General Billy Mitchell
Brigadier General Mitchell
Thought of as the most successful American Air commander of World War 1.
He had been the first officer that commanded planes which actually took
part in the battle. Until that time Aircraft had basically only been used
for scouting spying and other non combat missions. The air war was very
successful in world war 1 yet the air forces was only a little part of
the Army at this time. Others didn't see the Air Force as being a big part
of the Navy or the Army but General Mitchell had a different opinion he
thought the Air Force would someday be the biggest part of the Forces.
After the war had ended Mitchell
went before Congress and told them that Air power was even greater than
Sea Power. Because Air Power would be able to sink any Navel Sub by just
bombing it. High ranking officers basically made fun of him for making
this statement. He then said that he could prove this if he had some ships
to bomb so they gave him permission to bomb the ships that they had captured
from the German naval forces.
General Mitchell himself was
commanding the attack on the ships from his own plane. While other people
that would make a decision based on what they saw watched from the shore
line. Many Americans and others were also awaiting the outcome of Mitchell's
Idea. They sank all of the ships including the Mighty German battleship
Ostfriesland. Officers of the Navy and others were stunned. Mitchell had
proven the outcome that he said he would have way beyond their expectations.
But they refused to give in to him. While they couldn't refuse that planes
could sink Unarmed unmanned ships that were at sea They believed that fully
manned ships with people who knew what they were doing would produce a
different outcome. In a fair fight the said that Mitchell's Air power would
Congress seemed to think that
the navies outcome was correct. It seemed as though Mitchell had lost his
dispute. As time went on nothing was done to better the Air Corps But Mitchell
did not let up. He took it to congress over and over again trying to get
them to do it they soon got tired of hearing this and gave him a transfer
to San Antonio Texas. Four years had passed and several Air Tragedies occurred
that shocked the Nation.
One in particular was the Navy
dirigible named Shenandoah had been caught in a severe storm. The ship
was torn and many of the occupants died that were aboard. Word then leaked
that the airship may not of been in a safe flying condition but that the
Navy had ordered it to be flown anyway.
Mitchell decided to conduct
his own investigation on what had happened. Then held a press conference
in San Antonio Texas. There he announced that the accidents were a direct
result of incompetence, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration
by the war and Navy departments. General Mitchell was one almost every
major newspaper in the US. The statement was very shocking and very powerful.
He was not like the other officers who would not of made a statement of
his superiors. The Military was very horrified but at the same time they
were pleased they had a real offense that they could come back at the person
that wouldn't stop. Billy Mitchell expected them to react this way and
they did. He was soon ordered to stand trial in a court-martial. The first
thing he did was to contact Frank R. Reed a civilian attorney. No less
than eight charges were filed against Mitchell. All of them saying that
his statement had been damaging to good order and proper to military discipline.
One of the members of the court-martial
was Major General Douglas MacArthur a personal friend of Mitchell's. October
28,1925 is when the court-martial began in Washington D.C. with Major General
Charles P. Summerall presiding. Mitchell's Lawyers first thing was to challenge
the preceding officer and two members of the board. General Summerall himself
charged these officers as being prejudice against Mitchell and was successful
in having them removed from the board. The court-martial had got the whole
Scheduled to testify on Mitchell's
Behalf was Eddie Rickenbacker, World War ones greatest American pilot,
Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia and Will Rogers the nations most popular
Mitchell was not saying that
he did not say these statements his fight was that what he said was fair
and just and true that is what the defense had to prove. Reid (the defense
Attorney) stated that he intended to show that Mitchell's statements were
true and could not be considered "libelous" on two grounds for one the
statements were not directed at an individual but at the war department
and libel can not be committed against a non living thing and second officers
have the right to enjoy the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article
one of the U.S. Constitution as long as they do not use freedom to violate
national surcurity. Ried then said that he intended to call more than 70
witnesses to the stand so it was going to be a long trial. A wife of one
of the men on the plane testified that her husband was unwilling to fly
the airplane because there were unsafe conditions. He had expressed this
to his superiors but they ordered him to fly anyway. And in being a good
Captain he obeyed his orders. This was startling testimony because the
Navy Secretary had told reporters that there had been no protest at all.
The wife then proceeded to say that a Navy representative had been by to
see her a bit earlier and had a written statement that they wanted her
to make this statement was one to uphold the Navy's side of the story.
By revealing the Navy's effort to make her tell false statements and give
them control of her testimony damaged the Navy even more.
Now there was a long series
of officers to testify. The case against Mitchell seemed to become a trial
of National Defense. Finally Mitchell took the stand in his own defense.
He described the great potential that he envisioned for an air force in
the nations defense . He also told of the endless difficulties he had experienced
in the attempt to further the cause of the US Air Force. Then he started
to get cross-examined the prosecution tried to make it seem as though they
were only opinions that Mitchell had and basically make him out to be an
The question was really not
based on whether he should of pushed further for an Air Force but the question
was should he of Said what he had said about his superiors. and he was
found Guilty and was suspended from the Army for Five years. Never going
back into the Army He still petitioned the Air Force and slowly saw it
grow. And In February 1936 Mitchell died. His predictions had all came
true about the US Air Corps would be the most powerful weapon yet to be
devised and also said that one day the Navy would be under serious danger
of an air attack and less than six years after Mitchell died The Japanese
successfully bombed Navy ships at Pearl Harbor.
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