showed a "disturbing failure to follow through on orders".[12] To streamline the AAF in preparation for war, with a goal of centralized planning and decentralized execution of operations, in October 1941 Arnold submitted to the WDGS essentially the same reorganization plan it had rejected a year before, this time crafted by Chief of Air Staff Brig. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz.[10][11][16] When this plan was not given any consideration, Arnold reworded the proposal the following month which, in the face of Marshall's dissatisfaction with Army GHQ, the War Plans Division accepted. Just before Pearl Harbor, Marshall recalled an Air Corps officer, Brig. Gen. Joseph T. McNarney, from an observer group in England and appointed him to chair a "War Department Reorganization Committee" within the War Plans Division, using Arnold's and Spaatz's plan as a blueprint.[17][18]

After war began, Congress enacted the First War Powers Act on 18 December 1941 endowing President Franklin D. Roosevelt with virtual carte blanche to reorganize the executive branch as he found necessary.[19] Under it, on 28 February 42 Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9082, based on Marshall's recommendation and the work of McNarney's committee. The EO changed Arnold's title to Commanding General, Army Air Forces effective 9 March 1942, making him co-equal with the commanding generals of the new Army Ground Forces and Services of Supply, the other two components of the Army of the United States. The War Department issued Circular No. 59 on 2 March that carried out the executive order,[20] intended (as with the creation of the Air Service in World War I) as a wartime expedient to expire six months after the end of the war.[17][21] The three components replaced a multiplicity of branches and organizations, reduced the WDGS greatly in size, and proportionally increased the representation of the air forces members on it to 50%.[20][22]

In addition to dissolving both Army General Headquarters and the chiefs of the combat arms, and assigning their training functions to the Army Ground Forces, War Department Circular 59 reorganized the Army Air Forces, disbanding both Air Force Combat Command and the Office of Chief of the Air Corps (OCAC), eliminating all its training and organizational functions, which removed an entire layer of authority.[23][n 7] Taking their former functions were eleven numbered air forces (later raised to sixteen) and six support commands (which became eight in January 1943). The circular also restated the mission of the AAF, in theory removing from it responsibility for strategic planning and making it only a Zone of Interior "training and supply agency", but from the start AAF officers viewed this as a "paper" restriction negated by Arnold's place on both the Joint and Combined Chiefs, which gave him strategic planning authority for the AAF,[24][25][26] a viewpoint that was formally sanctioned by the War Department in mid-1943 and endorsed by the president.[27][28][n 8]

The Circular No. 59 reorganization directed the AAF to operate under a complex division of administrative control performed by a policy staff, an operating staff, and the support commands (formerly "field activities" of the OCAC). The former field activities operated under a "bureau" structure, with both policy and operating functions vested in staff-type officers who often exercised command and policy authority without responsibility for results, a system held over from the Air Corps years. The concept of an "operating staff", or directorates, was modeled on the RAF system that had been much admired by the observer groups sent over in 1941, and resulted from a desire to place experts in various aspects of military aviation into key positions of implementation. However functions often overlapped, communication and coordination between the divisions failed or was ignored, policy prerogatives were usurped by the directorates, and they became overburdened with detail, all contributing to the diversion of the directorates from their original purpose. The system of directorates in particular handicapped the developing operational training program (see Combat units below), preventing establishment of an OTU command and having a tendency to micromanage because of the lack of centralized control.[29] Four main directorates—Military Requirements, Technical Services, Personnel, and Management Control—were created, each with multiple sub-directorates, and eventually more than thirty offices were authorized to issue orders in the name of the commanding general.[30]

March 1943 reorganization

29 March 1943 reorganization of the United States Army Air Forces

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The recruiting film Winning Your Wings (1942) helped enlist 150,000 pilots

A "strong and growing dissatisfaction" with the organization led to an attempt by Lovett in September 1942 to make the system work by bringing the Directorate of Management Control[n 9] and several traditional offices that had been moved to the operating staff, including the Air Judge Advocate and Budget Officer, back under the policy staff umbrella. When this adjustment failed to resolve the problems, the system was scrapped and all functions combined into a single restructured air staff.[31] The hierarchical "command" principle, in which a single commander has direct final accountability but delegates authority to staff, was adopted AAF-wide in a major reorganization and consolidation on 29 March 1943. The four main directorates and seventeen subordinate directorates (the "operating staff")[32] were abolished as an unnecessary level of authority, and execution of policies was removed from the staffs to be assigned solely to field organizations along functional lines. The policy functions of the directorates were reorganized and consolidated into offices regrouped along conventional military lines under six assistant chiefs of air staff (AC/AS): Personnel; Intelligence; Operations, Commitments, and Requirements (OC&R); Materiel, Maintenance, and Distribution (MM&D);[n 10] Plans; and Training. Command of Headquarters AAF resided in a Chief of Air Staff and three deputies.[30]

This wartime structure remained essentially unchanged for the remainder of hostilities. In October 1944 Arnold, to begin a process of reorganization for reducing the structure, proposed to eliminate the AC/AS, Training and move his office into OC&R, changing it to Operations, Training and Requirements (OT&R)[n 11] but the mergers were never effected. On 23 August 1945, after the capitulation of Japan, realignment took place with the complete elimination of OC&R. The now five assistant chiefs of air staff were designated AC/AS-1 through -5 corresponding to Personnel, Intelligence, Operations and Training, Materiel and Supply, and Plans.[33]

Most personnel of the Army Air Forces were drawn from the Air Corps. In May 1945, 88 per cent of officers serving in the Army Air Forces were commissioned in the Air Corps, while 82 per cent of enlisted members assigned to AAF units and bases had the Air Corps as their combat arm branch.[34] While officially the air arm was the Army Air Forces, the term Air Corps persisted colloquially among the public as well as veteran airmen; in addition, the singular Air Force often crept into popular and even official use, reflected by the designation Air Force Combat Command in 1941–42.[n 12] This misnomer was also used on official recruiting posters (see image above) and was important in promoting the idea of an "Air Force" as an independent service. Jimmy Stewart, a Hollywood movie star serving as an AAF pilot, used the terms "Air Corps" and "Air Forces" interchangeably in the narration of the 1942 recruiting short "Winning Your Wings". The term "Air Force" also appeared prominently in Frank Capra's 1945 War Department indoctrination film "War Comes to America", of the famous iconic "Why We Fight" series, as an animated map graphic of equal prominence to that of the Army and Navy.[n 13]

United States Army Air Forces Creation articles: 43


The Air Corps at the direction of President Roosevelt began a rapid expansion from the spring of 1939 forward, partly from the Civilian Pilot Training Program created at the end of 1938, with the goal of providing an adequate air force for defense of the Western Hemisphere. An initial "25-group program", announced in April 1939, called for 50,000 men. However, when war broke out in September 1939 the Air Corps still had only 800 first-line combat aircraft and 76 bases, including 21 major installations and depots.[35] American fighter aircraft were inferior to the British Spitfire and Hurricane, and German Messerschmitt Bf 110 and 109. Ralph Ingersoll wrote in late 1940 after visiting Britain that the "best American fighter planes already delivered to the British are used by them either as advanced trainers—or for fighting equally obsolete Italian planes in the Middle East. That is all they are good for." RAF crews he interviewed said that by spring 1941 a fighter engaging Germans had to have the capability to reach 400 mph in speed, fight at 30,000–35,000 feet, be simple to take off, provide armor for the pilot, and carry 12 machine guns or six cannons, all attributes lacking in American aircraft.[36]

Following the successful German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940, Roosevelt asked Congress for a supplemental appropriation of nearly a billion dollars, a production program of 50,000 aircraft a year, and a military air force of 50,000 aircraft (of which 36,500 would be Army).[37][n 14] Accelerated programs followed in the Air Corps that repeatedly revised expansion goals, resulting in plans for 84 combat groups, 7,799 combat aircraft, and the annual addition to the force of 30,000 new pilots and 100,000 technical personnel.[38] The accelerated expansion programs resulted in a force of 156 airfields and 152,125 personnel at the time of the creation of the Army Air Forces.[39]

In its expansion during World War II, the AAF became the world's most powerful air force. From the Air Corps of 1939, with 20,000 men and 2,400 planes, to the nearly autonomous AAF of 1944, with almost 2.4 million personnel and 80,000 aircraft, was a remarkable expansion. Robert A. Lovett, the Assistant Secretary of War for Air, together with Arnold, presided over an increase greater than for either the ground Army or the Navy, while at the same time dispatching combat air forces to the battlefronts.

"The Evolution of the Department of the Air Force" – Air Force Historical Studies Office[40]

The German invasion of the Soviet Union, occurring only two days after the creation of the Army Air Forces, caused an immediate reassessment of U.S. defense strategy and policy. The need for an offensive strategy to defeat the Axis Powers required further enlargement and modernization of all the military services, including the new AAF. In addition, the invasion produced a new Lend lease partner in Russia, creating even greater demands on an already struggling American aircraft production.[41]

An offensive strategy required several types of urgent and sustained effort. In addition to the development and manufacture of aircraft in massive numbers, the Army Air Forces had to establish a global logistics network to supply, maintain, and repair the huge force; recruit and train personnel; and sustain the health, welfare, and morale of its troops. The process was driven by the pace of aircraft production, not the training program,[42] and was ably aided by the direction of Lovett, who for all practical purposes became "Secretary of the Air Corps".[43][n 15]

A lawyer and a banker, Lovett had prior experience with the aviation industry that translated into realistic production goals and harmony in integrating the plans of the AAF with those of the Army as a whole.[44] Lovett initially believed that President Roosevelt's demand following the attack on Pearl Harbor for 60,000 airplanes in 1942 and 125,000 in 1943 was grossly ambitious. However, working closely with General Arnold and engaging the capacity of the American automotive industry brought about an effort that produced almost 100,000 aircraft in 1944.[45][n 16] The AAF reached its wartime inventory peak of nearly 80,000 aircraft in July 1944, 41% of them first line combat aircraft, before trimming back to 73,000 at the end of the year following a large reduction in the number of trainers needed.[46][n 17]

The logistical demands of this armada were met by the creation of the Air Service Command on 17 October 1941 to provide service units and maintain 250 depots in the United States; the elevation of the Materiel Division to full command status on 9 March 1942 to develop and procure aircraft, equipment, and parts; and the merger of these commands into the Air Technical Service Command on 31 August 1944.[47] In addition to carrying personnel and cargo, the Air Transport Command made deliveries of almost 270,000 aircraft worldwide while losing only 1,013 in the process.[48] The operation of the stateside depots was done largely by more than 300,000 civilian maintenance employees, many of them women, freeing a like number of Air Forces mechanics for overseas duty.[49] In all facets of the service, more than 420,000 civilian personnel were employed by the AAF.[50]

Growth, aircraft

USAAF aircraft types by year[46]
Type of aircraft 31 December 1941 31 December 1942 31 December 1943 31 December 1944 31 August 1945 Date of maximum size
Grand total 12,297 33,304 64,232 72,726 63,715 July 1944 (79,908)
Combat aircraft 4,477 11,607 27,448 41,961 41,163 May 1945 (43,248)
Very heavy bombers - 3 91 977 2,865 August 1945 (2,865)
Heavy bombers 288 2,076 8,027 12,813 11,065 April 1945 (12,919)
Medium bombers 745 2,556 4,370 6,189 5,384 October 1944 (6,262)
Light bombers 799 1,201 2,371 2,980 3,079 September 1944 (3,338)
Fighter aircraft 2,170 5,303 11,875 17,198 16,799 May 1945 (17,725)
Reconnaissance aircraft 475 468 714 1,804 1,971 May 1945 (2,009)
Support aircraft 7,820 21,697 36,784 30,765 22,552 July 1944 (41,667)
Military transport aircraft 254 1,857 6,466 10,456 9,561 December 1944 (10,456)
Trainer aircraft 7,340 17,044 26,051 17,060 9,558 May 1944 (27,923)
Communications[n 18] 226 2,796 4,267 3,249 3,433 December 1943 (4,267)

Growth, military personnel

The huge increases in aircraft inventory resulted in a similar increase in personnel, expanding sixteen-fold in less than three years following its formation, and changed the personnel policies under which the Air Service and Air Corps had operated since the National Defense Act of 1920. No longer could pilots represent 90% of commissioned officers. The need for large numbers of specialists in administration and technical services resulted in the establishment of an Officer Candidate School in Miami Beach, Florida, and the direct commissioning of thousands of professionals.[51] Even so, 193,000 new pilots entered the AAF during World War II, while 124,000 other candidates failed at some point during training or were killed in accidents.[52]

The requirements for new pilots resulted in a massive expansion of the Aviation Cadet program, which had so many volunteers that the AAF created a reserve pool that held qualified pilot candidates until they could be called to active duty, rather than losing them in the draft. By 1944, this pool became surplus, and 24,000 were sent to the Army Ground Forces for retraining as infantry, and 6,000 to the Army Service Forces.[53] Pilot standards were changed to reduce the minimum age from 20 to 18, and eliminated the educational requirement of at least two years of college. Two fighter pilot beneficiaries of this change went on to become brigadier generals in the United States Air Force, James Robinson Risner and Charles E. Yeager.[54]

1943 portrait of WAC air controller

Air crew needs resulted in the successful training of 43,000 bombardiers, 49,000 navigators, and 309,000 flexible gunners, many of whom also specialized in other aspects of air crew duties.[n 19] 7,800 men qualified as B-29 flight engineers and 1,000 more as radar operators in night fighters, all of whom received commissions. Almost 1.4 million men received technical training as aircraft mechanics, electronics specialists, and other technicians. Non-aircraft related support services were provided by airmen trained by the Army Service Forces, but the AAF increasingly exerted influence on the curricula of these courses in anticipation of future independence.[55][56]

African-Americans comprised approximately six per cent of this force (145,242 personnel in June 1944).[57] In 1940, pressured by Eleanor Roosevelt and some Northern members of Congress, General Arnold agreed to accept blacks for pilot training, albeit on a segregated basis. A flight training center was set up at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Despite the handicap—caused by the segregation policy—of not having an experienced training cadre as with other AAF units, the Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves in combat with the 332nd Fighter Group. The Tuskegee training program produced 673 black fighter pilots, 253 B-26 Marauder pilots, and 132 navigators.[58] The vast majority of African-American airmen, however, did not fare as well. Mainly draftees, most did not fly or maintain aircraft. Their largely menial duties, indifferent or hostile leadership, and poor morale led to serious dissatisfaction and several violent incidents.[59]

Women served more successfully as part of the war-time Army Air Forces. The AAF was willing to experiment with its allotment from the unpopular Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) and became an early and determined supporter of full military status for women in the Army (Women's Army Corps or WACs). WACs serving in the AAF became such an accepted and valuable part of the service they earned the distinction of being commonly (but unofficially) known as "Air WACs".[60] Nearly 40,000 women served in the WAACs and WACs as AAF personnel,[61][n 20] more than 1,000 as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), and 6,500 as nurses in the Army Air Forces, including 500 flight nurses.[62] 7,601 "Air WACs" served overseas in April 1945, and women performed in more than 200 job categories.[63]

The Air Corps Act of July 1926 increased the number of general officers authorized in the Army's air arm from two to four. The activation of GHQAF in March 1935 doubled that number to eight and pre-war expansion of the Air Corps in October 1940 saw fifteen new general officer billets created.[64][n 21] By the end of World War II, 320 generals were authorized for service within the wartime AAF.[65]

USAAC-USAAF Military Personnel Strength, 1939–1945[66]
Date Total USAAF Tot Officers Tot Enlisted # overseas Officers o/s Enlisted o/s
31 July 1939 24,724 2,636 22,088 3,991 272 3,719
31 December 1939 43,118 3,006 40,112 7,007 351 6,656
31 December 1940 101,227 6,437 94,790 16,070 612 15,458
31 December 1941 354,161 24,521 329,640 25,884 2,479 23,405
31 December 1942 1,597,049 127,267 1,469,782 242,021 26,792 215,229
31 December 1943 2,373,882 274,347 2,099,535 735,666 81,072 654,594
31 March 1944 (Peak size) 2,411,294 306,889 2,104,405 906,335 104,864 801,471
31 December 1944 2,359,456 375,973 1,983,483 1,164,136 153,545 1,010,591
30 April 1945 (Peak overseas) 2,329,534 388,278 1,941,256 1,224,006 163,886 1,060,120
31 August 1945 2,253,182 368,344 1,884,838 999,609 122,833 876,776
1939–1940 totals were U.S. Army Air Corps

Growth, installations

The Air Corps operated 156 installations at the beginning of 1941. An airbase expansion program had been underway since 1939, attempting to keep pace with the increase in personnel, units, and aircraft, using existing municipal and private facilities where possible, but it had been mismanaged, first by the Quartermaster Corps and then by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because of a lack of familiarity with Air Corps requirements.[67] The outbreak of war in Europe and the resulting need for a wide variety of facilities for both operations and training within the Continental United States necessitated comprehensive changes of policy, first in September 1941 by giving the responsibility for acquisition and development of bases directly to the AAF for the first time in its history,[68] and then in April 1942 by delegation of the enormous task by Headquarters AAF to its user field commands and numbered air forces.[69]

In addition to the construction of new permanent bases and the building of numerous bombing and gunnery ranges, the AAF utilized civilian pilot schools, training courses conducted at college and factory sites, and officer training detachments at colleges. In early 1942, in a controversial move, the AAF Technical Training Command began leasing resort hotels and apartment buildings for large-scale training sites (accommodation for 90,000 existed in Miami Beach alone).[70] The leases were negotiated for the AAF by the Corps of Engineers, often to the economic detriment of hotel owners in rental rates, wear and tear clauses, and short-notice to terminate leases.[71]

In December 1943, the AAF reached a war-time peak of 783 airfields in the Continental United States.[72] At the end of the war, the AAF was using almost 20 million acres of land, an area as large as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire combined.[73]


CONUS Installations[74]
Type of facility 7 December 1941 31 December 1941 31 December 1942 31 December 1943 31 December 1944 VE Day VJ Day
Total all installations 181 197 1,270 1,419 1,506 1,473 1,377
Main bases 114 151 345 345 377 356 344
Satellite bases - - 71 116 37 56 57
Auxiliary fields - - 198 322 309 291 269
Total CONUS airfields 114 151 614 783 723 703 670
Bombing & gunnery ranges - - unk - 480 473 433
Hospitals & other owned facilities 67 46 29 32 44 30 30
Contract pilot schools unk unk 69 66 14 14 6
Rented office space - - unk unk 79 109 103
Leased hotels & apartment bldgs - - 464 216 75 75 75
Civilian & factory tech schools - - 66 47 21 17 16
College training detachments - - 16 234 2 1 1
Specialized storage depots - - 12 41 68 51 43
Overseas airfields[75]
Location 31 December 1941 31 December 1942 31 December 1943 31 December 1944 VE Day VJ Day
US possessions 19 60 70 89 130 128
North America 7 74 83 67 66 62
Atlantic islands 5 27 - 20 21 21
South America - 27 28 22 32 32
Africa - 73 94 45 31 21
Europe - 33 119 302 392 196
Australia - 20 35 10 7 3
Pacific islands - 21 65 100 57 56
Asia - 23 65 96 175 115
Total overseas 31 358 559 751 911 634

United States Army Air Forces Expansion articles: 53

Organization and equipment

Command structure

By the end of World War II, the USAAF had created 16 numbered air forces (First through Fifteenth and Twentieth) distributed worldwide to prosecute the war, plus a general air force within the continental United States to support the whole and provide air defense.[76][n 22] The latter was formally organized as the Continental Air Forces and activated on 15 December 1944, although it did not formally take jurisdiction of its component air forces until the end of the war in Europe.[77][n 23]

Half of the numbered air forces were created de novo as the service expanded during the war. Some grew out of earlier commands as the service expanded in size and hierarchy (for example, the V Air Support Command became the Ninth Air Force in April 1942),[n 24] and higher echelons such as United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) in Europe[n 25] and U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific became necessary to control the whole.

A subordinate organizational tier within the numbered air force, the operational command, was created to segregate units of similar functions (fighters and bombers) for administrative control. The numbering of the operational command was designated by the Roman numeral of its parent numbered air force. For instance, the Eighth Air Force listed the VIII Bomber Command and the VIII Fighter Command as subordinate operational commands. Roman numbered commands within numbered air forces also included "support", "base", and other services commands to support the operational units, such as the VIII Air Force Service and VIII Air Force Composite Commands[n 26] also part of Eighth Air Force during its history. The use of Roman-numeral commands was nonstandard within the AAF; the Tenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Air Forces did not field subordinate commands during World War II.[n 27]

Eight air divisions served as an additional layer of command and control for the vast organization, capable of acting independently if the need arose.

Inclusive within the air forces, commands and divisions were administrative headquarters called wings to control groups (operational units; see section below). As the number of groups increased, the number of wings needed to control them multiplied, with 91 ultimately activated, 69 of which were still active at the end of the war. As part of the Air Service and Air Corps, wings had been composite organizations, that is, composed of groups with different types of missions. Most of the wings of World War II, however, were composed of groups with like functions (denoted as bombardment, fighter, reconnaissance, training, antisubmarine, troop carrier, and replacement).[78][n 28]

The six support commands organized between March 1941 and April 1942 to support and supply the numbered air forces remained on the same chain of command echelon as the numbered air forces, under the direct control of Headquarters Army Air Forces. At the end of 1942 and again in the spring of 1943 the AAF listed nine support commands before it began a process of consolidation that streamlined the number to five at the end of the war.[79][80]

AAF Training Command patch

These commands were:

Support commands active on 15 September 1945
Air Transport Command[n 29]
Army Air Forces Training Command[n 30]
Air Technical Service Command[n 31]
Army Air Forces Center[n 32]
Army Air Forces Personnel Distribution Command[n 33]
Discontinued or merged support commands
Army Air Forces Flying Training Command[n 34]
Army Air Forces Technical Training Command[n 35]
Air Service Command[n 36]
Materiel Command[n 37]
Proving Ground Command[n 38]
I Troop Carrier Command[n 39]
I Concentration Command[n 40]
Antisubmarine Command[n 41]
Flight Control Command[n 42]

Combat units

USAAF recruiting poster

The primary combat unit of the Army Air Forces for both administrative and tactical purposes was the group, an organization of three or four flying squadrons[n 43] and attached or organic ground support elements, which was the rough equivalent of a regiment of the Army Ground Forces.[81] The Army Air Forces fielded a total of 318 combat groups at some point during World War II, with an operational force of 243 combat groups in 1945.[82]

The Air Service and its successor the Air Corps had established 15 permanent combat groups between 1919 and 1937.[82] With the buildup of the combat force beginning 1 February 1940, the Air Corps expanded from 15 to 30 groups by the end of the year. On 7 December 1941 the number of activated combat groups had reached 67, with 49 still within the Continental United States. Of the CONUS groups (the "strategic reserve"), 21 were engaged in operational training or still being organized and were unsuitable for deployment.[83][84][n 44] Of the 67 combat groups, 26 were classified as bombardment: 13 Heavy Bomb groups (B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator), and the rest Medium and Light groups (B-25 Mitchell, B-26 Marauder, and A-20 Havoc). The balance of the force included 26 Pursuit groups (renamed fighter group in May 1942), 9 Observation (renamed Reconnaissance) groups, and 6 Transport (renamed Troop Carrier or Combat Cargo) groups.[78][n 45] After the operational deployment of the B-29 Superfortress bomber, Very Heavy Bombardment units were added to the force array.

In the first half of 1942 the Army Air Forces expanded rapidly as the necessity of a much larger air force than planned was immediately realized. Authorization for the total number of combat groups required to fight the war nearly doubled in February to 115. In July it jumped to 224, and a month later to 273. When the U.S. entered the war, however, the number of groups actually trained to a standard of combat proficiency had barely surpassed the total originally authorized by the first expansion program in 1940.[85] The extant training establishment, in essence a "self-training" system, was inadequate in assets, organization, and pedagogy to train units wholesale. Individual training of freshly minted pilots occupied an inordinate amount of the available time to the detriment of unit proficiency. The ever-increasing numbers of new groups being formed had a deleterious effect on operational training and threatened to overwhelm the capacity of the old Air Corps groups to provide experienced cadres or to absorb graduates of the expanded training program to replace those transferred. Since 1939 the overall level of experience among the combat groups had fallen to such an extent that when the demand for replacements in combat was factored in, the entire operational training system was threatened.[86]

USAAF insignia from July 1943 to January 1947

To avoid this probable crisis, an Operational Training Unit (OTU) system was adopted as it had been by the RAF. Under the American OTU concept, certain experienced groups were authorized as overstrength "parent" groups. A parent group (OTU unit) provided approximately 20% of its seasoned personnel as cadre to a newly activated, or "satellite", group. Cadres detached to the newly activated satellite group were first provided with special instruction on their training responsibilities, initially by the responsible air forces, but after 9 October 1942, by the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics (AAFSAT) to standardize curriculum and instruction.[86] New graduates of training schools fleshed out the satellite group and also restored the parent group to its overstrength size. The parent group was responsible for the organization and training of its satellite, normally a process six months in length that began the day of detachment of the cadre, the first half of the process bringing the new unit up to strength, the second half devoted to flying training, with the final six weeks concentrating on fighting as a unit.[87]

The plan was first adopted in February 1942 by the AFCC's Second and Third Air Forces, which had only training responsibilities during World War II.[88] The creation of an "operating staff" on 9 March 1942 reorganization of the AAF and the dissolution of the AFCC halted the planned establishment of an Operational Training Command to oversee the program. Spaatz, last commanding general of the AFCC, was temporarily given supervisory responsibility for OTU while the new directorates were brought up to speed,[89] but after April 1942 the sub-directorates having jurisdiction over the training[n 46] tended to tell the air forces not only what to do, but how to do it. When the operating staff and its directorates were abolished in March 1943, control of OTU/RTU activities was placed under the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Training and administered by the Unit Training Division.[90][91]

In May 1942 the plan was extended to all four continental air forces but not until early 1943 were most developmental problems resolved.[n 47] Before the system matured, each air force became predominant in one type of OTU training, heavy bomber in the Second Air Force, medium and light bomber in the Third, and fighters in the First and Fourth (which also had an air defense responsibility), but eventually both fighter and bombardment OTU were conducted in all four. When the bulk of new groups (and several parent groups) had been sent overseas, replacement training (RTU)[n 48] took precedence over OTU and except for three B-29 groups,[n 49] no new satellites were formed after October 1943.[92] In December 1943, 56 groups were assigned to the strategic reserve as OTU parent units or RTUs,[93] and the AAF had reached its maximum size, 269 groups. 136 were deployed overseas and of those still in the United States, 77 were also being organized and trained for overseas deployment. In the spring of 1944 all operational and replacement training was reassigned to "base units" of the respective CONUS air forces,[n 50] resulting in the inactivation or disbanding between 31 March and 1 May 1944 of 49 OTU/RTU groups, which reduced the number of active groups to 218. However, additional groups were formed in the following months to bring the AAF to its final wartime structure.[82][93]

In February 1945 the AAF fielded 243 combat groups:

Between the Invasion of Normandy in June 1944 and VE Day in 1945, 149 combat groups fought against Germany, while by August 1945, when all combat operations ended, 86 groups were deployed in the Pacific and Far East. The European force was then either performing occupation duties or re-deploying to the United States.[82][93] With the partial demobilization of the forces in Europe, the total of active groups in the AAF had been reduced to 213. Nearly all of the discontinued units were heavy bombardment groups (B-17 and B-24), which numbered only 35 at the war's end. The remainder had been inactivated or redesignated as very heavy bombardment (B-29).[93]

The basic permanent organization of the AAF for combat elements was the squadron.[81] 1,226 combat squadrons were active in the USAAF between 7 December 1941 and 2 September 1945.[94][n 55] At the end of hostilities in 1945 a total of 933 squadrons remained active, with 868 assigned to the various groups. 65 squadrons, mostly reconnaissance and night fighter, were not assigned to groups but as separate units under higher command echelons.[78]

Composition of AAF Combat Units[95]
20 February 1945
Type of unit Type of aircraft Number of aircraft Number of crews Men per crew Total personnel Officers Enlisted
Very heavy bombardment group B-29 45 60 11 2,078 462 1,816
Heavy bombardment group B-17, B-24 72 96 9 to 11 2,261 465 1,796
Medium bombardment group B-25, B-26 96 96 5 or 6 1,759 393 1,386
Light bombardment group A-20, A-26 96 96 3 or 4 1,304 211 1,093
Single-engine fighter group P-40, P-47
111 to 126 108 to 126 1 994 183 811
Twin-engine fighter group P-38 111 to 126 108 to 126 1 1,081 183 838
Troop carrier group C-47 80–110 128 4 or 5 1,837 514 1,323
Combat cargo group C-46, C-47 125 150 4 883 350 533
Night fighter squadron1 P-61, P-70 18 16 2 or 3 288 50 238
Tactical reconnaissance squadron2 F-6, P-40
L-4, L-5
27 23 1 233 39 194
Photo reconnaissance squadron2 F-5 24 21 1 347 50 297
Combat mapping squadron2 F-7, F-9 18 16 8 474 77 397
1Night fighter squadrons were not organized into groups.
2For reconnaissance units, the organization of squadrons rather than groups is shown because groups did not have a standard number or types of squadrons assigned.


The United States Army Air Forces used a large variety of aircraft in accomplishing its various missions, including many obsolete aircraft left over from its pre-June 1941 time as the Air Corps, with fifteen designations of types.[96][n 56]

The following were the most numerous types in the USAAF inventory, or those that specifically saw combat. Variants, including all photo-reconnaissance ("F") variants, are listed and described under their separate articles. Many aircraft, particularly transports and trainers, had numerous designations resulting from differences in power plants.


B-17G Fortresses of the 306th Bomb Group


P-51 Mustang of 361st Fighter Group, 1944
Taylorcraft L-2


C-47 of the 438th Troop Carrier Group



USAAF AT-6Cs near Luke Field, 1943

Utility, rescue, and glider

UC-64 Norseman

United States Army Air Forces Organization and equipment articles: 81

Role in World War II

Strategic planning

Changing USAAF Bombing Priorities

On 13 August 1941, the Air War Plans Division of the USAAF produced its plan for a global air strategy, AWPD/1.[101] Formally known as "Annex 2, Air Requirements" to "The Victory Program", a plan of strategic estimates involving the entire U.S. military,[102] the plan was prepared in accordance with strategic policies drawn earlier that year in the ABC-1 agreement with the British Commonwealth and the U.S. war plan Rainbow 5. Its forecast figures, despite planning errors from lack of accurate information about weather and the German economic commitment to the war, were within 2 percent of the units and 5.5 percent of the personnel ultimately mobilized,[103] and it accurately predicted the time frame when the invasion of Europe by the Allies would take place.[104]

AWPD/1 called for an air defense of the Western hemisphere, a strategic defense against Japan in the Pacific, and strategic bombardment by 6,800 bombers against Germany, identifying 154 key targets of the German economic infrastructure it considered vulnerable to a sustained campaign.[105] A strategic bomber requirement of 7,500 aircraft, which included the intercontinental B-36[105] (then still in the design phase), was far too large for American industry to achieve to be practical, and an interim plan to attack Germany with 3,800 bombers was included in AWPD/1.[105]

AWPD/1 was approved by Marshall and Secretary of War Henry Stimson in September 1941.[106] Although war began before the plan could be presented to Roosevelt, it became the foundation for establishing aircraft production and training requirements used during the war, and the concept of a strategic bomber offensive against Germany became policy of the U.S. government,[107] in accordance with United States strategic policy stated in Rainbow 5, as the only means available to the United States to take the war to Germany.[106]

In August 1942 Roosevelt called for a revision of proposed air requirements. AWPD/42 was presented on 6 September 1942, and although never accepted by the U.S. Navy, its revised estimates (which more than doubled production requirements to nearly 150,000 aircraft of all types, including those of the Navy and exports to allies) guided the Roosevelt Administration in 1943. The estimate was later reduced to 127,000, of which 80,000 were combat aircraft.

Like its predecessor, AWPD/42 laid out a strategic plan for the daylight bombing of Germany by unescorted heavy bombers, but also included a similar plan for attacks on Japan. Unfortunately the B-17 bomber command of the U.S. Eighth Air Force had only flown six relatively unopposed missions when AWPD/42 was drawn up, and the prior mistake in AWPD/1 of disregarding the need and feasibility of long-range fighter escorts was repeated.

Both plans called for the destruction of the German Air Force (GAF) as a necessary requirement before campaigns against priority economic targets. AWPD/1 established four target sets in order of priority: electrical power production, inland transportation, petroleum production, and Berlin;[97] while AWPD/42 revised the priorities, placing U-boat facilities first, followed by transportation, electricity production, petroleum production, and rubber production.[98]

Combat crew rotation

To prevent or alleviate the effects of combat fatigue, the AAF developed policies for rotating combat crews between the theaters of operations and the United States.[108] Replacement limitations and operational requirements caused the modification of basic AAF policy several times during the war. On 1 July 1942 the War Department first set a one-year tour of duty for all AAF combat crews, but a simple, uniform policy service-wide was unrealistic and never put into effect. Instead field commanders developed their own criteria for determining completion of tours. While varying substantially between theaters, most of these programs attempted to establish fixed tours based on numbers of missions and other quantifiable factors. Nonetheless, Headquarters AAF did not interfere with theater programs but did prohibit any rotation unless replacements had first arrived in the unit.[109] After studying the situation, the War Department rescinded the one-year tour policy on 29 May 1943 and changed procedures for assignment of replacements to include both attrition and rotation purposes. However a continuing shortage forced commanders to lengthen the tours they had established, to the detriment of aircrew morale.[110]

By January 1944 nearly all active tactical units had been programmed for deployment and the overall loss rate in the AAF was less than predicted. Arnold began to build reserves in tactical units to provide enough personnel for multiple crews for each aircraft but was hampered by the rotation policies, particularly among those fighting in Europe. Rotated personnel also believed that they were permanently exempt from further combat service, which was never the case at any time during World War II.[111] He ordered the revocation on 16 February 1944 of policies that arbitrarily set fixed "goals" for completion of combat tours and directed that the impression that no airman would be required to serve more than one tour of combat be "unmistakably corrected".[112]

The use of in-theater rest camps as a short term measure for relief of stress only served to delay the onset of combat fatigue. The AAF approved in April 1944 the use of 30 days leave in the United States on a limited basis as a substitute for rotation but by August found it counterproductive for rehabilitative purposes.[113] In September 1944 Arnold, without rescinding his "no fixed tours" order, notified field commands that his objective was to provide enough replacement crews that rotation "based on war weariness" became unnecessary. This resulted in a revision of rotation policies whose "guidelines" had the effect of again setting fixed limits for a tour of duty for the remainder of the war.[109]

Operations summary

The Air Force Historical Studies Office summarizes the execution of USAAF strategy during World War II:[40]

"Arnold's staff made the first priority in the war to launch a strategic bombing offensive in support of the RAF against Germany. The Eighth Air Force, sent to England in 1942, took on that job. After a slow and often costly effort to bring the necessary strength to bear, joined in 1944 by the Fifteenth Air Force stationed in Italy, strategic bombing finally began to get results, and by the end of the war, the German economy had been dispersed and pounded to rubble.

"Tactical air forces supported the ground forces in the Mediterranean and European theaters, where the enemy found Allied air supremacy a constant frustration. In the war against Japan, General Douglas MacArthur made his advance along New Guinea by leap frogging his air forces forward and using amphibious forces to open up new bases. The AAF also supported Admiral Chester Nimitz's aircraft carriers in their island-hopping across the Central Pacific and assisted Allied forces in Burma and China.

"Arnold directly controlled the Twentieth Air Force, equipped with the new long-range B-29 Superfortresses used for bombing Japan's home islands, first from China and then from the Marianas. Devastated by fire-raids, Japan was so weakened by August 1945 that Arnold believed neither the atomic bomb nor the planned invasion would be necessary to win the war. The fact that AAF B-29s dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and N