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Billy Mitchell was Right (and still is).

I grew up in West Allis Wisconsin-a suburb of Milwaukee.

There was parkway and a well-to-do neighborhood (well-to-do in those days) near my school. Sometimes, rather than go right home after school, my friends and I would walk over to the parkway and imagine “playing army” or otherwise adventure around-all the things young boys would do in the early to mid 1960’s.

To get to the parkway we would travel through the well-to-do neighborhood and it was there that I first learned of General Billy Mitchell.

Mitchell was born in France, the son of John Mitchell, a US Senator from Wisconsin. John Mitchell was a lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War. He served alongside another resident of Wisconsin-Arthur MacArthur, the father of General Douglas MacArthur of World War Two and Korea fame.

John Mitchell owned an estate in Wisconsin, in the neighborhood we kids traveled through to get to the parkway. By the 1960’s it was not an estate and I think the only thing that was left was the mansion in the middle of the well-to-do neighborhood.

If memory serves me, there is plaque to Mitchell (at least there was) at the intersection of two roads in what was probably the midst of John Mitchell’s estate. Wisconsin clearly wanted to recognize Mitchell for his accomplishments. If you are familiar with Milwaukee you will recognize that the airport is named after Mitchell as well as least one park.

There is an excellent article about Mitchell on Wikipedia. The article will detail Mitchell’s remarkable record and the huge controversy that got Mitchell court-martialed.

Mitchell was an outspoken critic of the “Battleship clique” in the US Navy. During World War One, the battleship was still queen of the seas, whereas air power was in its infancy. As early as 1924 Mitchell began to argue that Japan could attack Hawaii with land based bomber aircraft. That was thought to be ridiculous given the distance, but also because air craft carriers were just being experimented with in 1924. Although some, like Mitchell, recognized the potential, few among the generals and admirals did.

Eventually, Mitchell went beyond being merely out spoken and became increasingly insubordinate-similar to an Old Testament prophet no one listens to. Mitchell was courtmartialed which at the time did not necessarily mean discharged. Mitchell did resign however and dedicated the rest of his life advocating for air power.

A scene taken from Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell’s court-martial, 1925. (U.S. Air Force photo) This scene was recreated for the 1955 movie The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell. Mitchell is wearing the “turned-down” collar uniform, for which the Air Service had campaigned for several years. (Public Domain)

It’s interesting to note that later military tribunals said Mitchell’s views were vindicated but it did not matter since he violated the military code. This reminds me a little of Marine Lt. Colonel Stuart Scheller who resigned after publicly criticizing Biden’s unconscionable, bumbling withdrawal from Afghanistan which cost the lives of thirteen American service men and women. You have to wonder how many high ranking officers in the US Military agreed with Scheller but kept their mouths shut?

Mitchell died in 1936 and almost immediately his posthumous rehab began. Two battles in the early stages of WW2 vindicated Mitchell beyond the shadow of a doubt.

The first occurred in 1940 in the Mediterraen when British bi-plane torpedoe bombers flew from the HMS Illustrious (aircraft carrier) and torpedoed the Italian Fleet in Taranto Harbor. The British planes (obsolete Fairey Fulmars) did considerable damage to two Italian Battleships thus taking them out of the war for a considerable amount of time. If you see some similarities to Pearl Harbor you would be spot on.

HMS Ark Royal (British aircraft carrier, 1938-1941) photographed circa 1939, with a Fairey Swordfish aircraft taking off as another approaches from astern. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. (Public Domain

At that point many realized that the days of the battleship were numbered because the Battle of Taranto did not involve any ship-to-ship action as all the damage was done by obsolete torpedo bombers.

The second “proof” occurred in early 1942 during the Fall of Singapore, which at the time was a British Colony and major base in the Pacific.

Following Pearl Harbor in late 1941 the Japanese invaded the Philippines as well as British possessions in the Pacific. The Battle for Singapore proved to be a disaster for the British as they were ill prepared like we were at Pearl Harbor.

HMS PRINCE OF WALES arrives at Singapore, 4 December 1941. HMS PRINCE OF WALES coming in to moor at Singapore. The ship was sunk by Japanese torpedoes six days later on 10 December 1941 with great loss of life .(Wikipedia)

The battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse (and four destroyers) were on station near Singapore. All were sunk by Japanese land based bombers, the British having little air power in Singapore to counter the bombers. What did they have were second rate fighters easily out classed by the Japanese Zero.

The sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse was the final nail in the coffin of the battleship. Aircraft Carriers would become queen of the seas and land based bombers with long ranges would eventually devastate Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

Billy Mitchell would be promoted posthumously to Brigadier General for being right. Today, outside of Billy Mitchell Airport there is a B-25 Mitchell Bomber.

The B-25 Mitchell Bomber saw extensive action in WW2 in virtually every Allied Air Force including the Russians.

So, Billy Mitchell was right but he continues to be right.

I was never a particular fan of Donald Trump but I did recognize the soundness of some of his policies. Compare Trump to the current occupant of the White House and Trump looks like a genius.

Trump sought to establish Space Force probably a take off on President’s Reagan “Star Wars” initiative in the 1980’s that was so widely mocked. Space Force was established in 2019 and became the eighth uniformed service of the United States. I think Billy Mitchell would be at the forefront recognizing the potential.

(Footnote: The biggest threat to our national security is not Putin’s Russia although he is ambitious. The biggest threat to the United States is the CCP-Communist China. The CCP will eclipse the US economy and their technology is not far behind, if at all. Their plans are world domination. Any honest analyst gets that. Someone once said that generals and admirals tend to fight the last war during the current war. What that usually means is the military is slow to plan for the next war. Billy Mitchell was a prophet as he planned for the next war. I hope we learned something, but at present, I doubt it.)

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