Carl “Tooey” Spaatz
Carl Spaatz served in many distinguished positions throughout his lengthy military career, but an incident during World War I demonstrated exactly what he thought was his true military calling. Spaatz, then a major, was training fighter pilots in France. He desperately wanted to join the air war, but his superiors had denied his repeated attempts at getting a transfer to the front lines. In 1918 Spaatz took matters into his own hands. In a flagrant act of insubordination, he literally walked away from his post and joined the fighting with a nearby aerial pursuit group.
- Commanding officer and project chief on the famous Question Mark endurance flight in a Fokker Tri-motor, proving the practicality of in-flight refueling. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
- In 1942, he commanded the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe coordinating the efforts of the 8th and 15th.
- Established the SAC (Strategic Air Command), a single agency to plan and target all U.S. nuclear forces.
- Spaatz was the last commanding general of the Army Air Force and the first Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.
Spaatz was born in Boyertown, Pennsylvania on June 28th, 1891. After high school he attended the United States Military Academy, and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry in June 1914. In his early years, Spaatz acquired the nickname “Tooey” which stayed with him all his life.
In October of 1915, Spaatz received orders to the Army Signal Corps Aviation School at North Island, California, near San Diego. Here he learned to fly in Curtiss Jennies. By May of 1917, as America became more involved in the “War to end all wars,” Tooey had already served with the First Aero Squadron on Mexican border patrol duty.
Captain Spaatz went to France as commander of the Thirty-First Aero Squadron. In September of 1918 he flew under the command of General Billy Mitchell, in the Thirteenth Aero Squadron of the Second Pursuit Group. During this time he was credited with downing three German Fokkers behind enemy lines, a feat for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war, Spaatz returned home convinced, like many other Air Service officers, of the prominent role that air power would play in future conflicts.
After having served as commanding officer of Kelly Field, Texas and of the First Pursuit Group both at Ellington Field, Texas and at Selfridge Field, Michigan, he entered the Air Service Tactical School at Langley Field, Virginia in September of 1924.
After graduating in June of 1925 Spaatz received orders to the Office of Chief of the Air Corps in Washington, D.C. Deeply interested in new tactical methods and in improved performance of airplanes, Spaatz played an important role in a pioneering endurance flight. It took place on New Year’s Day, 1929, at the Los Angeles Municipal Airport. An Army Air Service Fokker C-2A trimotor called the Question Mark rolled out for takeoff. With less than a hundred gallons of fuel in the Fokker’s wing tanks, chief pilot Captain Eaker lifted the Question Mark into the cloudless skies and a gentle seven-mile-an-hour breeze off the ocean. The Question Mark would remain airborne for over six days, specifically for 150 hours, 40 minutes and 15 seconds. This monumental flight set a new world’s endurance flight record and proved the practicality of in-flight refueling. A few hours after takeoff, the Question Mark rendezvoused with a modified Douglas C-1 loaded with fuel. When the two planes were only twenty feet apart, the DC-1 crew lowered a hose was into the waiting arms of Tooey and his crew. When the hook-tip was accomplished, the DC-1 opened a valve, and a hundred gallons of gasoline rushed downward into the Question Mark in only a minute and a half. In this manner, the Question Mark was refueled in the air 43 times, nine of the refuelings at night. Tooey was the commanding officer of the Question Mark’s five-man crew and chief of the project. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for this achievement which stands today as one of the great milestones in aviation history.
With many and varied command assignments, Spaatz amassed a brilliant Air Corps career as an administrator and planner of air power as well as being a pioneering flyer. In 1939, after an observation trip to Europe, he reported to General Henry “Hap” Arnold that “Germany put more planes in the air in one raid over Poland than we have in our whole Air Force.” Just a few weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he had become Chief of the Army Air Force Combat Command. Nine months later he went to England to receive the transfer of the British Eagle Squadron into the United States Army Air Force.
The composition of this Eagle Squadron was American pilots who were flying under British command. Through the mid-1940s his career was as varied as the missions that the war imposed on American Air Power. One was the North African campaign, in which he served as Commander of the Twelfth Air Force and later of the Northwest African Air Force. Another mission was Operation Stangle, in which Spaatz directed air operations against the Sicilian ports to cut off enemy lines of supply, and to support Allied troops in their push inland toward the occupation of Rome. Since mid-1940 London had come under increasingly heavy German attack. In January of 1944 Spaatz went to the British capital and assumed command of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in England. His mission was to coordinate the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces in their massive European counterpunch against the Germans.
After the war he would receive the Collier Trophy for his leadership in 1944. By 1944 the Army Air Forces were receiving modified P-38s, P-47s and especially P-51 Mustangs with extended ranges, which made it possible for them to escort the B-17s and B-24s in the raids over Europe. He attended the signing of the Rheims Peace Treaty and then moved quickly on to the Pacific island of Guam, where he served as Commanding General of U.S. Strategic Air Force in the Pacific theater. He was aboard the USS Missouri for the Japanese surrender.
On March lst, 1946 Spaatz succeeded General “Hap” Arnold as Commanding General of U.S. Army Air Forces; and twenty days later, he established the Strategic Air Command. Assigned to the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics by President Truman, he served with that body from 1946 till 1948, the year of his retirement. When the United States Air Force was established as a separate and independent military service, he was appointed its first Chief of Staff. His retirement came on June 30th, 1949. In his illustrious career, Spaatz had helped his nation realize the importance of air power, and served in two wars. Spaatz died on July 14th, 1974.
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