Billy Mitchell "Stormy Petrel of the Air.".
This is a 6 x 9 inch paperback monograph written for the 100th Anniversary of Flight. It is a compromise between a highlights article and an in-depth biography that is convenient and easy to read and will satisfy the interest of people wanting to gain a reasonable degree of insight into Mitchell and his accomplishments.
Miller's style is straightforward as he moves chronologically through Mitchell's life, briefly covering supporting information, while/housing on critical events and people. Although Mitchell entered the Signal Corps in 1898, the bulk of the book centers on the period from 1916, when Major Mitchell was appointed deputy head of the Aviation Section (his first aviation duty), to his court martial in 1925. Miller highlights incidents early in Mitchell's career that prepared him for aviation and shaped him as an officer, provides a detailed account of his relationships with peers and superiors, and provides specifics of his accomplishments in establishing the U.S. Air Service for the Allied Expeditionary Force.
Serving as the head of Air Service Operations and Training under Maj. Gen. Charles Menoher after the Great War gave Mitchell the opportunity to refine his vision of an independent air force. As in all of his assignments, Mitchell's brilliance in operations and doctrine was compromised by his flaws of alienating key superiors and bypassing the chain of command. Throughout the post-war period when Mitchell fought for recognition, funding, and independence of air power, he achieved equal measures of stunning successes and colossal failures equally publicized. Menoher was relieved of duty over a controversy caused by Mitchell; but his next boss, Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick, managed to keep a lid on Mitchell until he angered both Secretary of War Weeks and President Coolidge, which led to his court martial.
The last two pages briefly summarize the impact Mitchell had on military aviation. His contributions to shaping the culture of military aviation as it evolved from Aviation Section to Air Service to Air Corps are treated superficially. Events that earned Mitchell publicity and notoriety are well covered such as the bombing trials that sank the battleship Ostfriesland and led to both Army strategic bombardment and Navy aircraft carrier capabilities. While not a scientist or engineer, Mitchell had a keen awareness of the value of R&D, and he enlisted the cooperation of scientific and industrial leaders, establishing a pattern of investment and experimentation that persists today. Although Miller pays attention to the smaller scale, such as development of bombs and bomb dropping tactics, the larger dimension is not discussed.
While a good assortment of photos is included, the captions repeat the main text adding no value. A map of the key area of France during the action in September-October 1918 from St. Mihiel to the Meuse-Argonne would have helped the reader understand force dispositions and major movements during the period when Mitchell commanded 1,481 allied aircraft in one of the first major joint air-ground operations. While sustaining losses of up to 100 aircraft per day, Colonel Mitchell demonstrated the command abilities that led to his field promotion to brigadier general and also demonstrated courage and leadership while personally flying daily reconnaissance missions that earned him a Distinguished Service Cross.
Despite its relatively minor flaws, Miller's text is well worth reading for an intermediate depth understanding of this key figure in aviation history.
Jim Schier, Docent, NASM's Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles, Virginia.
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|Title Annotation:||book by Roger G. Miller|
|Publication:||Air Power History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2005|
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