1st Provisional Air Brigade

Summary

The 1st Provisional Air Brigade was a temporary unit of the United States Army Air Service, commanded by Col. Billy Mitchell,[1] operating out of Langley Field, Virginia, that was used in Project B to demonstrate the vulnerability of ships to aerial attack when, in July 1921, the "unsinkable" German dreadnought SMS Ostfriesland was sent to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean by bombardment. Other targets included the German destroyer SMS G-102, the SMS Frankfurt, and the USS Iowa.

1st Provisional Air Brigade
Active1921
CountryUSA
BranchAir Force
TypeTemporary unit
RoleTo demonstrate the vulnerability of ships to aerial attack
Size125 aircraft and 1,000 men
Garrison/HQLangley, Virginia
Commanders
Current
commander
Col. Billy Mitchell

FormationEdit

In the wake of the disarmament following the conclusion of the Great War, with the aviation branch of the U.S. Army drastically reduced in size, Col. Mitchell felt that the U.S. Navy's focus on building super dreadnoughts was a waste of defense money as he was convinced that warships were now vulnerable to air attack. He published articles and had testified before the House subcommittee on aviation "that 1,000 bomber aircraft could be built and operated for the cost of one dreadnought and that his airplanes could sink a battleship. He volunteered to demonstrate this if the navy would provide him with some battleships, which were already due to be demolished. The navy reluctantly agreed to the demonstrations."[2]

"Once the test was agreed to, Mitchell formed the First Provisional Air Brigade, drawing 150 airplanes and 1,000 people from air bases around the country. Because none of the pilots knew how to sink ships, extensive training was required at Langley Field in Virginia, where practice missions against mock ships were performed. Among the officers attending the practices was Alexander de Seversky, who had served with Russia during the war, dropping bombs on German ships. He taught the pilots that the best way to sink a ship was to drop the bomb near, not on, the ship."[3]

TestsEdit

"The test, held off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in July, 1921 attracted widespread public interest. There, after naval aircraft in June had easily disposed of a surfaced U-boat, Mitchell's First Provisional Air Brigade, hastily assembled and trained at Langley Field, attacked and sank three German ships -- a destroyer, the cruiser Frankfurt, and the heavily compartmented Ostfriesland. Disputes arose as to the manner in which the experiment -- directed by the Navy - had been conducted, and the Joint Board's report tended to deprecate the effectiveness of aerial bombing. But the fact of the sinkings was indisputable, and Mitchell went on to clinch the validity of his claims by tests conducted with like results on obsolete US Battleships -- the Alabama in September, 1921, and the Virginia and New Jersey in September, 1923."[4][5]

EquipmentEdit

On 1 May 1921, Mitchell assembled the 1st Provisional Air Brigade, an air and ground crew of 125 aircraft and 1,000 men at Langley, Virginia, using six squadrons from the Air Service:

Handley Page O/400 and Martin MB-2 bombers of the 96th Squadron (Bombardment) did the heavy lifting, dropping bombs of between 230 lbs (100 kg) and 2,000 lbs (910 kg) over a two-day period on the captured German warship, rupturing her water-tightness and sinking her on 21 July off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.[6]

Other types drawn for the unit included Airco DH.4s and at least one Curtiss Eagle ambulance airplane.[7][8]

Following the sinking of USS Alabama on 26 September 1921, the 1st Provisional Air Brigade was disbanded.[9]

The bombing tests of 1923 were subsequently conducted with equipment and personnel of the 2d Bombardment Group.[10]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "William 'Billy' Mitchell -- 'The father of the United States Air Force'".
  2. ^ "Billy Mitchell and the bomber". Archived from the original on 11 December 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  3. ^ "Billy Mitchell and the bomber". Archived from the original on 11 December 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  4. ^ Craven, W. F., and Cate, J. L., editors, "The Army Air Forces in World War II", Book 1 - January 1939 to August 1942, pages 25-26. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft also participated in these tests.
  5. ^ "Navybomb2". Archived from the original on 9 April 2010. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  6. ^ "The Naval Bombing Experiments: Bombing Operations". Naval History & Heritage Command. 3 April 2007. Archived from the original on 9 April 2010. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  7. ^ "1908–1921 USAAS Serial Numbers". Joebaugher.com. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  8. ^ Johnson, David E., "Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917–1945", Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, hdbk 1998, ppbk 2003, ISBN 0-8014-8847-8, page 83
  9. ^ Maurer Maurer, “Aviation in the U.S. Army, 1919-1939,” Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1987, Library of Congress card number 87-12257, ISBN 0-912799-38-2, page 124.
  10. ^ Maurer Maurer, “Aviation in the U.S. Army, 1919-1939,” Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1987, Library of Congress card number 87-12257, ISBN 0-912799-38-2, pages 124-126.