Skip to main content

The Navy Department Library

Related Content
  • Planning and Strategy
Document Type
  • Historical Summary
  • Speech
Wars & Conflicts
File Formats
Location of Archival Materials

A Time of Change: National Strategy in the Early Postwar Era

Colloquium on Contemporary History June 7, 1989 No.1

Captain A. J. Booth, USN
Deputy Director, Naval Historical Center

Our objective with this scholarly gathering is to promote the study of post-World War II U.S. national security issues by providing a forum for the exchange of new interpretations, approaches, and information. We also hope to foster the establishment and nourishment of lasting professional contacts. This and succeeding colloquia will focus on such subjects as national strategy, interservice relationships, the conduct of joint operations in Korea, Vietnam, and lesser conflicts, and the military influence on foreign policy in the Cold War. The relationship of American industry with the Defense Department, the experience of women and minorities in the armed services, and the impact of modern technology on military force structures and weapon systems are equally valid areas for investigation. In short, we hope to enhance understanding of the role of the U.S. defense establishment in the contemporary period.


Dr. Edward J. Marolda
Head, Contemporary History Branch
Naval Historical Center

The theme of today's colloquium is "A Time of Change: National Strategy in the Early Postwar Era." National leaders faced, in this period from 1945 to 1955, a troubled and troubling new world. Old enemies and their hated ideologies lay in ashes--the Axis powers and fascism were dead - but they were quickly being replaced by other equally feared regimes and alien creeds. The Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin dominated the Eurasian land mass and appeared a global menace. The People's Republic of China was born, espousing a robust brand of communism. New, impatient, and militant nationalities were emerging from the rubble of dead and dying empires. A revolutionary weapon of mass destruction seemed to threaten the very existence of nations and their peoples. Conventional concepts of warfare and national defense were questioned by many military leaders and civilian theorists. A nation which spent enormous sums of money to assure victory in a world war and longed to enjoy the economic fruits of that success, wrestled with the need for an even greater expenditure of natural resources in this era of armed peace.

A study of this post-World War II period is especially relevant to current national security concerns. As in the earlier period, we face a world in transition. Recently, the head of the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies in London announced that the Cold War ended in 1988. Last week in Brussels, President Bush labeled the current era as "Beyond Containment." There is no question that the political, economic, and ideological ferment sweeping what we used to fondly call the "Sino-Soviet Bloc," is nothing short of revolutionary in its implications. One need only ponder today's news from Beijing, Moscow, and Warsaw. Simultaneously, various national, ethnic, and religious groups--Nicaraguans, Tibetans, Armenians, and Shiite Moslems--are asserting themselves, often violently, throughout much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As before, evolving technology, enabling military conflict in the lowest ocean depths, in the remotest corners of the globe, and in space, have mandated increased concern for national survival. The new electronic, laser, and other technologies suggest a dramatically changed face of war. In this environment, defense and war-fighting concepts will be subject to continuous reevaluation, as will the armed services' missions and forces. All this is occurring while budget allocations for national defense are declining and will continue to decline. There is a growing perception in Congress and with the public that less for defense will suffice. Consequently, the military services will be compelled to take their budget slice from an ever shrinking pie. Thus, this discussion of national strategy and the unification issue in the years after World War II should be especially instructive and timely.

Mr. Herman S. Wolk
Head, General Histories Branch
Office of Air Force History

I would like to begin my brief overview of the Air Force in the post-World War II period with a few words from General George C. Marshall: "Military victories are not gained by a single arm...but are achieved through the efforts of all arms and services welded into a team.... The most difficult the determination of the best organization...within the limits of the funds available.... It is...literally impossible to find definite answers for such questions as: who will our enemy be in the next war; in what theater of operations will the war be fought; and what will be our national objective at the time? ...There is no series of facts that will lead to the one perfect solution, and short of war, there is no method for testing a solution." These are the words that General Marshall delivered on October 1, 1938 to the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama. The Air Force, however, thought it had at least a partial answer to these questions posed by General Marshall. After World War II, the enemy was the Soviet Union, as so stated in January 1945 by Air Force planners. The national strategy should be one of strategic deterrence. If there was no real method for testing an operational solution, this was at least where the facts seemed to lead.

The Army Air Forces (AAF) in the post-World War II period had three major objectives: 1) to gain independence 2) to nail down the atomic mission and 3) to position the air arm as the lead service in a unified defense establishment.

The AAF believed that the air wars in Europe and the Pacific during World War II proved the effectiveness of strategic bombing and also the effectiveness of the tactical air and air lift missions. As far as the AAF leaders were concerned, air power had come into its own during the war. I use the term Air Force here synonymously with AAF. The key to AAF policy and strategy was the experience of World War II, including, of course, the dropping of the atomic bomb. The war, with the perceived success of air power, defined almost everything for the AAF leaders.

To them, the Navy was no longer the "first line of defense;" the AAF having delivered the atomic bomb. The Air Force had now replaced the Navy as the leading bulwark in America's defense phalanx--as the force ready instantly to retaliate with immense power and destructiveness. So, the Air Force would see itself ultimately in the postwar world as the "first service" in the new defense establishment.

However, despite this apparent confidence, General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General of the AAF, was fearful. He observed: "I'm afraid that from now on there will be those who will forget the part we have played." Arnold, who at Potsdam expressed the view--much to Truman's consternation--that it was not necessary to drop the atomic bomb to end the war, was fearful that this new weapon had in effect diminished the perceived role played by the conventional B-29 bomber offensive in vanquishing the Japanese empire. All along it was Arnold's objective to have the B-29 conventional onslaught play the major role in defeating Japan without an invasion.

The AAF, and the War Department, were convinced that one of the major lessons of the war was the overriding importance to victory of unity of command. Marshall, Eisenhower, and Arnold all agreed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff Special Committee for Reorganization of National Defense, which stated: "Any system which depends upon committee action for high-level military decisions in time of stress is unsatisfactory, as it lacks the quality of prompt and decisive action that springs only from true unity of command.... History...indicates that as funds grow tighter...each service withdraws into its own shell, as it has done in the past, and each concentrates on those things essential to its own profession without giving consideration to common problems."

Truman, of course, the old Army man, was a strong advocate of unity of command and of defense economy (as was Eisenhower). The Air Force saw in President Truman not only a strong advocate of so-called "air parity," but also a man who believed deeply in economy and was extraordinarily sensitive to what he called "explosive inflation" in the funding of large military procurement programs. When Truman demanded that the services subordinate their parochialism, he meant for them to get behind his budget, to stop recommending large military programs, and to stop the carping and the knifing.

So, although Truman supported a separate Air Force during 1945-1950, the Air Force never did achieve its goal of seventy groups. It took the Korean War, of course, to bust the budget open. But, economy and efficiency were the keys according to Truman, according to Eisenhower, and according to General Arnold. Eisenhower believed that in the postwar period the military would have to practice maximum efficiency and eliminate duplication between the services. "The empire builders in the military," Eisenhower emphasized, "would have to be rooted out with a sledgehammer." No one service could be totally self-sustaining; the nation simply could not afford it in the postwar world.

So, the Air Force saw all these drives as paving the way for its program of an Air Force-in-Being of sufficient size and composition, strategically deployed, and in constant state of readiness. "Time," said General Vandenberg, "is the essence of modern strategy." All of this fit in with Arnold's conviction that the United States after World War II would no longer fight what he called "personnel wars," but would rely on technology and long-range, land-based air power--the Air Force-in-Being.

The U.S. required a ready force, the Air Force. The key was instant preparedness. This, of course, was unprecedented in peacetime 20th century America - a standing military force ready to retaliate against the aggressor's capacity to wage war.

Although the postwar Spaatz Board report on the atomic bomb failed to recommend a change in the size or composition of the AAF, the atomic bomb was a major, if not controlling factor. The bomb, the air leadership emphasized, was a strategic weapon to be carried by long-range, land-based bombers. The Spaatz Board report did envision the atomic bomb as a weapon against urban-industrial targets, in a period when there were fewer atomic bombs available. Of course, the 1947 Crossroads Report stressed the potentially devastating effects of a surprise atomic attack.

Before and after the Air Force gained its independence, in September 1947, the service saw air power (especially its strategic forces) as the prime instrument of American foreign policy.

The postwar period then, had two major distinguishing characteristics: 1) the drive for reliance on strategic deterrence and 2) a vastly reduced budget, that by fiscal year 1948 was ten percent of its wartime peak. Within this framework, the major objectives of the independent postwar Air Force were: 1) to nail down the strategic mission 2) to keep the aircraft industry alive--30 million pounds of air frame weight was recommended by the Air Coordinating Committee and the Finletter Commission and 3) to build an Air Force-in-Being, including a trained National Guard and Air Force Reserve. The two major missions of the Air Force-in-Being were: 1) the defense of the United States and 2) the destruction of the potential enemy's industrial capacity.

In the middle of these swirling currents and objectives was James V. Forrestal, who in this period was really more of an equal to the service secretaries under the National Security Act of 1947. He advocated a so-called "balanced force." One thing that Forrestal and Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington absolutely agreed upon was that--as Forrestal put it--"the nation's economy could not stand fulfillment of all our military requirements." Forrestal's dilemma, in my view, was not of his own making. His first annual report as the Secretary of Defense, in 1948, was a remarkable document, candid and forward-looking. He called for a "harmony of thought," a cultivation of a broader vision, by which he meant that the military should cast off its service-oriented, parochial view. This was a major part of the whole postwar problem, a view, incidentally, strongly shared by General Eisenhower. The problem with air power, according to Forrestal, was "what is to be the use and who is to be the user?" He said, "my own view is that the concept of the strategic Air Force has established itself as an essential part of modern warfare, although I also believe that the Air Force must see that its tactical air remains capable of close cooperation with the ground troops."

And so, as I have hinted here, postwar ironies abound as far as the Air Force is concerned. For example, in my view, one of the so-called founders of the Air Force has to be General Eisenhower, a consistent advocate of independence for the Army's air element, whose statesman-like position influenced crucial elements of the National Security Act. Eisenhower has really failed to receive his due in this regard. His major contribution was to point out that with legislation like the National Security Act, you don't get deep down into a jungle of specific details, but you make it a statement of general principles. And note that for all of the apparent confidence and certainty of the postwar leadership, there was really a good deal of uncertainty on their part; first, as to organization of the independent Air Force itself; and secondly, as to the outcome of the budget battle and its effect on just about everything. Too, despite the emphasis upon the strategic mission, the deal over an independent Air Force--the price of General Eisenhower's strong support--was the guarantee by General Carl Spaatz that a Tactical Air Command would be established. And yet, note that in late 1948 the Tactical Air Command and the Air Defense Command were submerged in the so-called Continental Air Command.

And also in the period between the end of World War II and the Korean War, as we know, the B-36 bomber came to symbolize the strategic mission (also an issue in the "Admirals' Revolt), and yet production of this bomber was opposed by the Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command, General George C. Kenney. And finally, within the Air Force itself, there was strong disagreement as to the allocation of resources--between, especially, the strategic and the tactical. As mentioned, the breaking off of the Air Force from the Army was predicated on the Eisenhower-Spaatz agreement for a separate Tactical Air Command.

But, as time passed and we get into the 1950s, the argument within the Air Force, between the tactical and the strategic, becomes increasingly contentious. So, the Air Force's view about its own contribution to World War II and about the leading role of the Air Force in the postwar period naturally led to its concept of postwar defense organization, and this was that even greater unification was desirable. The Air Force leadership thought that a stronger Secretary of Defense would--as Eugene Zuckert subsequently put it--"institutionalize what it regarded as the Air Force's justifiable domination of the defense structure." Well, the Air Force got a stronger Office of the Secretary of Defense, but the long-range result of this was anything but Air Force domination of the defense establishment. What ultimately came to pass was the Air Force sharing the strategic nuclear mission with the Navy and all the armed services coming under a strong centralized Office of the Secretary of Defense. This was not what Arnold, Spaatz, Vandenberg, Eaker, and Symington envisioned, but in fairness to them it was in a real sense the success of their postwar programs and objectives based on revolutionary technology that led to centralized direction of the U.S. defense establishment.

Fundamentally, one might observe that in this period circumstances were controlling. Here was a time in which military leaders attempted to catch up with technology and stake out their claims. What would be the impact of nuclear technology upon organization, doctrine, missions, and strategy? A truly revolutionary era had begun. And, despite all the heat engendered, there were neither victors nor vanquished. The ultimate winner was the principle of civilian dominance of the military.

Dr. Michael A. Palmer
Contemporary History Branch
Naval Historical Center

I would like to begin by contrasting the very different World War II experiences of the United States Navy and the United States Air Force.

While I do not mean to denigrate its accomplishments in World War II, if you look at the Air Force during the course of the war, the Air Force failed to live up to prewar expectations in many ways. That is not to say that the Air Force strategic bombing campaign was not effective, nor to say that it did not help bring about the defeat of the Axis powers, but the strategic bombing campaign did not work out quite the way many people had predicted. The bombers did not always get through and the effectiveness of strategic bombing against cities, against urban-industrial societies, was not what had been expected. Again, I do not mean to imply that the campaign was not cost effective, but the successful application of strategic air power proved more difficult than its proponents had foreseen.

All of that changed, at least in the national popular perception, with the dropping of the atomic bomb. In August and September 1945 it appeared that at last the Air Force's strategic bombing concept and technology had begun to mesh and that a few bombers armed with the new bomb could indeed bring about the kind of results that air power theorists had been talking about as far back as the end of the First World War.

The World War II experience of the U.S. Navy was quite different. If you look at the experience of the Navy, you see a service the performance of which in many ways exceeded prewar expectations. Take, for example, the submarine offensive against Japan. Before the Second World War there were few, if any, people, who foresaw the capability of the submarine arm used as a strategic weapon against the Japanese empire. After the Dardanelles offensive of the First World War in 1915, there were many who believed that the days of amphibious operations were over. Yet pioneers, especially in the U.S. Marine Corps and its supporters in the Navy, continued to work and develop amphibious doctrine. In both the war in Europe and the war in Asia we see the application of that doctrine in amphibious operations. There were many before the war who believed that aviation had made navies obsolescent, going back to Billy Mitchell's attacks on German battleships in the 1920s. There seemed to be some indication of that early in the Second World War with the German successes in Norway in 1940 and in Crete in 1941. Yet, in the Pacific war the Navy took unto itself air power, placed it on the carriers, and operated successfully, not just against the Japanese Navy but ultimately against Japan itself. The U.S. Navy did very well during the war, exceeding prewar expectations.

Then suddenly along comes the atomic bomb and in a flash, quite literally, the very effectiveness of the Navy is called into question. Did we need a Navy in an atomic world? And to the extent that we did, how survivable would it be? It may have been difficult to hit a ship with a B-17, as the Air Force found out during the Midway campaign, but it was not as difficult to score a near-miss with an atomic weapon on a ship.

So whereas the Air Force at the end of the war saw its concepts vindicated, not only by the results that they achieved during the war, but also through developments in technology, the Navy saw its very successful experiences, as well as its very existence, questioned. For example, a January 1946 Foreign Affairs article by Bernard Brodie, a well-known American strategic thinker, asked, what's the Navy going to do now? It did a great job in World War II, but what can the Navy do for the United States as a nation in the coming years?

There were additional problems that the Navy faced at the end of the war. Its principal and traditional enemy--Japan and its Imperial Japanese Navy--had been defeated. The only surviving naval force of any account was that of Great Britain, and it was very difficult to find an American in 1945 who considered war with Great Britain likely. The Navy's wartime thinking about the postwar world had also been colored by a variety of political assumptions inherent in the foreign policy of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There had been an expectation during the war that the wartime alliance of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union would continue into the postwar world and that we would all be a bunch of happy allies who would police the world and make sure that all nations behaved themselves. Given that kind of atmosphere, a world almost devoid of potential enemies, why did we need a large Navy? So, between 1943 and 1945 the Navy drew up plans for the postwar world, which called for large forces; but the plans offered no substantial reason why such forces should be maintained.

At the end of the war, the U.S. Navy entered the post-Mahanian age. The days when it could make the arguments of Alfred Thayer Mahan to justify itself no longer had meaning. The Navy had to find some new reason for being and had also to find a new enemy. (Early in 1945 the Air Force was identifying the Soviet Union as an enemy, months before the Navy.) The Navy began to get some new direction from what was becoming the national security apparatus with JCS Paper 1518 of September 1945, which identified the Soviet Union as the most likely potential enemy of the United States, and which also called for forward basing of American military elements, principally naval and air.

The Navy still faced a problem in deciding how to apply sea power against a virtually autarkic land power such as the Soviet Union, a country very much different from the empire of Japan, an island empire that relied heavily on its naval forces and on imported resources. What the Navy needed at the end of the Second World War was a new philosophy of sea power, a new strategic concept that would provide a reason for being and a justification that could be taken quite literally to the Hill, to get the funding needed to survive as a substantial force in the new National Defense Establishment.

During 1946 and 1947 the Navy developed a "transoceanic strategy," a term used by Samuel Huntington in a 1954 Proceedings article. The pre-1945 period, the Mahanian period, had been an "oceanic" era, during which navies were constructed to combat other navies on the seas and to win command of the seas in a Mahanian sense. In 1946 that was no longer a problem. The United States commanded the seas. The dilemma was, what were we going to do with it? Huntington later argued that the United States needed a strategic concept that would allow it to apply sea power against the shore, against the littoral of the Eurasian land mass.

The Navy based the development of its postwar strategy on three elements.

First, the Navy had to apply sea power against land power not only during wartime but also during peacetime. Secretary of the Navy (later Secretary of Defense) James Forrestal sent the Navy's ships around the globe on visits to as many countries as possible, under a variety of guises, in an effort to keep the Navy operating globally so that if there were a crisis, the Navy would be on hand and its presence would not necessarily be seen as an escalatory step. American naval leaders, military and civilian, sought to use the Navy in a rather nineteenth-century fashion, as a gunboat Navy, to show the flag, to support American friends, and to deter aggression on the part of potential enemies.

A second set of critical elements in the development of the Navy's postwar strategy were the lessons learned during World War II in the Battle of the Atlantic. When we think of the Battle of the Atlantic we tend to focus too much on the early period of the campaign, on the years between 1939 and 1943, which witnessed the defeat of the U-boats. Mark Milner has written an excellent article, recently published in the RUSI Journal, in which he argues that it was really during 1944 and 1945 that we first saw the birth of modern antisubmarine warfare. The various technological developments in the submarine that the Germans introduced into naval warfare, such as the snorkel, pattern running and acoustic torpedoes (homing torpedoes), and the Type-21 U-boats of which only one actually became operational, were only countered in part by improved Allied ASW technology and tactics. These German advances, especially the snorkel, troubled the Allied ASW community during the final years of the war. To some extent, the United States and it allies lost the tactical initiative in the U-boat war, although they never lost the operational or strategic initiative because of the strategic bombing campaign as well as the advance of the Allied armies after the breakout in Normandy, which cost the Germans their forward bases in France. These Allied successes made it difficult for the Germans to prosecute the submarine war, no matter the advanced state of their technology.

Nevertheless, the Allies ended the Second World War troubled by the final stages of the U-boat war, especially the inshore campaign around Great Britain. This concern increased after the end of the war when the U.S. Navy received two Type-21 U-boats and in early 1946 exercises in the Atlantic discovered that the Type-21 could literally run rings around American escorts. The Navy had a great deal of trouble combating submarines with a very high submerged speed. This concern was evident at a June 1946 ASW Warfare Conference held in Washington. The distress was real because the Navy knew that German technology had fallen into Soviet hands. There was a presumption, albeit premature, that the Soviets would employ this technology in their own submarines. At the ASW conference, the minutes of which survive, the principal presented a rather doleful picture of what would happen if there was another battle in the Atlantic pitting Soviet submarines against American escorts. The Navy estimated that the snorkel alone had reduced the effectiveness of the premier submarine killer, the radar-equipped aircraft, by 95 percent. (The British estimated the lost efficiency at 90 percent.) After hearing the presentations, the senior officer at the conference, Vice Admiral Forrest P. Sherman, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, a prime strategist in the Navy's hierarchy, commented: "As you know the strategic counter to this sort of thing is high emphasis on attack at the sources of the trouble." Sherman's statement essentially epitomizes the Navy's postwar strategy. If you cannot deal with submarines at sea, you go and attack them at their bases.

If the Navy felt compelled to adopt such an offensive approach because of lessons in the Atlantic war, it felt capable of advocating a forward, offensive strategy because of the lessons of the Pacific war, the third major element in the development of American postwar naval strategy. There are some similarities between how we look at the Pacific and Atlantic wars. When we think of the Pacific war we think of carrier battles. We generally focus on the early war period--the battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Solomons--when American carriers were pitted against Japanese carriers. But increasingly after 1943, in 1944 and 1945 especially, American carriers battled land-based, not sea-based Japanese air power, in operations that resembled those envisioned by the Navy in the 1980s. If, as Milner says, the birth of modern ASW warfare occurred in the Atlantic in 1944 and 1945, I think one can argue that modern antiaircraft warfare - AAW - developed in the Pacific in 1944 and 1945.

The main threat American naval forces faced from the Japanese in the final stage of the Pacific war was the kamikaze. What was the kamikaze? It was a precision guided munition; it was a cruise missile. Look at the Baka bomb hanging from the ceiling of The Navy Museum. What do you have up there? You have a large rocket with a warhead in the front, and instead of a silicon chip with some kind of computer, you have a kamikaze pilot substituting for the computer apparatus. There is not that much difference between a Baka bomb, or a regular Kamikaze, and a Soviet air-launched, air-to-surface missile such as an AS-4 or AS-6. The Navy met this threat with improved radar early warning, at this point not airborne, but surface-based with radar pickets extending out from the task force, and with improved methods of combat air patrol.

The most severe test the Navy faced in the final stages of the Pacific war was the Okinawa campaign during which the Navy, tethered to the beaches to support the landing, managed to hold on, although at a heavy cost. In the final stages of the campaign and during the final months of the war, the Navy cut loose and, operating in conjunction with strategic Air Force attacks against the Japanese home islands, roamed along the coast of Japan. What the Navy discovered in these operations was that it suffered very little compared to the Okinawa campaign, and achieved quite a lot, destroying about 1,000 Japanese planes on the ground. During this operation the ratio of planes destroyed in the air to those destroyed on the ground shifted dramatically. The Navy drew several conclusions from these operations. First, carrier battle groups, preferably the four-carrier battle group, could operate within range of land-based aircraft. Second, the best way to do so was to operate in a mobile, offensive fashion, seeking to destroy the enemy air force on the ground.

There is, of course, nothing novel or revolutionary in such an approach. As I understand it, official Air Force doctrine holds that the best way to destroy an air force is to destroy it on the ground.

The lessons of the Pacific and Atlantic campaigns, as well as the need to find some way to use sea power against land power, came together in 1946 and 1947 in the Navy's postwar strategy, a "transoceanic strategy" (formulated within the context of the Pincher series, essentially a succession of studies rather than plans, developed in the late-1940s), which dominated the Navy's strategic planning into the mid-1950s. The concept called for forward offensive operations against the bases from which the Soviet threat emanated. These plans called for operations against air and naval bases in the Kola Peninsula in the far north, in the Crimea (via, in early periods of the war, staging bases in Turkey), in the Maritime Province, in the Kuriles, in Sakhalin, and Kamchatka (Petropavlovsk). You may recall that there was a bit of a stink a few years ago when the press reported that Admiral "Ace" Lyons was staging mock attacks against Petropavlovsk. That all goes back to 1946 and 1947 when the Navy tried to find methods to counter Soviet threats at the source. The concept as developed relied on the carrier battlegroup, surface bombardment, amphibious operations, aerial and submarine laying of mines in Soviet harbors and narrows, and on the operation of killer submarines.

This latter concept was a new, if not revolutionary development. The submarine arm had performed well in the Second World War but after 1945 was left without a mission. In the early postwar years, the American submarine arm began the gradual conversion, mated with atomic power as a propulsive rather than as a destructive force, into an offensive attack arm designed to strike against an enemy's fleet.

In 1946 and 1947 the Navy planned to use its newly converted diesel killer submarines in narrows off Soviet bases to mine and to hunt and to destroy Soviet submarines as they left their bases heading towards the Atlantic and the Pacific sea lines of communication (SLOCs).

There was also discussion of using the Marines in amphibious operations against isolated bases in the Pacific, in Norway, or, in the final stages of a war, in the Crimea.

In conclusion, there are two points that should be stressed.

First, this was not just American thinking. The Royal Navy came to the same conclusions at the same time. Attack at source is actually a British term. When the Americans and the British came together in NATO in 1949, they held the first conference here in Washington, in October and November. At these meetings the Alliance established NATO's initial Concept of Maritime Operations (CONMAROPS) which called for attack at source. British and American admirals discussed plans for attacking the Kola in 1949. Some of the first joint operations undertaken by NATO were exercises to defeat a hypothetical Soviet attack against Norway.

Second, I think its important to keep in mind the roots of this strategy, because it resembles the Navy's strategy today. In 1946 and 1947 the Navy's strategic concept was based on inadequacy, both qualitative and quantitative. This is a time of budget cuts. Year after year, from the end of the Second World War until the Korean War, the U.S. Navy's budgets and forces grew smaller. The Navy had inadequate resources to fight the kind of battle that had been fought in the Atlantic during World War II. There simply were not enough escorts and patrol craft to fight that type of war, what you might want to call a defensively postured campaign. The Navy also faced technological inadequacy. The Navy was not planning to attack the Kola in 1946 because it thought it had a good handle on Soviet submarines, but because it did not think it has a good handle on Soviet submarines.

I would argue that if you look at the Navy's strategy since the late 1970s, although we tend to associate the Maritime Strategy with the Reagan defense buildup, if you look at its origins, and many have, it is really rooted in the Carter years, when the Navy's resources were going down and the Soviets began to produce qualitatively superior submarines. (I am not saying superior to our equipment, but superior to older Soviet types.) I would postulate that if budgets continue to decline and the Soviets keep improving their submarines, that (if history is any guide) rather than seeing the U.S. Navy retreat from a forward offensive strategy, you may actually see the opposite. If you want to insure that the Navy adopts an offensive forward strategy, the best way to do that is to insure the Soviet submarines continue to improve and get quieter so that the Navy cannot find them, and reduce the defense budget and the resources available to the Navy.

Those twin measures in 1946 and 1947 compelled the Navy to adopt an offensive, forward strategy, and under similar circumstances in the 1970s, when the Navy again had to contemplate what would primarily be a conventional war against the Soviet Union, it again resorted to the same kind of strategic solutions to these strategic problems. That strategic concept, developed in 1946 and 1947, dominated the Navy's thinking and found its way into the national strategic plans into the 1950s. Not until the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, with the "New Look," "Massive Retaliation," and the origins of "Blazing Strategies," was the Navy's essentially conventional war strategic concept displaced by the basic strategic atomic warfare plans in which the Navy played an important, but secondary role to that played by the United States Air Force, which had won the initial postwar battle to become the nation's new First Line of Defense.

Dr. Walton S. Moody
General Histories Branch
Office of Air Force History

This paper addresses the relationship of the program of the Army Air Forces (AAF) and the United States Air Force (USAF) to national strategy in the immediate postwar years from 1945 through 1950. Mr. Wolk discussed the organizational place of the AAF and the USAF in the defense establishment during those years. I would note that Air Force doctrine stresses attacking the source. Truly orthodox Air Force doctrine says that you want to attack the enemy air force in the factory. It is true that this doctrine creates as much controversy as any other aspect of the discussion. A couple of events, which I will be referring to, occurred in the months immediately following the enactment of the National Security Act in 1947. They involved the decisions that, as far as the Air Force is concerned, laid out its institutional future. They included a decision by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a report by a committee of the Air Staff to the Aircraft and Weapons Board, which consisted of the major staff agencies and the major commanders. The board approved the Air Staff report in January 1948.

The important decision of the Joint Chiefs was embodied in JCS paper 1745/5 of 8 December 1947. The authors of 1066 and All That boasted that they only had two dates in their book treating the history of England. I will mention only one numbered JCS paper in this presentation. JCS 1745/5 not only set a requirement for a stockpile of 400 atomic bombs by 1953 but also authorized the Air Force to modify aircraft to carry them. With the President's approval, the nuclear weapons production program went forward. At the same time a Heavy Bombardment Committee of the Air Staff had been working on the technical problems of delivery and summarizing what the aircraft should look like. They wanted aircraft capable of intercontinental range for the strategic delivery forces. This had a lot to do with the strategic position of the Air Force in its interservice relationships.

One thing you really have to say is that probably the Air Force felt in 1945 that it didn't really have to revise its strategic concept. Amid all the controversy over strategic air warfare, questions of definition continually bedevil the discussion. I can speak for the next 20 minutes simply on the question of definition alone. For the idea that there is a distinction between strategic and tactical employment of the airplane, I can go back at least to 1912. That year the Army Signal Corps identified two missions for the airplane as strategic and tactical reconnaissance. Strategic reconnaissance was defined as the reconnaissance of enemy forces at a greater distance. Tactical reconnaissance was defined as reconnaissance of enemy forces approaching or in contact. On the other hand, General Kenney stated: "I do not think that an airplane should be considered as a tactical airplane and a strategic airplane; I think it is an airplane." I will simply say that I define strategic air forces as those operating directly under the national command authority, equipped with weapon systems of the maximum attainable range, and having the mission of attacking the war-sustaining economy of a potential enemy state. I'm not saying that I am right to do this. I will simply offer this as the definition I use.

Now in 1947, some of the leaders of the Air Force expressed concern that the Secretary of the Navy was assuming the leadership of the whole national defense establishment. Certainly, the comments on the first draft of a secretary of defense speech reaching the Air Staff reflect some uneasiness. In reality, however, Secretary Forrestal had a clear understanding of the importance of strategic air power. There was no question, in his view, that there was an imbalance between the land forces of the Soviet Union, which remained quite powerful, and those of the Western powers, soon to be the Western alliance. Sea power and air power seemed to be the areas in which the United States had the lead. And, strategic air power, using atomic weapons, seemed to be the one means by which the Western alliance could initiate offensive action in the early stages of the general war.

Nevertheless, there were two things that strike me about Forrestal's strategic vision. One of them is the concept of "balanced forces," which is partly a political effort to defend a budget and to clarify the roles of the services. It was also designed to make existing strategic forces effective in a major war with the Soviet Union. Forrestal had pointed out that it took operations by the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Army to assure the strategic bases that the B-29s used in the Marianas for the destruction of the Japanese war economy. This need was likely to continue, and in a future general war, ground forces and naval forces would be absolutely critical for defending or seizing forward bases. In addition, it's very clear when you look at the budget, at the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1948, that as the international situation grew more grim, Forrestal recognized the need for what we have come to call "general purpose forces" (including ground forces, land and sea-based tactical air to support the ground forces, and air and sea transportation). These forces were required to intervene in local conflicts short of general war and were a key element of "containment," as Forrestal understood it. Early in 1948 Forrestal lamented the lack of such forces. He seems to have been one of the few who was not overwhelmingly focused on the requirements of a general war with the Soviet Union.

Balanced forces started from the proposition that overseas bases would be needed to bring strategic air power to bear against the potential enemy in a general war. Consequently, ground forces to seize and hold the bases, and naval forces to keep the lines of communication open, were as necessary as air forces themselves. In the world of 1947, the Air Force could not argue with that.

Forrestal's concept of strategy fell afoul of political reality. That hard-money man, Harry Truman, was clear that the first job was not to formulate the strategic concept but to get the budget in order. Forrestal also had to contend with the internal organization problems of the military establishment. For example, in the budget debates of 1948-1949, "balanced forces" very often tended to turn out to be what the Air Force has always feared; that is, a three-way division of the budget pie. Tight budgets and the frightening nature of the Soviet threat led to increasing focus on strategic atomic forces, the one advantage the United States had to deal with Soviet aggression.

The Air Force's role was strongly affected by its concept of its mission. General Carl A. Spaatz, commanding the AAF and the first Chief of Staff of the Air Force, like many air leaders, felt that the war had proved the fundamental points of air doctrine. Now, there were those outside the Air Force who were not surprised that the strategic offensive failed to live up to the original billing. In fact, the idea of a cheap, war-winning knockout blow from the air had proved to be a loser. But, the ability of a powerful strategic air force to wreck the war economy of an enemy and thus contribute to victory seemed impossible to deny. When the JCS began to direct the study of the nature of a war with Soviet Union, a strategic air offensive against the industrial base was considered absolutely indispensable to any kind of successful outcome.

By late 1947 the Air Force was implementing its program for 70 combat groups, of which 25 would be mostly strategic bombers. This would be about 750 airplanes and would include a small number of tactical bombers. The Air Force was always reluctant to admit that strategic bombers could be employed in a tactical role. With limited resources available, the Air Force was committed to occupational duty overseas. It had only a total of 55 active groups, of which only one, the 509th Bombardment Group, was fully operational at the time. The unit was equipped with the atomic-modified B-29s under Project Silver Plate. The 70 groups remained only a goal, and this goal was never attained.

The JCS, in 1745/5, essentially asked that the Atomic Energy Commission devote the bulk of its production for the next few years to bombs for the strategic air offensive. Although at the time there was no agreed immediate war plan, all planning documents gave a high priority to the strategic air offensive as the only means to strike effectively at the Soviet Union in an early phase of a war. In fact, subsequent war plans reinforced this tendency. I will note that this marks the arrival of a sort of consensus on atomic weapons, which had been lacking in the immediate postwar years. Still, the AAF had early identified the atomic air force as an important part of its program.

The only operational strategic bomber in mid-1947 was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. An improved version, called the B-50, was approved for production in May 1947. The combination of the commitment to build delivery forces and an atomic stockpile went hand-in-hand with the decision of the Aircraft and Weapons Board that the Air Force would seek as its highest priority, in the area of research and development, the capability for air refueling. Tests in 1947 had shown this to be a promising technology. Priority was then given to modifying the B-29s pulled out of storage to serve as tankers and modifying the existing force to accommodate air refueling. This capability, together with the B-36, seemed to offer promise. The coming medium bomber, the Boeing XP-47 jet, remained dependent on overseas bases. As a consequence, the priority of the Aircraft and Weapons Board was the new intercontinental jet bomber that Boeing was working on. This was to become the B-52. Alternative technology, such as the Northrop Flying Wing, also was being considered.

The need for ground forces and naval forces, as the Air Force saw it, would thus have less and less to do with the concept of balanced forces to support the strategic air offensive. Rather, general purpose forces would be seen as required only in the interim. The Air Force increasingly saw its strategic mission as the nation's first priority. The growing international crisis in 1948 led in fact to budgetary support for the 70 groups. But, by the end of 1948, with President Truman reelected and the Berlin crisis seeming less serious, other considerations emerged. Forrestal's standing with Truman declined. His successor as Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, was explicitly committed to reduced spending. The 70-group Air Force was no longer attainable. The Air Force was cut back to 48 groups. The tactical forces were severely cut back. Even the strategic forces were cut to 14 groups. In that context, tactical air forces and ground forces seemed to require drastic cuts.

It was in that atmosphere that the B-36 crisis and controversy emerged. It was also brought on by Johnson's elimination of the Navy's Super Carrier program. The accusations of double-dealing that developed on all sides made it difficult to sort out the real defense issues. The Air Force defended the B-36 as essential to the agreed strategy. Much of its attitude came with the operator's view that whatever the problem of the airplane, as with any weapon system, highly professional operators could make it work. For the Navy, an attack on the strategic air offensive was to attack agreed strategy. To attack the lack of forces for other purposes was in fact to attack the President's budget. For the Air Force, the situation was bleak. The reports by the committee under Lieutenant General Hubert Harmon and by the Weapons System Evaluation Group confirmed that the existing strategic force had a marginal chance of actually achieving a decisive result. The only consolation was that Lieutenant General Curtis LeMay had taken command of the Strategic Air Command and was beginning to instill that unique standard of professionalism that would become known as "the SAC way."

If the Air Force, having now received the priority mission, was going to demonstrate its ability to accomplish that mission, it required more than the B-36, which was under attack. It would require a demonstration that the force could actually accomplish the mission assigned.

As 1950 began, with the need to react to the report of a Soviet atomic bomb, the call went out for expanded atomic weapons production and the development of a hydrogen bomb. At the same time, the famous review of strategy, known as NSC-68, also called for general purpose forces. In eloquent language, it pointed out that the United States could not risk an all-or-nothing reaction to local crises. Nonetheless, it was the war in Korea that gave this language a special persuasiveness. Only then was it possible to press for a new approach of strengthening both the strategic forces and the general purpose forces.

Dr. Jeffrey G. Barlow
Historian, Contemporary History Branch
Naval Historical Center

My topic, as Ed noted, is the Navy and "the Bomb" and, specifically, the influence of naval aviation on Navy strategic thinking in the period of 1945-1950. I think it's important to realize that naval aviators came out of the Second World War, particularly the war in the Pacific, with certain views of what naval aviation had accomplished. Mike talked about some of them and alluded to others. Let me reiterate some of these. First was the feeling that was absolutely dominant within the naval aviation community, that naval aviation had been a major contributor to the success of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific war; the winning of that war. As Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air, said in 1944, in his annual report to the Secretary of the Navy, "The Navy is convinced that it has been this specialized development - over-water aviation worked out by students of Naval warfare and Army aviation nurtured by experts in Army tactics - which has brought American air power to the position of dominance which permits it to play a deciding factor in the current struggle." It's important to note, because I think it was lost sight of in the postwar years, that naval aviators saw themselves as part of air power. This is something in which they differed with their counterparts in the Army Air Forces, who saw air power as being something inherent to the Army Air Forces, and particularly its strategic bombardment aviation.

Well, what were some of the lessons as far as the naval aviators were concerned? First, the carrier had become the major offensive punch of the fleet, replacing the battleship as the spearhead of the fleet. For example, Japan's chains of fixed island bases - most of them protected by land-based air - were overcome by the Fast Carrier Task Force in the years 1943-1945. This dispelled to a great extent, at least as far as the naval aviators were concerned, the prewar belief that carrier aircraft could not go up against land-based air because of the inherent design limitations of the aircraft - this refers to the belief that because carrier aircraft had to land aboard ship and had to have stronger underpinnings, and so forth, they were not able to operate effectively against land-based air, particularly fighter aviation. This was dispelled as far naval aviation was concerned.

A second lesson was the acknowledgement of how greatly carrier air had increased in strength during the war. For example, in the first assault on the Philippines, in September 1944, the total number of carrier aircraft involved was 730. Only a month later this had increased to 1,060 aircraft. And by February 1945, during the Tokyo raid, the Navy had 1,220 aircraft deployed aboard its carriers. With aircraft in this large a number, the Navy was able to beat back, at particular points, any land-based air the Japanese could put up against it.

A third lesson was that the combat effectiveness of naval air against Japanese air had increased dramatically during the course of the war. In the 1941-1942 period, the ratio in favor of the United States - the number of Japanese aircraft shot down for each U.S. Navy aircraft lost - was 3 to 1. By 1944 this exchange ratio had gone up to 15 to 1, and by 1945 it had become 22 to 1 - that is, 22 Japanese aircraft shot down for each American plane lost.

A fourth lesson was that by the war's end in the Pacific, carrier aviation had come to be directed not simply against the Japanese fleet - the old Mahanian idea that Mike talked about--but specifically against land targets. I should note, however, that these were specific land targets. They were targets that were military in nature. Whereas the strategic bombing forces of the AAF were attacking primarily the urban-industrial complexes of Japan in an attempt to knock out Japan's war economy, the Navy was hitting primarily specific, selected military targets, particularly aircraft plants and aircraft on the ground. One other point that I think should be made is that the Navy felt the accuracy of its bombing by this point - and bombing at this time consisted of glide bombing, dive bombing and so-called "masthead" bombing - overcame the limitation in terms of the bomb load that naval aircraft could carry. Up to this point, and to a certain extent throughout the postwar period, the Army Air Forces (and later the Air Force) continued to look at bomb tonnage dropped as being the indicator of bombing capability. The Navy saw it instead as bombs delivered on target and the total attainment of the objectives.

Let us turn now to naval aviation and the atomic bomb in this period. I think it's important to realize, because it hasn't been well understood, that almost from the beginning the Navy Department took a particular interest in atomic applications - not only atomic energy applications but in attempting to modify or use the atomic bomb for naval missions. This has been masked in part because of the ongoing classification of most of the so-called Restricted Data material (a classification that continues to exist today). So that those who looked at this issue came away with only a partial understanding of what the Navy's actual role was. We know that as early as September 1945, under the plan of Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations (soon outgoing), the Navy set up OP-06, the Special Weapons Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, under a well-respected technical officer, Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy. He was assisted by "Deak" Parsons - Commodore W. S. Parsons - who had been heavily involved in the Manhattan District Project during the war.

Well, what did the Navy do in attempting to modify its aircraft and aircraft carriers for the atomic bomb? It's important to realize that the initial plans for aircraft modification antedated the atomic bomb. The original desire was not to modify the planes and aircraft carriers for the atomic bomb, because the Navy did know about that weapon at the time the plans first were made, but to increase the bomb load of the existing types of aircraft. As early as the spring of 1945, the Bureau of Aeronautics began thinking about increasing the bomb load of naval aircraft from what had been the limit of 2,000 pounds for carrier-based aircraft to between 8,000 to 12,000 pounds. Of course, we know now that the weight of the atomic weapon - the original "Fat Man" implosion bomb (Mark [MK] 3, as it later became known in the postwar period) was 10,300 pounds, and so it turned out very fortuitously that planning was begun for developing a bomb capability that could encompass this weight. Initial plans for the flush-deck carrier began in December 1945, when Rear Admiral Harold Sallada, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, directed a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations asking that the Navy support the development of longer-range attack aircraft, including aircraft up to 100,000 pounds in weight, and with regard to this most heavy aircraft, the development of a new carrier which could operate such aircraft. This eventually was approved. About seven months later, the Navy formally requested permission from President Truman to begin modification of its existing ships and aircraft for handling atomic weapons. This approval was given, in an informal manner, to Secretary Forrestal. And so, in July 1946, the Navy begin an earnest attempt to modify its aircraft and carriers to handle the heavy atomic weapon.

Well, what do we see in terms of how this was received by the other services? It was very evident to the Navy that the Army and Army Air Forces would not be pleased with this action. In fact, some of the early correspondence touches on this issue. For example, with regard to the large carrier, the specific question was posed, should this even be attempted, since we know the Army Air Forces might take this as an infringement on their strategic bombing mission? It was decided that since the Navy did not see it this way - there was no attempt to form a separate strategic bombing force - it could go ahead with its plans.

The issue finally came to a head after the National Security Act in 1947 was passed. The first attempt at resolution was in the Key West agreement in March 1948, when Secretary Forrestal called together the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service vice chiefs and said "we have to talk about this issue. We have to settle some of the roles and mission questions which have come up." It finally was decided in a formal sense. The agreement stated: "The Navy will conduct air operations as necessary for the accomplishment of objectives in the Naval campaign. They will be prepared to participate in the overall air effort as directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff." Up to this point, the initial roles and missions defined by the Executive Agreement following the National Security Act had stated that the Air Force would have the strategic bombing mission.

The Key West agreement also defined for the first time, in a formal sense, the term strategic air warfare. Prior to that time, much of the talk had been about strategic bombing, but no one could agree as to what it actually consisted of. Strategic air warfare was defined at Key West as "Air combat and supporting operations designed to effect, through the systemic application of force to a selected series of vital targets, the progressive destruction and disintegration of the enemy's war-making capacity to the point where he will no longer retain the ability or the will to wage war." The definition also included some specific targets, to illustrate what they were talking about. These targets, by and large, consisted of the urban-industrial-type targets that the Army Air Forces had attacked in Germany and Japan during the war. Tactical targets and the targeting of deployed enemy forces were not really considered to be part of strategic air warfare.

Well, what happened after this, as far as the Air Force was concerned? The Navy clearly saw this agreement as a demonstration that the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense had granted it the right to employ the atomic weapon. The Air Force, however, did not see it this way because, despite its apparent clarity, the language of the agreement could be interpreted in a variety of ways. So, in July 1948, just a few months after the adoption of the Key West Agreement, Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington, in a memo to Navy Secretary John Sullivan, commented specifically, "If the Naval organization and equipment required to perform the normal Naval mission can be used to deliver an atomic bomb against a target or targets, the destruction of which is necessary to carry out the strategic plan, and which target cannot be destroyed by the Air Force, Naval equipment should be used to conduct atomic bomb operations." Secretary Symington then specifically went on to state that there was no right for the Navy to have specialized equipment or to develop and procure specialized weapons, like bombers and a carrier to carry them, for this mission. That is, unless there were not only enough resources available to provide fully for the normal missions of all three services but also enough to permit consideration of additional military tasks on the part of each service, and unless it would result in equal or greater economy of critical fissionable material. In this latter point, he was making reference to the fact that the larger "Fat Man" bombs, which only the Air Force could carry at that time, were much more economical in the use of fissionable material than the gun-type "Little Boy" bomb, which the Navy had ginned-up the capability of carrying with the P2V-3C.

The naval aviators' response to this, specifically through the memos of Rear Admiral Ralph Ofstie who was on the Military Liaison Committee, was to say, first of all, that since the war, strategic targets had assumed a broadened meaning. What we considered strategic targets during the war no longer controlled what we now considered them to be. The Air Force considered any target of strategic interest to be a target falling under the purview of strategic air warfare. But Ofstie, arguing for the larger naval aviation community, noted that, indeed, targets of tactical interest, in certain cases, are also useful to attack with atomic weapons, and that targets of strategic importance that might not be listed for attack under plans for the strategic air offensive could also be necessary to strike. Therefore, the Navy would not be bound by the consideration that because the Air Force had been given the specific mission of strategic air warfare, the Navy could not use atomic weapons to attack its own targets.

This fundamental disagreement finally resulted in the Newport Conference, where Secretary of Defense Forrestal again called the chiefs, their vice chiefs, and the secretaries of the services together. What eventually came out of this conference was an agreement that the Navy should be allowed to have an atomic capability. This overturned Secretary Symington's interpretation of the existing situation.

Now, let me comment from the standpoint of Navy planners of the 1948 period, and specifically the naval aviation planners. What did they expect the Navy to be able to accomplish with atomic weapons? First, they saw naval targeting as complementary to the Strategic Air Command's targeting. It was not designed to supplant SAC's role; it had to be a supplementary effort. The Navy's atomic campaign was not going to have the same weight of effort, and its targeting was going to be differently oriented.

The Navy, by 1955, expected to have four flush-deck aircraft carriers - the so-called 6A carrier. These four flush-deck carriers, which could operate long-range attack aircraft - aircraft capable of reaching out 1,700 miles and then returning to the carriers - would be the backbone of four task forces. Three of the task forces would consist of a single 6A carrier, a Midway-class CVB, and two Essex-class carriers that had been modernized to the so-called 27-Alpha configuration (with increased deck strength and changes to the island that would permit larger aircraft of up to 52,000 pounds in weight to operate from them). In addition to the carriers, the task forces would consist of considerable numbers of destroyers for escort and cruisers for antiaircraft protection.

Well, where were these carriers expected to be deployed in 1955? In a situation of no prior warning, the Navy expected that there would be one carrier task force in the Eastern Mediterranean, combat ready: one in the Western Pacific, combat ready; and two on the Atlantic Coast in U.S. ports. Each of these later task forces would take some five days to load out. Planners expected the task forces to be on station in the following operating areas, at the following times: in the Mediterranean, of course, they would be there on D-Day; in the North or Norwegian Seas, they would be there on D-Day + 13; in the Barents Sea, they would be there by D + 16; in the Arabian Sea, they would be there by D + 16, or, alternatively, in the Yellow Sea, by D + 5.

In terms of capabilities to deliver atomic weapons, Navy planners saw the initial sortie capability as 100 percent. Given a 7-day strike period, they predicted a ready aircraft availability of about 67 percent. They thought that the atomic-capable forces - that is the ADR-42 aircraft, which was the projected long-range attack aircraft, and the A2J, the expected follow-on to the AJ - would suffer no more than 25 percent operational losses per sortie. The typical fast carrier task group in a 7-day strike period could deliver 73 atomic bombs to a 1,700-nautical-mile radius, 36 atomic bombs to 1,250 miles, and 170 2,000-pound conventional bombs to 700 nautical miles. In all, planners estimated that the four carrier task forces could deliver, in a one-month period (with five force strikes being launched in that month), some 545 atomic bombs to points between 1,250 and 1,700 nautical miles from the carriers, and 850 tons of smaller bombs to 700 miles.

What were the targets for these attacks? First, let me note that the targets of primary importance to the Navy were targets of naval interest, even though at both Key West and Newport it had been agreed that, if necessary, the Navy could participate with SAC (under SAC's overall direction) in the strategic air offensive. However, the atomic targets chosen by the Navy were airfields (targets hit because of the need to protect the carriers); transportation targets (targets whose attack during World War II had been found to be highly effective - these were targets that in the later war plans, which Walt referred to but did not name, were labeled retardation targets or ROMEO targets); and naval targets such as naval bases, ports, and, specifically, submarine pens and production facilities (referring back to the comment Mike made about the need to attack enemy submarines "at the source")

In conclusion, I should make a few final comments. How did this issue turn out for the Navy in the 1949-1950 period? Well, it turned out badly in the short run but less badly in the long run. As most of you are aware, in mid-1949 the new Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, cancelled the initial 6A carrier, which had since been named the USS United States. So, in one way he dashed the Navy's hopes for a long-range attack aircraft which had been projected to weigh up to 100,000 pounds. Nonetheless, one thing that Louis Johnson was unable to stop, because the Navy had gone forward with it from the early days in 1946-1947, was the formation of an interim atomic delivery capability. In the fall of 1948 the first atomic-capable composite squadron - VC-5 - was established, with Captain John T. "Chick" Hayward as its skipper. And the following year a second such composite squadron (VC-6) was formed, with "Dick" Ashworth, the Exec of VC-5, as CO.

I think what we can say about the period, as far as naval aviation goes, is that naval aviators helped modify and shape the thinking of the Navy's strategic planners with regard to atomic weapons, in part because they had confidence in naval aviation's capabilities, as proven out during the Pacific war. They certainly were pivotal in the decisions that were made to provide the Navy with an atomic capability. This initial, interim capability increased dramatically following the 1948-1949 period, when the first of the Forrestal-class supercarriers was approved for construction. Indeed, particularly during the period from 1956 through the early 1960s, naval aviation occupied a significant place in the nation's atomic (by then, thermonuclear) arsenal.

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 II - 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.


Mr. Herman S. Wolk began his government service with the strategic Air Command history office in 1959. He is now the Head, General Histories Branch and the Deputy Chief for Publications, Office of Air Force History, where he has been employed since 1966. In addition to completing numerous articles, papers, and other professional works, he was a contributing author to The Evolution of the American Military Establishment Since World War II (Lexington, VA: George C. Marshall Foundation, 1978) and the author of Planning and Organizing the Postwar Air Force 1943-1947 (Washington: Office of Air Force History, 1984).

Dr. Michael A. Palmer has served as a staff historian with the Naval Historical Center since 1983, most recently with the Contemporary History Branch. He took the BA and Ph.D degrees at Temple University. Dr. Palmer has published a book on the Navy in the age of sail, entitled Stoddert's War: Naval Operations during the Quasi-War with France 1798-1801 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987). He is currently preparing an official, two-volume history of naval operations in the Mediterranean and Middle East and a monograph entitled The U.S. Navy and the Persian Gulf, 1946-1988. Dr. Palmer recently completed Origins of the Maritime Strategy: American Naval Strategy in the First Postwar Decade (Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1988).

Dr. Walton S. Moody completed his undergraduate work at Princeton University and took the MA and Ph.D degrees at Duke University under the noted military historian, Theodore Ropp. Since 1970, he has been a staff historian with the Strategic Air Command, the Headquarters, U.S. Air Force in Europe, and the Office of Air Force History, where he is a member of the General Histories Branch. In addition to completing numerous annual command histories, monographs, articles, and papers, Dr. Moody is preparing an official Air Force history, entitled Building a Strategic Air Force 1945-1953.

Dr. Jeffrey G. Barlow completed a BA degree in history at Westminster College and the MA and Ph.D degrees in international studies at the University of South Carolina. His publications include several contributions to book-length studies, and articles in a number of professional journals. A recent work, edited by Cohn S. Gray and Roger W. Barnett and entitled Sea Power and Strategy (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1989), contains three chapters on naval strategy written by Dr. Barlow. He has served as a military and national security analyst with the Heritage Foundation, the National Institute for Public Policy, and National Security Research, Inc. Since 1987, he has been on the staff of the Naval Historical Center's Contemporary History Branch. He is currently preparing an official volume on the Navy and national security affairs and a shorter history, entitled The "Revolt of the Admirals".


Note: The views or opinions expressed or implied are those of the speakers alone and not those of the Department of the Navy or any other agency of the U.S. Government.

Published: Tue May 26 14:26:57 EDT 2020