How The Grandfather Of Naval Air Power Proved That Planes Can Sink Battleships

Battleship Aerial Bombardment

Before World War I, not many people in the military put much stock in the use of planes in battle. However, after WWI, more people began to come around, but no one could settle on how the planes would be used.

Future Of Military Planes

However, one air commander felt very strongly about the importance of aircraft in warfare. Colonel Billy Mitchell pitched his case to others, often upsetting higher-ranking officers.

Mitchell, a WWI air commander, had a lot of experience to back up his position. More than 1,400 followed him in the Battle of St. Mihiel, where they took control of the airspace and defeated the Germans.

Mitchell realized that planes could outpower massive enemy ships, but his senior leaders were not interested in testing the theory. Finally, however, with the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921, he was allowed to demonstrate aircraft capability on ships that were being retired.

Bombing Demonstrations

The Navy was not thrilled with this development and rigged the test ship to disrupt the demonstration. However, Congress found out and asked for a new test. So the planes were allowed to drop bombs on retired battleships USS Virginia, USS New Jersey, USS Alabama, and Ostfriesland. Mitchell’s first demonstration was on the Ostfriesland.

He hit the ship with small bombs but had the most luck with near-misses, which led to flooding. The planes pummeled the ship with larger bombs the day after, and it finally sank.

Next up was the USS Alabama. It was hit with one 1,000 pound bomb and a 2,000-pound bomb, which damaged the older ship. However, the final blow came with the five near-misses causing it to sink.

The USS Virginia and USS New Jersey were sunk on September 5, 1923, in the next bomber demonstration. Even though Mitchell could sink the ships, he did not entirely convince many of the top officers.

Mitchell made some unpopular comments when the Navy lost the Shenandoah. The Army court-martialed and dismissed Mitchell as a result. In 1936, he died missing the attack on Pearl Harbor by five years.

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