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A factor underlying and shaping American strategy from the very first in World War II was the great distance separating each of the active theaters of war from the main source of supply in the United States. In establishing overseas lines of supply, the armed forces had of necessity to rely most heavily on water transport. There was no other possible means of moving the bulk of the military forces and the enormous tonnages required to support large-scale operations so far from the home base.

But the very nature of the war, and especially the urgent demands for a speedy reinforcement of our outposts during the first months of hostilities, made it imperative that a system of air supply e developed, supplementary to the older and slower methods of surface transport. The fastest and most economical method of moving combat aircraft from the factory to the front--which might be 10,000 to 15,000 miles away--was to ferry them under their own power. To keep them in battle at their highest efficiency, an air transport service for the rapid delivery of spare engines and parts, auxiliary equipment of all kinds, flight crews, and ground personnel was an absolute necessity.

This, in the simplest terms, was the primary purpose of the long-range military air transportation system developed by the Army Air Forces, although it was put to many other uses during the course of the war. The combined strategy devised by the British and American staff at the Washington conference of December 1941 had embodied, in addition to a long-range plan of action, certain immediate objectives to be attained in 1942.

These were first, to make secure important areas of war production likely to be attacked, and second, to provide for the security of the principal sea routes and seven main air routes over which men and supplies could be moved to the battlefronts.

While the conference was still in session it had become clear that the Philippines could not be held, principally because the Japanese had cut the only sea and air lanes over which available reinforcements, such as they were, could reach MacArthur. By the end of February 1942, the air connection between India and Australia was also cut, although some heavy bombers and other reinforcements from the United States were able to get through before the Japanese captured Singapore and overran the Netherlands East Indies.

The Australia-Philippines and the Australia-India air routes, included in the seven declared to be of the highest strategic importance, were thus lost in the first shock of the Japanese attack. Fortunately for the Allies, the five remaining major routes were held.

Each of the five had its beginning within the continental United States and reached out from the main arsenal of the United Nations to one or more of the major theaters of war: (1) the northeastern route, earliest to be developed for military purposes, provided an air connection with Great Britain; (2) the northwest route, with Alaska and the Russian front by way of Siberia; (3) the South Pacific route, with Australia and the western Pacific islands; (4) the southeastern route, with Africa, the Middle East, India, China, and, for a brief time, the Southwest Pacific area; and (5) the mid-Atlantic route, with Europe and North Africa by way of the Azores.

While this fifth trunk route was not opened until late 1943, the United States and Great Britain were at all times prepared to occupy the Azores had the security and future use of the route been threatened by the Axis.

During the early period of American participation in the war the southeastern route to Africa and beyond assumed an importance far surpassing that of any of the others. In contrast to the slowness with which the North Atlantic route, a well as the newly developed South Pacific and Alaskan routes, came in to use during the months following 7 December, the South Atlantic airway was forced at once to support a heavy volume of air traffic that strained its facilities and personnel to the limit.

Lend-lease aircraft and supplies were sent over the route to the British forces in Egypt and the Russians through Iran, with a smaller volume going via India into China. The earliest heavy bomber reinforcements sent to the American air forces in the Southwest Pacific following the Japanese attack were moved over the route, as were most of the aircraft and crews that would form the nuclei of the Ninth Air Force in the Middle East and the Tenth Air Force in India.

Fighter aircraft for the Ninth and Tenth Air Forces and for the American Volunteer Group in China were shipped by water to the west coast of Africa and were then ferried overland to their destinations. And, while ferrying operations were increasing steadily, and air transport service in support of both ferrying and combat operations was enlarged and extended.

The ferrying service and the air transport service developed by the AAF in World War II operated over the same routes, used the same bases, and were interdependent to such a degree that control was lodged in a single military agency. Known originally as the Air Corps Ferrying Command, it became the Air Transport Command in June 1942.

Transcribed by Patrick Clancey - HyperWar Foundation



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