Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mitchell's challenge

In the 1920s, the United States had no air force. Its airplanes flew with the army. But there was one man who wanted to change all that. Billy Michell, an Army Air Corps officer wanted to prove once and for all that warplanes could be a superlative force independent of army and navy. He proposed using his airplanes to bomb some old Pre-Dreadnought target ships. The navy said yes, and Michell's bombers got to work. Their success was astounding, considering that they were somewhat awkward biplanes. The navy now gave Michell another, better target. The Kaiserlichmarine dreadnought Ostfriesland had been ceded to the US after WW1, during which she had participated in the Battle of Jutland. Michell pounded and pounded the ship, but still refused to sink(if a US or British dreadnought had been used, it would not have taken so long, for the Germans had some of the best-protected battleships anywhere because they designed their ships to stay afloat, not to have great speed or firepower) Michell went all out and ordered a continuous bombing of the Ostfriesland and eventually, she wnt down. These tests did not prove much in the way of actual combat, but they made a big impression on the higher-ups, and although we would not get a separate air force until after WW2, they made a step forward to accomplishing that goal, and moreover to abolish the Battleship's last speck of super-weapon dreams. But the worst was yet to come. That would have to wait about 20 more years and half a world away.

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