Key point: The Eighth Air Force was pivotal in helping to defeat Nazi Germany.
General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, was a man both driven and under great pressure in the spring and early summer of 1942.
He wanted his bombers and fighters in the air as soon as possible, operating from airfields in Great Britain and joining the hard-pressed Royal Air Force in its offensive against Nazi Germany. He had promised British Prime Minister Winston Churchill action by July 4.
The jovial Arnold had to justify USAAF appropriations to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Congress, and the public. In addition, he had to maintain aircraft production and strategic priorities in the face of challenges from the British and the U.S. Navy. All of this required a perception of the USAAF as a successful and aggressive offensive weapon. FDR demanded results justifying the massive aircraft production and shipping program.
But by that summer, several months before it had become a force to be reckoned with, Arnold’s growing air arm also needed to have its image bolstered. Navy carrier planes had won the climactic Battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942, while officials and the public were still disturbed about the USAAF’s performance in December 1941 at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines, where large numbers of aircraft had been destroyed on the ground by Japanese raiders.