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William Billy Mitchell: A Prominent Figure of American Aviation

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William Billy Mitchell was an important figure to the United States because of his persistent support of military aircraft

. In fact, he insisted that the U.S. army provide a separate division dedicated specifically to aircraft

, which would later become the U.S. Air Force. However, planes were mostly contraptions made of wood, wire, and cloth (Waller 3). Given that airplanes were small and weak at his time, Mitchell's ideas were both doubted and rejected. Mitchell was often impatient and rude to his superiors seeing that the majority was ignorant in becoming aware of air power. William Billy Mitchell, a controversial military U.S. General, valued the importance and necessity of aviation, which influenced the U.S. Army to later make a separate division for airplanes called the U.S. Air Force.

Mitchell's whole career was related to the military. He first started off by being recruited as a private during the Spanish-American War in 1898 at the age of 18. Later on, he served in Cuba and the Philippines in the Army Signal Corps. He then advanced to the rank of a Captain at the age of 32 in Washington. Mitchell was promoted to the rank of a Major four years later and began to believe aviation was the future of the military. He was 36 years old in the winter of 1915 when he enrolled in the flying school of the Curtis Company (Levine 86). A year later, World War I began, so Billy Mitchell was assigned as a Lieutenant Colonel to fight in it. Because he was victorious at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, where he managed about 1,500 planes to support the American ground forces, he proceeded to Brigadier General. When he returned to the United States on February 17, 1919, he was an American hero. In eleven days, he became employed to Assistant Chief of the U.S. Army Air Service.

Very soon after Mitchell returned home, he wanted a new type of a fighter plane. He contacted Alfred Verville, a designer, to devise a new racing plane in ten days. Verville worked tirelessly to meet Mitchell's request, which became the first streamlined low-wing monoplane without struts or bracing wires and with retractable landing gear (Davis 61). This plane revolutionized air combat to a whole new level. Additionally, the plane won an event in national air races in 1924.

With a popular reputation from the war and enthusiasm, Mitchell began to encourage the people of the United States to invest in air power rather than battleships. He began to appeal to the public through writing in magazine articles, such as World's Work and the Review of Reviews. Although he did not win endorsement, he took public attention in his article "Declares America Helpless in Air War" in the New York Times. Mitchell argued that one cutback in government spending was the cost of one battleship equaling the cost of a thousand airplanes (Hurley 60). After World War I, hardly anyone was interested in war or the military, especially in aviation. Everyone was interested in peace instead. General H. Arnold mentions, "General Mitchell came back to a nation which was tired of war, not a fertile soil for his teachings and pleadings for air power" (Levine 165). It seemed that Mitchell was really convinced air power should be a major role in war. Above all, he wanted to prove aircraft

were superior against warships in an open test.

Billy Mitchell claimed that he could "destroy or sink any ship in existence" (Davis 3). The American Press was interested in Mitchell's ideas and indirectly pressured the Navy to allow him to prove it. Consequently, Mitchell was granted permission to demonstrate his idea. Mitchell and his colleagues hypothesized: that a direct hit would not be necessary, if not less than fatal; that for a big ship to be sunk, a near hit would create a series of powerful movements of thousands of tons of waters with such force that the vessel would be devastated (Aymar and Sagarin 258). His most spectacular assault was against the supposedly indestructible Ostfriesland, Germany's onetime pride of the seas (Andrist 55). The prized battleship was sunk in exactly twenty-five minutes. Mitchell and his bombers also sank an American battleship, an old submarine, a destroyer, and a cruiser as well. Nonetheless, naval officials argued the test was invalid because the Ostfriesland could have been firing antiaircraft guns back at the planes and would then have protected itself. Therefore, the naval supporters never really were on the same side as Billy Mitchell.

Mitchell's successful experiment gained him fame and popularity on the front pages of newspapers and magazines. Aviation was now getting attention it deserved. The battleship Admirals sent him to the Pacific to reduce his status in the United States in 1923. Mitchell visited Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, China, Japan, India, Java, Singapore, and Manchuria. When he returned to Washington on July 22, 1924, Mitchell wrote a 325-page report. In the report, he believed Japan was a potential enemy, which he warned who were able to start a war against the United States. The General also made suggestions on using Alaska as an aviation base to go through a northern route to defeat Japan. However, only a few believed that Japan would likely attack the U.S. Mitchell claimed that Japan was already advance in aviation with over 600 planes in control, which would be their major strength once they would attack. Eventually when the event of the attack on Pearl Harbor comes around, Mitchell's prediction would become valid.

On September 1, 1925, a U.S. Navy airship, Shenandoah, was destroyed during a storm. Angrily, Mitchell accused his superiors in saying, "These accidents



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