Henry Harley Arnold

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Henry Harley Arnold

Henry Harley Arnold (1886-1950) was one of America's first military aviators. He became chief of staff of the Army Air Forces in World War II and was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Air Force.

Henry Arnold was born on June 25, 1886, in Gladwyne, Pa. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1907 and joined the infantry. Early in 1911 he went to Dayton, Ohio, to take flying lessons from Orville and Wilbur Wright and later that year earned the twenty-ninth pilot's license issued in the United States. In 1916 he joined the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps and during World War I served as commander of the 7th Aero Squadron in Panama. Between the wars he was a vigorous advocate of air power and an active supporter of Billy Mitchell's attempt to create an independent air force.

The Army, however, retained control of the Army Air Corps, as its air arm was then called, and in 1938 Arnold became chief of the corps. He believed that air power would be the decisive weapon in the next war and thought that the airplane, especially the heavy bomber, should not be shackled to the Army. He encouraged development of the "flying fortress," a bomber able to defend itself from enemy fighters and to drop bombs with pinpoint accuracy on industrial targets. Arnold maintained that strategic bombing—the selective destruction of key industries—would force an enemy to an early surrender, even without physical occupation of the country.

Arnold did not get all that he wanted, but in March 1942 the corps became the Army Air Forces and he became the chief of staff. Although technically his organization remained subordinate to the Army, it was actually independent, a fact underscored by Arnold's place as an equal on the Combined Chiefs of Staff (the agency composed of the American and British heads of service) and his promotion to five-star general. Arnold also saw to the development of the type of air force he wanted. His favorite maxim, "A second-best air force is like a second-best hand in poker—it's no good at all," had led to the creation of the world's most powerful air force.

Arnold retired in 1946; a year later, owing largely to his efforts, the U.S. Air Force became an independent service. In his final report he warned that within 30 years the United States would need 3,000-mile-an-hour robot atom bombs, launched from space ships "operating outside the earth's atmosphere." He believed that air power had made mass armies and navies obsolete. He died of a heart attack on Jan. 15, 1950.

Further Reading

Arnold wrote two books, both with Ira C. Eaker, giving his view on air power: This Flying Game (1936) and Winged Warfare (1941). The best source on Arnold is his memoir, Global Mission (1949). There is no satisfactory biography, although a complete account of Arnold's activities as chief of staff of the Army Air Forces is in the official The Army Air Forces in World War II, edited by Wesley Frank Craven and James L. Cate (7 vols., 1948-1958). For the military history of the war see J.F.C. Fuller, The Second World War, 1939-1945 (1948; rev. ed. 1954); Kent Roberts Greenfield, American Strategy in World War II: A Reconsideration (1963); and Basil Collier, The Second World War: A Military History (1967).

Additional Sources

Coffey, Thomas M., HAP: the story of the U.S. Air Force and the man who built it, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, New York: Viking Press, 1982.

Copp, DeWitt S., A few great captains: the men and events that shaped the development of U.S. air power, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980; McLean, Va.: EPM Publications, 1989. □

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Henry Harley Arnold

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