General John K. Cannon, 1895-1955

General John K. Cannon (1895-1955) was a senior USAAF officer who by the end of the Second World War had risen to command the Mediterranean Allied Air Force, having spent most of the war in that theatre. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he was still a fighter pilot, but over the next three years he rose rapidly through the ranks, reaching brigadier general, and even commanding the 1st Air Force for eleven days in 1942 (12-22 July).

In the summer of 1942 the Army Air Force was preparing for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. The American contribution to the air effort was to be made by the new Twelfth Air Force, and by 1 October 1942 Cannon had been appointed to command XII Air Support Command (ASC), the tactical part of the air force. During the Torch landings themselves Cannon commanded the air forces at Casablanca, where he was directly responsible to the ground commander. After the landings on 8 November Cannon's forces built up slowly, until he had the 33rd Pursuit Group, part of the 62nd Troop Carrier Group and the 310th Bombardment Group with their B-25s. Some of these aircraft were used to form the Moroccan Composite Wing, also under Cannon for some of December.

On 1 January 1943 Cannon was transferred to command of XII Bomber Command, a much more important post, but one that he only held until 18 February. Cannon discovered that his new command was very short of 500-pounder bombs, and on 4 January had to report that if he didn't reduce operations then the supply would run out. He was also desperately short of escort fighters, and often had less than a dozen P-38s available. His already difficult task was made no easier when he was also given the task of attacking Axis supply shipping coming from Sicily.

General John K. Cannon, 1895-1955, Italy March 1944
General John K. Cannon,,
Italy March 1944

In February 1943 the Middle East and Northwest African theatres were merged and their air forces reorganised. Cannon was given command of North West African Training Command, with a large number of airfields in Morocco and western Algeria and the task of training a series of mostly American units. The newly combined air forces came under the command of Sir Arthur Tedder, while General Spaatz commanded the Twelfth Air Force.

General John K. Cannon, commander of Mediterranean Allied Air Force
General John K. Cannon,
commander of
Mediterranean Allied Air Force

Cannon remained with the Training Command until 21 December 1943 when he replaced Spaatz as command of the Twelfth Air Force. This was part of a wider change in the command structure of the Allied and American Air Forces which saw the heavy bombers in the Mediterranean split off into a new Fifteenth Air Force, leaving the Twelfth with tactical and fighter aircraft. The Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces and the RAF's Desert Air Force were combined into the Mediterranean Allied Air Force under General Eaker, while Spaatz was appointed to command the U.S. Strategic Air Forces, with the task of coordinating the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces. Cannon was also appointed to command the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force (MATAF), which was made up of the 12th Air Force and the RAF's Desert Air Force. Cannon held these two posts for the next fifteen months, until 24 March 1945 when he replaced Eaker as the command of the Mediterranean Allied Air Force when Eaker went to Washington to become deputy commander of the Army Air Force and chief of the Air Staff, having been promoted to lieutenant general on 17 March 1945.

Cannon's Tactical Air Force played an important part in the fighting at Anzio, and during Operation Anvil, the invasion of southern France, where his medium bombers helped the Allies capture a series of ports intact. The medium bombers returned to Italy after 28 August 1944, but the light bombers and fighter bombers of XXII Tactical Air Command took part in the pursuit of the retreating Germans. During the autumn of 1944 his medium bombers twice sank merchant ships, preventing the Germans from blocking the port of La Spezia – the 340th BG sank the liner Taranto on 23 September 1944 and the 310th repeated the performance on 28 November. During 1945 Cannon's main task was to prevent the Germans from retreating from Italy. On 9 January he ordered XII TAC to block the Brenner Pass while the Desert Air Force was given the task of cutting a series of railways. In the post-war period Cannon commanded the USAF element in General Clay's unified Army, Navy and Air Force command in Europe.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (21 April 2009), General John K. Cannon, 1895-1955,

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