Since the beginning of time military commanders have been notorious for advocating for their particular branches of service regardless of what make the best sense strategically. Until the Wright brothers invented the motor-powered airplane, such epic internal battles were fought between the Army and the Navy (and Marines). Heading into World War II, many top brass associated with the flying arms of the services argued for a separate Air Force that was not under the auspices of any land-based forces. Lt. Comdr. Lincoln, a retired naval man at the time, lays out his case for why air maneuvers should remain within the command of the Navy as well as of the Air Force. We now know how that challenge eventually played out with the Navy still retaining its own air operations and the Army having yielded, for the most part (except helicopters and a few close support airplanes), to the Air Force.
The Case Against an Independent Air Force
In September Flying Aces, Arch Whitehouse wrote that "We Must Build An Independent Air Force!" and gave many poignant arguments for it. And here is presented the other side of that important controversial issue, by a man who also should know.
by Lieut. Comdr. Preston S. Lincoln, U.S.N.R. (Ret.)
Britain's R.A.F. is a separate unit, but Commander Lincoln believes that such an organization is unnecessary here. He states that because our problems are different from those in Europe there is no reason for taking the Naval and Army air services away from the branches they serve.
What follows is wholly the writer's personal opinion, and in no way assumes to speak officially for either the Army or the Navy.
When mobs fight ashore or afloat, they follow no rules except to hit the first head that is handy; and while war between trained forces on land, sea, or in the air may be a "roughhouse," it is carried on according to certain rules which come under the heading of Strategy. All useful military, naval, or air force operations have a purpose, determined by Strategic considerations and conducted by methods which are called Tactics.
Before undertaking any operation, War Colleges teach their students to make a detailed estimate of the situation - that is, what has to be done, what forces are available to do it, what the enemy is likely to have to oppose us, and what he is likely to do, and what is our best plan for overcoming him and accomplishing our mission. In other words, every skillful commander tries to get the whole picture in mind, so that all forces engaged shall cooperate better.
When infantry, cavalry, and artillery have to work together, or with air forces or ship, Unity of Command is vitally necessary and very hard to get, but it is the secret of success in all operations between forces of different kinds. This has been the secret of German success in working air and ground forces together. To get unity, Hitler required ground force officers who looked for promotion to fly as observers or pilots. Moreover, all German aviators have to be trained soldiers or seamen first and the German General Staff and ground force commanding officers give orders to air units in the field, instead of the Luftwaffe officers running the show.
To claim that our Air Service should direct ground or sea operations would be a case of the tail trying to wag the dog, even if we eventually attain an air strength of 50,000 planes. Also, until we have made good on our preparedness problem, it would seem wiser not to create further confusion by organizing an Independent Air Force. It is unfortunately hard enough now to attain Army-Navy cooperation for joint operations because the two services have so, few chances of training together. To make the Air Service independent of both would not merely treble the difficulty of joint action; it would make it almost impossible to secure.
To make such a radical change in our military-naval organization would endanger our national defence for at least a year, while the new set-up was getting shaken down, and give Hitler a wonderful chance to strike while our forces were disorganized. A poor organization efficiently used is more successful than a fine organization that is not in condition for efficient use.
Furthermore, an Independent Air Force would involve more overhead in buildings, duplication of existing Army and Navy medical, accounting-supply, and design-inspection facilities, and inevitable complications and friction over problems of design and training between the new Air Force and the Army and Navy. All the advantages of such a force can be secured by concentrating the combat, ground-strafing, and bombing planes of the Army in a Headquarters Air Force and bringing the scouting and artillery-spotting planes into closer liaison with the ground troops they serve. Naval Aviation, however, should be left in the Navy.
The Navy is most assuredly our first-line of defence, and its air forces are a vital part of its present strength and efficiency. To put its air personnel and equipment under the command and administration of another Department violates one of the most fundamental principles of Strategy. Aviation personnel operating with the Navy must be under Naval command, training, and Administration to be effective. They must be Naval officers or seamen before they are aviators or aircraftsmen, because of the conditions under which Naval Aviation operates aboard ship or with ships in the patrol-bombers.
"Patrol boats are from their vary function built differently from Army bombers of equal size," says Mr. Lincoln. This Navy Consolidated PBY-1 is a good case example.
The same is true as to Naval aircraft design, because planes which fly off or land on carriers are built stronger and more compactly than those which can land on a field and be stored in a hangar. Some of them even have to have their wings fold back so they can be stowed in carrier hangars, while planes that are launched from catapults have to be built especially for this work.
Having served with the Royal Naval Air Service and kept in touch with one officer at Felixstowe after the organization of the RAF, the writer knows something of why the British Air Forces were consolidated and how the job worked afterward. The R.N.A.S. was equipped with low-ceiling flying-boats and seaplanes that could not get up to the heights at which German Zepps and bombers flew, while few R.F.C. pilots were trained in instrument flying so they could go out over the North Sea and return safely.
In an effort to attain Unity of Command and action against bombing raids from the Continent, the British Government "scrambled" the RNAS and the RFC to produce the hybrid RAF.
As a matter of fact, the British actually have three Air forces, the Fleet Air Arm (trained and controlled by the Navy) an Army Air Service (to scout and spot for artillery fire, etc.) and the Royal Air Force (which includes a combat unit to defend England against bombing raids, a ground strafing force to attack troops, a torpedo plane force to aid in coast defence, and a bombing force to attack overseas objectives and police its colonies in Asia and Africa) .
Furthermore, the fact that Germany and England find an Independent Air Force satisfactory is no reason for taking our Naval Air Service and Army Air Corps away from the forces they serve because our Strategic and Tactical problems are different from those of European powers.
The British had to restore Navy and Army air units to surface training and control to secure efficiency for naval and military operations. Their Parliamentary debates and service journals frequently favor our system over their own and it seems significant, also, that Japan follows our separate system instead of the British-German organization.
Airlines tell manufacturers what they want ships to do, declares our author, and then the builders try to fill the bill. There is no nonsense about consolidating companies.
Incidentally, the German Navy in the First World War favored airships, which were as much a part of the Navy as its submarine. The present German Air Force has been built up from the Army during the past ten years, and every man in it was trained as a soldier before he qualified as an aviator. It is in this way that Hitler and Goering have assured understanding and Unity of Command between ground and air forces.
The U.S. Navy trains its personnel to be seamen as well as aviators, for you cannot have passengers aboard warships. Even the Marines afloat form part of the ship's complement and have to man part of the battery and take care of their part of the ship, while Marine officers have to know how to stand watch just as Naval officers do.
The closest possible coordination of military, naval, and air forces is highly desirable. The way to accomplish this, however, is not by creating a third Service but by encouraging or even requiring officers of each arm and service to know more about the other arms and services. In the United States Army, because of its specialization into arms and Departments, few regimental officers have the opportunity to know enough of the functions, operating technique, and limitations of the other military arms and Departments; and still fewer Army and Navy officers have opportunity to know the work of the other Service by observation.
The German Luftwaffe certainly did a thorough job on the much smaller Polish, Dutch, and Belgian Air Forces and armies and the supposedly, equal French Armée de l'Air. It was not able, however, to prevent the British from evacuating their forces from Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Northern France through Dunkerque. The failure of the British Expedition to Norway was not the fault of the forces engaged, but of Chamberlain Cabinet bungling. It held back its Naval forces when they wanted to take Bergen and sent inadequate army and air forces to lock the stable door after the Trojan Horse was in the barn. Admiral Kerr testified in Parliament that he was not allowed to push action when it would have counted most.
Commander Lincoln argues that Air Corps bombers should work in direct cooperation with the ground forces and should be under their control. This would be impossible in an Independent Air Force, and therefore all Unity of Control would be lost by the Army General Headquarters.
If the specifications of aircraft had nothing to do with their functions, there might be some merit in letting pilots design the ships they fly; but where planes have to be used with ground forces or ships, then the heads of the ground forces or the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics should have the say about the design and performance of such planes, which are now procured and built under the supervision of a joint Board. It is noteworthy in this connection that the airlines tell the aircraft builders what they want planes to do, and the manufacturers then try to produce such ships.
It might be advisable to move coastal aircraft factories into the interior of the United States, though bombers from Mexico, South America, or Canada could now reach them even there. Such a move, however, would require the transfer of many thousands of skilled employees and their families and a complete reorganization of facilities for transporting materials used in building aircraft. Moreover, to move existing factories now would disrupt production more than to try protecting them where they are, though to build new factories inland would be wise if skilled labor and adequate manufacturing-transportation facilities can be provided in the areas where Mr. Whitehouse would place them.
I will not undertake to discuss the Army attitude toward enlisted men as pilots, but I can say that the Navy has had many enlisted pilots and even some carrier squadrons manned by them. The most famous of these is, or was, Fighting Squadron Two (VF-2) whose insignia was an Aviation Chief Petty Officer's rating badge with the motto of Ceasar's Legions. "Adorimini," which in free translation means "Up and at 'em."
In the Navy, before Pensacola graduates were sent to the Fleet after graduation, enlisted men were used as pilots because there was an acute shortage of qualified aviators. Now, enlisted men who have the education and ability are sent to Pensacola and trained for commissions with Annapolis graduates and Aviation Cadets.
The Army system of promotion by seniority and separation into Arms tends to conservatism. It also tends to lack of knowledge, not only of the functions of aircraft and of naval types and operations, but even of other branches of the Army. This is not the case in the Navy-Marine Corps, however, because promotion in them is by selection. Navy line officers are trained in all Naval combatant services, as well as in marine and electrical engineering, and many junior officers study Strategy, military and naval operations.
Latest addition to the U.S. Navy carrier fleet is the "U.S.S. Wasp." Our author writes that these floating airdromes are commanded by officers with aviation knowledge and not pure Naval commanders. Also, he says that sailors aboard these ships receive air-cooperation training.
It would be better indeed, if Army officers, especially aviators, could go to sea as observers of Naval operations, or practice more joint operation problems with it. In the Navy, at least, every Midshipman is given elementary aviation training at the Naval Academy. Also all Naval Reserve aviators get duty afloat after graduating from Pensacola, so they can understand the relation between sea and air service. Marine Corps officers know the work of soldiers and seamen and many are also aviators.
Most Naval officers of Command and Flag rank today are thoroughly air minded, and the writer has yet to meet a Naval aviator who favors merging the Naval Air Service in an Independent Air Force. This writer does not know how far Army aviation is under control of ground officers, but aircraft carriers and Naval Air Stations must be headed by qualified Naval aviators or observers, so that kiwis do not command flyers in the Navy.
Finally, the present war has shown the need of many and great improvements in the organization, armament, and training of our national forces; but an Independent Air Force would be a dangerous backward move for us, for Strategic, Tactical, and economic reasons.
Editor's Note: Commander Lincoln began his career with Naval aviation as a lieutenant (jg) USNRF attached to the Royal Naval Air Service at Felixstowe, England, in February-March, 1918. Later he tested the various British defense and offense systems at the U. S. Naval Air Station, Le Croisic, which guarded St. Nazzaire, France, in April-May, 1918. He taught these systems to U. S. Naval aviators in France at the Naval Air School, Moutchic-Lacanau (Gironde), during the summer. Mr. Lincoln later trained Aviation-Intelligence-Operations officers for the U. S. Naval Air Stations in France, England and Ireland. He ended his war service as an organizer and Director of Intelligence-Operations (anti-submarine and convoy protection work) at the U. S. Naval Headquarters at Brest, France.
After returning to the United States in 1919, Mr. Lincoln was promoted to Lieutenant, Naval Reserve Flying Corps. And after helping to develop Navy Department interest in reviving Naval Reserve aviation in the First Naval District in 1923, he taught Aerial and Marine navigation at the Squantum, Mass., Naval Reserve Air Station Ground School in 1925, 1926 and 1927. He was then advanced in rank to Lieutenant Commander.
Posted September 12, 2015