George C. Kenney was America's top airman in the Pacific theater during World War II. Kenney had served as a fighter pilot in the First World War, downing two German aircraft and winning the Distinguished Service Cross. Between the wars he attended Command and General Staff College and the Army War College and then taught at the Air Corps Tactical School. He also earned a reputation as an accomplished engineer through assignments at Wright Field and became recognized as an expert in tactical aviation. Significantly, he was serving as an air attaché to Paris during the German invasion of France in 1940 and witnessed the effectiveness of airpower in that campaign. Soon after Pearl Harbor, Kenney was selected by Arnold to become Douglas MacArthur's air deputy. For the rest of the war the short, fiery, and tireless Kenney served as commander of the Fifth Air Force and then Far East Air Forces under the difficult and demanding MacArthur. His success in such battles as Bismarck Sea, Rabaul, Wewak, and the Philippine campaign were dramatic, and he has become the prototype for the modern concept of an "air component commander," the one individual in charge of all aviation assets in a theater. Kenney's grasp of what is today called "operational art" and how airpower could be used to complement the operations of land and sea forces was outstanding, and he was considered by many to be the most accomplished combat air strategist of the war. In April 1945 he was promoted to full general-one of only four airman holding that rank during the war. However, he never seemed to hold Arnold's complete confidence as did Spaatz, and when B29s were deployed to the Pacific theater at the end of 1944, they were not assigned to Kenney, but instead were commanded directly from Washington. This attitude was reinforced after the war when Spaatz was named Arnold's successor and was confirmed when Hoyt Vandenberg-nine years younger than Kenney-replaced Spaatz as chief of staff in 1948. Kenney was instead given command of the new Strategic Air Command (SAC) after the war, but because he seemed more interested in dabbling in politics, his performance was poor. When the Berlin Crisis of 1948 broke out, Vandenberg conducted an investigation of SAC's war readiness. The results were unacceptable, so Vandenberg relieved Kenney and replaced him with Curtis LeMay. Kenney was then named commander of Air University. He retired from that position in 1951.
Kenney wrote one of the more interesting memoirs of the war, General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the Pacific War (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1949). His aggressive and somewhat flamboyant personality is clearly revealed in these pages, and it is apparent why Kenney was popular with both his subordinates and with MacArthur. Believing that a commander's first responsibility was to his troops, Kenney worked hard to ensure his men had adequate housing and food, but also recognized that it was largely intangible factors such as pride and recognition of a job well done that was the greatest motivator. In addition, because the Southwest Pacific was considered a minor theater compared to Europe and even the Central Pacific, Kenney was forced to improvise and do more with less throughout the war. His ability to squeeze effective combat results out of a small force at the end of a 10thousandmile supply line was remarkable.
Kenney's ideas on airpower employment are also apparent in these pages. First and foremost he believed in the necessity of air superiority. Repeatedly he lectured MacArthur and other surface commanders on the need to destroy Japanese airpower and then establish bases within range of projected allied operations. At the same time he was an ingenious and clever tactical innovator. He was largely responsible for such successes as the combat use of the parafrag bomb, skipbombing techniques, and "commerce destroyers"-B25s armed with eight machine guns and heavy cannons for use against enemy ships and troop airlift. On the other hand, it was precisely this ability as a tactician that made him suspect among strategic bombing advocates like Arnold. When B29s were due to arrive intheater in late 1944, Kenney argued they would be most effective against Japanese targets in the East Indies, such as oil refineries, that would assist MacArthur in his drive northward. Arnold, however, wanted the heavy bombers to strike directly at Japanese industry in the home islands, not in an interdiction campaign supporting the Army. In a sense, Kenney's close relationship with MacArthur thus had a negative impact on his standing within the AAF. This standing was further eroded by Kenney's forays into presidential politics. In April 1943 Kenney met with Senator Arthur Vandenberg (the general's uncle), who was one of the leading Republicans in the country, to discuss a MacArthur presidential candidacy in 1944. Arnold undoubtedly knew of these discussions and could not have welcomed them. As a consequence, when the Twentieth Air Force was sent to the Pacific, Arnold took the unprecedented step of commanding it personally from Washington. After the German surrender, Arnold still did not grant control of the B29s to Kenney, but instead sent Spaatz to the Pacific as the commander of all strategic air units.
Certainly, Kenney's calculated efforts to portray himself as the ragged, rugged warrior who worked hard, played hard, and got results in the face of adversity wears a bit thin as the book progresses. His overt racism-evidenced by such statements as, "Nips are just vermin to be exterminated,"-is also surprising to modern ears. In addition, Kenney's unalloyed affection and admiration for MacArthur and all his works give the impression one is reading a press release for the famous general. Nonetheless, despite his shortcomings, Kenney was an outstanding combat commander, and this memoir gives a wonderful view of the unique difficulties encountered in the Pacific war. Airpower played an enormously important role in this theater, and Kenney's part in its success is clearly shown here. This book is must reading for all airmen.
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 US Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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