In February 1943, as wartime Commander of the U.S. European Theater of Operations, General Frank M. Andrews launched the American strategic air campaign against Germany. When he was killed in an aircraft accident along the Icelandic coast, three months later, he had the central role in directing operations intended to achieve victory in Europe.
His significance, however, does not depend on what "might have been." Instead, it rests on the unique contributions he actually made in his lifetime, preparing the Army's prewar air combat forces for war, and later demonstrating how air forces should be employed within wartime joint theater commands.
Born in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 3, 1884, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1906, and received a second lieutenant commission in the cavalry. He served in the Cavalry at home and overseas until 1917, when he transferred to Signal Corps aviation during World War I. He earned his pilot wings in 1918, then filled a variety of Air Service and Air Corps staff and command billets, as well as assignments in the War Department General Staff. He graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School in 1928, the Army Command and General Staff School in 1929, and the Army War College in 1933.
In fall 1934, Lt. Col. Andrews was commander of the historic 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, when he was detached for special duty in the War Department General Staff, to work on a plan to consolidate for the first time nationwide command over all Air Corps combat units -- bombardment, attack, and pursuit -- by a single air officer, reporting in wartime directly to Army General Headquarters, or GHQ. Afterward, he was selected to be the first Commanding General of that "GHQ Air Force."
The establishment of GHQ Air Force at Langley Field, Va., on March 1, 1935, was recognized as a major milestone in the strategic development of American air power. During four pivotal years at the helm, General Andrews orchestrated sweeping changes to the employment of air combat units, creating the conceptual and material foundations for a modern Air Force. When he introduced the long-range B-17 Flying Fortress into operational service at Langley Field in 1937, GHQ Air Force became the peacetime battle lab for defining the role American air power would play in global war. His GHQ Air Force was the first major step in the evolution of the Army air arm into the postwar United States Air Force.
In summer 1939, only weeks before war erupted in Europe, General Andrews was called to Washington to be Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3. As the Army's chief of Operations and Training, he was the first airman to head a War Department General Staff Division. In fall 1940, he was reassigned to the Canal Zone to organize the air defense of the Panama Canal, creating the first overseas combat air force. In fall 1941, when he was placed in charge of the Caribbean Defense Command, General Andrews became the first airman to lead a joint forces war-fighting command in an overseas theater of operations. His Caribbean Defense Command became the model for later overseas theater commands.
After Pearl Harbor, when the new Army Air Forces (AAF) gained virtual autonomy within the War Department, that advance owed much to General Andrews' efforts in changing War Department attitudes concerning employment of air power, going back to his Langley years and continuing later in Washington.
In fall 1942, General Andrews was assigned to Cairo as commander of all US Forces in the Middle East, establishing Ninth Air Force during his tenure there. In February 1943, he was placed in overall command of the U.S. European Theater of Operations. From his headquarters in London, he directed both the American air campaign against Germany and the planning for the ground forces' invasion of Western Europe. It was his last assignment. His death in a B-24 Liberator on May 3, 1943 was an enormous loss.
In 1945, less than three month before victory in Europe, Camp Springs Army Air Base, Md., was renamed Andrews Field. In 1946, the numbered air forces, whose roots went back to GHQ Air Force, formed the core of the AAF's Strategic Air, Tactical Air, and Air Defense Commands, reflecting GHQ Air Force's bombardment, attack, and pursuit missions. When a separate Air Force was established in 1947, the statutory functions of General Andrews' prewar GHQ Air Force were specifically transferred to the Air Force Chief of Staff. That transfer symbolized his legacy to the new Air Force he did not live to see.