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Kaufmann, J. E. and H. W. Kaufmann. The Sleeping Giant: American Armed Forces Between the Wars. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.
Introduction and Acknowledgments; maps; charts; diagrams; bibliography; Abbreviations; index.
Following the War to End All Wars, the armed forces of the United States promptly began a long slide into weakness and stagnation. No branch of service was immune from budget cuts and personnel reductions, but the Army in particular suffered almost total emasculation. During the 1920s and 1930s the military strength of the US sank so low that, according to some estimates, America ranked only seventeenth in the international balance of power. During those turbulent inter-war years, as isolationism and military cut-backs reinforced each other, the utter weakness of the US completely destroyed any shred of American credibility in deterring expansionism, aggression, and worldwide conflict.
Husband and wife team J. E. and H. W. Kaufmann (who also collaborated on Hitler's Blitzkrieg Campaigns) have assembled a far-ranging assortment of information regarding the condition of the American military between the wars. They provide an overview of the general military policies of the US and also provide pages of detailed data on topics such as the calibre of coast defense artillery and the nuances of annual fleet exercises. Among recurring threads is the almost comedic theme of inter-service rivalry over air and coast defense issues.
The navy's mission was to engage enemy naval units at sea. The dispute concerned whose aircraft would engage the enemy off the coast. Clearly, it would fall to the Air Corps to intercept enemy aircraft approaching the coast, but which service should launch air strikes against their carriers? To avoid relinquishing its bases to the army, the navy converted them into fleet units, claiming that their aircraft served the fleet. Meanwhile, the Air Corps requested four-engine, long-range aircraft to patrol off-shore (Craven and Cate 1948, 64). Relations between the two services became strained when Admiral William Standley became CNO and terminated the Pratt-MacArthur agreement in 1933. Within a few years, the navy developed a formidable force of amphibian planes, challenging the army's coast-defense role. General Andrews, head of GHQAF in 1935, argued that the Air Corps' mission was to intercept the enemy as far out to sea as possible (Perret 1993, 30).
The Air Corps had attempted to prove its ability for locating and destroying ships at sea ever since Mitchell's spectacular demonstrations in the 1920s. Several months after the Pratt-MacAruthur agreement, the Air Corps was offered another chance to prove its skills. On August 10, 1931, the old freighter Mount Shasta was towed fifty-five miles off the Virginia Capes by the army mine planter General Schofield. On August 11, a squadron of nine bombers from Langley Field flew out to sea but lost its way in bad weather. During a second attempt, on August 14, the squadron's small, 300-pound bombs only succeeded in setting the ship afire. The Coast Guard cutter Mascoutin was left the task of finishing her off. On the sidelines, the navy and media jeered the army flyers. Before the end of the year, the Coast Guard towed another relic, the Haines, out to sea and let it sink. The 2nd Bomb Group bombed it successfully this time, even though the flyers could not see their target very well beneath the surface of the ocean. Due to these exercises, General Foulois received permission to open a school at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., to train his aviators in coast defense and over-water operations in 1932 (Shiner 1983, 56-58; Maurer 1987, 228).
Given these inter-service rivalries, the lack of funds, fitful development and integration of new weapons (like tanks, aircraft, and aircraft carriers), a general uncertainty over the shape of modern warfare, and -- most importantly -- public and political mandate for peace through disarmament, the United States was completely unprepared when World War II erupted in 1939. The Kaufmanns, in their concluding chapters, explain that only a few last-minute decisions and building programs, introduced in the nick of time in the second half of the 1930s, saved the nation from being equally unprepared when the war finally reached American territory in December 1941.
Despite being somewhat disjointed and repetitive in the opening chapters, this is an interesting synthesis of works on the inter-war years. Highlights of personalities and events such as Billy Mitchell, the emergence of air power, Douglas MacArthur as Chief of Staff, development of amphibious landing doctrine, and debates over policy and strategy. Specifications of coast artillery defenses and various aircraft and AFVs. Tantalizing glimpses of the youthful activities of WWII figures such as Eisenhower, Mark Clark, Halsey, Hap Arnold, and others.
Available through mail order booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Praeger Publishers for $55.
Thanks to Prager for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 18 November 1996
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