tv 1921 Aerial Bombing Tests CSPAN June 27, 2021 2:00pm-3:01pm EDT
the development of american affected the development of american military aviation and influenced a shift between sea and air power. the military aviation museum in virginia beach, virginia hosted this program and provided the video. in one hour, jerry eissler discusses his book, jim bridger, trailblazer of the american west. bridger was a trainer and guide who traveled across the western wilderness from the 1820's to 1868. in two hours, a colorful hour-long west german documentary from the cold war era covers president kennedy's june, 19 63 visit to several cities, culminating in the historic, ich bin ein berliner speech. chris: i am the museum director and tonight we will be talking about billy mitchell and tests
with our special guest from wisconsin. i would like to introduce our speaker. chris kolakowski and he was the director of the macarthur memorial in norfolk. he's a contributor to a magazine and journal. he assumed the position of director at the wisconsin veterans museum when i arrived here at the museum in virginia beach so chris and i have not met in person but he did great work with my predecessor through the world war ii heritage alliance that exists here in virginia, a great program. he has been there since december, 2019. so i hope you will welcome virtually chris, who will take a
look back at an important event here in our region 100 years ago that has interesting wisconsin connections. chris: thank you very much. it is great to be working again with the military aviation museum. i have always been impressed with the operation you have. what jared and i talked about doing this before he left for california and i left for wisconsin, doing something for the centennial of the billy mitchell bombing tests it is great to do that albeit in a different format and from a different place than expected. it is great to see the turnout tonight and i'm looking forward to a great discussion. for those who may not be familiar with the veterans museum, we are the state military museum of wisconsin. we are located in madison, the educational component for the wisconsin department of veterans affairs.
we showcase stories of wisconsin veterans from 1861 to the present. we believe every veteran has a story and wisconsin was there and the still matters. it is with those themes in mind, we are going to talk about one of the more famous wisconsin veterans in history, billy mitchell, and what he did a hundred years ago this summer in the tests in the atlantic in june and july of 1921. i have a formal presentation we will do and then i look forward to a great discussion and knowing some of the folks who are probably in the crowd tonight i am looking forward to a really good discussion once we get done. without further ado, we will get going. if you get nothing else out of this presentation tonight, i want you to think about these three points. the atlantic bond test in june and july of 1921 off cape henry, 50 miles east of cape henry,
were a major aviation milestone. lunch went into the tests and from them much load as well. -- much went into the tests and from that much load as well. -- much flowed from them as well. you see this in the navy and in the air force so this is a major milestone, not just a publicity stunt but a major aviation milestone, and it should be regarded as such. it also proved the airplanes alone could sink ships, so late from the air. this is -- soul -- solely from the air. this is the first time this had been done. it was also a personal time for wisconsin's billy mitchell, and not something that should be noted. the other thing is, it foreshadowed the future, and impacted the development of american military aviation. if you get nothing else from the program tonight, those are the three essential points of light
does -- points of why what happened 100 years ago this summer matters a great deal. before we talk about the tests and how they were conducted and what happened off the coast of virginia in the summer of 1921, let's set the stage and background here for the tests. 1921, it is the end or just after world war i that ended in november, 1918. powered flight has been around for less than 20 years, for 18 years since the wright brothers flew the first airplane in december, 1903. the royal air force is three years old in 1921. the air force does not exist. it is the army air service. it is one branch of the u.s. army at this point. really aviation, particularly powered flight, is still very much in its infancy.
for those of you familiar with the collection of the aviation museum you get a sense of that when you go to the world war i hanger there -- hangar there. that is the cutting edge of aviation technology in many ways in 1921 when these tests take off. one of the other components to this is after world war i there is a sense of retrenchment is the term they use and we would call today budget reductions or budget constraints. in the 1920 defense act, it sets a new structure for the postwar u.s. army and a new structure for the postwar u.s. navy. it shrinks the defense pie from what it was even before world war i into what to expect will be what we would call after the cold war and you've probably heard the term, peace dividend. even though they did not use the term that is basically what it
is, the war to end all wars has been fought and won in 1918, world war i. so the idea of meeting a massive military establishment in the future is not just something that united states national mood is willing to support. none of this matters a great deal. with the defense pie shrinking, -- now, this matters a great deal because with the defense pie shrinking it affects all of the services. the army is having debates over the future of technology that had been revealed and world war i, things like the airplane, the tank, the internal combustion engine, trucks, mechanized warfare. this is about the time the tank corps goes into hibernation and people like george patton go back to the calvary. billy mitchell, the deputy director of the air service is advocating strongly for increased and independent air force like with the british have and realizes that he is
advocating the airplane in future wars is going to be a decisive or the decisive tool and the decisive weapon in future warfare. it is the big strategic debate within the army over, how to structure itself and how to prepare for whatever the future may be in the next 10-15 or 20 years. on top of all of that, the united states navy is undergoing a major naval expansion, partly fueled by the 1916 cable bill which had started modernizing and expanding the navy. had it gone through it would have made the united states navy the most powerful, in terms of the number of hulls, and the world at the time. so you have naval expansion on one hand, the navy is trying to expand. on the other hand you have the army trying to figure out what it is going to be in the future from an air and ground perspective. you have these plans colliding together in the defense -- in
the constrained environment of the 1920 defense act. the navy realizes mitchell's arguments and the arguments of the army for air, and there are naval aviators as well pushing this, these arguments, might be a threat to the expansion of the service fleet. so they very quietly in the summer of 1920, in chesapeake bay, anchor an old battleship. and they run a few bombing tests on the island -- the uss iowa to see what the airplane really is. they tried to do some experiments quietly. they also have marine and naval aviators doing tests to see what is there. and at the end, wisconsin natives william lakey -- leahy will summarize in the report and conclude it is impossible for airplanes to sink ships. well, that report gets leaked to
the press and gets leaked to congress. very quickly becomes clear that it was not a real test. what the navy had been using was low, slope biplanes. more importantly, they have been -- they had not been dropping real bombs. they had been dropping other concrete bombs or basically big sandbags, the weight of bombs. onto the iowa. the idea was to hit the targets and they were measuring more precise bombing than anything else. but it did not really prove anything. in fact the only damage it would do to the eye what was a few dents here and there in the deck and it could not have done anything more. so there are a lot of people -- and mitchell sees this and a lot of airpower advocates seize on this and say this is not real. you cannot say that without using live ordinance. congress gets involved. in the early months of 1921, as a harding administration takes
over from the wilson administration, passes a resolution, demanding the navy provide and do a real test, use life -- live ordnance, using live surplus ships to see what is possible. let's put this to the test. the tests are planned for the summer of 1921 with follow-ups later which we will discuss but the main focus of the presentation tonight is what happened in the summer of 1921. that is how we get to the tests, how we get this set up for the summer of 1921. having explains the background, let's talk about what the navy -- because the navy will run the tests. let's talk about what the navy is going to do and how they will structure this. then we will look at who is involved and some of the details as we set the stage for what is going to happen later in the summer. the plan is this, they are going
to anchor several captured german ships 50 miles east of cape henry and cape charles, 50 miles east of the mouth of the chesapeake bay. they will run tests over a series of days that will involve attacks on the ship. they will involve strafing attacks, bombing with various sizes of bombs. i will show you some of that in a few minutes. the navy surface fleet and most of the navy establishment views this as an ordinance test to test what modern bombs are capable of against ship designs. the air people want to sink the ships. so almost immediately you have a conflict of objectives. but everybody realizes there is value in determining testing strafing and bombing and doing a
methodical operation to see what is possible. people still really do not understand or don't have a concept yet of what is possible so they are going to do that and they will start with lighter ships and i will show you the ships in a minute so you see what i mean, then they go progressively heavier and they will have one of each major type of ship available in the fleet at the time. after each wager attack, -- after each major attack they are going to do this methodically, naval observers will go aboard and assess the damage, see what happened, and try to get some sense as to what might've happened had this been wartime conditions. so the navy is planning a very methodical scientific experiment in some ways to see what would happen. the german ships that are going out are going on a one-way ticket. the entire atlantic fleet will be out there to observe and also, in case something does not work. in case the planes cannot get the job done, the atlantic fleet battleships are there and some
of the battleship gunners are preparing or itching at the prospect of getting gunnery practice. last but not least, this test has a lot of visibility to it. the press covers it. mitchell has cameramen and there is video on the ships. they did not really want up at the army definitely did. there are also vips, senior officers of the army and the navy, secretaries of the navy, the secretary of war, the secretary of the navy and various politicians, senior admirals and senior generals, a lot of people are going to be here for this. this is a major test, and everybody is interested. there is a lot everyone realizes will flow from whatever the results may be. so there is a tremendous amount of interest. let's talk about the targets. let's talk about who is involved. you can see the four ships involved, u-117, the submarine
that had done a lot of damage to american commerce off the east coast during the first world war and surrendered after the war. a destroyer, an army cruiser frankfurt and the battleship os tfriesland. all our combat veterans and all were surrendered by germany in 1918. there are a lot of misconceptions about the ships and a lot of people say billy mitchell sank old battleships. that they were worn-out or useless. quite the contrary. all of these ships are 10 years old or less. they are extremely well-built and they have all survived combat and several of them particularly frankfurt and ostfriesland had sustained
damage and the letter -- latter made it back safe and sound. anyone who studies the navy in world war i as i do, i had a great grandfather who was shot at. if you study naval war in world war i realized german ships were some of the best designed and some of the best built of any other combat warships. these are thoroughly modern ships and they stack up very well against american ships of like type. the last point i would make is these ships, even unmanned, anchored offshore, are still extremely well-designed. the german design philosophy, particularly for battleships, was to stay afloat. you can have all the guns in the world that you want, ran the thinking, but the primary objective of a battleship and to a lesser extent an armored cruiser, was to stay afloat.
if you do not stay afloat, you cannot accomplish any mission. so the german designs were some of the best in terms of creating watertight compartments, being able to control flooding, even innately within the design. from a naval architecture standpoint, these are revolutionary ships. these are not old ships, these are not worn out ships by any means. these are worthy targets and worthy measures, for the flyers to take themselves against. so that is something i want to make sure is clear. when you consider these tests, consider these targets, a lot of misconceptions but there's more to it than people think. so who will be involved in the tests? most prominently, people are probably familiar if you're familiar with these tests, you know that mitchell was involved from the united states army. they created the first provisional air brigade. they grabbed most of the available air service forces and
bring them to langley air force base. 125 planes and i will show you pictures of them in a minute, and a thousand personnel under the command of mitchell was still the deputy director of the air service. not so well known is that navy and marine flyers were involved. there were not under mitchell but they would be acting in concert and coordination with mitchell. you can see they are dropping a variety of bombs. i averaged out the types and some would be 100 pounds and some would be 600 pounds but this is basically you can see, they go from small to large, as they go. they are based at langley field. one of the things mitchell realizes as he is starting to train and he assembles his crew by may of 1921. as they train on the chesapeake bay and begin to bomb battleship silhouettes painted on the beach and they bomb islands and they bomb sunken >>
off tangier that have been sunken in gunnery exercises and things like that, one of the things mitchell realizes is, what he terms, the water hammer effect. you can strike the ship directly, and that can work. but you cannot do as much damage or sometimes -- but you can do as much damage or sometimes more damage if you strike next to the ship. kind of like a deft charge against a summary in world war ii, the force of the explosion creates a water hammer. you explode next to and slightly below the ship and the explosion blows up into the whole -- hull, which tends to be less armored than the top part which is designed to repel shell fire. that is something he trains his people on as well. even if you cannot hit the deck, a near miss is as good as a hit because of the water hammer effect, as he calls it. so that is something to keep in
mind. the other thing they realize is the bomb sites are primitive, so level flight for level attacks on these ships is not an effective tactic. so they perfect divebombing at 60 degrees, dive at 60 degrees and dropped the bomb and pull out over the top. again, very familiar for students of aviation in world war ii, but this is one of the first demonstrations they will put on of divebombing. they train this, attacking demi-targets throughout the chesapeake bay in the weeks before the tests begin. everybody understands the importance of the test and mitchell works himself to the bone and at the end has infused everyone in the provisional air brigade with the importance of this. and the importance of this to the future of aviation and the future of a potential u.s. air force or air corps, whatever it may be. so that is who is involved in the tests.
let me show you some of the planes and these will be the main bombers used. the martin mb-2, the most modern bomber in the inventory. you can see they are loading ordnance before what is omissions -- before one of the missions. a twin engine bomber. they will also flight dh for -- dh4's, or a vote fighter similar to what was -- more of a biplane, similar to what was flown over france. the dh4 and mb2 are the primary aircraft used. the same is true of the navy but they will also use early versions of seaplanes as well. there are somedh4's and this is
over langley strip. in the lower left-hand corner you can see some of the hangars and get an idea of the base infrastructure and this gives you an idea of what langley looks like and it sure looks different today. let me run through and we have been talking a lot about people and things, machines, ships. let me talk about people. of course, the leader and the name that comes up first in these tests more than ever or anyone else, and i have used it tonight is wisconsin's billy mitchell . born in milwaukee, his father was a civil war veteran and he served in the spanish-american war in the spanish american unit and was commissioned and they american army and flew. he led the largest air offensive in history in support of ground offensive in argonne. after the war he is the most experienced american aviator.
a leading light for aviation still today, inspiration and in some ways godfather to the united states air force. it is impossible to overstate his stature, and the development of aviation and his importance in the aviation. his mouth can be sometimes his own worst enemy and that is one of the reasons why after the work he is never chief of the air service, there is always somebody over him to keep a thumb on him and it will get him into trouble in 1925. that is a talk for another time. in 1921, billy mitchell there is one person in the army air surface who will do the test and there is only one candidate for that and it is william mitchell, so here he is. the milwaukee airport is named mitchell international airport for billy mitchell. so he is still a very big name appear in the great state of wisconsin.
there are other people here who you may have heard of and i want to run through some of those now. because again, mitchell is a very important name but he is not the only name involved in these tests that will later be prominent. one of the pilots is hap arnold, henry arnold who will later become chief of the army air corps and the army air forces and lead them through world war ii. he will become a five-star general of the army, and then join the air force when it becomes independent, as the only five-star general and air force history, the general of the air force. if mitchell is the godfather of the air force, in many ways hap arnold is the father of the independent air force. so these two important figures in the department of an independent air force are right here at the tests. another one is clayton bissell. he commanded the tent air force
in 1942-1943 and was one of the flight leaders and prominent officers involved in the tests on the army side. if you know about the china-burma india theater and that flying tigers, they had run-ins with clayton bissell and it is bissell's tent air force who help support them and work with them to the best of their ability. he is a major player in the war in asia and world war ii. st. clair streett commands the 13 air force in the pacific in 1944-1945 and after the work he is a key player in developing the strategic air command. it is through him you can draw a direct line from mitchell through him, to the b-52 force that still is on duty today, as part of strategic air command successors. so this is another tied to the modern air force, back to the tests of 1921.
he will be the rearseat observer through all the processes of the tests. senior marine involved in the test is this man who happens to be one of the marine generals i have a great deal of admiration for, roy geiger is one of the marine aviation pioneers. he is probably best known for his time in world war ii when he commanded the cactus air force on guadalcanal in the third amphibious court and that capture of mariana's and then the battle of okinawa. after the death of simon buckner junior in 1945, he is the only marine to command a numbered field army, the 10th army, for five days and then he has replaced by a general. he will be the marine observer for the surrender of japan in 1945. a fascinating character. senior marine aviator of the tests. his deputy is francis mulcahy,
the second ranking marine aviator in the tests and later commands a marine aircraft wing any army aircraft command in ocala and a key air commander during the battle of okinawa. these are the two senior marine aviator's. among naval aviators there is felix stump. many of you probably have never heard of him and he has a forgotten light in the development of naval aviation. he is a carrier commander in world war ii and a task force commander in 1944-1945 if any of you are familiar with a battle on the 25th of october when three groups of carriers are surprised by japanese battleships, the overall commander on the american side of those three groups of light-skinned escort carriers is admiral stump. taffy one, taffy two and taffy three is what the groups are known for and taffy three did most of the fighting.
but the overall american commander that got other airplanes and help to try to coordinate a defense was admiral stump and he gets the navy cross for it. he will later command the second fleet at norfolk in the early 1950's and then retire in the late 1950's. he will be a flyer in these tests as well. those are names you may recognize for other reasons and they are also here 100 years ago this summer. let's get to the tests themselves. round one is june 22. there is the u-117, that morning before she is bombed. the navy draws the first rounds and they will send out a group of three seaplanes and fly, level bomb right over the simmering -- submarine, dropped three small spotting bombs to
gauge went. -- wind. then they turn around and come back and drop three bombs in succession that land right around the submarine. within 15 minutes, u117 is gone. the speed of that shocked everyone. mitchell was watching it from above and knew what was happening. but for everyone on the observing ships, it was -- and amazed on how fast the summary went down. it is not that big a surprise to us, when you consider world war ii and what happened with allied air attacks against u-boats, or what happen with japanese attacks against american submarines, the uss wahoo being one of the more famous ones. but in 1921 that is unknown. no one has ever been able to sink a submarine from the air even at noncombat conditions. when it went down that fast it shocked everyone. after a few days or few weeks they decide to go after g102.
mitchell has been given a free hand and how to attack the destroyer. he is going to experiment with the full capability of the provisional air brigade. so he sends out a two wave attack. the first wave will be the dh4s, the fighters. they strafed the deck and drop like bombs on the deck and try to see what machine guns will do to ships. in other words, sometimes the modern term we would use his mission kill. if you can kill the captain and shoot up the bridge, you might knock a ship out of action, just as easily as if you were to think it. so they make a two wave attack on the g102. in the morning, outcome a squadron of dh4s that mom and strafed the g102 and make a mess. in the early afternoon outcome the mb-2s with 500 and 600 pound
bombs. they will bomb and do this throughout the tests, sending two or three in on a bomb run and wait a minute or two and see what the results of the previous run become apparent, and then send in the next wave. that is what happens here to g102. very quickly, the water hammer has its effect. date drop a bomb down the stack and a pleasant half. after an hour -- down the stack and it blows in half. it is on fire even with no fuel oil or munitions, still on fire. there she goes. those have been unarmored ships. a few days later, the navy, the marines, and the army, go after the first armored ship, the frankfurt. you can see it here with a bomb impacting. this time the navy and marines are given the role of what the
dh4s had played against g102. they bomb and strafe the ship quite a bit. i believe this photograph if you study that closely, it looks like the marines and navy have done their work and have made a mess of the superstructure, but it is still floating. in the afternoon, with 1000 pound bombs, the army, the provisional air brigade, go after frankfurt. the navy had been aboard and seen the damage, and assessed. mitchell flies out, while the navy finishes their assessments, and in the afternoon launches his attacks. frankfurt lasts less than one hour. she is sent to the bottom as well. so, three ships, three targets, three sinkings. but that still leaves the biggest prize of all, the
battleship ostfriesland. here she is on the eve of the final test. you can see they have painted targets, and aiming points in various places on the deck, on the bow and aft turret on the stern. there also aiming points as well on the mast. this is also to help evaluate the trim of the ship, from afar. that is ostfriesland, that is the prize. again, what is a more modern battleships, only 10 years old -- again, one of the more modern battleships, only 10 years old, and a battleship that stocks up extremely well against what is in the american fleet today -- that stacks up extremely well against what is in the american fleet today. everyone understands this litmus test. mitchell says, this was our real test. if we cannot sink the ship, the efforts against the other smaller vessels would be
minimized. in the development of air power against shipping might be arrested for the time being. every understands what the stakes are, but in the air, and on the sea. the first round is july 20. the navy and marines also get the first shots. this is part of their attacks here. they go in with 100 pound and 200 pound bombs and strafed the deck come up on the deck. you can see this from some of their airstrikes here, this is what they do that morning. this is what it looks like that afternoon, when the inspection team goes back to shore. you can see they have made quite a mess of the deck. they have also damaged the aft turret. they have damaged some of the starboard side turrets, and she has a list to port. if you look along the waterline. this is pretty much a mission kill, ostfriesland is taking water when --.
when mitch and and his bombers go in after the first inspection they will do -- when mitchell and his bombers go in after the first inspection they will do some damage as well. the observers noticed that our seems broken, a lot of the welds and rivets have been broken, and ostfriesland is taking on water. you can see it here, the battleship is a mess and this is effectively a mission kill, although she can get home. they freely admit with good damage control, ostfriesland would make it back to port but this is the situation and what the ship looks like on the evening of the 20th. you notice not just the turrets, but the deck plate has been bent by bomb strikes from the navy or marines or mitchell's flyers as well. so this battleship has been seriously wounded. particularly below the waterline.
the water hammer is working. the next day, mitchell and his crew come back with big bombs, first the 1000 pound bombs for the first strike. then you will see later 2000 pound bombs. this is the first strike of the day, to mb-2s have gone in and you can see the effects, one strike off the port and one off the starboard side, both near misses and one bounced off the ostfriesland. the water hammer underneath is hitting that hull from both sides and it is really pushing on it and starting to crumble the hull, like you would a soda can today. this is what ostfriesland looks like late in the morning. that ship on the left is the flagship, which steams over in the intervals between strikes, and puts observers aboard. now the observers have come off and they are getting back, and
that ship esteeming teaming away to a safe distance. what you notice here, ostfriesland the trim, the bow, is more out of water than the stern is. the port side, she is listing to port. you will also notice how dark the back section is, that is scorching, that is damage. that is a lot of serious working over by the plaintiff. -- by the planes. the observers, when they came back, they reported that this was wartime, first, she is out of action and second, there is little chance she would get back to port, she is that badly wounded at this point. so not only do you have a mission kill, you have effectively mortally wounded the battleship already. early afternoon, mitchell and his second flight, another flight of mb-2's 12 this time
carrying 2000 pound bombs each, will arrive at the launch and another strike on ostfriesland, and with mitchell observing, it will make their attacks. you can see here again, the water hammer worked. you can see her direct hits on the battleship. as a matter of fact, mitchell will call up second half of the strike. only six bombs are necessary. as he would write later, when a ship is dealt her deathblow, it is immediately apparent. he saw after the sixth bomb had gone in, that ostfriesland was done for. she begins to list to port. she begins to sink by the stern. and with everybody watching, she begins to roll. she goes from level, listing to port, over on her side, and then over on her back. the stern drops, the bow clause of the sky -- claws at the sky,
and then she is gone. as this happens, streett unbuckle some cells and starts yelling -- unbuckled himself and starts yelling, she is gone, she is gone, as ostfriesland disappears below the waves. billy mitchell and his flyers have done it, something that many people maintain was not possible, but they had done it. mitchell realizes the gravity of what he has just done. he admitted later to being emotional in the moment. he said, we wanted to destroy her from the air, but when it was actually accomplished, it was a very serious and awesome site. -- sight. he knows what he has just done. to celebrate, he buzzes the vips
aboard the transport henderson. this is a photograph of mitchell buzzing the vips. you notice some atlantic fleet tips visible in the distance off to the right. if you look carefully on the deck, you will notice a variety of reactions. many people are cheering and some people are waving their hats. there were several admirals, particularly service fleet admirals, who were openly weeping, and had openly wept at the death of ostfriesland. because they knew the impact, they felt the impact, the power of what had just happened. that is where the title comes from, the admirals left -- wept, with the admirals are weeping aboard the henderson. billy mitchell has done it and his flyers have done it in their theories and techniques have been validated, their techniques
have been successful. that night they threw a at langley to celebrate. -- that night they throw a party at langley to celebrate. this has been called the high water point of billy mitchell's career as an airpower advocate, and i think that is absolutely true. i mentioned later tests, and these will occur in september, 1921, at the chesapeake bay with uss alabama, and then in 1923 with the uss new jersey and uss virginia of cape hatteras. in both cases they will test gas bombs, white phosphorous bombs. that is actually one of mitchell 's planes dropping out phosphorous bomb on the massive alabama to test the effect of incendiaries and the effects of gas on american ships --older american ships but nonetheless american ships, and then mitchell will sink them and send them to the bottom replicating what he had done in the summer of 1921 with ostfriesland and
the other german ships. what are the impacts of what he has done? what are the impacts of these four sinkings off virginia in the summer of 1921? let's look at that, because this is where you draw the line, where you can still see the impacts of the tests, even today. the immediate impacts from the air perspective are very clear. it is a shot in the arm for the development of both airpower and air forces, air units in the army and also in the navy. aviators feel validated. army aviators use these arguments on this momentum, to get the army air service created , the army air corps in 1925 which will later transform into the u.s. army air force in 1941 and become the independent u.s.
air force in 1947. so it is a tremendous shot in the arm for the development of army aviation. it also spurs development of the navy side as well. marine aviators begin to realize the potential of support to ground troops. naval aviators relies in the future, mitchell has proven air will be a part of naval warfare. the question is, to what degree? they also realize, land-based air will be part of naval warfare when they're close to the coast. but when they are in the middle of the pacific or atlantic, they will need airpower with them as well. so that spurs the development of aircraft carriers, and also spurs the development of naval aviation. it spurs the real aircraft carrier development, uss langley, uss lexington and uss saratoga and so on all begin in the late 1920's. i'll get a shot in the arm from what happened off the virginia coast. mitchell has his own part of
this as well because the naval aviators successfully argue, the navy better develop aircraft carriers. because if they don't, billy mitchell and the army air corps will develop aircraft carriers, and the navy does not want that. they do not want the army involved in that, which i get. it is a tremendous shot in the arm for naval aviation, with effects we will see. as i talked about at the beginning, much went into these tests and much has flowed from these tests and these are two major things. to put a fine point on everything i discussed, admiral fullam will later write, the fleet with superior air forces will no doubt win the next naval battle. people will write that shortly after the tests. that navy board that assessed the tests the day after the
sinking of ostfriesland, will say it is clear that the airplane quote is a powerful offensive weapon in war.". when you take those two statements and look forward 20 years, to battles like coral sea, midway, philippine sea, like to golf, -- laitai golf -- gulf, he realized the right. the. does she realize that they are right. the airplane will be important for warfare at sea up to the present day. there are people who disagree. many admirals, particularly service fleet admirals, pushed back on the validity of the results and they argue the shifts arm -- the ships are not maneuvering or defending themselves or conducting damage control. had they been doing that, they would have been able to either dodge the bombs or survive damage, or they would have been able to shoot down all of the attacking aircraft, with
antiaircraft weapons. now, when you consider the air technology of 1921, those are probably legitimate questions, and points to be brought up. but they become --particularly in the aviators' mind, they become less valid as the decades go on. by the time you get to world war i, 1939, 1940, 1941, airplane technology -- surface ship technology has changed too, but airplane technology has changed. go to the museum and compare what is in the world war i hangar with what is in the world war ii hangar and you get it sense of the dramatic change in airplane technology between the sinking of the ostfriesland and the u.s. entry into world war ii. airplanes are faster, more
maneuverable, and can deliver bombs more effectively and faster. it is a whole new ballgame. so, these -- this assumption continues, until it will no longer be true, which we will see here and a second. this assumption continues. and there are many people today, when i talked about doing this talk, some of my colleagues said, the 1921 tests were a publicity stunt, that had no real impact. i argue the opposite. some of this is this lingering attitude here, the ships were not maneuvering or defending themselves, it does not prove anything. but the fact remained, the incontrovertible factory made, and remains. those ships were sunk solely from the air, something that had not been done before. that is the last thing i would point out. the tests for shot at what happens world war ii -- the
tests foreshadow what happens in world war ii. mitchell's feat will be replicated in world war ii. i want to demonstrate the evidence to the contrary that airplanes can kill battleships. the first evidence, and this was done by biplane swordfish, was the attack on the italian naval base taranto in 1940 by british planes. date knock out a significant part of the italian fleet at anchorage that was defending itself. you can see the approach routes and torpedo drops here do a real number on the italian battleships. so that is the rate on taranto november of 1940. the ships are anchored but they are defending themselves.
they knock out a significant part of the italian fleet and you can see damage to several battleships indicated here on the map. then we come to pearl harbor, december 7, 1941. the japanese who had studied the taranto attack and gotten inspiration for the attack on the united states to pearl harbor. this is a famous photograph about japanese attacker. here is the uss arizona who has minutes to live and here's the uss oklahoma, which has already taken torpedo hits and is beginning to list to port and will roll over shortly. as a side note, they have been identifying unknowns including wisconsin unknowns, from the oklahoma, remains that have been recovered after the ship has been raised. they have been able to finally bring those guys home, and bring
about fully identified. -- bring them back fully identified. the ships and harbor were caught by surprise, but fight back, and the ship is conducting damage control as best it can. it is a surprise attack but meets some of the objections of the admirals, that the tests do not matter. in this case you're getting similar results, in different circumstances. then we come to this, three days later. the first ships ever sunk while at sea --open sea -- maneuvering and actively defending itself. force z, the hms repulsed in the hms prince of wales, the most modern battleship and the british fleet at the time, part of the king george the fifth battle cruiser. you can see a level bombing
attack by japanese bombers. in two and a half hours japanese bombers and torpedo planes think repulsed and then sink prince of wales. so now you have what mitchell foreshadowed has come to pass, airplane can knock out modern battleships and battle cruisers. they had been able to knock out battleships and cruisers which have been proven in the mediterranean, but battleships had been inviolate defending themselves in the open sea and now they are no longer -- that is no longer true. so the airplane begins its ascendancy over the battleship bite now. if -- by now. if anyone had any doubts as to the days of the battleship are numbered, i would side the three cases of the three most powerful axis battleships afloat in the last year or year and a half of world war ii. all three sunk solely by
airpower. first, yusashi, one of the most powerful battleships ever built, it took a lot of strikes and bomb hits and torpedo hits to do it, but they did it. it never fired on an opposing ship. it was only american airpower that sunk her in the central philippines, during the battle on the october 24, 1944. that is musashi, and it will sink that evening as a result of the wounds and torpedo hits from american airplanes. the german battleship tirpitz, crippled by airpower and sunk by the royal navy. raf lancaster's with 12,000 pound tallboy bombs dropping around her with the water hammer
effect and direct hits on the deck, she rolls over and it sinks in norway, and this is one of the fatal hits on her on the 12th of november,, 1944 taken from one of the british lancasters. and the ultimate, because he on the trip to okinawa, one of the most -- ultimate kamikaze on the trip to okinawa, the japanese yamato, on april 7, 1945. an admiral who spent his career until 1942 on surface ships, told the battleship admirals and told the air admiral, from wisconsin, taken -- you take him. and in a couple of hours the ship was sent to the bottom, solely by american airpower.
so these events from 1940-1945 demonstrate what mitchell had proven in 1921 is true. it is possible. and it marks the end of the battleship, after centuries as the primary arbiter of naval power, it marks the eclipse of the battleship. if that foreshadowed, in 1921, it is now come to pass. that is a tremendous prophecy and legacy of what happened off the virginia capes in the summer of 1921. let me give you the last word. the sinking of ostfriesland marked the beginning of what would be a slow and for battleships. you have seen that over the last few slides. denny air force history -- then the air force history of world war ii, disputes arose in the
manner in which experiments have been conducted. the reports from the navy tended to deprecate the effectiveness of aerial bombing. but the fact of the sinkings was indisputable. when you think about that last sentence, you realize, arguably one of the most important shipwrecks in the last 100 years, is ostfriesland, because of what she symbolized, the first battleship ever sunk solely by airpower. it proved that air was an important element of warfare going forward. it proved and profited naval war -- prophesied naval warfare would look different in the next conflict than it had in the last. and it gave a shot in the arm to the development of aviation, from the u.s. air force and u.s. army and u.s. air force perspective, and from a navy perspective as well.
in some ways, you can trace the legacy, the seeds planted in direct response to the 1921 tests, have borne fruit, that is still with us today. so when you think about what happened 100 years ago, it seems like a long time ago but it is really not. when you start to trace the impacts and what it inspired and guided, and what it continues to influence today, that makes what happened 100 years ago, worthy of notice, and worthy of reflection. and it was a wisconsin aviator, i have to mention that. it is a wisconsin aviator played an important role in making it happen. if you would like to know more, here are things i highly recommend. douglas waller's book, a question of loyalty, is about a court martial and a good basic biography of general mitchell.
billy mitchell's book, winged defense, includes an extensive account of the sinkings. the naval history site has pictures and accounts and contemporary accounts and assessments of the bombings. if you want to see what happened yourself, the test footage is on youtube. i viewed it as part of preparation for this talk. you can see ostfriesland think for yourself, and some of the other bombing runs of the various ships involved in the tests, as well. so i encourage you to take a look at those. at this point, i'm going to open up for questions. i would like to thank everyone for being here and i appreciate you taking time to learn this important history. i would say, if you have not been to virginia beach, go see the aviation museum. in the next time you're in madison, please come by and see us here at the veterans. museum
-- the veterans museum. keegan, thank you. keegan: you mentioned the end of the battleship was relatively slow in coming that it would take another 20 years for the battleship to really be truly out of it. was that because of the navy's conservative approach, to preparations for future work? or big -- future war? or because airplanes had to get better to truly finish off the battleship? chris: i think it is both. militaries in general, it is an old cliché that militaries try to fight the last war. that speaks to an inherent conservativism and inertia, particularly if you have weapon systems working fine at the time. you are not necessarily in a hurry to replace or upgrade them. that applies to a great extent to the battleship fleet. it applies to other things as
well. i can think of other examples. plus, the airplane, mitchell demonstrated the potential of new technology. but it needed to catch up, it still needed development to truly get to where it needed to be, to take the role that it would ultimately take. i would argue the same thing is true in submarines. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] in 1864, it is an interesting story, a daring attack. but it is another thing like that, where it demonstrates the potential of the new technology, but you still need 50 years of technological development, for the submarine really to come into its own as a weapon. so that is what 1921 is, it foreshadows and shows the potential. it shows with the likely future
is, or what a likely factor will be in the future. the technology is not there yet. it is by 1941 and definitely by 1945. >> i think that is a great analogy to make. that is a story we are all familiar with, where they were pushing just a little past what could be accomplished with the technology of the air. thank you for spending your time with us. thank you everyone who joined us. it was our great pleasure to host everyone for this interesting book at a critical piece of history that sort of change the way -- changed the way wars were fought. thank you for being with us and have a great rest of your evening. >> next on american history tv, jerry enzler discusses his book, "jim bridger: trailblazer of the american west." bridger was a traitor and guide who traveled across t