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Architect of Air PowerGeneral Laurence S. Kuter and the Birth of the US Air Force$

Brian D. Laslie

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780813169989

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813169989.001.0001

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The Coming War

The Coming War

(p.45) 3 The Coming War
Architect of Air Power

Brian D. Laslie

University Press of Kentucky

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter Three is about the coming war and the invention of American air power. Kuter said on his arrival in Washington D.C. in 1939 that “One thing was apparent: whoever was running the Air Corps at that time, it wasn’t the Chief of the Air Corps.” This chapter will discuss the planning for the coming air war and the writing of Air War Planning Document-1 in only nine days. Beyond planning for an air war with an air force that did not exist, Kuter also led the effort to set up an Air Staff and in 1942 drew national attention by making a huge jump in rank. On January 5th, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and less than a month later to brigadier general on February 2nd, skipping the rank of bird colonel entirely. This made Kuter, at 36, the youngest general officer of his time and the youngest since William Sherman.

Keywords:   War Department, general officer, AWPD-1, war plans

Laurence Kuter was not initially thrilled about the Washington, DC assignment: “I believed that I was moving from the exciting development of the air power concept into the oblivion and inertia of an amorphous body of mind-bound elderly worshippers of the dogma of Napoleon and Hannibal [in other words, the regular army].” Having now spent more than a decade living on or near army posts, he was worried about this move to the “politically ambitious” city that was the nation’s capital. Ethel located a suitable apartment at 3725 McComb Street NW very near the National Cathedral. At $85.00 a month, the rent was significantly higher than they were used to. But the location made Kuter’s new office in the Munitions Building a short streetcar ride or a slightly longer but more enjoyable walk away.1

In 1949, a decade after arriving in Washington for his new assignment, Kuter noted in a speech: “One thing was apparent: whoever was running the Air Corps at that time, it wasn’t the Chief of the Air Corps.” He reported for duty on 1 July 1939 along with nine other new officers. He and his cohort were ushered into the office of the acting chief of staff, Brigadier General George C. Marshall. Marshall wanted Kuter and officers like him; he was looking for young officers—preferably those who had flying experience but no experience of the “War Department’s stylized system of education.” Kuter fit all Marshall’s qualifications, and not attending the Command and General Staff School had not turned into a hindrance. Marshall made one thing abundantly clear: this was a wartime, not a peacetime, assignment and the officers were to treat it as such. The country was by no means on a war footing, but the War Department was going to start comporting itself as if it were. One of the immediate changes was the addition of an air section headed by General Frank Andrews to the G-3 (operations). Although this “raised some eyebrows,” according to Kuter, it was not perceived as any great change. Besides, Marshall assigned only four officers to the air section, and how (p.46) much impact could four company-and field-grade officers have on war preparations? It is worth noting the General Andrews was head of the air section of the General Staff and not the chief of the air corps, who, at that time, was General Hap Arnold. The air corps chief had not been briefed on what the General Staff planners were putting together, essentially operating in a vacuum. No one seemed to have a firm control over the US Army Air Corps.2

The problem of separate air corps staffs was not fixed until mid-1941 when Arnold combined the segmented offices into a single cohesive Air Staff under Brigadier General Carl Spaatz. This eliminated General Headquarters Air Force and streamlined all air corps activities under Spaatz, who reported to Arnold. One thing was clear to Kuter. He had approached this assignment with dread, believing it to be nothing more than a staff tour, the long-dreaded assignment of many officers. His meeting with George Marshall changed that. The morning he walked into Marshall’s office changed his perceptions of his duties. He “had approached that old Victorian-style building at a time of a countrywide euphoria of ‘America First,’ ‘Peace in our Time,’ and isolationism.” He left it in a “state of shock.”3

It is important to note that Kuter was serving not on the Air Staff, under Arnold, but instead on the General Staff, under Andrews, as a deputy in the directorate of operations. He began his first Washington assignment working on Army Regulation (AR) 95-5, which allowed him to input an airman’s perspective into official doctrine. Although the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) influenced like-minded air officers for years, there was still no official doctrine regarding what air power could or should accomplish. It was Kuter’s belief that what occurred at Langley and later at Maxwell was self-contained. ACTS was important in developing and educating officers, but it did nothing in the way of official policy or doctrine until its graduates started arriving in Washington prior to the war. Change began small. AR 95-5 established a very small degree of recognition for air power.4

Kuter and the aviation community were also monitoring developments in Europe. The small group of air power enthusiasts inside the War Department took the events of the Spanish War and the operations of the German volunteers in the Condor Legion very seriously. The historian Michael Sherry stated: “Kuter made no exact analogy between what Hitler had accomplished with air power and what the United States might do. But his admiration for Hitler’s achievement showed.” This might be a bit unfair. Kuter certainly was no admirer of Hitler’s, and he was not (p.47) the only one to take note of air power developments around the world. It only made sense for air-minded officers to take note of what was going on in other countries’ air arms, especially the European powers. Kuter was certainly not alone in showing appreciation for what any advancement in air power achieved around the world and wanted nothing more than to prove what American air power was capable of. He was shortly given the opportunity to do just that. There currently existed no overarching doctrinal statement or agreed-on formula regarding what the US Army Air Corps should look like. No one knew how many aircraft, aircrew, and support functions actually needed to exist for a war to be conducted.5

Air War Plans Division–Plan 1 (Munitions Requirements of the Army Air Force)

By 1941 and the creation of a dedicated Air Staff, Kuter found himself surrounded by familiar faces. Present in Washington now was Lieutenant Colonel Harold George, Lieutenant Colonel Muir S. Fairchild, and Major Haywood Hansell. Another, until this time known to Kuter only by reputation, was Major Kenneth Walker. With Hitler now in control of the European continent, planning for a general war in Europe was under way, but there existed nothing in the way of an air plan. A rough estimate of fifty-four groups had already been agreed on, but the makeup of this imaginary arsenal was not known. Marshall ordered Arnold to create an air annex to ongoing war plans.

It was in August 1941 that Kuter truly became a principal architect of the newly christened US Army Air Forces. General Arnold designated Lieutenant Colonel George to lead the Air War Plans Division of the army air force. George picked Kuter, now serving on the army air force A-3 for bombardment operations, to help write the annex. The air force operations staff included other ACTS classmates and graduates. including Kenneth Walker, Haywood Hansell and Hoyt S. Vandenberg. Kuter and the others around him now attached their names to history.6

Hansell noted that, after their “initial elation” over being tasked to write an air plan, the four men quickly realized they faced a daunting, if not completely overwhelming, task. War plans took years to put together, and four men were now being asked to create an entirely new plan in a few days. Being handed this unique opportunity, they “faced a very sobering problem.” “From then on,” Hansell recalled, “until we completed our task, we were at our desks from early morning until late at night.”7

(p.48) The air portion of the plan was centered on five “divisions.” The first division was “to conduct air operations in defense of the Western Hemisphere.” The second was to prosecute an air war against Germany as soon as possible. The third was to provide for strategic defense in the Pacific theater. The fourth was to provide air support for the eventual invasion of the European continent. Finally, after victory against Germany was secured, the fifth was to concentrate maximum firepower against Japan. These divisions were broken down into air tasks and then into target sets to include electric power, a transportation system, oil and petroleum systems, and by default the enemy air force that possessed the means to defend these sites.8

The planners wrote the Air War Plans Division–Plan 1 (AWPD-1), the first comprehensive air plan, in a scant nine days. All were former ACTS instructors, and the principal authors included Harold George, Kenneth Walker, Haywood Hansell, and Larry Kuter. In 1949, Kuter gave full credit for the creation of AWPD-1 to George, Walker, and Hansell. In later speeches, he did not include his name in this group, although, when referring to himself in the third person in his Airman at Yalta, Laurence Kuter was credited as an author of the document. That Kuter had no appreciable role in the writing of AWPD-1 was simply untrue and a case of Kuter focusing praise on someone other than himself. He is universally listed as one of the documents’ principal architects.9

One of Kuter’s traits was the ability to keep the spotlight off of himself. Hansell said that Kuter’s principal contribution was spending those nine days calculating the actual number of forces needed for the plan to be successful using figures pulled from his ACTS bombardment notes. Kuter was not only one of the main authors of the AWPD-1; there is also no doubt that he had an equally important hand in the routing and briefing of the document through to its final approval.10

The four ACTS men—Kuter, George, Hansell, and Walker—believed that strategic bombing could win the war. They were the first of the bomber mafia, a moniker proudly held even in the modern incarnations of this group inside the air force. The document itself detailed the numbers of planes, men, equipment, bases, and other factors needed for the coming war. More than that, however, it gave the US Army Air Forces a mission. The historian Martha Byrd called AWPD-1 significant because “it defined a formal role for US air forces.” As previously mentioned, AWPD-1 detailed five mission areas for the air force. Four were as follows: “conduct air operations in defense of the Western Hemisphere, strategic defense of the Pacific, wage an unlimited strategic air offensive (p.49) against Germany,” and, finally, “concentrate strategic air power against the mainland of Japan.” The fifth—support of an invasion of Europe—would be conducted only if an “actual invasion was found to be necessary.” Clearly, Kuter, George, Walker, and Hansell believed that the nascent air power of the US Army Air Force in the summer of 1941 could defeat Nazi Germany inside of three years since the air planners knew that a land invasion could take place as early as the spring of 1944. In fact, they believed that, by the time an invasion force could be readied, “strategic air power could have been built and employed over a sufficiently long period to undermine or destroy the German will and ability to continue to wage war.” AWPD-1 explicitly stated that, if an air power offensive was successful, a land invasion would not be necessary.11

The plan was finished, but not finalized, on Tuesday, 12 August 1941. The same four officers who wrote the plan now set about briefing and selling it. It is a truism of the military staff officer that creating a project is only part of the work; it then has to be briefed and approved at every level to gain final approval and implementation. All four members of the planning team briefed the recipients, each taking turns in the two-hour presentation. Kuter later indicated that he did not believe the plan would be well received inside certain circles, particularly infantry officers: “The implication that strategic air alone might win the war violated long standing doctrine. It would be challenged by almost all members of the General Staff and would be anathema to many.”12

The first recipient of the ensuing briefs was Brigadier General Harry L. Twaddle, later to command the 95th Division under George Patton, at the time the G-3 for the War Department Staff. Twaddle thus became the first full army officer to be presented with the plan that called for a strategic air war against Germany. While the army prepared for an invasion of the European continent, the US air arm would already be taking the fight to Germany. Twaddle was presented with the proposed numbers for the air force and the specific target sets. He approved the plan, and it went forward, next to Mr. Robert Lovett, the assistant secretary of war for air. Attendees at this meeting included Brigadier General Leonard T. Gerow and Brigadier General Carl Spaatz, both to assume increasingly greater leadership roles throughout the war. From there, AWPD-1 wound its way through the air corps, being presented to the chief of the air corps, Major General George Brett, and, finally, to the deputy chiefs of staff and the chief of staff of the US Army, General George Marshall, on 30 August 1941.13

The presentation to Marshall was the one that caused the most consternation (p.50) among the four-man team. Hansell noted: “General Marshall was the one man in the War Department who could, with a gesture, dismiss the entire effort. If the plan did not have his endorsement as Chief of Staff, it stood no chance whatever of acceptance by the Joint Board, by the Secretary of War, or by the President.” Along with Marshall, Hap Arnold also sat in on the briefing. Marshall not only approved the plan but also allowed it to bypass the Joint Board and be presented directly to the secretary of war. Hansell remembers Marshall giving the muted praise: “Gentlemen, I think the plan has merit.” Kuter now believed Marshall to be an “unheralded aviation pioneer.”14

With AWPD-1 now having received tacit approval from the military hierarchy, the plan needed to be distributed for implantation. Twenty-three numbered copies were made, Kuter having personal control of and responsibility for eighteen of those copies, which he kept locked in a safe. The others were distributed to senior administration officials. The secretary of war eventually approved the plan and asked to have the four architects present it to the president at a date to be determined. AWPD-1 was now a plan that could be implemented, and it had the backing of the military and the administration. Kuter remembered the acceptance as a major event: “A milestone had been established in the growth of American air power. The concept that had been laid out and developed at the Air Corps Tactical School and scoffed at in the twenties and thirties became the United States national military policy when the chips were down in 1941.”15

AWPD-1 called for twenty-six thousand combat airplanes, another thirty-seven thousand training aircraft, and still another seventeen thousand aircraft to be delivered to the Royal Air Force (RAF). These were then broken down into specific units for a total of 207 groups. Obviously, these as-yet-unmade aircraft needed as-yet-untrained aircrews to fly them, 135,526 pilots, copilots, bombardiers, navigators, and gunmen. Aircraft also needed ground crews and logistics and supply troops, for a total of 2,164,916 men to be trained, fed, equipped, and transferred overseas to fight a war on an as-yet-undeclared enemy.16

On 4 December 1941, less than three days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Washington Star and the Chicago Tribune published a report under the headline “FDR’s Secret War Plan Revealed.” Published there in its entirety was the highly classified AWPD-1 in addition to plans for the ground and naval forces collectively known as the Victory Plan. Hansell said the report was a “verbatim” facsimile copy, which would allow the FBI to determine the specific copy it came from and therefore exactly who (p.51) was supposed to be in control of it. He also noted that this represented a violation of trust placed in the United States by its ally Great Britain, who provided many of the classified details in the plan. Kuter knew that, even as he was reading the story sitting at his desk, many of the embassies to the United States, including Germany and Japan, would be sending copies of the report to their respective governments. Worse, he knew that he had responsibility for eighteen of the twenty-three numbered copies of the war plan. As he pondered whether this was treason, he looked over the top of the paper to see a pair of FBI agents approach his desk. He was forced to turn over every copy currently in his safe. The FBI then proceeded to trace each copy and every person who ever signed for a copy of the plan. Two days later, the FBI contacted Kuter and told him that his copies were “clean,” as was everyone in his office. The leak had been traced to one of the five copies delivered to the White House. This was the type of story that typically could have dominated the headlines as the media struggled to locate the source of the leak. However, events in Hawaii on 7 December quickly relegated the story to obscurity.17

Kuter never established where the leak did come from, only that it was not from any of the copies he bore responsibility for. Thirty-five years later, he recalled the incident in a letter to a friend regarding the recently published A Man Called Intrepid (1976) by William Stevenson. The book detailed a highly fictionalized version of an English spy ring running rampant across Europe and in America. Kuter was none too pleased with many of the assertions made in the book, saying: “I cannot prove that he is wrong in stating that the AWPD-1 portion of the Victory Program was given to Burton K. Wheeler and that Wheeler passed it to the Chicago Tribune and Washington Times-Herald. I can’t believe that Mr. Stevenson’s research established the facts in this case. … He presented no evidence to support his allegations.” The same was true of much of what else Stevenson discussed. It made good reading but bore little in the way of truth.18

Setting Up the Air Staff

In November 1941, after the approval and inclusion of AWPD-1 in American war plans, Major Kuter returned to the staff of the G-3 for air operations and shortly moved to be the assistant secretary directly under the army chief of staff, after the departure of his immediate supervisor, Colonel Omar N. Bradley. Bradley’s departure highlighted a growing problem (p.52) with the American military at the time, a dearth of qualified officers. While there was probably never any doubt that Kuter, still a major, could handle the assistant secretary job—his organizational skills were already a known quantity—the promotion showed that majors were now moving into billets normally filled by colonels. The US Army and the US Army Air Corps were desperately short of qualified senior officers. Kuter was sitting in his office on 7 December when reports of the attack against Pearl Harbor came over the radio. The other officers were told to get their uniforms on and return to the Munitions Building immediately; at the time, it was not unusual for officers to be at their desks in civilian clothes.19

The days immediately after Pearl Harbor were highlighted by chaos. During one meeting with Arnold, a secretary stepped in saying that there was an important phone call for Kuter from Colonel Gordon Saville in Lisbon, Portugal. Arnold waved Kuter out of the room, telling him it was likely indeed important. Saville told Kuter that he, Colonel Arthur Wilson, and General Joseph McNarney were at the Lisbon airport attempting to board the last Pan Am flight out of the country but were being told that there was no room on the aircraft for them, despite the fact that the personnel effects of Pan Am leadership, including golf clubs, were being loaded. Kuter knew that Marshall had personally recalled McNarney to Washington and told Saville that he was to tell whoever was in charge at Pan Am that the chief of staff, US Army, General George Marshall, directed that McNarney be on that plane when it departed.

Kuter thought nothing of it until Marshall called Kuter into his office and demanded to know why he had received a phone call that morning from the postmaster general demanding to know why Kuter ordered Pan Am to offload several hundred pounds of mail so that three of his “buddies” could be allowed to fly, all the while invoking his name. Kuter informed the chief of staff that it was McNarney he ordered on the aircraft and suggested that perhaps Pan Am should have used some common sense when it came to what was being loaded and offloaded, noting that perhaps the classified mail was a better travel investment for the company than someone’s golf clubs. Marshall nodded and dismissed Kuter. As Kuter passed through the outer office, he heard the chief of staff shout to his secretary: “Get the Post Master General on the telephone.”20

Kuter busied himself assisting Arnold and Marshall and whomever else he could. Still a major, he answered all kinds of inquiries, including: “How can the [army air force] succeed in softening up the enemy when the RAF … have been unable to do the same thing?” To answer (p.53) this question, Kuter called on fellow field-grade officers to help him. They came to a very easy, controversial, and, luckily, classified decision to “avoid duplicating the errors of the RAF.” This answer demonstrated the rift that already existed between the two air arms. Whereas the British attacked at night, the United States prepared to attack during the day. Kuter noted that the British method went against everything the army air corps, now the army air forces, trained and studied for at ACTS. He also noted that the Britons’ method was clearly not working: “Their inability to hit the targets that have been located is due principally to their own failures in having initially expended their trained personnel, having trained before the war to a very low standard and with an inferior bombsight and in continuing to attack fixed precision targets knowing that their bombs may fall anywhere within six to ten square miles. … To a lesser extent, their inability to hit the targets that have been located is due to the effectiveness of the hostile antiaircraft searchlight and night fighter combination.”21 The United States had barely entered the war, and the US Army Air Forces had already found plenty to critique their comrades in the RAF about.

Kuter went on to be even more damming in this note, which clearly bespeaks his preconceived notions not only about aerial warfare but also about the entire army air force at the time, an organization that had not yet bloodied itself against the enemy:

It is equally obvious that another reason for the failure of the RAF to exhibit the determined aggressiveness essential to successful bombardment—demonstrated by the Japs at Pearl Harbor—depends on adequate prior training. Attrition in airplanes in the Bomber Command of the RAF is over 50% per month and at the same time they are accomplishing no material results. The inevitable consequence of this vicious cycle which is initiated by entering combat without the training required to effect material accomplishment and at the same time having to withstand extraordinary attrition has resulted in the unpalatable fact that the bombardment combat crews of the RAF are no longer trying.22

This was a patently unfair critique of the RAF, but it echoed the sentiments of the army air force at the time and its belief that the war effort would see significant changes as soon as US aerial forces engaged the enemy. The RAF flew at night because its aircraft could not survive daylight (p.54) bombing over Germany, and, as the war progressed, Bomber Command became adept at nighttime bombing, allowing for a “one-two punch” later in the war, with the Americans flying daylight missions. Kuter’s criticisms were off target but represented the American view.

In January 1942, Kuter was finally, along with other members of his West Point class, promoted to lieutenant colonel, but this was only a stepping-stone. He remained a lieutenant colonel for a few days. It was in early 1942, while assigned to the General Staff, that he grabbed national attention for the first time by making a huge jump in rank. On 2 February, less than a month after being promoted to lieutenant colonel on 5 January, he was made a brigadier general, skipping the rank of bird colonel entirely. This made him, at thirty-six, the youngest general officer of his time and the youngest since William Sherman. By default, he was the first member of his West Point class to become a general officer. His archival holdings at the US Air Force Academy are filled with literally hundreds of congratulatory letters and Western Union telegrams; one from a former West Point classmate stated: “Congratulations on being the first in our class to wear stars.” Kuter signed a thank-you letter responding to each and every letter or telegram.23

The press had a field day with the promotion list. Colonels jumped to general officer rank over other more senior officers, but it was Kuter’s promotion that became notorious. His office was overwhelmed with reporters and photographers. One historian noted that the promotion “made good copy.” Kuter was, in a sense, a dream come true for the press. He possessed a “coldly professional face that suggested efficiency and intelligence” and until a moment before was a major completely unexposed to the workings of the press. The jump in rank caused problems for him, some of which boiled down to simple bouts of jealously on the part of other officers who were none too pleased to see the very youthful Larry Kuter wearing a general’s star. One such officer, Lieutenant Colonel Maxwell Taylor, passed him a note saying: “If you are not too busy with the press, General Marshall would like to see you.”24

There was a method to the madness behind Kuter’s and other junior officers’ promotions. With the newly christened US Army Air Force rapidly expanding, Marshall had instructed Arnold to reach below the more senior men for a younger cadre of officers. Since so many of the more senior men were veterans of the First World War, he believed that more competent airmen could be found in the middle ranks of the field-grade officers. Larry Kuter certainly fit this description: “Kuter reminded people of an acetylene torch. Intelligence, dedication, ambition, and drive, (p.55) mixed just right and burning hot enough to cut steel, yet never blazing out of control.” Ironically, Arnold ignored Marshall’s instructions to promote the midgrade officers, and, when Kuter’s name did not come across his desk, Marshall added it to the promotion list himself.25

Despite the jump in rank, Kuter did not receive a new assignment. He stayed in the War Department. Brigadier General Laurence Kuter began setting up the Air Staff organization under Hap Arnold but continued to work in the secretariat office directly for Marshall. He gave thirty other officers the authority to sign General Arnold’s name. Surprisingly, the resulting confusion and contradiction amazed him. It took him more than a year to drive down from thirty to only eight the number who could officially approve items for the air chief.

McNarney Plan and an Independent Air Arm

George Marshall quickly recognized that too many in the War Department in Washington, DC, were interfering with the field commanders’ ability to do their job. He knew he needed to reorganize the offices under his direct control and to keep the work inside the War Department and the army in Washington focused on policy and, thus, allow field commanders not to be burdened by too much paperwork flowing out of the district. He placed McNarney in control of this shake-up along with Colonel William K. Harrison and Larry Kuter. The three officers met in the War Department’s library, where they combed through historical records until they ran across a doctoral dissertation by Colonel Otto L. Nelson that revolved around Elihu Root’s reorganization of the War Department. Luckily, Nelson was instructing at West Point, and he quickly found himself reassigned to the War Department and working directly for McNarney.26

The officers developed an organizational plan calling for five divisions inside the War Department but also reorganized the service into three operating agencies: army ground forces, army service forces, and army air forces. Although still a part of the regular US Army, army air force officers now had significantly more autonomy than ever before. They now had an entirely separate organizational structure from the regular ground army, reporting only to the chief of staff, George Marshall, himself considered to be very sympathetic to an entirely independent air force after war. The McNarney Plan also abolished all other air corps/air force organizations, including General Headquarters Air Force. The same (p.56) thing happened to the army ground forces as well. This eliminated the abundant and often redundant offices and planning directorates under the previously numerous divisions. The overall purpose of the plan was to streamline the War Department. This ensured that Hap Arnold, who now became commanding general of the army air forces, had direct control over all aspects of the army air force as an organizational entity. General Leslie J. McNair now headed army ground forces, and he and Arnold reported directly to Marshall. General Brehon B. Somervell landed as the commander of army service forces.27

McNarney chaired a meeting of the new commanders, all of whom outranked him, and, although only a major general, opened the proceedings by stating: “Gentlemen, this is a briefing session to inform you how the War Department will be reorganized very soon. It is not a session in which to argue or debate the case.” With Marshall’s backing, there was little that the men in the room could do anyway, and War Department Circular no. 59 put the changes into effect on 2 March 1942. For better or worse, the US Army Air Forces had been liberated from the ground element. It was a separate organization planned by flyers and led by flyers. As one of the few officers working on the reorganization, Kuter played a major role in it, and this was another step toward the air arm’s independence.

Kuter had now had a hand in both the development of the air force’s war plan (AWPD-1) and the internal organization of the army air force. No other air force officer, including Hap Arnold, could say the same thing. Kuter later wrote: “With the Army Air Forces established separately and co-equal to the Army Ground Forces we had come as close as we could to establishing a separate air force.”28

Once the reorganization went into effect on 2 March 1942, Kuter was reassigned as the deputy chief of staff, army air forces. In this position, he reported directly to General Millard Harmon, who reported directly to General Arnold. He oversaw the “A staff,” including A-1 (Personnel), A-2 (Intelligence), A-3 (Operations), and A-4 (Logistics). His responsibilities centered around keeping the staff organizations functioning at a reasonable level of productivity and filtering items coming up the chain before they could reach Arnold’s desk. Although a lengthy list, it bears showing exactly how the air force was now organized. Under Arnold, but administratively flowing through Harmon and Kuter, were four assistant chiefs of staff. These were Operations, the Directorate of Military Requirements under Brigadier General Muir S. Fairchild, the Directorate of Technical Services under Colonel R. G. Breene, and the (p.57) Directorate of Management Control under Colonel Bryan Gates. The new staff also included an air surgeon general, public relations people, and smaller special staffs.29

Also nested immediately under Arnold was the Air Force Advisory Council, composed of Lieutenant Colonels C. P. Cabell and Lauris Norstad. The advisory council ranged from two to five men throughout the war and acted as something of an action group for Arnold to bounce ideas off of. None of the other services had an office quite like it, and it even got the attention of General Marshall, who asked Kuter: “What is this ‘council’ I saw in the latest organizational chart of the Air Staff?” This forced Kuter to admit that it was a small office beholden directly to Arnold and no one else. Marshall was not pleased. The army air force staff had only just been approved, and now it seemed that Arnold was setting up some form of “super-staff.” Kuter convinced Marshall that there was nothing to fear, that it was merely an organization that allowed Arnold to discuss ideas that might never go anywhere with an inner circle of trusted agents.30

It is apparent that Arnold relied heavily on Brigadier General Kuter. Arnold was not known for his desire to be involved in all policy decisions and preferred to have only the most pressing issues brought to his attention. This served the dual purpose of keeping him from being overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of policy and paperwork and of having his staff distill the important issues down to their most pressing and important components. Arnold was also known for assigning tasks to the first officer he crossed paths with inside the War Department. It became common practice for officers to save themselves from a possible undesirable task by diving inside the nearest office or men’s restroom if they saw Arnold walking down the hall. Arnold would often assign tasks or projects to officers that were completely foreign to either their experience or what they were currently working on. As one staff officer remembered: “He would grab you by the shoulder and tell you to get it done.” Arnold’s decisions often seemed impulsive, but Kuter noted that his “batting average was awfully high.”31

There was also the small problem that a member of his staff dropped dead while briefing Arnold. This added to the desire of many staff members to avoid contact with the general at all costs. Colonel Oliver S. Ferson, the director of war organizations and movements, had a massive heart attack inside Arnold’s office, although Arnold obviously bore no responsibility for this. The incident still caused many both inside and outside the Air Staff to believe that Arnold was working his staff to death.

(p.58) Arnold disliked the new Air Staff—not the organization or the staff itself, but its size. Kuter noted that Arnold “no longer had the small, tightly knit staff to which he had become accustomed, but an immense organization.” Therefore, Arnold now acted as if the Air Staff was “not his own personal staff, not as an extension of his mind and will, but … an obstacle to be hurdled, to be dodged or evaded.” To this end, Kuter served as something of an office manager and intercessor between Arnold, the Air Force Council, the Army Ground and Service Forces, the General Staff, the US Navy, the Joint Chiefs (Marshall and King), and the remainder of the War Department.32

Arnold’s aversion to the larger staff made Kuter’s job difficult. Kuter recognized that it was up to him to “assure that the suddenly autonomous [army air force] Headquarters managed our enormous expansion effectively, smoothly and very very quickly.” The army air force was semi-independent, but Kuter had to make it function effectively for his boss and for the organization as a whole. He was no longer building the Air Staff; he now had to ensure that it worked, and to do so with a “fast acting, dynamic Chief who defied staff channels was no small task.” It was the efforts of Harmon and Kuter that kept Arnold and the Air Staff functioning together.33

The Birth of the Air Force–Navy Rivalry

Despite the autonomy that the new War Department structure brought, many inside the army air forces still felt that they were under attack and not by the Germans or the Japanese but by the forces that sought to end the air force’s independent momentum. Kuter remembered years later: “Another important function was to thwart wide-spread and high level authorities, outside the Air Forces, in their seemingly unending efforts to upset the strategy on which our growing Air Force was being built.” It is interesting that, even while on a wartime footing, the air arm believed that it was under attack by external forces seeking to roll it permanently under the ground section despite the approval of Marshall and the Roosevelt administration. This culture of fear has long permeated the organization and seems to be a chronic disease the air force has never sought to cure, only to live with. However, in this case, the fear came with a certain degree of truth behind it.34

Although AWPD-1 had the approval of the president of the United States, there were still those who were not on board, namely large portions (p.59) of the US Navy. These elements had Admiral Earnest J. King as their leader. In early 1942, King became “dual hatted” as the commander in chief of the US fleet and the chief of naval operations. These were not the same army ground elements that Kuter and army air force officers believed were out to destroy their independence, but they were out to siphon aircraft from the Europe-first mentality and divert them to the Pacific theater. Instead of the army ground forces, it was the navy that put up the biggest fight, and everyone “wearing Navy Blue” demanded massive augmentations to be directed toward the Pacific even though there were as yet almost no bombers in England.35

The disagreement over the number of aircraft being sent to the Pacific sowed the seeds of the air force–navy disunion. Although Arnold’s and King’s correspondence was never anything but civil, and although the two seemed to get along with each other and also with Marshall, the discordant aims of the two services at the beginning of the war were painfully clear. King wrote to Arnold in March 1942: “The plain fact of the matter is … that all of us—no matter what uniform we wear—must go to work to win the war.” He added: “Therefore … I think it is high time that the trend toward a separate air force be given up—and that we face the realities of the situation with which we are confronted.” As early as 1942, when the US military was training, equipping, and preparing for global conflict, the heads of the army air force and the navy were not singing from the same sheet of music.36

Although the navy was the principal proponent of moving more heavy bombers to the Pacific theater, the loudest voice came from General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was actually not a proponent of more bombers in the Pacific, unless of course they fell under his purview in the Southwest Pacific theater. He was fighting two wars. The first was with the Japanese. The second was between Nimitz in the Pacific theater and his allied forces back in Washington, DC.

In the fall of 1942, the army air force planners in DC dealt with the fact that, despite what was written down in AWPD-1, there were simply not enough aircraft in the nascent air force to fight a global conflict or to train at home, and Kuter was on the receiving end of these pleas for aircraft and pilots. Although it was clear that “Europe first” was the plan by which all branches of the military would fight, leaders in the Pacific theater—mainly any airmen working for MacArthur—were screaming for aircraft. Kuter received a memorandum regarding a recent inspection of Pacific air bases. In short, there existed “two recurring requests from the Pacific Area as a whole which we are incapable of meeting,” (p.60) those being a request for trained pilots and a request for aircraft types “superior to those which they now have.” One of the things MacArthur wanted was an operational training unit (OTU) in the Pacific. As soon as pilots earned their wings, he wanted them ordered directly to the Pacific for further qualification.37

The memorandum to Kuter went on to state: “General MacArthur has twice requested additional personnel and additional combat airplanes so that he can set up an OTU system in Australia. We have been unable to grant this request since our continental OTU’s are not functioning properly, due to shortages of personnel and equipment and, even if additional facilities were available to send to Australia, it would be better to increase our own OTU’s than to duplicate them in Australia.” In short, it was too bad that General MacArthur wanted more personnel and newer planes and a Pacific base to train them at because all of those things were in short supply everywhere and, even if they were not, it seemed that the Pacific was the last place they would be sent.38

General MacArthur was not the only general officer wanting aircraft. Even while the planners grappled with putting together an air force for the coming North African campaign, for which General Ernest Harmon was also requesting aircraft, General Delos Carleton Emmons was also requesting planes for the defense of the West Coast of the United States. All three were “continually hammering at us that the pursuit pilots we send them are not trained in pursuit, and the bombardment pilots we send them are not trained in bombardment.” In a rare bit of military candor, the report admitted: “This [is] unfortunately true and is again a reflection of the shortage of training facilities in the United States.”39

The problem of desiring newer pursuit planes was not an esoteric one. Current aircraft in the Pacific and soon North Africa were simply outclassed by their German and Japanese counterparts. Kuter was warned that “the recurring cry from these theaters is for pursuit airplanes superior in performance to the P-39 and P-40.” Despite these pleas: “Neither the P-47 nor P-38 can be sent to these theaters in large quantities, as their primary assignment must be to Bolero where they operate against ME-109s and FW-190s. Already 100 P-38s have been diverted to General MacArthur as a result of his constant pleas.” P-38s did arrive in North Africa later and were present there when Kuter arrived. Bolero was the ongoing buildup of the air force that would operate out of England.40

There was another reason for the aircraft shortages plaguing army air force units. Previously established agreements continued to send American-built aircraft to RAF units, particularly in North Africa. British (p.61) production could not keep pace with the widening scope of the war, and the United States had the means necessary to churn out the aircraft the RAF so desperately needed. This remained a sore spot with American airmen—including Arnold—but it proved to be important as experienced RAF pilots proved more adept at encountering the enemy than were their unseasoned American counterparts early on in the war. Still, this never stopped American commanders from demanding more aircraft in their own theaters.41

General Harmon and General MacArthur also requested AT-6s for flight training. The request was denied because there was such an acute aircraft shortage that all the AT-6s in the continental United States were being used to train not only pursuit pilots but also twin-engine pilots. There were simply not enough planes to go around. Arnold did authorize six C-78s each to General Harmon and General Emmons. Although these C-78s were no use when it came to training pursuit pilots, they would allow both generals to ship supplies and move themselves around their vast areas of operations.

Bomber aircraft were also a cause for concern in the Pacific. Already B-17s in small numbers operated in the theater (Japanese forces destroyed eighteen of them in their attack on the Philippines in December), but they proved inadequate for the theater as a whole. The B-17 was not suited for the war in the Pacific, despite planning efforts prior to America entering the war that sent them to MacArthur. The Japanese destruction of American forces in the Philippines, the Europe-first mentality, and sheer aircraft shortage prevented more B-17s from finding their way to the Pacific theater. The end result would see the entire Pacific theater equipped with the sturdier B-24s Liberators instead of the Flying Fortresses. The Consolidated B-24s held far superior range for the long-duration flights needed to fly over the open water of the Pacific. The B-17s already in theater would be returned first to Australia and then back to the United States for use as training aircraft for pilots in four-engine aircraft, primarily future bombardment officers. Some of these B-17s also arrived in North Africa.42

Bombers were not the only aircraft problem faced in the Pacific. MacArthur wanted industry in America to stop production of so many different types of fighters and focus on producing more on a single type. The memorandum recommended to Kuter: “It would be wise to remind them of the impossibility of converting existing production of types which they declare unsuitable to production of P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s since our aircraft production is so inflexible that the cutting off of one (p.62) line of production of an unsatisfactory pursuit plane will result in an even more critical shortages [sic] of airplanes of any type.” The answer was clear. The air forces around the globe would get what they would get and learn to deal with it. Ironically, in theater, shortages beyond aircraft and equipment were bound to become an even greater concern for Kuter in very short order, but for the time being, he displayed both calmness and resolve in dealing with the theater commanders. He ensured that Arnold’s expectations were met and that the needs of the overall war effort came first.43

Kuter’s levelheadedness benefited him greatly as a staff officer serving first George Marshall and then Hap Arnold. Even though he had to routinely and forcibly argue with officers senior to him in both rank and age, there is no account of Kuter ever losing his cool or his temper. Perhaps this is another reason he is so often overlooked; his self-control does not make for great writing. He did what needed to be done and never lost control. As he found out on future assignments, other officers did not share his proclivity for levelheaded reactions.

The calmness and reserve displayed by Kuter benefited any officer who worked for General Arnold as “no box fenced in Hap Arnold.” Arnold would, as we have seen, often have the first officer he ran into drop what he was doing to work a particular problem, regardless of that officer’s rank. He was very much a “line of sight tasker.” It took a coolheaded man like Kuter to keep the staff functioning and determine who was doing what and just which officer might be working a problem after Arnold took a stroll down the hall. In fact, it was this unflappability that endeared him to senior officers, especially an officer like Marshall.44

Kuter’s experiences in Washington essentially established him as an up-and-coming officer in the army air force. His experience at ACTS had refined his theories of and feelings about aerial bombardment and helped him author portions of Air War Plans Division–Plan 1, along with Hansell, George, and Walker. He also helped brief the plan up the chain through to the secretary of war. His organizational skills made him a sought-after officer in all his future commands, and his work setting up the army air force Air Staff brought him to the notice of Marshall and Arnold, both of whose trust he earned, a not insignificant feat in itself. He was instrumental in shaping the organization of the US Army Air Forces once it became coequal with the ground component. Finally, his promotion to brigadier general at the age of thirty-six made him, at least for a short time, something of a media darling and a recognized face throughout Washington.

(p.63) As the overseas combat commands were gaining experience, Arnold started thinking about the experience level of the officers he surrounded himself with. He knew that, if those in his closest circle were going to have appreciable roles in a postwar air force or even be considered for more senior positions, both in theater and back in Washington, DC, as the war progressed they would each need seasoning in combat. He clearly recognized his own lack of combat experience during the First World War, and, while he never mentioned it, he ensured that the same would not be said of the best and brightest officers under his command.

In early 1942, Arnold began to post his most trusted officers to overseas posts, many of them in command of a combat organization. First to depart was Ira Eaker, followed shortly by Carl Spaatz and the young Haywood Hansell, all three to Europe. For a time, Kuter remained in Washington working directly for Arnold as a somewhat indispensable man, but Arnold knew that he needed the seasoning that only command in combat provided. As a brigadier general, he was already too senior to command a squadron or a group, and this hindered his combat experience. Squadron and group commanders led combat missions. Wing commanders oversaw the larger unit. Kuter’s jump in rank effectively promoted him out of a pure combat job, but the command of a larger organization was important for his future development. Arnold had him report to his office in October 1942. He had been in Washington for just over three years, and it was time for him to move on. To that end, Brigadier General Laurence Kuter became slated for his first overseas deployment and command of a wing. There was one caveat. In his memorandums to both George Kenney and Carl Spaatz seeking a command for Kuter, Arnold added the stipulation: “I want him back.”45


(2.) “Organization of the Top Echelons during World War I”; James C. Gaston, Planning the American Air War: Four Men and Nine Days in 1941 (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1982), 39; Laurence Kuter Oral History, vol. 2, p. 19.

(4.) Laurence Kuter Oral History, vol. 1, p. 196. Currently, the General Staff is known as the Joint Staff and works under the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

(6.) Crane, Bombs, Cities, and Civilians, 19, 25. The US Army Air Corps was reorganized in July 1941 into the US Army Air Forces.

(7.) Haywood S. Hansell Jr., The Air Plan the Defeated Hitler (Atlanta: Higgins-McArthur/Longino & Porter, 1972), 70.

(9.) David E. Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917–1945 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press 1998), 169; Donald L. Miller, Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War against Nazi Germany (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 46; “Organization of the Top Echelons during World War I”; Kuter, Airman at Yalta, 23.

(10.) Haywood S. Hansell Jr., “Gen. Laurence S. Kuter,” Air Force Magazine, June 1980, 95–96, and The Strategic Air War against Germany and Japan: A Memoir (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1986), 31; Griffith, The Quest, 67.

(11.) Kuter, Airman at Yalta, 23; Martha Byrd, Kenneth N. Walker: Airpower’s Untempered Crusader (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1997), xii.

(13.) Hansell, The Air Plan That Defeated Hitler, 90–93. There remains some confusion over who received the AWPD-1 brief and when they received it. In Hansell’s account, the brief that went to the chief of the air corps was with George Brett. Kuter remembered it going to Barton Yount. Yount was not in Washington at this time, and Brett was still acting chief. Hap Arnold was now assistant chief of staff of the army for the army air forces, and Brett’s position had become redundant, but probably Brett received the brief first, and Arnold received it when Marshall did.

(18.) Folder 6, box 7, MS-18, Addendum 1.

(19.) Kuter notes that, prior to the outbreak of hostilities and the United States declaring war, it was not unusual for officers to work in their civilian clothes and wear uniforms only when required, e.g., for an official briefing. Sometimes that was as infrequently as one day a month and only then simply to ensure that the officer in question owned at least one serviceable uniform. “Growth of Air Power,” 165.

(20.) Ibid., 167.

(21.) “Memorandum for the Chief of Staff,” 13 January 1942, 168.7012-1, AFHRA.

(23.) “Organization of the Top Echelons during World War I”; Charles D. Bright, ed., Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Air Force (New York: Greenwood, 1992), 332; folder 6, MS-18.

(29.) Ibid., 181;“Organization of the Army Air Forces as of 24 March 1942,” folder 7, box 1, MS-18.

(30.) Laurence S. Kuter, “The General vs. the Establishment: General H. H. Arnold and the Air Staff,” Aerospace Historian, December 1974, 185–89.

(31.) “Arnold’s Staff Notes, HQ-AAF, Interview with Major General Lyman Whitten,” 9 December 1970, 1102994, AFHRA; Kuter, “The General vs. the Establishment,” 188; “Organization of the Army Air Forces”; Murray Green interview with Kuter, 17 April 1970, MS-33, USAFA.

(34.) Ibid., 181.

(35.) Ibid., 187.

(36.) Ernest J. King and Walter Muir Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (New York: Da Capo, 1976), 454.

(p.189) (37.) “Memorandum for Kuter: Inspection of the Pacific Area,” 14 September 1942, K702.152, AFHRA.

(41.) Robert S. Ehlers Jr., The Mediterranean Air War: Airpower and Allied Victory in World War II (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015), 43–45, 224–26.

(42.) Jeffery S. Underwood, The Wings of Democracy: The Influence of Air Power on the Roosevelt Administration, 1933–1941 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991), 183.

(45.) Ibid., 208.