General Henry Harley 'Hap' Arnold, 1886-1950

General Henry Harley 'Hap' Arnold (1886-1950) was the most senior American airman of the Second World War, and a dedicated believer in the power of strategic bombing. The son of a country doctor, Arnold attended West Point, where he graduated 66th in his class of 111 in 1907. He also acquired his nickname 'hap', short for happy and reflecting his less than serious approach to life at West Point.

One of Arnold's first postings took him to Governor's Island, the site of New York's first airfield. There he saw both the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss flying their pioneering aircraft. In 1911 he and Thomas D. Milling took flying lessons from the Wright brothers and became the U.S. Army's first two aviators. For the next eighteen months Arnold was heavily involved in the development of American military aviation, but he was then posted to a desk job in Washington, missing the American involvement in the First World War. In the inter-war years Arnold was a supporter of Billy Mitchell's crusade for air power, once leading a flight of 10 Martin bombers on a 18,000 mile flight to Alaska, one of a series of flights that proved that the Air Corps could move its aircraft over vast distances.

Formal portrait of General Henry Harley 'Hap' Arnold
Formal portrait of
General Henry Harley
'Hap' Arnold

In 1936 Arnold became Deputy Chief of the Air Corps. On 29 September 1938 his superior, Major General Oscar Westover, was killed in a crash, and Arnold was promoted to replace him. At this date Army aviation was split into two branches – the Air Corps, which had responsibility for material and training, and GHQ Air Force, which had command of combat operations. This meant that Arnold was in charge of the pre-war expansion of the Army Air Corps. This was a period of constant change in the organisation of army aviation. On 1 March 1939 Arnold was given command of the GHQ Air Force, giving him command of both branches. Things changed again in November 1940 when he became Acting Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army as well as Chief of the Air Corps, with responsibility for coordinating with GHQ Air Force.

The structure changed again on 20 June 1941 with the creation of the Army Air Forces as a new top level of authority. Arnold became Chief of the Army Air Forces and retained his post as Deputy Chief of Staff. The Air Corps retained responsibility for material and training, while GHQ Air Force was replaced by Air Force Combat Command (AFCC). Arnold's new post came with wide ranging duties. He was to determine requirements for the AAF, prepare plans for the 'development, organization, equipment, training, tactical operations, supply, and maintenance thereof, including overseas garrisons and task forces for theatres of operations and the assignment of personnel at matériel thereto', he commanded all aerial operations except for those of units specifically attached to overseas garrisons, task forces or specific commands, and was responsible for the air defence of the United States.

The bomber force that Arnold built was based around two main beliefs. First that precision daylight bombing would quickly destroy the enemy's potential to wage war, forcing them to surrender without the need for a ground invasion and second that heavily armed bombers flying in large formations would be able to defend themselves against enemy fighters and reach their targets without suffering unacceptably heavy losses. Once the 8th Air Force entered the fighting over Western Europe it became clear that neither theory was correct. Whenever the big bombers went beyond the range of fighter cover they suffered very heavy loses. The daylight raids didn't suffer from the same problems of navigation as Bomber Command did at night, but the idea that each aircraft could hit a precise target was soon abandoned, and the 8th Air Force developed a system of bomber leaders, with each formation bombing in a pattern. Only after the arrival of long range escort fighters capable of taking the fight to the Luftwaffe in the skies over Germany did the 8th Air Force become a real threat to the German war effort. The same lessons had to be learnt in the Pacific. The B-29 Super Fortress had been developed as a high-altitude precision bomber, but made its impact dropping masses of incendiary bombs.

Arnold's most valuable contribution to the Allied victory was his insistence that the United States needed to prepare for a long aerial campaign. It was no good to simply build as many aircraft as possible in 1938 or 1940, for they would soon be obsolete. Instead Arnold made sure that newer and better aircraft were always under development, and created a massive training programme than ensured that the United States would eventually have a sufficient supply of aircrew. In January 1942 Arnold was able to announce that he expected to an annual training rate of 50,000 pilots and 300,000 technicians by August 1942, and 70,000 pilots and 500,000 technicians in 1943!

Arnold's theories on air war were set out in the Air Force's 1942 war plan. This called for 63,068 combat aircraft by 1943. A combined bomber offensive would be carried out against Germany in 1943 and early 1944 to deplete German strength to the point where the western Allies could mount a successful land invasion of Germany even in Russia had been knocked out of the war. Arnold's view was thus less extreme than those of Spaatz or 'Bomber' Harris, both of whom believed that the war could be won by the bombers alone, leaving any invasion as a simply matter of occupying the territory of an already defeated Germany.

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war Arnold was a firm supporter of military aid to Britain. He was present when Roosevelt and Churchill met on HMS Prince of Wales in August 1941. His presence helped make it clear that military matters had been discussed during the conference, and he also helped broker an agreement that allowed AAF aircraft to be provided for lend lease. On 9 September 1941 Arnold's staff produced a plan which would have given 66% of all American tactical aircraft production to lend lease, with half of those aircraft going to Britain and the Commonwealth. At the same time he was also having to find aircraft to reinforce Alaska and the Philippines, but the Japanese were not expected to attack before the spring of 1942, giving the United States time to build enough aircraft to satisfy both demands. Even after the attack on Pearl Harbor Arnold was willing to make sure that large numbers of aircraft went to lend-lease. He was also in favour of supporting the Soviets, and in October 1941 collaborated with Capt. H.H. Balfour the British Under Secretary of State for Air to finalise the details of the first Soviet Protocol, in which both Britain and American agreed to provide the Soviets with 1,800 aircraft by the end of June 1942.

General 'Hap' Arnold visits 321st Bombardment Group
General 'Hap' Arnold visits 321st Bombardment Group

After the Americans entered the war Arnold believed that the top priority for the AAF and for the entire American war effort should be the strategic bomber campaign against Germany. He opposed any efforts to divert aircraft to other theatres at this time, especially to North Africa or the Middle East. His main opponent was Admiral King who saw the South Pacific as the no.1 priority, followed by North Africa and the Middle East with the bomber offensive a lower priority than any Pacific operations. It was Arnold's views that triumphed at this stage, and the bomber offensive was given the highest priority.

Arnold was less successful in his attempts to create a single theatre command for all air operations against the European Aix, arguing that air movements could easily move between the United Kingdom and North Africa. The nearest he would get to achieving this target was the appointment of General Spaatz as commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe at the end of 1943. 

Arnold developed a good working relationship with Air Marshal Charles Portal, his British equivalent. The two men met at the ARCADIA conference in Washington, where on 13 January 1942 they signed the Arnold-Portal Agreement, which set targets for the number of planes to be delivered to Britain.

The ARCADIA conference also saw the creation of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee, based in Washington. In theory Arnold was only a Deputy Chief of Staff within the Army, but he was made an equal member of the committee and soon after than of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. In part this was done because of the de-facto independence of the Army Air Force, but it also reflected the actual independence of the RAF and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal's automatic membership of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. His appointments to the Combined Chiefs and Joint Chiefs committees gave Arnold much more influence over the conduct of the air war than his command of the Army Air Force.

In May 1942 Arnold came to Britain to prepare for the arrival of the Eight Air Force. The British agreed to provide 127 airfields – some former RAF bases and some newly built, of which 75 would be for VIII Bomber Command in East Anglia. Arnold also agreed to provide nine combat groups for the Middle East (Arnold-Portal-Towers agreement, signed 21 June 1942 - six would be fighter groups, two medium bomber groups and one heavy bomber group.

Arnold's biggest problem in 1942 was a shortage of aircraft. The build-up of the Eighth Air Force was delayed by the need to find aircraft for lend-lease, anti-submarine warfare and to hold the line against the Japanese in the south Pacific. On 26 November 1942 he won approval of a 107,000 aircraft programme, which would eventually produce enough aircraft to satisfy just about every demand on them. Trained aircrew, or at least the transport of trained aircrew, then became a problem. The situation was at its worst towards the end of 1943, when Arnold was forced ship untrained men across the Atlantic and train them in Britain because all transatlantic shipping was about to be taken over by D-day troops.

Arnold was opposed to Operation Torch, seeing it as a diversion from the real job of bombing Germany, and the demands of the campaign in North Africa did slow down the expansion of the Eighth Air Force. Just as with the army the Air Force benefited from the experience it gained in North Africa, and as a result of the campaign Arnold was able to get a new doctrine enshrined in Field Manual 100-20. In the summer of 1943 this stated that 'Land power and air power are co-equal and interdependent forces; neither is an auxiliary of the other'. The first target of any military campaign was to win air superiority. Only after that could victory be expected.

The Mediterranean theatre increasingly appealed to Arnold for other reasons. By the end of 1942 he was disappointed with the small number of missions being carried out by the Eighth Air Force from Britain. One of the main delaying factors was the winter weather in Britain. As the Allies prepared to invade Italy the AAF realised that the area around Foggia would be ideal for bomber bases. Arnold's colleagues in the ground forces were obsessed with the idea of the invasion of northern France, for which Britain was the only suitable base, but large sections of German industry were far more accessible from bases in Italy, and the weather would be much less of a problem. Eventually the Twelfth Air Force, operating from Italy, would play a major part in the strategic air war. 

Arnold remained opposed to any increase in the allocation of heavy bombers to the anti-submarine war. In April 1943 the War Department forced him to change this attitude, and he began to implement plans to base three B-24 squadrons in Newfoundland. The problem was solved by the Arnold-McNarney-McCain agreement of June 1943. This saw the Navy agree to take over all anti-submarine work. The AAF would hand over its anti-submarine B-24s in return for standard B-24s from the Navy's allocation. In return the Navy would agree that the AAF should retain control of all long range bombing forces operating from shore bases in defence of the Western Hemisphere. Agreement was held up for a month by Admiral King, who was eager to take over the anti-submarine work but wanted to retain the long range striking role for the army, but in July General Marshal stepped in and King was forced to submit. By mid-November 1943 all anti-submarine work was in the hands of the US Navy.

Arnold remained disappointed with the level of operations being carried out by the Eighth Air Force during 1943. In part this was because he was viewing operations from Washington, where some of the problems than plagued the Eighth were less visible. In mid-1943 the Eighth Air Force had 200 fewer heavy bombers than expected. Heavier-than-expected losses meant that many men who had been expected to form new units had to be used as replacements in existing units. The official figures for aircraft and aircrews on strength including those who had not yet joined a unit. Even so, in September 1943 the Eighth Air Force had an average of 661 bomber crews on strength, but was only able to mount one 400 aircraft raid.

Arnold was an enthusiastic support of Operation FRANTIC, the plan to use Soviet bases for shuttle bombing runs. This offered two main benefits. The first was that it would expand the areas that could be hit by American bombers, allowing them to hit targets that were too far east to hit from Britain or Italy. The second was a hope that it might help convince the Soviets that the strategic bomber campaign was worthwhile. Neither benefit was achieved. After promising to provide six bases the Soviets only provided three. They also insisted on defending the bases themselves. The bases were made ready in April-May 1944, before on 2 June 1944 a force of heavy bombers left Italy on the first shuttle raid. This was not a great success. The Soviets refused to approve an attack on any important targets, and during the entire shuttle campaign the Americans were never able to hit a target that could not have been attacked from Britain or Italy. Worse was to follow during the first Eighth Air Force shuttle mission on 21 June. A force of German bombers followed the B-17s to their Soviet base, destroying 43 B-17s and damaging another 26. The shuttle missions continued through 1944 but never gained the importance that Arnold had hoped for. 

Arnold was well aware of the need for long range escort fighters. He was very keen on the introduction of the P-38 into service from Britain, and in October 1943 ordered that all P-51s and P-38s that were completed before the end of the year should go to the United Kingdom. He was also able to convince Portal to provide four RAF Mustang squadrons to escort his bombers from January 1944. Arnold's aim at the start of 1944 was to win air superiority over Germany, and in his New Year's message for 1944, issued on 27 December 1944, the destruction of the German Air Force was made the most important target for 1944. A combination of 'Big Week' – a series of attacks on the German aircraft industry in February 1944 – and the increasing availability of escort fighters – meant that this aim would be achieved.

The most important Allied attack of 1944 was of course the D-Day landing. Arnold supported Eisenhower's transportation plan, which aimed to isolate the Normandy battlefield by crippling the French and Belgian transport networks. Arnold's support helped Eisenhower overcome widespread opposition to the plan, some of it based on estimates that the plan might result in the deaths of up to 160,000 French and Belgian civilians. In the event the transport plan caused the death of 10,000 Allied civilians but played a crucial part in preventing the Germans from getting reinforcements to Normandy in time to defeat the Allied landings. In general Arnold was far more willing than 'Bomber' Harris to place his heavy bombers under Eisenhower's control during 1944, at least partly because Arnold had always seen the strategic bombing campaign as an essential precursor to that invasion, not as its replacement. In the autumn of 1944, when pressure began to mount for the heavy bombers to come back under the control of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee, Arnold began by opposing the plan and supporting Eisenhower and Spaatz, both of whom wanted the current arrangement to continue. Much to their surprise Arnold soon changed his mind, partly because of pressure from the British Air Ministry, which wanted to regain control over Harris, but also partly because he wanted to give Spaatz more authority.

Arnold was opposed to the idea of bombing just for the purpose of lowering enemy morale. He was amongst the opponents of Operation Thunderclap, a plan for a massed attack on Berlin, and favoured Operation Clarion, in which every available aircraft would attack targets all across Germany, focusing on areas that had not yet been heavily attacked, in a demonstration of Allied air power. Bad weather over the winter of 1944-45 caused the abandonment of Operation Thunderclap and delayed Clarion until February 1945, by which time the number of suitable targets was rapidly diminishing.

Arnold was one of a number of Allied commanders who became unduly pessimistic at the start of 1945, expecting the Germans to hold out well into the summer. He even began to wonder if his strategic bombing had been as effective as he had hoped, and asked for an inquiry to be carried out. This pessimism had been triggered by the battle of the Bulge, when a German army that most had believed to be defeated had given the Allies a nasty scare. What none of them realised for some time was that the Ardennes offensive had done more damage to the Germans than to the Allies, and in the early spring of 1945 German resistance began to crumble much faster than they had expected.

By the end of the war Arnold was involved in work on the creation of a separate and equal United States Air Force, but his career was cut short by his fourth heart attack, in January 1945. He returned to light duties, but was forced to retire at the end of February 1946, having commanded the Air Corps and then Army Air Force throughout the war, and seeing it grow from an insignificant force to the largest air force in the world. Arnold was replaced by General Spaatz, who thus became the first commander of the USAF, although Arnold became its first five star general. Arnold survived for long enough to write his memoirs, before dying on 15 January 1950.

‘Big Week’ 1944 – Operation Argument and the breaking of the Jadgwaffe, Douglas C. Dildy. Looks at the USAAF’s concentrated attack on the German aircraft industry, a week of massive bombing raids that forced the Luftwaffe into an equally massive defensive effort that cost them around 150 aircrew at a time when they could hardly afford those losses, as well as cutting German fighter production by around 2,000 aircraft, and proving that the long range escort fighter was the key to a successful daylight bombing campaign (Read Full Review)
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (21 April 2009), General Henry Harley 'Hap' Arnold, 1886-1950 ,

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