Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917-1945 / Edition 1

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The U.S. Army entered World War II unprepared. In addition, lacking Germany's blitzkrieg approach of coordinated armor and air power, the army was organized to fight two wars: one on the ground and one in the air. Previous commentators have blamed Congressional funding and public apathy for the army's unprepared state. David E. Johnson believes instead that the principal causes were internal: army culture and bureaucracy, and their combined impact on the development of weapons and doctrine.

Johnson examines the U.S. Army's innovations for both armor and aviation between the world wars, arguing that the tank became a captive of the conservative infantry and cavalry branches, while the airplane's development was channeled by air power insurgents bent on creating an independent air force. He maintains that as a consequence, the tank's potential was hindered by the traditional arms, while air power advocates focused mainly on proving the decisiveness of strategic bombing, neglecting the mission of tactical support for ground troops. Minimal interaction between ground and air officers resulted in insufficient cooperation between armored forces and air forces.

Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers makes a major contribution to a new understanding of both the creation of the modern U.S. Army and the Army's performance in World War II. The book also provides important insights for future military innovation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A powerful book. . . . Johnson convincingly takes aim at the current wishful thinking that a sound defense depends merely on money spent, and that only politicians, not soldiers, are responsible for their lack of preparedness. His powerful and convincing historical analysis offers profound implications for today."—Foreign Affairs

"This book gives great insights into our military's (not just the U.S. Army's) innovative process during the interwar years. As we now find ourselves in a similar interwar period, with similar interwar opportunities for either stagnation or innovation, the book is extremely relevant to today's national defense establishment. There is great insight to be derived from these pages. . . . Johnson has done a superb job of researching his subject. He has written an interesting book based on mountains of documentation. . . . There is much more to Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers than documented history. To the educated reader, this book is a warning for today."—Marine Corps Gazette

"This well documented and convincingly argued book . . . speaks to the follies of extremists in today's airpower versus land power debates."—Naval War College Review

"In Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, David Johnson does an excellent job of taking in the big picture, breaking it down into its parts and then tieing it back together to form a cohesive whole of U.S.Army policy during the interwar period."—Air Power History

"Johnson's nicely researched and well written study is much more than an interesting account of tank and airplane development during the interwar years. Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers is a fascinating intellectual and cultural history of the interwar Army with intriguing implications for our own day. "—Parameters

"Johnson's book should be read and his conclusions debated. His work is timely and relevant to the Army and Air Force today."—Army Magazine

"The subject of Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers is familiar—an interwar army, crippled by austerity and public apathy—fails to modernize and enters the next war unprepared for the challenges it faces. But David E. Johnson departs from traditional interpretations of this scenario. . . . Johnson paints a bleak picture of an Army designed to preserve itself rather than prepare for the next war."—Military Review

"Johnson's densely factual volume is elegantly written. . . . He successfully demonstrates that the United States Army that entered World War II reflected the biases and resistance to innovation that existed throughout the interwar years."—Journal of American History

"A fine place to get a feel for the enormous task of military transformation—and also get a gritty appreciation of the risks involved—is David Johnson's Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers. The War on Terror and accelerating demands for change in the Pentagon . . . make this book extremely relevant. Every military transformer should read it—and reckon with it."—Houston Chronicle

"Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers is a superbly researched and tightly argued work that chronicles the period of transformation of the United States Army from a constabulary force to the military instrument of a major world power. It forces the objective reader to reconsider the notion that America's interwar Army was purely the product of social, political, and fiscal indifference. Perhaps most importantly, it provides a poignant reminder that the destiny of the Republic in the twenty-first century will be inextricably bound up with the vision, wisdom, and professional acumen of its military leaders."—Harold R. Winton, author of To Change an Army: General Sir John Burnett-Stuart and British Armored Doctrine, 1927–1938

"David Johnson has written a must-read for anyone following today's Pentagon debates concerning the culture and budgets of the United States military. He has provided one of the most insightful analyses of the development of the U.S. Army and Air Force between the World Wars with a special set of lessons to be learned about how a bureaucratic military system precludes the best decisions for the good of the nation's overall national security missions."—William A. Owens, Vice Chairman of the Board of Teledesic and CEO of Teledesic Holdings, Ltd.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801488474
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2003
  • Series: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,254,049
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David E. Johnson is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. He is the author of Modern U.S. Civil-Military Relations: Wielding the Terrible Swift Sword and Hard Fighting: Israel in Lebanon and Gaza.

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Table of Contents


Part I. Soldiers and Machines: 1917–1920
1. America, the Army, and the Great War
2. The Tank Corps
3. The Air Service
4. The Army in the Aftermath of the Great War

Part II. Inertia and Insurgency: 1921–1930
5. Peace and Quiet
6. Infantry Tanks
7• The Failed Revolution and the Evolution of Air Force
8. The War Department

Part III. Alternatives And Autonomy: 1931–1942
9. From Domestic Depression to International Crusade
10. Alternatives for Armor
11. Autonomous Air Power
12. A Crisis in the War Department

Part IV: Dying for Change: 1942–1945
13. The Arsenal of Attrition
14. Armored Bludgeon
15. Air Force Triumphant
16. Coequal Land Power and Air Power


Primary Sources

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