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Definition: Arnold, Henry Harley from Chambers Biographical Dictionary

known as

Hap Arnold

1886-1950

US air force officer

Born in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, he was educated at the US Military Academy, West Point, and was commissioned into the infantry in 1907. He learned to fly with the Wright brothers and served with the air section of signal corps. He commanded 1st Air Wing, GHQ Air Force (1931), and became commanding general US Army Air Corps (1938) and chief of US Army Air Forces (1941). He was a general of the army (1944) and of the air force (1947). He wrote several books, including This Flying Game (1936) and Global Mission (1949).


Summary Article: Arnold, Henry Harley (1886–1950) from 500 Great Military Leaders

U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) general who led it throughout the war. Born on June 25, 1886, in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, in 1907 and was commissioned in the infantry. He transferred into the aeronautical division of the Signal Corps in 1911 and received his pilot's certificate after training with Orville Wright. In 1912 Arnold set a world altitude record and won the first Mackay Trophy for aviation.

During World War I Arnold served on the army staff in Washington, rising to the rank of colonel and overseeing all aviation training. After the war he reverted to his permanent rank of captain. During the 1920s Arnold held a variety of assignments. He supported Colonel William Mitchell at the latter's 1925 court-martial, although this was not well received by Arnold's superiors. Arnold wrote or coauthored five books on aviation, won a second Mackay Trophy, and continued to rise in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He became its assistant chief as a brigadier general in 1935. In 1938 he became chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps as a major general on the death of Major General Oscar Westover in a plane crash.

Arnold proved particularly adept at improving the readiness of his service and expanding its resources even with tight interwar budgets. Promoted to lieutenant general (December 1941), he was designated commanding general of the USAAF in the March 1942 War Department reorganization that raised the air arm to an equal status with the Army Ground Forces and Army Service Forces. Because the British had a chief of air staff, Arnold was included on the British-American Combined Chiefs of Staff as well as the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Although he was not a major player in their decisions, he was a loyal supporter of U.S. Army chief of staff George C. Marshall, who repaid Arnold after the war by supporting the establishment of an independent U.S. Air Force. Arnold was promoted to full general in March 1943 and became one of four five-star generals of the army (December 1944).

During the war Arnold built an organization that reached a peak of approximately 2.5 million personnel and more than 63,000 aircraft. He was a fine judge of people and selected the best men as his advisers, staff, and field commanders. Arnold also established an emphasis on technological research and development that his service retains today. Although he was not really involved in day-to-day combat operations, his authority to relieve the field commanders who really did run the war gave him leverage to influence their actions. Poor health limited his effectiveness late in the war, especially after a fourth heart attack in January 1945.

Arnold was a proponent of precision bombing doctrine, but his pressure for more raids despite bad weather led to increased use of less accurate radar-directed bombardments in Europe, and his demand for increased efficiency in Japan inspired the fire raids there. His main goal was to make the largest possible contribution to winning the war and to ensure that the USAAF received credit for it through proper publicity.

Although Arnold retired in June 1946, his goal of an independent U.S. air service—the U.S. Air Force—was realized the next year by his successor, General Carl Spaatz. In May 1949 Arnold's five-star title of rank was changed to designate him the first and thus far only “General of the Air Force.” Arnold truly deserves the title “Father of the United States Air Force.” He died at Sonoma, California, on January 15, 1950.

Further Reading
  • Arnold, Henry H. Global Mission. Harper New York, 1949.
  • Coffey, Thomas M. Hap: The Story of the U.S. Air Force and the Man Who Built It. Viking New York, 1982.
  • Crane, Conrad C. Bombs, Cities, and Civilians: American Airpower Strategy in World War II. University Press of Kansas Lawrence, 1993.
  • Daso, Dik Alan. Hap Arnold and the Evolution of American Airpower. Smithsonian Institution Press Washington, DC, 2000.
  • Conrad C. Crane
    Copyright 2014 by Spencer C. Tucker

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