Sunday, December 7, 2008

Major General Billy Mitchell's 1925 Report

Major General Mitchell published his report as the book Winged Defense in 1925 which foretold wider benefits of an investment in air power:

“Those interested in the future of the country, not only from a national defense standpoint but from a civil, commercial and economic one as well, should study this matter carefully, because air power has not only come to stay but is, and will be, a dominating factor in the world’s development.”

The purpose of this extensive essay is to emphasize the facts concerning warnings given by General Billy Mitchell concerning a war which would become the Pacific Theatre of WWII.

Politicians and military officers did not take the necessary precautions to prepare for an adequate defense before the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor.


Billy Mitchell submitted an intelligence report following a trip to the Orient in 1924. The report has been labeled "the masterpiece of his career." The 323 page report was probably the most prophetic document of his career. He stressed that "care must be taken that it is not underestimated." Mitchell was referring to estimates of Japanese air power and the significance it would eventually play in a war which Mitchell believed would eventually happen.

Billy Mitchell, the visionary, made predictions which were unbelievable and accurately prophetic. Although his superiors were not impressed by his convictions in the 1920s; his predictions concerning the role of air power would eventually become history. Mitchell foresaw the ambitions of Japanese expansionist goals in the Pacific.

He presented in his 323 page report what he considered to be the start of a war in the Pacific Theatre. He prophetically declared that a Pacific war would start with a Japanese air and sea attack upon the U.S. military bases at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands.

The attack on Pearl would be accompanied by an aerial attack on the Philippines. Attack will be launched as follows:

Bombardment, attack to be made on Ford Island (Hawaii) at 7:30 A.M..... Attack to be made on Clark Field at 10:40 A.M.

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 at 7:55 A.M. and later at Clark Field, Philippines at 12:35 P.M. Mitchell's estimate was off by 25 minutes for Pearl Harbor and less than two hours for Clark Field in the Philippines.

In the same year as Mitchell released his investigative report to the military; the Dayton Journal published a full-page editorial declaring the need for America to support an enlarged air force to prepare for Japanese advancements in aviation. A drawing of a modern Japanese warplane, flying from Tokyo toward San Francisco across the Pacific Ocean was included in the newspaper article. The plane in the illustration was firing its guns as it approached the Continental United States.

American military leaders began to heed Mitchell's warnings as the Japanese occupied Manchuria and German troops invaded Austria and the Rhineland during the late 1930s. America began to heed Mitchell's warnings as it moderately rebuilt its armed forces. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; Billy Mitchell's warning of an impending attack was finally taken seriously.

Billy Mitchell had the ability to intelligently forecast the future. I question whether this outstanding quality is less important in today's environment. Billy could visualize what aviation could do when it was given the means even though his convictions were based upon estimates of contemporary equipment which lacked the capability.

Although he could neither have designed the B-29 nor imagined that it would be manufactured by the thousands; Billy Mitchell knew that aircraft of this nature would be developed which would achieve the overall effectiveness of the B-29. Therefore, he was able to predict the outcome of the Pacific war which he was warned would occur.

Mitchell's predictions came true. The Battle of Midway would become the evidence of his prophetic ability. In six months, two opposing naval carrier forces fought each other completely in air combat. Ships on neither side were in visual contact with each other nor were naval guns fired upon the opposing naval ships. American military forces were involved in aerial combat in which air superiority was a primary factor in winning World War II. This was true in both the Pacific and European Theatres of operation. Each branch of the military services had its own air service by the spring of 1942. A few years following the conclusion of World War II; the United States Air Force was formed.

Many of General Billy Mitchell's problems which created enemies were do to his six week end of year inspection of Army and Naval aviation in the Hawaiian Islands. He mentioned to reporters that Wheeler Field was the finest airfield he had inspected. Mitchell continued to produce critical observations written in his report which would be submitted when he arrived home. He criticized the preparedness of the Army and Navy defenses in Hawaii. He noted that there was no cooperation and coordination between the services.

"Our defense is based on a land army, coast defense guns and battleships, all of which are uncoordinated. A modern boy, fifteen years old, who knows about air power and had a simple military training in high school, could work out a better system."

General Charles P. Summerall, Army commander at Schofield Barracks did not appreciate the stinging critique of Mitchell's report. General Summerall would become a powerful antagonist in Billy Mitchell's future. General Summerall wrote to General Patrick as Mitchell departed Hawaii to visit Guam. Summerall declared that Mitchell's "assumptions as to the action of the enemy" were unsound and preposterous.

Billy and his wife were on their honeymoon when the “Thomas” carried them through the Pacific. He sketched the layout of islands and plotted potential strategic air fields. Mitchell attempted to anticipate the tactics of any potential enemy in the future. He took note of a small island which was 200 miles outside of his course. The island had been previously ignored as having no strategic military importance. General Mitchell declared:

"Before coming to this conclusion (of no strategic value), a careful reconnaissance should be made of it. Wake Island lies about 300 miles north by west of Taongi Island of the Marshall group, which is now in the hands of the Japanese. From the vicinity of Wake Island westward our course everywhere lay within aircraft operation of Japanese Islands."

This notation indicated Mitchell's obsession; an inevitable potential threat of attack from Japan. Although the officer recognized it and had written of the threat in 1913; it was his Pacific tour of 1923-24 which brought his conviction to the foreground of his report.

General Douglas MacArthur met the Mitchells when they arrived in Manila on New Year's Eve. General Billy Mitchell and General Douglas MacArthur had been close friends. Mitchell toured the Philippines for two weeks, flying frequently. He was always delighted to take others on their first flight above the ground. One of Mitchell's passengers was the guerilla commander, Emilio Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo dropped his calling cards to observers on the ground as they flew over the village where he had been born. General Mitchell expressed his love and admiration for the Chinese people when he wrote:

"The Chinese themselves are extremely virile, democratic, industrious and very strong physically. Biologically they are undoubtedly superior to any people living. They are extremely intelligent and capable of carrying out any development that is desired."

Although he praised the Chinese people; he observed the deterioration of the Chinese military preparedness to defend China:

"From being a nation that dominated everything around them, as was the case about a century ago, the Chinese have lost their military and political power and are an easy mark for the European nations and the Japanese."

General Mitchell noted that China had misplaced its emphasis for the future and was vulnerable. He sincerely hoped that American would recognize and learn from the mistakes of the Chinese.

Japan was the final destination on the Mitchell honeymoon which was his primary interest. The Japanese were far more secretive than German military had been. They were restrictive of his movements throughout the entire tour of Japan. When he departed from Japan on the voyage home; he had seen enough to alarm him with concern. While on route to San Francisco; he used the trip to compile his notes into a 323 page treatise on the situation in the Pacific. July, 1924

"Japan knows full well that the United States will probably enter the next war with the methods and weapons of the former war...It also knows full well that the defense of the Hawaiian group is based on the island of Oahu and not on the defense of the whole group."

"The Japanese bombardment, (would be) 100 (air) ships organized into four squadrons of 25 (air) ships each.

The objectives for attack are:

Ford Island, airdrome, hangers, storehouses and ammunition dumps;

Navy fuel oil tanks;

Water supply of Honolulu;

Water supply of Schofield;

Schofield Barracks airdrome and troop establishments;

Naval submarine station;

City and wharves of Honolulu."

“Attack will be launched as follows: bombardment, attack to be made on Ford Island at 7:30 a.m.” “Attack to be made on Clark Field (Philippine Islands) at 10:40 a.m.”

"Japanese pursuit aviation will meet bombardment over Clark Field, proceeding by squadrons, one at 3000 feet to Clark Field from the southeast and with the sun at their back, one at 5000 feet from the north and one at 10,000 feet from the west. Should U.S. pursuit be destroyed or fail to appear, airdrome would be attacked with machineguns."

"The (Japanese) air force would then carry out a systematic siege against Corregidor."

"The United States must not render herself completely defenseless on the one hand thinking that a war with Japan is an impossibility, and on the other by sticking to methods and means of making war as obsolete as the bow and arrow is for the military rifle."

Messr. G. Katsuda made the most striking declaration which was not included in Billy Mitchell's report made in 1924.

"Our people will cheer your great Mitchell and, you may be sure, will study his experiments."

Messr. G. Katsuda was responding to a correspondent of the Hartford Courant. The statement was made after Billy Mitchell demonstrated the capabilities of air power by sinking the Ostfriesland in 1921. Furthermore, the Japanese House of Peers statesman added:

"Should there be such a war America would have to fight it a long way from home...It would be gravely embarrassing to the American people if the ideas of your General Mitchell were more appreciated in Japan than in the United States."

Messr. G. Katsuda proclaimation would become an accurate historic analysis of American policy. Billy Mitchell's report disappeared into a file cabinet. Consequently, General Patrick would claim he did not see it until a year after Mitchell submitted the report.

Seventeen years later, members of the military and state department would finally put credence in the scenario which Mitchell described would happen in detail. The report would eventually be re-examined by a military desperately attempting to discover what the predominant Japanese forces would do next in a war waged in the Pacific which Mitchell predicted would happen seventeen years earlier.

General Douglas MacArthur cast the only dissenting vote during Billy Mitchell's military Court-martial. The verdict of the Court-martial was debated on Capitol Hill as veterans groups passed resolution condemning the verdict.

President Calvin Coolidge approved the sentence of the military court but altered the final verdict. Billy Mitchell was granted full subsistence and half pay because he would not be able to accept private employment while in uniform.

General Billy Mitchell refused the modified sentence declaring that it would make him "an object of government charity."

Mitchell resigned on February 1, 1926. Billy Mitchell began a four-month lecture tour across the continental United States. He continued to show films of the bombing of ships and expressed his theme of the necessity of military preparedness in the air. Major American magazines as well various aviation journals published his sweeping charges. He continued to bring attention to the major advances in aviation made by Europeans and in Asia.

Billy Mitchell continued to warn Americans of Japanese plans to seize Hawaii, Alaska, and the Philippines. Billy Mitchell accurately predicted the Japanese would not formally declare war:

"We not only do nothing in the face of all this," he said, "but we leave our future in the air to incompetents."

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