Bombing Dayton Ohio

When Curtis LeMay took over the Strategic Air Command (SAC) near the end of 1948, he found a disastrously unprepared force with no experience in realistic training. After some bloody pruning of the staff, he ordered a realistic simulated attack on Dayton Ohio by every aircraft SAC could get in the air. Richard Rhodes:

Since Air Force intelligence could supply only vintage prewar aerial photographs of Soviet cities, LeMay gave his crews 1938 photographs of Dayton. He instructed them to bomb by radar from thirty thousand feet and to aim for industrial and military targets, not radar reflectors.

“Oh, I’ll admit the weather was bad,” he recalled in retirement of the January 1949 mission. “There were a lot of thunderstorms in the area; that certainly was a factor. But on top of this, our crews were not accustomed to flying at altitude. Neither were the airplanes, far as that goes. Most of the pressurization wouldn’t work, and the oxygen wouldn’t work. Nobody seemed to know what life was like upstairs.”1550 Not many crews even found Dayton. For those who did, bombing scores ran from one to two miles off target, distances at which even Nagasaki-yield atomic bombs would do only marginal damage.1551

LeMay called the results of the Dayton exercise “just about the darkest night in American military aviation history. Not one airplane finished that mission as briefed. Not one.”

Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb (p. 341). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

If Stalin had chosen that moment to overrun Western Europe, the US could not have responded effectively for months. This, right in the middle of the Berlin airlift (the Soviets having shut off train and road traffic to Berlin), was a big fail for Truman and especially, for his defense team. Truman was relying on almost entirely on a nuclear deterrent that at that point was a paper tiger.


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