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
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
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
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
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
Posted September 12, 2015