The story of Gen. Carl “Tooey” Spaatz’s life is more than a biography of one of America’s great military leaders. It is a history of the development of airpower, and a fascinating, inside look at the long, difficult struggle to win autonomy for the U.S. Air Force. Spaatz earned his wings in 1918, when flying was a new and dangerous occupation; aviation school mortality rates were 18 percent. After gaining experience as a fighter pilot during the “Great War,” he became one of the Air Corps’ top pursuit commanders during the 1920s. During the 1930s, he moved over to bombers just as modern, long range aircraft were coming into service. As a senior bomber commander, Spaatz significantly influenced the emerging strategic bomber doctrine. By the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, Spaatz was one of America’s most experienced aviators.
He was at the helm of the evolution of the new American military “strategic airpower” doctrine, which proved to be a decisive factor in World War II. After the Allied victory, planning and launching an independent Air Force would occupy Spaatz for the remainder of his career.
Today’s Air Force bears his indelible stamp. “Tooey” Spaatz was a low-profile leader who was known for his open mind and pragmatic approach, and who was influential in a quiet, forceful way. Possessed of absolute integrity, even when his beliefs were unpopular, he pressed them at the risk of his career.
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AN AIRMAN’S ROOTS
The summer of 1974 will long remain etched in the memories of Americans who experienced it. Abroad, the United States was approaching the climax of a two-decade involvement in Vietnam. The front page of the Washington Post for July 14, 1974, was covered with crises. One column told of two desperadoes who were holding hostages in a District courthouse, demanding an airplane to flee the country. Another described the contempt findings against a police strike in Baltimore. The lead story reported: “Culminating 18 months of investigation and hearings that constituted the most intensive congressional inquiry into alleged White House corruption in American history, a unanimous Senate select Watergate committee called for major reforms to prevent a recurrence of the Watergate affair.”
That July 14th also was the day this country lost a great man, Gen. Carl Andrew Spaatz, graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, air pioneer, outstanding operational commander in World War II, and first Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. He died at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
A memorial service, conducted by a longtime friend, Chaplain Charles Carpenter, was held for him in the chapel at nearby Andrews Air Force Base. After the service, the casket and the funeral party of family and pallbearers were flown to Colorado by Air Force jet, and General Spaatz was laid to rest in the Air Force Academy cemetery.
The youngest children in the party had not known their grandfather as a general. Spaatz retired from military service in 1948, and the youngsters had never seen him in uniform. Was this their kindly, bird-watching grandfather for whom the troops formed alongside the airplane at Andrews Air Force Base? Was it for this peaceful man that the Air Force Academy cadets sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”? What had he done during his eighty-three years on this earth that such homage was being paid him? What had his life meant for the United States Air Force and for his country?
The Spaatz grandchildren were not the only ones who might have asked these last two questions. Among the major combat leaders of World War II, Gen. Carl “Tooey” Spaatz was the least known outside the military. He was a genuinely modest man who abhorred ostentation and rejected offers from publishers to write his memoirs. Such books, he thought, were apt to be self-serving, or at least so regarded. In any event, if he agreed, he would have to write honestly. Inevitably that would hurt some people he liked and admired but with whom he had disagreed on strategic, tactical, moral, or ethical grounds.
At the time of his death, there were tributes from civilian and military leaders here and abroad. Typical were the words of Sir John Slessor, Marshal of the Royal Air Force: “He had an uncommon flair for the really important factor in any issue.… Tooey was one of the relatively few Commanders on either side in World War II to whom can honestly be applied that much overworked word, ‘Great.’ ”
That view was shared by Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver, chief of Britain’s Defense Staff and editor of The War Lords: Military Commanders of the 20th Century. From a list of some hundred nominees, Sir Michael selected forty-three on whom short biographical essays were written by civilian and military historians. Among the forty-three were but five airmen. The only American air commander was Carl Spaatz, whose essay was done by Alfred Goldberg, chief historian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Any assessment of Spaatz must begin with the understanding that he was “his own man.” Neither Marshall, nor Eisenhower, nor Arnold or Portal, not even Churchill, overawed him; he regarded himself unselfconsciously as their peer in the art of making war. Nevertheless he did not have the mental arrogance characteristic of many self-made men. But he had strength and force of character—enough to deal on equal terms with other leaders who were strong and stubborn also. And yet Spaatz was a man of genuine modesty and diffidence. There was a sturdy no-nonsense quality and an unmistakable professionalism about him that could not help but impress. His modesty did not inhibit his capacity to command because he knew his own mind and made free to speak it when necessary.
More than a decade later, a conference on air leadership, sponsored by the Air Force Historical Foundation, considered as possible models for leadership the military careers of Gen. Carl Spaatz and of Rear Adm. William A. Moffett, chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics in the 1920s. Spaatz’s methods and achievements were presented by the author of this book and by Dr. I. B. Holley, Jr., of Duke University. The conferees agreed unanimously that Tooey Spaatz justly deserved his reputation for genius in the organization and command of great air forces. Almost unanimously they felt that Spaatz’s career, extending from the early days of military aviation through two World Wars and culminating in his selection as the first chief of staff of the newly independent United States Air Force, was not a model to guide aspiring young officers.4 This apparent paradox sets some parameters for a study of command as exemplified by Carl Spaatz, taking into account the unique combination of character, personality, experience, and world events by which his years of service were shaped.
On the 14th of March 1865, the mayor of the town of Eberfeld issued in the name of the King of Prussia a passport to Carl Spatz5 and three members of his family—his wife Juliana Amalie Busch Spatz, his daughter Julie, who was three, and Auguste, not yet a year old. Their destination was shown as Philadelphia, the duration of the passport one year, the declared purpose to visit family members in America.6 Carl Spatz never went back.
The reason for Spatz’s emigration to the New World is not recorded. He left behind a family of solid middle-class accomplishment. His father was in the fabric dyeing business and the family was related to the famous Krupp manufacturers through Juliana.7 Family recollection holds that he was a bit of a maverick,8 a nineteenth-century liberal, not much at home in a Germany then being driven toward unification under the hand of Bismarck. It may well have been so, for Carl was educated at the College of Berlin, had been in the printing business, had traveled widely in Europe, and was said to be fluent in several languages.
Carl and Juliana settled for a time in Philadelphia. Soon after they landed, on November 25, 1865, another child, Charles B. Spatz, was born. Carl worked in the printing trade for five or six years before moving to the Pennsylvania Dutch village of Boyertown, about forty miles northwest of Philadelphia. In 1871 he bought a newspaper, which he built into a substantial force in the community and a factor in Pennsylvania politics. Even today, the German flavor of Boyertown is inescapable, though milder than when Carl was publishing the Boyertown Democrat, subsequently known under his son, Charles B., as the Berks County Democrat and now, no longer in the family, as the Boyertown Area Times. At first, the paper was published entirely in German. During the 1870s, Carl began to set the first four pages in German and the last four in English. Later, the order was reversed, and by 1910 only a small column among the back pages was in German.
Carl died prematurely in 1884, leaving his family and the paper in the hands of his son, Charles B. Spatz, then nineteen. Charles, though not as well educated or experienced as his father, inherited Carl’s aptitude for writing and speaking. He was active in community affairs, was a stalwart Democrat, and was twice sent to the Pennsylvania legislature.
The Boyertown area was, and still is, populated largely by people of German extraction and of the Mennonite or Lutheran faith. The Spatzes belonged to the Reformed (Lutheran) Church. The Berks County Democrat of Charles’ day reveals the editor as a liberal, by the standards of his time, who shared the main values of his German-Protestant neighbors. The work ethic was strong among them and the editorial pages of the paper are replete with homilies on the virtues of honesty and manual labor. Also apparent is a strong utilitarian bent and a stout commitment to law and order.11 At the same time, editor Spatz salted it with a wry sense of humor that was passed on to his son, Carl Andrew.
After three years as an editor, Charles apparently felt well enough established to take a wife, Anne Muntz of Reading, Pennsylvania, who also was of German extraction. They were married on January 17, 1889.12 Their first-born was a girl, Flora, the second Carl Andrew, who arrived at the end of June 1891. Following Carl were Ruth, Frederick, and Anne. In personality, at least, Carl Andrew favored his quiet mother. Music played a prominent role in the family’s life, with Flora at the piano while Carl accompanied her on the guitar.
When Charles Spatz was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1896, he took Carl to Harrisburg with him to serve as a page. Charles introduced a resolution on the second day of his first session, proposing to recognize the belligerent rights of the Cubans in the rebellion against their Spanish masters.14 There now was greater concern for foreign policy on his editorial pages than one would expect in a small-town newspaper before World War I. Carl, as the elder son, was put to work around the journal’s plant, where he was exposed to at least a limited view of the world beyond our shores. He was known as Pennsylvania’s youngest linotype operator.