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Lesson Index: [ Introduction | Lesson Objective | Overview | Early Perspective of War | Rise of Total War | WWI Perspective | Context for Airpower | Aircraft as a Military Tool | Aircraft for Strategic Effects | Early Airpower Theorists | Aipower Theorists—Douhet | Douhet’s Theory | Implications of Douhet’s Theory | Douhet’s Impact | Aipower Theorists—Trenchard | Trenchard’s Theory | Implications of Trenchard’s Theory | Trenchard’s Impact | Aipower Theorists—Mitchell | Mitchell’s Theory | Implications of Mitchell’s Theory | Mitchell’s Impact | Mitchell’s Legacy | Summary | Quiz ]

Title: Mitchell’s Impact

Action: Another portrait of Mitchell appears screen left while the following header and bullet points appear on the bottom right of the screen, overlaying a graphic of a World War 1 era plane. Following is the text of the pop-up boxes:

Influence on U.S. Military Aviation:

Mitchell advocated a national system of airways and airports to further aeronautics within America. He felt that aviation of all types (general, commercial, and military) served the security interests of the country. Mitchell realized that aviation assets could be used in peacetime as well as in war.

Mitchell fought for Air Corps support from Congress and industry. Mitchell repeatedly lobbied Congress for funds to equip the Air Corps with personnel and equipment that were adequate for developing an air force. His intense efforts kept aeronautics alive within the Army and across America. He petitioned the emerging aviation industry to produce better and more reliable aircraft and engines. He angrily railed against manufacturers that produced shoddy and inferior equipment that killed airmen and wrecked aircraft. His efforts helped root out corruption within the industry and brought to light the inadequate aircraft and engines being developed in America.

He helped commit the US to security through airpower, as the voice of airpower and the catalyst for aeronautics programs. The body of thought he is associated with was widely shared within the small corporate body of the Air Service, and his flamboyant style brought them to public attention. Some authors say he helped condition American opinion so that ultimately the US would commit to strategic bombing. Mitchell articulated the idea of “airmindedness.”

Despite Mitchell’s urgings following WWI, his voracious efforts to inspire a national aeronautics program, and his outspoken criticisms of national airpower capabilities, the United States remained woefully behind other developed nations in developing air forces. It took the looming Second World War to motivate the aviation community toward the goals Mitchell had urged a few short decades earlier. Had it not been for Mitchell, it is likely that United States aeronautics would have been even more outdated on the eve of WW II.

Influence on the U.S. Air Force:

There can be little doubt that Mitchell had an enormous influence on the foundation and the development of the USAF. Though Doolittle and others have argued that he did more harm than good, Mitchell’s vision was largely fulfilled in the long term. Many of Mitchell’s friends and supporters in the Air Corps gained prominence and continued to shape air forces in line with his views. Hap Arnold, who took charge of the Air Corps in 1938, was one of Mitchell’s supporters. Arnold remained in office for seven formative years just before and during WWII, during which time the strategic bombing theory, in large part, dominated the way the Army Air Force fought the war.

Arnold’s most trusted agent, Carl Spaatz, who was a close friend of Mitchell, succeeded Arnold as the first Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Spaatz was important because he was at the helm when the initial institutions of the USAF were articulated. Many of Spaatz’s ideas on airpower reflected ideas that had been articulated by Mitchell.

Influence on the U.S. Navy:
It has often been argued that if Mitchell had not existed, then the United States Navy would have had to invent him. Mitchell offered proponents of naval aviation a way to persuade their conservative senior officers and colleagues that if they did not take the initiative, Mitchell would take their airpower away from them.
Influence on World War II:

Mitchell strongly believed that airpower must be under the command of an airman. Early in the war effort, airpower was parceled out under ground commanders and the result was disastrous. As airmen asserted their belief that airmen must command airpower, the effectiveness of the air effort increased dramatically. General Kenney’s air force in the Pacific was an excellent example of Mitchell’s views.

Mitchell’s ideas had a great impact on the Army Air Forces approach to war. One of those ideas, that airpower would engage the enemy long before armies gained contact, was implemented by the 8th Air Force, the first large unit deployed to England. It was made up of both strategic bombers and fighters and participated in an air war against Germany for two years before the armies landed at Normandy.

At least implied in the Mitchell and the Air Corps Tactical School concepts was the notion that navigation and bombing accuracy would be sufficient to be decisive in a short time. This proved disappointing during the war. In addition to the bombing being less effective than Mitchell had anticipated, advances in air defense, especially in Germany, proved much more effective than Mitchell predicted based on his experiences in World War One.

As for his ideas on maritime warfare, some were more accurate during the war years than others. Although airpower had ushered in the end of the age of the battleship, navies continued to play a vital role in warfare. Aircraft carriers had become the capital ships and battleships served in support as anti-aircraft artillery platforms and amphibious artillery support vessels.

Although airpower was not as decisive as Mitchell had envisioned, it was also not employed as Mitchell had envisioned. Many of Mitchell’s beliefs in the decisive nature of airpower would not be proven for several decades, until technology had matured and airmen were allowed to employ airpower consistent with Mitchell’s earlier vision.

Voice: Mitchell’s theories on airpower have had a lasting impact on airpower doctrine and the employment of airpower. Some of the significant impacts of Mitchell’s theories are presented here and can be viewed by rolling your cursor over the bullets.

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