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Revolt of the Admirals: The Fight for Naval Aviation, 1945-1950

The National Security Act of 1947, intended to unify the separate armed forces services under a single Defense Secretary, failed to settle the deeper issue that divided them: the debate over roles and missions. One symptom of this conflict was a showdown between the Air Force and the Navy over the role of carrier aviation in the national security framework of the United States. From the early days of aviation, Army and Navy aviators had approached their roles very differently. Army air doctrine centered on strategic bombing, while Navy doctrine focused on carrier air power as an increasingly important element of the fleet's offensive striking power. In the postwar era of demobilization, these differences were exacerbated as each service fought for its share of a decreasing defense budget. Louis A. Johnson's appointment as Secretary of Defense in late March 1949 added to the Air Force-Navy friction. While Johnson allowed procurement of B-36s for the Air Force strategic bombing program to be greatly accelerated, he canceled development of the first flush-deck supercarrier, which would have enabled the Navy to operate long-range attack aircraft capable of carrying atomic weapons. This rejection fueled the Navy's fear that naval aviation was to have a diminishing role in the new atomic age and provided the final impetus for a clash between the Air Force and the Navy. The conflict came to a head when an anonymous document was delivered to members of Congress in May 1949, alleging improprieties in the Air Force procurement of the B-36 bomber. Although later found the be baseless, these charges inspired two sets of congressional hearings: the first on the B-36 bomber program itself, and the second on the issue on unification a strategy. During the latter hearings, high-ranking naval officers voiced their opinion that naval aviation was being denigrated by a Defense Secretary enamored with possibilities of strategic bombing and scornful of the Navy's contribution to such a mission. The press soon termed their vehement testimony in support of naval aviation the "revolt of the admirals."

About the Author

Jeffery G. Barlow has worked as a historian with the Contemporary History Branch of the Naval Historical center since 1987. He is writing an official two-volume history on the U.S. Navy and national security affairs. During 1969-1970, while on active duty with the U.S. Army, he served as a staff member of the newly established U.S. Army Military History Research Collection at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. A Navy junior, Dr, Barlow graduated with a B.A. in history from Westminster College (Pa.) in 1972. At the University of South Carolina, where he was an H.B. Earhart Fellow, he studied under Dr. Richard L. Walker and received a doctorate degree in international studies in 1981. Dr. Barlow's contributions to published works include a biographical chapter on Admiral Richard L. Conolly in Stephen Howarth's Men of War: Great Naval Leaders of World War Two (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993) and chapters on Allied and Axis naval strategies during the Second World War in Colin S. Gray and Roger W. Barnett's Seapower and Strategy (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1989). His work has also appeared in International Security and Air University Review.

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Originally published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011; most-recently modified: Tuesday, June 04, 2019