Log In

Billy Mitchell Edit Profile

general , military

William "Billy" Mitchell was a United States Army general who is regarded as the father of the United States Air Force.


Billy Mitchell was born the son of a financier, railroad magnate, and congressman from Wisconsin on December 29, 1879, in Nice, France, where his parents were residing temporarily.


Billy Mitchell graduated from Columbian College of George Washington University, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. He then enlisted as a private at age 18 in Company M of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment on May 14, 1898, early in the Spanish–American War. Quickly gaining a commission due to his father's influence, he joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps.


Early in 1914/1915 Mitchell became convinced of the potentials of aviation; he learned to fly in 1916. Airplanes were then assigned to the Signal Corps and

Mitchell for a while commanded its tiny aviation section. He was sent to Spain early in 1917 as military observer, and when the United States entered the European war he transferred to Paris. Mitchell visited the front on his own initiative and learned tactics, organization, and supply problems from Major General Trenchard of the Royal Flying Corps. He apparently influenced French Premier Ribot's request to President Wilson in May 1917 for an American force of 4,500 airplanes. The energetic flyer met General Pershing upon the latter's arrival in France, and by July 1917, helped frame the American Expeditionary Forces' aviation program. Mitchell next received command of the Air Service of the Zone of the Advance, placed first under the I Corps of the First Army, and later of the First Army Group; in the process he rose in grade from major to brigadier general. In September 1918, he commanded a force of 842 airplanes during the American army's reduction of the St. Mihiel salient, and in October supported the Meuse-Argonne offensive by striking at German land forces with more than 500 bombers. Mitchell viewed the armistice on November 11, 1918, as an untimely interruption in his ambitious plans for strategic bombardment of Germany and large-scale deployment of paratroops.

After the Great War, Mitchell was thwarted in his endeavors to create an "independent' air force through normal service channels, and he appealed instead to the American public. In a series of spectacular aerial displays he demonstrated in the mid-1920s that the airplane had rendered the battleship obsolete, but this "lesson” was to await fruition almost two decades. Further criticism of the war and navy departments resulted in a spectacular court-martial trial and Mitchell's resignation on February 1, 1926. The impatient pioneer of martial aviation died on February 19,1936, in New York City; Admirals Andrew Browne Cunningham at Taranto and Isoroku Yamamoto at Pearl Harbor were to vindicate Mitchell's courageous prognostications.