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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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Back to Washington and Hap’s Stand-In

Back to Washington and Hap’s Stand-In

(p.87) 6 Back to Washington and Hap’s Stand-In
Architect of Air Power

Brian D. Laslie

University Press of Kentucky

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter Six begins in May 1943 when General Kuter returned to Headquarters Army Air Forces to become assistant chief of air staff for plans and combat operations. During this time he helped author the field manual 100-20 which was later called the “emancipation proclamation… of air power.” Kuter also flew on the bombing mission over the Normandy beaches in the early morning of 6 June. Kuter helped organize the Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific and represented the Army Air Forces at the Yalta conference in 1945 while General Hap Arnold convalesced from a heart attack, an experience Kuter later covered in his book An Airman at Yalta. Although overlooked, it would not be hyperbole to say that Kuter was single-handedly speaking for war-time air force and preparing for the post-war air force at the same time.

Keywords:   Yalta conference, B-29s, FM 100-20

The unpublished autobiography that Kuter later worked on ended with his departure from North Africa, but his arrival back in Washington allowed for a separate and equally rich paper trail to be developed. One sees his hand in much of what comes out of the Air Staff in 1943, most prominently in his work on FM 100-20, Command and Employment of Air Power. Kuter’s service in both the European and the North African theaters now garnered him new respect, exactly what Arnold intended in sending him overseas.1

In May 1943, General Kuter returned to Headquarters Army Air Forces to become assistant chief of staff for plans and combat operations, a position that put him in daily contact with General Arnold. He spent only a few short months overseas, less than a year in total, as the 1st Bombardment Wing commander and deputy commander to Coningham as part of the Northwest African Tactical Air Forces (NATAF). Though brief, these stints in command and leadership positions gave him a keen grasp of how the war—and not just the air war—was going overseas. They also presented him with very developed ideas about just what the Air Staff should be focusing on in Washington, DC. During his tenure there, he worked extensively on Command and Employment of Air Power and also stood in for Arnold at the Yalta conference. He spent the majority of his time during the remainder of the war working directly for Arnold, but the jobs he handled routinely saw him traveling overseas to the different theaters of the ongoing war.

On his return to Washington, Kuter issued a press release covering the action in North Africa. “The function of the tactical air force is one of working in partnership with other components of air power,” he noted, continuing: “[The word] support has now so many old fashioned and wrong implications in the public mind that it is much better not to use (p.88) it.” On 25 May 1943, he also sat for an interview with the assistant chief of staff for intelligence. While the subject of the interview was what went right and what went wrong in North Africa, it allowed him an opportunity to express his more esoteric views on air power. He wanted air power to support ground forces, but not in the way traditionally understood by the ground element. He was perfectly happy with air power providing firepower and attack functions, as long as these were centralized under an air commander and codified in sound doctrine. On the latter point, he was about to get his wish, but not before arguing the finer points of attack aviation with George Kenney.2

Air Power in the Pacific

It was generally understood that there were two army air force officers whom you did not want to show up at your door. Lauris Norstad was one, and Larry Kuter the other. Their presence clearly indicated that Hap Arnold was taking more than just a benign interest in your operations, but Kuter’s world travels would have to wait as he currently had more than his fair share of problems awaiting him in the capital, the first of which was a confrontation with George Kenney over the Southwest Pacific.

It should be no surprise that two individuals such as Kuter and Kenney would clash with each other. George C. Kenney was “MacArthur’s airman.” In modern parlance, one might call him an innovator or an outside-the-box thinker. He used every means necessary and available to him to improve his situation, including unique fixes to in-theater problems. At the time Kuter returned to Washington, Kenney was laboring away in the Southwest Pacific. They were separated not only by age and temperament but also by an important aspect of geography that always plagued military men in wartime. Kenney’s view of the war was that of the war fighter, myopically, but not wrongly, focused on what he saw in front of him. Kuter’s view took in the larger global picture, but he was also the man not actively involved in combat operations. Kenney’s biographer, Thomas E. Griffith, said: “Though Kenney did not personally produce every new or innovative idea, his focus on improving methods and a willingness to jettison established routines encouraged innovation in his command.” He demonstrated a preference for attack aviation going back to the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS), where he led that department. Therefore, the two were bound to clash.3

(p.89) In June 1943, Kenney wrote to Arnold regarding what he called “attack aviation.” Though the letter is lengthy, a segment of it and some of Kuter’s equally lengthy retort are worth quoting in their entirety. Kenney wrote to Arnold:

Speaking of attack aviation, how about putting these words back in the Air Corps dictionary? The tactics of attack aviation are still sound, we have proven them effective and they are more in evidence every day all over the world. We have yet to lose a plane with low altitude work against shipping and it is not because we have no opposition. The secret is high speed approach and exit under cover of a lot of forward gun fire. What I would like to have you do is put attack aviation back on the map and as soon as I get these groups fixed up for this type of work let me organize an attack command. … It would be a popular move and I believe it would be much better than breaking the Bomber Command into two or more wings when there are too many groups to handle under one command control.4

Kenney’s letter was interesting several respects. First, his statement that he had yet to lose a plane at low altitude was patently false. He had even lost a B-17 on a low-level bombing mission and, with it, Brigadier General Kenneth Walker. Second, he should have known that what worked in one theater or even on one mission might not translate to the air force as a whole. Arnold asked Kuter to draft a reply.5 To say that Kuter held nothing back in his response would be gross understatement: “Your proposition that the words, ‘attack aviation’ be put back in the Air Corps dictionary is a bit confusing. Surely you are not talking about your own personal dictionary, since you have never asked any one’s approval of your extraordinary vocabulary before. The enclosed press release confirms my belief. Quite evidently you already have an ‘Attack Group’ and ‘Attack Squadrons.’”6 Kuter went on to state that the term attack aviation was incorrect and redundant for two reasons. First: “Attack tactics have definitely not as you state proven sound ‘every day all over the world.’” Kuter pointed out that an attempt by Eaker to use B-26s in an attack role resulted in a loss of eleven of eleven aircraft and that changes in German tactics had made attack tactics below sixty-five hundred feet completely prohibitive in the European and Mediterranean theaters. He was not entirely accurate here as “skip bombing” proved effective in both the Mediterranean and the Southwest Pacific.7

(p.90) Kuter’s second point was that it was Kenney’s tactics that were different from those employed in the other theaters, not that he had developed a unique form of aerial warfare necessitating a new classification. He pointed out that Kenney was simply using bomber and fighter aircraft in a unique manner and that it did not matter whether these aircraft operated at “high, medium, or low altitude”; their fundamental application did not change. He closed his eviscerating letter: “Lest there be any doubt, however, you are perfectly free to continue using your own unexpurgated vocabulary.”8

While this letter initially seems to indicate an extreme antipathy between Kuter and Kenney, nothing was further from the truth. The two had known each other for years—since the early 1930s—and were actually on quite friendly terms. In fact, when Arnold first wanted to send him overseas in late 1942 to get combat experience, Kuter initially wanted to serve under Kenney in the Southwest Pacific. Before Arnold decided to send Kuter to Europe, he had sent Kenney a message on his thoughts about having Kuter serve under him. Kenney’s response was “glad to have him.” Kuter’s abrasive letter seemed to be the kind of gruff, toughly worded letter that Kenney would have expected to come from Washington. Kuter was not being rude; he was simply speaking Kenny’s language.9

Field Manual 100-20

In 1983, William Momyer sat down with air force historians to discuss the air war during World War I. About Kuter and FM 100-20 (Command and Employment of Air Power) he said:

Kuter came back at the time from North Africa, as you will recall, and made that the basis of the writing of the [Field Manual] 100-20. The 100-20 was really the emancipation proclamation, I call it, of air power, at least of tactical air power. It was the first time it was really set down in unequivocal terms as to the priority of missions. The first priority was to gain and maintain air superiority. The second priority was to isolate the battlefield. The third priority was to support the ground forces. That, I think then, you can say kind of summed up what came out of the North African campaign. Those three elements. For the first time, I think we had a doctrine that you could talk about in formalized (p.91) terms and people could now see that this was the way it was going to be employed.10

Kuter departed North Africa in May, as we have seen, and returned to work on the Air Staff shortly thereafter, except he now worked in the recently opened Pentagon. The War Department published FM 100-20 on 21 July 1943. It is probable that the publication was in an advanced draft form or even in production before Kuter returned from North Africa. The historian David Mets certainly believed so. He called the contents of FM 100-20 “corporate property,” ideas that existed prior to Kuter deploying overseas. This may be true, but Kuter pushed these concepts into the public sphere on his return.11

The manual was concise enough, a scant fourteen pages, its content self-explanatory and not inflammatory, and Mets is probably correct that the ideas found in it were common knowledge and accepted in the air arm all the way back to ACTS. But this should not lessen its importance or Kuter’s contributions in promoting it. The most important line in the document was the following: “Land Power and Air Power are co-equal and interdependent forces; neither is an auxiliary of the other.” Even if this principle was accepted among air officers prior to or during the war, its codification in an official publication was extremely important. Air officers now had it in writing that their branch was “co-equal” to the land component. Land commanders also had to accept this as codified doctrine now, which, after their experiences in North Africa, most of them did.12

Even if Kuter did not personally write FM 100-20, there are a lot of experiences from North Africa found in the document, which is why his name has been linked to it for the past seventy plus years. The organization and employment of air forces in combat closely mirror the organization and operations he helped establish in NAAF before becoming Coningham’s deputy in the NATAF. FM 100-20 called for each war-fighting air force to be composed of a strategic air force (for strategic and deeper targets) and a tactical air force (for ground support) in addition to air defense and air support forces. If Kuter did not write FM 100-20, his fingerprints were all over it and his DNA found within it.13

The War against Japan and the B-29

The planning for the overall air offensive against Japan reached a new level of importance in 1943. The war in Germany with the B-17 and (p.92) the B-24 was finally under way in a meaningful manner, and the Air Staff turned its attention to the bombing of Japan. Beyond missions being flown from China, planners set their sights on air attacks from other directions. It was time to organize a strategic army air force in the Pacific. Arnold oversaw the establishment of this command from his office in Washington, and Brigadier General Kuter served as his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff plans. Kuter set about organizing this aerial effort in the hope of playing a more meaningful role in the war than he had in Europe. He wanted a combat command in the Pacific. The basis for this effort was the 20th Air Force and, when it moved into the Pacific, the 8th Air Force. These units later formed the US Army Strategic Air Force, Pacific.

In August 1943, Kuter’s assignment involved determining how quickly strategic and tactical air forces could pivot from Europe to the Pacific. If Germany collapsed in 1944, the air war could be further prosecuted as early as 1945 despite current guidance stating that no full war against Japan would begin until 1947. Clearly, planning statistics current in 1943 assumed that the war in Europe was going to continue for as many as five more years. In a private letter to Arnold on 9 August, Kuter argued that Japan could be defeated no sooner than 1946 and, only then, if “large numbers of B-29s and B-35s can be operational in the face of final desperate Japanese opposition.”14

In this letter, Kuter pointed out that aerial combat over Japan was likely to include “heroics” on the part of the Japanese involving their aircraft colliding with the bomber force—something that would indeed come to pass in the Pacific theater—and that the B-35 should be properly armed to prevent their destruction in this manner. The fact that the B-35 was actively being planned for indicated just how long military planners believed the war was going to last.15

Despite being considered one of Hap Arnold’s indispensable officers, Kuter was by no means what one could call a yes-man. Not only would he argue with Arnold, but he would also ensure that his objections made it into written form. A particular incident in August 1943 demonstrated the extent to which Kuter would go to indicate his disagreement with the senior air force commander. Arnold, returning to his office after a meeting of the Joint Chiefs, took umbrage with a report indicating that the German air force was actually increasing its production of aircraft despite the hits taken as part of the strategic air campaign. Kuter wrote to Arnold that the numbers were, in fact, true and represented the best data from both American and British sources. He noted there was no way (p.93) around the facts: the German fighter force was increasing rather than decreasing. Still, he made it plain that he was perfectly willing to allow Arnold to accept the production numbers or not: “It is very clearly the prerogative of the Commander to throw that advice away and place [i.e., use] any figures which he may choose.” Kuter was not afraid to stand up to Arnold.16

Victory through Air Power

Kuter and Arnold also disagreed on another matter, but this divergence stemmed from Arnold’s personal animosity for Alexander de Seversky, author of the book—and the star of the Disney film of the same name—Victory through Air Power. Seversky and Arnold both shared a deep and unending enmity for each other, although Seversky counted Kuter as a close friend. Kuter thought the same of Seversky, calling him “Alec” and “Sasha.” While personal and professional disagreements could often be overcome, there was little chance of Kuter getting Arnold to agree to anything if Seversky was going to be involved. Seversky’s story bears telling here as prelude to a personal conflict that eventually embroiled Kuter as well.17

Alexander Prokofiev Seversky was born in Russia (in the present-day Georgia) in 1894 to parents of noble ancestry. He attended military school and eventually the Russian naval academy, from which he graduated in 1914, just prior to the beginning of World War I. During the war, he transferred to the flying service. On his first combat mission in 1915, he was shot down by antiaircraft fire during a bombing run against a battleship. His plane hit the water and exploded, and Seversky lost his right leg in the process. This in no way deterred the intrepid young aviator, and, after more than a year off, during which time he worked in aircraft production, he returned to flying status, eventually becoming an ace and shooting down a total of thirteen German aircraft. During one mission, “he was shot in the leg—although now he required the services of a carpenter rather than a doctor.” His gallantry in combat earned him multiple awards, including the Cross of Saint George, the highest military award of imperial Russia. Later in the war, he was sent to the United States as part of the Russian naval mission, an assignment from which he would never return. As the Bolsheviks took control of Russia, Seversky (now de Seversky owing to a mistake made when he entered the country) elected to stay in the United States.18

(p.94) Seversky spent his early years in America moving from place to place and employed in various jobs. It was while living in New York as an aircraft inspector that he met the army air corps officer and advocate Billy Mitchell. At this time, Mitchell was attempting to show the world the efficacy of air power by sinking surface ships from the air. Seversky claimed years later that it was he who suggested to Mitchell the idea of dropping bombs next to ships—not on them—to cause a “water hammer” effect that would open gaps in the side of the vessel below the waterline. No matter who proposed the idea, it worked, and Mitchell used it in 1921 when he sank the German battleship Ostfriesland. Seversky later moved to Ohio, where he worked with the army air corps on various assignments. Perhaps the most revolutionary of these assignments was an air-refueling device that was used on the “Question Mark” mission in 1929. Question Mark proved conclusively that air refueling was an achievable goal as it enabled the air corps to keep a plane in the air for seven consecutive days.19

In 1931, Seversky organized the Seversky Aircraft Corporation. At the time, many of his employees were fellow Russian expatriates. The company had modestly successful dealings with the US War Department and in 1936, competing with the Curtiss Aeroplane Company, won a government contract. Thus, the Seversky P-35 became the first all-metal, enclosed cockpit, fighter interceptor procured by the US Army Air Corps. Sadly, despite its many attractive features, the plane was nearly impossible to fly, and many were lost in accidents. Even though the P-35 had retractable landing gear (also a first for the air corps), “there was no way for the pilot to tell whether it was down and locked in place.” The crashes that resulted from the landing gear problem proved that the overall design an inadequate. As a result, most of the aircraft were converted to trainers, though a few still flourished on active duty, thousands of miles from the continental United States. Of those still on active service in 1941, most were destroyed when the Japanese invaded the Philippines.20

While Seversky was designing and building aircraft, he was also busy pestering the chief of the US Army Air Corps, Major General Henry Arnold. At this time, Seversky was a proponent of escort and pursuit aircraft, and he lost no time in making his thoughts about the validity of pursuit aviation known to Arnold. Arnold’s response to the criticism is not my subject here; however, it is known that he intervened with the board of directors of Seversky’s company, which was already facing financial hardships and needed nothing more to tip the scales against Seversky. Geoffrey Perret described Seversky’s removal this way: “Seversky (p.95) was no business executive. Seversky Airplane Company was run haphazardly, according to its founder’s whims and idiosyncrasies. He’d also earned the antagonism of Arnold. Seversky kept telling him he was going to have to build thousands of long-range escorts. Arnold didn’t want to believe, didn’t want to hear it. In October 1939 Seversky Airplane Company, under pressure from Arnold, ousted dynamic, colorful Sasha and was reorganized as Republic Aviation.”21

Seversky was furious at Arnold for the intercession and never forgave him. It would be a contentious feud that remained heated throughout World War I. As far as Seversky was concerned, anything that went wrong with the US Army Air Corps and the US Army Air Force over the following decade inevitably fell at the feet of Arnold. As the historian Phillip Meilinger noted: “For the next several years, de Seversky blamed Arnold for every deficiency—real or perceived—that he found in American airpower.” Unfortunately for Arnold, the ouster did not solve his Seversky problem; in fact, it inadvertently made it far worse. Now free of the restraints of running a company Seversky had nothing but time on his hands, time he used to write.22

After being ousted from his aircraft manufacturing company, Seversky turned his attention to writing and in 1942 released Victory through Air Power. The book was an instant hit. Reader’s Digest released a condensed version, which gave the work an even wider readership. It is estimated that, by the time the film version was released, an estimated five million people had read Victory through Air Power and that fifteen million more knew of Seversky’s perspectives on and theories of air power.23

Seversky’s thesis was self-evident from his book’s title. Seversky argued that victory, not just in World War I but in any war, could be won only through the use of long-range strategic air power. Unlike many other authors writing at the same time, he warned of dire consequences for not taking immediate action: “A realistic understanding of the new weapon, of its implications in terms of national security, of its challenge to America, is not a matter of choice. It is the very condition on national survival.” He also called for the army air force to be reorganized into a separate and independent service, calling the action emancipation. The same word was being used inside the Air Staff at this time, especially with regard to FM 100-20.24

Once the book was released, two camps developed: those who were intrigued by Seversky’s ideas and those who were opposed. The historian Charles Beard was quoted on its cover as saying: “In my opinion this book is more important to America than all the other war books (p.96) put together.” However, this was not a universal opinion, and those who would seem at first glance to be proponents of Seversky’s were actually his biggest detractors. The US Army Air Force—and Hap Arnold especially—was less than thrilled with the book. There were those inside the air force who wanted independence, but wartime was not the right time to have these discussions. Seversky put the discussion into the public sphere, something Arnold wanted to avoid. Arnold’s reluctance does not preclude the possibility that Arnold already had an agreement with General George Marshall about the creation of an independent air force and that he therefore felt that Seversky’s making waves might disrupt things.25 In any case, Arnold went on the offensive. The historian Russell Lee had this to say about Arnold’s attacks:

Arnold wrote to General George V. Strong, head of Military Intelligence, describing Seversky’s accusations. His comments were tolerable in peacetime, Arnold said, but during a war “a serious situation is created when anyone breaks down the morale of the people of the United States, builds up in them a lack of confidence in the equipment that our fighting forces use, have sisters, mothers, and wives of aviators protest against their brothers, sons, and husbands flying inferior equipment.” Arnold added ominously, “I think this is a matter for drastic action.” Seversky’s statements might actually aid the enemy, Arnold continued, and the charge of treason was a real possibility. However, by protesting the publicist’s accusations, the general validated some claims.26

Arnold also unleashed Brigadier General Paul B. Malone on Seversky. Malone went vicious from the start: “I want to correct De Seversky’s statements. … I think that De Seversky is a near subversionist. He is doing a lot of harm … completely disrupting the organization, both of the Army and Navy.” However, he went one step too far, questioning Seversky’s military record as well as his knowledge and understanding of American air power. While it is not unusual to see retired officers criticize each other, it is unusual for attacks to sink to the level of questioning someone’s military record, especially someone as decorated as Seversky. Malone was also apparently woefully unaware of Seversky’s contributions to the design of aircraft being flown by the army air force, which made Seversky an eminent source on American air power.27

The attacks by Arnold and others did very little to stem the readership (p.97) of Victory through Air Power. If anything, they only further exasperated the efforts to discredit Seversky by giving him a wider audience and making more people familiar with the flamboyant Russian. Perhaps the biggest reason the army air force could do little to stop Seversky was that he was outside the operational chain of command. Even though he technically held the rank of a major in the reserves, this was more of an honorarium. He was therefore untouchable, unlike his predecessor and self-described mentor Billy Mitchell, who had faced a court-martial over similar issues.

Not all the military powers rallied against Seversky. In January 1943, Brigadier General Claire Chennault—the former commander of the Flying Tigers and now the head of the China Air Task Force, having exiled himself to the Far East for disagreeing with fellow air corps officers at ACTS—wrote the publisher disagreeing with the theory that the “bomber will always get through” and prescribing long-range fighter escort, which placed him in stark contrast to the dominant paradigm of long-range strategic bombing. He thanked the Simon and Schuster people for the copy of Victory through Air Power, and he took the occasion to express his opinions of Seversky and the current leadership of the army air forces. The historian Russell Lee described Chennault’s thoughts this way: “According to Chennault, many American military leaders were responsible for the poor state of air readiness when war began. The general now hoped that ‘proper weight will be given to air power now to insure early victory and minimum losses.’”28

This was where Larry Kuter also figured in the story. In 1942, prior to his deployment to England and North Africa and while working for Arnold and the new Air Staff, Kuter and Brigadier General Harold George renewed their acquaintance with Seversky; George and Seversky had known each other since 1920. The Seversky biographer James K. Libbey said that Kuter and George “both belonged to the camp of officers who believed de Seversky, despite his criticisms, correctly championed the quest for air power and an independent air force.” A lifelong friendship developed between the three men.29

Both George and Kuter believed that Seversky was better as an ally than as an adversary, and they wanted to heal the rift between Seversky and Arnold. (Kuter did admit that doing so would be difficult because Seversky had “two hates”—“the Republic Aircraft Corporation and Gen Arnold”—and Arnold “was never noted for his restraint or tolerance in matters involving Seversky.”) After the Battle of Midway, when Arnold expressed frustration with the US Navy, George saw his chance. The (p.98) two officers scheduled a “peace talk” meeting between the air chief and the author in Arnold’s office. Kuter remembered that Seversky was currently reaching a “big audience” with his writing and that he and George wanted Seversky to take a “much kinder view” toward Arnold. Things did not go well.30

When it came time for the meeting, George and Seversky entered Arnold’s office, Kuter staying behind, but Arnold shouted out to Kuter: “You come in here, too.” There followed minutes of dead silence as Arnold and Seversky stared at each other. Arnold, who was willing to discuss problems with the air service with his closest advisers, refused to discuss anything critical of any service with Seversky. Finally, Arnold broke the silence by asking Seversky: “So what?” Seversky shouted back: “So what? What so what?” Arnold went on the offensive: “You don’t know what the hell you are writing. You have no information. You are writing something that has nothing to do with reality or fact. You are writing about things you cannot possibly know about unless there is a leak in this office.” After uttering this, Arnold shifted his gaze to George and Kuter, who “both stiffened” in their seats.31

At some point during the meeting, Kuter and George either asked to leave or were kicked out of the room by Arnold. Arnold and Seversky continued shouting at each other as Seversky limped out of the office. It was the last meeting between the two for three years. Kuter and George now dropped the idea of converting Seversky into an Arnold ally, but Seversky refused to go away and was about to become an even bigger thorn in Arnold’s side thanks to the interest shown in the Disney version of Victory through Air Power. Kuter would get pulled into the battle again.32

By the time Walt Disney came across the book, it was estimated that 5million people had read Victory and another 20 million, out of a population of 130 million, knew of Seversky and were familiar with his ideas. Sometime in late 1942, Reader’s Digest sent a copy of Victory through Air Power, along with several other short stories, to Disney in the hopes that he would be interested in producing them as educational and family-oriented films. While the collaboration never came to fruition, Victory through Air Power struck a chord with Walt Disney. This was the chance he had been waiting for. This was the opportunity for the company to contribute something original to the war effort and, just as important, something outside government control. The book was also heavily laden with futuristic concepts, which appealed to Disney’s fascination with technology. He immediately set about securing the rights to transform the book into a film version.33

(p.99) The motivation for making a film about air power was about more than just a love of technology or a desire to do something outside government control. Disney strongly believed in the ideas behind the book. However, in making Victory through Air Power into a movie, he would be producing a purely topical film that would have little life beyond its initial production, as opposed to his other feature films, which he had always envisioned as being timeless. As Richard Shale said: “After the war the film would be virtually useless.” Or, as Leonard Maltin put it: “For a man whose financial standing was rather shaky, and whose studio was thriving on military assignments, it was a bold move.” Nevertheless, Disney had committed himself fully to this bold new project, and, once he made a decision, nothing could change his mind.34

Victory through Air Power was filmed in late 1942 and early 1943 while Kuter was in England and North Africa. It premiered that summer. Outside military and government circles opinions were mixed. William Randolph Hearst and Nelson Rockefeller praised the film. The film critic James Agee felt: “I was sold something under pretty high pressure, which I don’t enjoy, and I am staggered by the ease with which such self-confidence, on matters of such importance, can be blared all over a nation, without cross-questioning.”35 The New York Times reported:

On purely cinematic terms “Victory through Airpower” is an extraordinary accomplishment, marking it as it were a new milestone in the screen’s recently accelerated march toward maturity. Mr. Disney has adroitly blended the documentary technique of presentation with his own highly skilled cartoon form of infectious humor. The result is a delightful and stimulating combination entertainment-information film. … If “Victory through Air Power” is propaganda; it is at least the most encouraging and inspiring propaganda that the screen has afforded us in a long time. Mr. Disney and staff can be proud of their accomplishment.36

On 23 June 23 1943, Larry Kuter broached the topic of Seversky with Arnold for the first time in more than a year. He placed a memorandum with an attached article from the Los Angeles Times regarding the Disney Victory through Air Power in the general’s daily mail. The review not only praised the movie and Seversky’s work, saying that everyone in America should see the film, but also noted that recent victories in Europe “have been through air power.” Devoid of any personal animosity, (p.100) the film was, in fact, very pro–air power. Kuter assured Arnold that the Disney version had “been stripped of all personal prejudice.” This tentative olive branch received a brusque response, the single handwritten word “Noted.” Kuter knew better than to press the matter further at this point.37

Arnold was otherwise mute on the subject. When the film previewed in August, he remained silent while many members of his senior staff actually praised it. At the Quebec conference, Churchill convinced Roosevelt to see the film, and Arnold was forced to have Kuter procure a copy. There is a legend that, against his own wishes, Arnold called Kuter, who was back in Washington, told him to procure a plane and a copy of the film, and get to Quebec as quickly as possible. It is difficult to know whether this is true. Kuter was an air planner at the conference but when discussing the conference then or later never mentioned anything about the film or having to get a copy of it. The president watched the film once with Churchill and then had the Combined Chiefs of Staff watch it. While Arnold made no overt statements on the film, it is clear that he no longer felt that it was a good idea to attack Seversky publicly, especially now that he seemed to be aligned with Walt Disney.38 Russell Lee described Arnold’s options once the film was released: “Despite his concern, Arnold … took no official position on the making of Victory through Air Power. Assuming the film mirrored the publication, [the army air forces] could not promote it, yet dared not oppose it openly. The popular backlash sure to result from attacking an entertainment icon like Disney could permanently damage political support for the [army air force]. Their public image was no match against Disney.”39

Seversky remained in touch with Kuter after the incident, sending him at least one more letter, and asking to be provided a comprehensive air strategy. Whether the previous meeting between Seversky and Arnold had anything to do with Kuter’s feelings toward Seversky is not known. Kuter drafted a reply to Seversky, but it is marked “not sent.” Close to the same time he did send a memo to Arnold regarding air strategy against Japan in which he called on Arnold to form a committee of “avowed civil air power experts,” swear them to secrecy, and present the plan and current strategy for the defeat of Japan. He then wanted these experts—including Seversky, Bill Ziff, and Al Williams—to be sent to Maxwell Field and have them help create an air-only plan to defeat Japan. He proposed included civilians in the planning because he recognized that it was possible for military officers to overlook things that the civilians would not. This plan never gained enough momentum to be pursued further.40

(p.101) Kuter did not waste any more time on the Seversky issue. He knew Arnold well enough to know when he wanted something dropped. He turned his attention back to the Pacific and the development of the B-29. In a 15 September 1943 memorandum to a Major Wildman on a proposed test of the B-29, he indicated that he wanted “the test to simulate in all practicable items an attack on Tokyo by 100 B-29s from a base in the Changsha area.” Furthermore, the flight should have as “much practical realism as can be foreseen should be inserted in this first test.”41

On the same day that Kuter was working on the B-29 project, he was also dealing with issues of overwork of the Air Staff personnel. He had personally visited the Pentagon at 11:00 P.M. on a recent Saturday to find more than twenty members of the staff working on an “all-night program planning job.” He noted that, even though the country was at war, this had to stop as one member of his staff was “believed … to be in a psychopathic ward at Walter Reed Hospital as a direct result of overwork.” He sent as many officers home as he could and tried to get a semblance of work-life balance instilled at the Pentagon. It is clear that he recognized that a burned-out staff did not serve the needs of anybody: he himself, Arnold, or the air force as a whole.42

Cairo Conference

In November 1943 Kuter, accompanied General Arnold to the Cairo Conference. He departed with Arnold and another twenty general and flag officers on board Admiral King’s flagship, the Dauntless, on 11 November. A few hours later, out in the Hampton Roads portion of the Chesapeake Bay, they transferred to the battleship Iowa. The other army air force officers who boarded the Iowa with Arnold and Kuter were Generals Hansell and Emmitt “Rosie” O’Donnell. At 9:00 the next morning, President Roosevelt arrived on his yacht, the Potomac, and came on board along with Admiral Leahy and the presidential adviser Harry Hopkins, and the battle group set off across the ocean.

The transatlantic voyage was not without its terrors. With so many general and flag officers, not to mention the president, held as a captive audience aboard the Iowa, the navy crews put on a display of gunnery practice and torpedo exercises for the benefit of their guests. In the middle of the display, Arnold pointed over the side of the ship and shouted: “What is that?!” A torpedo was heading directly for the Iowa. Now the guns that had been trained skyward kicked up bits of ocean as everything (p.102) was turned on the incoming torpedo. The assembled guests stared in disbelief as it approached. It was a tense few moments, but eventually the torpedo slipped behind the ship and exploded in its wake with a deafening roar that shook the ship as if a “heavy door had been slammed.”43

It was later determined that an inexperienced crew on the USS Dewey had fired the errant torpedo. Since Admiral King had just explained to the assembled guests how accurate the new torpedoes were, Arnold wasted no time in ribbing him: “Ernie, you tell us that these sonic torpedoes can’t miss. That Dewey was only 500 to 600 yards away and missed this great big target. What’s the matter with your sonic torpedoes? It went off astern back there.” The mission continued with Arnold poking King for the duration of the crossing. The president and the rest of distinguished visitors made port in Oran on 20 November, and from there the group motorcaded to the airport for the flight to Tunis to meet Eisenhower. After a day of briefings, the president, with the dozens of generals and admirals in tow, flew to Cairo.44

The conference itself went smoothly. Roosevelt met with Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek and British prime minister Winston Churchill and discussed the future of the war with Japan. Stalin did not attend the conference since this could have triggered the Japanese to declare war on Russia, although at this point in the war none of the major powers felt that the Japanese Empire could realistically fight the Soviet Union. This was Kuter’s first interaction with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, but it would not be his last.

The trip was not all work, and traveling with General Arnold apparently had its perks. On 5 December, Arnold’s entourage flew to Luxor and visited Tutankhamen’s tomb and the Valley of the Kings. The next day, they flew to Tel Aviv to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Kuter noted that the group was “vastly disappointed by the shoddy, commercialized scene of the birth of Christianity in contrast with the magnificent splendor of far more ancient Egyptian pagan culture at Luxor.”45


In 1944, Laurence S. Kuter became one of the most traveled men in the US military. January found him still in Washington, DC, attending dinners and parties with Ethel, and catching up with old friends, including Possum Hansell, while serving on Arnold’s staff. His travels had only recently ended—with his return from the Cairo conference—but they (p.103) paled in comparison to what was to come. In the meantime, he continued to work the needs of the army air force in advance of the coming invasion of France.

Brigadier General Kuter, now the assistant chief of staff for plans under Arnold, forwarded a copy of the report “Air Operations in Western Europe in 1944” to Lieutenant General Spaatz. Although he knew for a fact that Brereton and Eaker had copies of the report, he did not have confirmation that Spaatz, who was actually overseeing air operations in Europe, did: “As I have no way of knowing whether you yourself have ever seen it … I am forwarding it to you personally.” One wonders, however, why Arnold’s wartime commander in the European theater would not have a copy of the plan that Arnold produced in the first place.46

The report, compiled by Kuter and signed by Arnold himself, set forth the Air Staff’s guidance for the specific tasks, targets, and steps to be taken in the lead-up to the invasion sometime in the spring or early summer of 1944. This included first and foremost the “Defeat or Neutralization of the enemy air forces in the assault area” by attacking German aircraft assembly and engine factories in Germany and the destruction of existing aircraft in the air and on the ground or at least their containment in order to keep them away from the assault area. Following the attainment of air superiority was defense of the surface assault force, defense of the shipping lanes, isolation of German troops in the combat zone, preventing reinforcement of the beachhead, and, finally, the direct support of the troops coming ashore, gaining and maintaining a hold on the continent, and moving inland.47

Arnold’s report noted that, by this point in early 1944, the POINTBLANK directive and combined bombing offensive was already seriously degrading German aircraft production. Although Germany would continue production throughout the war, it was not the bombing offensive that was having the biggest effect but, unbeknownst to Arnold, the fact that it was losing qualified fighter pilots faster than they could be replaced. As previously noted, Kuter had already informed Arnold that aircraft production in Germany continued to increase.

In his opening letter, Kuter called Spaatz’s attention to Tab A of the report—labeled “Top Flight”—which was the portion of Overlord preparation dedicated to the destruction and dislocation of the Axis transportation system. The report noted that rail traffic accounted for 75 percent of Axis freight movement and passenger travel. Arnold wanted all rail capacity destroyed, including “marshalling yards, railroad and highway (p.104) bridges,” and, finally, “trains and truck conveys in motion.” The report then detailed all rail lines, their routes between major cities, and the associated bridges to be attacked. The key marshaling yards were Antwerp, Liege, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Ehrang, Saarbrucken, Strasburg, and Paris. Although the strategic air war against Germany continued, Air Staff planners recognized the necessity of preparing the close-in battle space for the coming invasion.48

Kuter’s own opinions on the use of strategic bombardment forces prior to the D-Day landings were, again, pragmatic. He later recalled that he still wanted the 8th and the 15th Air Forces to attack petroleum, oil, and lubrication targets, but he was not wedded to their exclusive use against those target sets. As far back as the Air War Plans Division–Plan 1, strategic bomber forces were expected to be used in direct support of invasion “if it should prove to be necessary,” and, although Kuter did not personally believe that their use was necessary prior to the D-Day invasion, he did not argue openly against it. He called the deeper strategic targets the “proper targets” for the heavy bombers but never once argued against their use to support ground forces in the attacks on the transportation network. Kuter and Spaatz might have both believed that a strategic air war was the proper use of heavy bombers, but those attacks against the railroads and bridges prior to D-Day paid dividends. German supply routes were significantly degraded prior to the invasion to allow the Allied forces to gain a foothold and push inland. The Wehrmacht did not have the logistics necessary to hurl the Allies back into the sea.49

Trip around the World

On 22 February, Kuter departed Washington, DC, during a driving rainstorm for a thirty-two-thousand-mile trip around the globe. His mission was a series of briefings with the major commands. General Marshall wanted each service chief to brief as many commands in person on the “thinking of the combined chiefs-of-staff,” and each service chief picked a trusted adviser. Arnold chose Larry Kuter. From Washington, the group traveled to Bermuda, then to Casablanca via the Azores (25 February). From Casablanca they headed to Algiers and a conference with Ira Eaker and General Spaatz (27 February). (Kuter was back in North Africa for the third time in one year.) They moved on to Cairo, Baghdad, and the Persian city of Abadan (1 March), next Bahrain and Karachi (3 March), then Jodhpur, Delhi, Agra, and the Taj Mahal (6–8 March), and then (p.105) eastern India in preparation for a flight “over the hump” into China. On 11 March, Kuter and the rest of the party crossed the hump and landed in Kunming, where they were met by Kuter’s old flying friend and ACTS instructor Major General Claire Chennault.50

Here in China, the group met with Chennault and Stratemeyer and visited American combat units actively engaged against the Japanese. The respite, if it could be called that, was brief. They departed from Kunming on 15 March, arriving the next day in Calcutta, a city marked by “heat, squalor, congestion, starving Bengalese, burning ghats and other unpleasant aspects of India.” The next few days proved to be a confusing back-and-forth between Calcutta, Columbo, and Delhi (to meet with Stratemeyer again). From Colombo, the group ventured out into the Pacific for the “longest flight in world navigation,” a thirty-two-hundred-mile jump to the Exmouth Gulf in northwestern Australia (25 March). This was followed by the “dullest flight in world navigation,” a twenty-five-hundred-mile trip directly across Australia with a late-night arrival in Brisbane. Arrival in Australia was another welcome respite from flying. There, Kuter met with General Kenney, General MacArthur’s chief of air operations.51

Kuter was supposed to meet with General MacArthur, but MacArthur’s chief of staff, Brigadier General Richard Sutherland, stonewalled him and sent him directly to Kenney without allowing him to pay MacArthur a courtesy visit. Kuter, again speaking on behalf of Arnold, met with Kenney to explain that he still would not receive any B-29s for use in the Southwest Pacific. The new bombers, operating out of Tinian, Guam, and Saipan, would be used against the Japanese homeland rather than the Philippines. Kenney’s biographer, Thomas Griffith, noted: “Kenney paid little attention [even after Kuter explained the situation] and returned to his sales efforts.” But Kuter remained “unimpressed.” Kenney recorded in his diary: “I remarked that I hoped no one expected me to cheer either decisions or the beliefs that he had voiced.” He grudgingly accepted the reality that no B-29s were coming to him and that arguing with Kuter was just as useless as arguing with Arnold.52

The third phase of this trip was a further tour of the Southwest Pacific theater that included Townesville (29 March) and Nadzab (30 March), both in New Guinea, and then Guadalcanal (31 March) and Tarawa (1 April). These hops included flights around Japanese-controlled islands and meetings with various staff and command elements, including the 5th Air Force. The trip was nearing its end. From Tarawa the group headed to Johnston Island and then to Hickam Field in Pearl Harbor for (p.106) a meeting with Admiral Nimitz and, finally, to Long Beach, California, and the final flight. Kuter landed back in Washington, DC, in heavy rain on 6 April. If he hoped for a few months of stability away from flying, he was soon to be disappointed.53

In late February, at the very beginning of his around-the-world trip, Brigadier General Kuter was promoted to major general. On the night of 3 March, Ethel received a telephone call. This caused a “flutter of fear” since she knew Larry was traveling. However, the news was good. On the other end of the phone were the Hansells, the Fairchilds, and the rest of the plans division informing her that General Arnold had nominated her husband for promotion. Ethel was thrilled, but she did not know whether Larry knew. Once she took a minute to think, she realized that she was not even sure where Larry was. At that moment, there were several places he could have been. As it turned out, 3 March found Kuter on the island of Bahrain en route to Karachi.54


Kuter’s time back in his office was short-lived. He remained in Washington for just over a month before Arnold told him he was headed overseas again, this time to observe the invasion of Normandy. All the US chiefs of staff planned to be in England shortly after the invasion. This served the dual purpose of actually being there for the big event but also being able to directly support Eisenhower should something go terribly wrong. Arnold wanted to send Kuter on ahead as a member of the advance party. This created a slight problem. There was no good reason for Kuter to be out of the office, and his attachment to Arnold would indicate that something was up should he fly to England. This was also true of the other members of the advance party, but more so for Kuter since he had just returned. The departure of any senior staff members from Washington was always of interest to the press, and, if a group of senior officers from each service departed at the same time, it would certainly make the papers the next day. Some way had to be devised to secret the advance party out of the capital without anyone knowing it.55 The advance party included two general officers, a navy flag officer, two bird colonels, and a navy captain: Kuter and Colonel Fred Dean from the army air force, Major General T. J. Handy and Colonel George Lincoln from the army, and Rear Admiral C. M. Cooke Jr. and Captain D. R. Osborn from the navy.56

(p.107) Each officer was given a “cover plan” to explain his absence. Kuter’s proved easy enough. Having just returned from the trip around the world, it was only natural for him to have a break. General Arnold “ordered” him away to rest, relax, and catch some fish. This story also served to put off anyone looking for signs of the invasion since it was highly unlikely that Arnold would send Kuter away if the invasion was imminent. Kuter departed for his “fishing trip” on 28 May. The other officers rendezvoused at Washington National Airport and boarded a DC-4 parked in a “remote corner” with its entrance door facing a hangar that was unlikely to draw attention. The aircraft departed with only ten men aboard, allowing them to travel “under conditions of considerable luxury.” As it turned out, “luxury and security this time went hand-in hand.”57

Kuter and the others were originally head to Stephensville, Newfoundland, but found it closed by weather and headed to Goose Bay instead. Since they were traveling under heavy security, the troops at Goose Bay were quite surprised when so many senior officers deplaned on their runway. Staff cars replaced the initial jeeps, and a satisfactory dinner was produced. Most importantly, “the keys to the bar were finally located.” From there it was on to Prestwick, Scotland, for fuel and, finally, Bovingdon, thirty miles northwest of London.58

Kuter and the other staff officers arrived and set to work preparing for the arrival of their bosses, but, for Kuter, that chore had to wait until after the welcome dinner with General Spaatz. The following morning, Kuter secured the necessary arrangements for Arnold and started making the time-honored commitment of office calls, including one on General Eisenhower and his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Bedell Smith. It is important to remember that, although Eisenhower and Kuter were separated by only two stars, Eisenhower was still fifteen years Kuter’s senior. (Kuter had turned thirty-nine the day he departed for England.) Both officers expressed confidence in the invasion plan but showed a reserved hesitation, particularly when it came to the impending drop of the American and British airborne troops. Kuter also spent much of the next week visiting American aerial units of all kinds—fighter, bomber, and transport—to get a sense of their preparedness for the coming operation. Prior to departing Eisenhower’s headquarters, he met a final time with the other members of the advance party, and all agreed to find a way to participate in or observe the invasion. Since their senior officers were not scheduled to arrive until after the invasion, and since all the necessary arrangements had already been made, there seemed to be no good reason why (p.108) they should not find somewhere to observe the invasion that was as close to the front as possible. Kuter, as the senior airmen, had a better chance than the others of getting an overall view of the actual landing zones.59

In visiting the fighter and bomber units, Kuter noticed an “indifference” to the coming invasion. He found the explanation quite simple. When it came to the ground armies, many soldiers were entering combat for the first time. However: “This air crowd had been fighting its battle day in and day out for a couple of years. Its role in connection with the actual invasion was only a little more of the same, except this time against very much softer, less-heavily defended objectives.” The tremendous casualties suffered by the strategic bombing units of the 8th Air Force throughout the war are often forgotten. More than twenty-six thousand men of the 8th Air Force alone lost their lives in the skies over Europe.60

In the early morning hours of 6 June, Major General Larry Kuter departed in a B-17 flown by Major General R. B. Williamson, the commander of Kuter’s former unit, the 1st Bombardment Wing. It was the lead ship in the mission to strike the Normandy beaches prior to the assault ships landing. Despite later criticisms that Kuter never “proved himself in combat,” he was on that morning in one of the largest aerial armadas ever known to man—eighteen hundred heavy bombers heading for the French coast on a mission to blanket the beaches with iron, a bombardment ending only five minutes before the first landing craft beached and discharged their men. He was a prime target for the Luftwaffe should it chose to engage, but he was not going to miss this opportunity.61

Kuter watched “that enormous swarm of heavy bombers proceed steadily across a solid unmarked overcast ceiling to an invisible point in space where the bombs were released to fall into the solid clouds below as the bombers turned right and proceeded in their enormous vast column along the prescribed route of withdrawal.” The crews experienced light antiaircraft artillery fire from the German forces below, but no Luftwaffe fighter appeared.62 The lack of Luftwaffe presence surprised Kuter: “If Goering and all the meteorologists of the Luftwaffe had prescribed ideal weather to permit the German Air Force to operate most effectively against our invading fleet they could not have set up more favorable conditions for them than weather which actually existed from the center of the channel to the invasion beaches on D-Day.”63

After returning to the airfield at Brampton Grange, Kuter drove back to the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Air Forces and met with General Vandenberg, who assuaged his worry about the Luftwaffe: “It (p.109) was quite some time before I could believe his statement that no Luftwaffe aircraft—fighter, fighter-bomber, or bomber—had as yet appeared on the scene. … The total failure of the Luftwaffe was a wholly unexpected contribution of the greatest magnitude to the success of the cross-channel invasion.” Kuter was certainly aware but still struggling to believe that, by June 1944, the Luftwaffe was unable to put up any measurable defense of France. Its destruction—primarily its loss of pilots—at the hands of Allied fighters now ensured virtual air supremacy.64

Kuter spent the rest of D-Day with Vandenberg in the Allied Expeditionary Air Forces headquarters monitoring the progress of the invasion. Buried deep underground, the headquarters nevertheless had excellent connections to the ongoing fight, and Kuter felt that “no Napoleon had ever had an opportunity to watch his forces in the minute detail and precise detail that the Air Commander in Chief had on his control board.” This might be true, but not every commander agreed. The commander of the 9th Fighter Command, Pete Quesada, felt that he received too little information that day; eventually, “had had enough” of the inability to know what was going on and took matters into his own hands.65

General Arnold arrived along with the rest of the Combined Chiefs on D+3, 9 June. From then on, Kuter joined him in a series of briefings with everyone from the prime minister on down. Arnold even met with the King George VI, but Kuter was not in attendance. Arnold, with Kuter in tow, met with Spaatz to discuss the employment of the strategic air forces from this point forward. Now that the invasion force was safely ashore, attacks on the industrial heartland of Germany resumed. On 11 June, the Combined Chiefs and their entourages boarded a ship and headed to the beachhead. As they made their way across the channel and into the artificially created harbor, Kuter could not help but let his service get the better of him. He noticed that several ships had been sunk to help create a harbor. Here, he wrote: “Never again can it be truthfully said that no practical use has been found for a battleship. They make peachy breakwaters when sunk.” The group debarked onto the Normandy coastline and was met by General Bradley.66

From here, it was another series of meetings with senior commanders, including Quesada. Afterward, Kuter, along with Arnold, traveled to Italy. Kuter and Arnold both noted the destruction of the German ground forces and the complete absence of German aircraft. Arnold noted that as many as ten thousand vehicles of various sizes from Tiger tanks down to small trucks sat damaged or destroyed. Kuter saw “at least seven hundred wrecked and burned-out German trucks, armored cars and tanks at (p.110) congested points in the highway and more particularly at the approaches to the bridges.” Here, he learned that the current tactic involved Allied fighter bombers first blocking the roads and then destroying the vehicles caught in the resulting traffic jam. Kuter noted: “It worked. It worked well.” This trip had a profound effect on both Kuter and Arnold, but it was Kuter who passed the experiences and current tactics back to Quesada and training units back in the States.67

Taking notes the entire time, and recognizing that none of the in-theater commanders had the time to do so, Kuter dispatched back to the Air Forces School of Applied Tactics a series of reports on the Allies’ ever-changing tactics and techniques that were meant to inform the curriculum. This represents another example of his being a true architect. Even during the war, he continued to use his own position to strengthen the structure of the air force and codify new tactics even at lower levels and in the rear echelons. His experiences at ACTS in the 1930s continued to affect his thinking throughout his career, and he wanted to ensure that future air force leaders received the most up-to-date information possible. He, Marshall, and Arnold then left for North Africa and Italy to get updated on the conduct of the war in the Mediterranean.68

As the group made its final approach into Caserta, General Marshall decided that he wanted to view the landing from the copilot’s seat. Since no one was going to tell him no, that is where he was sitting when a P-38 flew dangerously close in front of the C-54. On disembarking the aircraft, the normally taciturn Marshall exploded at General Vince Meloy that a P-38 “very nearly cut the nose off of our transport!” Meloy, not missing a beat, apologized profusely about the irresponsible French pilots flying around with a complete lack of aerial discipline. This seemed to placate Marshall as Kuter stood uncomfortably nearby. Later, Kuter was able to separate Meloy from the crowd and told him that the French were not flying any P-38s. Meloy knew that, and so did Kuter, but both agreed that there was no reason for Marshall to know that.69

One thing became clear to Kuter in his travels in Europe, North Africa, and Italy. The Luftwaffe was a broken organization. Its ability to defend the German homeland might still be a real and dangerous one, but its ability to reach the front line in the ongoing war was significantly decreased, if not nonexistent. The bulk of the American aerial fighting force at the army’s front was concentrating on finding German troops and transports on the ground and destroying them. Through the strategic bombardment of aircraft production factories and shooting down of those fighters that existed, the army air force deprived the Luftwaffe of (p.111) planes and trained aircrews. Kuter noted: “The fight with the Luftwaffe was over. It had been won.”70

Marshall, Arnold, Kuter, and the rest of the staff departed for the United States on 20 June. Their aircraft lifted into the air, circled the erupting volcano Vesuvius, and made a short stop in Casablanca before heading across the Atlantic. Somewhere over the ocean, Arnold began to talk to Marshall about their current schedule, noting that they were set to arrive in Washington early enough in the day to report in to the secretary of war and, in all likelihood, the president as well. Arnold continued that they would probably also have to return to their offices to start going through all the paperwork that awaited them, concluding: “The prospect was horrible to behold.” According to Kuter, Marshall was “reasonable about the whole thing.” On landing in Newfoundland, Marshall and Arnold took the base commander, Colonel H. H. Maxwell, aside for a private discussion. In short order, Maxwell produced all the equipment, including “waders, hip boots, rain jackets, sweaters, gloves, wool socks and other paraphernalia,” necessary for a morning of fly-fishing. In those icy waters, Marshall, Arnold, Kuter, and three others caught six Atlantic salmon. After completing a very successful fishing expedition, the group returned to base, changed clothes, and headed out to board the aircraft. The base commander met them with a going-away gift of five dozen Newfoundland lobsters already secured and stored onboard. The group boarded the C-54 and proceeded to Washington, landing just after sunset.71

Return to Staff Work

Not everything that Larry Kuter came in contact with had serious implications for national security or the future of the army air force. The problem was that too much unimportant staff minutiae continued to filter up to the higher echelons of the organization. On 12 October 1944, Kuter had a telephone conversation with General McFarland in an attempt to gain a “general reduction in the trivial papers that come to the chiefs.” Sadly, there seemed to be no way to stem the unending tidal wave of paperwork needing the approval of one or more of the Combined Chiefs.72

In November, Kuter displayed his unswerving belief in strategic bombardment over everything else in a memorandum to the undersecretary of war regarding the mining of Japanese harbors by the 20th and 21st Bomber Commands. The undersecretary, Robert Patterson, wrote (p.112) to Kuter in October, saying that, while he recognized that there existed “plenty of other targets for our B-29s,” he wanted assurances that the mining of Japanese harbors was being given due attention. It is doubtful that he felt reassured by the response he received. Kuter explained that the two units would “achieve the most significant progress if concentrated against the Japanese aircraft industry.” He continued to feel that the use of bombers for anything other than strategic bombardment was a waste of the aircraft’s full potential. While this demonstrated his adherence to air force doctrine, it proved to be shortsighted. Kuter was one among many army air force officers who simply refused to see air power assets used in any role other than strategic bombing. He noted that attacks against Japanese shipping were a priority already agreed on but intoned that they still should not divert strategic aircraft away from their current mission of destroying Japanese industries. Echoing what was a continuing refrain from strategic bombing advocates throughout the war, Kuter said: “This headquarters is of the opinion, however, that the limited scale of effort available to the Twentieth Air Force should not be diverted from its primary mission.”73

The aerial mining issue did split into two camps. LeMay, Stratemeyer, and Chennault all liked the idea. Kuter, Norstad, Hansell, and Kenney did not. The latter group were soon proved to be wrong. As part of Operation Starvation in 1945, the aerial mining of Japanese ports did exactly what its name implied. Not only did it significantly drop the caloric intake of the average Japanese citizen; it also brought to a stop the movement of materials to Japan’s war-making industries. The historian Kenneth Werrell pointed out that aerial mining accounted for 63 percent of sunken Japanese merchant ships from March 1945 until the end of the war. Kuter’s later writings do not indicate whether he ever recognized the significant contribution the aerial mining operations played in the defeat of Japan and that he was, in fact, wrong on this issue. This also shows that, even within the army air forces of World War I, not all senior leaders were in lockstep when it came to doctrine and tactics.74

An Airman at Yalta

When General Arnold became suddenly and seriously ill after another heart attack, it was Major General Laurence S. Kuter who was designated to sit in for him at the upcoming Yalta conference. In a letter to his wife, Bea, Arnold stated that he had reservations about his replacement: (p.113) “I am not sure that Kuter has obtained a stature or the size to fill the bill.” While he recognized Kuter’s flair for organization and his superb staffing abilities, he worried that, as a major general, he would be overshadowed and outmuscled by officers senior to himself in age, rank, and position.75

As Arnold’s representative at the Yalta and Malta conferences, Kuter indeed found himself a relatively junior officer among four-star generals and the civilian leaders of the Allied cause, an experience that he detailed in An Airman at Yalta. If there is one major flaw in his description of events, it is that more often than not he referred to himself in the third person, for example: “On this occasion the fact that General Arnold was represented by a junior deputy reacted to the advantage of the Deputy. Stalin had one hamper [containing vodka and caviar] presented to the Deputy and one to be taken to General Arnold.” He did not mention whether the “deputy” took the extra caviar and vodka back to Arnold: however, Ethel did indicate in a letter to Larry’s parents that he returned home with a large quantity of vodka, Russian cigarettes, and caviar.76

The Yalta conference took place between 4 and 9 February 1945, immediately following the meetings held between the Americans and the British, along with Roosevelt and Churchill, at Malta. Kuter arrived at Malta in January 1945. On the last day of the month, Prime Minister Winston Churchill invited Major General Kuter and the rest of the lower-level staff planners to a dinner. The American two-star air force officer was met and welcomed to the party by two British five-star field marshals, Churchill having “turned out his first team” for the evening. On seeing Kuter, the prime minister disengaged himself from a conversation and greeted him warmly: “Larry, how well you look and how good it is to be together again.” Kuter was impressed that the prime minister could so easily recall his name considering the limited amount of time they had spent together in the past. It meant a lot to him that Churchill remembered him. After several minutes of reminiscing, the prime minister pulled closer and whispered conspiratorially: “Larry … what name do you call General Hull, your Army planner?” On receiving a reply, he headed for Hull, saying: “Ed, how good it is to have you with us.” Kuter and the rest of the officers departed for Yalta a few days later.77

Initially viewed as an amazing success, Yalta soon came to represent the subsequent conflict between the Western powers and the Soviet Union, but that turn of events could not be expected at the time. Kuter’s aircraft, flight no. 10, also carried Generals Marshall and Somervell. The separation of rank quickly became apparent as beds were present for (p.114) only two of the officers. Kuter decided to fly up front on the flight deck. He arrived at the Yalta conference with one goal: preserving the strategic bombardment against Germany and preventing any other mission from diverting the air assets in another direction.78

The Yalta conference officially began on the afternoon of February 4. The American delegation at the table consisted of President Roosevelt, Secretary of State Stettinius, Admiral Leahy, General Marshall, Admiral King, and, representing General Arnold and the army air force, Major General Kuter. Approaching the table, at which everyone else was already seated, Kuter hesitated in taking his seat, not sure whether it was meant for him or for a member of the Soviet delegation. A photographer captured the moment, an image that was later jokingly circulated throughout the Air Staff with the caption: “There is really nothing like standing up while everyone else is sitting down.”79

The delegations broke into two camps: political and military. Over the next several days, the two groups debated the future war effort. For the European theater, Kuter asked for coordination between the American, British, and Russian flying arms. He knew at this point that cooperation was unlikely. The failed Operation Frantic bombing missions—which involved American crews taking off from England and recovering in the Soviet Union—ended in September 1944 and proved the Soviets’ “genius for obstruction.” At Yalta, as the militaries closed in on Berlin from two directions, the target areas in Germany grew ever smaller, and the possibility of fratricide in turn increased. With regard to the ongoing air war in the Pacific, Kuter sought basing rights in Siberia for the B-29s.80

The senior military leaders decided that the aerial delegations of each nation would break off to meet in a smaller group. The group included Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Charles Portal and Marshall of the Red Air Force Khudyakov along with several more junior assistants. Against these two five-star officers stood Major General Laurence Kuter with four other one-and two-star American army air force generals. Khudyakov wanted each airman to be frank and speak his mind. There was no need for stilted diplomatic language among aviators. Kuter led off the discussion with a request for coordination in aerial attacks against Germany. Khudyakov wanted, he said, to approve the concept, but he was forced to obtain concurrence from “the General Staff and from the Marshal [Stalin].” The Russians asked for assistance in bombing oil and transportation targets in eastern Germany, including the city of Dresden, but the Russians refused to accept overall (p.115) coordination and the creation of a bomb line running between “Stettin-Berlin-Ruhland-Dresden-Brno-Vienna-Maribor-Zagreb.”81

For the next several hours, Kuter went back and forth with the Soviet air marshal. Finally, the discussion turned to the strategic bombing campaign in Europe. Khudyakov asked the Americans to prohibit attacks against targets near the Soviet front. Here was the eventuality that Kuter had been sent to ensure did not happen. The strategic bombing campaign against Germany must not be restricted even if a bombing line could not be agreed on. The US Army Air Force could not bow to pressure from any front, internal or external. With the bombing finally beginning to bear fruit, it was up to Kuter to ensure that nothing halted it.82

The final conference between the air marshals and the American delegation was held on 9 February. By Kuter’s account, it was short. The Soviet air force would not coordinate bombing operations or agree to a bombing line. The Americans and British therefore planned to continue bombing operations unabated even if missions approached the Soviet front line. Kuter and the army air forces secured what they had come to Yalta for; the bombing campaign against Germany continued.83

Any hesitancy Arnold felt in sending Kuter in his place was overcome by his performance. Despite being a junior not only in rank but also in age, Kuter acquitted himself well. His dual performance—representing Arnold and also serving as the senior representative for the air force—greatly impressed the ailing air force chief. Arnold wrote to Kuter that had he “undertook the two most difficult assignments” and did “a superb job throughout.” He went on to state unequivocally: “On Air matters, the position and views of the Army Air Forces were clearly, thoroughly and forcefully presented to the US and British Chiefs of Staff and to the Soviet Military Staff. On broader questions involving policy and strategy and military matters outside the air sphere you employed, in my opinion, the best military judgement in the action which you took. I do not know of anyone who could more ably have represented me and I am proud of the work you did and the contribution you made to these meetings.” He also praised Kuter in his postwar book Global Mission, saying that he did a “wonderful job.” It is extremely significant that Major General Larry Kuter led the American air delegation when one considers the other three-star generals who might have been asked to do so. Arnold’s trust in Kuter to represent the US Army Air Forces was unwavering.84

Kuter departed with the rest of the American delegation from the airport at Saki on the morning of 11 February 1945 aboard one of the thirteen C-54 transports that had delivered them there. Obviously, so young (p.116) a general officer still made for great press, but the Kuter family, and especially Ethel, went to great lengths to keep Larry’s location and actions a closely guarded secret. Having seen two military wives (Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Doolittle) get into hot water for inadvertently revealing top secret information, Ethel wanted to ensure that she too did not disclose anything. She went so far as to move into the guest bedroom when Larry was home to avoid overhearing late night phone calls, which were frequent. However, the same was not true of Larry’s parents.85

Larry’s mother turned up in the press under the headline “Mother Keeps Kuter’s Secret.” Ethel was furious. She typed a letter to Minna Kuter but decided in the end not to send it. The letter is worth quoting at length to show the pressure that Ethel, still in her late thirties, felt she was under not to release any information about her husband:

This letter is not going to please you. … It is very simple to explain to the newspapers that General Kuter is in such a position that NO PUBLICITY should be released to the news that has not been cleared through the War Department Public Relations. In that way Larry will be protected and so will you. … Apparently you did not understand that Larry’s request for NO PUBLICITY released personally, by him or by our families, was a very serious request. The thing that is hard for me to understand is your basic modesty which is irreconcilable with the intimate, personal admissions that appear in print. Two women here in Washington have made fools of themselves by giving out public publicity concerning their husbands and both have been reprimanded.86

Planning the Pacific War and the Postwar Air Force

In early March 1945, Larry flew down to the air force hospital in Miami, where Arnold was still convalescing. He also took three days of leave himself and spent the time fishing, something he had not done since the Newfoundland stopover. On returning to Washington, he worked closely with Lauris Norstad on setting up the postwar air force and establishing the strategic air forces in the Pacific. This latter organization would continue the bombing raids against Japan but at a drastically increased level once the war in Europe ended and senior air force officers moved into theater. Kuter hoped to include himself in that group.87

In the meantime, Meilinger notes: “Larry Kuter, Arnold’s assistant (p.117) chief of staff for plans, formed a Post War Division within his office, headed by Col Rueben C. Moffat, to look at the matter as well. Maj. Gen. Lauris Norstad replaced Kuter in the spring of 1945. These four men—Davison, Kuter, Moffat, and Norstad—would plan the future of the postwar air arm.” Kuter and Norstad both were aware that the atomic bomb was being developed, and this knowledge affected their perception of how a postwar air force should be organized and equipped: the focus should not remain solely on strategic bombardment but broaden to include the delivery of atomic weapons.88

Once Norstad replaced Kuter as chief of air plans, Larry was freed up for an assignment in the Pacific theater, and he received orders to depart in the middle part of May. However, before he left the States, a series of events significantly affected the Kuter family. On 12 April, President Roosevelt died. At almost the same time, Roxanne’s friend Carol Young also died. The Kuters attended Carol’s funeral, at which Larry served as a pallbearer. A few weeks later, Larry developed a “facial disturbance” that turned out to be Bell’s palsy. He initially thought that he was the victim of a stroke. The disease forced him to travel to Miami for a stay at the same hospital recently occupied by Arnold.89

On 13 May, Major General Larry Kuter returned to Washington, where Arnold presented him with the Distinguished Service Medal, both officers looking significantly worse for wear. The war’s toll showed on them both. Ethel remembered that the event demonstrated “the beating that these two planners had taken.” Larry Kuter—still ill but refusing to be sidelined in the United States as the war moved into its final phase—departed Washington for the Pacific on 16 May for service in the Pacific theater. As far as he knew, he was headed to another combat command and a hand in using the B-29s. These plans quickly changed, and the next few months fundamentally altered his perception of the air force and his career as a whole.


(1.) Command and Employment of Air Power, Field Manual 100-20 (Washington, DC: US War Department, 21 July 1943).

(2.) Green interview with Kuter; Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, 213.

(4.) Memo from Arnold to Kuter regarding General Kenney Report, 29 June 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers.

(6.) Response letter from Kuter to Arnold for signature, 1 July 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers.

(9.) “Growth of Air Power,” 208; Laurence Kuter Oral History, vol. 1, p. 244.

(10.) Richard H. Kohn and Joseph P. Harahan, eds., Air Superiority in World (p.192) War II and Korea: An Interview with Gen. James Ferguson, Gen. Robert M. Lee, Gen. William Momyer and Lt. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 36.

(11.) David R. Mets, “A Glider in the Propwash of the Royal Air Force,” in Mortensen, ed., Airpower and Ground Armies, 30–63, 34.

(13.) Ibid.

(14.) Memo to chief of Air Staff, 10 August 1943, and memo to Arnold, 9 August 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers. The B-35 was a “flying wing” bomber built by John Northrup that first flew in 1946.

(15.) Memo to Arnold, 9 August 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers.

(16.) Memo to General Arnold on German Air Force, 6 August 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers.

(17.) Letter from Kuter to Green, 24 October 1971, MS-33.

(18.) Phillip S. Meilinger, “Alexander P. de Seversky and American Airpower,” in The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory, ed. Phillip S. Meilinger (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1997), 239–78, 241. For simplicity, I have used Seversky throughout.

(23.) Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine … 1907–1960, 438; William Mitchell, Winged Defense: The Development and Possibilities of Air Power—Economic and Military (New York: Dover, 2006), xii; Meilinger, “Alexander P. de Seversky and American Airpower,” 256.

(24.) Alexander P. De Seversky, Victory through Air Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1942), 254.

(26.) Russell E. Lee, “Impact of Victory through Air Power: Pt. 1, The Army Air Force’s Reaction,” Air Power History, Summer 1993, 3–13, James K. Libbey, Alexander P. de Seversky and the Quest for Air Power (Washington, DC: Potomac, 2013), 202.

(29.) Letter from Harold George to Murray Green, 19 September 1971, MS-33; Libbey, Alexander P. de Seversky, 198.

(30.) Letter from Harold George to Murray Green, 19 September 1971, MS-33; Murray Green interview with Kuter notes, MS-33; Green interview with Kuter, MS-33.

(31.) Letter from Harold George to Murray Green, 19 September 1971, MS-33; interview with Alexander de Seversky 16 April 1970, MS-33; note from Kuter to Green on Seversky’s account of the incident, n.d., MS-33.

(p.193) (32.) Letter from Harold George to Murray Green, 19 September 1971, MS-33; Libbey, Alexander P. de Seversky, 200.

(34.) Richard Shale, Donald Duck Joins Up (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1982), 68; Leonard Maltin, The Disney Films (New York: Crown, 1973), 61.

(35.) James Agee, Agee on Film (New York: Modern Library, 1958), 25.

(36.) “The Screen; The Globe Presents ‘Victory through Air Power,’ a Disney Illustration of Major de Seversky’s Book,” New York Times, 19 July 1943.

(37.) Folder 9, box 2, MS-18.

(40.) Libbey, Alexander P. de Seversky, 207; proposed draft of reply to Mr. Seversky, 6 August 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers; memo to Arnold, 3 August 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers; Green notes, “Plan to Make Seversky Put Up or Shut Up,” MS-33.

(41.) Memo to Major Wildman on forthcoming B-29 test, 15 September 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers.

(42.) Memo to General Grant, 15 September 1943, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers.

(43.) Arnold, Global Mission, 454–55; Laurence Kuter Oral History, vol. 1, p. 402.

(44.) Laurence Kuter Oral History, vol. 1, p. 402.

(45.) “Cairo Conference, Larry’s Notes,” folder 4, box 4, MS-18, Addendum 1.

(46.) “Air Operations in Western Europe in 1944,” 4 February 1944, 168.04-27, 1943, AFHRA.

(49.) Laurence Kuter Oral History, vol. 1, pp. 290, 381.

(50.) “Notes on Kuter’s Trip around the World,” folder 5, box 4, MS-18, Addendum 1; Laurence Kuter Oral History, vol. 1, p. 405.

(52.) Interview with Kuter, 16 July 1969, MS-33; Griffith, MacArthur’s Airman, 181; George C. Kenney, General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the Pacific War (Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museum Program, 1997), 378.

(54.) “Notes on Kuter’s Trip around the World.” The excerpt from Ethel’s notes should be with her manuscript, which it is not. In fact, the entirety of 1944 is missing from the “Along with Larry” manuscript and scattered throughout the addendum to the Kuter series.

(55.) “Notes on Trip to England, France and Italy, May 28th to June 21st 1944,” folder 2, box 1, MS-18, Addendum 2, ASAFA; “Notes on Kuter’s Trip around the World.”

(p.194) (56.) Gen. Laurence S. Kuter, “D-Day: June 6, 1944,” Air Force Magazine, June 1979, 000, reprinted June 1984. The printed story of Kuter’s experiences on D-Day was taken from the same notes he took during and after the trip.

(65.) “Notes on Trip to England, France and Italy”; Thomas A. Hughes, Over Lord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II (New York: Free Press, 1995), 7–9.

(72.) “Memo for Col. Dean: Memo of Phone Conv. w/Gen. McFarland,” 12 October 1944, folder 1, 168.7012-1, Kuter Papers.

(73.) “Memorandum for Major General L. S. Kuter,” 22 October 1944, and “Memorandum from Kuter to Undersecretary of War,” 1 November 1944, 168.7012-24, Kuter Papers.

(74.) R. Cargill Hall, ed., Case Studies in Strategic Bombardment (Washington DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998), 344–45; United States Strategic Bombing Surveys (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1987), 73, 92–93; Kenneth P. Werrell, Blankets of Fire: U.S. Bombers over Japan during World War II (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996), 231; Herman S. Wolk, Cataclysm: General Hap Arnold and the Defeat of Japan (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010), 180.

(75.) Arnold quoted in Dik Allen Daso, Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 203.

(76.) Kuter, Airman at Yalta, 176; unsent letter from Ethel Kuter to Larry’s parents, February 1945, folder 7, box 10, MS-18.

(77.) “Winston Churchill: Politician around the Clock,” folder 19, box 8, MS-18, Addendum 1.

(79.) Ibid., 134.

(83.) Ibid., 166.

(84.) Letter from Arnold to Kuter, 20 February 1945, “PEP Records,” folder 1; Arnold, Global Mission, 537.

(86.) Unsent letter, February 1945, folder 7, box 10, MS-18, Addendum 1.

(87.) “Along with Larry,” “January to May 1945.”

(89.) “Along with Larry,” “January to May 1945”; “Larry in the Pacific: May to July 1945,” folder 2, box 12, MS-18, Addendum 1; Laurence Kuter Oral History, vol. 1, p. 410. Curtis LeMay also suffered from Bell’s palsy, but he had a significantly worse case than Kuter did, and to hide the affliction he almost always had a cigar in his mouth.