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General Discussion

Q. Benis M. Frank, USMC Historical Center. Walt, you stimulated my curiosity when you talked about the conflict that I never thought about; that about the tactical air and the strategic air components in the Air Force. Can you discuss that conflict a little bit more?

A. Walton S. Moody. In fact, let me get to the end of the story first, as it looks, say, in the 1950s. As Frank Futtrell, who discusses Air Force history in the 1950s and Air Force doctrine, points out, what really in the end happened to the Tactical Air Command was, to use the Air Force term at the time, that it was "SACumsized" and became a miniature SAC with atomic weapons and a clear understanding that what it had was essentially a strike mission. And, indeed, this raised the question of repeated proposals that the SAC attack should be confined. Most of the real problem, as I see it, was institutional. One of the things you have to understand in terms of Air Force thinking is between close air support, which tactical air people always considered unimportant, and tactical air in the larger sense, which involves a lot of other things too. The tactical air people, as you hinted, found themselves a voice crying in the wilderness in those years, when budgets were so badly cut back, and, as I pointed out, tactical air was folded into the Continental Air Command. But it very much came into its own in the Korean War. One of the things that they stressed was limited war theories and rapid deployment to local crises--general purpose force functions--as the kind of thing which they continued to demonstrate. One of the things they did a lot of in the 1950s was to try to demonstrate a rapid deployment capability so that short-range aircraft could operate in a particular local area. What they really took from SAC, most of all I think, was the sense of SAC having set the model for a serious professional course. That, plus the sense of a tactical atomic strike plan. And there are a lot of complications in that, but I think that's really how the thing came out. In a larger Air Force, where there was more money for the Air Force, they were able to do a lot of things which when you have a very tight budget, say, in 1949, they were not able to do.

A. Herman S. Wolk. I might add then that the issue blew up again very strongly in the Air Force in 1957. General Thomas D. White had just become the Chief of Staff. He appointed a McConnell Board, which really recommended that the Tactical Air Command be abolished and that the resources go to the strategic Air Command. That recommendation was turned down. One of the first big decisions that he made as Chief of Staff was not only to continue the Tactical Air Command but to strengthen it. The whole issue which Jeffrey pointed to, which is the key to the whole story, is the targeting question--the question of strategic targeting--between the Navy and the Air Force. It was settled in an institutional way in 1959 by a [former] Navy man by the name of Thomas Gates, as Secretary [of Defense], when he formed the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff in Omaha. The Commander in Chief of SAC was the director and a Navy vice admiral was the deputy director. Gates always felt that was the most important solution he ever came up with.

Q. Charles Haberlein, Naval Historical Center. Jeff, in your work on the Navy's plans for the development of four carrier task forces, is there any evidence at all that they had any knowledge of the actual state of the [atomic] stockpile?

A. Jeffrey G. Barlow. They did not. At this time that information was so closely held that there were very few people within OPNAV who had any understanding of the size of the nuclear stockpile. Restricted Data, under the original Atomic Energy Act, was so closely held that it was only in the early 1950s and with the change in the act that the information began to be passed out to people with a need to know. With regard to that, you had a similar situation with the Air Force. Very few of the Air Force people, at this time, had much knowledge about the stockpile.

Q. Haberlein. Inaudible.

A. Barlow. This is an important point. Up to this time, JCS thinking on atomic weapons was oriented around the scarcity [of nuclear material for atomic weapons]. That is, it had been very difficult and expensive up to this time to provide the materials for the weapons; so that the number of weapons increased at a very slow and gradual rate, from a handful of weapons in the stockpile, until by the 1948 period, there were about 50 complete weapons [nuclear cores plus an equal number of non-nuclear assemblies] stockpiled. The view within the Air Force was largely that there was going to continue to be scarcity of fissionable material and therefore a scarcity of weapons until some point much farther in the future than the Navy thought would be the case. The Navy was feeling, even at this point, that these smaller weapons were going to be coming along and that smaller weapons, using a lesser amount of fissionable material more efficiently, would enable more weapons to be fabricated and placed in the stockpile. What we had accomplished in the SANDSTONE tests in 1948 proved that smaller amounts of material could produce larger explosions. [The SANDSTONE tests were tests of alternate weapons designs that proved that a smaller amount of material could indeed produce nuclear explosions of a similar or even larger size than those produced by a larger amount of fissionable material in the original Fat Man bomb design.] So from early 1949 on there was the possibility of a rapid increase in the number of weapons in the stockpile.

Q. Jack Shulimson, USMC Historical Center. I think both Jeff and Mike made the point that we are living in the post-Mahanian age. Walt made the point that Forrestal, in his "balanced forces," called for the need to seize and defend forward bases in any naval campaign. I might point out that at the height of the Mahanian era in 1900, the General Board of the Navy charged the Marine Corps with the specific mission to seize and defend advanced bases from which the fleet could carry out the naval campaign. So, although we are living in revolutionary, so-called eras of change, history has also continued. I think that we need to keep that in mind.

Q. Frederick Shiner, Office of Air Force History. Jeff, I have a number of questions that revolve around one thing--planning. It seems that a lot of what you mention concerns the best estimates of weapons available, the size of weapons, and so forth. I wonder, in some of the planning where you said that for strategic attack with nuclear weapons they were talking about a range of the aircraft as around 750 miles but for nonnuclear strikes there was a greater distance. Or did I misunderstand that?

A. Barlow. Perhaps I may have said something that made you misunderstand.

Q. Shiner. I may have gotten it backwards. Maybe it's that nuclear strikes required greater range than the conventional munitions. Does this have anything to do with thinking in terms of one-way missions with nuclear strike materials or does this revolve around the idea that we would get smaller nuclear weapons? Because we were talking about the size of the nucs used during World War II, through the test stage, as you mention, weighed 10,000 or more pounds. To haul something like that would prevent them having the kind of range they had later.

A. Barlow. That's a very good point. The Navy was planning its ADR-42, which was its longest-range attack aircraft, for a 1,700-nautical-mile radius. That is 1,700 nautical miles out and 1,700 nautical miles back, carrying a 10,000-pound weapon. So, the planning in fact up through the early 1950s continued to revolve around the 10,000-pound weapon. For example, the A3D, which didn't come into the fleet until 1956, had been built around this 10,000-pound weapon. So, they were not thinking of one-way missions. They did talk in some of the planning documents about shuttle bombing; that is, given the total range of the ADR-42--which was estimated to be 4,000 nautical miles they thought, for example, an aircraft could take off from a carrier in the Bering Sea, overfly its target, and then land on a carrier in the Mediterranean, or visa versa. So, they were talking in terms of shuttle bombing, but not one-way missions at that point. If they had been willing to do one-way missions, of course, the range would have been greatly extended, given that the total range of the ADR-42 was 4,000 nautical miles.

Q. Diane Putney, Air Force history. It seems that from the force figures, strategy in the postwar period was developed based on historical experience--how each of the services fought in World War Il--and also on technological developments and budget constraints. I think perhaps this was because there was no consideration prior to, lets say 1949, when the Soviets exploded their own atomic bomb, of any real feel for or understanding of what we call the threat. That our strategy prior to 1949 was not really based on the threat or any threat or good estimates of our main adversary. Is this correct? And from your perspective that you rarely saw any good evidence of what we are planning against--[was] our strategy based on the threat?

A. Wolk. The Air Force strategy was an offensive strategy. The Air Force paid lip service to one of the main missions of defense of the United States; and there was an air defensive mission but it just about sank out of sight. I'm not familiar specifically with the numbers of the intelligence estimates of the time, but you can find reference in the documents to the threat. There was the big period in which the polar threat was number one. And there is a kind of sub-literature in the documents pointing to the threat, but it's not put in the terms of a contemporary formulation of the threat like an NIE [National Intelligence Estimate]. But, it is talked about.

A. Moody. To me, there is considerable discussion of the threat at this time. It may be that what's happened is that there was a certain amount of agreement as to the nature of the threat. Part of the problem, of course, being at the time that there was a real question of exactly what we did know. But in the planning documents the threat is discussed. Forrestal's vision of national strategy was based on the sense that you had this land power that seemed to be capable of projecting that land power over considerable distances. You look at the plans; they have the Russians on the English Channel at D-plus such-and-such. They are at the Pyrenees or they're on the Aegean at D-plus so-and-so. They are all over the place. I think this did drive, in the sense we heard the discussion of the Kola Peninsula--things like this. They could be all over the world within a matter of 2 months. There is a sense that sometimes, I think, not so much intelligence data, as such, but an assumption of what the threat must be; of what kind of strategy the Soviets would be thinking of. I think it's there; it's just partly because of the nature of the way that things get discussed--that it's often assumed but not actually stated in documents for wider circulation. And also to a certain extent it's assumed. When I looked at my own text here, as Ed was talking about the nature of the Soviet threat, as it was perceived, in his opening remarks, I thought to myself there's some stuff I could take out of my comments. I don't have to lay the context of the existing threat. But, I think it [the threat] was there and it was a very important part of a lot of the planning discussions.

A. Michael A. Palmer. If you look at the Navy plans, it gets very real. Probably we didn't mention it; we all just assumed it. One of the Navy's initial problems in its war plans was to carry out its early war missions, which were seen in relation to the threat as covering forward bases in the British Isles and Japan, that the Air Force would need to launch its bombing campaign covering the evacuation of the Army from places like Korea and Western Europe. We assumed the Soviets would drive us from the continent and that figured into the Navy's strategic plans. These would be some of the early missions. There was almost the assumption that the Soviets with their hordes of troops would overrun all of Eurasia, except maybe a few places in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. And then we need a way to get them out of there. And, of course, the way to get them out of there is principally with the strategic air forces bombing the hell out them until they give up and go home. Then finally, somewhere along the way, we mobilize the forces of the "arsenal of democracy" and march into the Soviet Union. It is a real threat--again a potential threat. Most of the intelligence concludes that the Soviets are not likely to attack. Nevertheless, they maintain the resources, and there is always the possibility that some crisis will provoke a war in which they'll be unleashed, and we need to be prepared for that.

A. Barlow. The threat against the continental United States was considered to be relatively negligible in the time prior to the Soviet explosion of an atomic device. As both Walt and Mike noted, the threat they were planning against was the threat of the Soviets overrunning Eurasia, particularly Western Europe. And one of the differences between the Navy and the Army/Army Air Forces, and later the Army and the Air Force, was over the question of whether the Mediterranean could be held. The Navy was very interested in keeping sufficient forces in the Mediterranean, including deployed carrier forces, to maintain a foothold there and particularly to save the Middle East oil fields, so it would be much easier to get back on the continent of Europe than it would be otherwise. So, this was the problem. The point I think you were making very clearly was that it was a negligible threat as far as the threat to the continental United States was concerned. That was because of two factors: 1) the Soviets were known to have a relatively limited number of TU-4 BULL bombers, which was their copy of the B-29, based on U.S. B-29s interned in the Soviet Union during the war; and 2) using conventional bombs--on one-way missions, the Soviet-version B-29s were considered able to get to peripheral areas of the continental United States--but using conventional weapons, such attacks would have practically negligible effects, in terms of damage. It was only once the introduction of Soviet atomic weapons came about that one-way missions, even with limited numbers of relatively obsolete aircraft, were considered to be a significant threat.

Q. Herschel Kanter, Institute for Defense Analysis. It sounds like what was absent is [analysis of] Soviet technology for air defense, for air defense fighters, other air defense. It sounds like the Soviet target system was worried about and the threat to the United States. But, if you were developing weapons for 5 and 10 years out, that you ought to be concerned with was what the Soviet weapons, at that time, would be. For anybody.

A. Moody. Both the Harmon Report and the WSEG (Weapons Systems Evaluation Group] Report based a great deal of concern about the Soviet air defense threat and exactly how many of the bombers would get through. Certainly, if you look at the planning documents--very high [attrition], depending on the time of year and timing factors--that they can envision very high attrition rates, even given the technology of the late 1940s. And this remains an important concern throughout. Part of the argument about the size of the stockpile is usually based on projected attrition rates. And, some of the controversy was over what precisely was the nature of the air defense threat?

A. Barlow. This was the major concern involved in the whole "Revolt of the Admirals." The Navy's view of the B-36 versus the Air Force view of the B-36--over its ability to penetrate Soviet air space--was based on differing conceptions of what the state of the art was with Soviet air defense. The Navy was less conservative than the Air Force at that time about what the Soviets were capable of doing. The Air Force was saying it was a relatively minor problem once one breached the periphery of the Soviet Union, until you got right over the heavily defended target. The Navy was saying that overall, you are going to have severe problems. And so, what one saw in the "Revolt of the Admirals" is people such as Admiral Arthur Radford advocating the B-47, the all-jet bomber, even though it was much shorter-legged than the B-36, because they said it had much higher speed over the target, which is going to provide much greater survivability.

Q. Martha L. Crawley, National Archives. After 1949, what was the role of the NATO allies in strategy, particularly the Royal Navy?

A. Palmer. The British role and the NATO role was to carry out their kind of forward offensive strategy. Often, the effort would have been handled by the Royal Navy and the United States Navy. As a matter of fact, in 1949, the [U.S.] Navy's [strategic] intentions in high discussions were restricted at the highest levels to only the Royal Navy and the Dutch ([in matters] in [connection with] the Far East). Not all the NATO naval powers were privy to the discussions. We really handled it. We and the British, the Canadians, and the Dutch.

Q. Crawley. Were they concerned about the survivability of these forces?

A. Palmer. Certainly. They had the results of the BIKINI tests and the other tests. They knew what the consequences [of atomic attack] would be. Disperse them. If possible, change their design to ride out the atomic attack. They were always studying the survivability of the carrier battle group and surface forces, in general. And they went backwards and forwards in what they saw as the major threat. Sometimes it was submarines, sometimes Soviet aircraft--a variation. But they always came to the conclusion that while surface forces were vulnerable, if properly formed with proper assets, if handled confidently, they could weather the Soviet submarine or air threat and survive and go on and conduct its mission. Had they not had that confidence, they would have changed their operational concepts.

Q. Crawley. Mainly what you're talking about is forward offensive forces?

A. Palmer. You're talking about American and British carrier battle groups, [today] surface action groups, ASW hunter groups, with smaller carriers. Several tiers of surface and submarine forces moving in to seal the GIUK Gap, dealing with all kinds of Soviet threats--submarines, potentially surface, sub-surface, air threats, strike threats.

Q. Michael McCrea, Center for Naval Analyses. You mention that the Navy had been planning for carrier task groups to bomb the Soviet Union in this period. I would like you to comment on the credibility of that in the military sense. You mention something like 540 targets that they were going to bomb. Were there that many targets there, for example? Did it make military sense?

A. Barlow. It made military sense. Regarding your question of were there that many targets, clearly that [planning] was being done in a nominal sense. That is, what they were arguing was, given that number of carriers and that number of task forces, they could generate in a 7-day strike period x number of bombs. In a month in which five strikes were launched, they could do such-and-such. Clearly, the Navy at that point in time--this is 1948--did not have 545 targets that it wanted to hit with atomic weapons. This too, was a difference between naval aviation's view of the use of atomic weapons and SAC's view. SAC had a high requirement for atomic weapons because it was going after major Soviet urban-industrial targets, and few of these targets could be destroyed to an acceptable level of destruction in the same way, given the problems of accuracy, how many aborts, and so forth. And so, when you are talking about SAC calculations in this period, there were some 20 urban-industrial areas that were of primary importance; 100 total. The 20 would be taken out first; perhaps a pause [would then take place] to allow the Soviets to decide whether or not they wanted to lose another 80 cities. You are going to generate a fantastic number of requirements for weapons with that large number of very vast targets. The Navy's interest in targets was much more oriented towards targets of naval interest; that is, submarine pens, submarine yards, ports. Similarly, airfields became important to the Navy as it realized that in order to maintain a carrier so many hundred miles off an enemy coast you are going to have to progressively take out the airfields that might threaten them. But, at this point in time, there were not 545 targets of naval interest in any area of the Soviet Union. It was a notional concept.

Q. Wayne Dzwonchyk, JCS Historical Office. I heard Ken Hagen suggest that perhaps it hadn't been such a good idea for the U.S. Navy in the twentieth century, particularly in the post-World War II era, to adopt a British approach to ocean security strategy. And today, we suggested that the Navy adopted a British/Air Force document on air warfare.

A. Palmer. What do you mean by the Air Force--Air Force?

Q. Dzwonchvk. Well, you said that the Air Force idea that the way to protect yourself is to attack at the source.

A. Palmer. Oh. I think it goes back to the First World War, using aircraft to try and influence events on the ground. I didn't mean to imply that we had adopted the British strategic concept. Actually, what's going on is that two services [from different countries], looking at the same strategic problem, came to the same basic conclusion. At the same time, when we then started talking to the British in, actually, 1946, we found them thinking along the same lines. We didn't convince them to try "attack at the source." They didn't convince us. We both had the same experience in the Battle of the Atlantic. You see, it's really two services that were going down the same path, confronted, as they were, by, again, the same dilemma. That seemed to be the solution. And it goes back earlier. You can see in World War I attempts to somehow kill the German U-boat threat at the source. I think it was Wilson who used the beehive analogy. Instead of killing the bees in the air. it's better to go and burn out the hive. In World War II, by air they attacked battleships and went after sub pens. The Army Air Forces in World War II, for quite a while--I think their initial strategic targets were submarine pens. (Moody. They didn't like it.) They didn't like it, and it didn't work all that well either. It goes much deeper than just the postwar period. What I think happens in 1946, that concern not only shows up in strategy but drives the strategy.

Q. Richard Wyttenbach, OPNAV. Back on a broader plane of foreign policy and the creation of the Cold War. You have the revisionists thinking we [should have] shared some of the blame with the Soviets for creating the Cold War. My preference is starting in 1946 when things started to break down. In 1945 you had Potsdam, the UN conference, etc. One person identified the Air Force in January of 1945 identifying the Soviets as the next enemy, and the Navy in September of 1945 identifying them as the next enemy. Do you see any evidence that those official determinations influenced the American government in terms of how they looked upon the Soviets and whether or not we trusted them because of our determinations that they were the main enemy? Did it cause part of the Cold War?

A. Palmer. It's the other way around. What most of these planners were saying is, "if there is anything out there, most likely it's the Soviet Union." It doesn't necessarily mean they're predicting war with the Soviet Union. This is the state that could pose the greatest threat to the United States and to its allies. My impression is that it is the other way around. Through their actions, the Soviets identified themselves to the military planners and people elsewhere in the administration as the enemy. But that's a gradual process. Look at the Navy in the Mediterranean in 1946; you see two policies at work. On the one hand you see the Rooseveltian policy of withdrawal. You see ships getting yanked out of the Mediterranean and bases closed in places like Sicily and Naples; bases that we use today were being closed in 1946. At the same time, naval reinforcements are moving into the Mediterranean as part of our policy to prop up Greece and Turkey and to show the flag. Depending on what part of the Navy's actions in 1946 you look at, you would say, well, here is wartime U.S. policy; here's a Navy withdrawal. Yet at the same time you see the Navy reinforcing. You really have a paradox of what the Navy is doing throughout 1946, which reflects a deep division. You really have two policies. That doesn't sort itself out until 1947 and 1948.

A. Moody. I might say, what strikes me--and this has to do with the perception of threat--is that for the planning you really are looking at a worst-case plan. What is the worst situation that could exist for American national security? And this would seem to me to be a general war occurring with the Soviet Union in which the Red Army has this perceived capability--that given the instinct, that's what you look at. Germany is no longer a problem. Japan is about to cease to be a problem. This is the one worst case and then we start looking at your planning in that perspective. That's why when the budget crunch really comes, the only capability that you seem to be able to deal with is the capability to cope with the worst case.

A. Wolk. I think Mike is right. The events in Greece and Iran in 1946 accelerated this pressure. Also, as far as the Air Force was concerned, the great difficulty that the AAF had in dealing with the Soviets in Operation FRANTIC and other matters made it often very, very wary and skeptical of the Soviets.


24 January 2003