Mitchell, William

Mitchell, William (Billy Mitchell), 1879–1936, American army officer and pilot, b. Nice, France. He enlisted (1898) in the U.S. army in the Spanish-American War and received a commission in the regular army in 1901, serving with the signal corps. Rising during World War I to the rank of brigadier general, he organized and ably commanded the American expeditionary air force. After the war, he became assistant chief of air service in the U.S. army, and, as an advocate of airpower, argued vehemently for a large independent air force. He urged the military potential of strategic bombing, airborne forces, and polar air routes, and created a national issue when, to demonstrate the superiority of airpower, he directed the sensational sinking (1921–23) of several warships in prearranged tests. However, his sharp public criticisms of military leaders for neglect of airpower led to his court martial (1925); he was sentenced to a five-year suspension from duty and forfeiture of pay, but resigned (1926) from the army. He continued to promote airpower as a civilian, but not until World War II were his main ideas adopted. Mitchell's writings include Winged Defense (1925) and Skyways (1930).

See biographies by I. D. Levine (1943, repr. 1972), R. Burlingame (1952), and A. F. Hurley (1964); B. Davis, The Billy Mitchell Affair (1967).

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