AIR POWER: Offensive Airman

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"No defensive force can stop a determined offense by air."

This dictum of modern naval warfare was laid down last week by Rear Admiral Frederick Carl Sherman, captain of the great carrier Lexington, whose planes had sunk one and probably two Japanese carriers before she was sunk in turn by torpedoes and bombs delivered by determined Japanese airmen. The sinking of the Lexington ended the second round of a great heavyweight free-for-all, air ships v. surface ships. Before the Lexington's commander got home and buttoned on his reward, the golden shoulder boards of an admiral, another round had ended.

In round one, air power had proved it could sink battleships and did so at Pearl Harbor and in the battle for Malaya, when the Prince of Wales and Repulse went down. Surface power's seconds cried "Foul!" but when the second round opened, the battleship was in No. 2 position in the fleet line. The carrier is now the capital ship of the sea (as the U.S. Navy tacitly acknowledged by concentrating its attacks on the Japanese carriers rather than battleships at Midway).

In round two air power proved it could knock out carriers as it did in the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, against the finest, most resourceful defense.

In round three, at Midway, air power finally stopped a great fleet and routed it.

Last Question. One major question is left for air power to answer: Can the airplane, without ground or sea support, win a war on land (i.e., beat Germany)?

If the great Billy Mitchell were still alive, his answer would be "yes." But Billy Mitchell is dead, with his rank posthumously upped and most of his prophecies as bright as the multi-colored ribbons that swatched the breast of his tunic. But except for a few civilian followers such as "Sascha" Seversky and Al Williams, his disciples are mute. Even at this stage of World War II, it is not politic for men in uniform to make predictions.

But Billy Mitchell's men are still on the job and they are in the top drawer of the U.S. Army Air Forces. Harold L. George, who testified for him in his court-martial in 1926, is a brigadier bossing the Ferrying Command. One of Mitchell's defense counsels, Annapolis-educated Lewis Hyde Brereton, is a major general in command of U.S. Air Forces in India and China. Another defense witness, Henry Harley Arnold, has gone farther than the rest.

For the important fact is that this one of Mitchell's followers is today commanding general of the Army Air Forces. Deep-chested, rugged "Hap" Arnold, now white-haired but still grinning with the habitual benignity that has kept his West Point nickname alive through 35 years of Army service, will direct the U.S. Air Forces in the big smash on Germany. Then a new champion may be crowned.

Wait & See. Hap Arnold has made no predictions. He has marshaled the beginnings of what will soon be the greatest air force in the world, has already shipped some of it to Britain to join in the Big Push. But Army airmen have learned better than to talk as loudly as Billy Mitchell did. All they say is: "Wait and see."

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