The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL have an extensive display of Army Air Corps memorabilia. Among these items are a number of items representing the infamous WWII Tuskegee Airmen. As you view this pieces, you realize they represent how determination and desire can succeed regardless of the odds. These men, despite the highly prejudiced era, continued to move forward, eventually becoming some of the most successful bomber escorts of World War II.
In the Beginning
Though the actual beginning of the United States Air Force was not until September 18, 1947, their inception began long before this date. The roots for the US Air Force can be traced back to the early part of the 20th Century. Their story begins in August of 1907, three and a half years after the Wright Brother’s initial flight, when the US Army Signal Corps started an Aeronautical Division. Balloons and warships remained the initial focus of this newly organized division. That focus rapidly changed as can be seen by the progression of events listed below:
- 1909 – US Army receives its first airplane from the Wright brothers.
- 1909-1913 – A number of aircraft are tested
- 1913 – In December, the 1st Aero Squadron is formed
- 1914 – In July, Army establishes Aviation Section of the Signal Corps
World War I
Within a few weeks of the establishment of the Aviation Section, Europe found itself in the middle of an intense military struggle, a struggle that would evolve into World War I. Within three years of its onset, the United States would join forces with the Allies. They entered the war with an aircraft industry inferior to those of the other major countries involved. Despite ample funding provided after the start of the war, the United States never reached the level of aviation production experienced by the European countries during the war. Though US aircraft were no match during the war, the airmen they sent to Europe distinguished themselves among both the Allied units and the members of the American Expeditionary Forces.
In May of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson started the Army Air Service and placed it under the command of the War Department. By November, 1918 when the WWI armistice was signed, the US Army Air Service experienced a dramatic increase in their enlisted, officers and aircraft. After the war, however, much of it was disbanded.
Though the outcome of World War I was largely determined by ground forces and a maritime blockade of Germany, the potential for offensive air power operations to support the ground forces had been realized. This newly discovered operational support resulted in the United Kingdom (England) forming their Royal Air Force, independent of their Army and Navy. The United States, however, did not follow suit at that time.
In 1920, the Army Reorganization Act placed the Air Service under the command of the US Army. Then in 1926, the name of the Air Service was changed to Air Corps. The next change for this military organization came in 1935 when the General Headquarters Air Force took command of the US Air Corps tactical units. The US Air Corps, along with the rest of the Army, continued to operate as a small, peacetime operation despite the continued military growth of Japan and Italy.
In the early part of 1941, the War Department began implementing additional changes in the hierarchy for noncombat activities. More changes followed in 1942 when the War Department created three separate US Army Commands:
- Army Ground Forces
- Services of Supply (Changed to Army Service Forces in 1943)
- Army Air Forces
All three of these newly organized commands fell under the Army Air Forces. This was just the beginning of the number changes and expansions of the United States combat forces during WWII. Expansions were such that by wars end, the Army Air Force had become a
major military organization with a number of its own commands, divisions, groups, squadrons, etc.
Post War Birth of USAF
After WWII, military forces began to disband, but the nucleus of the postwar USAF was left untouched. As a result of its impressive performance, in July of 1947, the National Security Act of 1947 officially created the Department of the Air Force, which would be headed up by the Chief of Staff. The date that marked the official beginning of the United States Air Force, as we know it today, was September 18, 1947.