William Lendrum “Billy” Mitchell

William Lendrum “Billy” Mitchell (December 28, 1879 – February 19, 1936) was a United States Army general who is regarded as the father of the U.S. Air Force. He is one of the most famous and most controversial figures in the history of American airpower.

Born in Nice, France, to John L. Mitchell, a wealthy Wisconsin senator and his wife Harriet, Mitchell grew up on an estate in what is now the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, Wisconsin. Mitchell served in France during the First World War and, by the conflict’s end, commanded all American air combat units in that country. After the war, he was appointed deputy director of the Air Service and began advocating increased investment in air power, believing that this would prove vital in future wars. He argued particularly for the ability of bombers to sink battleships and organized a series of bombing runs against stationary ships designed to test the idea.

Mitchell was dispatched by president Harding to West Virginia. His mission was to stop the warfare that had broken out between the United Mine Workers, Stone Mountain Coal Company, the Baldwin-Felts Agency, and other groups after the Matewan Massacre. When fighting broke out, he flew to Kanawha City, where citizens from Charleston and other nearby communities went out to see the airplane in a carnival like setting. He later promoted the idea of using airplanes at Blair Mountain as scouting tools and if need be weapons of war. General Bandholtz ordered Mitchell’s planes disarmed and allowed their use only for reconnaissance missions. This episode marks the only time in U.S. history that air power was deployed against domestic civilian forces.

Published in: on April 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm  Comments Off on William Lendrum “Billy” Mitchell  
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