General William Billy Mitchell – Air Force Pioneer
General William Billy Mitchell is one of the most vague heroes of the 20th century. Not many people know what he did for our country. Billy Mitchell is one of the reasons the United States has a superior military power as compared to any other country.Billy Mitchell is the Father of the United States Air Force. Without his influence in the further outlook of air force power, we might have never become the military country we are today. Billy Mitchell is one of the most famous and controversial person in the American air force. Some saw him as a far-sighted military leader, but others saw him as radical egotist who opposed anyone who did not agree on his advancement of the United States Air Force.
Billy Mitchell was born in Nice, France, in 1879. He was the son of a rich Wisconsin Senator and grandson of a wealthy railroad owner; his life can be seen as an ironic one. Billy Mitchell grew up in Milwaukee, and was educated at Racine College and George Washington University. He dropped out of George Washington University at age 18, to enlist in the 1st Wisconsin Infantry for service in the Spanish-American war. Mitchell could have led a life of wealth and luxury, but instead he chose his own path and wanted to make a name for himself. He entered the army as a junior lieutenant and received a field commission to the Signals Corps in 1898; to which his father had influenced. He was an exceptional junior officer by showing his leadership and courage.
After he was commissioned to the Signal Corps, he was transported to Cuba, the Philippines, and Alaska. During this time, Billy Mitchell demonstrated his awesome leadership and organizing skills. With a $5,000 budget to build a telegraph across Alaska, Mitchell convinced the government to spend $50,000. He became the youngest Captain at the age of 23. After service in the Mexican War, he was attached to the 1912 General staff. He was their youngest member, and in 1915 was assigned Deputy Chief to the aviation section of the Signal Corps, with the rank of Major. During this time Billy Mitchells interest in aviation grew, he saw the potential an air force could have. He learned how to fly in four days at the Curtiss Flying School. Billy Mitchell had taught himself to fly by the famous Wright brothers. Many people thought that Mitchell was not cut out to be a regular army flyer because he had no military training. However, others stated that not only could he fly anything with wings, but fly it well, Lt. Lester J. Maitland.
In 1917, Billy Mitchell traveled to France as a military observer. The month after he arrived in France, the U.S. declared war on Germany. This prompted Mitchell to establish himself as U.S. aviation officer in France. He was then promoted to Lt. Colonel in May and the Colonel in August. Billy Mitchell was fluent in French, unlike most of the other officers. This advantage gave him the chance to see that air force power was needed to win the war (World War I). He had begun corresponding with commander Trenchard of the Royal Flying Corps, and was convinced that airpower could be used to a greater advantage. When Billy Mitchell was Chief of the Air Service, he openly proclaimed his opinion on the need for a more direct approach to the advancement of air power. Billy Mitchell wanted the air force to become more than just a defensive weapon; he wanted them to be an offensive department. Mitchell wanted the air force to become a separate force like the Navy. At this point, the air force was primarily used as another conventional weapon. Mitchell saw that if other countries had utilized the air force, then the U.S. would become a vague military power compared to other countries. In 1918, Mitchell commanded 1,476 aircrafts, 20 balloons (which were mainly used as observers and sometimes combat), and had control of a mixture of British and French squadrons. The battle of Saint-Mihiel would be the greatest projection of the power the air force could yield.
Mitchells main argument for wanting to have an air force; was that the air fighters could defend the United States coasts. Nevertheless, military leaders were skeptical on the idea that an airplane could destroy a battleship. No one believed that a small airplane could destroy a battleship, but it was not considered that several air fighters could decimate a warship. Mitchell relied on the peoples favorable opinion to convince Congress and other military leaders to show them the true power of an air fighter. During all of this, Mitchell was agitating and annoying many powerful military leaders. They already had thoughts on his future court-martial, but this would only happen if Mitchell did something very radical.
In 1921, Mitchell destroyed three German bombers and the U.S.S Alabama; to show the awesome power of an air fighter. Many of Mitchells superiors were enraged because he had not gotten permission to show this kind of activity to the public. However, the Army General Staff remained unconvinced that airpower could win a war. Mitchell became even more agitated. Why could they not see the power of the air force? His increasing rebellion toward his superiors finally led them to court-martial him. Billy Mitchell resigned in 1926.
Billy Mitchell died in 1936 and did not live to see the day when the military finally saw the true power the air force could yield. Then in 1946, ten years after his death, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was in recognition in his excellent pioneer service and foresight in the American Air Force.
Billy Mitchell was a man who should be remembered as a hero. Although in his time he was seen as absurd and rebellious, Mitchell in the end was correct in his ideas. He saw the kind of power the air force could yield and how we needed to utilize that power before any other country did. Billy Mitchell was a prophet ahead of his time. Billy Mitchell is one of Americas greatest and most honorable heroes.