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No “Half-Ready Militia”: Rear Admiral Austin K. Doyle, the Naval Air Reserve, and the Lessons of Preparing for War

Hill Goodspeed

This essay is a selected submission from the 2017 CNO Naval History Essay Contest. The content of the original essay has been copyedited prior to publication.


The United States Navy experiences waters calm and stormy, the forward presence that is a hallmark of the sea service on some occasions violently interrupted by calls to arms in defense of the nation. Such is also the case in resourcing the maritime strategy with budget battles, defining of roles and missions, and shaping the force bringing periods of bureaucratic unrest. Today’s leaders can learn from those who confronted such challenges, one such example being the service of Rear Admiral Austin K. Doyle as Chief of Naval Air Reserve Training in the months leading up to the outbreak of the Korean War. Like today, it was an era of scrutinized defense spending and transcendent technology, his Cold War just beginning while today’s leaders confront reemerging superpowers and rogue nations. In such a challenging time, his personal campaign on behalf of his command and its capabilities paid dividends when war came at a most unexpected place.

 In May 1950, Rear Admiral Austin K. Doyle confided in a letter to Leroy Grumman, founder of the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, that command of Naval Air Reserve Training was “the toughest job I have ever had.”[1] That an officer who served as skipper of two aircraft carriers in combat in the Pacific made such a comment reflected the difficult task that fell to him in the immediate post-World War II era, one that transformed the military establishment that he had long served and impacted the Reserve forces that had been an element of naval aviation for most of its existence. 

The mushroom clouds billowing over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were symbolic of changing times as a new balance of power emerged from the ashes of the greatest war the world had ever known. The centerpiece of American foreign policy became the containment of Communism, with the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan representative of the programs put into place to bolster nations in the face of Soviet expansion. In the background of this foreign policy maneuvering was always the real possibility of nuclear war, particularly after the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic device on 29 August 1949. 

At the same time that the United States confronted this new age in warfare, the military was immersed in dramatic changes that would shape it in the postwar years. The National Security Act of 1947 effectively unified the armed forces by creating the Department of Defense, and an economy-minded President Harry S. Truman tasked the first Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal, with reining in the expenditures of the respective services. With dollars short, each of them sought to define its roles and missions in the nuclear age, with the Navy and newly-created U.S. Air Force especially vocal in their disagreement over the means and control of the employment of the nation’s air power. 

These debates occurred in the face of dramatic drawdowns of conventional forces to meet the parameters of sharply curtailed budgets. By the time demobilization officially ended on 30 June 1947, less than 1.6 million personnel remained in uniform from a force that in 1945 had numbered some 12 million. The department’s Fiscal Year 1947 budget of $14 billion was $28 billion less than that of Fiscal Year 1946.[2] The reduction in the armed forces reflected Truman’s desire to balance the budget and bolster the postwar American economy. He understood that the position of the United States in the postwar world necessitated a strong national security, but drew the line at keeping a standing force at wartime levels, instead proposing measures such as universal military training (UMT) to provide a force to bolster a small professional core in the military services.[3]

Navy leaders, who were lukewarm at best about UMT, turned to the Naval Reserve in order to capitalize on the mass of personnel that gained experience serving in World War II. Reflecting the importance afforded to the effort was the appointment of a Regular Navy flag officer as the Chief of Naval Air Reserve Training.

Thus, the Naval Air Reserve faced the challenge of growing in an era of economy in the Department of Defense, one in which the active duty Navy faced reductions in personnel, aircraft, and ships. This was the situation confronting Rear Admiral Austin K. Doyle when he relieved Rear Admiral Richard Whitehead and assumed the duties of Chief of Naval Air Reserve Training at NAS Glenview, Illinois, on 22 July 1949. Little did he know what trials were on the horizon for those under his command and the nation they served.

“He was chunky, full of life, very outgoing, acting on things at once…I suppose that he had an Irish fire in him,” was how one officer described his first meeting with Artie Doyle during World War II. To be sure, he was a gregarious character, inclined towards practical jokes, and more often than not wearing a wry smile beneath his narrow eyes. However, this outward demeanor masked a seriousness of purpose and a willingness to express and act upon his convictions, attributes that were displayed in his wartime service at sea. Assuming command of the auxiliary aircraft carrier Nassau (ACV-16) in 1943, he was outspoken in his championing of the capabilities of that class of ship in support of amphibious operations. While serving as skipper of Hornet (CV-12) later in the war, he never failed to express his opinions in action reports read by senior officers. “I’m doing my darndest (sic) not to make a normal mistake, but I run on the border line every minute by action report criticisms,” he wrote his wife in March 1945. “I haven’t yet compromised with my conscience.”[4] 

The Naval Air Reserve needed a leader of such conviction. From the beginning, Doyle recognized the fact that his new command was a challenging post given the fact that aviation reservists were spread throughout the United States and because of what he termed the “publicity angles” involved in highlighting the importance of the Naval Air Reserve.[5] Yet, the challenge that he was forced to confront almost immediately came from within the Navy establishment, where old opinions about reserves were still prevalent. As he wrote to Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and a future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just days after assuming command, a trip to the Pentagon brought a conversation with Vice Admiral William M. Fechteler, the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Personnel, who lamented the existence of “professional reserves.”[6] To Doyle, too many people within the fleet thought that the Naval Reserve was, and should be, a “half-ready militia,” subject only to the support available after the active force had received its required resources.[7] Changing this attitude would be his top priority and in so doing he showed his characteristic forthrightness.

“It is possibly presumptuous or at least premature for a flag officer who has been in his present assignment less than ten days to comment adversely regarding a policy supported by two predecessors,” Doyle wrote his boss, Vice Admiral John W. Reeves, Chief of Naval Air Training on 3 August 1949. The letter was in response to a proposal to move reserve training from the command responsibility of the Chief of Naval Air Training, and in disagreeing with the proposal, Doyle stated plainly his fundamental belief that whether Reserve or Regular, officers and enlisted men served most effectively if they viewed themselves as one Navy. “[A]…factor, which has importance to me at the present time, is the pride that reservists must now have in the fact that they are so closely integrated with the Regular establishment,” he wrote. “Their performance on active duty… has been of a very high order, and this can be maintained only by the closest liaison with the Regular establishment.”[8]

Alignment with the fleet involved personnel and structural changes. With an expanded Naval Air Reserve, Doyle soon pressed for the assignment of more Regular officers to the Reserve naval air stations, particularly for use as Type Training Officers. Officers direct from the fleet possessed more administrative experience than wartime reservists, and would benefit the operation of the stations from a safety standpoint, but also provide guidance and instruction to reservists.[9] As these Type Training Officers reported aboard, the reservists they replaced would receive orders to ships or fleet organizations for six month periods to familiarize them with the latest doctrines and enable their superiors to evaluate their potential for command.[10] The exchange would benefit the reservists by providing them exposure to the fleet they supported, and the Regular officers, who would hone their administrative skills at a younger age than they might in the fleet structure of larger bases. One officer who served as Doyle’s training officer at NAS Glenview, Commander Roy L. Johnson, eventually wore four stars and served as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet.[11] 

A critical element of the Naval Air Reserve’s effectiveness in supporting the fleet not only was in personnel, but in equipment, notably aircraft. By late-1949, the Operating Aircraft Inventory of the Naval Air Reserve numbered 2,133 aircraft. A sizeable force given the fact that the frontline aircraft inventory equipping fleet and training squadrons was 5,143 aircraft, this number is deceiving upon evaluation of the types of aircraft represented. In an era that witnessed the dawning of the jet age and the eclipsing of the sound barrier, naval aviation was adapting to the newfound technology. The sea service’s first jet squadron, Fighter Squadron (VF) 17A, began operating the FH-1 Phantom, the Navy’s first pure jet, in 1947, and by 1949 Grumman’s more advanced F9F Panther jet fighters were equipping an increasing number of squadrons in both the Atlantic and Pacific. To be sure, propeller aircraft still had a home on the Navy’s carrier decks, with advanced versions of the wartime F4U Corsair and the capable F8F Bearcat and AD Skyraider completing the carrier’s offensive punch.[12] In contrast, the inventory of the Naval Air Reserve lagged far behind the Navy it supported, with flight lines at most Reserve naval air stations hosting F6F-5 Hellcats, TBM-3E Avengers, and FG-1D Corsairs, holdovers from World War II. What jets there were represented less than 1% of the total Reserve aircraft inventory.[13]

With this situation, Doyle received word of Navy plans to assign a number of AM-1 Mauler attack aircraft to the Naval Air Reserve. Manufactured by the Glenn L. Martin Company, the airplane was designed and built to meet the Navy’s postwar requirement for a carrier-based aircraft that combined the wartime torpedo and bombing missions. Yet, the final report issued following the Navy’s Service Acceptance Trials concluded that the suitability of the aircraft for service was “marginal for long range operations, formation flying, night flying and instrument flying, which demand excessive pilot effort and cause excessive fatigue.”[14] During carrier trials the entire aft section of the fuselage of the test aircraft tore away after an arrested landing, and once assigned to active squadron service, a marked tendency to bounce when hitting the flight deck, thus causing the aircraft to miss the arresting wires, doomed the aircraft for fleet service in favor of the more capable and dependable AD Skyraider manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company.[15]

The news of the assignment of the flawed aircraft to his command struck a chord with the Chief of Naval Air Reserve Training and caught him by surprise given the fact that he had not been consulted on the subject. His greatest concern centered on the readiness and morale of the men under his command. At the time carrier-based squadrons of the Naval Air Reserve conducted annual shipboard training on board the training aircraft carrier based at NAS Pensacola, Florida. With the AM Mauler deemed unsuitable for carrier operations on large deck carriers of the fleet, it could not operate from the flight deck of the Cabot (CVL-28), a light carrier then serving at Pensacola whose flight deck was considerably smaller than those of the Midway and Essex-class carriers. While Doyle had no preconceptions that the Naval Air Reserve was entitled to a significant number of frontline aircraft, he understood that the sudden assignment of an airplane deemed undesirable by the fleet would send a negative signal to reservists. “You know that we are always willing to play ball in every particular, but in a case like this where the morale of the Reserve is concerned, I certainly should be given an opportunity to prepare the boys for the news that they are getting something the fleet doesn’t like,” he wrote Rear Admiral L. A. Moebus, the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations.[16] The assignment of capable aircraft also affected recruiting, something always at the forefront of Doyle’s mind in his efforts to create a highly-trained force. “We are feeding new people in now,” he told Captain Robert Goldthwaite, “but it is hard to keep their interest when the National Guard next door is flying jets and they are flying F6s [sic].”[17] 

Throughout his tenure as Chief of Naval Air Reserve Training, Doyle also placed an emphasis on public relations for his organization. One of his first letters upon assuming command was a request for a capable public information officer, “a fellow of background in the work and enough prestige in rank to be able to carry it through. He is a man I would depend on to think of our problems nationwise [sic] rather than just local.”[18]  Public relations efforts took many forms with the goals of enhancing the public view of the naval service and bolstering recruiting. Doyle continued a program of broadcasting a Naval Air Reserve radio show, which was carried by more than 900 stations nationwide, and viewed air shows and open houses at Reserve air stations as beneficial to the public awareness of the Reserves. 

As the son of a former New York state legislator and one who had served many a tour in Washington D.C., he understood the importance of garnering influence with powerful people. He exchanged correspondence with Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the influential publisher of the Chicago Tribune, promoting the capabilities of the Navy in comparison with the Air Force in the era’s debate over the roles and missions of the armed forces. During early-1950 Doyle determined that approximately 55% of pilots who had recently transferred to the Naval Air Reserve following four years on active duty were no longer affiliated with a unit after twelve months due to civilian job transfers that took them to areas that were not in close proximity to naval air stations. To address this problem, he enlisted the Navy League of the United States to assist in a “Weekend Warrior” campaign, which involved prominent businessmen and professionals to help recruit these aviators to “Navy” communities so that they could maintain their Reserve affiliation, thus saving money and retaining experience levels within Reserve squadrons.[19] This initiative reflected his belief that the Naval Reserve could not maintain its traditional stance of being “more or less content with what we had” with respect to recruitment of personnel, instead pushing for an infusion of young officer and enlisted personnel with suitable inducements.[20] 

Perhaps the most important public relations campaign waged by Doyle was not to the general public, but to an audience consisting of his contemporaries, Naval Academy graduates and career Regular Navy officers. As addressed above, there was a distinct bias against the Naval Reserve in the fleet and Doyle never retreated from his effort to gain appreciation for his command. “There has come to me in many ways information that the Regular is again beginning to look down his nose at the Reserve,” he told Captain Robert Goldthwaite in May 1950. “We must never let this happen in anyway [sic] because once that attitude comes up, then you will see the Reserve develop what we used to know as the typical ‘Reserve’ attitude.”[21] In a letter to Vice Admiral Robert B. Carney, then Commander Second Fleet and soon to become Chief of Naval Operations, he commented that “while the fleet will undoubtedly take the first shock of war, the brunt of the war will be borne, as you well know, and possibly decided by the Reserve, surface, air, and submarine (sic). We should include that factor in war planning and recognize the fact that a half-ready militia in these days is a waste of taxpayers’ money.”[22] And to Admiral Arthur W. Radford, he lamented, “It is most unfortunate, but the ‘fleet must come first’ ideology, under present budget restrictions, will lead to a withered and dead plant in the Reserve training command.”[23] Within days of receiving this letter, Radford was hosting a dinner with friends at his quarters when the duty officer relayed news that a coded message was coming in from Washington, D.C., one that confirmed what the Radfords’ guests had said they heard on the radio. A war had broken out on the Korean peninsula.[24] 

“Please be assured [of] our mobilization, full or partial, readiness,” Doyle wrote to a fellow admiral working in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations three weeks after the outbreak of war in Korea.[25] Indeed, it did not take long for the first mobilization calls to arrive at Doyle’s headquarters. A number of reservists did not wait that long, with the Navy and Marine Corps having already logged more than 3,400 requests from “Weekend Warriors” for return to active duty. Others, fully ensconced in civilian lives, were taken by surprise when required to return to active military service. Naval Aviation News reported a tale of one man receiving the call in the middle of his wife’s birthday party, and another being flagged down on the highway during his family vacation![26]     

Having inspected the squadrons during his tenure, Doyle understood the camaraderie among the reservists and the combat skills they had honed during their annual training. For morale and tactical proficiency, he pressed for the deployment of Reserve squadrons that had trained together for four years as units rather than individual assignment of pilots to squadrons.[27] To a large extent, that was the policy the Navy followed with Patrol Squadron (VP) 892 the first to go on active duty. Carrier-based squadrons deployed beginning in 1951, with some Reserve squadrons serving with active squadrons as part of carrier air wings and other Reserve squadrons forming air groups consisting entirely of “Weekend Warriors.” Of the twenty-four deployments by fleet carriers during the Korean War, nearly one-third of them had at least one Reserve squadron operating from the flight deck. In March 1951, Boxer (CV-21) deployed with an all-Reserve air group (except for composite and helicopter detachments). Of the 153 officers in Carrier Air Group 101, 133 were reservists, while 73 percent of the enlisted personnel were Reserves. During the deployment, which lasted until 24 October 1951, air group pilots logged 23,627.4 flight hours, 8,567 traps and 8,833 combat sorties. Thirty aircraft were lost, including eighteen to enemy fire.[28] 

By November 1951, in a typical month, every third American plane that flew over Korea on a combat mission was piloted by an activated Navy or Marine air reservist. They answered the call until the signing of an armistice on 27 July 1953. Indeed, just as Doyle foresaw, it was to a great extent a reservist’s war in both men and material, as civilians returned to uniform to fly from carriers that were themselves pulled from mothballs. Without both of them, naval aviation would not have been as effective a fighting force as it was in the skies over the Korean peninsula.[29]

In his A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson speaks to the accountability and initiative required of naval leaders, calling upon each to “foster a questioning attitude and look at new ideas with an open mind.” In the area of strengthening naval power at and from the sea, the document talks about modern commands examining their organization to “better support clearly defined operational and warfighting demands and then to generate ready forces to meet those demands.” Among the vital lines of effort in executing this design is “strengthening our Navy team.”[30] 

Nearly seventy years ago, Rear Admiral Austin K. Doyle exemplified these same tenets, questioning the diminished value placed on an element of the Navy he viewed as essential to meeting the warfighting demands of the postwar world. Understanding the fiscal restraints in which the Navy operated, he championed the Naval Air Reserve as an aligned, ready force to complement the active component. Chief among his goals was the readying of his force for battle in morale, training and sense of worth to the Navy team, one that proved itself in a distant land that is now a focal point as his successors seek to build and sustain the Navy’s modern combat team to meet the challenges of a dangerous world.


1. Rear Admiral Austin K. Doyle (hereafter AKD) to Leroy Grumman, 29 May 1950 (Doyle Papers, Emil Buehler Naval Aviation Library, National Museum of Naval Aviation (hereafter EBNAL))

2. Steven L. Reardon, History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense The Formative Years, 1947-1950 (Washington: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1984), 12-13

3. Arlkene Lazarowitz, “Promoting Air Power: The Influence of the U.S. Air Force on the Creation of the National Security State,” in The Independent Review, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Spring 2005), 480; Reardon, 14

4. Hill Goodspeed, “Doyle’s Dauntless Dory: USS Nassau and the Development of Carrier-Based Close Air Support,” chapter in Randy Balano and Craig L. Symonds, eds., New Interpretations on Naval History: Selected Papers from the Fourteenth Naval History Symposium (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001)

5. Rear Admiral Austin K. Doyle (hereafter AKD) to Admiral Arthur W. Radford, 2 August 1949 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

6. ibid.

7. AKD to Vice Admiral Robert B. Carney, 23 May 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

8. AKD to Vice Admiral John W. Reeves, 3 August 1949 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

9. AKD to Rear Admiral F.W. McMahon, 30 August 1949 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

10. AKD to Rear Admiral H.E. Regan, 10 January 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

11. This plan was approved by Chief of Naval Operations.  See AKD to Rear Admiral H.E. Regan, 6 April 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL); Biography of Admiral Roy L. Johnson in Vertical Files at EBNAL.

12. U.S. Naval Operating Aircraft Inventory and Authorized Operating Allowance, 1 December 1949; Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, United States Naval Aircraft since 1911 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1990), 321-322

13. U.S. Naval Operating Aircraft Inventory and Authorized Operating Allowance, 1 December 1949

14. Robert J. Kowalski, “The Mable Wasn’t Very Able,” The Hook, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Spring 1981), 26-28

15. ibid.

16. AKD to RADM L.A. Moebus, 16 December 1949 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

17. AKD to CAPT Robert L. Goldthwaite, 22 May 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL).  “F6s” refers to the F6F Hellcat, a propeller-driven aircraft that served in World War II.

18. AKD to RADM I.M. McQuiston, 10 August 1949 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

19. See proposed campaign letter from Frank A. Hecht, 23 March 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

20. AKD to William A. Read, 9 September 1949 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL).  Read was one of four brothers who served as naval aviators during World War I.  He also served in World War II and retired as a rear admiral in the Naval Reserve.

21. AKD to CAPT Robert L. Goldthwaite, 22 May 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

22. AKD to VADM Robert B. Carney, 23 May 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

23. AKD to ADM Arthur W. Radford, 7 June 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

24. Stephen Jurika, Jr., From Pearl Harbor to Vietnam: The Memoirs of Admiral Arthur W. Radford (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1980), 227

25. Doyle to RADM Herbert S. Duckworth, 16 July 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

26. Hill Goodspeed, “Minutemen of Naval Aviation: The Naval Air Reserve in Korea,” in Naval Aviation News, Vol. 84, No. 5 (September-October 2001), 18-24

27. AKD to ADM Arthur W. Radford, 21 July 1950 (Doyle Papers, EBNAL)

28. Goodspeed, Naval Aviation News

29. ibid.

30. A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 1.0, January 2016


Published: Mon Jan 28 11:49:16 EST 2019