A Case of Mistaken Identity: Colonel Edgar Stanley Gorrell – Part 3: Postscript

A Case of Mistaken Identity: Colonel Edgar Stanley Gorrell – Part 3: Postscript

By Johannes Allert

The lingering question remains as to why Edgar Gorrell is repeatedly misidentified as a stalwart advocate for strategic bombing. One clue, in particular, involves his analytical work compiled in the First World War entitled ‘The Future Role of American Bombardment Aviation.’ The plan above called for a robust air campaign aimed at German industry designed to break both German production and morale; however, the plan was shelved once Armistice was declared.[1] Withdrawing from the world’s stage, America quickly re-embraced isolationism. Yet, air strategists in their stubborn willfulness remained convinced that subsequent wars required sufficient strategies and weapons designed to mitigate problems associated with trench warfare.[2] Then, in 1935, technology and theory merged with the development of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the coincidental discovery of Gorrell’s of plans by a fervent disciple of “Billy” Mitchell – Lieutenant Laurence S. Kuter, later a General. This serendipitous moment reinforced his existing argument for strategic bombing in lectures he conducted at Maxwell Army Air Base. Believing strategy and technology could transition from theory to reality, the impressionable young Lieutenant arranged a meeting with its author to verify the data. Upon arrival, Kuter was surprised to discover Gorrell invited former members of his staff to corroborate the information. To a man, each concurred that the Lieutenant’s lecture matched the original plans. Vindicated, Kuter departed for Maxwell confidently stating:

We may return to our steel desks considerably refreshed by the knowledge that our school plans and our theories are not only supported by, but [are] identical with the plans of the level headed commanders in the field when the grim realities of actual war demanded effective employment.[3]

raid_by_the_8th_air_force
A Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress during the raid on the Focke Wulf plant at Marienburg, 9 October 1943. (Source: NARA)

Overlooked in the young Lieutenant’s statement, was the slight detail involving ‘employment of effective plans’ that, in reality never occurred. Furthermore, aircrews did not fly steel desks and the advent of the Second World War revealed a savage reality of aerial combat consisting of unexpected headwinds, radio interference, dispersed targets obscured by cloud cover, and skies filled with flak and fighters. Only the arrival in late 1944 of long range Allied fighter escort in substantial numbers alleviated the bomber’s plight. Kuter simply made a mistake common to us all – he saw what he wanted to see. Gorrell and his staff merely reinforced it.

Thus, the combination of events served as the catalyst for initiating a narrow and ideologically driven agenda. History, however, reveals Gorrell’s penchant for tackling any project assigned to him by meticulous analysis and hard work. Consequently, his recognition of aviation’s vast potential resulted in expansion and development of airlift capability that far surpassed his ‘significant achievement’ of 1918. It is also interesting to note that while analysis of his bombing study receives frequent coverage, his ‘Gorrell Histories’ remains virtually untouched. This is ironic given the fact that its intended purpose was to ‘assist in establishing Army aeronautics on a sound basis for the future.’[4] Furthermore, the manner that Gorrell’s obituary was written indicates Kuter, another West Point alum, as partly responsible for crafting the legacy of the late air executive to reinforce the ‘bomber mafia’ narrative. Gorrell’s ‘mistaken identity’ simply coincided with the leading aviation proponents’ narrative. Consequently, his death combined with strategic bombing’s overwhelming consensus sufficiently prohibited others from offering a counter-narrative.

Yet, it is the development and expansion of air transportation that endures. The ability to transport and sustain forces globally on a consistent basis in peace and war for over seventy years remains an underappreciated, yet unique and critical feature of the modern U.S. Military arsenal. Whether it is airlift’s support in battle or providing humanitarian aid in peacetime, success simply cannot occur without it. Gorrell recognised this early on and, in keeping with his philosophy of constant analysis, laboured ceaselessly to improve and expand it.

Similarly, it is the task of the historian to revive and revise Gorrell’s story and contribution. Unlike proponents of strategic precision bombing, historians must instead consider the broader actions and provide a greater contextual understanding of events and individuals of human history.

Part One and Two of this article can be found here and here.

Header Image: A Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] Mark Clodfelter, Beneficial Bombing: The Progressive Foundations of American Air Power, 1917-1945 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2010), pp.22-9.

[2] James P. Tate, The Army and its Air Corps: Army Policy toward Aviation: 1919-1941 (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1998), pp.166-7.

[3] Clodfelter, Beneficial Bombing, pp.58-9.

[4] Edgar S. Gorrell, Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-19 Record Group 120 (National Archives, Washington, D.C. 1923), pp.1-4.

A Case of Mistaken Identity: Colonel Edgar Stanley Gorrell – Part 2: The Emerging Role of Civil Aviation in Air Transport

A Case of Mistaken Identity: Colonel Edgar Stanley Gorrell – Part 2: The Emerging Role of Civil Aviation in Air Transport

By Johannes Allert

Having achieved the rank of full colonel at age twenty-eight, Gorrell, for reasons unknown, resigned from the Army in 1920 and briefly pursued a career in the automotive industry. By 1934, however, he returned to aviation and served alongside his former Army comrades George C. Marshall and Harold ‘Hap’ Arnold as a member of the newly formed committee known as the Baker Board. Their assignment involved reviewing events surrounding President Franklin Roosevelt’s ill-advised and hasty decision to cancel commercial airmail contracts (a system allegedly deemed rife with corruption), temporarily replacing them with Army aviators ill-equipped and unaccustomed to performing night navigation in inclement weather. The unintended consequence of this action resulted in sixty-six accidents and twelve fatalities.[1] A month-long session of testimony and reports exposed America’s scant support for adequately funding the nation’s fledgeling Army Air Service and revealed the enormous gap existing between military and civil aviation. The stark contrast showed that even at the height of The Great Depression, civil aviation’s assets in equipment, organisation, and talent dwarfed that of the U.S. Army Air Service. Consequently, the board recommended, with Gorrell’s insistence, that future construction of civil airliners include structural modifications for adaptation in military use should the need arise.[2]

In January of 1936, Gorrell was selected as head of the Chicago-based organisation known as the Air Transportation Association of America (ATA). As president, he viewed his mission as twofold. Firstly, to avoid a repeat of the boom and bust cycle experienced by America’s railroad industry of the previous century, Gorrell advocated for the establishment of reasonable and modest regulations compatible with commercial aviation’s development.[3] Secondly, and of equal importance was the grafting of civil aviation with the needs of national defence in times of crisis. He categorically stated that:

Beyond doubt, the scheduled air transport industry has influenced and stimulated many of our other national industries. Our military air force is as dependent on commercial aeronautics as our Navy is upon our Merchant Marine.[4]

This statement more closely aligns with Alfred Thayer Mahan’s concept of naval strategy than anything related to William “Billy” Mitchell’s thoughts involving strategic bombing. Furthermore, unlike Mitchell’s acerbic personality, Gorrell maintained cordial relations with leaders in governmental agencies and commercial industry alike. Affability combined with credibility and insight made him the perfect catalyst for advancing aviation technology.[5] This was evident in his adept response to a proposal from Senator Royal S. Copeland (D-NY) to mobilise the airlines for a two-day exercise during the military’s 1937 summer manoeuvres. The mobilisation plan, based on a preliminary study from 1922 was, in Gorrell’s estimation, an outdated, vague, and ham-fisted approach. Having carefully studied the plans as they related to the exercise, he calmly concluded that should they proceed with the plan in its current form; the cumulative effect would result in a seven-day disruption of the entire airline system and cost the taxpayer approximately $5,000,000. Wisely, the War Department accepted his sage advice and rescinded the order without further argument from the Senator.[6]

C-54
A Douglas C-54 Skymaster of the Military Air Transport Service. Air Transport Command was a precursor to this organisation. (Source: Wikimedia)

Over the next three years, Gorrell assisted by his staff laboured to enhance civil aviation to include navigation aids, aircraft modification, mapping of routes, development of runway aids, and weather stations across the globe for the immediate benefit of commercial aviation and for military use in a war he considered as inevitable.[7]  By the time Germany invaded Poland in the fall of 1939, Gorrell confidently assured General Marshall, now head of the U.S. Army, that the airline industry was readily available to support any contingency.[8] Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Gorrell spelt out in a memo circulated to all airlines dated 20 January 1942 reviewing wartime control, industry coordination, and requests from the military and stressed the need for cooperation.[9] Still, relations between civil aviation and the military were not without incident and in 1943 when it appeared progress was stalled; President Franklin Roosevelt briefly contemplated nationalising the airlines. Fearing the possibility of a permanent government takeover of the industry Gorrell, with the support from the Army’s Chief of the Air Corps General Arnold, met privately with Roosevelt and expressed opposition to nationalising America’s commercial airlines. The two men eventually persuaded the President to maintain the current relationship between civil and military authorities whereby the later enlisted rather than commandeered commercial aviation’s support and as history demonstrates, this proved the better choice.[10]

liberator_express_consolidated_c-87_41-11706_281552059443329
Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express (Source: Wikimedia)

Gorrell realised that necessary ingredient for achieving Allied victory in World War II required logistics that, in turn, required expansion of air transportation on a global scale. This was the very thing the U.S. Army Air Corps lacked. The existing bomber bias so pervasive within its pre-war ranks was nowhere more evident than in the inventory of aircraft that, in 1939 amounted to 1,700 – of these, only seventy-five were designated as transport.[11] Without civil aviation’s support encompassing its equipment, expertise, and facilities, expansion of the United States Army Air Force’s transport system was, at best, problematic. During the early stages of the war, the Army relied almost exclusively upon civil aviation’s assistance in transporting men and equipment to Alaska to blunt the Japanese offensive in the Aleutians.[12] Civilian transport also played a crucial role in assisting with securing vital assets in Latin America deemed necessary for the war effort.[13]  With civil aviation’s assistance, the U.S. military went so far as to commandeer civil aircraft used by Axis powers and press them into military service.[14] By 1945, the Army’s Air Transport Command, with Gorrell’s expertise and support, grew to operate 3,386 aircraft consisting of 41,520 officers, 166,026 enlisted, and further backed up by 23,735 civilian technicians.[15] This organisation was a one of a kind operation that successfully performed global missions utilising civil aircraft modified for military use – namely Consolidated’s C-87 (modified from the B-24 bomber), the Lockheed Constellation (designated C-69) and Douglas DC-4 (designated C-54).[16] By war’s end, strategists recognised the value of airlift operations and therefore incorporated this significant component into all future planning and logistics.[17] Another overlooked feature of Gorrell’s contributions to the growth of American air power was the modification centre concept. The management of ‘Mod Centers’ by various airlines across the United States enabled aircraft manufacturers to concentrate on production without stopping to refit for improvements.[18] Overall, Mod Centers were responsible for readying half of all U.S. military aircraft produced for combat during World War II.[19]  Gorrell’s foresight and hard work culminated in not only the expansion and development of aviation technology but forged a successful partnership between civil and military aviation on a global scale. Unfortunately, Edgar Staley Gorrell did not live to see the fruits of his labour. Without warning, he suffered a heart attack and died in the spring of 1945 at age fifty-four. In accordance with his wishes, his remains were cremated and scattered across the parade ground of his alma mater, West Point.[20]

Part One and Three of this article can be found here and here.

Header Image: Newly delivered USAAF Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, Fort Worth, Texas, in October 1942. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] E.R. Johnson, American Military Transport Aircraft Since 1925, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. 2012), p.3.

[2] Theodore J. Crackle, ‘Roots of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet,’ Air Power History, 45(4) (1998), p.30.

[3] ‘Notable, of course, is the fact that the new (Civil Aeronautics) Act imposes a comprehensive system of economic regulations of air carriers, heretofore lacking, which is, as the Interstate Commerce Commission has said, if anything more comprehensive than that applying to railroads.’ Address delivered by Col. Edgar Gorrell entitled ‘Progress Ratified: Lethargy Rejected’ delivered at ATA’s Experimental Station located in Indianapolis, IN on 29 May 1939. Courtesy of Norwich University Archives & Special Collections  http://library2.norwich.edu/catablog/aviation/gorrell-edgar-s-1891-1945

[4] Edgar Gorrell’s address to the Boston’s Chamber of Conference on Transportation 14 January 1937. Archives & Special Collections  http://library2.norwich.edu/catablog/aviation/gorrell-edgar-s-1891-1945

[5] Crackle, ‘Roots of the civil reserve air fleet,’ p.32.

[6] Ibid. 33-4.

[7] Roger Bilstein, Airlift and Airborne Operations in World War II (Washington DC: Air Force History and Museum Program, 1998), pp.10-1.

[8] Reginald M. Cleveland, Air Transport At War (New York, NY: Harper & Bros. Publishing), pp.17-9.

[9] Ibid, p.19.

[10] Ibid, pp. 1-2.

[11] Bilstein, Airlift and Airborne Operations in World War II, p .3.

[12] Jack El-Hai, Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), pp.91-2.

[13] Crackle, ‘Roots of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet,’ pp.40-1.

[14] Dan Hagedorn, Alae Supra Canalem – Wings Over the Canal: The Sixth Air Force and the Antilles Air Command (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing, 1995), pp.105-7.

[15] Johnson, American Military Transport Aircraft since 1925, p.7.

[16] Ibid, pp.145-46, 113-14, and 95-7.

[17] Bilstein, Airlift and Airborne Operations in World War II, pp.14-5.

[18] Cleveland, Air Transport at War, pp. 282-83.

[19] Ibid, pp. 282-309.

[20] Mark Clodfelter, Beneficial Bombing: The Progressive Foundations of American Air Power, 1917-1945 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2010), p.34.

Research Note – J.M. Spaight after the Second World War

Research Note – J.M. Spaight after the Second World War

By Ross Mahoney

In 2004, War in History published an article by Alaric Searle that posed the question ‘Was there a ‘Boney’ Fuller after the Second World War?’.[1] In short, Searle concluded that Major-General J.F.C. Fuller’s theoretical writing continued after 1945 alongside his historical writing and was not simply a ‘footnote to [his] biography.’[2] Searle’s question is an interesting one and could easily be applied to James Malony Spaight. In the inter-war years, Spaight, who was a trained jurist and, as a civilian, served in the Air Ministry, produced several notable volumes on air warfare with particular reference to issues such as its legality. As Robin Higham reflected:

No survey of British airpower theorists in the interwar years would be complete without mention of […] Spaight.[3]

Furthermore, Peter Gray noted that Spaight’s influence, due to his work within the Air Ministry, went further than just being ‘Trenchard’s good friend,’ as Higham suggested.[4] As Gray noted:

Spaight’s work was a readily available source of legal advice for his colleagues in the Air Ministry, and those who were likely to become staff officers having attended the Staff College at Andover.[5]

Before the Second World War, Spaight was clearly a critical influence on the development of air power thinking in Britain.

Despite his pre-war influence, what happened after the Second World War? Spaight retired from the Air Ministry in 1937, but continued writing during the Second World War, for example, in 1944 he published Bombing Vindicated in which he argued ‘that the line between military and civilian objectives’ was blurred.[6] Higham and Philip Meilinger in his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry noted the important books that he published after the Second World War.[7] Specifically, these were the third edition of Air Power and War Rights (1947), The Atomic Problem (1948) and Air Power Can Disarm (1948).

However, what else was written? Before the Second World War, Spaight had contributed to journals such as The Royal Air Force Quarterly and the Journal of the Royal United Services Institution. Both are important sources as they were read by officers who emerged into senior positions and thus they would, possibly, have been one influence on their thinking and leadership development. Simply put, after the Second World War, Spaight continued publishing in these journals. This reinforces the idea that Spaight’s writings were not only important in a general sense that he was still writing but, given where these articles were published, they, potentially, helped shape the discourse of air power in the early-Cold War years. However, while Spaight published, what is needed is an examination of the content of these articles so that we can bridge the narrative between his pre-Second World War writings and those produced after. Only by doing this can we consider how, or if, Spaight’s views changed. Broadly speaking the post-war articles are a cross-section of comments on the role of air power in the Second World War, air power’s future role in the nuclear age and the international affairs.

So far I have identified the following articles:

  1. ‘The Covenant of 1919 and the Charter of 1945,’ The Royal Air Force Quarterly, 17 (1945-46);
  2. ‘Strategic Air Bombardment, 1943-45,’ The Royal Air Force Quarterly and Empire Air Force Journal, 18 (3) (1947);
  3. ‘Strategic Air Bombardment (continued),’ The Royal Air Force Quarterly and Empire Air Force Journal, 18 (4) (1947);
  4. ‘Strategic Air Bombardment (continued),’ The Royal Air Force Quarterly and Empire Air Force Journal, 19 (1) (1948);
  5. ‘The Rio and Brussels Treaties,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 93 (570) (1948);
  6. ‘Sea and Air Power,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 93 (572) (1948);
  7. ‘That Next War,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 1 (1) (1949);
  8. ‘Target for To-morrow,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 94 (576) (1949);
  9. ‘The Ghost of Douhet,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 2 (2) (1950);
  10. ‘Trans-Polar War,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 2 (3) (1950);
  11. ‘Korea and Aggression,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 2 (4) (1950);
  12. ‘Korea and the Atom Bomb,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, (95) (580) (1950);
  13. ‘The End of a Dream,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 3 (2) (1951);
  14. ‘Morale as Objective,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 3 (4) (1951);
  15. ‘Pax Atlantica,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 96 (583) (1951);
  16. ‘Limited and Unlimted War,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 4 (1) (1952)
  17. ‘Why Stalin Waits,’ The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 4 (3) (1952);
  18. ‘Napalm,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 98 (589) (1953);
  19. ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction,’ Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, 99 (593) (1954);
  20. ‘Cities as Battlefields,’ Air Power: Incorporating The RAF Quarterly and Commonwealth Air Forces Journal, 2 (3) (1955).

I would be keen to know of anymore articles by Spaight in this period.

This post first appeared at Thoughts on Military History.

Header Image: The aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. (Source: © IWM (MH 29447))

[1] Alaric Searle, ‘Was there a ‘Boney’ Fuller after the Second World War? Major-General J.F.C. Fuller as Military Theorist and Commentator, 1945-1966’, War in History, 11 (3) (2004), pp. 327-57.

[2] Ibid, p. 357.

[3] Robin Higham, The Military Intellectuals in Britain, 1918-1939 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1966), p. 230.

[4] Ibid; Peter Gray, The Leadership, Direction and Legitimacy of the RAF Bomber Offensive from Inception to 1945 (London: Continuum, 2012), pp. 54-7.

[5] Gray, Leadership, p. 56.

[6] Phillip S. Meilinger, ‘Spaight, James Molony (1877–1968)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/58055, accessed 5 Jan 2016].

[7] Ibid; Higham, Military Intellectuals, p. 233.