#BookReview – An Honorable Place in American Air Power: Civil Air Patrol Coastal Operations, 1942-1943

#BookReview – An Honorable Place in American Air Power: Civil Air Patrol Coastal Operations, 1942-1943

Frank A. Blazich Jr. An Honorable Place in American Air Power: Civil Air Patrol Coastal Operations, 1942-1943. Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 2020. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pbk. xvi + 239 pp.

Reviewed by Bryant Macfarlane 

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As a much younger man, I participated in the United States Air Force’s Civil Air Patrol (CAP) cadet program like many other young Americans. Along with emergency services and aerospace education, the CAP cadet program teaches valuable life skills and cementing a nascent airmindedness into its members.  Given the important role, the publication of Frank A. Blazich, Jr.’s An Honorable Place in American Air Power: Civil Air Patrol Coastal Operations, 1942-1943 is an important addition to the literature on the role of American air-power during the Second World War.

Blazich, Curator of Modern Military History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and Director of the Colonel Louisa S. Morse Center for Civil Air Patrol History, is uniquely suited to the task of writing the history of CAP’s important role at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic. An Honorable Place in American Air Power recounts the exploits of volunteer American civil airmen combating U-boats off the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and patrolling the American-Mexico border in the critical opening months of American involvement in the Second World War. Though not the first to tackle the subject, Blazich’s effort is undoubtedly the most complete accounting of how American – air-minded civilians found a way to help their nation in a time of dire need. Blazich challenges the hagiographic treatment of William Mellor, Andrew Ten Eyck, and Robert E. Neprud by arguing that the CAP had significant safety, organisational, and funding issues until Congress created federal legislation in 1948. While most works produced since the 1950s have been tertiary works, Blazich supports Clair Blair’s conclusion in Hitler’s U-Boat War (1998). Blair and Blazich argue that U-boats were not a decisive weapon of war in the Atlantic but did significantly delay the total mobilisation of American assets towards operations in Africa. Blazich’s original research builds upon the archival work of Michael Gannon and the capture of oral history by Louis Keefer to fully explore the historiographical gap left in the official histories of the US Army and US Navy.

While the work is aimed at incorporation into professional military education venues, Blazich’s writing is very accessible to general readers and military professionals while retaining academic rigour. Blazich’s presentation and enthusiasm allow the narrative to unfold cleanly across the page while easily allowing the interested reader to understand his methodology and sources in endnotes and appendices. Researchers and academics are rewarded by including deep endnotes and rich appendices that provide a wealth of resources for further work on the CAP and interested in exploring aspects of the Second World War, air power, civil-military relations, security studies, and general American aviation history. In so doing, Blazich definitively puts to rest the myth of CAP aircraft destroying or damaging enemy submarines and clarifies the challenges surrounding the CAP and its participation in the American anti-submarine campaign from March 1942 to August 1943.

Blazich effectively demonstrates how, with tentative agreement from the US Navy and US Army Air Forces, an organisation of volunteer private pilots, mechanics, radio operators, and administrators freed military personnel and equipment for operations outside of the continental United States. Using professionalism, dedication, resourcefulness, and small civil aircraft, the CAP surmounted formidable geographic, legal, and logistical obstacles in establishing a series of 21 air bases from the Maine-Canadian border to the Texas-Mexico border. This was conducted through volunteer efforts with minimal state or federal support. Further, Blazich demonstrates that, despite support from the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), many military officials were sceptical of the potential for effective inclusion of the CAP into their national defence responsibilities. Nevertheless, despite the reorganisation of military commands and interservice squabbles over responsibilities, the CAP proved to be an effective and timely solution to the nation’s needs in securing the American eastern sea frontier and freeing uniformed forces for operations in Africa and the Pacific.

Presented in five chronologically focused chapters, with an introduction and concluding chapter on how volunteer civil-auxiliary assets can be exploited for future needs, An Honorable Place in American Air Power is a highly accessible and vital work. Some may take historical umbrage with Blazich’s argument (p. 1) that within the context of the era, ‘CAP members became the first American civilians to actively engage with enemy forces in defense of the United States.’ However, as Blazich (p. 1) clearly outlines across the five chapters that make up the core of this book that for approximately 18 months, the volunteer civilian airmen of the CAP became a de jure ‘fourth arm of the nation’s defense.’ While volunteering for CAP missions did not preclude Selective Service selection, and members had to provide their uniforms, aircraft, equipment, and facilities, it offered the only path for a private citizen to maintain the ability to ‘own, operate and service any aircraft and radio equipment.’ (p. 89)

While Blazich rightly argues that the formation of the CAP was a synchronicity of people and events that was put into motion in the late 1930s, what is unquestionably clear is that the organisation would not have been taken as seriously by the War Department had it not been for the positive relationships air-minded leaders. These included people such as Fiorello LaGuardia, of the OCD, shared with well-placed Army officials, like Chief of the Army Air Forces ‘Hap’ Arnold, in the War Department. Arnold, like Giulio Douhet, understood the need to educate political leaders on the critical link between military and civilian aviation. Arnold also understood that America was soon to be desperately needed a ready supply of skilled pilots and maintainers. Because of this, argues Blazich, Arnold became ‘one of the CAP’s biggest supporters’ from within the War Department. (p. 150) While Blazich clarifies that CAP operations occurred concurrently with the increased convoy and military force projection that had effectively created wide-area security for American sea frontiers, the argument is clear that the CAP provided an evident success in effectively adopting civilian volunteers and equipment into the National Defense Strategy.

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The front cover of Blazich’s book is based on this 1943 recruitment poster for the Civil Air Patrol that was designed by Clayton Kenney. (Source: NARA)

A prime example of synchronicity was the November 1941 decision of the OCD to place Army Major General John F. Curry, a retired Commandant of the Air Corps Tactical School, as the CAP National Commander. Thus, building trust between the fledgling CAP and the War Department as unarmed CAP patrols began in January 1942. Blazich (p. 56) argues that despite the early support by the War Department, by March 1942, the US Navy felt the CAP would ‘serve no useful purpose except to give merchant ships the illusion that an adequate air patrol is being maintained.’ However, this did not go far in impressing Admiral Ernest King, who opined (p. 57) that CAP aircraft ‘would not be productive in sufficient degree to compensate for the operational difficulties to be encountered in coordinating and controlling the flying involved by inexperienced personnel.’ Despite these expressed feelings by the US Navy, civil leaders expressed further trust in the CAP’s ability, under the operational jurisdiction of Naval sea frontier commands to extend the safety of merchant shipping through the American littorals and beyond from U-boats operating along American waters.

On 29 April 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9339, which transferred the CAP from the OCD to the War Department. By the summer of 1943, trust in the CAP as an asset to the nation’s defence in freeing military human resources for combat and providing overflight services had measured a success. The CAP bought time for the Navy to build force capacity to conduct land-based, long-range offensive operations across the American sea frontier. Admiral King registered accolades as the CAP stood down its continuous volunteer air services to America’s eastern sea frontiers. According to Blazich (p. 150), ‘King, never one to offer accolades except when appropriate, his praise represented the highest compliments’ to the demonstrated professionalism, bravery, and sacrifice of the volunteer members of the CAP.

The final chapter of An Honorable Place in American Air Power argues that the retention of the CAP after the national defence emergency demonstrates that innovative solutions to strategic problems can be found when Americans work collaboratively. Here, Blazich urges key leaders to use the legal and social foundations laid by the CAP to be extended into more routine use in an emergency, or civil relief situations. Blazich, arguing that the CAP has expanded to include cyber and small unmanned aerial system operations, sees an underutilised functional capacity in the CAP. ‘For a future conflict with an unknown enemy, [and] the improbability of a conventional enemy land force invading the continental United States,’ argues Blazich (p. 175), ‘physical CAP assets will assist the Air Force along the nation’s borders, in cyberspace, and throughout the interior.’

In conclusion, An Honorable Place in American Air Power is a tremendously important work that expands our understanding of the American home front in the opening months of the Second World War. While, as Blazich argues (p. 164), ‘deterrence is a nebulous matter to objectify into metrics,’ An Honorable Place in American Air Power conclusively demonstrates the effectiveness of the CAP through the actions of the brave men and women of the coastal patrol stations that motivated legislative designation of the CAP as the auxiliary of the United States Air Force. Moreover, the CAP is ‘available for noncombat programs and missions with taxpayer funding and resources’ (p. 170) to continue providing education, emergency rescue, and other support to continually build strength for a capable air presence for the American people.

Bryant Macfarlane served in the United States Army from 1997 to 2019 and is a PhD student at Kansas State University studying vertical flight and its effect on military culture. He can be found on Twitter @rotary_research.

Header Image: A variety of Civil Air Patrol-operated aircraft, including a Sikorsky S-39 in center frame, parked at Coastal Patrol Base 17  between July 1942 and August 1943. The base would eventually become Francis S. Gabreski Airport in New York State. (Source: Wikimedia)  

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (April 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (April 2021)

Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.

Articles

Jayson Altieri, ‘Minutemen and Roentgens: A History of Civil Air Patrol’s Aerial Radiolomcal Monitoring Program,’ Air Power History 68, no. 1 (Spring, 2021).

When one thinks of U.S. Air Force Cold War era aircraft, images of the Strategic Air Command’s B–52 Stratofortress, B–58 Hustler, and B–36 Peacemaker, made famous by classic Hollywood films like Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, and Strategic Bomber Command, usually come quickly to mind. What is less well known are the roles that smaller aircraft like the Cessna L-19/0-1 Bird Dog, Cessna 172/T-41 Mescalero, and Stinson L-5 Sentinel played in helping prepare and respond to a possible nuclear attack on the American homeland by actively measuring radioactivity levels in roentgens, mostly through the efforts of the volunteers of the U.S. Air Force’s Auxiliary, known as the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). While today, CAPs primary operational missions concentrate on inland air search and rescue, aerial disaster assessment, and flight training for the organization’s Cadet program, CAP’s earlier roles following the Second World War involved supporting the nation’s Civil Defense through Aerial Radiological Monitoring (ARM) and post-attack damage assessments of cities and key economic infrastructures. Founded on December 1,1941, with the help of American airpower proponent Gill Rob Wilson, Texas Oilman David Harold Byrd, and New York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the latter in his capacity as the Director of the Office of Civilian Defense, the CAP was originally formed to help supplement American military operations as an Auxiliary of the United States Army Air Forces in the early stages of the Second World War. Early in the war, as part of America’s Civil Defense coordinated by the Council of National Defense, civilian non-combatant volunteers were asked to help supplement local governments and military commands based across the country with Air Raid Wardens, Auxiliary Firemen, Road Repair Crews, and Civil Air Patrols along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Initially using privately owned aircraft and equipment and operating from local private and publicly owned airfields, CAP volunteers became known as the Flying Minutemen, performing a number of wartime missions include Antisubmarine patrols, border patrols, target towing, and messenger services. By the end of the war and with the formation of an independent U.S. Air Force, President Harry Truman, signed in 1946 the congressionally approved Public Law 79-476 establishing the CAP as both a Federally charted corporation and later in 1948, Public Law 557 making CAP the U.S. Air Force’s Auxiliary. By this time, both the United States and CAP were now engaged in another war, though involving less actual conflict, none-the-less still presented an existential threat to the nation-The Cold War.

Troy Hallsell, ‘Building Malstrom’s Minuteman Missile Fields in Central Montana. 1960-1963,’ Air Power History 68, no. 1 (Spring, 2021).

In September of 1960, the Air Force Association held its 14th annual convention at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California. This grand event demonstrated to the American public (and the world) the best aerial hardware the Air Force had to offer. On display was a Bell X-1B rocket plane, North American Aviation’s Hound Dog air-launched standoff missile, a Titan intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and the Thor-Able missile that promised to reach the moon. While this display of weaponry sought to allay Americans’ fears about a supposed missile gap in favor of the Soviet Union (USSR), the Air Force’s unveiling of the Minuteman ICBM was the main attraction. On September 22, at 7:00 PM Gen Thomas D. White, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, San Francisco mayor George Christopher, and NBC producer Roy Neal took to the podium to introduce the United States’ newest weapon system. As General White pushed a button, the “gleaming dummy missile rose to a vertical static display, where it would remain through the weekend.” Never underestimating the power of an image, White understood that the Air Force had to convince the American public to embrace the Minuteman as the “ultimate deterrent force.” The future of missiles depended on their good graces.

This study explores why the Air Force deployed the Minuteman to Malmstrom AFB in central Montana, how the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Air Force built the weapon system’s infrastructure, and their experience bringing the first flight of missiles to alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War was an international political contest that pitted the west, led by the United States, against the east as represented by the USSR. The ICBM emerged as an integral weapon system in waging the Cold War. While the Air Force trotted out the Atlas and Titan ICBMs, the Minuteman became the weapon system of the future. The Air Force selected Malmstrom AFB in central Montana as home for the first Minuteman strategic missile wing. Shortly after construction began in 1962, the U.S. and USSR engaged in the Cuban Missile Crisis following the Soviet Union’s installation of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. During this confrontation Strategic Air Command (SAC) ordered the 341st Strategic Missile Wing (341 SMW) to bring its first flight of Minuteman ICBMs to alert and entered into an unprecedented state of readiness. In the nuclear posturing that followed, the USSR agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba as long as the U.S. made some concessions of its own.

Phil Haun, ‘Foundation Bias: The Impact of the Air Corps Tactical School on United States Air Force Doctrine,’ Journal of Military History 85, no. 2 (April 2021).

For over seventy years, the continued belief in the efficacy of strategic bombing has dominated United States Air Force thinking in times of war and peace. In addition, the core principles of air power articulated by the Air Corps Tactical School continue to reside in USAF doctrine. Despite the outcomes of the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars, which have all demonstrated the effectiveness of joint operations and the limitations of strategic bombing, the ACTS tenets remain embedded in the very DNA of airmen and continue to influence how the United States Air Force views the modern air, space, and cyber domains.

Bryan Hunt, ‘Lost in Space: The Defeat of the V-2 and Post- War British Exploitation of German Long-Range Rocket Technology,’ Air Power History 68, no. 1 (Spring, 2021).

Battle of London is over … sort of

On the evening of September 7, 1944, Duncan Sandys MP (1908-1987), chair of the government rocket and flying bomb countermeasures ‘CROSSBOW committee, confidently announced that the Battle of London, comprising the V-l flying bomb attacks, was now over and that the public could now relax, and because of Allied advances through northern France, discounted the apocalyptic predictions of ‘rocket’ (ballistic missile) attacks. The fear of these attacks had caused the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison (1888-1965), grave concern because of alarmist intelligence assessments of the size of warheads and predicted scale of attacks. Starting in August 1943, Bomber Command and the U.S. Eighth Air Force had bombed research sites in Poland and dropped 120,000 tons of bombs on the monumentally large reinforced-concrete ‘large sites’ and ‘rocket projector’ sites on the Cherbourg Peninsula in northern France and in Belgium that were believed to be crucial to the operational deployment of long-range rockets. Allied forces had now overrun the distinctive, curved assembly and launch ‘ski site’ buildings where V-l flying bombs had been launched at Britain. The Chiefs of Staff Committee also believed that all potential rocket launch sites were now in Allied hands.

However, a scant 24 hours later on September 8, 1944, a mysterious explosion occurred in Chiswick, west London, killing three people and injuring a further 20. A second similar explosion occurred a few seconds later in Epping, though with no casualties. Described officially as ‘gas leaks’, these explosions heralded the first ballistic missile attack on the United Kingdom. The weapon was the A4, a 46 ft/14 m high single-stage liquid-fuelled rocket carrying a one ton high-explosive warhead. The A4 – Aggregat (experimental) Bombardment Rocket and later renamed by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry and universally known as the V-2 (Vergeltungswaffen – vengeance or retaliatory weapon) – had been launched from a mobile position in The Hague, in the occupied Netherlands. It took just under five minutes to travel the 200-odd nautical miles to southern England. Although the British Government maintained the story of gas leaks for two months on security grounds, it was recognised across Whitehall that this was the commencement of a ballistic missile (code word: ‘BIGBEN) bombardment that had been expected – and feared – from late 1943s.

David Messenger, ‘Local Government, Passive Defense and Aerial Bombardment in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9,’ Journal of Contemporary History, (April 2021). doi:10.1177/0022009421997898

The bombardment of civilians from the air was a regular feature of the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. It is estimated some 15,000 Spaniards died as a result of air bombings during the Civil War, most civilians, and 11,000 were victims of bombing from the Francoist side that rebelled against the Republican government, supported by German and Italian aviation that joined the rebellion against the Republic. In Catalonia alone, some 1062 municipalities experienced aerial bombardments by the Francoist side of the civil war. In cities across Spain, municipal and regional authorities developed detailed plans for civilian defense in response to these air campaigns. In Barcelona, the municipality created the Junta Local de Defensa Passiva de Barcelona, to build bomb shelters, warn the public of bombings, and educate them on how to protect themselves against aerial bombardment. They mobilized civilians around the concept of ‘passive defense.’ This proactive response by civilians and local government to what they recognized as a war targeting them is an important and under-studied aspect of the Spanish Civil War.

Cole Resnik, ‘Silent Saviors: Gliders for American Resupply Operations in Normandy, June 1944,’ Air Power History 68, no. 1 (Spring, 2021).

Historians devote much attention to the glider assault missions on D-Day morning, but resupply missions thereafter contributed more to the success of the airborne divisions and require a closer evaluation. While awaiting the construction of airstrips or the arrival of armored reinforcements following the initial invasion of Normandy, the artillery pieces and ammunition delivered by combat gliders helped outgunned paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division hold the surrounding area of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Airborne commanders trusted gliders more than airdrops in the aftermath of D-Day because of their ability to deliver heavier equipment behind enemy lines in a precise, cohesive, and timely manner. In the morning hours of June 6, the 82nd dropped in and around Sainte-Mere-Eglise. The average paratrooper landed with an M1 Garand, an M1911 pistol, a knife, extra ammunition, three days of rations, a few explosives, and other personal gear if their leg bag remained attached after the jump. Some dropped with mortar tubes and bazookas, but these soldiers lacked the firepower necessary to compete with an armored enemy on a consistent basis. The British glider could fly with 7,380 pounds stuffed in its fuselage. That equaled twenty-five infantrymen with gear, four motorcycles complete with eight troops and equipment, or a one-ton supply trailer attached to a quarter-ton Jeep. The resupply mission, nicknamed “Elmira,” was simple: the 176 gliders hooked to C-47s would depart England, fly to the coast of France, and disconnect from their tow planes near the beaches at Normandy.