Inducted in 1972
First To Successfully Demonstrate The Capabilities Of Air Power, 1921
1879 – 1936
After World War I, General “Billy” Mitchell argued against the huge reductions being made in military aviation. His contention was that the less costly bomber and torpedo plane had rendered expensive surface warships obsolete. The uproar he stirred reached national proportions. Mitchell insisted his bombers could sink any warship afloat and proved it in July 1921.
Seventy-five miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, his Martin MB-2 bombers sank three ex-German warships, including the supposedly unsinkable “Ostfriesland.” When the exercise was repeated in 1923 near Cape Hatteras, two obsolete United States battleships, “Virginia” and “New Jersey,” met similar fates.
Many experts agreed that there were many lessons to be learned from such tests, but Mitchell was not satisfied with the pace of change. He remained a vocal critic and in 1925 issued a blistering statement accusing the War and Navy Departments of “incompetence, criminal negligence, and almost treasonable administration” of aviation affairs. By such actions, Mitchell made his trial by court-martial inevitable and was convicted on charges of “insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer.” Mitchell resigned from the Army, his prophecies largely disregarded by the government.
In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt, in recognizing Mitchell’s contributions to air power, elevated him to the rank of major general (two stars) on the Army Air Corps retired list and petitioned the U.S. Congress to posthumously award Mitchell the Congressional Gold Medal, “in recognition of his outstanding pioneer service and foresight in the field of American military aviation.” It was awarded in 1946