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Published Airpower Journal - Winter 1989

Interservice Differences in the United States, 1945-1950
A Naval Perspective

Dean C. Allard

AT THE end of World War II, an intense rivalry erupted between the US Army, Navy, and Air Force that continues to echo in the minds of many observers of the nation's defense. This bureaucratic conflict resulted from interservice differences regarding the principles of organization and of national strategy. It also was influenced by a level of defense spending that increasingly fell short of matching America's security obligations. The resulting acrimony often was sharp and sometimes highly emotional. In the last analysis, however, this article argues that the defense debate of 1945-50 led to a better understanding between America's armed forces.

A logical starting point for this story is a plan advanced in November 1943 by Gen George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff, and elaborated upon in congressional hearings during the spring of 1944. Marshall and his Army colleagues called for the elimination of the existing Department of the Navy and the Department of War, which then contained the nation's army and the largely autonomous Army Air Forces. In lieu of civilian secretaries and military chiefs for each of these services--and the addition of comparable officials for an Air Force that was expected to become entirely separate at the end of the war--these men proposed creating one Department of the Armed Forces, headed by a secretary of defense. The Marshall proposal also called for a single chief of staff commanding a unified service divided into ground, air, and naval elements and a common supply department. Typical of the Army's organizational philosophy, the plan provided a tight system of centralized control. This was the way in which the Army organized its own forces. The plan also reflected the dependence of the Army upon naval and air support and its view that this could be guaranteed only by a single chain of command for all of the armed services.1

The Navy had a different administrative tradition. In the era of sailing ships, when forces were deployed throughout the world and rapid, long-range communications were unknown, detailed orders could not be given to naval forces. To be sure, broad policy guidance was issued in periodic letters of instruction, but implementation of these goals had to be left to the decision of the operational commander. This decentralized management style, based upon respect for the independence and initiative of subordinate commanders, was shared by many of the world's navies. In the United States, as elsewhere, it carried over into the era rapid electronic communications and helps to explain why the Navy opposed the US Army's proposal of 1943-44. An additional factor was the fear of being dominated in a unified organization by Army and Army Air Forces officers who represented a larger and, in the Navy's opinion, a more politically powerful service. Those leaders were not expected to understand the nature of naval power, including the superior mobility of navies in comparison to ground forces. Nor were they likely to appreciate the Navy's success in integrating its own sea, air, and marine ground meets into a single organization.2 In fact, the Navy's aviators had long suspected that the leaders of the Army Air Forces sought to take over their organization, as Great Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) had absorbed the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm after World War I, in order to achieve unification. At the same time, the US Marine Corps knew that at least some Army leaders saw their service as another competitor that needed to be merged with the larger ground force, or at least reduced in size to the point that it would become a minor force incapable of undertaking its mission of amphibious warfare.3

The Navy supported the need for cooperation with the other services, including unity of command for joint operations, and felt that this approach--as opposed to a merger of the armed forces--could continue to be effective. Naval officers could point out that their service worked with the Army for almost four decades after 1903 on the Joint Army-Navy Board, which formulated broad policies for both services, including the preparation of Joint contingency plans. In 1942 that board's strategic planning function was taken over by the joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), consisting of the uniformed chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Army Air Forces, and the chief of staff to the president. In addition to offering strategic advice to the nation's political leaders, the JCS established and controlled joint operational commands. The commanders of those organizations normally controlled all service components assigned to them. Hence, during World War II in the Southwest Pacific and the European theaters, US naval units reported to Gen Douglas MacArthur and Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower, respectively. In the same way, Army and tactical Army Air Forces units in the Central Pacific were under Adm Chester W. Nimitz, who commanded the Pacific Ocean Area. In this case, however, there was an exception. Although the Army Air Forces generally supported the Army's approach to unification, bomber generals normally demanded independence from outside control in conducting strategic bombing campaigns. Army Air Forces officers, who doubted that the other services could understand the requirements of this special type of warfare, sought recognition that strategic bombardment campaigns required a separate theater of operations under its own commander in chief. For that reason, in 1945 the Twentieth Air Force and its bombing campaign that launched against Japan from bases in the Marianas were removed from Nimitz's control, except under emergency situations.4

A major development in the organizational debate between the Army and the Navy was Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal's recognition that the Navy could not oppose all change to the national defense structure. Instead, with the assistance of his longtime associate Ferdinand Eberstadt, Forrestal developed his own reform plan and unveiled it in October 1945. The Forrestal-Eberstadt proposal was typically naval in stressing coordination as opposed to line control. And the arena in which this cooperation would take place was enlarged beyond the Army's relatively narrow military definition to include the diplomatic and economic aspects of national security. A key institution for this purpose was the presidential advisory board, eventually known as the National Security Council (NSC), consisting of representatives from the armed forces, State Department, and other civilian agencies designated by the president. A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was proposed to assure coordination of all of the government's Intelligence off ices. The Forrestal-Eberstadt scheme also called for the continuation of separately administered military services, which now would grow from two to three with the establishment of the Air Force as an independent organization. The civilian secretaries of these military departments were to retain their seats in the president's cabinet. Finally, the Navy's plan called for interservice boards and committees, including the joint Chiefs of Staff, to coordinate the armed forces.5

As might be expected, Army leaders opposed the Navy's demarche. Their basic outlook was shared by President Harry S. Truman, a US Army veteran of World War I and a former member of the Army's oversight committee in the US Senate. Hence, the forces were arrayed for the first phase of this dispute, lasting from the fall of 1945 until the passage by Congress of the National Security Act of July 1947. Despite the stiff opposition it faced, the Navy displayed considerable political skill for an organization that was not always noted for this ability. The National Security Act included every basic element advanced in the Navy's original plan. Although the authority and identity of the individual services were preserved and no single chief of staff was established, the Navy did not entirely have its way. It was forces to agree to a new level of authority between the president and the services, known as the National Military Establishment, headed by a secretary of defense. This organization can be seen as a step toward the single Department of Defense that was the cornerstone of the Army's unification plan. Nevertheless, the Navy succeeded in diluting the power of the secretary of defense by limiting his role to policy coordination and other controls of very broad nature, and by restricting the size of his staff. In addition, the Navy seemed to achieve another important goal by inserting specific language in the National Security Act guaranteeing the retention of its carrier- and land-based naval aviation forces and protecting the Marine Corps, including that organization's special responsibility for amphibious warfare. A final indication of the Navy's apparent success was President Truman's eventual choice for the first secretary of defense, who was none other than James Forrestal.6

Even though the Navy largely won this campaign, it had not won the war. The Army continued after 1947 to seek a centralized defense apparatus that was consistent with its style of administration. If anything, the Amy was more persistent in advancing its views now that the Air Force had won its complete independence, a development that raised obvious questions regarding the degree to which American ground troops could expect to receive tactical air support. There also would be disputes between the services regarding the execution of other tasks. Yet, as one former Department of Defense historian noted, a separate Air Force--combined with the loose coordinating authority of the new National Military Establishment--indicated that "triplification" rather than unification had taken place.7 In the absence of strong central authority and the continuation of interservice differences, the National Security Act of 1947--far from ending the defense dispute--actually marked the opening of its second stage.

The principal debate after 1947 involved the allocation of roles and missions between the individual services. The National Security Act and an executive order issued by President Truman when that law was passed, attempted to settle this issue by giving the Army, Navy, and Air Force

primary responsibility for operations on the land, at sea, and in the air, respectively. But, as General Eisenhower later stated, "Modern weapons and methods of war have scrambled traditional service functions." Separate ground, sea, and air warfare was "gone forever."8 An excellent illustration of this complexity was the new ability of navies to project power ashore, far

beyond the range of ship guns, by employing carrier air airstrikes or sea-based bombardment missiles. The Air Force may have accepted the validity of naval carrier- and land-based air units' controlling the air over maritime areas. But the Navy knew that its ability to strike inland targets far from the ocean's edge and its claim to use nuclear as well as conventional weapons for this purpose were considered by the Air Force to be threats, since those capabilities implied that resources would be diverted from the now service.9 Marine Corps leaders were equally concerned by the Army's attitude toward their service. They believed that the Army General Staff hoped to limit Marine effectiveness by preventing the formation of units larger than regiments and by achieving sharp cuts in the 100,000-man strength authorized for the corps in 1947. In addition, the Marines charged that the Army aimed to transfer to itself primary responsibility for amphibious warfare.10

James Forrestal, as the first secretary of defense, needed to resolve these differences, especially in order to allow preparation of the nation's strategic plans for a possible war with the Soviet Union-the only major potential enemy that the United States faced in the postwar years. His initial approach to resolving interservice conflict was consistent with the nonauthoritarian

principles on which the National Military Establishment was based and his own style leadership. Convinced that the most effective way to carry out a program was to assure that all members of the management team felt that they were participants in making key decisions, he sought to achieve a group consensus instead of issuing arbitrary orders. But Forrestal soon discovered that in some respects the services were intransigent in defending their individual interests. Hence, reasoned negotiations did not always work. One of the ironies associated with James Forrestal is that by 1948 this man-who had worked so hard throughout 1945-47 to defend the prerogatives of the military services-called for amendments to the National Security Act that would give the secretary of defense much greater authority.11

The disagreement between the Navy and Air Force on the role of carrier aviation was one of the disputes that was extremely difficult to reconcile. The symbol of the Navy's ambitions was its first postwar carrier, the 65,000-ton United States. After several years of planning, this ship was laid down in April 1949. As part of its campaign to secure support for this vessel, the Navy emphasized that the United States-unlike its predecessors-could operate the large aircraft required to carry nuclear weapons, each of which then weighed some 10,000 pounds. The Navy was well aware that atomic bombs were the glamour weapons of the day and that a capability to deliver these devices could further its claims for large appropriations. But the Air Force viewed the Navy's nuclear aspirations as an attempt to create a second strategic air force. This competition seemed especially threatening to a service that was still relatively new and insecure. Further, in this period the inability to produce large quantities of fissionable material severely limited the number of nuclear weapons. Hence, Air Force leaders saw the use of these precious devices by an untried naval strategic air arm as a foolhardy gamble. After all, they argued, only their long-range bombers actually had demonstrated-in their World War II missions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki-that they had the ability to wage nuclear war.12

Recent historical studies demonstrate that by 1949 the mainstream of the Navy's leadership viewed the United States as much more than a platform for atomic bombing.13 In addition to that function, they foresaw a vessel that provided tactical air support for air and amphibious forces, that had the ability to achieve sea control, and that allowed such additional missions as oceanic mining. Further, insofar as nuclear warfare was concerned, the Navy sought to supplement-not supersede-the Air Force. For the admirals, the integration of nuclear weapons into the fleet was not intended to undercut the Air Force; it was only another effort to develop the most modern and effective weapon systems. As one scholar has noted, this attempt was consistent with the Navy's belief that "the critical new component of the military capability of states would be the technological quality of their arms." Unfortunately, as the Navy reached this position and undertook an internal debate on the issues involved, some of its officers gave contrary signals-a situation that explains why the Air Force could conclude that the United States was primarily a platform for long-range nuclear bombardment.14

In a more general sense, the Navy's development of the carrier United States supported the claim that it could play an effective role in waging war against the Soviet Union, despite the absence of a major Soviet surface fleet. The maritime strategy developed for countering this great continental power was based on the forward deployment of naval forces off the shores of northern and southern Europe. Here, naval aircraft could attack opposing Soviet submarines and other naval units at their home bases, rather than wait for them to deploy into the broad seas. Naval forces would also meet the Soviet air threat by striking those aircraft at their home bases. At the some time, naval planners foresaw cooperation with the Air Force in providing tactical air support to the Army as it repelled a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. In addition, the landing of amphibious forces to counter the enemy was an integral aspect of this strategy.15

In retrospect, it is evident that neither the Navy nor the Air Force fully understood each other's position. If misperceptions can lead to wars between nations, they also may promote conflicts between bureaucracies. This situation may explain why Forrestal's attempts to achieve Navy-Air Force harmony came to naught. To be sure, the so-called Key West agreement, resulting from a conference of senior military leaders in Florida that Secretary Forrestal convened in March 1948, produced some degree of understanding. The Navy recognized that the Air Force had primary responsibility for strategic air warfare, and the Air Force agreed that the Navy could continue to operate carriers. The Air Force also recognized that the Navy might contribute to its strategic bombing mission and support naval and ground campaigns by attacking other shore targets. Naval leaders understood that in both of these functions nuclear weapons were available. The Navy also assumed that through its chief of naval operations, who was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it shared in the control of atomic weapons, including the selection of their intended targets. As it developed, however, the Air Force, which continued to be very sensitive to outside interference in its conduct of air warfare, agreed with neither of these assumptions. Several months after the Key West conference, Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington demanded that his service have exclusive control of nuclear weapons, especially because of the great scarcity of these devices and the promise that land-based aircraft could employ them more effectively.16

In an attempt once again to reach interservice accord, Forrestal chaired a second conference of the nation's military leaders in August 1948 in Newport, Rhoda Island. Here the Air Force agreed not to block the Navy's access to nuclear arms, while the Navy reaffirmed that it had only secondary or collateral interest in strategic bombing. Since the relative effectiveness of aviation weapons now was a central issue in the Navy-Air Force dispute, the conferees at Newport also agreed to establish a Weapons Systems Evaluation Group that could provide independent assessments. But neither this accord nor the other agreements reached at Newport ended the acrimony between the Navy and the Air Force.

While the Navy and Air Force attempted to come to terms on aviation, the Navy-Army dispute regarding the future of the Marine Corps also continued. Despite the corps' suspicious that the Navy might bargain away its rights in order to maintain a strong maritime aviation arm, naval leaders supported Marine interests at the Key West conference. In the accords emerging from that meeting, the Army stated plainly that it had no intention of eliminating the Marines, while the Marines acknowledged that they did not aspire to create a second land army. More specifically, the Army recognized that the Marines could have division-sized formations, while Marine leaders agreed that for "planning purposes" their corps had a maximum size of four divisions. At the same time, the Army continued to recognize that the Marines had primary responsibility for amphibious operations and that the Army's own efforts in that field of warfare were of secondary importance.17 In the aftermath of the Key West conference, major public disputation on this matter subsided for almost a year. But, as was true for the aviation controversy, it soon became evident that this issue was not permanently resolved.

The Navy's position on its aviation and Marine arms implied a balanced defense posture for the nation. This stance was consistent with the Navy's view that flexibility was an essential attribute of military force, since it was impossible to foretell the exact nature of future armed conflicts. James Forrestal agreed fully with this outlook, as can be seen in the rather elaborate system developed at Key West and Newport by which the services were assigned a broad array of primary and secondary functions.18 The Navy and Secretary Forrestal also assumed that adequate funding would be available to implement these functions. By the fall of 1948, however, the American defense budget was starting to shrink, despite the expanding security obligations the United States faced in Western Europe and elsewhere. This austerity reflected President Truman's deep conviction that excessive spending threatened the strength of the United States. Perceiving the economic well being of the nation to be, in itself, one of the pillars of national strength, Truman established a budgetary limit of $14.4 billion for defense in the fiscal year beginning in July 1949. That restraint had a profound strategic consequence, for it meant--as Defense Department officials noted--that the only offensive the United States could undertake in the event of a war with the Soviet Union was a strategic bombing campaign launched by B-29 aircraft based in the British Isles.19

It was obvious that the faith James Forrestal and the Navy had in maintaining a broad range of defense capabilities was being eroded by the harsh discipline of national finance, which increasingly tended to leave aerial bombardment by land-based aircraft as the only viable option in the nation's arsenal. This development also promised to stimulate even more interservice acrimony as the services vied with each other for their share of a shrinking defense dollar. Under these circumstances, Truman's increasingly conservative stance on the budget after the fall of 1948 laid the basis for the third and final chapter in this history.

In March 1949 James Forrestal was replaced with a new secretary of defense, Louis A. Johnson. Tragically, shortly after Forrestal's resignation, the accumulated pressures of his long service to the nation led to mental breakdown and eventual suicide. For the Navy, Johnson's appointment dramatized the new bureaucratic perils it faced. Johnson believed as firmly as Truman that defense budgets needed to be reduced in order to promote the nation's overall strength. He also was perceived by the Navy as a special partisan for the Air Force. And Johnson took office at a time when amendments to the National Security Act of 1947 were pending in Congress. These changes would give the secretary of defense much greater power and a larger staff in an organization that would be renamed the Department of Defense. In what was interpreted by the Navy as a partial step toward the establishment of a single chief of staff, the amendments added a chairman to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the same time, the civilian secretaries lost membership in the president's cabinet, a move that revealed the declining power of the individual services. These provisions, which had the endorsement of a frustrated James Forrestal, as well as of President Truman, seemed certain to be enacted, as in fact they were in August 1949. But, even before that event, Louis Johnson demonstrated decisive if perhaps arbitrary leadership by announcing in April that he was halting construction of the carrier United States. Johnson was supported by an advisory poll of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in which the Army and Air Force voted for the ship's cancellation, leaving the naval member in the minority. The enormous importance of this action for the Navy was dramatized when Secretary of the Navy Joint L. Sullivan, who had not been consulted on Johnson's decision, announced his immediate resignation. Sullivan charged that Johnson's action was the "first attempt ever made in this country to prevent the development of a powerful weapon system." He added, "The conviction that this will result in a renewed effort to abolish the Marine Corps and to transfer all naval and marine aviation elsewhere adds to my anxiety."20

Sullivan's protest appeared to have little effect, for more bad news for the Navy was to come. In July 1949 Johnson placed a new ceiling of $13 billion on the defense budget, starting one year hence. In the next month, he began to plan further economies, including major cuts in the Navy and Marine aviation areas. Specifically, he proposed reducing the number of attack carriers from eight to four and eliminating 11 of the 23 Marine aviation squadrons. Yet, while the Navy suffered from Truman's program of austerity, it noted that the Air Force received funds for 75 B-36 bombers in addition to the 100 airplanes then on order.21

Although the B-36 was not operational at that time and was destined to be superseded in the 1950s by the much more capable B-52 aircraft, it served as the symbol of the Air Force's strategy, much as the United States epitomized the Navy's strategic outlook. Originally conceived in 1941 when German victories threatened to deny European bases to the United States, this extremely long-range aircraft was intended by 1949 to deliver nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union from bases in North America. This plan was in contrast to the forward strategy of the Navy, based around forces operating in European waters to lend support to the defense of Western Europe, or to the Army's policy of developing ground defenses within the developing NATO alliance. Instead, the B-36 implied a Fortress America concept. It suggested that the United States might ignore its allies and assure American security interests by using the almost magical technology represented by the atomic bomb and the B-36 in attacking the Soviet homeland. A few air power extremists suggested that no other means of military power was needed to deter the Soviets from going to war or, if deterrence failed, to assure the enemy's destruction.22

All of these developments aroused profound naval concern that the distinctive capabilities of maritime forces and the advantages of a forward strategy were being sacrificed on the altar of the new system known as unification. The reactions of the Navy included some steps that cannot be justified. One of these was an anonymous document prepared by Cedric Worth, a civilian aide to the under secretary of the Navy, which included the charge that Louis Johnson and Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington stood to gain personally from the purchase of the additional B-36 aircraft. This memorandum was circulated in Washington during the spring of 1949 and led Congressmen Carl Vinson, the influential chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to schedule investigative hearings in August. Vinson's hearings demonstrated that Worth's charges, were entirely false, and his immediate dismissal was recommended by the committee. The Navy obviously was embarrassed, even though it was evident that Worth acted entirely on his own rather then in collusion with naval authorities.23

But the cause célèbre created by Worth and other naval partisans also led Vinson to schedule a second set of hearings that were of much greater significance. These were held in October 1949 and featured testimony from almost the entire high command of the Navy, including such notable World War II leaders as Ernest J. King and Chester W. Nimitz. These highly publicized proceedings soon became known as the "Revolt of the Admirals." That catchy title however, conceals the valid purpose served by these hearings in allowing a public discussion key issues in defense organization and national strategy that previously were the subject of internal debates within the Pentagon.24

Some of the most sensational naval testimony consisted of attacks upon the effectiveness of the B-36 bomber and the overall concept of strategic bombing. In the process, the Navy addressed a number of issues that had been or were being assessed in highly classified Defense Department studies. Specifically, naval officers suggested that it was unlikely the B-36 could penetrate Soviet air defenses. Even if a few aircraft should do so, they claimed that these airplanes were incapable of precision bombing from the high altitudes at which they operated. As a result, a B-36 campaign could accomplish little more than area bombing. Aside from the immorality of this style of warfare, due to the heavy civilian casualties involved, the Navy felt that this effort could not prevent a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, a prime objective of the nation's strategy. Nor could it act as a deterrent to Soviet adventurism. One spokesman, Rear Adm Ralph A. Ofstie, suggested that the Air Force's belief in the potency of strategic bombing rested on the doctrines of the Italian air theorists Giulio Douhet, which had been proven false in World War II. Another admiral, Arthur Radford, charged that the American people were being misled by the Air Force and its friends to believe that the B-36 and the "atomic blitz" theory of warfare it symbolized could promise a cheap and easy victory.25

In lieu of that approach, the Navy advanced its own strategy. As noted previously, that plan involved the use of carrier and amphibious forces working closely with ground forces and land-based tactical aviation elements to frustrate a Soviet offensive against NATO. As noted by Adm Louis E. Denfeld, chief of naval operations, this strategy was consistent with the Navy's primary missions-after it had won control of the sea-of exerting "steady, unrelenting pressure" against the enemy ashore. The political significance of this approach was recognized by another key naval leader, Vice Adm Forrest Sherman. Although he did not appear before Vinson's committee, testimony prepared by Sherman-in the event he was called-pointed out that Americans were committed to aiding their allies. The admiral obviously had Western Europe in mind when he stated, "We can not in good faith . . . base our military preparations on abandoning these people, and relying on exchanging destructive air attacks."26 Yet, naval witnesses pointed out the apparently concerted efforts by the Army, Air Force, and secretary of defense to eliminate or gravely weaken the Navy's air and amphibious arms, which provided the Navy with the capability to contribute to ground campaigns. The cuts imposed in those areas were disproportionate to the reductions in the overall defense budget. As was reflected in the cancellation of the United States, the cuts also were very specific, leading to a situation in which the Navy-which bet knew its warfare specialty-was being told by the other services how it should achieve its mission. Because of the failure by other defense officials to heed the advice of naval professionals, the Navy charged that it was being treated as an unequal member of the unified defense team. One result was the failure to develop the nation's maritime capabilities in the most effective way. Another was the imposition of a faulty national strategy dependent almost solely upon land-based strategic bombing.

Marine leaders gave full support to this position. One major witness, Gen Clifton B. Cates, commandant of the corps, charged that "the power of the budget, the power of coordination, and the power of strategic direction of the armed forces have been used as devices to destroy the operating forces" of the Marine Corps. He noted that his organization was especially vulnerable since it lacked direct representation on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Behind the deep cuts suffered by his ground and air arms, Cates asserted, was the continuing animosity of the Army General Staff, which was determined to circumvent the provisions of the National Security Act protecting the corps and its amphibious warfare mission. This enmity also reflected the inability of Army and Air Force leaders to recognize the value of sea power in a global war, including "the necessity for land action incident to a naval campaign."27

It is not surprising that the testimony presented to the Vinson committee by Louis Johnson and Army and Air Force officers rebutted the Navy's basic assumptions and its motives. There were outright denials that the Army sought to sabotage the Marine Corps or to undermine its primary responsibility for developing amphibious warfare. Air Force officers and Secretary Johnson stated that they did not oppose naval aircraft carriers, as such. Their position on the United States resulted from the understanding that the supercarrier was primarily a platform for strategic bombing. In an era of declining defense budgets and acute scarcity in the number of nuclear weapons, it made no sense to duplicate a mission that the Air Force performed with greater efficiency. In any event, they noted, the austerity faced by the Navy was shared by the other services and reflected tightened levels of funding throughout the Defense Department, rather than an attempt to diminish maritime strength. Several Army and Air Force witnesses suggested that the admirals' objections, aside from being mistaken, resulted from personal pique. For example, Gen Omar Bradley, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the Navy's witnesses could be compared to the "fancy dans" on a football team who refused to play unless they alone could be the stars.28

In March 1950, five months after these hearings were concluded, Representative Vinson submitted the committee's final report. It sided entirely with none of the services. Thus, Vinson and his associates rejected the Navy's suggestion that the B-36 was a defective weapon system. Pending completion of a study by the independent Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, the committee used one of the Navy's own arguments by observing that credence should be given to the views of the uniformed experts in the field, who in this case happened to be Air Force officers.29

On the other hand, the Navy could take comfort from other points made in the report. Any suggestion that Navy and Marine aviation might be integrated into the Air Force or that strategic bombing was the only valid aerial mission was denied when the committee stated that the "Air Force is not synonymous with the Nation's military air power." Instead, US air strength "consists of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps air power, and of this, strategic bombing is but one phase." The committee deplored the manner in which the carrier United States was canceled. In criticizing Secretary Johnson's decision, the report once again stated that "sound policy" called for the Department of Defense to "follow the advice" of the appropriate professional leaders. So far as carriers were concerned, those experts wore naval uniforms. The committee also seemed to bear in mind Navy and Marine Corps testimony when it concluded that the structure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to ensure "adequate consideration for the views of all services." Vinson's committee stated that it planned to sponsor legislation requiring that the JCS chair his rotated among the services every two years. It also called for adding the commandant of the Marine Corps as a member of that body. Finally, the Armed Services Committee observed that it had asked the Navy to provide witnesses to testify on the "fundamental disagreements" on defense policy. The report denied that these witnesses "were performing in any manner unbecoming their positions in the government," an apparent attempt to put to rest the charges that the Navy's admirals were revolting against civilian authority. More particularly, this statement can be seen as a defense of Admiral Denfeld, chief of naval operations, who was dismissed peremptorily by Secretary of Defense Johnson soon after his testimony to Vinson's committee.30

Although not specifically addressed in the final report, the hearings included testimony from all of the services that demonstrated the obvious inadequacy of President Truman's budgets to meet the nation's security needs. This concern was echoed by Representative Vinson, who observed at one point in the proceedings that arbitrary budget levels, rather than strategic factors, were determining the American defense effort.31 Despite these statements, the financial policy and hence the strategy of the Truman administration remained essentially unchanged in the aftermath of the B-36 hearings. Not even the famed National Security Council policy statement of April 1950--NSC 68, which called for an immediate expansion of the conventional and nuclear warfare capabilities of the United States to match growing Soviet strength--prompted a change of course. The programs outlined in NSC 68 would have required annual expenditures of $35 to $40 billion per year, approximately three times the level authorized by the president in the first half of 1950.32

The era of dramatic change came only with the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. Despite the fascination of many Air Force and Navy officers with nuclear warfare, this limited conflict required the employment of conventional forces, including large armies, land-based tactical aviation, naval carrier and surface forces, and Marine amphibious elements. Further, since the Korean War was evaluated as a Soviet-inspired feint to divert attention from the critical European zone, the United States undertook a massive buildup in conventional and nuclear arms designed to assure the defense of Western Europe.

The requirement to defend South Korea, combined with rearmament in Europe, led to an almost fourfold expansion in American defense expenditures after 1950. These increased funds allowed the nation to achieve the balanced defense posture that the Navy long had sought, including a major expansion in conventional ground, sea, and air forces. For the Navy, that program featured the large Forrestal-class carriers built after 1952. The Marine Corps was greatly expanded and after 1952 had its own representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the strategic warfare area, a key development was the dramatic increase in the supply of raw material for nuclear bombs, which ended the scarcity of these weapons. At the same time, other technical advances led to the development of compact nuclear weapons that could be delivered by relatively lightweight tactical aircraft. As a result, both the Navy and the Air Force developed formidable capabilities to deliver nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union. Ironically, it is now evident that despite the heated Navy-Air Force debate discussed in this article, the United States had an extremely rudimentary ability to undertake atomic warfare before the Korean War.33

The new age of generous defense budgets and technical breakthroughs meant that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps could implement the role and missions assigned to them after World War II. As a result, interservice acrimony became less pronounced. This new comity resulted, in part, from the fact that the services now had several years of experience in working with one another in the new, unified defense structure. But the process of adjustment was aided by the intense debate in the years leading up to the Korean War. At times, as the admirals and generals argued their respective cases with such emotion, it seemed that the contestants were not listening to one another. Despite the divergent outlooks and interests that were revealed, this process promoted recognition that it was essential for military leaders to work together to achieve their common goals of maintaining an effective national defense.34 This positive effect is one of the most encouraging lessons that can be drawn from the bureaucratic conflict that was so intense in the years between 1945 and 1950.


1. For general accounts of the 1944-1947 period that include sights into the Army's outlook, see Steven L. Rearden, History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, vol. 1, The Formative Years, 1947-1950 (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1984); Lawrence Legere, Jr., "Unification of the Armed Forces" (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1950); and John C. Ries, The Management of Defense (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1964). The basic documents on this subject appear in Alice C. Cole et al., eds., The Department of Defense: Documents on Establishment and Organization, 1944-1978 (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1978).

2. For carrier aviation developments, see Clark G. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers: The Forging of an Air Navy (New York: McGraw Hill, 1968); and Norman Friedman, Carrier Air Power (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1981). The basic account of amphibious development is Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951).

3. See Edwin B. Hooper, The Navy Department: Evolution and Fragmentation (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Foundation, 1978); and Gordon W. Keiser, The U.S. Marine Corps and Defense Unification, 1944-1947 (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1982).

4. E.P. Potter, Nimitz (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1976), 356.

5. Hooper, 23-24. A basic source on Forrestal is The Forrestal Diaries, ed. Walter Millis (New York: Viking Press, 1951).

6. See the source cited in footnote 2.

7. Rudolph A. Winnacker as quoted in Rearden, 27.

8. Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965), 246, 250.

9. General assessments of the Navy's views are in David A. Rosenberg and Floyd D. Kennedy, Jr., U.S. Aircraft Carriers in the Strategic Role (Washington, D.C.: Lulejian Associates, 1975); David A. Rosenberg, "American Postwar Air Doctrine and Organization: The Navy Experience," in Air Power and Warfare, ed. Alfred F. Hurley and Robert C. Ehrhart (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1979), 245-90; Paola E. Coletta, The United States Navy and Defense Unification (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1981); and Paola E. Coletta, "The Defense Unification Battle, 1947-1950: The Navy," Prologue 7 (Spring 1975): 6-17.

10. See testimony of Gen Clifton B. Cates in House Armed Service Committee, The National Defense Program-Unification and Strategy: Hearings, 81st Cong., 1st sess., 1949, 367 (hereafter cited as The National Defense Program).

11. Rearden, 31, 36, 40.

12. For the nuclear capabilities of the carrier, see Rosenberg, "American Postwar Air Doctrine," 252. Air Force views are discussed in Robert Frank Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907-1964 (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Aerospace Studies Institute, 1971), 169-241; John T. Greenwood, "The Emergence of the Postwar Strategic Air Force, 1945-1953," in Hurley and Ehrhart, 215-44; and Herman S. Wolk, "The Defense Unification Battle, 1944-1950: The Air Force," Prologue 7 (Spring 1975): 18-26.

13. An important new study of strategic thinking in this period is Michael A. Palmer, Origins of the Maritime Strategy: American Naval Strategy in the First Postwar Decade (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1988). See also Rosenberg, "American Postwar Air Doctrine," 254-55, 258, 260-61; and Rearden, 411.

14. The technology quotation is from Vincent Davis, Postwar Defense Policy and the U.S. Navy, 1943-1946 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1962), 258. For the internal naval debate, see Palmer, 33-52; and Rosenberg, "American Postwar Air Doctrine," 252-54.

15. See Palmer, passim, Kenneth W. Condit, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy: 1947-1949 (Washington, D.C.: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1978), 333-37; Norman Friedman, The Postwar Naval Revolution (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1986), 17-19, 23-25; and Paul R. Schratz, "The Admirals' Revolt," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 112 (February 1986): 70.

16. See Condit, 173-81; and Rearden, 393-402.

17. Rearden, 395-96.

18. Ibid., 37, 403; Coletta, "The Defense Unification Battle," 9. Palmer argues that some, but not all, naval leaders supported a balanced defense posture (50-52).

19. Rearden, 341-45; Futrell, 222-23.

20. In addition to the general works cited above, see the following accounts of this period: Paul Y. Hammond, "Super Carriers and B-36 Bombers: Appropriations, Strategy and Politics," in American Civil-Military Decisions: A Book of Case Studies, ed. Harold Stein (University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1963), 465-564; Jeffrey G. Barlow, "The Revolt of the Admirals' Reconsidered" (Paper delivered at the US Naval Academy, September 1987); James C. Freund, "The `Revolt of the Admirals," The Airpower Historian 10 (January and April 1963): 1-10, 37-42; Arthur W. Radford, From Pearl Harbor to Vietnam: The Memoirs of Admiral Arthur W. Radford, ed. Stephen Jurika, Jr. (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1980); Arleigh A. Burke, "A Study of OP-23 and Its Role in the Unification Debates of 1949," oral history series manuscript, US Naval Institute; James A. Field, Jr., History of United States Naval Operations: Korea (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1962), 21-34; and Keith D. McFarland, "The 1949 Revolt of the Admirals," Parameters 11 (June 1981): 53-63. The Sullivan quotation is from Coletta, "The Defense Unification Battle," 12.

21. Condit, 263-71, 323-24. See also Rearden, 378-79 (table 6).

22. See, for example, Futrell, 220-21. But Futrell observes that this view was not shared by all senior Air Force officials (236-37). Radford notes that General Curtis E. LeMay denied that strategic bombing alone could win wars (167).

23. House Armed Services Committee, Investigation of the B-36 Bomber Program: Hearings, 81st Cong., 1st sess., 1949.

24. This point is made, for example, in Barlow, 1.

25. An excellent summary of the Navy's case appears in Radford, 175-208. The Radford and Ofstie testimony appears in The National Defense Program, 39-52, 183-89.

26. The Denfeld quote is from The National Defense Program, 353. Sherman's comments appear in "Statement of Forrest P. Sherman . . . Before the Armed Services Committee," Records of OP-23 (File E-1), Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, undated. I am indebted to Dr Michael A. Palmer, who drew this document to my attention.

27. The National Defense Program, 365-73.

28. Ibid., 536 and passim.

29. House Armed Services Committee, Unification and Strategy: A Report of Investigation of the Committee on Armed Services, 81st Cong., 2d sess., 1950-56.

30. Ibid., 9, 53-56.

31. The National Defense Program, 474.

32. Rearden, 527-36.

33. For the impact of Korea and the post-1950 buildup, see Rosenberg, "American Postwar Air Doctrine," 262-69, and Dean C. Allard, "An Era of Transition, 1945-1953," in In Peace and War: Interpretations of American Naval History, 1775-1984, ed. Kenneth J. Hagan (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984), 299-302. The extremely limited atomic capability prior to 1950 is discussed in Harry R. Borowski, A Hollow Threat: Strategic Air Power and Containment Before Korea (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982); and Davis, 252-56.

34. This need for cooperation is suggested by the scientific leader Vannevar Bush, who was a relatively neutral observer of interservice conflict, in his Pieces of the Action (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1970), 67-68.


Dean C. Allard (BA, Dartmout College; MA, Georgetown University; PhD, George Washington University) is the director of naval history at the US Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C., where he has served in various capacities since 1956. Dr Allard, an adjunct professor at George Washington University, was an officer in the US Navy and has published numerous books and articles concerning US naval and martime history.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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