Looking Back, September 2023
By Mark Albertson

80th Anniversary of World War II
Army Aviation: Italian Campaign


September 3, 1943, the main weight of the British Eighth Army on Sicily crossed the Straits of Messina to establish a toehold on the Italian mainland. On September 9, elements of Eighth Army and 1st Airborne Division landed at the port of Taranto. That same day, General Mark Clark’s Fifth Army landed up the coast at Salerno.

Opening phases of the Italian campaign, featuring the invasion routes by Anglo-American forces.

“Fifth Army air artillery officer, Major John T. Walker, organized the Fifth Army Air Observation Post Section into two subsections: one dealing with operations, initially under Captain Gillespie [Eugene p.], and second with maintenance and supply, under Lieutenant Strok.”[1] The latter choice brings to mind the supply problems which existed during the North African campaign, with spare parts at a premium and a supply situation being less than desirable since it was the Army’s first major campaign of the war. Michael J. Strok, who for want of a better description can be viewed as a “scrounge,” organized Fifth Army’s Artillery Air Depot (Provisional). Strok’s efforts at “Keepin’ ‘em Flyin’” made up for the lack of support from the Army Air Forces, which was playing catch up as well. Strok not only organized maintenance schedules, but provided such services as safety bulletins and registering aircraft losses. Strok was able to acquire a few L-5s—in direct contravention to the Army Air Forces’ restriction limiting the Air OP to the L-4 Cub.

The work horse for the Air Observation Post, the ubiquitous L-4 Cub.

Paul De Witt observed that the primary task of the Air OPs at Salerno was to provide artillery fire direction. He also noted that early on in the operation, field commanders determined their front lines by using Cub pilots for reconnaissance. Five L-4s were sent aloft daily, at first light, to reconnoiter assigned sectors.

Later when crossing the Volturno River, Air OPs were employed to pinpoint German forward elements, which were then mapped for later pounding by the Field Artillery. Tank destroyer units and reconnaissance battalions would borrow Cubs from their division’s artillery and use them for recon purposes. The importance of Army aviation to combat operations was becoming readily apparent.[2]

On January 22, 1944, Operation: SHINGLE, an Anglo-American force stormed the beaches at Anzio in an effort to flank General Albert Kesselring’s defense line. The Germans held the high ground, an advantage countered by the Air OPs flying reconnaissance for the assault units.[3]

Regardless, the slugfest on the hotly contested beachheads caused heavy casualties among the assault forces. Blood was desperately needed for the wounded. Cub pilots, Lieutenants Paynee O. Lysne and Richard W. Blake, flew in 50 pints of blood to the Anzio beachhead. “In less than 24 hours after the plea had been sent, life-giving blood was being administered.[4]

As Allied troops fought hard to expand their beachhead and move inland, Army aviators helped to fend off German counterattacks. Captain Willian H. McKay, of Fifth Army, spotted a German force moving towards the beaches. Some 2,400 troops, backed by tanks, were suddenly bludgeoned by a 5,000 round downpour of American ordnance. A German officer, later captured, offered that casualties were upwards of fifty percent as a result of the lethal cooperation between McKay and the Field Artillery.[5]

Lieutenant Frank A. Perkins and his observer flew artillery missions at Anzio. The observer directed coordinated gunfire for American and British artillery and warships lying offshore. Two Italian towns, Littoria and Adria were reduced to rubble. These efforts extended to the nocturnal adjustment of artillery fire, from Anzio up to Cassino. At Anzio, Captain John W. Oswalt, 1st Armored Division Air Officer, focused 370 guns on a single target. Included here was naval gunfire from several cruisers, USS Brooklyn, HMS Dido and HMS Orion.[6]

Moonlight sometimes brought Cubs out like vampires. Distinct features betrayed themselves to the aviators, such as towns, rivers, coasts and road bends, which enabled the Air OPs to sharpen nocturnal bombardments. Returning Cubs were directed earthward by those on the ground armed with flashlights, who illuminated otherwise invisible strips.

A customer of the Air OPs, a 155 mm Long Tom in action, Nettuno area, February 1944.

German ground forces urged the Luftwaffe to hurry the eradication of the troublesome Cubs. The dilemma proved problematic. From the time a Cub had already completed its mission and had returned to base, or was on its way to another sector, it had already vacated the area in which it had been operating in. However because of the low operational altitude of the Cubs and the attendant anti-aircraft protection, enemy fighters had to be piloted by airmen of skill and daring so as to be able to down the elusive Cubs. The Luftwaffe even resorted to bogus messages of fighter direction to prompt Cub pilots to vacate patrol areas.

Air OPs pushed the envelope by flying deep into enemy territory. This drew fire from anti-aircraft batteries and even ground troops. To avoid damage aviators would push over to the deck and hedgehop their way to safety; or, simply zigzag out of harm’s way.[7]

Another German countermeasure was to locate the lairs of the pint-sized pests and bomb them; or, if possible, shell them. Like ground troops, Air OP personnel had to make sure that slit trenches and fox holes were dug. Planes were dispersed and camouflaged. And, if need be, contour flying on and off strips to prevent their location by the Germans.

A perspective on German efforts to counter the Cubs is offered by Howard Rudd, a veteran news correspondent and former Air OP aviator, reflecting on German fighter tactics. “German fighters in daytime were not a serious problem after North Africa, where the Luftwaffe lost air superiority forever. Some German fighter units did develop tactics to cope with L-4s: Two fighters attacked straight on, two from above and two from below. This usually brought down the L-4, but there were never enough German fighters available on the Western Front to make the technique widespread. The fact that it was used at all, tying up six scarce and valuable fighters against feeble, eight hundred dollar L-4s, is an indication of how the L-4s hurt the Germans.[8]

The Luftwaffe apparently concurred, showing how the cost outweighed the benefits. Fifteen Bf-109s were lost, resulting in seven pilots killed in exchange for eight Air OPs downed, not a very good swap.[9]

* * * * *

June 4, 1944, General Mark Clark made his triumphal entry into Rome. However, two days later, the spotlight focused on France with the Normandy invasion. This did nothing, though, to alleviate the fact that the Italian campaign was still a slugging match. Yet Anglo-American forces battling on the Boot were consuming German divisions that would have been employed elsewhere, such as in France or the Eastern Front.

The mountainous terrain made Close Air Support a problem, to the extent of producing friendly fire incidents. 1st Armored Division commander, Major General Ernest N. Harmon, threatened to shoot down Army Air Forces aircraft. However a solution presented itself.

An enterprising Captain John Oswalt, managed to acquire several L-5s. AAF pilots flew these aircraft which were equipped with VHF radios. Colored wing tops, Red, Yellow, Blue, etc., distinguished the liaison planes. The idea was to employ the Stinsons to direct fighter-bombers onto targets stalling the ground advance. Known as the Horsefly, “Flying Jeeps,” would perform the same function as the “Rover Joe” system of ground-based observers, mobile teams of radio-equipped Jeeps providing direction for fighter-bombers onto targets of opportunity. The ground-based observers were fighter-bomber pilots.

The Stinson L-5, the plane the Army Air Forces did not want the Air OPs to have.  Yet despite advantages of range, altitude, power and speed, the L-4 Cub proved the heart and soul of Ground Forces’ organic aviation; and, set the stage for the Army Aviation branch to come.

In the mountainous Italian terrain, the slow-flying liaison aircraft provided an advantage. Besides directing fighter-bombers onto ground targets, Horsefly assets determined friendly from enemy units for both air and ground forces. Continuous Horsefly patrols provided daily updates on targets of opportunity; kept advancing units apprised of natural obstacles and impediments affecting the line of march; much like the Air OPs, Horsefly missions were also found to deter German artillery fire for fear of revealing positions to American counterbattery fire.

Drawbacks included a vulnerability to enemy flak and fighters, so air superiority was a prerequisite. And repeated use of Horsefly provided that indication of impediments to fighter-bomber activity.[10]

Of greater significance, here, was the prospect of L-5s operating under the control of Army aviators. Beginning in North Africa, with light aircraft beginning to show real promise in Ground Forces operations, requests began to filter in for the L-5s, since the more powerful engine enabled the Stinson to operate in higher climes than the L-4, which in comparison was underpowered. Both the War Department and the Army Air Forces conspired to prevent the Air OPs from attaining an aircraft of higher performance.

Fort Sill was training Air OP pilots with the L-4. And since this was so, it was considered expedient to deploy aviators in the same aircraft under combat conditions. There were also production concerns, since the Army Air Forces needed the Stinsons to equip their liaison squadrons. And lastly, the War Department frowned on the Ground Forces’ upgrade since the L-5 needed more runway for landings and takeoffs; and, was less adept at avoiding enemy fighters as opposed to the Cub.

Another issue affecting the Ground Forces was that of photo reconnaissance. Ground Forces units resorted to L-4s for terrain photography; since the Army Air Forces efforts with this tactical chore had fallen short. 1st Infantry Division urged that photographic equipment be made available to the Air OP. The Field Artillery Board tested photographic equipment aboard

Cub aircraft and solicited the War Department to attach photographic capabilities to the Field Artillery Headquarters and batteries. The Army Air Forces disagreed.

Photoreconnaissance was among the duties within the tactical responsibilities of the Army Air Forces. The War Department turned down the Ground Forces’ request. The Air OP’s raison d’etre was the direction of artillery fire; while snapping pictures and seeking aircraft of greater sophistication and performance was moving beyond the original intent of Ground Forces aviation.

The status of the Italian campaign, September 1944.

* * * * *

Sky-Jumping Cubs

By December 1944, Fifth Army was north of the Arno River, occupying mountains south of the Po Valley. The mountainous terrain presented difficulties for Fifth Army commander, General Lucian Truscott,[11] and so persuaded him to address the issue. Truscott ordered Captain Jack Marinelli, air officer of the Fifth Army, to build a strip close to the CP. The ground settled on provides an intriguing piece of engineering.

The strip was laid out on a mountainside, with a downhill slope for takeoffs and an uphill run for landings. The runway stretched 735 feet by 30 feet; and, was 97 feet higher on the upside than on the cliff side, which featured a ski jump, the lip of which overlooked a valley some 2,000 feet below.

“The interesting feature,” according to Colonel Marinelli, “was that we had to use full throttle to taxi to the top of the strip and landing. But you could also take off down the strip without power.”[12]

* * * * *


[1] See page 166, Chapter 5, “Initial Deployment and Combat in the North African and Mediterranean Theaters,” Eyes of Artillery: The Origins of Modern U.S. Army Aviation in World War II, by Edgar F. Raines, Jr.

[2] See pages 38 and 39, “The Air OP of the Armored Artillery,” Military Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 6, September 1944, by 1st Lieutenant Paul DeWitt, instructor in Department of Air Training, Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

[3] See page 48, Chapter 4, “Air Observation Posts,” A History of Innovation: U.S. Army Adaptation in War and Peace, U.S. Army Center of Military History, by Jon T. Hoffman, General Editor.

[4] See page 43, “The Army Aviation Story,” Part VI, The War Years: North Africa, Sicily, Italy, U.S. Army Aviation Digest, 1962, by Richard K. Tierney.

[5] See page 106, “The Most Lethal Plane in the World,” Mr. Piper and His Cubs, by Devon Francis.

[6] See page 84, Richard K. Tierney.

[7] See page 276, “Air OPs . . . ,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 34, No. 5, May 1944, by Major Edward A. Raymond, FA.

[8] See page 4, “When I Landed the War Was Over,” American Heritage, Vol. 32, Issue 6, October/November 1981, by Hughes Rudd.

[9] See page 271, “Air OP Causes Trouble: Extract From the History of the German Fighter Force in Italy,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 36, No. 5, 5 May 1946.

[10] See pages 14-17, Part Two, “Horsefly Control of Fighter-Bombers,” Liaison Aircraft With Ground Forces Units, United States Forces, European Theater, Study N. 20, 1945, U.S. Army Center of Military History, August 4, 1998.

[11] On November 25, 1944, General Mark Clark was ordered to relinquish command of Fifth Army and take over 15 th Army Group; which meant command of Allied armies in Italy. General Lucian Truscott assumed command of Fifth Army. See page 170, Chapter Nine, “Starving Time: The Failed Advance and the Second Winter,” Flawed, but Essential: Mark W. Clark and the Italian Campaign in World War II, by Jon Mikolashek.

[12] See page 138, “The War Years: North Africa, Sicily and Italy,” The Army Aviation Story, by Richard K. Tierney with Fred Montgomery.

* * * * *


“Air AP Causes Trouble,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 36, No. 5, U.S. Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., May 1946.

DeWitt, Lieutenant Paul A., “The Air OP of the Armored Artillery,” Military Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 6, Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, September 1944.

Francis, Devon, Mr. Piper And His Cubs, The Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, 1973.

Greenfield, Colonel Kent-Roberts, Inf. Res., Chapter VII, “Practical Steps Toward Air-Ground Cooperation,” Army Ground Forces and the Air-Ground Battle Team, Including Organic Light Aviation, Study No. 35, Historical Section, Army Ground Forces, Department of the Army, Fort Monroe, Virginia, 1948.

Headquarters, 34 th Infantry Division, APO 34, U.S. Army, Italy, “Lessons Learned in Combat, November 7-8, 1942 to September 1944—Algiers, Fondouk, Cassino, Anzio, Rome, Hill 609, Benevento, Civitavecchia, Volturno River, Cecina, Rosignano, Mt. Pantano, Livorno,” September 1944. Source: Charles L. Bolte papers, Box 6, U.S. Army Military History Institute Library, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

Raines, Edgar F., Jr., Eyes of Artillery: The Origins of Modern U.S. Army Aviation in World War II, Army Historical Series, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 2000.

Raymond, Major Edward A., FA, “Air OPs . . . “ The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 34, No. 5, U.S. Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., May 1944.

Rudd, Hughes, “When I Landed The War was Over,” American Heritage, Vol. 32, Issue 6, October/November, 1981, www.americanheritage.com/when-i-landed-war-was-over

Tierney, Richard, with Montgomery, Fred, The Army Aviation Story, Colonial Press, Northport, Alabama, 1963. Introduction by, General Mark W. Clark.

Tierney, Richard K., 20 th Anniversary of Army Aviation: Part VI, “The Army Aviation Story,” U.S. Army Aviation Digest, Fort Rucker, Alabama, November 1962.

Vance, William E., “History of Army Aviation,” U.S. Army Aviation Digest, Vol. 3, No. 6, U.S. Army Aviation School, Fort Rucker, Alabama, June 1957.

Looking Back, August 2023
By Mark Albertson

Army Aviation:
Some Gems from Art and Dottie, 1959
“The Coop That Flew”

Development of a new highly mobile, air transportable communications center, designed to direct fast moving U.S. Army forces was announced recently by the Department of the Army. The system, which has an extremely high degree of mobility, can be set down almost anywhere by helicopters, and be flown out immediately for relocation elsewhere. It can also be moved rapidly from place to place on conventional Army trucks.

Developed by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, it provides the vital nucleus for a communications network of radio, telephone, telegraph and teletypewriter combat links.

The system can be carried by helicopters to a remote destination in hours rather than days, or can be set up on otherwise inaccessible mountain tops. With its communications tentacles spread over hundreds of miles, the new system can get an urgent message through to a distant outpost even with direct lines broken or destroyed.

Speed and flexibility in communications would be vital on a battlefield where troops would have to be continuously on the move and widely dispersed to avoid annihilation by a nuclear warhead.

For prompt transportation and added versatility, the center is made up of separate aluminum houses or “shelters,” each fully equipped and independent. These can be hooked up quickly to fit any battle situation. Small centers for the front lines would have two or three shelters; larger headquarters would have as many as 24.

Each shelter carries its own independent supply of electricity, but can also plug into a central power source.

High priority combat messages flowing into the center from combat groups and other sources would be immediately available to the Army field commander. And the same network of communications lines carries his message with reflex speed to higher headquarters or to hard-hitting Army combat elements.

The new system, the first fully air transportable message center of its kind, is the result of 12 years of design and research.

Source: Page 8, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 1, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., January 24, 1959.

* * * * *

A look at how unmanned aerial vehicles used to be with, “Snooper.”

A small turbojet and pilotless aircraft that can swoop over the battlefield to gather military information is one of the newest surveillance drones under Army development.

The drone—called SWALLOW and designated SD-4 by the Army—will use a variety of advanced techniques for military surveillance purposes, including radar, infra-red and photography.

The SWALLOW is being developed and produced by Republic Aviation Corporation’s Guided Missile Division for the Army Signal Corps under a $25,000,000 contract. The contract calls for detail design and production of both the new drone and ground control units.

Source: Page 14, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 1, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., January 24, 1959.

* * * * *

“Ingenious Is The Word For It!”
By Lieutenant John A. Means

Can you tell when your leg is being pulled? Sometimes it is quite difficult to do so, especially in those instances when the raconteur backs up his “tale” with documentary evidence.

The envelope bore airmail postage and an official address. Here are the contents:
“The aviation platoon of Headquarters Troop, 16th Sky Cav, 2nd USAMC (M), now stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, is a unit that believes in developing new techniques to meet new problems.

Requirement Dictated Findings

In recent weeks the aviation platoon has had great need of a method of transporting several personnel over long distances to inaccessible areas.

The H-13 Sioux having certain range limitations and the larger helicopters and fixed wing aircraft being utilized in LARGE scale troop hauls precluding their use in smaller operations, the unit sought a vehicle that could deliver TWO troops to a confined area some 150 miles away and return. As always, the study called for low maintenance requirements and a low initial price.

Findings: the BIRD DOG!

Quick to adapt the equipment to the mission, fertile minds in the aviation platoon devised the ingenious piece of equipment as shown in the accompanying photo. An analysis of the possible missions for this hybrid revealed the following:
a) Delivery of replacements to squad-sized units.
b) Delivery of veterinarians to front-line war dog platoons.
c) Delivery of a chaplain (and assistant) with suitable card-punching equipment.
d) Delivery of COs to their units in those instances where map-reading deficiencies are expected.

Additional Uses

Additional uses for this equipment are expected to come to light with the passage of time. Equipping the two “wingman” with weapons could provide fairly accurate suppressive fire. Paymasters and couriers could be speeded to their objectives, the airfield to headquarters runs being obviated.

We offer this development to “Bird Dog” users throughout the world. We feel certain that they will see the simplicity involved in this development.[1]

Source: Page 123, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 3, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., March 18, 1959.

[1] The use of two passengers or “wingmen” brings to mind an observation offered by the remarkably astute Benjamin Franklin, after he had observed the Montgolfier Brothers balloon floating across Paris, November 21, 1783.

“It appears, as you observe, to be a discovery of great importance, and what may possibly give a new turn to human affairs. Convincing sovereigns of the folly of wars may perhaps be one effect of it, since it will be impracticable for the most potent of them to guard his dominions. Five thousand balloons, capable of raising two men each, could not cost more than five ships of line; and where is the prince who can cover his country with troops for its defense as that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not in many places do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?” See page 598, “On War From the Air,” Vol. 2, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiographical Writings, Viking Press, New York, 1945, by Carl Van Doren.

* * * * *

“Collins Develops Radical Aircraft”

Developed jointly by the U.S. Army Transportation Corps and the Office of Naval Research, the first full scale model of the “Aerodyne,” a radical wingless VTOL aerial vehicle is shown with its designer, Dr. Alexander Lippisch, during a roll-out at Collins Research Laboratories, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Incorporating a new philosophy in aircraft design, the “Aerodyne” achieves vertical take-off and landing capabilities, and transition to and from forward flight, by channeling the airflow (thrust) from its two-contra-rotating propellers internally through the craft’s fuselage, and deflecting downward and out through controllable vents in its belly. The need for wings is eliminated by this propulsion method.

Directional control of the Army-Navy developed “Aerodyne” is governed by a conventional rudder and elevator. The cockpit (not shown) will be located aft under a canopy in the vertical stabilizer.

The experimental aircraft is scheduled for early shipment to Ames Laboratory at Moffett Field, California, where it will undergo full scale wind tunnel testing. Credited with the world’s first rocket-powered fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 163, Dr. Lippisch led the Collins research team responsible for the “Aerodyne’s” design and construction.

Source: Page 130, Army Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 4, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., April 20, 1959.

Looking Back, May 2023
By Mark Albertson

Army Aviation:
Part I:  70 Years Ago: Korea

The Korean War opened spectacularly on June 25, 1950.  In blitzkrieg-like fashion, over 90,000 troops of the North Korean People’s Army, backed by upwards of 150 Soviet-supplied T-34 tanks, crashed over the 38th parallel.  However strongman Kim Il-sung’s bid to unify the peninsula failed.  For in one of the decisive actions of the war, Kim’s army failed to liquidate the Pusan abscess in the southeast corner of South Korea; which together with General Mac Arthur’s bold stroke at Inchon on September 15, 1950, tilted the momentum in favor of the Republic of Korea and its UN allies.

Opening phases of the Korean War, condition at the front, July 13, 1950.

UN forces, including ROK troops[1] crossed the 38th parallel heading north.  With the North Korean People’s Army reeling, now was the time to unite the Korean peninsula under Syngman Rhee’s banner and bring the Korean civil war to a successful conclusion.  But as the advance drew nearer the Chinese border, the course of the conflict was suddenly changed in the most profound way.

Developing Pusan Perimeter, 14 July-1 August 1950.

On November 26, 1950, hordes of “volunteers’ from the Democratic People’s Republic of China slammed into United Nations forces closing on the frozen Yalu River.  UN troops were thrown back, retreating pell-mell over ground recently occupied.  Seoul once again fell to the Communists.  A UN counterattack checked the advance of the Chinese steamroller and promptly threw it into reverse.  Seoul changed hands for the fourth time before the seesaw phase of the conflict gave way to trench warfare.  Both sides became locked in a bitterly contested stalemate reminiscent of the Western Front, 1914-1918; a costly morass characterized by Communist flesh and blood battering itself senseless against the superior equipment and technology of the Allies.  This new war, bereft of movement, provided the habitat for that instrument of mobility that would showcase its promise for the future . . . the helicopter.[2]

* * * * *

In 1954, General James M. Gavin, U.S. Army airborne soldier extraordinaire, fashioned a game-changing criticism of the performance of Allied troops during the fall and winter of 1950.

The retreat of the UN Eighth Army from the Chinese flood, December 1-23, 1950.

Here we see the Allies breaking out of the narrow waist of North Korea and rolling across the swelling hinterland towards the Yalu River in rival prongs, Eighth Army and X Corps.  The spearheads, though, were not mutually supporting, and into the void poured 300,000 Chinese.

The Allied advance, wedded to heavy mechanized transport, was confined to the few roads available.[3]  This provided a golden opportunity for the foot-borne Chinese Communist Forces.

At the outset of the Chinese intervention, Mao’s forces relied on tactics used with great success against the Japanese in World War II and again employed to defeat Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist armies during the great civil war in China.  And this conventional army’s use of irregular warfare tactics enabled Mao’s troops to roll back UN forces in a retreat which sometimes resembled a rout.[4] We see here, then, that Mao-Tse-tung’s well-tried tactics of infiltration and maneuver worked to the disadvantage of the retreating UN armies, since being heavily mechanized restricted South Korea’s allies to the few roads then available.

However, like any other army, the farther south the Chinese Communist Forces rolled, the more of a strain the advance put on the Red’s rudimentary system of supply.[5]  This, together with UN stiffening, caused the Red steamroller to seize up, then be thrown back.  A Communist rally ended the UN counter thrust, giving way to a stalemate in and around the starting line of the war, the 38th parallel.  With the war mired in gridlock along the lines of France in World War I, the Chinese advantage of infiltration and maneuver based on control of the rugged Korean landscape no longer applied.  Chinese Communist Forces were consigned, then, to a form of warfare to which they were hardly prepared and with which lacked the technological capability to reverse; as opposed to some of the UN contingent—British, French, Canadian, Australian, as well as American forces—which had a history of experience with such a stalemate from the War to End All Wars.

General Gavin saw the problem differently.  His analysis was inspired, in part, by the disastrous retreat of the United Nations’ forces from North Korea during the winter of 1950-1951.  Again he understood that the manpower advantage enjoyed by the Communists enhanced their ability to dictate the ebb and flow of battle and insured their command of the countryside.  Thus he argued, “Cavalry is supposed to be the arm of mobility.  It exists and serves a useful purpose because of its Mobility Differential [6]—the contrast between its mobility and that of other land forces.  Without the differential, it is not cavalry.  Cavalry is the arm of shock and firepower; it is the screen of time and concentration.  It denies the enemy that talisman of success—surprise—while it provides our own forces with the means to achieve that very thing, surprise, and with it destruction of the enemy.”[7]

General Gavin goes on to explain the lack of mobility following the Inchon landings and how air cavalry might have altered the outcome in the winter of 1950-1951:  “Finally, when the landings at Inchon took place September 15 there was the promise of fluid action.  I was present at Inchon, and after the first crust of resistance was broken, it seemed to me there was nothing worthy of the name in front of X Corps.  The situation screamed for highly mobile cavalry forces to exploit this unprecedented opening.  We should have pressed south to the rear of the Naktong River in hours.  Instead, we took almost two weeks to establish a link between the two forces.  [He refers, of course, to the Pusan Perimeter.]  When the first breakout of our forces from the south perimeter moved northward it was a combined tank-truck column, essentially an infantry column limited in its performance by its road-bound equipment.  We are fighting an Asiatic army on Asiatic terms.”[8]

It is certainly not imprudent to consider for even just a moment, that in September 1950, General Gavin’s idea of air cavalry could have impacted the war.  “An estimated thirty thousand NKPA soldiers escaped over the border, with an additional thirty thousand in northern training camps.  Combined these numbers represented enough troops to fill six divisions, and South Korea’s military force were, if anything, even weaker then they had been before the invasion of South Korea.”[9]

Obviously here, General Gavin was asserting that air cavalry could have accomplished something road-bound troops could not have:  The cutting off for capture or even destruction of the 30,00 fleeing North Koreans before they crossed the 38th parallel to fight again; and, fight again they would.

But there was the larger picture.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff urged President Harry Truman to cross the 38th parallel and destroy the NKPA to 1) To prevent another invasion of South Korea, and 2) unite the peninsula under the Seoul banner.  The National Security Council differed.  This august body urged the President to go no further than the agreed upon border.  By doing so, the President would be in accordance with the policy of Containment as put forth by George Kennan.[10]  In addition, an invasion of North Korea would only prompt responses from the Soviet Union and newly minted Red China; this was particularly true with the latter.  For North Korea provided that buffer zone between China and the Western satrapy of South Korea.  Add the Nationalist occupation of Formosa,[11] and one must readily appreciate Beijing’s political, strategic and historical sensibilities.  However on September 27, 1950, the Joint Chiefs ordered General MacArthur to proceed north, having won their point with President Truman over the NSC.

* * * * *

As UN forces advanced up North Korea, Beijing issued warnings not to approach the Yalu River.  CCF attacks on UN spearheads, primarily South Korean units, were seen by MacArthur as token gestures as opposed to the prelude of a major attack.  Yet between October 14-November 1, 1950, some 180,000 Chinese Communist Forces crossed the Yalu River.[12]

On October 15, General MacArthur and President Truman gathered together at Wake Island to discuss the final aspects of the war.  In answer to the President’s inquiry as to the chances of a Chinese or even a Soviet intervention, MacArthur replied, “Very little.  Had they interfered in the first or second months it would had been decisive.  We are no longer fearful of their intervention.  We no longer stand with hat in hand.  The Chinese have 300,000 men in Manchuria.  Of these probably not more than 100,000 to 200,000 are distributed along the Yalu River.  They have no air force.  Now that we have bases for our air force in Korea, if the Chinese tried to get down to Pyongyang there would be the greatest of slaughter.”[13]

On the night of November 25-26, 1950, more than 300,000 Chinese “volunteers” slammed into the advancing UN forces.  The Chinese were helped measurably by MacArthur’s dispositions of Eighth Army and X Corps.  Both forces advanced as rival prongs, not as mutually supporting spearheads, separated as they were by the Jaeback Mountains; therefore, both forces were opened to being flanked.[14]

Battlefront, Korean War, November 23, 1950.

Chinese hordes filled the abscess between the UN spearheads with the obvious results.  The skies, though filled by UN air forces, could not stem the retreat south.  Here Gavin believed that air cavalry units could have linked the rival prongs of Allied troops; moved supplies and men to units cut off; provided blocking forces, seized and hold road junctions and bridges for retreating Allied troops.  Rotary wing aircraft, unimpaired by the rugged Korean landscape, could have offset the advantage enjoyed by the Reds and quite possibly have changed the complexion of the battle.  Of course, such use of the helicopter was not to be until Vietnam.[15]

However the stalemate in Korea proved to be the selling point for the helicopter as a viable tool in war.  For rotary wing aircraft proved effective in overcoming those earthly impediments which hinder ground transportation, and therefore, enhance the mobility of the foot soldier.  And the Marines showed the way.

The battleline of Korea, stalemate, 10 July-31 October 1951.

Part II next month.


[1]  ROK or Republic of Korea.

[2] See page 58, “Helicopters in Korea,” Part I, July 31, 2013, by Mark Albertson.

[3]  Hitler’s Wehrmacht faced a like predicament with the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union.  Some 95 percent of Soviet roads were not paved.  Following rainy seasons and melting snows, many Soviet roads were reduced to quagmires, impeding the German Army’s mobility.

[4]  A better understanding of the Chinese Communist Forces’ initial success can be found on pages 103 and 104 of Mao Tse-tung’s On Guerrilla Warfare, where he writes, “When the situation is serious, the guerrillas must move with the fluidity of water and the ease of blowing wind.  Their tactics must deceive, tempt and confuse the enemy.  They must lead the enemy to believe that they will attack him from the east and north, and they must strike him from the west and south.

Guerrilla initiative is expressed in dispersion, concentration and the alert shifting of forces,”  In addition . . .

“. . . Throughout the Resistance War . . . our strategic line was to extend guerrilla warfare . . . we chose the positions where the enemy was relatively weak to concentrate our forces there and annihilate manpower.”  See page 139, People’s War, People’s Army, by Vo Nguyen Giap.  Both these able practitioners are bolstered by the writer who influenced them . . .

“. . . When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him; when well fed, to starve him; when at rest, to make him move; move swiftly where he does not expect you.”  See page 96, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, translated by Brigadier Samuel B. Griffith, USMC, (Ret.).

[5]  What must be appreciated is just how much of an accomplishment the initial Chinese thrust really was . . . in the face of overwhelming UN (American) air superiority.  Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Close Air Support bolstered by Air Force carpet bombing, could not stem the Chinese flood south.  This situation would arise again later in South Vietnam, where the concerted use of airpower could not eliminate the Ho Chi Minh Trail of supplies from North to South Vietnam.

[6]  Italics added.

[7]  See pages 54 and 55, “Cavalry, and I Don’t Mean Horses!” Harper’s, April 1954, by Major General James M. Gavin, www.xombatreform.org/cavalryandidontmeanhorses.htm

[8]  See page 55, Gavin.

[9]  See page 29, “Breakout and Pursuit,” The Korean War:  The UN Offensive, 16 September-2 November 1950, by Stephen L.Y. Gammons.

[10]  Sovietologist and influential policymaker, George Kennan, wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1947—an article famously seen to have been authored by a Mr. X—that America should, in response to provocations and threats of expansion, contain the Soviet Union.  This would insure that the West (primarily America) would not expend inordinate amounts of blood and treasure; while at the same time, playing to its economic and financial strengths to not only rein in Soviet ambitions, but eventually undermine same and see to its eventual demise.  Indeed, . . .

. . . “Kennan abhorred basing policy on sentiment.  He had little use for Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, but nevertheless believed the United States should oppose any attempt by the Chinese communists to forcibly take Taiwan.  He also warned in August 1950 that U.S. policy in Indochina risked putting the United States in a position of underwriting France in its efforts to maintain political control there, and assuming imperial responsibilities the way the U.S. had already assumed some of Britain’s.

“Despite this warning, Kennan initially supported America’s effort to contain communism in Indochina.  He was, after all, briefly a member of the Kennedy administration as the U.S. ambassador in Yugoslavia.  Gradually, however, Kennan soured on the Vietnam War, worrying that the United States was investing much more in that conflict than its interests required.  He did not believe that a communist victory would alter the global balance of power.  In 1966, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he invoked John Quincy Adams’ famous warning about not going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, and suggested that U.S. credibility would be better served by the ‘liquidation of unsound positions than by the . . . stubborn pursuit of extravagant or unpromising objectives.’”  See, “George Kennan’s Geopolitics of the Far East,” The Diplomat, by Francis P. Sempa, 2015.

[11]  Former name of the Island of Taiwan.

[12  See page 10, “Korean See-Saw,” War Monthly, Issue No. 9, by Brenda Ralph Lewis.

[13] See page 761, Chapter XXXIX, “The Big Question,” South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu, by Roy E. Appleman.

[14]  See page 10, The Chinese Intervention, 3 November 1950-24 January 1951, “Introduction,” by Richard W. Stewart.

[15]  See page 59, “50 years Ago:  Army Aviation:  Historical Perspective,” Army Aviation, November 30, 2013, by Mark Albertson.

Looking Back, April 2023
By Mark Albertson

Part III:  Completing the Circle

As with many of Man’s distinguished endeavors, success is attained most always with a decision that is hardly unanimous.  Why should the quest for branchhood be any different?  And so it was not.  Many had concerted opinions for; with others expressing convictions against; while there were some, such as Major General Robert L. Wetzel, commandant of Infantry at Fort Benning who, in Part II of this series, seemed to be mired in No Man’s Land.  Yet branchhood was coming, despite the contrarian viewpoints of the naysayers.  For it seemed to the confederates of branchhood, a powerful ally occupied the office of Army Chief of Staff.

Army Aviators have haggled over the issue of a separate Branch after WWII and the Korean War. The Vietnam postwar years are proving not to be an exception.

General Edward C. Meyer, Army Chief of Staff, June 22, 1979 to June 21, 1983, held the position of command owing, in part, to an impressive rap sheet of airborne soldiery.  First Airborne Battle Group, 501st Infantry; deputy commander, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), ending up as 1st Cavalry chief of staff, during the Vietnam War.  He was assistant division commander (support) of the 82nd Airborne Division. . . As Army Chief of Staff, General Meyer, “prosecuted an Army-wide modernization program with emphasis on quality over quantity, stressed the need for a long-term investment in land force material, and launched a unit-manning system to reduce personnel turbulence and to enhance readiness, retired from active service, June 1983.”[1]

GEN John R. Galvin, an infantry man who rose to serve as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO) from 1987 to 1992, helped define the need for an Aviation branch in his infamous “Training Panel” report during the 1982 Army Aviation Systems Program Review.

Another booster of aviation was not even cockpit qualified, Major General John Galvin, commander of the 24th Infantry Division.  He “presented his infamous Training Panel report to the assembled Army Aviation System Program Review (AASPR) general officer review board on March 25, 1982.  Galvin made the branch a key issue . . . Galvin’s immediate superior, Lieutenant General Jack Mackmull, the XVIII Airborne Corps commander had very strongly suggested to Galvin that the ‘branch’ was indeed the key issue.”[2]

AASPR GORB (General Officers Review Board), as noted above, “Was” co-chaired by General John W. Vessey, the Army’s vice chief of staff, and General Glenn K. Otis, TRADOC commanding general.

“These issues were directly related to fundamental elements of any Army branch:  concepts, doctrine, literature, training, personnel, management, equipment and organizational structure.

“At that time, aviation was decentralized to a multitude of other Army branches:

“The Armor branch owned scout and attack aviation, the Infantry owned utility aviation, the Transportation Corps owned transport and cargo aviation, and aviation maintenance; Military Intelligence owned intelligence gathering aviation; the Signal Corps owned the radio and electronic repairers, Field Artillery owned aerial observation and so on.

“All these issues culminated during the AASPR, when then Major General John R. Galvin, the 24th Infantry Division commanding general, presented his infamous ‘Training Panel’ report to the assembled GORB.”[3]

Among the recommendations suggested by General Galvin’s committee was more a concerted approach to training within Army Aviation.  That training should become “institutionalized,” that is, fashioned and arranged by Army Aviation, comprised of Army Aviation basic training followed by advanced training for commissioned Aviation officers.

“The need for a ‘heart’ for Army Aviation was no different than the ‘heart’ that existed for all other Army combat arms branches.

“The ‘heart’ General Galvin referred to was a branch, with a home where its subject matter experts taught the basic and advanced courses.”[4]

The Army Aviation System Program Review was now tasked to review the findings of General Galvin’s panel.  More directly, the ball was in the court of the co-chairmen of AASPR/GORB, General John W. Vessey and General Glenn K. Otis.  The former remarked, “Well, that horse just dropped a bunch of apples in the road.  You either sweep off the road and go on, or you pick them up and use them for fertilizer.  We need to wrestle this question to the ground.

“He then asked what Otis planned to do.  Without hesitation, Otis accepted the mission to deal with the branch question.”[5]

General Otis, commander of TRADOC ordered Major General Carl H. McNair, Jr., then in command of the Army Aviation Center, to have a study done concerning the various issues for branchhood, to be completed within a 90-day window, then to be forwarded to Army leadership for a final decision on the issue.  Such aspects included:

  • “Field visits to operational units and installations.
  • “Individual interviews and questionnaires.
  • “Field trips specifically to 11 corps and division level organizations.
  • “Field trips to five TRADOC centers and to three Army Material Command Organizations.
  • “Questionnaire data analysis.
  • “And a general officer advisory board’s (GORB) review of study results and recommendations prior to submission for an Army level decision.
  • “In June 1982, Otis approved the draft study directive and the TROAA Study Group[6] was formed.”[7]

The TROAA panel was staffed by Major General Benjamin L. Harrison, an infantryman and aviator who had commanded both air and ground units.  Lieutenant General Richard L. West, (Ret.), a former engineer officer who was a non-aviator and who had previously been a comptroller of the Army.  CW4 John P. Valaer, an experienced Army Aviator and Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.), an artillery officer and aviator, who had served as a Field Artillery battery and brigade executive officer as well as having commanded an aviation company and battalion.

In the course of approval, some 28 meetings were convened; a myriad of commands were visited; personal interviews were conducted; 603 questionnaires were reviewed; Army personnel, both aviator and non-aviator were consulted, ranging in rank from three stripes to three stars.

The resulting data from the initiatives conducted above was collated and prepared for a final draft report.  And at Fort Gordon, Georgia, a GORB collection of general officers was mustered for August 1982.

Chairman was General Glenn K. Otis.  He briefed the assemblage for more than three hours.  Following his singular presentation, he petitioned his fellow officers for questions, observations and counter points.  In the end, most concurred with the notion that the TROAA study be forwarded to the Army Chief of Study for approval or disapproval.

On April 12, 1983, Army Chief of Staff, General Edward C. Meyer, approved of Aviation taking its place on the masthead of Army branches.  This, in turn, was followed in February 1984 by:

No. 6

Department of the Army
Washington, D.C., 15 February 1984

ARMY AVIATION BRANCH.   Pursuant to the authority contained in Title 10, United States Code, section 3063 (a)(13), the Aviation branch is established as a basic branch of the Army effective 12 April 1983.
By Order of the Secretary of the Army:

General, United States Army,
Chief of Staff


Major General, United States Army
The Adjutant General

DISTRIBUTION:  Active Army, ARNG, USAR:  To be distributed in accordance with the DA Form 12-4 requirements for Department of the Army General Orders.[8]

LTG Carl E. Vuono, deputy commanding general of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command and the commanding general of Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., presents MG Bobby J. Maddox, right, commanding general of the Army Aviation Center and Fort Rucker, Ala., with the first proof set of the new Aviation branch insignia during a Jan. 16, 1984 ceremony. Shortly thereafter, the Secretary of the Army approved with General Order #6 the creation of the Aviation branch on Feb. 14, 1984, with an effective date of April 12, 1983.

* * * * *


*  There is one thing which was absolutely proved in the European War (reference to 1914-1918), and that is that nobody was capable of handling air units except flying officers who had learned by experience what flying was and how these things should be handled.[9]

*  The great trouble now is that, whenever an air question is up for discussion, mostly individuals who are not air officers are consulted.  No one is capable of passing on air matters except an air officer trained in the work.[10]

The above are remarks from General William “Billy” Mitchell.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.  He was writing about how the Air Service, Air Corps, later to become the United States Army Air Forces could become an autonomous service.  And the essence of the progression was the growing sophistication of this phenomenon known as airpower, marching along as it was, during the era of industrialized, corporatized, commercialized war, with land power and naval power.  All were becoming more mechanically and technologically oriented, leading to a specialization of tasks requiring airpower, for it was to be led by those best qualified to lead same, . . . airmen.

History, though, repeated itself again with the Korean War; that is, from the perspective of Army Aviation.  Only here, the Industrial Revolution was giving way to the Technology Revolution.  But the end result has been the same.  Horizontal Determinism again showcases to those astute enough to chart such progressions of history, and can view with accuracy, the results of Man’s endeavors, which are repetitive in nature.  Underscoring for us two journeys in the development of airpower, leading to results comparative in kind, in 1947 and again in 1983.


[1]  “Meyer—EC-U.S. Army,” Army Center of Military History.  History.army.mil/books/CG&CSA/Meyer-EC.htm

[2]  See page 32, “Dealing With the Aviation Branch Issue:  A Tough Sell to the Army,” Army Aviation, by Major General Benjamin L. Harrison, (Ret.), February 29, 2008.

[3]  See pages 34 and 35, “Dealing With the Branch Issue—Forming Aviation as a Combat Arm of the Army,” Army Aviation, by Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.), January 31, 2008.

[4]  See page 35, Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.).

[5]  See page 35, Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.).

[6]  TRADOC Review of Army Aviation.

[7]  See page 35, Colonel Ernest F. Estes, (Ret.).

[8]  Refer to GENERAL ORDERS No. 6, HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, Washington, D.C., 15 February 1984, ARMY AVIATION BRANCH, effective 12 April 1983.

[9]  See pages 8 and 9, “Fundamental Truths of Airpower,” William “Billy” Mitchell’s Air Power, by Lieutenant Colonel Johnny R. Jones, USAF.

[10]  See page 9, Lieutenant Colonel Johnny R. Jones, USAF.

Bibliography for Series

Albertson, Mark, “30th Anniversary of Army Aviation as a Branch,” Vol. 62, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March-April 2013.

“Aviation Branch,” www.usar.army.mil/Portals/98/Documents/ARCD/AA…  1 June 2017.

Bergerson, Frederic A., The Army Gets an Air Force:  Tactics of Insurgent Bureaucratic Politics, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1978.

Cook, Major Charles B., “Establishing an Aviation Branch,” Vol. 30, No. 11, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., November 30, 1981.

Cook, Major Charles B., “It’s Time for an Aviation Branch,” Vol. 30, Nos. 8 & 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., August-September 1981.

Cribbins, Joseph P., “Army Aviation in 1983-1992:  The Modern Era Arrives,” Vol. 41, No. 12, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., December 31, 1992.

Doty, Colonel Benjamin E, “Its to be a ‘Specialty,’” Vol. 24, No. 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., September 30, 1975.

Estes, Colonel Ernest F., (Ret.), “Dealing with the Branch Issue—Forming Aviation as a Combat Arm of the Army,” Vol. 57, No. 1, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., January 31, 2008.

Fardink, Lieutenant Colonel Paul J., (Ret.), “The Army Aviation Branch Creation—A Look Back:  An Interview With Major General Carl H. McNair, Retired, the First Army Aviation Branch Chief,” Vol. 62, No. 5, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., May 31, 2013.

Gant, CW5 Randall, “Chief Warrant Officer of the Branch Update:  The Aviation Branch, 25 Years of Great Service,” Army Aviation, Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

GENERAL ORDERS NO. 6, HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, Washington, D.C., 15 February 1984, ARMY AVIATION BRANCH, effective 12 April 1983.

Grualing, CW3 William G., (Ret.), “No, We Have One Now!” Vol. 24, No. 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., September 30, 1975.

Harrison, Major General Benjamin L., (Ret.), “Dealing with the Aviation Branch Issue:  A Tough Sell to the Army,” Vol. 57, No. 2, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., February 29, 2008.

Jones, Lieutenant Colonel Johnny R., USAF, William “Billy” Mitchell’s Air Power, Airpower Research Institute, College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, September 1997.

Kalagian, Colonel Samuel P., “Pandora’s Box,” Vol. 24, No. 5, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., May 21, 1975.

Kinnard, Lieutenant General Harry W.O., “Aviation as a System,” Vol. 17, No. 1, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., January 27, 1968.

Knudson, Brigadier General Wayne C., “Branching Out in the 80’s!” Vol. 33, No. 3, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., March 31, 1984.

Maddox, Brigadier General William J., Jr., Director Army Aviation, OACSFOR, DA, “The Question of a Separate Branch,” Vol. 20, Nos. 7 & 8, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., July-August 1971.

McNair, Carl H., Colonel, Infantry, Fort Rucker, Alabama, “No, Says Another Veteran!” Vol. 24, No. 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., September 30, 1975.

McNair, Major General Carl H., (Ret.), “Birth of the Army Aviation Branch, April 12, 1983,” Army Aviation, Vol. 56, No. 12, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., December 31, 2007.

“Meyer—EC-U.S. Army,” Army Center of Military History.  History.army.mil/books/CG&CSA/Meyer-EC.htm

Meyer, General Edward C., (Ret.), “Looking Back as We Look Ahead to the Next 25 Years of Army Aviation,” Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

Miller, Colonel James H, Commander, 12th Aviation Group and Kitterman, Colonel James H., Commander, 11th Aviation Group, “Aviation as a Branch,” Vol. 30, No. 11, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., November 30, 1981.

Packett, Major General Virgil L., II, “From the Aviation Branch Chief:  25 Years of Army Aviation, Securing Aviation’s Role in the Profession of Arms,” Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

Parker, Brigadier General Ellis D. Parker, “Potpourri:  Atlanta, the New Branch and Modernization (AAMP),” Vol. 32, No. 5, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., May 15, 1983.

Putnam, Lieutenant Colonel (P) Carl M., “Close Pandora’s Box,” Vol. 24, Nos. 7 & 8, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., July-August 1975.

Sanders, CSM Donald R., “Command Sergeant Major Update:  Looking Back at a Quarter Century of Our Great History and Service,” Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

Thompson, A.C., Colonel, USA, (Ret.), “A Separate Branch? . . . Yes!” Vol. 24, No. 9, Army Aviation, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., September 30, 1975.

“U.S. Army Aviation Branch, 25th Anniversary,” Army Aviation, Vol. 57, Nos. 3 & 4, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., March/April 2008.

Looking Back / Army Aviation, March 2023; By Mark Albertson



Part II: Discourse and Debate

Within a three-and-a-half-year study conducted by the Officer of Personnel Management System in the seventies, Major General George Putnam, Director of Military Personnel Policy, recommended that Army Aviation should be organized as a branch.  Such was disapproved by General Bernard Rogers, then Chief of Staff.  “Aviation is an ‘entry specialty’ within a combat arms affiliated ‘carrier’ branch, stressing that aviators, . . . ‘must be experts in aviation.’”[1]

Yet, even among the Aviation community, opinions varied with regards to branchhood.  For instance, Brigadier General William J. Maddox, Director of Army Aviation OACSFOR, DA, began his criticism with the issue of Centralization versus Decentralization of aerial assets in the wake of World War I.  He acknowledged the growing sophistication of aircraft and aviation techniques and skills that would eventually require the divorce of the Air Force from the Army in 1947.  However, . . .

. . . he continued with, “Those who supported decentralization of aviation did so as an extension of the normal philosophy of organizing Army units.  For example, the tank is a ground striking weapon which, when massed, has the capacity for breakthroughs, exploitation and victory on the battlefield.  Similarly, artillery, when massed, can provide a devastating effect on the enemy.

“The question is at what level should tanks or artillery or other ground weapons be massed and how and at what levels can they be appropriately controlled to gain the maximum combat advantage.  Rather than concentrate all artillery and tanks at the Army level, we normally decentralize so that battalions of tanks and artillery work for division commanders and massing can occur at battalion, brigade, or division level.  We give corps and army commanders the capability to influence the battle and implement priorities of effort by providing non-divisional tank and artillery battalions for their use.  They can also mass divisions.”[2]  At the same time, Artillery and Armor are branches within the Army masthead.  Again however, . . .

. . . “When advocates of decentralization emerged from World War II, only the artillery had its own aircraft.  These were Piper Cubs which were assigned permanently to artillery battalions.  Immediately after the war those of us from cavalry, infantry, and other branches began flight training so that other ground organizations could have regularly assigned aircraft.

“The Army has followed this philosophy constantly so that we now have aviators in most arms and branches of the Army.  The Medical Service Corps mans medical evacuation aircraft; Signal Corps aviators are assigned to signal battalions and groups; Transportation Corps officers, in addition to administering maintenance, also man heavy lift aircraft; rated Ordinance Corps officers administer aerial weapons projects, and so it goes throughout the Army.

“The decentralization philosophy also has been followed in the assignment of proponency for aviation units.  General Westmoreland assigned branch proponency for assault helicopter units to the infantry.  The Infantry Center is concerned with lift company TO@Es, and the doctrine for their employment.  Heavy lift companies come under the proponency of the Transportation Corps.  Armor is responsible for air cavalry organizations and for attack helicopter companies which bear a relationship to cavalry and tank units.  The Artillery, of course, has cognizance over aerial artillery.  Military Intelligence is concerned with Mohawk companies whose mission is to gather intelligence material.

“When you view the organization of the Army in this manner, it becomes clear that the Army will be much stronger in its capability to perform its combat tasks if it continues with the decentralization philosophy.  We have been down the centralization path previously and find that it does not meet our requirements.  We utilize the centralized resources provided by other services as an ad-on to our own capabilities which we must possess on a full-time basis.  Thus the close air support fighter can be an occasional contributor to the battlefield effort of a front line unit but Army resources are available on a full-time basis.”[3]

The issue of Centralization versus Decentralization was not the sole basis of argument for or against branchhood.  Others were fielding arguments beyond those brought forth by General Maddox.  Colonel Andrew J. Miller, Commander, 12th Aviation Group, wrote, “With the exception of branch intensive schooling, we have the ideal situation for incorporating our Aviation officers into a new Aviation Branch.

“Aviation technology is exploding.  The new UH-60 is arriving in field units.  The CH-47 modernization program is underway.  The YAH-64 will become a reality in the near future.  Deficiencies in our Scout helicopters have resulted in the Near Term Scout Helicopter (NTSM) and AHIP.

“These and other major advances in technology will dictate large changes in Aviation operations.  Technicians and logisticians will be required to respond with new tactics, incorporating ever increasing Aviation capabilities, to better integrate Aviation into the combined arms team.”[4]

Colonels Miller and Kitterman were seconded by Major Charles B. Cook, who had stated just two months previously, “We’ve been fortunate to acquire some remarkable new aircraft, such as the UH-60 ‘Black Hawk,’ which is presently being fielded, and the pending AH-64 attack helicopter.  These new ‘state-of-the-art’ aircraft open up some tremendous opportunities for growth in aviation tactics and doctrine.  They’ll significantly alter the shape and outcome of today’s and tomorrow’s mid-to-high-intensity battlefields.”[5]

Major Cook also suggested, in an addendum to his article, that Army Aviation was the medium for an “Open Forum” on branchhood, to which he remarked, “I’ve been appalled at the apathy shown by most aviators regarding a separate Aviation Branch.  We need to discuss this in open forum—the vehicle of the magazine is excellent—and we should stimulate some of your Tigers in developing pro and con views in this area.”[6]

General William Wallace Ford

The man who started it all, Brigadier General William Wallace Ford, who organized and then led the Air Observation Post, the proverbial seed of Army Aviation. Ford was the first Director of Air Training.

Colonels Miller and Kitterman took Major Cook at his word, for they followed up in support with a literary effort two months later.  Yet, six years earlier, a contrary opinion was rendered by Lieutenant Colonel (P) Carl M. Putnam, HQ, ARR-IV, Atlanta, Georgia.  Lieutenant Colonel Putnam wrote in response to an article, “Pandora’s Box,” which appeared in the May 1975 issue of Army Aviation: 

“Airmobility:  The crucial question is not what can the Army do for aviators but rather what can the proposed Aviation branch do for the Army.  Since aviation is not an end in itself, the answer is ‘nothing.’

“The doctrine of airmobility upon which aviation is founded,[7] is defined as using aerial vehicles to better accomplish traditional Army missions; missions which are already a responsibility of the various branches.  Branch schools currently teach the principles used in accomplishing these missions.

“Therefore, if expensive vehicles are needed to accomplish a type of mission, then the branch primarily responsible for that, already established and its assigned mission, should provide the expertise to operate and control these machines.

“Branch qualification is, or should be, important to that concept.  On the other hand, if branch expertise is not required to accomplish the Army’s missions, then the branch school system is out of date.”[8]

The article Lieutenant Colonel Putnam had referenced and upon which his riposte had been based had been published in Army Aviation two months prior.  The author, Colonel Samuel P. Kalagan, had focused his argument on personnel, the aviators themselves, as to what effects branchhood would have or, even would not have, on aviation personnel.

Midway through his article, Colonel Kalagan compared, weighed and measured the amount of personnel in aviation as opposed to the other branches of the Army, “. . . there are 9,500 commissioned and 5,000 warrant aviators on active duty.  Do you realize that these totals make us the second largest branch in the Army?  MI is a separate branch of intelligence specialists and they only total 4,600.  The JAG, a pure specialist branch, has only 1,700 officers.  Signal is a biggie specialist group with 6,000 officers.[9]

Lieutenant Colonel Carl Putnam took a contrary position most definite.  In this he referenced the “Law of Supply and Demand.’  “When the war in Vietnam was over, the number of aircraft in the Army was reduced, of course, and the need for aviators became much less.  Thus, many aviators became victims of the RIF.  It should be noted that the law of supply and demand applies to every skill, not just aviators.

“For example, Finance, Quartermaster, Signal, and a few other branches were short officers so some aviators avoided the RIF by transferring to these branches.  The formation of an Aviation branch, could only make matters worse and perhaps cause a further RIF of aviators.

For example, “Branch requirements based on cockpit seats would be short of 15,000 aviators now on active duty.  Under the present system, aviators in excess of requirements are absorbed by their using ‘ground allocations.’  The branches are willing to do this because they recognize talent and the contribution of aviators to increased combat effectiveness on the battlefield.”[10]

Again, the above was in response to an earlier point made by Colonel Kalagan in “Pandora’s Box,” to which:

“Argument:  If we place all aviators in a single branch, we lose effectiveness in aviation support because the aviator would lose his coincidence of interest with the other branches and be less effective.

“Answer:  Before RVN, the aviator was programmed to serve one year in every five, by regulation, to be considered ‘carrier qualified.’  This year could be met by attendance at an Advanced Course; by a tour with an ROTC unit; by a tour as the S-1, S-2, S-4, or Assistant S-3 (Liaison Officer) with a branch TO&E battalion; as the Commander of any HQs Company; and occasionally, if one were lucky, by commanding a rifle company or a firing battery or a recon troop.

“Some aviators served the minimum of nine months to a year in such assignments; others, got a much as 24 months or more.  It was erratic, however, and did not equate to even one year in five.

“If the aviator took charge of his own career and shopped around hard enough, he could get more than the minimum.  If one waited for OPD managers to arrange for the ground tour, the one in five principle didn’t work too successfully.  Sure, they’d place you in the environment, such as USAREUR, but from arrival on, you were on your own.

“During RVN, ground duty was shut off to aviators unless individuals made their own special personal arrangement to serve in a branch TO&E non-aviator combat unit in-country.  DCSPER&OPD covered this gap in the commissioned aviator’s career by ‘advertising’ selection boards to give aviators due consideration for failing to do more than fly.”[11]

Before taking leave of the thoughts of Colonel Kalagan, we must regard his ideas on ‘aviators who got RIF’ed.’

“Did such instructions help?  During the 1974 RIF, 22% of all aviators in the OPD branches authorized aviators were RIF’ed, while only 18% of the eligible non-aviator officers got the axe.  How will selection boards look at aviators now that the RVN is completed.  Maybe the answer lies in how many eligible field grade aviators were selected recently for other than Aviation Troop Commands?

“This magazine used to print such ‘success’ stories—command selection, senior service school selection, etc.  The next such publication will be interesting.  Isn’t it odd that warrants who don’t attend combat and combat support branch career course nor serve in ‘branch qualification’ tours still provided same aviation support to the combat troops in RVN as their commissioned contemporaries, whether it be with an UH-1, an LOH, a Mohawk, an 0-1, or an RU-21?  Aviation WO’s are eligible to fill cockpit seats in an Air Cavalry Troop without the privilege of attending Armor Advance Course.  Without advantage of MSC School, they still fly a pretty fair DUSTOFF mission.  Right.  CW4 Novosel?  How effective must effective aviation support be?”[12]

Major General Carl A. McNair, the first Director of Army Aviation as a Branch of the U.S. Army. McNair played a pivotal role in Army Aviation on its way to branchhood, both in peacetime and in war.

But the possibility of Centralization in the guise of Army Aviation as a branch was becoming more and more a reality.  Most certainly this was observed by Major General Carl H. McNair, Jr., in his 2007 article in Army Aviation:

“Evolving Warfare, New Requirements:  When the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) was formed and AirLand Battle doctrine evolved in the mid-1970s, reorganization of Army units brought a new perspective for fighting close, deep and rear battles.

“Doctrinal and force structure analyses coupled with major personnel considerations led to a pivotal organizational decision, a precursor and major driver leading to the Aviation Branch.

“An aviation brigade was made organic to each of the Army’s divisions.  Heretofore aviation brigades were organic only in the air assault (air mobile) division with three separate aviation groups organic to the corps in Europe and Korea.

“Divisional brigades were a giant step providing multiple aviation battalions both attack and assault, within a colonel-level command comparable to the infantry and armor brigades and division artillery.

“Today’s brigade commanders have never known it otherwise.

“Further, in some doctrinal scenarios, the aviation brigade could be employed as a fourth maneuver brigade headquarters with command and control of ground maneuver units in deep battle scenarios, rear area or flank security—again another first for an aviation unit.

“Division commanders welcomed the flexibility with another command and control element over the expansive area of operation envisioned in AirLand Battle doctrine.”[13]

But life does not advance in a straight line.  For, “in January 1979, Brigadier General W.E. Sweet, after another in-depth study, and with support from Putnam, recommended the formation of an aviation branch to General Bernard Rogers, then Army Chief of Staff.  Rogers met with all of the Army’s four-star generals and not a single one concurred for an aviation branch.

“In October 1982, during the Army Chief of Staff’s commanders’ conference, GEN Otis briefed the senior officers, not changing a single word in our recommendations.

“There was strong opposition led by generals Frederick J. Kroesen, Commander of U.S. Army, Europe; and Richard E. Cavazos, commanding General of the Army’s Forces Command.  The most outspoken opposition came from two retired generals:  Hamilton H. Howze, who retired in July 1965, and Robert M. Shoemaker, a former FORSCOM commander; both aviators.”[14]

General Hamilton H. Howze

General Hamilton H. Howze, first Director of Army Aviation. One of his largest contributions was to the acceptance of Army Aviation: He was Army Establishment, which lent to the acceptability of Army Aviation at a time it was needed.

“At Fort Benning, Major General Robert L. Wetzel, the commandant of the Infantry School, opposed the formation of an Aviation branch because he thought it important for some infantry officers to continue to be aviators.

“When asked what an infantry aviator had to do to be considered a fully qualified infantry captain, he said that they should successfully command a rifle company.  After some thought, he said there should be adequate opportunities to do that.

“When asked what an infantry lieutenant colonel aviator needed to do to be fully qualified; Wetzel reasoned that there would not be adequate opportunity for their command of an infantry battalion.  Wetzel concluded that an Aviation branch was probably the best solution.”[15]

“Not so at the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  Major General Louis C. Wagner, the commandant, strongly opposed an Aviation branch.  One of his key points was that armor aviators frequently commanded reconnaissance squadrons and battalions.  He never wavered and fought the formation of an Aviation branch all the way.”[16]


[1]  See page 53, “Birth of the Army Aviation Branch, April 12, 1983,” Army Aviation, by Major General Carl H. McNair, Jr., (Ret.), December 31, 2007.

[2]  See page 10, “The Question of a Separate Branch,” Army Aviation, by Brigadier General William J. Maddox, Jr., July-August 1971.

[3]  See pages 10 and 11, Brigadier General William J. Maddox.

[4]  See pages 11, 60 and 61, “Aviation as a Branch,” Army Aviation, by Colonel Andrew J. Miller and Colonel James H. Kitterman, November 30, 1981.

[5]  See page 14, “It’s Time for an Aviation Branch,” Army Aviation, by Major Charles B. Cook, August-September 1981.

[6]  See page 14, Major Charles B. Cook.

[7]  Lieutenant Colonel Putnam’s analysis brings forth a pertinent point:  If, as he suggests, Army Aviation was founded on airmobility, then what is considered Army Aviation prior did not exist.  What was founded was the Air Observation Post, June 6, 1942.  The terminology, “Army Aviation,” does not appear within the narrative of the reputed “birth certificate.”  So what is actually considered Army Aviation did not truly become so until the early 1950s.

A like argument exists with regards to many of the uninitiated in this country labeling America a “Democracy.”  The Founders of this Nation were not fans of Democracy.  You will not find the term “Democracy” in the Constitution, attendant Bill of Rights or even The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America (Declaration of Independence).  This Nation was founded as a Republic, end of discussion.

[8]  See page 6, “Close Pandora’s Box,” Army Aviation, by Lieutenant Colonel (P) Carl M. Putnam, July-August 1975.

[9]  See page 25, “Pandora’s Box,” Army Aviation, by Colonel Samuel P. Kalagan, May 21, 1975.

[10]  See page 4, Lieutenant Colonel Carl M. Putnam.

[11]  See page 6, Colonel Samuel P. Kalagan.

[12]  See pages 6 and 26, Colonel Samuel P. Kalagan.

[13]  See pages 52 and 53, “Birth of the Army Aviation Branch. April 12, 1983,” Army Aviation, by Major General Carl H. McNair, Jr., (Ret.), December 31, 2007.

[14]  See page 33, “Dealing With the Aviation Branch Issue:  A Tough Sell to the Army,” Army Aviation, by Major General Benjamin I. Harrison, (Ret.), February 29, 2008.

[15]  See page 33, Major General Benjamin I. Harrison, (Ret.).

[16]  See page 33, Major General Benjamin I. Harrison, (Ret.).

Looking Back / Army Aviation, February 2023; By Mark Albertson


Branchhood, By Mark Albertson

Part I: Technology, Command and Control

Army Aviation breaks friction with the ground, operates in the ground regime, and greatly enhances the capability of the force. . . [1]


The remarkable evolution of aerial observation, together with the aerial direction of artillery fire within the United States Army, began with the War Between the States and a military application known to history as the Balloon Corps. The suitable starting date is June 18, 1861, when Thaddeus Lowe lifted off from the Columbia Armory[2] and from the balloon basket of Enterprise, Lowe’s telegrapher transmitted the first electronic message from an aircraft in the air to the ground. And one of the recipients was President Abraham Lincoln, marking the sixteenth president as the first head-of-state in history to receive an electronic message from an aircraft in the air to the ground.

Following America’s first industrialized conflict, the Army will again resort to the lighter-than-aircraft during the Spanish-American War. But with the maturation of aerial observation and reconnaissance, as well as the growing sophistication of the aerial direction of artillery fire, the appearance of fixed wing aircraft and the exciting promise of its mobility, consigned the gas bag to history. Then came the advent of the Air Observation Post, June 6, 1942, laying the groundwork for what would later become Army Aviation; to which the growing reliance on the helicopter during the Korean conflict, advanced this evolving medium of conveyance to becoming an absolute necessity in Vietnam . . . all showcasing, in a clear and unmistakable horizontal progression of history, the developing sophistication of this military exercise known as Army Aviation.

Indeed, Army Aviation is the product of American invention, innovation and the specialization of tasks; the result, too, of the Industrial Revolution which, together with Man’s penchant for technological innovation, we find Army Aviation is alive and well in the era of the Technology Revolution. A progression that has stimulated the specialization of tasks in the modern era.

L-4 Cub aboard and LST carrier during World War II.  Top flight technology for the Air Observation Post.

The profession of arms, as is seen in many other professions in the American economy, society and culture, has, thus far, not proven itself immune to the globe-changing continuum known as the Technology Revolution. The profession of war, again like other professions, has become less labor-intensive. Gone, too, are the days when the backyard mechanic, able to repair his ’36 Ford, could easily perform in-theater servicing of a Piper L-4 Cub; a hallmark of the pre-Army Aviation era of the Air Observation Post of the Field Artillery.

On the heels of the 1914-1918 chapter of the Great War and the interregnum period that followed till the resumption of the global conflict, the evolving nature of the strategic bomber proceeded apace; as did the specialization of tasks concerning those airmen who flew, repaired and directed this increasingly sophisticated aspect of modern war. To the point that the science of airpower had become too sophisticated to be properly administered by officers specifically trained and educated to prosecute a ground war. Hence, in 1947, the United States Army Air Forces became the United States Air Force, consummating a divorce long sought by the proponents of strategic airpower.

AH-1G Huey Cobra, providing Army Aviation the ability to provide support for the soldier on the ground.

Army Aviation, too, was not exempt from the natural laws of change. The Air Observation Post commanded by Colonel, then later General William Wallace Ford, minus the proponents of same, remaining oblivious to the strategic, tactical and material changes following 1945 and into the Korean War, set in motion a continuum that would culminate in branchhood by April 12, 1983. Take, for instance, a standalone issue such as technological changes. In less than ten years, compare the Sikorsky helicopter effort from the R-4 eggbeater to the H-19 Chickasaw used in Korea; to, in the following fifteen years, the Bell UH-1 Huey and later the Cobra attack helicopter in Vietnam; followed in the post-Vietnam era with the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache. Not many Black Hawk and Apache technicians were fixing their ’36 Fords in the family driveways.[3] The training and schooling today is beyond what was required to prepare the Class Before One. Such is Man’s tendency to improve, but which increases, many times, the sophistication of the task in question. Branchhood, then, was that result of a progression started on June 6, 1942 and, became more evident as the decades came and went. And so by the 1970s at the latest, the jury to some might have been out, but reality dictated a verdict that had already been delivered . . . it was just a matter of time, despite the pronouncements of naysayers, that branchhood was coming; verifying, indeed, that the progression of history is always fulfilled. . .

* * * * *

“. . . tools, or weapons, if only the right ones can be discovered, form ninety-nine percent of victory. . . . Strategy, command, leadership, courage, discipline, supply, organization, and all the moral and physical paraphernalia of war are as nothing to a high superiority of weapons—at most they go to form the one percent which makes the whole possible.”[4] There is certainly truth in what J.F.C. Fuller writes here. For instance, the technology or major tool for the existence and success for the Air Observation Post of the Field Artillery was the grasshopper-type aircraft. For Army Aviation it was the helicopter. This course was made easier when the Air Force, deciding to maintain strategic airpower in the nuclear era as its justification for existence, did not pay the proper regard for slow, rotary wing aircraft, since strategic airpower necessitated the constant improvement on aircraft for the implementation of that way of waging war: In other words, each new mark of aircraft had to fly faster, higher, haul greater payloads and be equipped with the latest technological marvels. In this, the argument can be made, that airmen are not specifically trained to wage ground warfare. Ground officers are trained to wage ground warfare, and enough of them understood the significance of the employment of the helicopter for superior battlefield mobility so as to be able to defeat an opposing host.


[1] See page 51, “Army Aviation in 1983-1992” The Modern Era Arrives,” Army Aviation, by Joseph Cribbins, December 31, 1992.

[2] Which today is the National Air and Space Museum.

[3] Used to be the simplicity of fixing your car was part of the attraction. For back in the day, you could open the hood and still see the street below. You could change the points and plugs and, grab hold of the oil filter, all without busting a knuckle, as well as removing the manifold of an engine block. Ever open the hood of your car today?

[4] See pages 65 and 66, Chapter 4, “Helicopter technology: Political Imperative or Opportunity?” The Army Gets an Air Force, by Frederic A. Bergerson.

Looking Back / Army Aviation, January 2023; By Mark Albertson


Branch Update, By Major General Ronald E. Adams

Women in Aviation: Celebrating the Past, Building the Future

The U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center hosted a Women in Army Aviation Symposium in Late February. Over 90 aviation soldiers of both genders and all ranks traveled to the conference representing DOD-wide backgrounds and experiences. The goal of our symposium was twofold: First, to recognize and celebrate women’s 21 years of service within Army Aviation and second, to identify and discuss current “gender issues” within the branch.

There are differing, sometimes contentious, opinions as to the value of highlighting one gender within a two-gender military. But at the same time, it is almost universally admitted that there are fundamental differences between the genders that may affect the way we do business. In that light, the symposium’s intent was to encourage open, fair discussion of how the branch as a whole can best address these challenges.

Sally Murphy

Women have now served in Army Aviation for more than 21 years. The first female pilot, 2LT Sally D. Woolfolk (now Colonel Sally Murphy) graduated from the rotary wing aviator course in June 1974. Females were serving as enlisted maintainers with the graduation of Private Linda Plock in February 1974 and were integrated into the Aviation warrant officer corps in June 1975 with the graduation of WO1 Jennie Vallance, Jr. As women began to attend and graduate from these aviation schools, they began serving in all capacities within the branch, except for attack, cavalry and special operations.

Almost 20 years later, in 1993, congressional legislation opened the door for women to fly attack aircraft and serve in those units as both pilots and maintainers. Further legislation in 1994 allowed women to serve in air cavalry line troops. A steady number of women have since graduated from the AH-64, OH-58D and AH-1 courses at Fort Rucker, constantly adding to the number of women in the attack/cav arena. Women have served in and have commanded both attack and cavalry units; they have flown in combat. They have been recognized as superb commanders and NCOs, award-winning aviators, and outstanding officers and soldiers.

While celebration was the initial order of business, the symposium also offered a rare opportunity for several generations of female soldiers and officers to discuss the challenges of a career in Army Aviation, and initiate mentoring-type discussions.

USAAVNC took this opportunity to stimulate discussion and to disseminate information. I opened the agenda with a branch overview and discussion of where women are serving within the branch today, and was followed by many superb speakers, to include BG Patricia Hickerson who chaired a dynamic, multi-media presentation of various recruiting efforts of yesterday and today.

Lieutenant Colonels Joe and Maureen Lebouef from the United States Military Academy presented a fast-paced, interactive discussion of gender differences, both behavioral and physical. They demonstrated some fundamental differences between men and women and the resulting cultural effects. Men and women often see the same situation differently. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but often challenging to acknowledge and appreciate.

The symposium audience was also brought up to date on the “Washington Perspective” by LTC Karen McManus. As the Pentagon’s Woman in the Army Representative (as well as an aviator), she provided an update of trends that are affecting women in today’s military.

patricia fleming

Presentations by the Aviation Research Laboratory (USAARL) provided a much anticipated forum for discussion of anthropometry (body measurements) and how this affects cockpit coordination, skills and safety. Ongoing studies are validating these standards, and may result in changes. The Aeromedical Center and USAARL participants also addressed the current pregnancy policy and research demonstrating the effects of the aviation environment on the developing embryo. They also examined the relatively new issue of the “aging” female aviator; how are health and flight skills affected versus the traditional male standard?

One of the main objectives of the symposium was accomplished by establishing work groups to discuss gender issues as they affect the entire branch, not just the female soldiers. The work groups were chaired by professional military facilitators and subject matter experts. These “group leaders” ensured that group discussion was oriented toward illuminating appropriate branch-wide issues, rather than recounting purely personal experiences.

Within this framework, the work groups identified issues which the Aviation Center Team is already working—issues briefed at our NCO symposium at our Brigade Commander VTC update.

The work group out-briefs provided impressive snapshots of the intended symposium goals: professional women sincerely presenting their best effort at making Aviation a stronger, more cohesive branch.

The representatives at the conference collectively represented a strong, dynamic female population that takes their role as part of the Aviation warfighting team very seriously. They are out front, and are willing to help lead us to a better future. We can all be tremendously proud of their contributions to our nation, our Army and to Army Aviation.


MG Adams is the Aviation Branch Chief and Commanding General, USAAVNC and Ft. Rucker, AL., and Commandant, U.S. Army Aviation Logistics School, Ft. Eustis, VA.


Source:  Pages 9 and 10, “Women in Aviation:  Celebrating the Past, Building the Future,” by Major General Ronald E. Adams, Army Aviation, Vol. 45, No. 6, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., June 30, 1996.

Looking Back / Army Aviation, December 2022; By Mark Albertson


80th Anniversary of Army Aviation:
Operation: TORCH

Grasshoppers Earn Their Wings

The lack of success of Army Aviation in its first time at bat against the Germans at Fedala, fueled Hap Arnold’s aversion to seeing Cubs in a combat zone, and, certainly inflamed the AAF’s desire to abort the Air Observation Post program.

Piper L 4 Cub

Work horse of the Air OPs, the Piper L-4 Cub.  This plane established itself in a combat theater with the aerial direction of artillery fire, observation and reconnaissance, photo reconnaissance, route column control, light transport, air taxi for brass,… The Cub proved itself at a time during the war when the Allies had yet to establish absolute air superiority, refuting detractors’ claims of not being able to survive in a combat zone.  Indeed, the Cub was to the Air OPs what the UH-1 Huey would later prove to be for Army Aviation in Vietnam.


But General Lesley McNair had no intention of crying uncle. In fact, more than ever he seemed ready to bull in his neck and stay in there and pitch. After all, the Army Air Forces indicated during the 1942 Joint Training Exercises that they were hardly in a position to assume the tactical needs required by the Ground Forces.

Thus far it was the Germans who had demonstrated modern Combined Arms Warfare on the battlefield, with the German Army and Luftwaffe providing smashing examples of success. On the receiving end in 1941 and 1942 were the Soviets, who were undergoing a brutal education in the harshest school of warfare in world, the Eastern Front. From June 22, 1941 till they had stopped Hitler’s hordes at Moscow and had stabilized the front by March 1942, the Soviets has incurred some 2,000,000 battlefield dead and upwards of 4,000,000 taken prisoner; and, of these some 2,500,000 were already dead as a result of Nazi captivity.

For America to avoid such heavy losses, the lessons of Combined Arms Warfare needed to be heeded, studied, learned and fashioned to an American doctrine able to take on the experienced Wehrmacht with any chance for success. And this demanded that the Ground Forces and Air Forces work together as an unstoppable team . . . regardless of service agenda rifts. However the outlook was not exactly promising as shown with the results of the 1942 Joint Training Program.

Seven corps maneuvers had been planned, but only five were actually conducted. The Air Support Command of the Army Air Forces was supposed to contribute 753 aircraft. Four hundred were made available of which some 263 “were in condition to operate.”[1]

Lack of training by both Air and Ground contingents was a problem. But General McNair understood the issues. The Army Air Forces were stretched and lacked training and experience. In fact, just how unprepared the AAF was, was evident when the only full squadron of dive bombers provided for the Joint Training Exercises was on loan from the Navy.

Brigadier General Paul McD Robinett, CO, Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, wrote directly to General Marshall in December 1942. “The campaign in Africa,” wrote General Robinett, “was showing that the Germans knew how to use air support with decisive effect, and that the Americans did not.” He concluded, “My regiment has fought well, has had rather severe losses, but can go on. I have talked with all ranks possible and am sure that men cannot stand the mental and physical strain of constant aerial bombings without feeling that all possible is being done to beat back the enemy effort. News of bombed cities or ships is not the answer they expect. They know what they see and at present there is little of our air to be seen.”[2]

Obviously this did not make McNair or Arnold very happy. But in reality it was irrelevant. For FM 31-35, Aviation in Support of Ground Forces, insured AAF basic control of tactical air assets. “Field Manual 31-35 perpetuated the roundabout method of requesting direct support of the front lines, which had worked without great success in the GHQ maneuvers [1941] and which virtually guaranteed that there would be no communication between supporting aircraft and the ground unit being supported. A ground unit desiring air support was to pass the request upon its own chain of command to the division or corps, where an air liaison officer would pass judgment on it. If the request met with approval, he would relay it to air support command headquarters, where the request would be scrutinized. Only after headquarters approved the request would an order go out to an airfield for a unit to take off and execute the mission. Once in the air, the only communication between aircraft and ground units would be through the liaison officer at division or corps headquarters. The air-ground doctrine which the Army Air Forces took to the war had the advantage of keeping airpower concentrated in the hands of air officers, would deploy it economically where it was needed most. The ground soldiers’ demands for direct support were not satisfied.”[3]

The situation hardly improved during the Joint Training Program of 1942. The AAF seemed to be clinging to the idea prevalent in the Air Corps Tactical School of the centralized control of aircraft. And, “that airpower was not to be employed against targets within range of artillery.”[4]

This left nary an alternative other than that of developing the Air Observation Post concept to sharpen the accuracy of the Field Artillery. Such a capability would be controlled by the ground commanders to be utilized as they saw fit. To be sure, the road ahead was hardly smooth; the work ahead, hardly a labor of leisure. And the rent between the Ground Forces and the Airmen was only going to swell. Regardless, Army Aviation was on its way . . . A glorious epoch in the history of the United States Army was set to commence.

* * * * *


Following TORCH, more Army aviators arrived in North Africa during November-December 1942 and into 1943. Aircraft forwarded in crates were assembled and parceled out. Army aviators were assigned to the 1st, 3rd, 9th and 34th Infantry Divisions and the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions.[5]

A number of Army aviators who would make early marks in the Army Aviation movement appeared. “Lt. John W. Oswalt, Lt. Bob Ely (who became the first Army helicopter pilot), Lt. Eugene P. Gillespie (who became the first man to fly Gen. Mark Clark under combat conditions), and Lt. Robert Johnson (who was killed in Tunisia).”[6]

To increase the pool of credible aviators, “II Corps opened an Air OP School at Sidi-bel-Abbes in early 1943. The school was also used as a staging area for aviators and mechanics on their way to Tunisia.”[7][8]

Conditions were quite Spartan, as noted by a young aviator named Paynee O. Lysne, who arrived early in 1943. “After reporting I was told along with two others by a tough-looking sergeant, ‘Do you see that large box? Well, in the box is an airplane, which you’ll take out carefully. Assemble it by the book, and tomorrow, you’ll fly it. And that box will be your home for as long as you’re here in the school. Make yourselves comfortable, and get to work.[9] And so the aviators made themselves at home, each in his own beaver-board Taj Mahal and made the best of it.

Paynee Lysne

Paynee O. Lysne, who trained at Sidi bel-Abbes to become an Air OP pilot.


In January 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Theater Commander, reorganized the command structure. II Corps was given command of American units on the Tunisian front. Then, Fifth Army was activated, Lieutenant General Mark Clark in command. Task was to organize, plan and prepare for upcoming operations, and that included taking over responsibility for the Air OP School at Sidi-bel-Abbes and provide the American ground forces with the necessary pilots and mechanics.[10] In command of the school was Colonel John D. Salmon.

A training schedule of upwards of three months was established. “Most of us received an average of 70 hours of contour flying, road landings, chasing goats, sheep and Arabs, etc.—very similar to the training program at Fort Sill, with one exception: shooting touch and goes on the tops of Trailways busses as they were going down the highway west of Lawton, Oklahoma. When the bus company decided to wash the busses, they found many tire tracks on the tops.”[11]

The North African school, though, lacked accreditation. General Mark Clark attempted to achieve same with the War Department, something both the Ground Forces and Army Air Forces opposed. Only pilots produced by the Department of Air Training were considered eligible for flight status; which meant, flight pay. At the same time, the North African school was helping to fill the void of needed aviators for the Ground Forces in Tunisia. So a compromise was reached when the War Department allowed graduates of the impromptu schools to receive monthly, $60 hazardous flight pay. Such was the case until late 1943, when many of these fliers returned stateside to complete the Department of Air Training Curriculum.[12] Regardless, Clark’s school was turning out some 50 pilots every six to ten weeks. In addition to 50 mechanics every month.[13] Many of the aviators trained in North Africa and who returned to the States to complete the Department of the Air Training curriculum brought needed combat experience to be shared with candidates who had none.

The Air OP, though, still had an image problem and one which equated with acceptability. Reactionary battery commanders were still adverse or apathetic towards the concept. Some outright had no use for it. Instances occurred where Cub squadrons, following a night’s rest, found themselves abandoned by their units which had upped and left in the night. Others went “begging for handouts from sympathetic passing units.”[14]

* * * * *

In December 1943, writing in The Field Artillery Journal, Captain James Edmonds touched on the shortage of trained observers and pilots. “Use of ‘grasshopper’ planes for artillery OPs is so relatively new that the tremendous opportunities which they afford have been insufficiently recognized. The advantages of this type of observation all too frequently have been more outweighed by inadequate control, improper technique and inexperience.

“Proper training, however, will increase the number of experienced observers available. Proper technique and proper control will permit the most efficient use of such qualified personnel as can be so used.[15]

Captain Edmonds goes on to explain, “The artillery of any division should have a constant available pool of from six to twelve observers so trained, in addition to such pilots as may also be artillery officers. (Experience has shown conclusively, incidentally, that it is almost impossible for the pilot to fly a plane in combat and observe for artillery purposes at the same time, hence no reference is made to efforts which have been made to combine the two functions.[16] Whenever possible training should be carried out to increase this nucleus or to provide for replacements to maintain such a quota.

“The term ‘pool’ as here used does not imply a separate group, detached from the individual battalions. What is actually meant is that there should be at least two, preferably three, qualified aerial observers available at all times within each battalion.”[17]

Then there is the issue of supply. Colonel Charles E. Hart, II Corps artillery officer, thought it prudent to organize the Air OP assets with an air artillery officer. Lieutenant Delbert L. Bristol joined Colonel Hart’s staff. Bristol virtually created a position. The energetic aviator organized flight records; assigned missions to planes and pilots; established a system of parts and supply to alleviate shortages, picking up the slack from the Army Air Forces which was responsible for same. General Patton was so impressed that he employed the services of the young pilot to fly him round the front.

Delbert Bristol

Delbert Bristol was was one of the decisive Air OP officers of the entire North African campaign, and contributed in no small way to the success of the Air Observation Post in its combat debut.  And did so by turning the appointment of Air OP flight officer into an office; as well as being General George Patton’s Cub pilot.


What Bristol did was to bring organization to the business. His attention to detail, energy and organizational skills helped in no small measure to sell the Air OP concept in North Africa. Such was Bristol’s success that he was named artillery air officer of First Army, and, was detailed with the planning and organizing much of the Air OP effort for Operation OVERLORD.[18][19]

However unblooded Americans were hardly ready for their big league debut against the Germans; as witnessed by Rommel’s Afrika Korps giving II Corps a bloody nose at Kasserine. This rammed home the reality that American troops were not yet ready for a cross-Channel invasion of the European continent.

Americans, though, were learning. Take the Field Artillery. The judicious use of forward ground observers, radio communications and fire direction centers within the infantry and armored formations enabled the effective use of rolling barrages and interdiction shellings. On March 23, 1943, during the battle of El Guettar, II Corps artillery knocked out 30 German tanks. In fact, after the battle, “an enthusiastic report recorded that American artillery had crucified the Germans with high-explosive shells. Based upon El Guettar and other battles in North Africa where division and corps commanders often massed twelve battalions (144 guns) to attack enemy positions, field artillerymen found artillery to be one of the dominating factors on the battlefield when employed en-masse.[20] Among the outfits of the 9th Infantry Division alone, artillery units loosed over 31,000 rounds of ordnance while in action at El Guettar.[21]

It was in this environment that Army aviators earned acceptability. At El Guettar, Air OP pilots from the 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions spotted elements of Rommel’s 10th Panzer Division rumbling forward towards American lines. Aviators called in coordinates enabling sweating gunners to pour out a volume of American steel to check the German advance.[22]

North Africa showed that Cubs were not as vulnerable as first thought, Seven minutes was believed, at the outset, to be the maximum flight time per mission; this included takeoff, time over the target area to coordinate fire adjustments and then back to the field before Axis fighters could catch them. But as the pilots gained experience, they found they could remain aloft for longer periods. The Cub’s low operational levels and maneuverability increased the flivver plane’s chances for survival; thickets of Allied anti-aircraft batteries; and, as the Allies wrested control of the air, the threat posed by Axis fighters faded. As noted in a 34th Infantry Division report, “Air OPs flew patrol missions constantly and proved their value by silencing enemy artillery by the very fact of their presence. Continual coverage of the division front by the Air OP is now SOP.”[23]

But what is actually noteworthy is as the campaign proceeded, Army aviators offered services beyond that of directing artillery fire. “Division and corps commanders used their artillery planes extensively for front line reconnaissance, even to the extent of going up as observers themselves.[24]

One divisional artillery commander relied on his planes for preliminary position and route reconnaissance. This offset to some extent a lack of aerial photographs which was felt throughout the North African campaign. Convoy checks and camouflage were also useful, and at critical junctures courier service proved invaluable.[25]

The growing acceptance of the Air OP was reflected in its utility, substantiated in combat, and in the variety of missions above and beyond that of the original intent, that of artillery fire direction. For instance, between April 23 and May 8, 1943, aviators manning 31 aircraft flew 715 missions, broken down thus: Artillery fire direction, 97 missions; supply and courier flights, 231; reconnaissance, 167; route column control and camouflage checks, 88 and unit training, 132. And, not one man was lost. But the intriguing aspect is that of 715 missions, only 13.5 percent was devoted to the founding principle of the Air OP, artillery fire direction. The battlefield test of man and machine established the bona fides of the concept.[26]


[1] See page 13, Chapter II, “Air-Ground Training in 1942,” Army Ground Forces and the Air-Ground Battle Team, Including Organic Light Aviation, Study No. 35, by Colonel Kent Roberts Greenfield, Infantry Res.

[2] See page 19, Colonel Kent Roberts Greenfield, Inf. Res.

[3] See pages 180 and 181, Chapter 10, “After the Maneuvers Defects and Remedies,” The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, by Christopher Gabel.

[4] See page 73, Chapter 4, “Development of Doctrine at the Air Corps Tactical School,” History of the Air Corps Tactical School, 1920-1940, Studies No. 100, by Richard T. Finney.

This actually plays into the hands of the Field Artillery. Emerging from the struggle with the Army Air Corps/Army Air Forces for control of Cub aircraft enabled the breech-loaders to give the Army Ground Forces the control of tactical aerial assets to provide the “Close Support” needed; that of the field artillery.

[5] See page 31, “Operation Torch and Preparations for Overlord,” The Fighting Grasshoppers, by Ken Wakefield.

[6] See page 125, Chapter III, “The War Years: North Africa, Sicily and Italy,” The Army Aviation Story, by Richard K. Tierney with Fred Montgomery.

[7] See page 65, “November 1942, Operation: TORCH: Baptism of Fire,” Army Aviation, November 30, 2012, by Mark Albertson.

[8] “. . . October 1942, the War Department directed the Department of Air Training at Fort Sill to send ten pilots and ten mechanics to join the 13th FA Brigade, then training in England with II Corps prior to the North African invasion. This was the first overseas deployment of FA aviation personnel and the pilots making up this historic group were Captain Joseph M. Watson (in command), Captain J. Elmore Swenson, 1st Lieutenants Stanley A. Williamson, Thomas L. Hendrix, Jr. and Delbert L. Bristol, 2nd Lieutenants William D. Stephens and Gus M. Albert and Staff Sergeants Claude B. Allen, Jr., James S. Rengers and Walton C. Schoonover.

“. . . they were to become instructors at a new II Corps Air OP School being formed to train pilots and mechanics in England and, later on, in North Africa . . . accommodation was arranged at Tidworth, and a large polo field at nearby Perham Down . . .

“. . . in November 1942, . . . Captain Watson had been ordered to take an advanced detachment of the II Corps School to North Africa where it took up residence on a grass strip at Sidi-bel-Abbes.” See page 23, Chapter Five, “Early Days in the ETO, 26th January 1942-9th August 1943,” The Fighting Grasshoppers, by Ken Wakefield.

[9] See page 66, “In That Box is an Airplane,” Army Aviation, January 31, 1994, by Lieutenant Colonel Paynee O. Lysne (Ret.).

[10] See page 152, Chapter 5, “Initial Deployment and Combat in the North African and Mediterranean Theaters,” Eyes of Artillery: The Origins of Modern U.S. Army Aviation in World War II, by Edgar F. Raines, Jr.

[11] See page 67, Lieutenant Colonel Paynee O. Lysne (Ret.).

[12] See page 12, “History of Army Aviation,” Vol. 3, No. 6, U.S. Army Aviation Digest, June 1957, by William E. Vance.

[13] See page 25, Chapter Five, “Early Days in the ETO: 26th January 1942-9th August 1943, The Fighting Grasshoppers, by Ken Wakefield.

[14] See page 63, William F. Vance.

[15] See page 893, “Notes on Artillery Air Observation,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 33, No. 12, December 1943, by Captain James Edmonds, FA.

[16] The pilot/observer team maintains the basic arrangement relied upon in World War I. The equipment and technology improved; training of personnel improved; but, the idea of a single aviator, flying a plane and effecting coordinates, had yet to win many converts. But times change as does equipment and techniques. See pages 690 and 691, “The Use of the Observation Helicopter for Artillery Adjustment,” December 1962 edition of Army Aviation. Here Colonel Jack K. Norris, Commandant USAPHS, outlines the training of aviators who fly their helicopter and radio coordinates to the Field Artillery.

[17] See page 894, Captain James Edmonds, FA.

[18] See page 159, Chapter 5, “Initial Deployment and Combat in the North African and Mediterranean Theaters,” Eyes of Artillery: The Origins of Modern Army Aviation in World War II, by Edgar F. Raines, Jr.; see page 31, Chapter Six, “Operation Torch and Preparations for Overlord, 8th November 1941-31st January 1944,” The Fighting Grasshoppers, by Ken Wakefield; see pages 38 and 39, “The Army Aviation Story, Part VI, The War Years: North Africa, Sicily and Italy,” U.S. Army Aviation Digest, November 1962, by Richard K. Tierney.

[19] Operation: OVERLORD was the Allied codename for the June 6, 1944 Normandy operation.

[20] See pages 210 and 211, Chapter VIII, “Field Artillerymen in World War II: 1939-1945,” King of Battle: A Branch History of the U.S. Army’s Field Artillery, by Boyd L. Dastrup.

[21] See page 647, “El Guettar: March 25-April 8, 1943,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 33, No. 9, September 1943, by Colonel Douglas J. Page, FA.

[22] See page 130, Chapter III, “The War Years: North Africa, Sicily and Italy,” The Army Aviation Story, by Richard K. Tierney with Fred Montgomery.

[23] See page 48, Chapter II, “Artillery,” 4, Lessons Learned in Combat, November 7-8, 1942-September 1944: Algiers, Fandouk, Cassino-Anzio-Rome, Hill 609—Benevento, Civitavecchia, Volturno River, Cecina-Rosignano, Mt. Pantano, Livorno, Headquarters, 34th Infantry Division, APO 34, U.S. Army, September 1944, Italy.

[24] This was akin to the American Civil War, where Union Army commanders such as Generals Fitz-John Porter and George Stoneman would go aloft with Balloon Corps aeronauts for a bird’s eye view of enemy dispositions.

[25] See page 274, “Air Ops . . . , “ The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 34, No. 5, May 1944, by Major Edward A. Raymond, FA.

[26] See page 652, “Air OPs in Tunisia Campaign,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 33, No. 9, September 1943, by John E. Coleman.


Albertson, Mark, “Operation: TORCH: Baptism of Fire,” Army Aviation, Vol. 61, No. 11, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., November 30, 2012.

Coleman, John E., “Air OPs in the Tunisia Campaign,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 33, No., 9, U.S. Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., September 1943.

Dastrup, Boyd L., King of Battle: A Branch History of the U.S. Army’s Field Artillery, Office of the Command Historian, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, CMH Pub 70-27, Fort Monroe, Virginia, 1993.

Edmonds, Captain James, FA, “Notes on Artillery Air Observation,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 33, No. 12, U.S. Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., December 1943.

Finney, Robert T., History of the Air Corps Tactical School, Research Studies Institute, USAF Historical Division, Air University, 1955. Reprinted 1998, Air Force History and Museums Program, Bolling AFB, Washington, D.C.

Gabel, Christopher, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, Center of Military History, United States Army, CMH Pub 70-41-1, Washington, D.C., 1993.

Greenfield, Colonel Kent Roberts, Inf. Res., Army Ground Forces and the Air-Ground Battle Team Including Organic Light Aviation, Study No. 35, Historical Section, Army Ground Forces, Department of the Army, Chief, Army Field Forces, Fort Monroe, Virginia, May 17, 1948.

Liaison Aircraft With Ground Forces Units, Study No. 20, The General Board, United States Forces, European Theater, Office of the Chief of Military History, June 17, 1945. Property of US Army, US Army Center of Military History, Library, August 4, 1996.

“Lessons Learned in Combat, November 7-8, 1942-September 1944: Algiers-Fondouk, Cassino-Anzio-Rome, Hill 609-Benevento, Civitavecchia, Volturno River, Cecina-Rosignano, MT. Pantano, Livorno,” Headquarters, 34th Infantry Division, APO 34, U.S. Army, September 1944, Italy. CONFIDENTIAL. Regraded Unclassified, by authority of OSD memo of May 3, 1972 by D.A. Keough on April 22, 1983. Source: Charles L. Bolte papers, box 6, at the U.S. Army Military History Institute Library, Carlisle Barracks, Pensylvania.

Lysne, Lieutenant Colonel Paynee O., “In That Box is an Airplane,” Army Aviation, Vol. 40, No. 1, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., January 31, 1994.

Page, Colonel Douglas J., FA, “EL Guettar: March 25-April 8, 1943,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 33, No. 9, U.S. Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., September 1943.

Raines, Edgar F., Jr., Eyes of Artillery: The Origins of Modern U.S. Army Aviation in World War II, Center of Military History, United States Army, CMH Pub 70-31-1, Washington, D.C., 2000.

Raymond, Major Edward A., FA, “Air OPs . . . ,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 34, No. 5, U.S. Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., May 1944.

Tierney, Richard K., Part VI, “The Army Aviation Story: The War Years: North Africa, Sicily and Italy,” U.S. Army Aviation Digest, Fort Rucker, Alabama, December 1962.

Tierney, Richard with Montgomery, Fred, The Army Aviation Story, Colonial Press, Northport, Alabama, 1963.

Vance, William E., “History of Army Aviation,” U.S. Army Aviation Digest, Vol. 3, No. 6, Army Aviation School, Fort Rucker, Alabama, June 1957.

Wakefield, Ken, The Fighting Grasshoppers: U.S. Liaison Aircraft Operations in Europe, 1942-1945, Midland Counties Publications, Specialty Press, Stillwater, Minnesota, 1990.

Looking Back / Army Aviation, November 2022; By Mark Albertson


80th Anniversary of Army Aviation:
Combat Debut: Operation: TORCH

It was agreed between London and Washington that the Third Reich posed the greatest threat among the Axis Powers.[1]  Yet it was Japan which attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.  Hitler solved a potential dilemma by declaring war on the United States on December 11, 1941.  Therefore what had been, for the most part, a European war was now a global conflict, December 1941, then, is the turning point of what we call the Second World War.  Hitler’s defeat at Moscow and the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor changed the complexion of the entire conflict.

For the United States, then, the European Theater was the primary front.  In 1942, the Red Army was locked in a make or break struggle with the Wehrmacht in the decisive land campaign; one which would determine the course of the land war for the entire global conflict.  Concern here, of course, was if the Soviets with their manpower advantage, underrated industrial capacity and capable military leadership could turn the tide, then what was to stop the Soviet steamroller from crashing across Eastern, Central and Western Europe to the Channel.  It was imperative that Americans and British forces get onto the Continent.  June 6, 1944, Operation:  OVERLORD is repeatedly viewed as seeing the Western Allies serving Hitler his eviction notice from France and the Low Countries; a distressingly short-sighted view of a tremendous effort in planning, organization and execution.  The underlying essence of Normandy was to get boots on the ground to insure that Western Europe remained in the Allied camp following the demise of the Third Reich.  Hence the American, British, Canadian and Free French fighting men who valiantly risked life and limb on the beaches of France won the first big battle of the Cold War.[2]

But that was 1944.  In 1942, the American and British armies were not yet ready to take on the Wehrmacht on the Continent.  But an attack was necessary some place.  And that some place turned out to be North Africa.  By November 1942, General Bernard Montgomery had already defeated Rommel at El-Alamein and was pushing the Afrika Korps west across the Desert.  Anglo-American landings at Morocco and Algiers saw fit to get American troops ashore to gain some needed combat experience on a secondary front, in addition to flanking Hitler’s Fortress Europa.

Like the rest of the American contingent, Air OP flyers were going to get their first taste of combat.  Army Aviation was on its way.


* * * * *

The Western Allies opened the second front on land with the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa, known as Operation:  TORCH.[3]  The first great rollback of the Axis armies in the ETO[4] featured three prongs of attack:

  1. Troops of the Eastern Task Force, under the command of British Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson, were to hit the beaches at Algiers.[5]
  2. Ground forces of Center Task Force, commanded by Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall, were to storm ashore at Oran.  Both Eastern and Center Task Forces had sailed from Britain.
  3. The third prong of the attack had steamed from the United States.  Rear Admiral Kent H. Hewitt, flying his flag the heavy cruiser Augusta (CA-31), commanded 102 ships of Western Task Force.  Twenty-nine of these vessels were transports lifting 35,000 assault troops under the command of Major General George S. Patton, Jr.  The flamboyant tankman was to land his forces in and around Casablanca.

Attached to the Third Infantry Division were four pilots of the fledgling Air Observation Post.

TORCH was Army Aviation’s first time at bat against the Axis.[6]  In command of the little Air OP contingent was Captain Ford “Ace” Allcorn.  On October 10, 1942, Captain Allcorn—then at Fort Sill—was ordered to pack his bags and report to Camp Pickett, Virginia.  There Allcorn gathered his little command:  Captain Brenton A. Devol, Jr. and Lieutenants John R. Shell and William H. Butler.

ford ace allcorn

Ford “Ace” Allcorn led the first Air Observation Post squadron into combat, November 9, 1942, during Operation Torch.


The aviators were briefed by the artillery officer of 3rd Infantry Division; then, they were hustled aboard the destroyer Dallas (DD-199) for the dash to Bermuda to catch Hewitt’s task force.

Captain Allcorn and his men were piped aboard the aircraft carrier Ranger (CV-4).[7]  Aboard the flattop were three L-4 Piper Cubs, all in need of servicing.  Much of the crossing, then, was spent readying the flivver planes for action.  The power plants were serviced.  Fabric was patched and doped.  And the SCR-609 radios were installed.[8]

uss ranger cv 4 foldable stacks

USS Ranger (CV-4) which shuttled Ford’s little squadron of Grasshoppers to to French North Africa for Operation:  TORCH, November 1942.


cub atop uss ranger cv 4

 One of the three Cubs attached to Captain Ford Allcorn’s command sits atop the flight deck of USS Ranger (CV-4).


* * * * *

Early in the morning of November 8, troops of the Western Task Force stormed ashore at Safi, Casablanca and Point Lyautey.  Air cover was provided by Ranger[9] and four Sangamon-class escort carriers:  Sangamon (ACV-26), Suwanee (ACV-27), Chenango (ACV-28) and Santee (ACV-29).[10]

Early on the 9th, Allcorn and his men got set to take off.  Destination:  Fedala, where a racetrack had been prepared as a strip for flying artillery fire direction missions.

Sixty miles offshore, Ranger turned into the wind.  The flattop was plowing up the Atlantic at 25 knots.  Captain Allcorn was in the lead plane, followed by Lieutenants Shell and Butler.  Captain Devol rode shotgun aboard Butler’s plane.

william butler brenton devol jr

November 9, 1942, Lieutenant William A. Butler, pilot, and Captain Brenton A. Devol, Jr., getting ready to takeoff for French North Africa.

Bluejackets seized the tail of Allcorn’s Cub.  The aviator revved the Continental power plant.  Suddenly the tars let go.  The Cub shot forward, into the teeth of a 35-knot blow.  “I was in the air as soon as they let go,” said Allcorn.[11]

Allcorn circled the flattop, until Shell and Butler joined up.  The trio then pointed their noses for the coast, flying in an echelon right formation.

Altitude:  2,000 feet.

The flight was uneventful . . . that is, until three miles from the beach.  The aviators shifted to an echelon left formation.   Suddenly Brooklyn (CL-40) began winking like a Christmas tree.  A 5-inch 38-caliber round nearly took out Lieutenant Shell, bursting in the wake of his lumbering Cub.

Allcorn and his wing mates dived for the deck.  Other ships in the invasion force opened up.  Tracers whizzed round the Cubs like angry bees.  Flak puffs blossomed like flowers.

Allcorn wave hopped towards the beach.  Around him, bullets splashed.  A forest of geysers rose and fell.  About a hundred yards from the breaking surf, Allcorn brought the Cub round hard and raced along the beach.

Machine gunners from the 2nd Armored Division bracketed the intruder.  The Cub’s windscreen shattered, showering Allcorn with a hailstorm of glass shards.  Smoke belched from under the cowling, trailing off into the slipstream.

Vichy machine guns joined the raucous cacophony.  French slugs chewed the wings, underside and fuselage.  Pain shot up Allcorn’s right side, as bullets tore into his leg.

The beleaguered aviator found a spot, coaxed the mortally wounded Cub in and pancaked in a rush of broken gear, snapping struts and shredded fabric.

He hauled himself from the wreck, then dragged himself clear as the L-4 tore itself to bits in a paroxysm of smoke and flame.

Meanwhile Butler and Shell, together with Captain Devol had set down near Vichy lines and were taken prisoner.[12]  They were soon released and rejoined friendly forces.  Allcorn was helped by civilians to American lines.  The gallant aviator paid a hefty price for his brief passage in the history books:  The first Army Aviator to fly off a carrier; the first in combat; the first to be shot down and the first to be wounded.

uss ranger cv 4

Here is another photo of USS Ranger (CV-4).  Note how the stacks astern are folded down to accommodate wing clearance of aircraft, particularly when landing.  This design cue was borrowed from an earlier Japanese aircraft carrier, Hosho,  The Hosho, the first aircraft carrier in the Imperial Japanese Navy, completed in 1922, not only had flexible stacks, but featured mirrors and lights to assist pilots during takeoffs and landings.



From his hospital bed at Walter Reed, a convalescing Captain Allcorn explained to a member of General McNair’s staff that it was premature to even consider that the recent North African debacle spelled the end of the Air Observation Post concept.  He also dashed off a letter to Colonel William Wallace Ford, Director of Air Training, relating the series of events off Fedala.  In turn, Ford forwarded a copy of Allcorn’s analysis to General McNair.  The Ground Forces commander made sure a copy reached Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall’s desk.[13]

Colonel Ford’s analysis led him to conclude that there was a distinct lack of coordination with regards to communications and training between the Army and Navy.  For instance, Lieutenant Colonel John W. Hasborough, attached to the Field Artillery section of General Patton’s staff, was responsible for making sure that Allcorn’s little squadron was assigned to Ranger and then prepared to lift off the flattop at the proper time.  But it appears that precious little else was done once the Cubs had departed the carrier.[14]

Captain C.T. Durgin, skipper of Ranger, refused to break radio silence and alert the fire support forces off shore of the impending arrival of the Cubs.  As commander of the only fleet carrier available in the Atlantic, Captain Durgin was apparently taking no chances.  In consequence, those naval forces covering the beaches had no foreknowledge of Allcorn’s flight.  The gunnery officer aboard Brooklyn could not find the silhouettes in his aircraft recognition log.[15]

The lack of success of Army Aviation in its first time in action against the Germans fueled Hap Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces and a vehement opponent of organic aviation in the Ground Forces, and his attempts to halt the Air Observation Post and assume control of Ground Forces aviation.

But General Lesley J. McNair, commander of the Army Ground Forces, hardly proved so brittle.  After all, the Army Air Forces had indicated during the 1942 Joint Training Exercises that they were hardly in a position to assume the tactical needs required by the Ground Forces.  He knew the concern prevalent among the airmen was that of a rival air force developing in the Ground Forces.  No matter, despite the setback at Fedala, the Air OP aviators and crews would prove the concept in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.  This will enable Army Aviation to mature and grow.


[1]  See pages 41 and 42, Chapter 2, “The Requirement,” Writing the Victory Plan of 1941, by Charles E. Kirkpatrick.  “Roosevelt’s executive policy commitments to cooperate with the British began as early as January of 1938, when he permitted Anglo-American naval conversations.  Although he gave no guidance or explicit approval, the president also permitted the War and Navy departments to write new war plans—the Rainbow Plans—that envisioned war against the Axis Powers.  American officers conducted further discussions in London in August and September of 1940, and the work of that Anglo-American Standardization Committee established closer ties and the habit of consultation that culminated in American-British Staff conversations conducted between British and American staffs between January and March 1941 went further still.  It was these conversations that American military authorities agreed that Germany was the primary enemy in case of American intervention and that any eventual coalition would direct its efforts mainly against Germany with the goal of unconditional surrender.  As a corollary, the United States necessarily accepted the fact that it would have to contain the Japanese, should a two-front war develop, until the principal enemy was defeated.  Such a strategy was the only one that could guarantee the survival of Great Britain, a cornerstone of Roosevelt’s policy.”

[2]  After the Red Army’s hard won victory in Berlin in May 1945, Averill Harriman, American ambassador to the Soviet Union, in his capacity as the representative of his country’s interests in Moscow, duly congratulated Stalin for his nation’s great victory over Nazi Germany.  Instead of a simple thank you, the generalissimo looked at Harriman with a face as bland as the floor and replied, “Czar Alexander got to Paris.”  Implication here is clear:  Picture for a moment how the Cold War would have looked if T-34 tanks had reached the Channel.  Such was the underlying essence of OVERLORD.

[3]  An earlier plan for the invasion of French North Africa was codenamed GYMNAST.

[4]  ETO or European Theater of Operations.

[5]  On November 8, 1942, the assault troops of Eastern Task Force were commanded by Major General Charles Ryder, U.S. Army.  The following day, November 9, the Anglo-American ground forces fell under the command of Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson, British First Army.

[6]  Not only was TORCH the combat debut of Army Aviation, but for most of the soldiers and sailors of Western Task Force.  As recently as 1940, many in Hewitt’s command had been attending college, ushering in movie houses or jerking sodas.  Take the light cruiser Brooklyn (CL-40).  Of 65 officers aboard, half were reservists; with only nine able to boast of three or more years of experience.  Of 1,050 officers and ratings, half were going to sea for the first time, with the entire complement making its combat debut.

[7]  USS Ranger (CV-4), launched February 25, 1933, was the first American flattop designed as a carrier from the keel up.  Langley (CV-1) had been a converted coal collier, the JupiterLexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3) had been originally designed as battle cruisers.  In accordance with the limitations on naval armaments set forth by the Washington Naval Agreement of February 8, 1922, the pair’s construction as surface gun platforms ceased and both were converted to aircraft carriers.

[8]  SCR-609, AKA Signal Corps Radio 609 or Set Complete Radio 609, was a popular type found aboard Air OP aircraft.  There were hand-portable, frequency-modulated two-way communicators.  SCR series radios were used by the Field Artillery.  SCR-500 series radios were used by the Armored Forces.

[9]  USS Ranger was the only fleet carrier available for TORCH.  Lexington (CV-2) had been lost at the battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, 1942.  Yorktown (CV-5) had been lost at Midway, June 7, 1942.  Wasp (CV-7) took the deep six off Espiritu Santo, September 15, 1942, torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-15.  The gallant Hornet (CV-8), which had launched Doolittle’s Raiders on April 18, 1942, was lost at the battle of Santa Cruz Islands, October 26, 1942.  Saratoga (CV-3) and Enterprise (CV-6) were licking wounds incurred following battle actions in the Solomons; and, none of the new Essex-class flattops were as yet in commission.  Indeed, Essex (CV-9) would be commissioned, December 31, 1942.  Hence the Navy’s reliance on converted tanker hulls to supplement Ranger for TORCH.

[10]  Perhaps an explanation is in order here as to the Navy’s alphanumeric designation of the Sangamon-class baby flattops.  On February 14, 1942, the namesake of the class, Sangamon, was classified as an Aircraft Escort Vessel with the designation AVG-26.  Then on August 20, 1942, Sangamon was reclassified as an Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier with the designation ACV-26.  On July 15, 1943, Sangamon was classified as an Escort Carrier with the designation CVE-26.  But at the time of TORCH, Sangamon and her sisters were considered Auxiliary Aircraft Carriers with the alphanumeric designation beginning with ACV.

[11]  See page 36, “The War Years,” Part VI, The Army Aviation Story, by Richard K. Tierney.

[12]  See page 150, Chapter 5, “Initial Deployment and Combat in the North African and Mediterranean Theaters,” Eyes of Artillery:  The Origins of Modern U.S. Army Aviation, by Edgar F. Raines, Jr.  Raines offers that Butler and Devol had been captured by the Vichy French; while Lieutenant Shell managed to land his L-4 at the race track at Fedala.

[13]  See page 10, “Disaster off Casablanca:  Air Observation Post in Operation Torch and the Role of Failure in Institutional Innovation,” Air Power History, September 22, 2002, by Edgar F. Raines, Jr.

[14]  See page 7, “Disaster off Casablanca . . . ,” Edgar F. Raines, Jr.

[15]  Years after the war, Colonel Robert R. Williams engaged one of the naval gunnery officers of the covering force off Fedala.  When he posed the question as to why the ships’ gunners had opened fire on Allcorn’s flight, he was told that the L-4s were not in the aircraft recognition books.  The naval gunnery officer did admit, “that his assistant had said the planes looked like Cubs.”  But then he looked straight at Colonel Williams and asked, “Now, what would you have done in my place?  If you are sixty miles at sea and saw a Cub putting by, would you believe it?”  See page 125, Chapter III, “The War Years: North Africa, Sicily and Italy,” The Army Aviation Story, by Richard K. Tierney with Fred Montgomery.


Albertson, Mark, 70th Anniversary of Army Aviation:  “November 1942:  Operation:  TORCH, Baptism of Fire,” Army Aviation, Vol. 61, No. 11, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Monroe, Ct., November 30, 2012.

Atkinson, Rick, An Army at Dawn:  The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy, An Owl Book, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York, NY., 2002.

Jones, Vincent, Operation Torch:  Anglo-American Invasion of North Africa, Ballantine Books, New York, NY., 1972.

Kirkpatrick, Charles E., Writing the Victory Plan of 1941:  An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present, CMH 93-10, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1992.

Morison, Samuel Eliot, Operations in North American Waters, October 1942-June 1943, Vol. II, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2001.  Originally published in 1947.

Pawlowski, Gareth L., Flat-Tops and Fledglings:  A History of American Aircraft Carriers, Castle Books, New York, 1971.

Preston, Antony, Aircraft Carriers, Grosset & Dunlop, Inc., a Filmways Publisher, New York, 1979.

Raines, Edgar F., Jr., “Disaster off Casablanca:  Air Observation Posts in Operation Torch and the Role of Failure in Institutional Innovation,” Air Power History, Air Force Historical Foundation, September 2002.

Raines, Edgar F., Jr., Eyes of Artillery:  The Origins of Modern U.S. Army Aviation in World War II, CMH 70-31-1, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 2000.

Tierney, Richard K., Part VI, “The Army Aviation Story:  The War Years, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, U.S. Army Aviation Digest, Fort Rucker, Alabama, November 1962.

Tierney, Richard with Montgomery, Fred, The Army Aviation Story, Colonial Press, Northport, Alabama, 1963.

Watts, A.J., Japanese Warships of World War II, Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York, 1966.

Looking Back / Army Aviation, October 2022; By Mark Albertson

Sixty Years Ago:
The Howze Board

Part III

By Mark Albertson

* * * * *

1961, Clifton von Kann, recently named Director of Army Aviation, scheduled a briefing with Secretary McNamara on Army Aviation and the importance of tactical aerial assets for the Ground Forces.  “McNamara indicated that the briefing helped him to see Army Aviation in a new light and he requested additional paperwork.”[1]

A mover and shaker behind the scenes was Robert R. Williams, a West Point grad and member of the Class Before One and, the first Master Aviator.  Williams was, for all intents and purposes, a political insurgent for the Air Observation Post.

robert r williams

Robert R. Williams, one of the members of the Class Before One in 1942, would later become a post-1945 political insurgent working behind the scenes in the advancement of the Army Aviation movement.  Army Aviation could never have survived without such individuals working to advance the cause and did so by thinking and acting out-of-the-box.

Following the defeat of the Axis Powers, Williams was sent by the Army Air Forces to Europe, so as to cavass AAF officers and Ground Forces commanders with regards to the Army Ground Forces retaining their organic aerial assets.  “His report, suggesting the retention of organic liaison aircraft by the Army, was greeted with mixed reaction at the top Air Forces levels.  Some officers—General Hoyt S. Vandenburg for example—felt that such an arrangement would permit the Army to convert its aircraft into close support fighter-bombers and airlift craft; others, such as General Lauris Nordstad, felt that the atomic bomb had rendered the Army essentially irrelevant.”[2]

lauris norstad

Air Force General Lauris Norstad, who following 1945, thought that the strategic bombing force armed with nuclear ordinance virtually relegated Army ground forces to insignificance.  Such were among the threats to the Air Observation Post as it was evolving to become Army Aviation.

Williams, too, was on the McNamara staff and, from the inside, helped to channel the office of the Secretary of Defense towards nodding favorably in the direction of Army Aviation.  This resulted in a pair of missives penned by the Secretary of Defense on April 19, 1962:
1)  “Memorandum for the Secretary of the Army:  Subject:  Army Aviation,” And . . .
2)  . . . “Memorandum for Mr. Stahr.”

Both directives compelled the Secretary of the Army, Mr. Elivis J. Stahr, to proceed in the fashion outlined above.  The latter ordered the Army to take advantage of recent developments in technological advances in aviation to effect improvement in aerial tactical mobility, noting it as a “’bold new look’ at land warfare mobility,” while the former was a more general directive requiring the Army to effect positive changes in tactical mobility.[3]

This culminated, of course, in the Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, created by the United States Continental Army Command, May 3, 1962.  Total staff amounted to 199 officers, 41 enlisted and 53 civilians.[4]

Lieutenant General Hamilton H. Howze, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was pegged to chair what would to be commonly known as, the Howze Board.

Per the directive of General Herbert Powell, of the Continental Army Command, the final draft of the board’s findings was to be submitted to the Secretary of Defense by August 20 to accommodate Mr. McNamara’s deadline of September 1.  A caveat, here, though, was the voluminous nature of the report, which Howze questioned.  Department of the Army asserted that it should be able to fit neatly into an Army footlocker.  And, of course, 300 copies were required.  To fulfill such a paper chase, the printers at the Adjunct General Department stated that to produce 300 copies of a report that could fit into an Army footlocker demanded that it have the report no later than August 1, so as to accommodate the August 20 deadline.  So the window of constraint was quite obvious here.[5]

The Board consisted of a review committee, composed of 17 officers and five civilians; an advisory panel with two members and a secretariat.  Board secretary to General Howze was Colonel John Norton.  Within the body of the memorandum addressed personally to Secretary of the Army Stahr, were individuals named by Secretary of Defense McNamara, who would be on the review committee chaired by General Howze and/or the secretariat:  Besides Howze, Brigadier General Delk M. Oden, Brigadier General Walter B. Richardson, Colonel Robert R. Williams, the aforementioned Colonel John Norton, Colonel A.J. Rankin, Mr. Frank A. Parker, Dr. Edwin A. Paxson and Mr. Edward H. Heineman.[6]  In addition, the commanding general of The Infantry center, the special assistant to the Chief of Staff for Special Warfare and Brigadier General Edward L. Rowney of the 82nd Airborne Division, were attached to the review committee.  The Board would be settled at Fort Bragg in a school facility set aside as the headquarters.

Much of the work associated with the Tactical Mobility Requirements Board was done by seven working committees, from May 5 to June 21, 1962, and were as follows:  Operations Research; Field Tests; Tactical Mobility; Firepower; Logistics Operations and Logistics Support; Reconnaissance. Security and Target Acquisition; and, Programs, Policy and Budget.  On the heels of which were eight working groups, June 22 through July:  Logistics Forces; Combat Force; Counterinsurgency; Strategic Area; Operations Research; Long Range; Field Tests; concluding with programs, Policy and Budget.

General Howze was not only President of the Board, but Chairman of the Steering and Review Committee as well.  In addition to General Howze, seven other officers and six top level civilians originally composed the Steering and Review Committee.  These included Major General Ben Harrell, Major General William B. Rosson, Brigadier General John J. Lane, Brigadier General Delk M. Oden, Brigadier General Robert R. Williams, Colonel William M. Lynn, Jr., Dr. Jacob A. Stockfisch, Dr. Edwin W. Paxson, Eugene Vidal, Fred Wolcott, Frank A. Parker and Edward H. Heineman.  Mr. Parker, General Rowney and Colonel Lynn also served as chiefs of working committees.  Other senior board members (eventually added to the Steering and Review Committee) were named working committee chiefs—Major General Clifton von Kann, Major General Norman H. Vissering, Brigadier General Frederic W. Boye, Jr., and Brigadier General Walter B. Richardson.[7]

“The Air Force sent down a brigadier general to act as a monitor.  He was privileged to see all the tests and exercises and could interview anyone he chose, but we did not invite him to sit with the steering committee, and all the subcommittees were privileged to exclude him.  This, in retrospect, seems regrettable, but in some sensitive areas, frank debate would have alarmed the Air Force and that admirable establishment really needed no additional agitation.”[8]

Perhaps in an effort to foster better service relations, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Roswell L. Gilpatric, on May 8, 1962, that in support of Army efforts wanted to make sure that air transport was available when requested by the Board.  Such was a squadron of C-130s “which would provide the Air Force an opportunity to sell its services and capabilities.[9]

Howze further explains in his book, that in preparation Army Intelligence was petitioned for the latest intelligence on doctrine and capabilities of the Warsaw Pact forces as well as the People’s Republic of China.  Weapons experts, designers and scientists were vetted for weapons types expected for the period 1963-1975, including opinion from the newly minted Combat Developments Command.  Robert R. Williams was sent with a team to Southeast Asia to assess the potential of Army Aviation in such an environment.  And Army logistics experts, in accordance with civilian equivalents from a dozen aircraft companies to advise on the current capability of the Army aircraft support system and its potential.[10]

Howze added, that some 400 letters were posted to officers, those on active duty as well as to those who had retired, for their expertise.  Another 300 letters or more were forwarded to airframe, engine, armaments and electronic firms for their input, creating in essence, a reference source of unquestioned value, as well as being a sales pitch for companies to consider Army Aviation as a viable market.[11]

“Two agencies under contract with the Army, Research Analysis Corporation (RAC) and Technical Operations Incorporated (CORG), did studies and analysis for use as requested.  Rand Corporation and Stanford Research Institute provided several analysts and scientists for consultation and evaluation of committee work.”[12]

Computer simulations, together with actual field work, saw Airmobility challenged through four battle models:  A Warsaw Pact attack on Western Europe; versus Chinese Communist Forces in Asia (obviously the stalemate of the Korean War as still fresh in the minds of the planners); and, the blunting of threats to Africa as well as Central and South America.[13] And, of course, the Army’s choice of vehicle to carry forward Airmobility . . . the helicopter.

The Howze Board released its findings on August 20, 1962.  From the viewpoint of history, a fascinating perspective arises:  The Army’s attempt to base Airmobility on the helicopter during the 1960s as not too unlike the transition in mobility from the horse to the truck and tank, during the 1920s and 1930s.  However an important factor to appreciate here was that the United States was not the only power wrestling with mobility during that period leading up to the continuation of the 1914 conflict, sharing the stage with Germany, Britain and the Soviet Union. . .   Yet during the 1960s, American practitioners of Airmobility virtually wrote the book.  And the living embodiment of the criteria set forth by the Howze Board . . . the 11th Air Assault Division (Test).

* * * * *

11th Air Assault Division (Test)

The resolution of the Tactical Mobility Requirements Board set the stage for that next step in the quest to implement Airmobility.  Lieutenant General Hamilton H. Howze urged the conversion of the 82nd Airborne into that air assault division as projected by his committee.  He was overruled by Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, who instead authorized an expansion of Army personnel for fiscal year 1964, from 960,000 to 975,000.[14]

McNamara’s authorization would enable the new unit to be organized from scratch; and this would have come to naught, except, . . . there was that ingredient that made this stew palatable, everyone was basically on the same page—from Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara to Secretary of the Army, Elvis J. Stahr, to General Hamilton H. Howze to General Harry Kinnard and so on down the food chain.  Minus this continuity, victory at Ia Drang in 1965 would not have been possible.

* * * * *


[1]  See page 110, Chapter 5, “The Dynamics of Insurgency,” The Army Gets an Air Force, by Frederic A. Bergerson.

[2]  See pages 99 and 100, Frederic A. Bergerson.

[3]  To read both memorandums by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, see pages 39-42, “The 1962 Howze Board and Army Combat Developments,” by J.A. Stockfisch.

[4]  See page 15, J.A. Stockfisch.

[5]  See page 237, 19, “The Howze Board,” A Cavalryman’s Story, by Hamilton H. Howze.

[6]  See paragraph 4, page 1, “memorandum for Mr. Stahr,” April 19, 1962.

[7]  See page 21, Chapter 1, “The Growth of the Airmobile Concept,” Vietnam Studies:  Airmobility 1961-1971, by Lieutenant General John J. Tolson.

[8]  See page 239, Hamilton H. Howze.

[9]  See page 21, Lieutenant General John J. Tolson.

[10]  See page 239, Hamilton H. Howze.

[11]  See page 240, Hamilton H. Howze.

[12]  See page 240. Hamilton H. Howze.  See also page 17, J.A. Stockfisch, who notes CORG as representative of Combat Operations Research Group.

[13]  Below is a detailed exposition of the training objectives of the Howze Board as put forward by General Howze himself.  See pages 14 and 15, SIX:  “The Benefits to be Derived,” U.S. Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Final Report (U), 20 August 1962.

“The United States is faced with the possibility of fighting one or more of four varieties of hostile ground forces:

“- A modern army (the Soviet, reinforced by European Satellite armies) whose primary characteristics are great size, a large inventory of heavy combat vehicles and artillery, and a capability to employ nuclear and chemical weapons.

“- An Oriental army (Communist Chinese, Vietminh, North Korean or a combination of two of these) characterized by large size, relative unsophistication, great foot mobility, and an association with the area not enjoyed by US forces.

“- Insurgents, such as the Viet Cong, who achieve strength not from modern weapons but from foot mobility, elusiveness, difficulty of identification, surprise, and the sympathy or fear of the local populace.

“- Other forces (Africa, Middle Eastern, Latin American) likely to resist the execution of existing STRAC contingency plans.

“The alternative 3 Army will have an unusual flexibility of response to any likely demands for the application of land combat power, and a much improved effectiveness in execution.

“- Better deployability of airmobile forces will permit faster reaction by the general reserve.

“- Improved tactical mobility will provide the best foreseeable chance of coping with the largely unknown contingencies of the land battle in an atomic war.

“- Greater mobility will improve the chances of success of the detection, screening and delay missions charged to the cavalry regiments which, in Germany, form the forward fringes of the ‘shield.’

“- A highly mobile counterattack reserve, strong in anti-tank weapons, will, in Europe, serve as a most valuable counter to strong Soviet armored thrusts,

“- Airmobile US units will provide the most effective augmentation to friendly indigenous forces fighting Communist armies in Southeast Asia or Korea, not only by reason of their freedom from local limitations to surface transportation but also because their extreme mobility will permit a flexibility of employment much to be desired, perhaps as a counterattack reserve or as a blocking or enveloping force.

“- Whatever the difficulties of detection and identification, airmobile forces have the best chance of surprising and eradicating guerrilla forces, and at the same time stand to suffer fewer losses due to ambush of combat and supply columns.

“- Two of the three CONUS-based air assault divisions will retain the ability to conduct parachute assault in execution of contingency plans, but will also (by incorporation of additional aircraft in their structures) have far better means to accomplish the missions set by those plans.

“- There are also corollary benefits, of which one only is worth mentioning here:  the incorporation of the concept of modern tactical mobility into the Army will have an enormously vitalizing effect on its whole structure, and this in turn cannot fail to strengthen our national reaction to whatever challenges the future may hold.”

Lieutenant General, USA

[14]  See page 26, J.A. Stockfisch.

* * * * *

Bibliography for Series

Barks, Lieutenant Colonel, Phillip B., United States Air Force, Anything But:  Joint Air-Ground Training at the U.S. Ground Combat Training Centers, Joint Forces Staff College, Joint Advanced Warfighting School, Norfolk, Virginia, 2009

Bergerson, Frederic A., The Army Gets an Air Force:  Tactics of Insurgent Bureaucratic Politics, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 1980.

Givens, Adam Thomas, The Air Close to the Trees:  Evolution and Innovation in U.S. Army Assault Helicopter Units During the Vietnam War, Wright State University, 2011.

Horwood, Dr. Ian, Interservice Rivalry and Airpower in the Vietnam War, Combat Studies Institute Press, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2006.

Howze, Hamilton H., A Cavalryman’s Story, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1996.

Oden, Brigadier General Delk M., Director of Army Aviation, ODCSOPS, Vol. 11, No. 5, Dorothy Kesten, Publisher, Westport, Ct., May 1962.

Olinger, Mark, “Conceptual Underpinnings of the Air Assault Concept:  The Hogaboom, Rogers and Howze Boads,” Land Warfare paper No. 60W, The Institute of Land Warfare, Association of the United States Army, Arlington, Virginia, December 2006.

MacGrath, John D., Fire for Effect:  Field Artillery and Close Air Support in the U.S. Army, Combat Studies Institute Press, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2010.

Rawlings, Lieutenant Colonel Morris G., “Army Aviation 1970,” Vol. 11, No. 1, Army Aviation, Dorothy Keston, Publisher, Westport, Ct., January 1962.

Stahr, Honorable Elvis J., Secretary of the Army, “Army Flying is Not an End in Itself,” Vol. 11, No. 4, Dorothy Kesten, Publisher, Westport, Ct., April 1962.

Stockfisch, J.A., The 1962 Howze Board and Army Combat Developments, RAND, Santa Monica, California, 1994.

Tolson, Lieutenant General John J., Vietnam Studies:  Airmobility, 1961-1971, Center of Military History, CMH Pub 90-4, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 1973.

U.S. Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Final Report (U), 20 August 1962, U.S. Army Military Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

Von Kann, Major General Clifton, USA, Final Report of the Working Committee II, Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, Fort Benning, Georgia, 23 June 1962

Weinert, Richard P, Jr., A History of Army Aviation, 1950-1962, TRADOC Historical Monograph Series, Office of the Command Historian, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia, 1991.

Williams, Dr. James W., A History of Army Aviation, iUniverse, Inc., New York, Lincoln, Shanghai, 2005.