When Curtis LeMay "bombed" Dayton

The 'Dayton' Lesson for America's Shrinking Military

It was simply called the "Dayton Exercise" and for obvious reasons it was kept secret for decades. It was also one of the clearest examples of the trouble the United States encounters when it decides to precipitously draw back its military in a troubled world.

.. On Aug. 19, 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their first atomic bomb, years before U.S. intelligence believed they would. Six weeks later, Mao Zedong's communist army took control of China. Eight months after that, the North Koreans crossed the border and quickly crushed U.S. and South Korean forces. Things have a way of changing when you least expect it.

One year after World War II, the U.S. had placed its strategic nuclear advantage in the hands of a new entity called the Strategic Air Command (SAC). It made sense to hand the country's nuclear punch over to this new branch of the Air Force, since only that service branch had the delivery system and prior experience. The B-29s of SAC were meant to so petrify any foe that they would never consider an attack on the U.S. The reality was that the new command was a shockingly disorganized, ill-equipped, nonfunctioning organization. Worse, no one seemed to care.

In 1948, the commander of SAC was replaced by Gen. Curtis LeMay, who had proven himself the ultimate problem solver in World War II, first in Europe and then in the Pacific. LeMay immediately understood the severity of the problem. He also comprehended the constantly changing geopolitical landscape.

So he walked into his office in Omaha, Neb., on one of his earliest days on the job and ordered every single bomber in SAC to take off immediately and electronically "bomb" Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Compared with a real war, this should have been a cakewalk. Crews would not have to fly over an ocean, nor would they be flying into unfamiliar or unfriendly territory. Everyone knew Wright-Pat. It was a relatively short, peaceful distance away. The control tower in Dayton would be able to track the trajectory of each plane's "bombs" by radar.

But it turned out that many of the planes couldn't even take off. The best mechanics had left the service for higher-paying and easier civilian jobs after the war ended, leaving SAC's planes in woeful condition. Of the planes that could get to Dayton, not one was able to hit the target. Not one. For obvious reasons, the results were kept classified.

... The Dayton lesson serves as a cautionary tale. The next time some unforeseen event threatens the mainland as the U.S. is slashing its military budget, this country won't have the luxury of time to rebuild what it will no doubt need.
Comment: Image and article on the B-36. On 8/19/1949 ... this boy was born!

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