20 June 1941

Insignia, United States Army Air Forces, 1941–1947
Major General Henry H. Arnold, 1941.

20 June 1941: The Department of War established the United States Army Air Forces. The new organization consisted of Headquarters Army Air Forces, the newly-formed Air Force Combat Command, and the existing United States Army Air Corps. The U.S.A.A.F. was placed under the command of Major General Henry Harley (“Hap”) Arnold, Chief of the Air Forces.

At the end of 1941, the U.S. Army Air Forces had a strength of 354,161 (24,521 officers and 329,640 enlisted) and 12,297 aircraft, with 4,477 of these classified as combat aircraft. Over the next 3 years, personnel would increase to a peak of 2,411,294. The number of aircraft reached a maximum 79,908 by July 1944.

Organization chart of the U.S. Army Air Forces, March 1942.

The most advanced aircraft in the inventory of the Army Air Forces at its inception were the Boeing B-17C/D Flying Fortress heavy bomber, the North American B-25 Mitchell and Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers, Lockheed P-38D Lighting, Bell P-39D Airacobra and Curtiss Wright P-40B Warhawk fighters, and the Douglas C-39 transport. Many older designs remained in service.

A Boeing B-17C assigned to Wright Field in pre-war natural metal finish. (NASM)
North American Aviation B-25A Mitchell medium bomber of the 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), circa 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin B-26 Marauder, 18 September 1941. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed P-38D Lightning, 1941. (SDASM)
Bell P-39C Airacobras, 1941. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)
A flight of six Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 9:00 a.m., 1 August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas C-39 (U.S. Air Force)

On 18 September 1947, the United States Army Air Forces was detached from the United States Army and became a separate military service, the United States Air Force.

On 21 December 1944, General Arnold was promoted to a five-star rank, General of the Army. On 7 May 1949, his rank was officially changed to General of the Air Force.

General of the Army Henry Harley Arnold, United States Army Air Forces.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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