Billy Mitchell's War with the Navy: The Interwar Rivalry Over Air Power. By Thomas Wildenberg. Annapolis Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2013. Illustrations. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 271. $34.95. ISBN: 978-0-87021-038-9.
Thomas Wildenberg, a former Ramsey Fellow in naval aviation history at the National Air and Space Museum, has written a well-researched account of one of America's most controversial military figures--William "Billy" Mitchell. A stated objective was to "document the inter-service rivalry over air power," primarily during the interwar period. Such an inquiry is a difficult challenge and, while Wildenberg's interpretation is clearly delivered from the Navy's perspective, his work turns out to be as biased as others about Mitchell. Let's face it: Billy Mitchell was abrasive, bombastic and cocky--a figure almost impossible to hold in a neutral light.
Wildenberg labels Mitchell as an unethical evangelist for air power holding sway over an unlisted group of "disciples" who touted the "benefits of strategic bombing for years after the end of World War II." Later in the work, he uses the pejorative
"minions" to describe this same group of subordinate officers that were often assigned under Mitchell's command and, by association, part of the "Mitchell cabal" that resulted in his eventual court martial in 1926. These "minions" are never clearly revealed in this book but can be assumed to be Hap Arnold, Jimmy Doolittle, Frank Andrews, Curtis LeMay and other Army Air Forces giants that transformed a clothand-wire air arm into the single largest assemblage of combat aircraft in history--without help from the Navy.
The root of interservice rivalry, as Wildenberg accurately states, was (and still is) an issue of funding--money pure and simple. The debate over dollars began in the early 1900s, prior to Billy Mitchell's arrival on the aviation scene, and continues full force today. Even Mitchell understood that America's premier service was the Navy. The Navy received the lion's share of the military budget and had since the early 1800s--and rightfully so. Protecting U.S. interests was becoming more critical as the nation stepped onto the world stage during World War I. Building a global naval force took time; was extremely expensive; and required special technologies, training, and doctrine.
Billy Mitchell's war with the Navy was a predictable result of the advancement of a new military-aviation technology that...