World War II: General Carl A. Spaatz

Carl Spaatz during World War II
General Carl A. Spaatz, US Air Force. US Air Force

Carl Spaatz - Early Life:

Carl A. Spatz was born at Boyertown, PA on June 28, 1891. The second "a" in his last name was added in 1937, when he grew tired of people mispronouncing his last name. Accepted to West Point in 1910, he earned the nickname "Tooey" due to his resemblance to fellow cadet F.J. Toohey. Graduating in 1914, Spaatz was initially assigned to the 25th Infantry at Schofield Barracks, HI as a second lieutenant. Arriving in October 1914, he remained with the unit for a year before being accepted into aviation training. Traveling to San Diego, he attended the Aviation School and graduated on May 15, 1916.

Carl Spaatz - World War I:

Posted to the 1st Aero Squadron, Spaatz took part in Major General John J. Pershing's Punitive Expedition against Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Flying over the Mexican desert, Spaatz was promoted to first lieutenant on July 1, 1916. With the expedition's conclusion, he transferred to the 3rd Aero Squadron at San Antonio, TX in May 1917. Promoted to captain that same month, he soon began preparing to ship out to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force. Commanding the 31st Aero Squadron when he arrived in France, Spaatz was soon detailed to training duties at Issoundun.

With the exception of one month at the British front, Spaatz remained at Issoundun from November 15, 1917 to August 30, 1918. Joining the 13th Squadron, he proved a skilled pilot and quickly earned promotion to flight leader. During his two months at the front, he downed three German aircraft and earned the Distinguished Service Cross. With the war's end, he was sent first to California and later Texas as the assistant department air service officer for the Western Department.

Carl Spaatz - Interwar:

Promoted to major on July 1, 1920, Spaatz spent the next four years as air officer for the Eighth Corps Area and commander of the 1st Pursuit Group. After graduating from the Air Tactical School in 1925, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Air Corps in Washington. Four years later, Spaatz achieved some fame when he commanded the Army aircraft Question Mark which set an endurance record of 150 hours, 40 minutes, and 15 seconds. Orbiting the Los Angeles area, Question Mark remained aloft through the use of primitive mid-air refueling procedures.

In May 1929, Spaatz transitioned to bombers and was given command of the Seventh Bombardment Group. After leading the First Bombardment Wing, Spaatz was accepted at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth in August 1935. While a student there he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Graduating the following June, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Air Corps as assistant executive officer in January 1939. With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Spaatz was temporarily promoted to colonel that November.

Carl Spaatz - World War II:

The next summer he was sent to England for several weeks as an observer with the Royal Air Force. Returning to Washington, he received an appointment as assistant to the chief of Air Corps, with the temporary rank of brigadier general. With American neutrality threatened, Spaatz was named chief of the air staff at Army Air Force Headquarters in July 1941. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into the conflict, Spaatz was promoted to the temporary rank of major general and named chief of the Army Air Force Combat Command.

After brief tenure in this role, Spaatz took command of the Eighth Air Force and was charged with transferring the unit to Great Britain to commence operations against the Germans. Arriving in July 1942, Spaatz established American bases in Britain and began flying raids against the Germans. Shortly after his arrival, Spaatz was also named commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces in the European Theater. For his actions with the Eighth Air Force, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. With the Eighth established in England, Spaatz departed to lead the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa in December 1942.

Two months later he was promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant general. With the conclusion of the North Africa campaign, Spaatz became deputy commander of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. In January 1944, he returned to Britain to become the commander of US Strategic Air Forces in Europe. In this position he led the strategic bombing campaign against Germany. While focusing on German industry, his bombers also hit targets across France in support of the Normandy invasion in June 1944. For his accomplishments in bombing, he was awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy for achievement in aviation.

Promoted to the temporary rank of general on March 11, 1945, he remained in Europe through the German surrender before returning to Washington. Arriving in June, he departed the following month to become commander of US Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific. Establishing his headquarters on Guam, he led the final US bombing campaigns against Japan utilizing the B-29 Superfortress. In this role, Spaatz supervised the use of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the Japanese capitulation, Spaatz was a member of the delegation that oversaw the signing of the surrender documents.

Carl Spaatz - Postwar:

With the war over, Spaatz returned to Army Air Force Headquarters in October 1945, and was promoted to the permanent rank of major general. Four months later, following the retirement of General Henry Arnold, Spaatz was named the commander of the Army Air Forces. In 1947, with the passage of the National Security Act and the establishment of the US Air Force as a separate service, President Harry S. Truman selected Spaatz to serve as the first Chief of the Staff of the US Air Force. He remained in this post until his retirement on June 30, 1948.

Leaving the military, Spaatz served as a military affairs editor for Newsweek magazine until 1961. During this time he also fulfilled the role of National Commander of the Civil Air Patrol (1948-1959) and sat on the Committee of Senior Advisors to the Air Force Chief of Staff (1952-1974). Spaatz died on July 14, 1974, and was buried at the US Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs.

Selected Sources

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: General Carl A. Spaatz." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: General Carl A. Spaatz. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: General Carl A. Spaatz." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).