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The Air Corps Ferrying Command had its origins in 1941 in an attempt to assist the British in the delivery of American-built aircraft to England. The British had pointed the way toward development of long-range strategic air supply services by establishing early in the war air supply lines from North America to the United Kingdom and from the home bases to the Middle East. In November 1940 a Canadian civilian agency under contract with the British government began the ferrying of American-built bombers across the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Scotland, a distance of approximately 2,100 miles.

This was the first step in the spanning of the North Atlantic with an aerial supply bridge, comparable as a development in military supply to the first use of the railroad as a logistical instrument in the wars of the nineteenth century. The hazardous route across the North Atlantic constituted, however, only one segment of a long supply line that reached from the factories of southern California to the airfields of Britain.

The bombers, purchased for cash from American manufacturers prior to the passage of the Lend-Lease Act, were first ferried by factory-employed pilots from California to Montreal. There they were turned over to the civilian pilots of the British Atlantic.

Before the war, Germany and the U.S.S.R. had led in experimenting with the use of military air transport in the deployment of airborne troops; and during the early period of the war, particularly in the invasion of Norway and later of Crete, Germany proved the tactical effectiveness of the transport airplane.

But neither of these countries had envisaged, nor were they under a real necessity to develop under war conditions, the type of long-range strategic air supply services which the United States and Great Britain were to employ so effectively ferrying organization for the flight to Scotland. By ferrying these bombers under their own power, vital shipping space was saved and factory-to-combat deliver time was cut from approximately three months to less than ten days.

The British ferrying service was well under way when the Lend-Lease Act became law on 11 March 1941. Improving weather conditions in the spring of 1941 and increasing aircraft production made possible a speedup in trans-Atlantic deliveries, but the Atlantic ferrying organization, or ATFERO as it became known when taken over directly by the British Ministry of Aircraft Production, experienced considerable difficulty in recruiting a sufficient number of pilots and other crew members to maintain schedules.

The War Department at the time was attempting, not too successfully, to assist the British in employing additional pilots in the United States, and the British themselves were forced to withdraw some pilots from combat units for ferrying duty. A solution to the problem was made possible by the Lend-Lease Act. On 21 April, General Arnold wired from London, where he was then conferring with British officials as to means of extending aid, proposing that the United States Army Air Corps take over responsibility for the ferrying of British aircraft from the factories to Montreal.

Two major ends to be achieved were set forth in the message. American military pilots would be able to acquire highly useful training in flying the latest types of combat aircraft; and civilian pilots then employed by the factories would be released for service with ATFERO in delivering the aircraft across the Atlantic. Hard pressed for pilots, the British received General Arnold's proposal with enthusiasm and readily consented to give official sanction to American use of British-owned aircraft for training purposes within the United States.

In the source of discussion between representatives of the two countries during the month that followed, consideration was given to a plan favored by the War Department by which the United States would take over control of the whole ferrying operation from the factories to Britain. But to certain features of the plan Brig. Gen. Carl Spaatz, then on the staff of the Chief of the Air Corps, raised objections which seemed convincing.

President Roosevelt decided to adopt the more modest proposal of General Arnold of 21 April and to leave to the British the job of flying the aircraft across the Atlantic. On 28 May the President directed the Secretary of War to take full responsibility for delivering to the point of ultimate take-off those planes, other than PBY flying boats, that were to be flown to England. Fully aware of the need for haste, he expressed the desire "to cut through all the formalities that are not legally prohibitive and help the British get this job done with dispatch."

The job of delivering the aircraft was given to a new agency, the Air Corps Ferrying Command, created specifically for the purpose. On 29 May 1941, Col. Robert Olds of the Plans Division, Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, received verbal order to organize the ferrying service. A week later, on 5 June, the Air Corps Ferrying Command was officially constituted as of 29 May. The mission of the new command was, first, "to move aircraft by air from factories to such terminals as may be designated by the Chief of the Air Corps," and second, "to maintain such special air ferry service [i.e., air transport service] as may be required to meet specific situations."

These were broad powers, and working within them the Ferrying Command eventually expanded far beyond the limits imagined by those responsible for its creation. The second assignment provided specific authority for the establishment of a military air transport service over the North Atlantic between Washington and the United Kingdom, a project which had been under consideration for some months.

For crews to do the cross-country ferrying work, once the factory pilots were replaced in mid-July, the Ferrying Command relied initially on two-engine and single-engine pilots detailed from the Air Force Combat Command for thirty- to ninety-day tours of temporary duty. More highly qualified four-engine pilots of the Combat Command, as well as navigators and other crew members, were borrowed to fly the trans-Atlantic transport shuttle. In the summer and fall of 1941 approximately 200 pilots were trained at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, especially for ferrying duty, although they were assigned to the Combat Command and served, as did the others, on temporary-duty status with the Ferrying Command.

During the six months between 6 June 1941, when the Ferrying Command assumed nominal control over deliveries to the British, and the Pearl Harbor attack, approximately 1,350 aircraft were ferried to points of transfer, nearly all by pilots of the Air Corps. Over 90 per cent of these deliveries were made from West Coast factories to the British in Canada or at points on the Atlantic seaboard.

Two types of the latest twin-engine attack bombers--Bostons (DB-7's, the British version of the A-20A) and Hudsons (A-29's)--were the most numerous, but a large number of AT-6 Harvard trainers were flown to RAF training fields in Canada. Most of the Bostons were flown to the Floyd Bennett Airport, New York, for water shipment to Britain, while some were shipped out of New Orleans and Savannah.

The majority of the Hudsons were delivered at Montreal to the RAF Ferry Command, which had been created in July 1941 to take over the work of ATFERO, and were flown from there to Newfoundland and across the Atlantic to Scotland. Some sixty Liberator bombers were also turned over the RAF at Montreal. During the fall of 1941 the Ferrying Command had assumed an additional responsibility for delivery of some of the AAF's own planes from factory to stations within the United States.

These deliveries were relatively few in proportion to the while, however, and until 7 December the primary task of the command remained that of assisting in the movement of British aircraft to Canada or to eastern ports for shipment to England. But after Pearl Harbor the domestic ferrying of American aircraft quickly became a major function of the command, and one, in time, of such huge proportions that the AAF had reason to congratulate itself on the possession of an agency already organized for and experienced in the work. From the domestic ferrying assignment it was only a step to the taking over by the command of responsibility for delivering or supervising the delivery of AAF and lend-lease aircraft to theaters of war scattered over the world.

For assumption of this new responsibility, the Ferrying Command had been partly prepared by its operation through the latter half of 1941 of an overseas transport service. As relations between the United States and Great Britain had grown closer through the spring of 1941, the need for a more rapid means of transportation between the two countries could be provided by surface vessels became increasingly urgent.

Through the establishment of an air service across the Atlantic, the diplomatic mail and important military and diplomatic officials of the two countries could move back and forth with the speed demanded by the course of events; and, when the American government decided to open such a service in the summer of 1941, it was placed under the control of the newly created Ferrying Command.

The AAF's pioneer overseas transport service began operations on 1 July, when a B-24 piloted by Lt. Col. Caleb V. Haynes took off from Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., bound for Scotland by way of Montreal and Newfoundland. Between that date and mid-October, when the service was forced to close down by the approach of winter, an average of six rounds trips a month had been flown. Modified B-24's were used on all the trips, the passengers sitting in the bomb bays.

The "Arnold Line," as the British termed it in tribute to the Chief of the Army Air Forces, regularly operated over a route that ran from Bolling Field to Montreal to Gander Lake, Newfoundland, thence across the Atlantic to Ayr, Scotland, and return. There were three special trips, however, that departed considerably from the regular run. One of these carried Capt. Elliott Roosevelt during the summer on an aerial survey of the east coast of Greenland in a search for a suitable site for an airdrome on the far-northern ferry route to Britain.

Capt. James H. Rothrock, a veteran of the North Atlantic run, piloted the plane. In September, two B-24's of the service were employed in transporting a portion of the Harriman mission to Moscow by way of Great Britain. On the Scotland-to-Moscow leg of the journey the two planes, piloted by Ma. Alva L. Harvey and Lt. Louis T. Reichers, took a circular route north of the Scandinavian peninsula and flew a nonstop distance of 3,150 miles before reaching the Soviet capital.

From Moscow, Major Harvey proceeded on a globe-encircling homeward flight by way of Cairo across central Africa, the South Atlantic, and up through Brazil to the United States. Both of these exploratory flights involved hazardous landings at undeveloped airfields barely able to accommodate the heavy bombers and take-offs into all kinds of weather without briefing, weather information, adequate communications, or maps.

Their importance was generally overlooked in the excitement of the greater events of the war; but the recorded experiences and observations of the two pilots were of the utmost value to the AAF in planning for the development of two of its major overseas air lanes--the Pacific and the South Atlantic routes. The aircraft ferried over the North Atlantic route to Britain prior to American involvement in the war were, with few exceptions, purchased for cash on orders placed in 1939 and 1940.

Of the approximately 2,400 planes of American manufacture delivered by air or by surface vessel to British forces in the United Kingdom or in the Middle East between the passage of the Lend-Lease Act and the end of 1941, less than 100 were sent under lend-lease. Aircraft purchased during the cash-and-carry period and scheduled for delivery in 1941 were earmarked chiefly for service in the British Isles, and thus the earliest ferrying activity of the AAF, like its initial overseas transport service, was marked by a focus on the North Atlantic route.

At the same time, important steps had been taken during 1941 toward the development of a South Atlantic air route joining the United States to Africa and the Middle East. Compared with the 2,700 miles that lay between northern Maine and Great Britain along a direct route through Newfoundland, 10,000 miles separated Miami from Cairo. An airplane leaving southern Florida traveled 4,000 miles in a southeasterly direction before reaching Natal on the Brazilian bulge. Pivoting at Natal, it has to traverse an additional 6,000 miles in order to reach Cairo.

But compensating in part for the great length of the southern route were certain favorable geographical factors. It had the advantage of year-around flying weather, while over the North Atlantic route ferrying and transport operations were seriously hampered or even shut down altogether by bad weather conditions during the winter. Most of the southern route lay over two great land masses, the South American and African continents. Through the Caribbean the Antilles chain formed convenient steppingstones from Florida to the Guyanas.

Transcribed by Patrick Clancey HyperWar Foundation



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