Ideas and Weapons: A Critique.

Author:Casari, Robert B.
Position:Irving B. Holley's "Ideas and Weapons"

Professor Irving B. Holley (1919-2013) is a greatly honored and respected historian who spent most of his career at Duke University before retiring in 1981. He served in the Army Air Force during World War II at Wright Field, Ohio, where he wrote three monographs relating to the development of aviation materials that led to his continued interest in the broad topic. Following the war, he began work on a huge related study. A small outgrowth of that project was Ideas and Weapons published in 1953. The larger project, Buying Aircraft: Materiel Procurement for the Army Air Forces, was released in 1964 as a volume in the official history of the United States Army in the World War II series.

Surprisingly, in the thirty-five years following World War I, no detailed account of the 1917-1918 American aircraft production program had been written. Ideas and Weapons dealt primarily with that subject and was an effort to distill from past experience in the development of air material those lessons which might be of help in formulating policies for exploiting the air weapon more successfully in the future. (1) His research covered extensive government records and many other sources to identify and document the reasons the production program failed to produce the thousands of military aircraft that were planned. The depth of his lengthy investigation extended from identifying almost nonexistent doctrine to long forgotten statements made by those in some way connected with the program.

After its publication in 1953, Ideas and Weapons became the recognized authority on the production program and its failures, possibly the reason no similar study has been published since. Its perceived value led to its being reprinted in 1971 and 1998. (All citations from the book are from the 1971 edition).

That study does contain documentation that might be of use to those interested in researching the early development of military doctrine and its relation to the development of aircraft. However, in spite of its scholarly presentation, the account is also filled with countless erroneous conclusions on the production program with no valid facts to support them! Some are trivial and some major. To attempt to cite them all is impractical, but identifying a few examples will illustrate the problem.

A number of statements criticize production planning in the United States for not conforming to the squadron programs projected by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), such as: (2)

In April 1918 the aircraft on contract included 2,000 pursuit, 1,050 bomber and 8,000 observation. Not only was the number of aircraft on contract out of balance with the schedules of the AEF, but the production actually achieved in the United States also exerted a compelling influence on the planning of programs in the AEF. Holley believed that the orders should be for quantities approximating the ratio and numbers of reconnaissance planes, fighters, and bombers planned by the AEF. Those placing the contracts apparently saw no reason to do so, since the existing or later orders could easily be adjusted in quantity as necessary.

Contrary to the numbers he cites, there were no pursuits under contract in the U.S. in April, because the AEF had canceled production earlier that year after determining all fighters required would be obtained in Europe and only 500 bombers (Handley Page O/400s) were under contract that month. (3) Also, authorities in the United States had no significant information on AEF squadron programing and the AEF certainly had no information on fighter or bomber production actually achieved in the U.S., since fighter production was never initiated and O/400 bomber assembly from American made parts was to take place in England.

The author also states several times that the Boiling report...

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