Curtis E. Lemay The Enduring"Big Bomber Man"
SUBJECT AREA History
CURTIS E. LEMAY
THE ENDURING "BIG BOMBER MAN"
Major T. J. Cronley
United States Marine Corps
Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
25 March 1986
General Curtis E. LeMay: "Ever since I was a
boy and read about Gettysburg, I've thought that
ambiquity was the reason for Lee's losing the bat-
tle. Lee said: 'General Ewell was instructed to
carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found
it practicable ...' I call that leaning on a sub-
ordinate, most definitely. Ewell didn't find the
attack practicable; so he didn't attack ... Lee
left it up to Ewell to make a decision which I feel
a great general should have made himself. And Lee
was a great general. Figure it out if you can.
Because of his aggressive, unyielding stance on strategic
readiness and his 36 year presence on the American military
scene, this paper is titled LeMay - the Enduring "Big
Bomber" Man. There have been many other advocates of
strategic bombardment who made their mark in their own way.
Some helped sell the concept, others fielded the machines,
and others commanded strategic forces with great results.
But no one endured and became synonomous with the term
strategic bombardment like LeMay.
He was a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps on
January 1, 1940. Less than eight years later he was a
lieutenant general in the United States Air Force. In 1951,
he became a full general. He retained this rank until
retiring as Chief of Staff of the Air Force on January 31,
1965. He was the first officer since Ulysses S. Grant to
remain an active duty general that long.
This paper will examine the career of General LeMay
with the main purpose of seeking the factors which con-
tributed to his longevity in bombers and his ascendancy to
eventual head of the Air Force. The author had sought to
minimize references to LeMay's personal style - his cigar,
his frown, etc. - unless where relevant.
To tell any creditable story of LeMay it is necessary
to refer to parallel stories of the emergence of an indepen-
dent United States Air Force and two of it's bombers: the
B-17 and the B-29. Therefore appropriate attention has been
given to those developments as they pertain to the main
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1 Pre War, 1906 - 1937 1
Chapter 2 European Theater 19
Chapter 3 Pacific Theater 40
Chapter 4 Post World War II 71
Appendix 1. Chronology of Significant Events 108
Appendix 2. Key Individuals in LeMay's Career 110
Appendix 3. Performance Comparison of Selected
American Bombers, 1933 - 1965 112
Chapter 1 - Pre War. 1906 - 1937
LeMay's first 31 years were inauspicious - for one who
would be so well known later. Born in Columbus, Ohio on
November 15, 1906, he spent his youth moving around the
country with his family as his father, a construction
worker, sought better jobs. The family lived at times in
various places in Ohio, Montana, California, and back in
His parents neither helped nor hindered any designs
young Curtis had for the future. Their concerns lay with
the immediate welfare of the LeMay family, which was com-
paratively poor. Curt was very young when he started liking
airplanes, but it wasn't until college that he really
decided that he wanted to fly for a living. He had no plans
for a military career until even later.
Work became a part of LeMay's life as soon as he was
old enough to contribute. He delivered newspapers,
telegrams, candy, and did whatever else he could to add to
the family coffers. These duties were reinforced by his
being the oldest of three boys and three girls. As he said
later. "When the man stands there asking for his rent or
when the grocer hesitates about putting that latest basket
of groceries on the bill, you'd better be ready to come up
with cash in hand. Very early in life I was convinced bit-
terly of this necessity."(1)
In San Leandro California, he had a job shooting small
birds with a BB gun for five cents each so the lady down the
street could feed her cat. In high school in Columbus he
worked after school at a foundry.
Because of this perpetual moving and working, he wasn't
very popular in the various schools he attended. He later
paraphrased the social planners in his Columbus Ohio, high
"Shall we invite Curt?"
"Hell, no. No use inviting him because he has to
In what little time he did have left over, he preferred
hunting or rebuilding cars, radios, or whatever other
machine was around. And he was quite good at it; tinkering
with machines remained a favorite pastime well beyond
retirement. He also enjoyed reading. Especially historical
novels and biographies.
In high school he had "vague aspirations" about the
military but his chief desire was to fly, and the best
flying education was in the service. He considered trying
for an appointment to West Point but was reluctant to seek
favors from Congressmen whom he didn't know. Being mechani-
cally inclined, he entered Ohio State University and studied
toward a civil engineering degree. His "vague aspirations"
to the military and ultimate goal of flying made him an
ideal ROTC student. After four years of that, he was an
honor graduate with a field artillery specialty; however, he
did not graduate from college. He had taken a night job at
a steel plant to pay for school. Getting only four or five
hours of sleep a night, he kept falling asleep in the morn-
ing classes - so he failed those classes and came up short
of the required credit hours.
Eager to fly, he left Ohio State and used the ROTC
background to enter into the Ohio National Guard. He was
concerned about the thousands of applicants trying to fill
only a few hundred flying slots in the Army in 1928, and he
knew National Guard units had a high priority for pilots.
So he started with the Ohio Guard instead of the Army.
After personally following up on his application, he
was ordered to the Army Air Corps training base at March
Field, Riverside, California in October 1928. Shortly af-
terward he resigned his guard commission and entered the
Even at this time he had no plans for a career in the
military. He just wanted a good, free flying education.(3)
As a second lieutenant in the Field Artillery, Ohio National
Guard, his ROTC was his only required training for
commission. Any "screening" for flying duty came at March
Field. Flying PT-3s, LeMay and his fellow students held the
status of "cadet", or, less formally, "Dodo". The wash out
rate was high. Treatment of cadets was uniformly harsh in
order to impart to them early in their training the impor-
tance of standard flying techniques. LeMay was impressed.
He didn't do well with his particular instructor. Instruc-
tor change was permissible, but he didn't risk it because he
thought by doing so he would be considered a whiner - a
decision he regretted later.(4) Accidents were frequent,
the high cost of doing business; LeMay learned this when he
ran into another cadet's airplane one day while taxiing.(5)
But he graduated from March anyway, and the next stop was
advanced training at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas.
All along, he had not really considered what category
of airplane he desired to fly. Primary graduates went into
bombardment, attack, observation, or pursuit. He was as-
signed pursuit training and was generally happy. Things
went much more smoothly than at March Field. He had a good
instructor and good airplanes to fly. The transition from
PT-3s and O-2-Hs to the more modern PT-9s was very simple
because as he said, "You had a throttle, a mixture and a
spark control common to the most advanced pursuit plane, and
the most basic trainer." (6)
Second Lieutenant LeMay was assigned to the 26th Pur-
suit Squadron, Selfridge Field, Michigan in October 1929.
In this, his first operational squadron, he flew more ad-
vanced P-1 aircraft and developed his skills as a pursuit
pilot. He also had a collateral duty - mess officer - and
he took it as seriously as his flying. He began to ap-
preciate the importance of the welfare of the men who com-
prised a unit. From early experiences with food preparation
and presentation at Selfridge, LeMay would continue an em-
phasis on this element of good morale throughout his career.
He had two minor mishaps while at Selfridge. On August
15, 1930 he damaged a P-1B at the air field. On March 28,
1931, he had an engine failure in a PT-3 and was forced to
land in a farmer's field. He was giving a ride to a local
girl when it happened - neither LeMay nor his passenger were
hurt.* Later that spring he met Miss Helen Maitland on a
blind date. She was a graduate student at the University of
Michigan. They were married three years later.
In 1931 he arranged temporary duty at Columbus, Ohio so
he could complete the credits for the degree which had
eluded him. He did this not for professional advancement,
but because he felt it was a job which should be finished.
Along with pursuit and formation training, he dropped
his first bombs at Selfridge, at a practice range on Lake
Huron. He was as impressed with the logistics as he was
with the actual aerial delivery. The struggling Air Corps
of 1931 could not get very much practice ordnance to the
field. Other flying included cross-countries and regional
It is necessary at this point to look in greater depth
at the Army Air Corps as it existed in the early thirties.
* The state of aviation safety and accident investigation in
1931, however, was such that careers were not as adversely
affected by such events as they would be later.
The airplane had proven itself in World War I, as both an
offensive and defensive instrument, Army aviation moved out
from the control of the Signal Corps and into a new branch
of the Army, the Air Service, in 1918, But following the
war, demobilization was swift. In 1923 General Mason
Patrick, the air service chief, told Congress, "The Air
Service today is practically demobilized and unable to play
its part in any national emergency."(8) By 1926 the number
of personnel had dropped from 197,338 (World War I) to 9,644
personnel - 919 officers and 8,725 enlisted. (9) By June
1932 it had increased slightly to 1,305 officers and 13,400
The General Headquarters, Air Force (GQAF) was estab-
lished at Langley Field, Virginia, in 1935 to control the
tactical activity of the Army Aviation. The Air Corps was
responsible for training and logistics. Both commands
reported separately to the Army Chief of Staff. This ar-
rangement continued until March 1, 1939 when both commands
were responsible to the Chief, Army Air Corps.(11) The
first person to hold this job of Chief, AAC was General
Henry H. (HAP) Arnold.(12)
As the depression grew in the early 1930's, so did the
dreams of a stronger Army Air Corps among many of its
leaders. But there just was not enough money. In 1932 the
Air Corps possessed 1,709 aircraft in four attack, 12
bombardment, 16 pursuit and 13 observation squadrons.(13)
As if lack of funds was not bad enough, the Roosevelt
Administration, in an effort to find new ways of dealing
with the Depression, made innovative use of the Air Corps,
depriving it of realistic training. Shortly after Roosevelt
took office, a call went out to Selfridge for "Volunteers to
help run a CCC camp at Brethren, Michigan. LeMay got the
job and immediately rebuilt the mess camp there.
The strategic bomber had emerged from World War I on
shakier footing than its tactical brothers. Indeed it had
been shown that a bomb could be dropped from a plane and do
some damage. But it took something more convincing for the
Roosevelt Administration to channel money specifically to
develop a long-range aircraft capable of influencing the
outcome of a general war.
Earlier attempts at publicizing bomber power came from
people like General Billy Mitchell who sacrificed his career
by disobediently bombing a target ship on July 21, 1921.
Twelve years later in 1933 the few Martin B-10s of the Air
Corps were at least managing a toehold for the theories of
the ardent proponents of strategic bombing like Mitchell,
General Gulio Douhet, General Benny Foulois, and others.(14)
General Douhet was an Italian who expoused mass bom-
bardment as a means of crippling industrial targets.
General Foulois was the strident Chief of the Air Corps in
1932. A terrible bureaucrat, he preferred flying to his
desk in Washington; but his forceful if unpolished speeches
before Congress kept bombers - and the Air Corps - afloat in
the early 1930s.(15)
As technology rapidly advanced and money slowly became
more available for research and development, bigger bombers
appeared to supplant the B-10. To transit longer distances
with greater loads, greater horsepower was necessary; thus
the new breed of bombers had four instead of two engines.
Of the four main contenders, the B-17 held the greatest
promise for the new, as yet untested theories. After a
rocky beginning (the prototype crashed in 1938 at Wright
Field) the B-17 emerged as one of a very few bombers capable
of entering World War II with any hope for success.(16) Cur-
tis LeMay would help to promote this bomber in 1937, but he
would have to make several important decisions before this.
At Selfridge, LeMay wrestled with all the pros and cons
of staying in the military. For a time he came close to
going to work as a pilot for Ford Motor Company in Detroit.
Many of his service contemporaries easily found jobs with
the burgeoning airline companies. But LeMay finally decided
that, along with the first class flying education he had
received, he was proud to consider himself one of "the
finest group of men" in the country. Therefore he would
stay in.(17) With that decision, he buckled down to make
the most of his military career.
One of his last assignments while at Selfridge was to
participate in mail runs out of Cleveland in 1934. Air Mail
responsibilities had been given to the Air Corps at
Roosevelt's orders. This short experiment was disastrous
overall; but by exposing the weaknesses of the Air Corps,
the government, through the Baker Commission, gave all of
military aviation greater recognition and financial support.
From the Baker Commission came a unified air strike force
and the General Headquarters, Air Force.(18)
In September of 1934, LeMay and his new bride were
transferred to Wheeler Field, Hawaii where he would fly with
the 18tn Pursuit Group.(19) For two years he held various
collateral duties including communications, armament, and
meteorology. As had been the pattern, he fully immersed
himself in his work. With the help of a short navigation
course he had at Langley (TAD from Selfridge), he formulated
techniques for group pilots to find their way around the
Hawaiian Islands. Until then navigation was strictly visual
dead reckoning, as navigation aids in pursuit aircraft were
almost nonexistent. LeMay taught the celestial techniques
he had learned at Langley.
As far as social requirements were concerned, LeMay
complied only to the minimum. He found having to wear din-
ner jackets in his own quarters after six p.m. to be par-
ticularly irksome.(20) Still a second lieutenant as 1935
arrived, he and Helen had been hoping for children, but had
none. After two miscarriages, Helen was beginning to
despair, but Curt, although disappointed for a while, came
out of each misfortune quickly and stoically.
While involved in his mini-navigational school, flying
out of sight of any island, he began to appreciate the
strategic significance of aerial bombardment. Tactical
aviation had many proponents in 1935 and, as every pursuit
pilot knew, it was very enjoyable. Not just the flying but
the prestige associated with the smaller, more agile
aircraft. But pursuit aviation had its limitations. As
LeMay reasoned, "How the hell were you going to win a war
with it?" (21) With insight gained through long hours and
initiative in all previous assignments, especially his
latest navigation adventures, he felt that heavy bombers
were going to be "the strong arm" of the Air Corps. And he
wanted to be part of it. So in 1936 he requested and
received orders to the Second Bombardment Group at Langley
Field, Virginia. (22)
The B-17 program, which had been fought so hard for by
Air Chiefs like Generals Andrews and Arnold, was beginning
to take root at Langley by mid 1937. Very slowly, the
Second Bomb Group at Langley was making tactical and
material gains. First Lieutenant LeMay checked in as one of
a new breed of bomber pilots. Many of the pilots at Langley
already had considerable experience in earlier bomber types
like the Martin B-10 which was still around when LeMay
checked in. LeMay was restless to be part of the new en-
vironment of four engine bombardment - to learn everything
there was to know about it. He was assigned as Operations
Officer of the 49th Squadron, Second Bomb Group. Until this
assignment LeMay's only noteworthy achievement had been his
navigation school in Hawaii. Though he had done thorough,
professional work for the previous nine years, there was
nothing more which made him competitive with the other com-
pany grade officers of the Air Corps. Without a catalyst, a
person or fortuitous turn of events, he may have continued
indefinitely as a hard working but inconspicuous airman. He
had arrived at Langley in time to see the B-17s come aboard
in mid 1937, and that would prove to be helpful. But it was
a person - Lieutenant Colonel Robert Olds - of whom LeMay
would later state "made the greatest impact, or at least the
first impact that really got me started to work for the
first time." (23)
Lieutenant Colonel Olds was the Commanding Officer of
the Second Bomb Group. His regular operations officer had
taken ill, so LeMay temporarily assumed these duties. Since
the operations office was in such a position that Olds had
to pass it every morning en route to his own office, in a
very short time LeMay discovered that the group boss was a
crisp, dynamic, and demanding leader who expected his opera-
tions types to have certain information when the day
started. (24) "How many airplanes are available?"
"How many practice bombs do we have?"
"What's the weather in San Antonio this morning?"
These were the types of questions for which LeMay had
no answers - the first time they were asked.(25) But he
learned quickly from Olds and gained a rapid "insight under
him as to what leadership meant and the great amount of work
that had to be done to build a first class Air Force." (26)
Olds was the first officer with whom LeMay had an associa-
tion who really knew strategic bombardment. At the same
time he knew the importance of combat readiness and demanded
the most of his people in its attainment.
Olds had heard of LeMay's navigating capabilities.
Before long he was using LeMay for his own navigator - espe-
cially on missions of possible public impact. There were
several such missions planned by the Army Air Corps to
"prove" mass bombardment in general and the B-17 in
particular. The first significant event was the attempted
interception of the battleship Utah off the Pacific coast.
President Roosevelt was curious as to just what were
the capabilities of the Air Corps' long range air arm.(27)
A joint Army Navy Board decided to have two groups of bomb-
ers search for a Navy "attacking force" lead by the Utah
somewhere in a tract of over a hundred thousand square miles
off California. Olds' bombers would lead one group. He
selected LeMay to be the lead navigator. They took off on
August 13, 1937 to the point off San Francisco that the Navy
had given as a fix for the Utah. They had missed their tar-
get the day before because the Navy's fix was one degree -
sixty miles - off. The Navy made the same mistake on the
13th but LeMay was able to correct sixty miles at the last
minute.* Sailors were lounging around the deck but had not
taken down the flag which signaled it was safe to bomb. Ap-
parently they did not think they would be spotted 285 miles
from shore under a thousand foot overcast. The B-17s scat-
tered the sailors with direct hits with water bombs. (28)
Strategic bombardment had passed an acid test. The Navy was
embarrassed and tried to keep this "Joint Exercise no. 4" a
secret. Lieutenant Curtis LeMay emerged as a preeminant
navigator in the Air Corps.
Eager to promote the plane which the War Department was
still not procuring in satisfactory numbers, the Army Air
Corps' next big event was called the "Goodwill Mission".
The Second Bomb Group under Bob Olds also took on that task.
By this time, February 1938, LeMay had been piloting B-17s
and requested to be a pilot on "Goodwill Mission" to South
America and back. Olds told him he didn't have enough time
in the airplane but was eager to have him along as a
navigator. LeMay accepted. (29) The mission, in addition
to fulfilling its "Goodwill" objectives with the countries
of South America, proved the capabilities of the Flying
Forts to the public. It was the longest such flight by a
*It was never determined if the "mistakes" made by the Navy
in reporting their position were deliberate attempts to
throw the bombers off. Many in the Air Corps thought they
bomber formation in history. The mission also showed many
operational and training deficiencies which would have to be
solved tn the event the Fortresses went to war. LeMay's
abilities and judgment on this mission further impressed his
boss. Severely hampered by lack of maps and ground naviga-
tion aids, he dead reckoned the formation through clouds on
several legs through western South America, landing in
Chile, Argentina and Brazil. (30)
Three months after their return, Olds and LeMay led
three B-17s on their most difficult navigation test. The
event was another ship interception, this time the Italian
liner Rex six hundred miles off the east coast. A squall
line of rain and low ceilings had made the weather almost
too bad to work with. The ship's day old coordinates were
handed to Olds as the B-17s were taxiing out at Mitchell
Field, New York, about to take off on LeMay's best guess.
In addition to lousy weather, they had a time deadline and
an NBC film crew aboard to record the success or failure of
the mission. But they found the Rex and returned
jubilantly. The Navy, opposed to the long-range bomber,
again classified the mission secret. (31) But LeMay had
again proven his dedication and talent. Other events
throughout the GHQ, Air Force and the Air Corps were laying
the foundation for LeMay's future.
On Sept. 21, 1938, the Chief of the Air Corps, Oscar
Westover, wad killed while flying his own plane on an in-
spection tour of California airplane companies, His
successor, Henry (Hap) Arnold, had been advocating the B-17.
Arnold's co-equal at GHQ Air Force, General Andrews was a
more outspoken proponent of mass production of the new
plane. There were others, too. In spite of them all, there
would be no major expansion of the Air Corps until the War
Department and Roosevelt were convinced. Though Roosevelt
had used the Air Corps for CCC Camps and Air Mail service,
he had been ambivalent on the issue of buildup until it be-
came obvious that Germany was going forward with military
adventures in Europe, He had played lip service to air
power before, but on September 12, 1938 he made a key deci-
sion to begin rapid Air Force expansion.
He was driving in Rochester, Minnesota that day, with
his close advisor Harry Hopkins. The radio reported Hitler
making overt threats at expansionism. He immediately or-
dered Hopkins to look for aircraft manufacturing sites.
Hopkins later said, "He was sure then that we were going to
get into war and he believed air power would win it."(32)
Believing that airplanes would influence Hitler, on Septem-
ber 28, Roosevelt had Arnold and other important service
chiefs in the Oval Office to talk about air power. He
wanted to know what would be needed to defeat Hitler in the
air. Arnold told him 10,000 planes. The President
concurred. The next day Arnold was named Chief of the Army
Air Corps (replacing Westover).(33) On January 12, 1939
Roosevelt went before Congress and asked it to strengthen
America's air arm, which he told them was "utterly
inadequate". On April 3 Congress authorized $300 million
for the Air Corps expansion.(34)
The President's support was the key. When war in
Europe and American involvement became more and more
obvious, the Air Corps under General Arnold began one of the
most overwhelming expansions in military history. As
Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France fell, Arnold
began receiving anything he asked for. Hardly had he
received support for 54 combat groups when he called for 84
groups - 7,800 aircraft and 400,000 officers and men by 1942
and had this funded.(35) However, as Arnold had emphasized,
planes and men alone would not be enough. There would have
to be training bases, support equipment and research and
development to counter any threat to American security.
Arnold was a visionary. Observing the swiftness with
which the Germans were marching on the European continent,
he put forth proposals for an aircraft capable of striking
Europe from North American bases. The B-29 would be his
three billion dollar gamble.
In 1940, though, those aircraft available immediately
with good performance and reputation were pressed into ac-
celerated production. In the heavy bomber category, there
were the B-17 and the B-24. The B-17, its reputation estab-
lished by events such as those flown by Olds, LeMay and
others, was farmed out to other plants around the country;
Boeing in Seattle couldn't handle the production schedule.
In personnel, the Army Air Corps grew according to
Arnold's requirements. In 1938, there were 21,125 officers
and men. That number more than quadrupled by 1940 and con-
tinued exponentially to mid-1944 (figure 1). Groups were
split and resplit to create new units to fly and support the
ever increasing numbers of aircraft. In early 1939 there
ware 15 groups in the Air Corps (10 in the United States and
5 abroad). By the end of 1940 there were 30 groups. After
Pearl Harbors the number had increased to 67 - and then ex-
pansion accelerated even more. By the end of 1943 there
were 269 air groups.(36)
Officers with any seniority in 1940 naturally rode the
crest of this giant manpower wave as the new squadrons and
groups required leaders. Promotions were commeasurate with
LeMay found himself in this category. By October,
1939, he had been in the Air Corps eleven years. With so
few officers throughout the Air Corps, he had already met
many of his peers with whom he would later serve as a senior
commander. His training had consisted of flight school,
navigator school, and on the job training. This was not
unusual for officers of his seniority. The Air Corps had a
Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama, but that was for
more senior offlcers.* To this point, he considered his
Click here to view image
boss, Colonel Olds, to have been the most influential
"instructor" - an individual who brought out the best of
LeMay's dormant leadership abilities.
He taught me more in 30 days than I had
learned in the previous seven years that I had
been in the service ... At the end of 30 days,
I was pretty far behind. But it dawned on me
for the first time what I was in uniform for
and what I should have been doing that I hadn't
been doing for the last seven years.(37)
* Many of the instructors at the Tactical School would play
major roles in World War II - as planners, administrators
and operators. One in particular, Major Heywood Hansell,
would play a large part in LeMay's future.
Chapter 2 - European Theater
LeMay wad promoted to Captain on January 6, 1940. His
assignments in the month preceding the war took on the same
hectic pattern as the Army Air Corps itself. The Second
Bombardment Group was split into three new groups. He was
given command of the 7th Bombardment Squadron at a new base
- Westover in Massachusetts in early 1941.(1) This was more
of a paper command, though, because there were so few planes
to fly. On March 21, 1941, he was promoted to Major.(2) In
July he transferred to Prestwick, Canada to assist the
Canadians in laying out air routes across the Atlantic. In
September he participated in flying a B-24 to Brazil to set
up a Southern Atlantic route to England. In October he
returned to Westover and took an operations job with the
newly formed 34th Bomb Group. From then until April 1942 he
had various TDY assignments at Pendleton Field, Oregon and
Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. At Wright he helped with the
Service tents of the B-24.(3) On 24 January, 1942 he was
promoted to lieutenant colonel. In May he was ordered to
the 306th bomb Group being formed at Wendover Field, Utah to
serve as Executive Officer to Lieutenant Colonel Charles B.
Overacker. He was only there for a month - in June he moved
to Salt Lake City and assumed command of the 305th Bombard-
went group which had been activated March 1 as part of
Arnold's new 8th Air Force.
The 305th was LeMay's first real command. He had ini-
tially only three B-17s, but like every other group
commander, wad charged with preparing his unit for combat as
quickly as possible. The term "temporary expediency" was
used officially to describe the abject condition of men,
materiel, and training as units strove to achieve readiness.
Men were sometimes unpaid and poorly equipped. Desertions
were frequent. For a short time the war looked as if it
would even come to American shores. LeMay had to move his
group up to Spokane, Washington even as men and planes were
coming to Salt Lake City. Planners feared a Japanese
attack. When that threat died down he was ordered to move
his outfit to Muroc Dry Lake, California.
At Muroc (now Edwards AFB) LeMay's began training his
men as hard as he could for imminent combat operations with
the newly formed 8th Air Force in Europe. Personnel came
from all over to fill air crew and support billets. He ex-
hibited the drive for operational excellence that he had
seen in Lieutenant Colonel Olds. With "temporary
expediency" the order of the day, LeMay became even more of
a driver. He restricted liberty to one weekend every two
weeks. Married men were restricted to base. He flew his
airplanes as long as they were airworthy. When they were
not, he demanded that maintenance personnel work harder to
get them up. He never received the numbers of people and
planes that he would have liked, but that was how it was
throughout the Army Air Forces. (The war Department was
reorganized on March 2, 1942 and the Air Corps was renamed
the Army Air Forces).(4)
It was LeMay's first evidence of protracted surge
operations which he would employ later as a commander. Com-
bat readiness was worth all measures. Planes and men were
taxed to the limit round the clock as long as availability
would permit. Brand new crews had to practice formation,
navigation, multi-engine crew-coordination and, of course,
bombing. Bombing was practiced on desert ranges, on targets
made up of white concentric circles. Great weather helped
the sortie rate, but would prove to hinder instrument flying
and tactics needed for Europe.
In spite of his rigorous training program, LeMay's
305th was still greatly undertrained when the group left
California for Europe in October. Most of the navigators
had never navigated over water. Most of the gunners had
never fired at another airplane.(5)
The group landed in England in October and became part
of what would become the 3d Bomber Division, 8th Bomber
Command, 8th Air Force. Before continuing the story of
LeMay's new group, it is now necessary to take a closer look
at the make up and background of the 8th Air Force.
The 8th Air Force came into existence when Roosevelt
and Congress gave General Arnold the resources to build for
combat. In February 1942 Arnold sent General Ira Eaker to
England to "make the necessary preparation to insure com-
petent and aggressive command and direction of our bomber
units in England". (6)
In a few short months Eaker and his small group set up
bases around the United Kingdom for the introduction of
American combat groups. It was a giant undertaking, espe-
cially in view of the fact that England was already at war.
But her experience with the employment of heavy bombers
would be welcome to the fresh men and equipment from the
Four of Arnold's staff officers, Lieutenant Colonel
Harold George, Major Lawrence Kuter, Lieutenant Colonel Ken-
neth Walker and Major Heywood Hansell had prepared a docu-
ment called AWPD-1; in it, they estimated the numbers of men
and materiel which would be necessary to "wage a sustained
air offensive against German military power".(7) The
groups and divisions which made up the 8th Air Force were
established largely due to their efforts.*
Eaker had been fighter pilot and was initially disap-
pointed at having been selected to command the 8th Air
Force. Arnold was driven to see the precepts of AWPD-1 turn
to reality. He felt that an air victory could be achieved
over Germany with sufficient assets and aggressive
leadership. He told Eaker "That's why I chose you, to put
* The division was called a wing until late 1943. For pur-
poses of clarity, the term division will be used throughout
some fight into the bombers."(8) As the war progressed,
Arnold's unrelenting pressure on his field commanders would
take its toll in careers, but he took whatever steps were
necessary to achieve his goals. His unflagging work pace
and determination in the name of "results" would cost him
several heart attacks during the war and death in 1949.(9)
As an administrator, he was controversial. He was very poor
with paperwork but a had tremendous memory for details. His
needling of Eaker would continue in spite of the unavoidable
shortcomings in the 8th Air Force through 1942.
LeMay's group was one of the first four "pioneer
groups" in the 8th bomber command. Each group was comprised
of four squadrons of 12 aircraft each. The squadrons did
not have tactical perogatives and were always in formation
with the group. Groups operated at various bases around
England and rendezvoused after takeoff if multi-group forma-
tons were to be flown. The four bomber groups of the 8th
Bomber Command were, in October of 1942, receiving a trial
by fire as the bombing offensive built up momentum. (10)
LeMay's group began operations out of Grafton-
Underwood. The first few missions were formation practice
in which LeMay observed the group while sitting in the top
turret of one of the rear planes. By that time it was ob-
vious that stragglers were easy prey to German fighters, so
picking up whatever combat reports were available he in-
sisted on tight formation as he sought the ideal pattern.
At the time there existed no standardized formations
throughout bomber command. Group commanders were free to
develop whatever tactic they wished. Most were experiment-
ing with variations on layered formations which they hoped
would provide maximum protection from fighters. These were
quite cumbersone, though. During one of his first practice
missions, LeMay developed a box-type of formation which he
believed would offer the greatest defense against fighters.
Though his inexperienced pilots found it difficult at first,
they soon had it mastered, and it was employed on the first
two actual missions the group flew. These were diversions -
no bombs - over targets in France.
The groups which had begun bombing before LeMay
arrived, had been jinking (maneuvering sharply at random) to
avoid flak as they approached their targets. This jinking
maneuver continued through the bomb run. The result: the
bombing ballistic solution was thrown off and the bombs were
going everywhere but on the target. The belief that jinking
was necessary for survival was even held by more experienced
group commanders like General Frank Armstrong.*(11) The
poor bomb results were putting the 8th Air Force Bomber Com-
mand off to a very poor start. General Arnold's expecta-
tions were far from being met.
* Frank Armstrong, another of the four "pioneer" group com-
manders (97th Group) of the 8th Air Force, ended the war
with numerous decorations. The exploits of the 97th under
Armstrong formed the basis for the movie Twelve O'Clock
Considering the first real bombing mission his planes
would fly, LeMay personally examined the probability of
taking a flak hit if they went in on a straight line. He
was intent upon hitting his assigned target. He said later
"We paid the price of admission, it's time to play the
He recalled his days at Ohio State and his ROTC ex-
periences with a 75 man antiaircraft gun much like the ones
being used by the Germans. To his pleasant surprise he dis-
covered he had thrown a copy of the gun's operating manual
into his personal belongings when he left the states. He
compared the gun's rate of fire and accuracy to the
altitude, size and speed of the B-17. He concluded that the
accepted jinking maneuver gave an airplane no greater prob-
ability of avoiding flak than flying straight and level.
When mission orders came to bomb St. Nazaire, France on
November 23, 1942, LeMay ordered his crews to fly a straight
path for seven minutes to align sights and release bombs.
At this prospect, many of his crews, including some squadron
commanders, though he was crazy. But the mission proceeded,
and LeMay flew in the lead plane.
The results were impressive: No losses due to flak.
Two aircraft lost to fighter action. This was much better
than the other groups flying to St. Nazaire that day. On
the night of his 36th birthday, Colonel LeMay wrote his
first letters of condolence to families of his crews and
prepared for more strikes.
Throughout 1942 and early 1943 the proficiency of
LeMay's group improved. And so did its reputation. He had
built the 305th from nothing into a tightly-knit, well-
functioning combat unit. When the crews realized that his
innovations were well-thought out practical improvements,
instead of improvident guesses, they responded with a cor-
responding measure of enthusiasm for "Old Iron Ass". With
his mechanical affinity and concern for the support func-
tions of the group (maintenance, chow, facilities), they ap-
preciated the fact that he knew their jobs. They admired
him in spite of his glum demeanor and insistence on training
that sometimes interfered with liberty plans. There were
still losses, but as the men of the 305th compared them-
selves to other groups, some of whom were themselves quite
reputable, they realized that LeMay knew what he was doing.
In addition to innovations in the air, he instituted a
"lead crew" system back at base. This was set up because of
the way missions came down from higher headquarters (8th
Bomber Command). Many missions were lead by crews who had
little or no experience flying to the given target. As a
consequence of this lack of familiarity, targets would some-
times be identified at the last minute or, worse yet, missed
altogether. In the "lead crew school", certain groups of
pilots, navigators and bombardiers were sequestered behind
curtains in a room containing only maps of the target area,
The crews were told to become totally familiar with every
aspect of the target, to the point where they could recog-
nize it even below scattered clouds. As missions for these
targets came down from Bomber Command, only these crews
would lead the formations. The results were greatly im-
proved bombing. The "lead crew" concept became standard
throughout Bomber Command by July 1943. (13)
In January 1943 the commander of the 1st Bomb Division,
General Haywood Hansell, called a conference to decide what
to do about losses throughout his wing, which consisted of
four groups, including LeMay's. Hansell wanted to standard-
ize bomber formations to reduce losses from fighters. All
groups had been experimenting to find the ideal formation,
but after a heated argument it was decided to employ a
derivation of LeMay's "combat box" and a similar formation
being used by another group.(14) Shortly afterwards, LeMay
moved his group to Chelveston, England. Then came targets
which came closer to the German homeland: Romille, Lille,
and Rouln, France. On January 27, 1943, the group bombed
the Navy Yards at Wilhelmshaven as the 8th made its first
strike on Germany, Other objectives included aluminum works
in Norway, and aircraft and heavy industry in Germany
itself.(15) Attrition was taking its toll throughout Bomber
Command, however, and the men knew it, but they kept going.
General Eaker was told that if the losses continued, the
Click here to view image
last available B-17 would attack Germany in March 1943.
Eaker said, "OK, I'll be on it". (16)
Bomber groups would often consolidate to mass assets.
In the experimental days of early 1943, provisional combat
wings were sometimes formed for the tactical integration of
two or three groups. Eaker's staff combined LeMay's 305th
group and another group, the 303rd, to make the 102nd Combat
Wing. LeMay was put in command and recommended for promo-
tion to Brigadier General. (17)
Lack of effectiveness against Germany continued to
alarm General Arnold back in Washington. Eaker and his
division commanders Hansell and Longfellow were groping to
find an ideal solution. Experiments could result in greater
losses. Many air planners were adamant proponents of figh-
ters escorting the "heavies" all the way to the target and
back. But in early 1943, even though Eaker wasn't yet
penetrating deep into Germany, there were no fighters
capable of even a medium combat radius. After each mission
LeMay's division commander, General Hansell, could only
debrief the groups as clinically as possible and expect
similar results on subsequent raids unless men and planes
came in greater numbers. German defenses were so formidable
that crews chances of surviving twelve missions were less
than 50%.(18) Eaker was pleading with Arnold for more
planes and crews. Prime Minister Churchill too had men-
tioned it in March: "We are dining together, smoking your
cigars, and waiting for more of your heavy bombers,"
Cables to Eker became more urgent. In one memo he
stated that the bombing doctrine taught in schools was being
followed too closely. Not enough initiative was being shown
in actual combat.(19)
In another memo, he told Eaker that the 8th Air Force
was finding alibis for not sending ou more bombers on each
mission. Arnold told Eaker that more aggressive leaders
were needed. Maybe some group and division commanders had
been there too long.(20)
In March, Eaker put his career on the line with a
forceful reply to Arnold's charges of laxity in the 8th.
The current position of the Eighth Air Force
is not a credit to the American Army. After six-
teen months in the war, we are not yet able to dis-
patch more than 123 bombers toward an enemy target.
Many of the crews who fly this pitiful number have
been on battle duty for eight months. They under-
stand the law of averages. They have seen it work
on their friends.
The crews know why this command has never
dared to bet a limit of operational tours until re-
cently. They know that we have been promised re-
placement crews as often as we have been promised
more planes. They have seen the number of planes
dwindle until its scarcity has restricted most of
our raiding to relatively futile forays on the
coast of France.
They have seen our precision bombing improve,
in bloody lessons, until they know with confidence
what they can do, or could do, if they had enough
planes to run the increasing gauntlet of enemy
fighters to important targets. As it is they know
that we have not enough. They know that they will
have to continue battle duty even after the limit
of thirty missions lately set. And they know the
reason which is that after eight months in this
theater, the Eighth Air Force is still an unkept
The purpose of the Eighth Air Force was, and
is, to strike the chief Axis enemy in his heart.
No other American military or naval force was
capable of this at the outset of the war. No other
will be capable of it this year. Nor is any other
Allied force except Bomber Command of the R.A.F.
capable of it.
It is ... well worth reflecting upon some of
the consequences both present and potential of
this unkept promise.
To consider ourselves first, the delay in our
receipt of promised planes and crews means that
present crews will have to stay on still longer to
break in the new ones.
These men should be returning now, to pass on
the lessons and bring back squadrons trained in our
bloodily bought experience. Instead they will have
to remain, in dwindling numbers, until replacements
as green as they once were arrive to relieve them.
This is the most serious intrinsic consequence of
our failure to receive the promised replacements.
Every passing day and every lost plane adds to its
The ill winds that have blown our bombers to
every part of the compass, except the source of our
troubles, have blown Germany a windfall of the most
precious element of warfare. That element is time.
The time is short. The enemy is using it re-
sourcefully. Our allies are waiting.
It is respectfully requested that the Eighth
Air Force be given sufficient planes to redeem its
Arnold only replied that he had "eight youngsters to feed";
this referred to his eight major theaters, all of whom were
clamoring for more of everything. (21)
Arnold was in Oregon recovering from a stroke in May,
by which time American factories were beginning to deliver
the numbers of planes that Eaker was talking about, But
enemy defenses, lack of fighter protection, and terrible
weather were still keeping the 8th Bomber Command from
producing what ArnoLd wanted. In June he again asked Eaker:
Eaker replied, legitimate factors. But he did not in-
dite his wing and group commanders, some of whom were show-
ing the strain of the war of attrition. In the name of
loyalty, he tended to be generous when it came to "benefit
of the doubt". Arnold on the other hand was a firm believer
in summarily replacing any commander who was not measuring
up fully; and it was new the issue of commanders, not
weather, that was bringing Arnold's wrath:
I am willing to do anything possible to build
up your forces, but you must play your part. My
wire was sent to you to get you to toughen up -
to can these fellows who can't produce - to put in
youngsters who can carry the ball ... (23)
He then recommended lower level commanders whom he thought
would be suited for higher positions in Eaker's bomber
command. He had known about LeMay's contributions to bomber
command in the way of technical innovations. LeMay was men-
tioned in the cable. (24)
Concerning his overall Bomber Commander, Eaker replied:
Consideration of Bomber Commander. I am
well aware of the officers in your cable. There is
not one of them who has yet had an experience in
this theater to justify his immediate assignment as
Bomber Commander, with the exception of Hansell and
the possible exception of [Fred] Anderson. Hansell
has been First Wing Commander, immediately charged
with the operation and maintenance of all the old
groups. He more than Longfellow is directly re-
sponsible for the combat effectiveness and mainte-
nance supervision. He has been carefully considered
for eventual bomber commander. He is nervous and
highly strung, and it is very doubtful whether he
would physically stand the trials and responsibil-
ities of the bomber commander task ...
But Arnold wanted a decision. Eaker relieved Generals Han-
sell (1st Division) and Longfellow (3d Division).
Eaker had recommended that LeMay be promoted, as he was
serving as a combat wing commander. Now he named LeMay to
command the 3d Bomber Division.(25) Brigadier General Fred
Anderson became 8th Air Force Bomber Commander. Colonel
Robert Williams assumed command of the 1st Bomber Division.
LeMay was given an emotional farewell by his men when
he left the 305th in July.(26) The Job of division com-
mander included an office at Elveden which was a far cry
from the constant mud and grime at Chelveston. He now com-
manded seven groups which were growing more quickly. His
was the job of a Major General but he wasn't promoted to
brigadier until September 28.(27) General Arnold withheld
LeMay's promotion. Arnold, impatient and inquisitive, ques-
tioned the need for bomb divisions at all. He felt it was
an unnccessary layer of bureaucracy where people went "just
to get promotions". Thus he held up LeMay's for two months.
And the pressure from Arnold to bomb deeper into Ger-
many did not stop. His Washington based Committee on Opera-
tional Analysis, COA, had reckoned that it would be better
to really pound one of Germany's vital industrial sites,
rather than to put fewer bombs on more targets. Using the
talents of experts on German industry and prominent American
industrialists, the committee determined that Germany's ball
bearing industry would be an ideal target. Eaker's 8th
Bomber Command staffers had been planning the raids on the
Schwienfurt ball bearing complex and Regansburg aircraft
plants before LeMay arrived at the 3rd Division in July. By
August, the plan was to hit both targets at once. This
would be the first time every available American bomber
would be put into action against German industry. The idea
was to saturate German fighter defenses with the lead divi-
sion and thus pave the way for a second division Bomber
LeMay's 3rd Division of seven groups would take off ten
minutes before Brigadier General Bob Williams' 1st Division
composed of twelve groups. LeMay's division would bomb
Regansburg, Williams' Schwienfurt. Schwienfurt, though
fairly deep into Germany, was close enough to return to
England. Regansburg was so deep into Germany that LeMay's
orders were to continue south and land at bases of the 12th
Air Force in North Africa. This "shuttle" tactic would also
keep fighters off the Schwienfurt force longer. The idea to
hit these particular targets was born out of two separate
plans formulated earlier in 1943. General Eaker approved
the final plan in early August. One of the most difficult
aspects of the planning was the weather. Rarely could good
conditions be expected for both take off and target. And it
was doubtful that target visibility would be compromised at
the expense of good take off and group rendezvous
conditions. LeMay knew this as much as anyone. Joining up
multiple groups of relatively inexperienced pilots after in-
strument take offs was a chore at best - and caused mid air
collisions at worst. So the 3rd Division practiced weather
take offs in anticipation of Regansburg.
Bomber Command waited until weather conditions looked
reasonable. The day came on August 17. At least the
weather permitted the 3rd Division to take off without
serious incident. LeMay flew in the lead group for this
mission. The 1st Division, without the benefit of instru-
ment practice was held on the ground for three and a half
hours by bomber commander Anderson. He had two other
choices - scrub the whole mission or risk mid air collisions
in the fog over the first division.(29)
The long delay permitted German fighters to attack
LeMay's formations, land, refuel and rearm, and go up again
to hit the following wave. LeMay lost 24 out of 146 B-17s.
Casualties: 38 killed, 133 prisoners of war, 20 interned in
Switzerland, and 40 rescued at sea.(30) William's follow-on
force lost 36 out of 230 aircraft.
One of the reasons LeMay's division had to take off
early was because he had to reach Tunisia by night fall.
The 3rd Division battled with fighters all the way into
Regansburg and for an hour afterwards. The surviving crews
limped into Tunisia. LeMay had made personal liaison with
the service units of the 12th Air Force there, but due to
the short notice of the raid and the fact that the 12th Air
Force was fighting its own war, accommodations were much
poorer than expected. LeMay was furious. Crews had to
sleep in their aircraft and maintenance was almost
nonexistent. But Combat Service Support officer Lieutenant
Colonel Oliver B. Taylor later said:
Certainly the short notice we had in Service
Command did not permit us to do quite as much as
we might have otherwise. In any case, LeMay should
have been apprised of our limitations and the fact
that the conditions in the field in Africa were
nothing like those in England ... the Eighth could
be admired for their combat performance but it was
difficult to sympathize with them about 'primitive'
conditions to which they were exposed for only a
Eventually the B-17s of the 3rd Division were repaired and
flown back to England. Based on his experience in North
Africa, LeMay recommended that shuttle-type missions be
The actual damage inflicted on the Germans on this, the
largest offensive to date, has been the subject of con-
troversy over the years. The accuracy of the two divisions
was excellent and a great deal of damage was done to
facilities at Schwienfurt and Regansburg. But ball bearing
production continued apace in September, and the machine
tools at Regansburg were hardly damaged at all.(32)
It took almost a month for the bombers of the 8th to
recover enough for another combined-group strike. Then on
September 6, 407 bombers (B-17s and B-24s) attacked the ball
bearing plants around Stuttgart. Bad weather meant poor
bomb effectiveness; and equally important, lack of suffi-
cient fighter cover meant the loss of forty-four airplanes.
On October 14 another full bomber command strike
against Schwienfurt went out. The bombing results were much
better, but the loss of 60 bombers to fighters was more than
Eaker could afford. Each airplane lost took with it ten ex-
tremely valuable crewmen. (LeMay's old group, the 305th,
sent 15 bombers out that day - 13 were shot down - possibly
the worst group loss of the war.) General Arnold had been
of the belief that bombers could proceed without fighter
escort, but his visit to the 8th in September and the dis-
astrous losses of 14 October caused him to change his mind,
and put a much higher priority on fighter development and
production. On October 29 Arnold told Eaker that P-38s and
P-51s destined for other theaters would be rerouted to
Arnold continued to press Eaker for measures of success
which were always one step beyond what he was doing. Eaker
picked LeMay, because of his experience, to return to the
states in November 1943 on a War Bond tour.(34) LeMay used
the time to check on gunnery training, which he felt was
critical to bomber survival and hadn't been as good as he
In December, Arnold "promoted" Eaker to a position as
deputy for Allied Air Operations in the Mediterranean.
Eaker protested strongly but complied with the orders of his
old friend. He was replaced by General Jimmy Doolittle.(35)
The position of 8th Air Force Bomber Command was abolished.
To this day, it is not clear whether Eaker's transfer was
the result of Arnold's passion for results from the 8th Air
Force. What is clear, however, is that histoy has judged
Eaker to be the main force behind the building of the 8th.
As 1944 began, American aircraft production hit its
stride. LeMay's 3rd Division became larger, fighter protec-
tion became standard, and the target list, made up largely
by recommendations from Arnold's staff, became more destruc-
tive to axis industry. From this point, there is nothing to
distinguish LeMay's 3rd Division's performance from that of
the 1st or the Second. The entire 8th Air Force was using
the lead crew school and derivations of LeMay's combat box
formations. "Big week" in February saw German aircraft in-
dustry attacked in force with some of the most positive
results to date. Other missions included rocket sites,
beach preparation, even bombing in support of Army forces.
(36) With the delivery of more bombers and long range
fighters, the scales were finally beginning to tip in favor
of the Army Air Forces. The number of personnel had almost
doubled from 153,077 in February 1943 to 296,561 a year
later. (37) In March LeMay was promoted to Major General.
In June, Arnold ordered him to the China-Burma-India theater
to command B-29s. (38)
LeMay came into his own in the first years of World War
II. Propelled to command by a burgeoning Air Corps, he soon
proved that he had better credentials than just seniority.
By exercising a strong, unwavering command of the 305th Bomb
Group, from its beginning to his departure, he built that
group into one of the most consistantly effective units of
the early 8th Air Force. He showed his men that he was
every bit as prepared to endure the hardships and uncer-
tainties of war as they were. His rigorous training
schedules and demand for operational discipline were later
much appreciated by his crews. Though there were losses,
they were overall less than the normal rate. In practice,
he gave an order and got out of the way. If an order was
not carried out, the result was swift and certain
discipline. His success as a commander in these early years
was riot all due to his ability to build a combat unit.
Others had done that and others were replaced for a variety
of reasons. Colonel Overacker, for example, (LeMay's old
boss) was relieved of command of the 306th Bomb Group for
letting discipline breakdown in the air and on the ground.
By not detaching himself and to make of the hard decisions
of command, his avuncular style resulted indirectly in
greater losses. (Overacker returned to Washington and told
Arnold that the American and British bomber offensive was
not working and should be discontinued.)
LeMay did not have a problem with any such anxiety.
Steady and imperturbable, he just kept the ground and flight
discipline at peak levels, and proceeded with the mission at
hand. It is significant that LeMay was (and has always
been) a good follower. He went where he was told to go and
did what he was told to do. Even on missions of such
proportions as Schwienfurt-Regansburg, with thorough
knowledge of a marginal situation, he respected the deci-
sions of his own superior officers. "Fred Anderson said go,
so we went."
But though he was a good soldier (he never forgot that
it was the Army Air Forces), his years in the European
Theater showed that he was also an extraordinary innovator.
The box formation, the lead crew school and the straight
line bomb runly eventually became part of the 8th Bomber
Command Standing Operating Procedure.
It was LeMay's combination of rare and gifted abilities
applied to a brand new form of warfare, mass aerial
bombardment, that brought him recognition and advancement in
the first half of World War II.
Chapter 3 - Pacific Theater
General Arnold was fighting a number of important
battles in Washington. He was defending the European bomb-
ing record. He was struggling to increase aircraft
production. He was seeking ways of increasing the range of
the fighters. He was trying to improve the safety record of
stateside training commands. (He had relieved the
Commander, General Johnson.) His health was failing but he
continued to work from rest locations like Coral Gables,
Florida. In the middle of all this, he was pressing for
field deployment of his "3 billion dollar gamble", the B-29.
The B-29 program began in November 1939, when Arnold,
as Air Corps Chief, asked the War Department for permission
to develop a new bomber with a 2,000 mile combat radius.
Permission was granted in 1940. When it appeared that
Britain might fall to Germany, the B-29 would be America's
tool to fight a truly strategic war from this country. When
the threat to the United Kingdom faded, Arnold planned to
send the new super forts there to complement the B-17s. But
in December, 1943, Arnold quite suddenly decided that B-29s
would go exclusively to the Pacific Theater against Japan.
Because of the urgency of the war, Arnold pressed the
B-29 into production without having thoroughly tested it.
When the prototype fist flew, 1,664 airplanes had already
been ordered.(2) This was not only a tremendous financial
risk but it severely taxed production capabilities of
American plants. The logistics and training programs neces-
sary to field the new plane were themselves a monumental
effort. In addition to pilot training bases in Georgia and
Kansas, maintenance facilities had to be established to
train ground crews on the new engines, electric gun turrets,
pressurization systems and other features unique to the
superfortress. All this for a plane which was as yet not
fully tested. Arnold put a very capable officer with an en-
gineering background, Brigadier General K.B. Wolfe, in
charge of development.
Recognizing the flaws inherent in spreading bomber as-
sets across several theaters, as had happened with the B-17,
Arnold decided to keep all B-29s to himself and mass them
where he saw fit. He put himself in command of the new 20th
Air Force, answerable only to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
(Although Arnold was not a member of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, he was on very good terms with his boss General
Marshall, of the Army, who was. Marshall generally agreed
with whatever plans Arnold made.) George Marshall signed a
directive which said, "The power of these new bombers is so
great that the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt that it would be
uneconomical to confine the superfortress to a single
theater. These bombers, therefore, will remain under the
centralized control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with a
single commander, General Arnold, acting as their agent in
directing their operations throughout the world." On
February 19, 1944, Roosevelt signed the order.(3)
Under the code name, Matterhorn, the details of 20th
Air Force command and control were worked out, along with a
general plan of employment and support.*(4) B-29s would
bomb Japan and other strategic targets from China until
suitable bases became available. China was selected not
only for its strategic significance, but because of pressure
from Chaing Kai Shek who threatened to get out of the war
unless he received more support from Roosevelt. Arnold put
General Wolfe in command of the 20th Bomber Command, the
first unit to field the B-29.
The proof of the pressure to get the B-29s to China can
be seen in the deployment of the first planes there on April
7, 1944. Two planes made it to Chakulia, while five crash
landed en route due to engine fires, pressurization
The logistical problems associated with bombing Japan
from forward bases in India and China were of such propor-
tions that Wolfe had a truly monumental task in sending out
even one mission. All supplies had to come from India. This
meant an average of seven sorties back and forth to India
* The development of Matterhorn was a complex and political
issue. It had many detractors. The general results are
what are important here.
for every one tactical sortie against Japan. Added to these
problems, Wolfe had to deal with the thousands of technical
"bugs" still evident in the B-29. The airplane itself flew
well, But pressurization problems sometimes caused the win-
dows to pop out at altitude. The new electric gun turrets
were causing problems. There were problems with the
instruments, with the hydraulic system and with the electric
system. The most critical problem, however, was the new
3,000 horsepower Wright engines. Fires were frequent and
resulted in many forced landings. Accidents were also
causeed by the minimally trained pilots operating from aus-
tere new bases. Arnold was aware of the problems, but was
still anxious to see results for his big bombers head-
quartered in Chengtu, China.
The first missions flown by Wolfe's B-29s against Japan
in the spring of 1944 were not impressive to Arnold. In
spite of Wolfe's continued explanations of supply
difficulties, Arnold maintained the pressure for a convinc-
ing show. On June 17 Arnold told Wolfe it was "essential" to
put more pressure on Japan. He went on to give objectives
and asked for an estimate of 20th Bomber Command
capabilities. Wolfe gave a cautious estimate. Arnold gave
orders for attacks on Japan listing numbers of planes,
targets, and dates. Air Transport Command, charged with
providing air freight for forward bases, would have to as-
sist with logistics (flying the "Hump" across the
Himalayas). Wolfe thought the directive was too much. He
wanted more new bombers and a guarantee of Air Transport
Command support; thus he offered an alternate plan. On July
4, Arnold ordered Wolfe to Washington immedidately for an
"important command assignment". He left on the 6th -
Arnold personally picked LeMay to succeed Wolfe. He
later confided to his friend General Carl Spaatz, "With all
respect to Wolfe, he did his best, and he did a grand job,
but LeMay's operations make Wolfe's very amateurish."*(7)
In his autobiography Arnold said of LeMay that he "barely
knew him but for his fierce determinations, resourcefulness
and overall combat record with the 8th Air Force in
Europe."(8) He wanted LeMay in the China-Burma-India
theater right away.
But LeMay was adamant about learning to fly the B-29
before he commanded a fast growing bomber command. He ap-
pealed to Arnold's air staff for this instruction and
returned to the states for a "check off" in the B-29 and
some welcome time with his wife and young daughter. At
* There is evidence to suggest that General Clair Chennault,
charged with fighter protection of Wolfe's bombers, had a
hand in discrediting his efforts. He said after the war,
"They continued to fly in thousands of tons of American food
and personnel into China at the expense of gas and bombs.
They always retained recollections of the Pentagon standard
Omaha, Nebraska, he learned about the numerous faults of
the airplane. In the interim, Brigadier General LaVerne
Saunders commanded the 20th Air Force.
By September, LeMay was in China. He gained an im-
mediate appreciation of the obstacles faced by his
predecessor. For the time being, there was no choice but to
continue as Wolfe had. The supply shuttles from Chengtu and
satellite bases in China to friendly posts in India was the
only way to operate. Fortunately, Air Transport Command was
able to help, using their C-46s. Also, the numbers of
airplanes were increasing and the technical problems were
slowly being solved. He instituted his combat box formation
and lead crew school as he had in Europe.(10) He also fully
encouraged experimentation with rapidly improving radar sets
being installed in the superforts. This permitted bombing
in marginal weather conditions and at night. He shook up
maintenance to get better availability from his planes. He
stressed cruise control - to enable pilots to get better
mileage for the extra long round trips to Japan.(11) LeMay
thus made real improvements. Missions against Japanese tar-
gets became more effective as a result.
On November 5, the 20th attacked Singapore, the former
British Navy and now a Japanese naval base. Seventy six
airplanes made the nearly 2,000 mile round trip and had very
accurate hits on the King George VI Graving Docks. Two B-
29s were lost.(12)
Logistics problems remained, however, just too much,
for even LeMay to overcome to the extent desired by Arnold.
On September 22 he wrote LeMay:
We have not yet obtained the bomb loads which
originally were envisaged for the B-29 ... Pilots
that are weak must either be replaced or trained
to a point where they can obtain the maximum from
their airplane. I wish you would drive home to
your crews and commanders the necessity for car-
rying the maximum weight of bombs on all missions
and the fact that every bomb that is carried on
each B-29 will contribute to the overall air ef-
fort against Japan.(13)
Meanwhile, preparations were underway to establish the
21st Bomber Command on bases in the Pacific. The 21st was
to complement LeMay's 20th in carrying out the "global
mission" of Arnold's 20th Air Force B-29s. The Marines had
been fighting to secure bases in the Pacific. Their
preparation and support would be a complex but necessarily
interservice operation. In May 1944 Army Air Forces General
Walter H. Frank convened at Pearl Harbor with repre-
sentatives from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to hammer
out details of base development, air field construction,
logistics, and dozens of other support lssues.(14) The
'Frank Report' estimated dates for operational readiness for
six new B-29 bases - two on Saipan, two on Tinian, and two
in Guam. Provisions of the Frank Report would cause LeMay
trouble later, especially with regard to facilities and
ordnance, both of which were to be responsibilities of the
General Haywood Hansell, transferred from the 8th Air
Force in Europe by Eaker, had been Arnold's chief of staff
for the 20th Air Force. Hansell was given command of the
new 21st Bomber Command on Guam on August 29, 1944.(15) On
October 14, he landed the first B-29 at Saipan while fight-
ing was still going on for Tinian and Guam. From bases in
the Pacific, Arnold, through Hansell, now had the capability
to really use the B-29 in its intended role. Distances were
not as great as in the C.B.I. (China Burma India) Theater,
but much more importantly, the logistics and supply problems
of C.B.I. were greatly alleviated in the Marianas. There
were no shuttle runs for supplies - the Navy delivered much
of the necessary equipment in accordance with the provisions
of the Frank Report.
On October 26, Hansell began modest operations with his
meager first echelon of planes.(16) Arnold's Committee on
Operational Analysis (COA) gave Hansell a target list, code
name San Antonio I, which was rich with aircraft and engine
factories. Hansell, who played a major role in planning the
air war against both Germany and Japan, used tried and true
precision tactics in his attacks on the Japanese homeland.
As Guam and Tinian fell to American forces, four new bases
became available for the growing numbers of B-29s.
Throughout November and December 1944, groups from the 21st
were able to bring come pressure to bear on targets at
Nagoya, Tokyo, Musashino, Akashi, Takasaki, and other
Arnold as always was restless for greater results. He
had said in April, "Of particular interest to me would be
some idea as to the most effective mixture of high explosive
and incendiaries (fire bombs) against heavily built up
areas."(18) The use of incendiaries was nothing new, as
Brigadier General Wolfe had tried them with respectable
results. So had LeMay in the C.B.I. and even Hansell on
occasion. The COA figured they would be especially effec-
tive against the lightweight flammable building materials
used by the Japanese and made their use a high priority in
messages to Hansell as early as 11 November. On December
18, LeMay gutted the military storage area at Hankow using
incendiaries.* On the 19th, Arnold's Chief of Staff
directed Hansell to launch such a full scale incendiary at-
tack on Nagoya. Hansell, long a proponent of precision at-
tacks (he had been a precision bombing instructor at the Air
* LeMay objected to this mission, but General Wedemeyer,
Commanding General of U.S. forces in China, prompted by his
Air Commander, General Chennault, appealed to the Joint
Chief of Staff who directed the mission. Chennault was
probably correct in calling the Hankow mission "The first
mass fire bomb raid,"(19)
Corps Tactical School) resented the directive and protested.
The Chief of Staff, General Louis Norstat, replied that the
change to area incendiary attacks was "simply a special
requirement resulting from the necessity of future
Hansell later wrote, "Since I had not yet accomplished
my first priority task, destruction of Japanese aircraft and
engine plants, I was not immediately affected by this change
and I continued my emphasis on selective bombing."(21) On
the 21st Hansell did comply with the incendiary directive,
but was unable, due to aircraft availability, to give a full
measure. He sent 78 bombers instead of the planned 100 and
used a daylight precision (versus area) attack. Results
were almost nil.(22)
On January 3, 1945 Hansell attempted a better fire raid
on Nagoya. Ninety seven bombers got off, but between weather
and navigation errors only 57 bombed the target. The
results were inconclusive. But Hansell did what Norstat had
directed and he went back to high altitude precision work.
In this he had been hampered all along by 150 knot head
winds above 20,000 feet; this not only affected accuracy but
broke up formations. High altitude, attacks using high ex-
plosive bombs were yielding only mediocre results for
Arnold's superfortress and his unorthodox air force. On
January 6, 1945 Arnold sent Norstat to Guam to tell him the
bad news. On the 7th LeMay flew in from Chengtu to relieve
him. In a letter to Hansell on February 1, Arnold wrote:
I know that the change in command of the XXI
Bomber Command was a great disappointment to you
and it for that reason that I am greatly impressed
with the fine spirit with which you have accepted
this situation. Your letter of the 8th of January
indicates a degree of loyalty, judgment, and devo-
tion to duty which is a great credit to you as an
I want to make it clear to you that I feel that
you did a very fine job in organizing, training, and
committing the XXI Bomber Command to action. I am
cognizant of the great problems involved in pio-
neering a project of this type. You have my appre-
ciation as well as my admiration for your excellent
... The job from now on is no longer planning
and pioneering. It has become one of operating.
LeMay, because of his broad experience in handling
large units of heavy bombers over a long period of
time plus his experience of over 4 months with the
XX Bomber Command, should be our best qualified oper-
... The change in your status was the result of
my decision based upon my best judgment. I sincerely
appreciate your generous acceptance of this decision
and I greatly regret the disappointment which I know
it has caused you... (23)
Now LeMay had four groups instead of one (Brigadier
General Giles replaced LeMay and began winding down opera-
tions of the 20th). As LeMay quickly discovered, it was
tough to run high altitude attacks from Guam against preci-
sion targets in Japan with a head wind close to 200 knots.
The weather obscured targets in Japan so frequently that it
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was almost impossible to predict weather suitable for visual
attacks; also radar was not that good for precision bombing
through the overcast.
General Norstat, with intelligence from the COA, still
urged incendiary attacks - particularly one on Kobe, an im-
portant port. On February 4 LeMay launched 129 planes with
E-28 incendiaries. Sixty nine planes made it to the target
and bombed at altitudes between 24,000 and 26,000 feet. Two
planes were lost. The results were encouraging - war produc-
tion was hit hard - but LeMay then went back to conventional
precision tactics. (24)
On February 12, Norstat directed another "major incen-
diary attack" in view of the promise shown in the Kobe
attack. On 25 February, with groups expanding and aircraft
arriving, 231 B-29s destroyed about one square mile of Tokyo
with incendiaries from high altitudes. Again, more effec-
tive than conventional bombing but still not to General
On March 4, LeMay's bombers made the eighth attack on
the Musashino industrial complex - and had the eighth
failure of high altitude precision techniques on that
target. Too much cloud cover.(25)
Norstat had told LeMay on the day he took over the 21st
Bomber Command that if he, LeMay, didn't get results from
the "3 billion dollar gamble", he, too would be looking for
a job. After LeMay took over, Arnold told Norstat,
I am still worried, we have built up ideas in the
Army, the Navy, and among civilians of what we can
do with our B-29s. We had all realized that in
order to do considerable damage, large numbers of
B-29s would have to deliver their loads of bombs
against Japan continuously and consistently, and
yet in spite of the above, really and truly, our
average daily delivery rate against Japan is very,
very small ... Unless something drastic is done to
change this condition soon, it will not be long
before the B-29 is just another tactical airplane
... These airplanes are quite expensive and carry
with them a crew of 12 men, and yet our results
are far from what we expected and what everyone
Many knowledgeable Americans were questioning the cost
of the B-29. Secretary of War Stimson had said that
"Japan's production capability has not yet been fundamen-
tally weakened."(27) Alexander P. de Seversy, a very
popular aviation writer, said,
The B-29 is an aerial version of the Big Bertha,
a softening up weapon whole sporadic use defi-
nitely removes it from the strategic force. The
Twentieth Air Force is almost a flawless example
of how strategic air force ought not to be used.
It is nothing but auxiliary aviation deluxe."(28)
LeMay was under the gun. He had pressure not only to
prove the B-29 and it's strategic role, but as he later
related, to justify Arnold's Joint Chief of Staff Air Force.
"General Arnold had to have some results out of this new or-
ganization he had set up, He had to get results quickly or
lose the gains he had made."(29) The Army, the Navy, and
the Pacific Air Forces were asking for B-29s for their own
uses. On March 6 LeMay told his Public Relations Officer,
Lieutenant Colonel St. Clair McKelway, "This outfit has been
getting a lot of publicity without having really ac-
complished a hell of a lot in bombing results."(30)
The February 25 attack which destroyed a square mile of
Tokyo was successful largely because the bomber formations
were forced to descend to about 20,000 feet to avoid clouds
at higher altitudes. This relatively small descent gave
more efficient dispersal of the fire bombs and permitted
more accurate bomb placement. It was certainly no secret
that an even lower attack - one below 10,000 feet could
wreck havoc with the thin wood and stucco buildings bunched
so closely together in Japanese cities. But heretofore such
a low attack had been out of the question. Japanese anti-
aircraft defenses were believed to be able to chew up bomber
formations flying so low. The fighters would be able to
respond more quickly also. There were other questions also.
Such an attack would signify a shift from hitting precision
industrial targets to "area bombing", that is bombing entire
neighborhoods - entire cities, civilians and all.
LeMay began to seriously consider a low altitude mass
fire bomb attack. He did not do it alone. He consulted his
staff and his wing commanders. Some of his intelligence of-
ficers thought the idea was suicidal - based mainly on the
flak threat. The wing commanders were in general agreement
that such an attack was feasible. In fact they each had
their own idea about how best to employ fire bombs.(31)
He reviewed the pros and cons over and over. Misjudg-
ing it would mean unprecedented losses.
a. accuracy, bomb pattern
b. greatly improved bomb capacity due to less fuel
required to climb to high altitude
c. less strain on still troublesome engines due to
d. eliminate 200 MPH head wind at altitude
e. pressurization problems eliminated
f. fly under clouds (possibly)
g. better radar resolution
h. element of surprise
i. Arnold wanted results
a. fighters (maybe)
b. flak (maybe - Japan's AA guns optimized for high
c. failure would mean an end to career and serious
setback to 20th Air Force
The biggest threat was the flak. But LeMay concluded
that Japanese guns, set up against high altitude bombers,
could be taken by surprise.
He decided to order such a mission. Target - Tokyo.
The planes would also go at night - for better survivability
against flak and fighters. Furthermore, minimum crew, tail
gunner only. This would further increase pay load.(31) The
chances of defending against fighters at night were ques-
tionable anyway. The tactics would be single aircraft in
more or less of a file.
Three hundred and twenty five newly configured B-29s
took off on the evening of March 9, 1945. LeMay stayed up
At about two o'clock in the morning, his public rela-
tions officer, Lieutenant Colonel McKelway, visited him at
the operations center. As it was a 15 hour round trip for
the bomber force, most of the unnecessary staff personnel
had gone to bed to hear the results of the raid the next
morning. Only LeMay and a few operations duty types were
staying up. After a brief exchange of small talk, LeMay told
I'm sweating this one out myself. A lot could
go wrong. I can't sleep. I usually can, but not
tonight. If this raid works the way I think it will
we can shorten the war.
In a war you've got to try to keep at least
one punch ahead of the other guy all the time. A
war is a very tough kind of proposition. If you
don't get the enemy, he gets you. I think we've
figured out a punch he's not expecting this time.
I don't think he's got the right flak to combat
this kind of raid and I don't think he can keep
his cities from being burned down - wiped right
off the map. He hasn't moved his industries to
Manchuria yet, although he's starting to move them,
and if we can destroy them before he can move them,
we've got him. I never think anything is going to
work until I've seen the pictures after the raid,
but if this one works we will shorten this damned
war out here.(32)
At about four in the morning the first "bombs away"
message arrived at the operations center by radio, "Bombing
target visually, flak moderate, fighter opposition nil."(33)
After sun up, airplanes began landing at their home
bases on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan. The mission was a stun-
ning military success. Fourteen square miles of Tokyo were
destroyed and an estimated 100,000 people killed. The fires
started by the B-29s were fanned by a 14 knot wind which
made the conflagration more intense. In spite of the
thousands of civilians killed, the attack served to destroy
much of the "phantom industries" - military manufacturing of
small parts done in private residences. Only 2 B-29s were
lost. Arnold and the world knew about the raid immediately.
(34)* The B-29 and the Joint Chiefs of Staff set up had
In spite of congratulations from Arnold, LeMay did not
relax. Seizing the offensive, he spent the next ten days at
a feverish pace repeating the tactics of March 9. In that
*National papers reported results within hours of the
period, the 21st Bomber Command sent 1,595 sorties against
four major cities proposed by Arnold's targeting group.
Thirty two square miles of urban landscape in Nagoya, Kobe,
Osaka, and Tokyo was razed :by 9,365 tons of fire bombs
dropped at an average altitude of 7,000 feet.(35)
The switch to area fire bombing over precision in-
dustrial targets was not objected to by any American
organizations. It was accepted as a viable military option.
Planners in Washington were gearing up for an invasion
of the Japanese homeland in November. There was very little
concern expressed for the lives of Japanese civilians whom
the American public in general referred to as "Japs". LeMay
did not ignore the civilian factor. He just balanced it
against the possible loss of thousands of American lives
should the homeland be invaded. (Estimates ranged from
500,000 to one million.)(37)
The Joint Targeting Group in Washington quickly desig-
nated 33 targets to be hit with the same tactics - all in
preparation for an invasion of Japan. LeMay and a number of
Arnold's staff, however, believed that with enough support,
the war could be brought to an end by the use of air power
alone.(37) The only things standing in the way of this pre-
diction were the availability of ordnance and air crews, and
the need for autonomy in a theater where Navy was demanding
B-29s for its own uses.
Ordnance had been expended at an accelerated rate
through the ten day siege. Almost all the incindiaries were
gone. LeMay had to pressure the supply chain in the Navy to
get more delivered (under provisions of the Frank
Air crews presented a graver challenge. LeMay was not
receiving the pilots, bombardiers, and navigators he needed
to exploit his tactical successes. He decided to fly his
crews beyond the standard 60 hours a month - well beyond.
He believed that with positive morale boosters (like
successful missions) pilots could be "flown to death" if the
missions warranted it.(39) He told Norstat on April 25,
"Though naturally reluctant to drive my force an exorbitant
rate, I believe that the opportunity now at hand warrants
extraordinary measures on the part of all sharing it."(40)
The crews flew. He said later, "All we had to do was paste
a picture of the incendiary raid results on the bulletin
board, and crews doubled their flight time" and morale im-
proved tremendously.(41) This hunch of LeMay's regarding
the effect of mission success on "combat fatigue" was given
credence by a report to the Army Air Forces medical team
from the 20th Air Force flight surgeon.(42)
When the Marines took Iwo Jima, the 21st Bomber Command
had a field from which they could stage escort fighters for
the trip to Japan. Fighters were not nearly as important as
they had been in the European theater, however. Iwo Jima
became more valuable as an emergency landing field for the
The Joint Target Group compiled a list of the 22 most
important industrial cities in Japan. The new directive was
issued to LeMay on April 3. Top priorities were Nakajima -
Mushimo and Mitsubishi - both at Nagoya. Also listed were
urban areas of Tokyo, Kawasaki, Nagoya, and Osaka.(43) The
Joint Target Group based their selection on the premise that
the home islands would be invaded. LeMay's fire attacks had
been so successful in March however, that some of Arnold's
staff believed the war could be won exclusively from the
air. LeMay did. In April he wrote in a private letter, "I
consider that for the first time strategic air bombardment
faces a situation in which its strength is proportionate to
the magnitude of the task. I feel that the destruction of
Japan's ability to wage war lies within the capability of
The fact that LeMay was the only commander in the
Pacific theater not under Admiral Nimitz caused problems for
Pacific theater commanders who needed a plane like the B-29
*Admiral Ray Spruance, whose task force captured Iwo Jima,
had private doubts about the need for paying 6,000 American
lives to take the island for a strategic air field. LeMay
visited Spruance and assured him that the number of lives
saved by having Iwo as an emergency field more than offset
for their own purposes. In late March, LeMay's autonomy was
tested. Under the provisions of the Joint Chief of Staff
directive, B-29s could be used "in emergency situations"
when approved by the JCS. Admiral Nimitz needed B-29s for
two purposes: suppression of Kamikaze bases in support of
his Okinawa campaign and the mining of Japanese ports. LeMay
objected to both, but he was overridden by the Joint Chiefs
Iceberg was the code name given to the naval campaign
at Okinawa which began on April 1. On March 7, LeMay par-
ticipated in a planning meeting in which Nimitz's planners
invoked the emergency clause to use B-29s to attack kamikaze
bases on the island of Kyushu. The B-29 would be used
tactically, not strategically, in this role. LeMay was not
happy with this, but took his orders. As the fire raids
slowed down at the end of March, (because of fire bomb
depletion) he began the attacks on Kyushu using high ex-
plosive bombs to crater airfields and destroy as many
aircraft as feasible. The first mission was March 27.(46)
For a week, the bombers continued attacking numerous known
suicide bases. The landings at Okinawa had begun. LeMay
wanted to go back to strategic bombing of the mainland. He
told Nimitz, "We've got everything flat on Kyushu, all we
can do now is put more holes in the field, and we can't stop
an occasional airplane from taking off. We've done all we
Nimitz's agent in this matter was Rear Admiral Forrest
Sherman, whom he then consulted. Sherman wanted greater
destruction - more raids. LeMay went back to work.(47) On
April 6, the Japanese launched about 355 kamikazes from
Kyushu and sank two destroyers, a minesweeper, two ammuni-
tion ships, and an LST, plus damaged several other ships.
On the 7th there was another fierce attack on Nimitz's task
LeMay then sent 53 planes against Kyushu on the 8th and
134 planes on the 17th, but the enemy was not deterred. Be-
tween April 6 and June 22 an estimated 1,500 suicide sorties
were flown from Kyushu. Twenty-five allied ships were sunk
and 182 were damaged. The B-29s flew 2,104 sorties against
kamikaze bases - about 75% of the combat sorties for that
period. LeMay complained to General Norstat, Arnold's Chief
of Staff, several times in April and May about this tactical
employment of his planes; but each time he was told to do
whatever Nimitz needed in support of Iceberg.(49) On one
occasion, LeMay appealed directly to Arnold, who then
checked with Admiral King on the JCS. Arnold was told in
essence that if the Army Air Forces did not want to help the
Navy, the Navy could pull out from Okinawa and leave the
Army stranded without support.(50) Arnold did not make an
issue of it. LeMay later wrote, "During the period that we
were tied down to strikes against air fields, we could have
knocked out every engine plant in Japan.(51) This campaign
was not a success. Later estimates concluded that between
April 17 and May 11, 1945 95% of the enemy's sorties were
flown on the same day their chief bases were being attacked
by B-29s.(52) On May 11 Nimitz finally released the B-29s
from their duties against the kamikazes.(53)*
While all this was happening, LeMay had been also min-
ing Japanese ports - again at Nimitz's insistence. He
didn't care too much for this job, either, but went at it
wholeheartedly. The plan to mine key Japanese ports and
shipping lanes had been put together in late 1944 (code name
Operation Starvation). Soon after taking over from General
Hansell, LeMay had submitted his own plan to 20th Air Force
Headquarters. He dedicated an entire wing - the 313th - to
the task. The Schimonoseki Straits was the chief area
mined. Through a combination of massive numbers of bombers
and resourceful techniques, the mining campaign was a great
success. It required less than 6% of the total sorties
flown during the period but resulted in the sinking of over
1,250,000 tons of Japanese shipping.(54)
LeMay had a mining officer, Commander Ellis A. Johnson,
who planned a great portion Operation Starvation. In a
* Though the superforts did little to stop kamikaze attacks,
their contribution to a joint effort of Navy and Air Force
tactical strikes was all that could be hoped for by Nimitz.
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later book he gave a detailed account of strategy, ordnance
types and the other planning factors needed for this - the
most concentrated mining effort ever.(55) The full economic
significance of the campaign was not evident until after the
war. The Premier of Japan in 1945, Prince Fumimard Konoy,
stated, "The result of the B-29 mining was so effective
against shipping that it eventually starved the country. I
think you probably could have shortened the war by beginning
earlier."(56) LeMay only devoted two paragraphs to the min-
ing campaign in his autobiography. As outstanding an effort
as it was, he was restless to resume his fire campaign full
He was able to mount some medium effort strikes during
the JCS directed missions. On April 13, 327 airplanes
burned out 11.4 square miles of Tokyo. On the 15th, 303
planes destroyed six more square miles of that city. The
20th Bomber Command departed China and Joined the 21st in
the Marianas. Germany surrendered on May 8 and Arnold told
General Doolittle to deploy the 6th Air Force to the Pacific
Theater. However, the contribution of the 8th was minor be-
cause they joined the 20th so late in the war.
By May 14, with other committments gone, LeMay was able
to send out 529 airplanes against the industrial area of
northern Nagoya. On the 16th, 522 planes again hit Nagoya.
(57) Subsequent attacks were against Tokyo, Yohahama, Osaka
In June, Arnold visited his bomber commands in the
Pacific. He met LeMay at Guam on the 12th and asked him
when he thought the war would end. Arnold asked this of
people wherever he went and no one had really given him a
serious estimate. LeMay told his staff, "Get the target
list and tell me when we're going to run out of major
targets." The date was September 1 - and that was the
answer he gave Arnold.(59) Impressed with this, Arnold
decided to send LeMay to Washington to brief the JCS on his
campaign.(60) Arnold also had an opportunity to witness 520
planes rendezvous for a mission on Osaka. More importantly,
he was able to smooth over some of the rough spots between
the Navy and Air Force regarding supply, logistics, and air-
By June 15, the six industrial cities chosen by the
Joint Target Group had been ruined. Japan's air raid system
was almost totally inadequate - the economy was in shambles
- the whole country was on the brink of collapse. LeMay
returned from Washington to conduct the final aerial assault
on the homeland. He was using all sorts of tactics by this
time to suit the needs of the mission at hand - high al-
titude precision attacks when weather permitted, medium and
low altitude incendiary attacks against urban areas, even
attacks in broad daylight became common when it became ap-
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parent that fighter resistance was weak. Incendiary mis-
sions continued against secondary cities.
In July, LeMay decided to drop leaflets which announced
in advance the destruction of given cities. Nimitz's
psychological warfare section assisted with preparations for
leaflets to be dropped on July 27. 660,000 copies were
dropped using M-26 bomb cases. The leaflets read, "In ac-
cordance with America's well known humanitarian principles,
the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure in-
nocent people, not gives you warning to evacuate ... and
save your lives."(63) Radio broadcasts from Saipan had the
same theme. This saved lives and lessened the stigma of at-
tacks on civilians. The warnings did not jeopardize the ac-
tual attacking force.
Strategic bombardment forces in the Pacific were grow-
ing so quickly and proving to be so effective that General
Arnold relinquished personal command to General Carl Spaatz
in July. At the approval of JCS, Arnold directed sweeping
changen in the command structure in the Pacific Theater.
Spaatz would command the newly designated United States Army
Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific. LeMay's 21st Bomber
Command became the Twentieth Air Force. Spaatz, fresh from
victory in Europe, arrived at Guam on July 29. By August 1
he had his staff set up. He chose LeMay as Chief of Staff.
(64) Thus, LeMay's days as an operational bomber commander
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in the Pacific theater were over. He was succeeded by
Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining, former commander of
the Thirteeth Air Force. LeMay's move to a staff job was in
recognition of his superb efforts of the previous seven
months.* He had created so much momentum against Japan
that, with additional air forces and continuing deliveries
of B-29s, victory was assured.
LeMay, Arnold, Spaatz and a few others knew about the
atom bomb. LeMay's 509th composite group had been based at
Tinian with the mission of preparing for it's delivery. By
flying comparatively safe practice missions, they generated
resentment from some of the other groups who were flying
more regular and hazardous missions. Working in secret,
they began flying practice missions on 20 July on "leftover"
targets from the main JTG list. Dropping TNT filled bombs
with ballistics similar to the atomic bomb the 509th
aircraft ran in at about 29,000 feet, dropped the 10,000
bomb projectile, and practiced their sharp break away
maneuver. The group executed this type of mission while
waiting for the directive to drop the real item.(66)
Arnold ordered LeMay to reserve Kyoto, Hiroshima,
*Spaatz looked over his new command and cabled Arnold, "Have
had opportunity to check up on Baker two nine [B-29] opera-
tions and believe this is the best organized and most tech-
nically and tactically proficient military organization that
the world has seen to date."
Nigata, and Kokura for the 509th. Secretary of War Stimson
overrode Arnold and scratched Kyoto because of its cultural
significance. Nagasaki was added apparently by LeMay's
staff.(67) LeMay had been told about the bomb by one of
Arnold's staff officers. Support requirements would come
from the Navy. LeMay's whole attitude toward the atomic
weapons to be issued to the 21st Bomber Command was quite
matter-of-fact. There is no evidence that he placed any
greater or less emphasis on its employment than he had on
any other mission being flown during the spring and summer
of 1945. He said, "I think it was anticlimactic in that the
verdict was already rendered."(68) The atomic bombs were
dropped on August 6 and 9. The 20th Air Force also flew
conventional missions on 1, 5, 8 and 14 August - the day the
Japanese announced their surrender.(69)
LeMay only remained Spaatz's Chief of Staff until
September.(70) On his return to the states, he visited
Japan and was given a peace medal by the government. At
first he refused orders to the ceremonial peace treaty.
"It's one place I don't want to go," he said. Then he flew
one of three B-29s from Hokkaido, Japan to Chicago, Illinois
- a record for the time.
The Air Force was rapidly demobilizing following the
war. General Arnold had felt as early as autumn of 1944
that the war would end soon and he began preparing for the
Air Force of 20 years hence. He hired noted scientist
Theodore Von Karmen to assemble a team to estimate the
requirements down the road. From this very insightful plan-
ning came revolutionary, but prophetic conclusions about fu-
ture air power. The Von Karmen team foresaw jet propulsion,
missilery, and a host of other aspects relative to a post
war Air Force. LeMay's first major post war assignment was
complementary to Von Karmen's work. In October 1945 he was
named the first Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and
The B-29 was General Aranold's instrument to carry out
a truly "global mission" unique to the United States Army
Air Forces. Though it was born out of a fear that the
United States might have to wage war from her own shores,
Arnold later devoted it exclusively against Japan. He went
through two other commanders (Wolfe and Mansell) before
choosing LeMay to be the chief field agent in the operation
of his "3 billion dollar gamble". LeMay was chosen for no
other reason than the ability he had demonstrated in the
In operating out of China, he showed adaptability and
perseverence in dealing with the disproportionate logistics
After succeeding General Hansell in the Pacific
Theater, he was hard pressed to improve on the record of
that great planner. When pressure continued from Arnold's
camp, LeMay used an uncanny combination of theory,
intuition, threat analysis, and courage to personally make
one of the greatest operational decisions of the war - to
fire bomb Japan from low altitude.
He was able to motivate his people - from wing com-
mander down - to put forth even greater efforts in
maintenance, ordnance handling, support functions and actual
flying when he felt it imperative to exploit the successes
of late March 1945.
Thirty eight years old - he showed resolve and deter-
mination in dealing with Nimitz and his staff over the
provisions of the Frank Committee and 21st Bomber Command
Very heavy bomber operations were much different in the
Pacific theater than they had been in Europe, but LeMay's
performance through the end of the war with Arnold's B-29s
was every bit as brilliant as his work with Eaker's B-17s.
World War II was the first (and only) time strategic
bombardment was used to physically bring a country to
surrender. By proving this legitimacy, the Army Air Corps
earned enormous recognition and paved the way for its inde-
pendence in 1947. LeMay had grown with the mass bombardment
concept since 1937, and by war's end had become its leading
Chapter 4 - Post World War II (1946 - 1948)
In his new job at R&D, LeMay oversaw a group which went
to Germany in 1946 to investigate the many innovations
developed by Germany in the closing days of the war. His
office was especially interested in the V-2 rocket - the
long range weapon employed by Hitler against England.
American derivatives of this weapon became the first tacti-
cal offensive missiles. LeMay was quick to mention this
fact when later accused of too heavy a reliance on strategic
Meanwhile there were important changes being made
throughout the Air Force - change which would affect
LeMay's future. General Arnold retired in February 1946;
with General Spaatz succeeding him as Chief of the Army Air
Forces. American confidence after the war resulted in mas-
sive demobilization in accordance with traditional U.S.
policy. Arnold had ordered thousands of planes destroyed
because of an inability to support them; also he feared for
the survival of civilian aviation companies if there were
too many war surplus planes around.(2)
LeMay personally emerged from the war as one of many
young commanders who would find places in the newly indepen-
dent Air Force, established by the National Security Act of
1947. As energetic as he was at his duties at R & D, LeMay
did not complain when General Spaatz ordered him to command
the U.S. Air Forces in Europe in October 1947.(3) Feeling
he was much better suited as a field commander, LeMay took
his family with him to his new headquarters at Wiesbaden,
Germany. The scars of war were very much in evidence when
he arrived - physical, economic and spiritual.
On January 26, 1948, with less than 20 years active
duty, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.(4)
When the blockade went up around Berlin, LeMay again found
himself in the unique position of being able to single
handedly affect the situation. The blockade of Berlin by
the Russians in July 1948 began as early as the Potsdam Con-
ference three years ealier. The political situation had
deteriorated so much by the time LeMay arrived that the
commander of American Forces in Germany, General Lucien D.
Clay, was preparing plans for such an event. A staunch advo-
cate of a firm American stand, Clay had made no secreat of
the possibility of a blockade.(5)
LeMay, also aware of the possibility of armed conflict,
and of the pitiful state of his Air Forces in Europe, took
his own measures. He had one fighter group, a few
transports and a radar unit. The Soviets were increasing
harassment of military and civilian road traffic in 1948.
He decided to build up Air Force rear areas in France and
But at the time, the presence of American troops was
illegal in those countries. LeMay therefore sent in logis-
tics personnel in civilian clothes by a round about route to
avoid detection. In a few months, LeMay had built up his
rear area stock piles. General Clay gave tacit approval.(6)
American policy makers were arguing about whether or
not the country should take a stand in Berlin. On April 10.
General Bradley told Clay about fears and doubts about Ber-
lin he was observing in American institutions and asked Clay
if it might not be wiser to pull back now and possibly save
face if the Soviets decided to move. Clay said no.
In early April, the Soviets were searching all rail
military shipments to Berlin. A small airlift was effected
to get around that. On June 24, the Russians announced that
all freight, passenger trains, and water traffic to Berlin
would be halted. General Clay had been considering his
options. On June 25 he called LeMay (at Frankfurt) and told
him to dedicate all of his C-47s to an airlift to Berlin un-
til further notice.(7)
LeMay thought that Clay (not being an airman) couldn't
realize the magnitude of the task of feeding a city the size
of Berlin, by air if it became necessary. But he took
his orders and promptly executed them.*
*Fearful that requesting permission for such a move would,
through indecision, only cause its delay, General Clay or-
dered the airlift entirely on his own.
The next day, 32 flights of C-47s carried about 80 tons
of supplies from Wiesbaden, Germany.(8). From there,
"LeMay's Coal and Feed Company" grew at an almost uncon-
trolled pace. When it was obvious the blockade would
continue, LeMay secured the use of C-54s and C-47s and their
crews wherever he could find them.
By the end of June, so many transports were coming and
going out of Berlin's downtown airport, Templehof, that
traffic management was becoming a real problem. LeMay
succeeded in getting local help to build a new runway. But
that didn't end the confusion and congestion in the air and
around the loading areas. The Undersecretary of the Army,
General William D. Draper,visited the area and confirmed for
his superiors in Washington the need for the airlift.(9)
With Draper was his chief planning officer, Lieutenant
General Albert Wedemeyer, who knew LeMay well. Wedemeyer, a
pilot himself, saw the confusion created by the rapid es-
calations of the airlift. When he returned to Washington he
met with the new Air Force Chief Hoyt Vanderberg (who had
succeeded Spaatz) and suggested that another old acquain-
tance would be better suited to direct traffic in Germany.
This man was Major General William Tunner - a commander of
Air Trasport Command in the China-Burma-India (HUMP) route
in 1944. Vandenberg asked LeMay what he thought. LeMay
replied, "I don't think I can afford to turn down any offer
to help. Let's use him."(10) Beginning July 30 Tunner and
his team made a "cowboy operation" into a smoothly running
airlift of unprecedented magnitude: It would end May 11,
Vandenberg himself visited Germany not long after as-
signing Tunner to run the airlift. LeMay gave him a per-
sonal tour - showing him what had been done not only with
the airlift but with all aspects of Air Force operations in
Europe. In spite of LeMay's insufficient assents, Vandenberg
was impressed with his (and Tunner's) achievements. He said
so, too. And shortly after his visit he named LeMay to
succeed General George Kenny as Chief of the Strategic Air
LeMay post war years gave him an opportunity to exer-
cise his talents in the austere environment of demobiliza-
tion. It was his resourcefulness which kept him at the
forefront during this period. To send American troops
(dressed as civilians) into France and Belguim was an un-
likely scheme borne entirely from LeMay's traditional
refusal to accept the status quo. His skepticism over
General Clay's proposal for an airlift was very short-lived
after LeMay began appreciating Clay's resolute stand on the
blockade issue. LeMay threw all his energies into the
airlift, flying many missions himself to prove his
enthusiasm. He needed labor for the new runway at
Templehof, so he conscripted hundreds of unemployed area
residents, all of whom were eager for the work. Against the
advice of some of his staffers, he even hired old Luftwaffe
mechanics to service American transports when the pace of
the airlift called for more mechanics.
General Spaatz could not have anticipated the airlift
when he sent LeMay to Europe in 1947 to command the Air
Forces there. So the element of luck was on LeMay's side
when he was the commander on the scene when General Clay in-
quired about airlift. Once that enterprise began,
however, it was LeMay's characteristic "full speed ahead"
method of running it that made such a positive impression on
the new Air Force boss, General Vandenberg.
The Strategic Air Command was established by General
Arnold on March 21, 1946.(12) General George Kenny, who had
commanded the 7th Air Force in the Pacific was named as its
first Commanding General. Demobilization was so profligate
that in 1946 General Kenny could call only 148 B-29s his
own. A year earlier, there had been over a thousand. Five
hundred plane raids were common. Reorganization was rampant
throughout the Army Air Forces. By 1947, Kenny had 713 to-
tal aircraft (319 bombers). But still forced with budgetary
cuts, Kenny hired Major General Clements McMullen to reor-
ganize Strategic Air Command.(13) McMullen drastically cut
the number of staff agencies within SAC and ordered manpower
trimmed at all levels.
In spite of these austerity measures, Kenny was begin-
ning to make progress toward a truly modernized strategic
force. The B-36 was about to be fielded.(14) This bomber
was conceived in 1940 to possibly supplement B-29 operations
from the states in the event England fell.(15) He also was
responsible for the first doctrine built around the
capability of the atomic bomb.(16) Vanderburg said he gave
SAC to LeMay for one primary reason: LeMay "has participated
in more strategic bombings in time of war than any other man
in the world."(17)
Time magazine reported that soon after his arrival at
SAC, LeMay found an airman guarding a bomber hanger with a
ham sandwich. Though not exactly true, it was typical of a
general attitude throughput the organization which in-
furiated the new commander. But this would soon change.
In December, 1949 he obtained permission to grant "spot
promotions" to first lieutenants who showed excellence in
performance of their duties as aircraft commanders. This
was extended to other ranks in 1950 and 1951. Conversely,
individuals or entire crews could lose temporary promotions
for failing to maintain high standards.(18) He made General
Kenny's "bombing competition" an annual event with awards to
best units. He gave top priority to manning and equipping
SAC - especially in his first years there. He established
his World War II "lead crew" system at Walters Air Force
Base New Mexico. He reorganized maintenance and other sup-
port functions into a more efficient package. He instituted
rotational deployments to overseas bases so units could
familiarize themselves with those areas.(19)
LeMay kept apace of the fast growing American aerospace
industry as the 1950s began. He fielded the first American
jet bomber, the B-47, in 1951. Never one to grow personally
attached to an airplane if it was no longer a leader in his
growing command, he told a Congressional Committee in 1954,
"If I had my way, all the B-36's would be on the junk
pile."(20) In 1955 SAC began operations with the B-53.
Also, in the 1950s an entire family of intercontinental bal-
listic missiles became part of the SAC arsenal. LeMay wel-
comed the missiles but always maintaind they should be
balanced with a bomber force.
By 1958, SAC personnel had more than quadrupled to
258,703. Aircraft went from a total of 837 in 1948 to over
3,000. Bases rose from 21 to 39.
As concerned as he was about the organization and
operation of SAC, LeMay never lost sight of the need for
proper morale and welfare of its airmen. In this regard he
fought for and helped win pay raises. He improved barracks
drastically from common usage squad bays - totally unsuited
for alert crews with round the clock shifts - to smaller in-
dividual quarters. He fought hard to obtain better quarters
for married personnel, both on base and off. In Omaha he
cooperated with a local official named Capehart to build off
base government housing - the same type later set up at
military bases around the country. He even set up a hobby
shop at Offult using donations of machine tools from local
The Strategic Air Command was at it peak when LeMay
was ordered to Washington in July 1957 as Vice Chief of
Staff of the Air Force. He was succeeded by his long time
deputy at SAC, Major General Thomas Powers.
President Eisenhower appointed General Thomas White to
the poition of Chief of Staff of the Air Force in the
spring of 1957. White immediately asked LeMay if he would
be his deputy. LeMay said yes.(21) White had commanded the
7th Air Force in the Pacific at the end of the war and gone
on to various staff jobs at Air Force Headquarters. In four
years with White, LeMay learned the political "ins and outs"
associated with work in the Pentagon. He found himself run-
ning the day to day operations of the Air Force as White
spent most of his time with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He
considered his blunt style to be complementary to White's
moderate methods. "There were many incidents wherein
General White was exactly the kind of brake which should
have been applied to keep me from battering myself to
General White retired on June 30, 1961. His successor
had been a matter of speculation. By then President Kennedy
was growing more confident in his new office. He was doing
a respectable job of showing the Soviets his resolve to live
by the words of his inauguration speech. Instead of naming
a younger, more broad-minded man to lead the Air Force, Ken-
nedy decided to practice what he had been preaching. He
named LeMay.(23) It was not necessarily that Kennedy agreed
with LeMay on various issues, he just felt that a warrior
should do a warrior's work and policy makers should make
policy. He told Hugh Sidney, "Its good to have men like Ar-
leigh Burke and Curt LeMay commanding troops once you decide
to go in; but those men aren't the only ones you should lis-
ten to when you decide whether to go in or not. I like
having LeMay head the Air Force - Everybody knows how he
feels. That's a good thing."(24)
LeMay proceeded with his newest job as energetically as
any before it. And the Air Force as a whole was healthier
than ever with SAC continuning to gain strength, new gener-
ations of fighters coming aboard, good retention of
personnel, and a strong new role in ballistic missiles. It
was the missile issue on which LeMay believed he was often
misunderstood. He felt that people considered him ex-
clusively a "big bomber man". He maintained he wasn't.(25)
As early as 1946, at R&D, he was following up on General
Arnold's plans to include missiles in the Air Force. And
the silos manned by SAC personnel were a testament to his
belief in the deterrent value of intercontinental missiles.
He was not exclusively a "big boomber" man, but in his posi-
tion at the Pentagon, he was very outspoken on the need for
manned bombers as part of the total equation of strategic
But times were changing and the era when big bombers
could solve most problems was rapidly coming to a close.
LeMay found himself waging political battles that were in-
creasingly frustrating. One of the first of such battles
did involve a bomber - the B-70. In March 1961 Kennedy
severely cut back development of the MACH-3 aircraft, stat-
ing that the new missile capabilities "makes unnecessary and
economically unjustifiable the development of the B-70 as a
full weapons system at this time."(26) In spite of this
LeMay fought for procurement of the B-70 during his entire
three and a half year tenure as Air Force Chief. He was
able to persuade congress to heavily fund the bomber in 1964
but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, LeMay's perennial
foe, diverted the funds through technical loopholes. Soon
after LeMay's retirement, with Vietnam escalating, the
project was quietly abandoned.(27)
Building and Air Force was one thing. Dealing with the
Joint Chiefs of Staff on matters of national policy was
another. LeMay left a memorable legacy of having a single
opinion on all crises of the time: bomb them. For example,
he told Kennedy that Cuba should be bombed immediately when
the missile crisis flared up. McNamara is reported to have
asked LeMay if it wouldn't be possible to just "wound" Rus-
sian technicians in Cuba. LeMay looked at him for a long
time, then said, "You must have lost your mind."(28)* After
Krushchev pulled the missiles away from Cuba, Robert Kennedy
noted that LeMay had said, "Why don't we go in Monday and
make a strike anyway?"(29)
As Vietnam began to escalate, LeMay (with Marine Com-
mandant Wallace Green) was the leading proponent of im-
mediate resolute air strikes against the north to "Bomb them
*LeMay did order a significant tactical air build up in
Florida in case there was no other solution.
into the stone age."* Later, he observed that "we are swat-
ting flies when we should be going after the manure pile."
Though Kennedy appreciated LeMay's "no nonsense"
opinions, the President had a very difficult time with him
on the personal level. The deputy Secretary of Defense at
the time, Roswell Gilpatric, said that whenever Kennedy had
to see LeMay, "He ended up in sort of a fit. He would just
be frantic at the end of a session with LeMay because LeMay
couldn't listen or wouldn't take in, and he would make what
Kennedy considered ... outrageous proposals that have no
relation to the state of affairs of the 60's."(31) In spite
of their entirely different outlooks, Kennedy broke prece-
dent and extended LeMay's term for a year in 1963. Said
Kennedy, "Any president should have the right to choose his
There were no major personnel changes in the Joint
Chiefs of Staff after Kennedy's assassination. Lyndon
Johnson tolerated LeMay for a year, fully aware of his
position. Tensions were evident between the president and
LeMay on the issue of policy in Viet Nam. "I won't let
those Air Force Generals bomb the smallest outhouse north of
*LeMay visited Vietnam in 1962 and told the air commander,
General Haskins that the requests for air strikes are being
processed much too slowly. Ambushes by insurgents, he said,
could be very costly to them if close air response time was
the 17th parallel without checking with me. The generals
know only two words. Spend and bomb."(33)
LeMay retired on February 2, 1965; leaving the Air
Force in the hands of General Mac McConnell (who had almost
exactly the same philosophies). He wrote his memoirs and
went to work as a board member of a major electronics firm.
In 1968, George Wallace asked him, based on his strong views
on Vietnam, to be his running mate on the American Indepen-
dent Party ticket for president. LeMay agreed, thought some-
what reluctantly. When Wallace failed in his bid for the
presidency, LeMay returned to the electonics firm and made
occasional apperarances in behalf of air power.
There are many things which influenced LeMay throughout
his life. His was not the type of career with a single sig-
nificant turning point which propelled him to the top. Nor
did he have any distinct "beginning" on a road to a success-
ful military career, or distinct social or economic
Coming from a comparatively poor background, the only
life he knew as a boy was one of moving and worked as hard as
he could all his life. This obviously affected his perfor-
mance of duty, but it also contributed indirectly to his
success. By considering hard work and performance the norm,
he was naturally able to expect - demand - it from his
subordinates. His tight knit, smooth running organizations
from Mess Camps in Michigan to Strategic Air Command were
proof of this.
His pastimes from his earliest youth grew and con-
tributed to his many abilities as a commander and thus to
his continued advancement. Although he never had many op-
portunities for organized recreation; mechanical interests,
hunting, and reading lead directly to furture abilities. His
early interests in crystal radio sets, used cars and other
machines were also invaluable in later decisions: a degree
in engineering, the box formations of his bombers, flak
avoidance, and the decision to send over 300 B-29s to Japan
at low altitude.
LeMay's early interest in historical novels and
biographies played a very important role in furture
decisions. Although he had ROTC in college, through his
personal reading, he had a deeper appreciation of the role
of the commander that went all the way back to his boyhood.
In his autobiography, he compares the anguish of commander's
past with his decision to launch the first low level strike
LeMay made many important decisions in his life - tac-
tical and orgaizational. But the decisions he made to
directly change his career path were few. The fact that he
wanted to fly, wanted to start in the military, etc. were
easy ones. The two personal decisions that made Curtis
LeMay the Curtis LeMay the world came to know were in their
own way no different than the countless other decisions he
made as a commander. These were the decisions to stay in
the Air Corps, and to transfer from pursuit aircraft to
bombers. All other advancements were the result of deeply
engrained personality traits, or external factors.
One of the external factors was the mood of the country
when he transferred to B-17s. He arrived at Langley Field,
Virginia just in time to take part in the build up which
lead to full production of that plane as America went to
war. Similarly, the mood of the country let him wage a
direct assault on the Japanese homeland - civilians and
military targets. At the height of the war, almost no one
cared how many enemy civilians died - the nation demanded a
quick victory in the Pacific. Although America shifted into
an attitude of conciliation after the war, LeMay didn't.
Demobilization had left him in a very compromising position
in Germany in 1948. When the mood swung back to support a
posiiton of strength through deterrence, LeMay was there,
ready to build up Strategic Air Command to a showpiece of
deterrence. Then when trouble flared up in Cuba and Vietnam,
LeMay came across to many politicians as an anachronism -
out of step with a new, foreign policy. In 1939, America
needed men like LeMay. By 1965, it wasn't sure what it
Luck was a big factor in LeMay's career. He was lucky
he didn't die in any of the three accidents he had in
biplanes. He stood a good chance of dying in World War II.
Group Commanders were replaced unceremoniously after disap-
pearing on missions. The Schwienfurt-Regansberg raid of
1943 was typical of the type of "Russian Roulette" bomber
crews had to play. LeMay's luckiest day was when he
began serving for Colonel Bob Olds - not that it was a stoke
Click here to view image
of fate that the regular operations officer had become ill,
but because there was a man like Bob Olds at all commanding
the 2nd Bomb group. LeMay has been quoted often as saying
Olds was the one man who gave him a license to excel. LeMay
was also lucky to have been assigned to Europe when the Rus-
sians were threatening in 1948.
Certainly the exponential build up of forces during the
first years of World War II gave LeMay a corresponding boost
from first lieutenant to colonel. Command billets were mul-
tiplying quickly. But after he became a group commander,
LeMay's fate was guided by the personalities of his supe-
riors - at least two levels above him.
First there was General Arnold - demanding,
irrespressible, and, most of all, impatient. He had been
moderate on the issues of an independent air force, the
early B-17, fighter escort for bombers, and other issues.
He had bided his time in the late 1930s while the noisier
voices for an independent Air Force fell by the wayside.
Promoted to Chief of the Army Air Forces, however, he ex-
hibited a drive which was intensified by America's commit-
ment to World War II. There was no area of Army aviation in
which Arnold did not have a consuming personal interest.
Hap Arnold was responsible for LeMay's promotion from
group commander to division commander - in charge of seven
groups. Though General Eaker may have eventually moved
LeMay, he went up when he did because of Arnold's demand for
"youngsters who can carry the ball". Arnold was also
directly responsible for LeMay's transfer to B-29s - at a
time when LeMay was fairly secure in the European Theater.
Relieving K.B. Wolfe was a trifle for Arnold. He, Arnold,
was less interested in a "creditable job", and explanations
than he was in results. Arnold personally moved LeMay to
the Marianas. Again, the efforts of General Hansell were
commendable. But public and political pressure on Arnold,
and his own impatience to see his B-29s and his 20th Air
Force succeed caused him to take swift measures. LeMay's
calculated risks in bomber tactics payed off for Arnold.
Though General Spaatz had high praise for LeMay, the
assignment of Deputy Chief of Research and Development was a
bit of a let down in the LeMay continuum. But Spaatz later
ordered him to command Air Forces Europe just before the
Soviets set up their blockade. (Luck) On this assignment,
LeMay was once again able to display resourcefulness,
resolve and organizational ability which inspired General
Vanderberg to assign him to SAC.
President Kennedy wasn't looking for any of this when
he directed LeMay to the position of Chief of Staff of the
Air Force. He just liked to see a soldier be a soldier.
Even after two years of sharp personal disagreement, Kennedy
himself kept LeMay on another year.
Throughout his career LeMay exhibited a very basic
leadership style free of gimmicks and shortcuts. His first
priority was with his people and he had three basic tenets
for their welfare. First he wanted each of his subordinates
to understand his or her job thoroughly. Second, he
believed a commander should set clear goals for his people
and see to it that regular progress was made in reaching
them. And third he believed that achievement must be
rewarded; without recognition there is no progress.
He had an unyielding belief in the concept of team
work. He would rather have a group of "average, but highly
motivated" people, than a few "geniuses". He believed that
if there was one word which could best sum up what his
leadership philosophy was, that word would be responsi-
bility. He expected his people to be where they were sup-
posed to be and do what they were supposed to do. As simple
a philosophy as that was, he encountered his share of people
who couldn't do their job. Occasional fresh crewmen coming
into B-17s for example who always seemed to be in sick bay
on the day of the mission ("yellow twirps").
His education and appreciation of the role of the com-
mander came about without any formal military training ex-
cept ROTC. Everything else he absorded on his own, begin-
ning as a boy with his personal reading. Later, he credited
other fine military figures of the era for providing him
wiht positive examples of leadership. He cited people like
Carl Spaatz, Hap Arnold, and of course his first real
mentor, Robert Olds, as being very influential in his
He possessed a remarkable ability to confront a
problem, see clearly its essence and devise forthright,
logical solutions. He stated on several occasions that he
never entered into a job feeling comfortable that he was
ready for it. There was always a sense of inadequacy - of
unpreparedness. For example, when he took over command of
the 3rd Bomb Division in Europe, he became boss to older of-
ficers who had in earlier times been his commanding officer.
In every new job assignment, however, he simply learned all
he could and proceeded with the task at hand.
LeMay was a striking example of professionalism in a
time when his talents were desperately needed. His under-
standing of his responsibilities ranged across the entire
spectrum: troop welfare, unit integity, training, mission
analysis, courage, endurance and numerous other factors com-
bined to make him so "extraordinarily successful" at every-
thing he did. Those responsible for his advancement and
professional longevity may not have known about all these
abilities, they just knew they could expect a first rate job
if they put in LeMay.
This author has concluded that his talents were
cumulative. They were borne out of a personal exposure to
work and hardship at a very young age; nourished by a strong
attraction to historical and military literature; developed
in ROTC, early military service, and work with Colonel Bob
Olds; and strengthened in the hard decisions of World War
II. From early childhood he had been interested in the role
of the commander. This interest became an appreciation and
later a highly polished skill as Curtis LeMay grew with his
service for 37 years.
Chapter 1. Prewar 1906 - 1937
1. Curtis E. LeMay, with McKinley Kantor, Mission with LeMay,
(Garden City: Doubleday and Company, 1965), p. 30.
2. Ibid., p. 32.
3. William Peck, Interview with Curtis E. LeMay 11 March
1965. (USAF Oral History Program, 1965)
4. LeMay, op. cit., p. 62.
5. U.S. Army Air Materiel Command Aircraft Accident Reports,
1929, 1930, 1931. (Office of Air Force History,
Washington, D.C) 1929.
6. Peck, op. cit.
7. Accident Reports, op. cit., 1930, 1931.
8. DeWitt S. Copp, A Few Great Captains, The Air Force Histor-
ical Association (New York: Doubleday and Company,
1980), p. 31.
9. Charles A. Ravenstien, Organization of the Air Force (Re-
search Division, Simpson Historical Research Center,
Maxwell AFB, Alabama, 1982), p. 7.
10. Ibid., p. 7.
11. Ibid., p. 7.
12. DeWitt S. Copp, A Few Great Captains, p. 444.
13. Ravenstein, op. cit., p. 7.
14. C.G. Crey and Leonard Bridgman, Janes All the Worlds Air-
Craft, (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd.)
1933, p. 303c.
15. Roger J. Spiller, Dictionary of American Military Biography,
(Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1984), Volume 1, p.
16. Arnold, H.H., Official Report of the Commanding General or
the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of War. January
17. Peck, op. cit.
18. Roger J. Spiller, op cit., p. 345.
19. Statement of Military Service, ref. no. AFCAG-61-M LeMay,
Curtis E., dtd 22 December 1955. Headquarters, United
Stated Air Force.
20. LeMay, op cit., p. 124.
21. LeMay, op. cit., p. 125.
22. Statement of Military Service, op. cit.
23. Peck, op. cit.
24. Peck, op. cit.
25. Proceedings of the Eighth Military History Symposium, USAF
Academy, 1978, p. 187.
26. Peck, op. cit.
27. Copp, A Few Great Captains, p. 392.
28. Ibid., p. 396.
29. Martin Caidin, Flying Forts (New York: Meredith Press,
1968), p. 94.
30. Ibid., p. 97.
31. Thomas M. Coffey, Hap (New York: Viking Press, 1982), p.
32. Ibid., p. 182.
33. Ibid., p. 185.
34. Ibid., p. 185.
35. Ravenstien, op. cit., p. 9.
36. Maurer Maurer (ed.), Air Force Combat Units of World War
II (Air Univeristy, Department of the Air Force, U.S.
Government Printing Office: 1960), p. 8.
37. Eighth Military History Symposium, op. cit., p. 189.
Chapter 2 European Theater
1. Headquarters, USAF, ref no. AFCAG-61-M. LeMay. op. cit.
4. Ravenstien, op. cit., p. 11.
5. LeMay, op. cit., p. 218.
6. Target: Germany. The Army Air Forces Official Story of the
VIII bomber Command's First Year over Europe. (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1943), p. 25.
7. Heywood S. Hansell, Jr. The Air Plan that Defeated Hitler
(Atlanta: Higgins, McArthur, Longina & Porter, inc.,
1972), p. 298.
8. Coffey, op. cit., p. 252.
9. Ibid., p. 388.
10. Roger A Freeman. The Mighty Eighth War Manual (London:
Janes, 1984), p. 40.
11. LeMay, op. cit., p. 231.
12. Wilbur H. Morrison, The Incredible 305th (New York: Duell,
Sloan and Pierce, 1962), p. 62.
13. Freeman, op. cit., pg. 52.
14. Hansell, The Air Plan that Defeated Hitler, p. 116.
15. LeMay, op. cit., p. 280.
16. Ibid., p. 278.
17. Hansell, The Air Plan that Defeated Hitler, p. 115.
18. Ibid., p. 138.
19. Henry H. Arnold, Global Mission (New York: Harper Co.,
1949), p. 436.
20. Ibid., p. 440.
21. DeWitt S. Copp, Forged in Fire, The Air Force Historical
Association (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1982),
pp. 372 - 377.
22. Ibid., p. 400.
23. Ibid., p. 401.
24. Ibid., p. 403.
25. Ibid., p. 403.
26. Morrison, op. cit., p. 64.
27. Statement of Military Service, op. cit.
28. Copp, Forged in Fire, p. 409.
29. Martin Middlebrook, The Schwienfurt-Regansberg Mission (New
York: Scribner's Sons, 1983), p. 77.
30. Ibid., p. 319.
31. Ibid., p. 307.
32. Ibid., p. 288.
33. Coffey, op. cit., p. 325.
34. LeMay, op. cit., p. 301.
35. Coffey, op. cit., p. 332.
36. LeMay, op. cit., p. 310.
37. Army Air Forces Statistical Digest, WWII (Office of Statis-
tical Control, AAF, 1945), p. 17.
Chapter 3. Pacific Theater
1. W.F. Craven and J.L. Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War
II (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1953),
v. 5, p. 12.
2. Ibid., p. 7.
3. Vern Haugland, The AAF Against Japan (New York: Harper and
Brothers, 1948), p. 421.
4. Craven and Cate, op. cit., pp. 58-88.
5. Coffey, op. cit., p. 343.
6. Craven and Cate, op. cit., p. 103.
7. Edward Jablonski, Winds of Fire (New York: Doubleday & Co.,
1972), p. 160.
8. Coffey, op. cit., p. 353.
9. Craven and Cate, op. cit., Vol. 5, p. 87.
10. Keith Wheeler, Bombers over Japan (Alexandria, Va.: Time
Life Books, 1982), p. 65.
11. Ibid., p. 65.
12. Wheeler, op. cit., p. 161.
13. Coffey, op. cit., p. 354.
14. Craven and Cate, op. cit., p. 508.
15. Ibid., p. 546.
16. Ibid., p. 549.
17. Ibid., p. 554.
18. Heywood S. Hansell, Jr., Strategic Air War Against Japan
(Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; Air War College
19. Ibid., p. 48.
20. Ibid., p. 51.
21. Ibid., p. 51.
22. Craven and Cate, op. cit., Vol. V, p 564.
23. Hansell, Strateaic Air War Aaainst Japan, p. 139.
24. Craven and Cate, op. cit., Vol. 5, p. 570.
25. Ibid., p. 570.
26. Coffey, op. cit., p. 358.
27. Haugland, op. cit., p. 450.
28. Ibid., p. 451.
29. Peck., op. cit.
30. St. Clair McKelway, A Reporter with the B-29s (New Yorker
Magazine June 23, 1945), p. 27.
31. Wheeler, op. cit., p. 167.
32. McKelway, op. cit., p. 36.
33. Ibid., p. 37.
34. Craven and Cate, op. cit., p. 615.
35. James M. Boyle, XXI Bomber Command, a Primary Factor in the
Defeat of Japan (Aerospace Historian, April, 1964),
36. LeMay, op. cit., p. 352.
37. Baltimore Sun, March 10, 1945, p. 1.
38. Craven and Cate, op. cit., p. 625.
39. Ibid., p. 626.
40. Ibid., p. 626.
41. Peck, op. cit.
42. Mac Miles Link and Herbert Coleman, Medical Support of the
Army Air Forces in World War II (Washington: U.S.
Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 962.
43. Hansell, op. cit., p. 61.
44 Thomas B. Buell, The Quiet Warrior (Little, Brown, 1974),
45. R.J. Overy, The Air War - 1939-1945 (New York: Stein and
Day, 1981), p. 100.
46. Craven and Cate, op. cit.. Vol. 5, p. 631.
47. Wheeler, op. cit., p. 171.
48. Craven and Cate, op. cit., Vol. 5, p. 632.
49. Ibid., p. 623.
50. E.B. Dalton, Nimitz (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press,
1976), p. 372.
51. Haugland, op. cit., p. 458.
52. Craven and Cate, op. cit., p. 634.
53. Dalton, op. cit., p. 372.
54. Boyle, op. cit., p. 51.
55. Ellis A. Johnson and David A. Katcher, Mines Against Japan
(White Oaks, Maryland: Naval Ordnance Laboratory, 1973)
56. Boyle, op. cit., p. 56.
57. Craven and Cate, op. cit., p. 637.
58. Ibid., p. 640.
59. Eighth Military History Symposium, op. cit., p. 187.
60. Arnold, op. cit., p. 567.
61. Coffey, op. cit., p. 367.
62. Craven and Cade, op. cit., p. 674.
63. Wheeler, op. cit., p. 180.
64. Craven and Cate, op. cit., p. 701.
65. LeMay, op. cit., p. 387.
66. Craven and Cade, op. cit., p. 710.
67. Ibid., p. 710.
68. LeMay, op. cit., p. 388.
69. Craven and Cate, op. cit.. p. 675.
70. Statement of Military Service, op. cit.
Chapter 4 - Post World War II
1. LeMay, op. cit., p. 398.
2. Arnold, op. cit., p. 599.
3. LeMay, op. cit., p. 401.
4. Statement of Military Service, op. cit.
5. Avi Schlaim, The United States and the Berlin Blockade
(Berkley, CA.: University of California Press, 1983),
6. Ibid., p. 121.
7. Ibid., p. 204.
8. Richard Collier, Bridge Across the Sky (New York: McGraw,
Hill, 1978), p. 176.
9. Schlaim, op. cit., p. 205.
10. Collier, op. cit., p. 101.
11. LeMay, op. cit., p. 429.
12. J.C. Hopkins, The Development of Strategic Air Command
(Office of the Historian, Headquarters, Strategic
Air Command, July 1982), p. 1.
13. Ibid., p. 7.
14. Ibid., p. 12.
15. Hansell, Strategic Air War Against Japan, p. 6.
16. Richard G. Hubler, SAC (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce,
1958), p. 153.
17. Ibid., p. 162.
18. Hopkins, op. cit., p. 19.
19. Ibid., p. 29.
20. LeMay, op. cit., p. 495.
21. Ibid., p. 504.
22. Ibid., p. 509.
23. Hugh Sidney, John F. Kennedy. President (New York:
Atheneum, 1964), p. 214.
24. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days - John F.
Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin,
Co., 1965), p. 912.
25. LeMay, op. cit., p. 398.
26. Janes All the Worlds Aircraft, op. cit., 1963-64 edition,
27. Ibid., 1966 edition, p. 275.
28. David Detzer, The Brink (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell
Publishers, 1979), p. 130.
29. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and his Times
(Boston: Hougton Mifflin Co., 1978), p. 547.
30. Alfred Steinburg, Sam Johnson's Boy. A Close up of the
President from Texas (New York: MacMillan and Co.,
1968), p. 761.
31. Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and his Times, p. 468.
32. Theodore C. Sorenson, Kennedy (New York: Harper and Rowe,
1965), p. 608
33. William W. Momyer, Air Power in Three Wars (Washington,
D.C.: Superintendant of Public Documents, 1978), p. 73.
34. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Lyndon B. Johnson: The
Exercise of Power (New York: The New American Library,
Inc., 1966), p. 539.
35. LeMay, op. cit., p. 351.
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61-M LeMay, Curtis E. dated 22 December 1955.
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