Hap Arnold's Inconsistency

Ad: This forum contains affiliate links to products on Amazon and eBay. More information in Terms and rules

Topgun Editor

Jan 13, 2023
I would appreciate the group's advice since this is my first post.

In reviewing the literature, I find no criticism of General "Hap" Arnold's failure to protect bombers with escort fighters prior to early 1942. If I missed it, please help me find it.

Arnold prevented escort fighters from keeping up with bombers by prohibiting drop tanks on escort fighters in May 1939. This prevented escort fighters from having the necessary range to keep up with the bombers. Arnold also asserted that bombers could protect themselves. Yet, on page 8 of Winged Warfare, a tome he wrote with Ira Eaker, Arnold writes that "the only reliable antidote to the enemy bomber is the fighter."⁠1

Arnold added that the bombers needed more range with "leakproof fuel tanks," but mentioned nothing about extending the range of escort fighters sent along to protect the bombers. This may have been because in May 1939, General Arnold prohibited drop tanks on escort fighters. Drop tanks had only one function and that was to increase the range of escort fighters, whose purpose was to defend the bombers so they could reach their targets. But Arnold claimed bombers, prior the disastrous experiences in the summer and fall of 1943, could defend themselves.

Despite Arnold's admission of his bombers' vulnerability to fighters, he failed to spend money to protect them. To Arnold, every dollar spent on a drop tank was one less dollar he could spend on his bombers.

"Bombers in far larger numbers than are available today [January 1941] will be required for wiping out people in sufficient numbers to break the will of a whole nation."⁠2


1 H. H. Arnold and Ira C. Eaker, Winged Warfare, (New York: Harper & Brothers), 1941, p. 8

2 Ibid. p. 134
General Arnold was an interesting person: He was a person who could be quite creative and innovative, but also very stubborn.
The main criticism I remember reading was from an anonymous Eighth AF gunner when he said, "Jesus Christ, give us fighters."

There's plenty of critique aimed at USAAF in the era for not providing for fighter escort, but none I remember being aimed at Arnold in contemporary accounts.
Which escort fighter did anyone prevent anyone else fitting drop tanks to in May 1939? As far as I understand things through 1942 into 1943 it became increasingly obvious to some but not all in the USAAF that escorts were required. Hap Arnold finally fixed on having escorts in June 1943 for the offensive due to start in 1944. US bombers had turbo superchargers so had two stage engines. It was necessary for any escort to also have two stage engines. Initially Spitfire Mk IXs were used, including Mission one where Arnold flew in a plane as observer. Later P-47s increased the range and added to the range of the Spitfires from UK, while P-38s were used in N Africa.
Last edited:
Arnold prevented escort fighters from keeping up with bombers by prohibiting drop tanks on escort fighters in May 1939.
OK, What fighters were the Army ordering in May of 1939?
And which bombers are they to escort?
The B-23 had been ordered in 1938. 1st delivery was in July 1939. Normal range 1400 miles with 4000 pounds of bombs.
The first B-17B flew for the first time at Seattle on June 27, 1939. This was the 2nd B-17 with a turbo charger.

So we have Arnold preventing future fighters (don't exist yet) preventing escort to bombers (which also don't exist yet) in May of 1939.
We do have the Army requesting designs for bombers (B-25 and B-26) the goal of flying 2,000 miles with a 2,000lb bombload. Consolidated in working on the B-24.
The practicality of a fighter, designed in 1939, escorting a bomber on such missions was about zero.
Please note that even the Mustang fighter (almost 1 1/2 years in the future) could not escort turbo charged B-17s for another 2 years after that (and it took even longer to get into service.)
Bomber ranges did not turn out as planned.

Users who are viewing this thread