• Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Featured WW2 History - Women Airforce Service Pilot – The War at Home

Discussion in 'Military History & Tactics' started by jhungary, Apr 6, 2018.

  1. jhungary

    jhungary MILITARY PROFESSIONAL

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    Women Airforce Service Pilot – The War at Home.
    By Gary Locke

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    It was a cold day, I still can feel how cold it was that day even tho it was about 10 years ago, I was just back from the middle-eastern desert, the desert heat is still rubbing off from me. And we are in a pub celebrating our return.

    The pub owner is very generously raised a banned “Welcome Home Hero” over the counter of the bar. It rose so high that everyone going in or getting out is bound to see it. I look at myself from the mirror and constantly think to myself “What is a hero?” That question have been bothering me since

    Fast forward 10 years. An article on Times Magazine make me realise an hero come in all shapes and form, they may not be typical TV hero with a lot of muscle, nor do they require to single-handedly take a machinegun nest, they need not to be chest full of medal, sometime a hero was born because they step forward when they are needed, and no one else dare.

    Below is those women and their extraordinary story

    Women Airforce Service Pilot Group

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    During the beginning stage of WW2, a group of women pilot form the US volunteer to fly RAF ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) ferrying plane between factories to forward airfield in England, the group, headed by Pioneer Pilot Jacqueline Cochran were the first American Women to fly combat fighter in combat like situation in WW2.

    On return to the US on the onset of War, these women formed the Women Auxiliary Training Detachment, providing basic flight training to men and women alike, serving in Federal Civil Employee capacity, a unit like Civil Air Patrol today.

    Another group, led by Test Pilot Nancy Harkness, started the Women Auxiliary Ferry Squadron, virtually doing the same thing Jackie Cochran did in the UK, but with the ATC (Air Transport Command) with the Army Air Force.

    The two group will later merged into one, and renamed Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP)

    What is a WASP?

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    Women Airforce Service Pilot is a federal civilian unit that was not counted toward being a Military Service, unlike WAC (Women Army Corp), they did not have a Military Standing, nor rank. Each WASP was a volunteer, which mean boarding, training and transit is bought and pays for by the WASP themselves.

    Women in the 1940s is still closed and home bound, Although there exist women with pilot training, most of them are limited to rural farming community where they crop dust the field. Other higher profile women and upper class women would also have flight training at that time, but in all, the number of women with prior flight training is really small, and being a volunteer unit, which mean formal Combat Flight Training would be minimal (As WASP did not have the funding from the government), and mostly only women that have flight experience were allowed in the unit, out of more than 25,000 applicant to WASP, Only 1800 were send to training, and only less than 1100 graduated.

    WASP do wear uniform at the time, but none of the WASP have any rank associated with unlike WAC service member. And the unit would train in Army Air Field and hence WASP become a close knit group without a rank structure.

    Since women came from all over the country, where upper class New Yorker would met and bunk with a farm girl from Iowa, a southern debutante would fly with Chinese American women, WASP is a giant melting pots, however, of the almost 1100 WASP, majority were white women,, there were 2 Latin American, 2 Chinese American and 1 Native American made up the minority.

    What did WASP do during WW2.

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    The general idea for the WASP is to free up male pilot so that they could be send to the front line, role such as cargo transport, flight training, fighter/bomber ferrying, test piloting can now be done by women with WASP and every pilot taken over by WASP would mean there are more combat pilot in front line service

    At the beginning, the WASP do only ferry plane across the country, the gradually move on to other field such as cargo transport, and when the need for male pilot increasing for the front line, women pilot from WASP would then take on a more dangerous role such as Target Towing, ferrying damaged aircraft and test pilot.

    During the whole duration of activation, WASP has a distinction that they flew every aircraft in service with the United States Army Air Force.

    WASP Training.

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    WASP pilot was trained at both Huston Municipal Airport, later moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater Texas; the training schedule is the same as their male counterpart. With a minimal 400 flight hours before graduation, later as the war worn on, the minimal hours were change to 200, then finally 100.

    Training condition is poor, with aircraft being source from local source, lodging and food were not provided by the government, which mean these ladies were to pay for their own housing and food. Also there were no military doctor, military insurance for these ladies, which mean any accident occurred during their training and service, they would have to foot the bill themselves, and in some case, their family have to pay for their funeral once they were killed in the line of duty.

    Airport facilities is also substandard, the fire truck and ambulance have to be loan from Ellington Army Airfield, admin and tower staff is always lacking, and most of all these ladies did not even have flight uniform to wear during training, and all garment subsequently purchased is out of their own pocket.

    On the other hand, even tho this unit is a volunteer unit, these women were paid as federal civilian employee, but at a discount rate, a normal male line pilot earn as much as $450 per month with a rank of 2LT, these ladies, have a uniformed discount rate of $3,000 a year, which is about $250 a month.

    WASP in Uniform

    While not being a military unit, uniform code was strictly enacted with WASP, after becoming a WASP member, all women are to wear 2 set of uniforms on all times, and have to follow a grooming standard that was used by WAC. Uniform expense is out of pocket.

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    Service Dress Blue – A parade uniform, a military style dress uniform for WASP member, it equivalent to the modern day Air Force Dress Blue uniform. With a beret, blue jacket with WASP insignia and flight badge, noticeably without ranking insignia (as WASP have no rank) white blouse, black ties, black handbag, blue skirt, beige pantyhose and court shoes.

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    Service Khaki – in use as flight uniform, instead of combat overall, WASP uses khaki set slack uniform as their flight suit, later on, coverall was introduce to high altitude flight.

    Political Turmoil

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    While it is a welcoming move to free up male pilot for front line service, WASP was not highly supported by the administrative branch.

    While the administrative branch have divided into 2 separate group (3 if you also counted those who does not support the establishment of WASP in the beginning)

    While one group would prefer to move the whole WASP command structure to WAC, by which it will militarise WASP, but the move is blocked because there are no service flight status to be given to WAC, those plan was not considered.

    Another camp would outright militarize WASP, however, since USAAF pilot is an Army Soldier back then, there are no special separation to the male counterpart, which mean there should also not be any separate female pilot group exist for the Military. Which would be logical to convert to WAC, but as said before, no flight status was granted by WAC, hence that is not possible.

    Noted that many male pilot and politician did not support WASP at all, due to the fact that WASP establishment would mean those male pilot formerly doing the WASP job would be send to the front line duty, on the other hand, those male civilian pilot would be worse off, because once WASP move into their position, they would lose their federal deferment and instead of serving in the Army Air Force, those pilot would be drafted and serve in the Army, Marine as infantry, a job not really admired by the male civilian pilot.

    On the other hand, the general political environment back in 1940 is that women should stay at home and take care of the family, while the man was out in Europe fighting a war. And woman that wear uniform would be consider lesbian or a prostitute that cannot find a husband, or the husband did not manage his household so their wives are out working a man’s job.

    The battle at home, the sabotage.

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    During the summer of 1943 at Camp Davis, the disagreement between WASP and their Male Pilot stationed in Camp Davis reaches a new height, after 2 WASP has been killed during a flight mission, WASP Director Jackie Cochran launched a personal investigation as to what caused the crashes, and suspected foul play, and suger was indeed put to the fuel to seize the engine mid flight, causing an engine shutdown to which leading to the plane was crash landed and killed Pilot Betty Davis and Mabel Rawlinson

    Although the disagreement and discrimination exist long before that day, where WASP member were ask to fly those aircraft that was taken off flight line due to battle damage without temporary or urgent repair, leading to a few crash landing and mid-air engine shutdown. But an act of active sabotage is first of the kind, which was before fragging is invented.

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    Nevertheless, Cochran did not report the finding to the chain of command, fearing any further repercussion from the male counterpart and also the name of WASP and to some extend, the Army. The incidents was let go without any punishment nor any official investigation.

    At war end, no hero welcome.

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    Nonetheless, WASP continues to fly their mission on Home Front, near the end of WW2, in the winter of 1944. When it’s apparently clear that Allied had achieve undoubtedly Air Supremacy over both Germany and Japan, the need of frontline pilot dwindle, and call for the whole existence of WASP into question.

    At one point, WASP wanted to continue to fly, but on the other hand, pilot were not needed overseas and returned pilot without flight status would be moved to infantry, and basically, the men wanted their job back once they were rotated back stateside, or face draft board and serve in ground units.

    To that end, the push to disband WASP a=has gain traction. And now with the war effort have been focusing elsewhere, the need for pilot organisation like WASP are harder to see with every progress made in the front line.

    At this point, Jackie Cochran gave the commanding general of the group an ultimatum, commission the women into WASP or WAC, or disband the group. General Arnold, the commanding officer, facing the pressure, choose to disband the group instead, and on December 1944, the final WASP ferry flight has scheduled for the end of year, and the WASP was disbanded.

    After the group was disbanded, women from WASP were all headed home, some with new found aim, but most of those new aim or goal would be shot down, simply because they were women, and they were not serving the US Military. Most WASP gone home and returning to a more traditional female role, which is getting married or having children and raise a family.

    Those who did not returned, have no hero farewell either, since they were not the member of the military, they can neither be place on a State funeral, there are no 21 guns salute, no marching band playing Taps, not even an American Flag drape over their coffin. And all funerals were pay for by family member. And they are not allow to display a memorial gold star on a service flag, denoting a member of the family died for their country

    During the whole program, 38 WASP was killed and 1 Missing, 11 of those are from Training Accident, and 28 are from Mission on the Line of Duty..

    The Legacy

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    After the war, and after everyone went back to their former life as housewives, student, farmer , movie star and such, the record for the group existence was sealed and put in a classified file, no one other than the group or people associated to the group even knew WASP existed during the war. The Air Force (after taken over the responsibility from the Army) would not release anything to the public.

    Both Nancy Love and Jackie Cochran was commissioned into USAFR as Lieutenant Colonel in 1948, then the USAF did not open flight role to female member, and seems like WASP has all but forgotten by, well, basically everyone.

    Not until 1975, 30 years after the war, Col Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold, commanding officer of WASP, fought the effort to unseal WASP involvement during WW2, adding to the fact that the USAF then publicly advertise they are training the first female in combat aircraft in 1977, that enraged the public, putting into the fact that the social place for women have changed quite a lot in the past 30 years. The public is now more acceptable to women in active role in the military. The battle to reinstate the military status for the WASP was once again fought inside the US Congress. Now with the war 30 years behind them and social ladder changes, the reason opposing the WASP becoming militarized is not as great as during the 1940s.

    As such, President Jimmy Carter, on his proposed GI Bill improvement act 1977 have established the veteran status of all WASP member served during WW2 and listed them as a member of Veteran Affair and American Legions. All WASP veterans are then retrospectively issued with an honourable discharge certificate and awarded WW2 related medal to service member.

    And in 2009, President Obama signed into law to award WASP the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian award that can be bestowed by the US government to any civilian.

    However, as of today, WASP member did not have the right to be buried in Arlington Cemetery, which was not a part of Veteran Affair but a part of Department of the Army, and they have yet to grant the right for WASP member to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery

    To me, they were the hero.
     
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  2. jhungary

    jhungary MILITARY PROFESSIONAL

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    I had written this a long time ago (probably nov/dec 2017) and I was going to post this on March 8 this year, but was not allowed to due to I had signed a gag order with the Australian Government to stay off social media until the end of March, so this is the belated article I have written after I have read about these amazing ladies some time last year.

    @LeGenD @Levina @AUSTERLITZ @Slav Defence @WAJsal @Davos @WebMaster @Horus @PARIKRAMA @niaz @Icarus
     
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  3. Gomig-21

    Gomig-21 SENIOR MEMBER

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    I was wondering where you've been. Good to see you again.

    Understandably so.

    That's too bad, but at least Jimmy Carter recognized eventually recognized them as veteran and Obama awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal. It's definitely unfair, but that was the world at the time and they had to pay the price to blaze the trail for those women serving in all branches of the military today who enjoy full benefits as men. Someone had to start the fight.

    Heck, look at how African Americans were treated whom actually fought. They couldn't bunk in the same quarters, were called he N-word on a regular basis etc. If any group had it bad.....I think it's safe to say who that was. But they were such great aviators that they left their stamp on the history of US military aviation with the creation of the Tuskegee Airmen. That's a great story in of itself and it took a while for those guys to also get the recognition they deserved.

    While they certainly were, they still never faced actual combat like certain other women did. I certainly don't want to belittle their achievements and their duties that were very important to the war effort, of course, but IMO, the true female heroes of WWII were none other than the Soviet women. They took up arms and fought in the trenches just like the other soldiers. That was really something.
     
  4. Levina

    Levina ELITE MEMBER

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    Thanks for the tag Gary. :tup:

    And thank you for doing this article on women pilots. :-)
     
  5. Slav Defence

    Slav Defence THINK TANK VICE CHAIRMAN: ANALYST

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    Mr. Jhungary,
    I am very pleased to read your post after such a long time.You know I myself went very busy with my personal life and other stuff, hence was inactive for past few months.However, I was only in touch with PDF admin and was looking into some probable issues.
    I have seen your post and it is truly amazing. We all have heroes inside us. Any act of kindness or any attempt to benefit mankind in anyway is an act of herosim. However, a real hero will be the person who will help people to find their true meaning of life.

    I am telling you, jot it down! the true hero will be the person who has not done injustice to himself!

    Yes, doing injustice to oneself is a kind of injustice when a man forgets that his actions are making impact on others and his capability of making difference.In this era, people are undergoing through extreme depression and with a sense of insecurity because they consider taking little steps as insignificant.In addition to realize their problems, they began to blame their surroundings.These people are the ones having traits of injustice and if not treated well, they or their generations will produce pressure which they consider as ambition "to make a change!" they will not change themselves but try to change environment surrounding them in very negative way.You can clearly see such people either end up becoming likes of KKK or any terrorist organization operating recently in any part of world.
    What is the greatest need of hour is to realize that whether you are somebody who is either a highly ranked officer or simple layman doing everyday business or someone who is just a student:"There is a hero inside you and that hero can only be unleashed if you will stop pointing fingers at each other, correct yourself, show gratitude to what nature has given you, accept what is good and enjoin positive act of kindness then believe me you will be a true hero"
    Help people around you with your weapons, with your technology, with anything bestowed upon you or atleast give some frown face a kind smile- making someone feel good means balancing millions of minor or major physical chemical reactions of a group of multicellular organisms, hence helping so many systems working with synergy not only inside the body but then improving over communication of one person with entire system.

    regards
     
  6. jhungary

    jhungary MILITARY PROFESSIONAL

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    Yeah, nice to be back, not just to the forum, but also back in civilization.

    While I cannot tell you where I went, but I did have a sidearm and I do wear an uniform so it would not be as present as home...


    I think people are more focus on the segregation of the black and ignore the better group of woman whose right was basically limited by the social trend and by public standard.

    We all know how we treated the black prior to 1970s, but I seldom hear people say "hey, we didn't treat out women right in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. And this is a topic not too many people actually discuss unless you are part of feminist movement.

    And we sort of just accepted this is how it is about women in the 40s to 70s anyway.

    The things is, while I admire people who fight to the principle and fight to defend their home. I more intended to see that as a necessity. Back in WW2, when the German war machine rolling down to Russia, it's either, pardon my French, for the Russian to fight, fuk or die. While its admirable for the Russian woman to share the responsibility and died in the battlefield and defend their country, but that is borne out of necessity, not really something they can choose.

    On the other hand, these Women do not need to do this, and there are no need, or even, not wanted for them to go and volunteer to fly the plane to forward bases. And they still get killed over it, while they can just as easily say "Screw you, I am gonna stay at home and do nothing" and nobody will blame or care about them. These people volunteer something they don't need to do for the cause, all gave some and some gave all for virtually nothing. That is something I don't just admire, and its highly regarded

    I would not call myself hero for whatever I did in my war, because that is what I was supposed to do in war, medal or recognition is one thing, but that is what I was asked to do, and I don't consider doing so I am a hero, but nothing expect these lady to do anything, and nobody wanted but they did it anyway and without give any quarters nor had not ask for any, for me, that is something I see what heroes do.

    But then of course, that is just my opinion :)

    thank you

    I guess the best thing I can say is that we all look to someone in our hours of needs, and when we face injustice, we look up to those people and ask, what will they do if they were put into our position, and these people would then become the "heroes" to us.

    And in our younger ages, we have superhero (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Marvel and so on) that can right the wrong and have the ability and the will to fight the evil. But the world we are living in and the superhero world are two separate world, and we grow up hearing and reading all these superhero, but in an unjust world, this is not to be. Then your whole world would become dull and black.

    I think we all need to believe in something, it could be anything, a religion, an random act of kindness, or anything good. Otherwise we will most definitely sink in the bad, bad world.
     
  7. Gomig-21

    Gomig-21 SENIOR MEMBER

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    That's an interesting point. But then again one can argue that the 'necessity' was also a choice for the Russian women, no?
     
  8. jhungary

    jhungary MILITARY PROFESSIONAL

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    Well, if you consider the other side of that "Choice" is to face a cruel German occupation, then yeah, that is a choice for the Russian woman.

    I mean, that was a total war, the responsibility of a citizen is to repel any foreign invasion when there are foreign troop on your land, and if you are not willing to fight then, that would have been a coward acts. Although I don't think the Russian women needed to fight as much as the men, still facing foreign occupation, I guess that is one "responsibility" to defend til the last men, whether that men is a man or woman? Would you think so?

    I will expect the American women would do the same if America was attacked by a foreign force, and that is not a choice, but rather a responsibility of citizenship. And if Russian Women volunteer to help the situation they won't need to, then those are heroes to me.