Arnold was born in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, on 25 June 1886. His father, a doctor, came from a prominent family, and worked for many years as an army surgeon. Having planned on going to university and becoming a minister, he changed his mind and entered the military academy at West Point, aged only 17, when his older brother defied his father by not doing so. Arnold was commissioned in 1907 as a second lieutenant, Infantry, and served in the Philippine Islands for two years, before returning to Governors Island, New York until April 191. He was then was detailed to the Signal Corps and sent to Dayton, Ohio for instructions by the Wright Brothers in flying, thus becoming one of the earliest military aviators. Thereafter, he became increasingly proficient, setting various records. After a flying accident in 1912, he took a staff assignment as assistant to the new head of the aeronautical division in Washington D. C. before being returned to an infantry posting. In 1913, he married Eleanor Pool (known as Bee), and was soon back in the Philippines.
During WWI, Arnold rose to the rank of colonel and was executive officer to the chief of the air service. In the summer of 1918, he was dispatched to France to brief General John J. Pershing on new aviation developments. After the war, he joined William Mitchell in his campaign for more military air power; and supported him during his court-martiall. Arnold survived that fiasco, as some called it, but was effectively demoted. Nevertheless, he worked his way back into favour, being promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1931 as commanding officer of March Field, California. In 1934 he personally organised and led a flight of Martin B-10 bombers in a round-trip record flight from Washington, D.C. to Fairbanks, Alaska. The following year, he was made brigadier general and was put in command of the air force’s 1st Wing, and was soon assistant to the chief of Air Corps in Washington, Major General Oscar Westover. However, when Westover died in an air crash, in September 1938, Arnold was named the new chief and promoted again this time to the rank of major general.
In mid 1941, the US Army Air Force was formed with Arnold as its chief. He oversaw the formation of the country’s air strategy during WW2, and also planned the formation of the Eighth Air Force in Britain, which would later play a key role in the strategic bombing of Germany. Arnold was promoted to lieutenant general, given autonomy to operate his air units without US Army influence, and made a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By the end of 1944, he had been named General of the Army, a five-star rank. During the war, he travelled extensively across the world, but this took a toll on his health, and he suffered four heart attacks that required hospitalisation. He retired in 1946 to his ranch in California, having been the first and only general of the Air Force and the only American to hold five-star ranks in two separate branches of the US military. He received many honours at home and abroad. He died in 1950, and received a state funeral. Biographical information about Arnold is readily available online at Wikipedia, US Air Force, World War II Database, or History Net.
During WWII, Arnold kept very detailed diaries, but these were not published until 2002, when Air University Press, Alabama, brought out American Airpower Comes of Age: General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold’s World War II Diaries (two volumes), as edited by Major General John W. Huston. Both are available to preview at Googlebooks (vol. 1 and vol. 2)
In his introduction, Huston says: ‘Although the need for a comprehensive biography of Gen Henry H. “Hap” Arnold exists, this volume does not constitute such a biography. Nor is this work intended as a history of the Army Air Forces in World War II. The aim of the editor has been to place in historical context the thoughts and immediate impressions of Arnold as he recorded them in the diaries he kept through each of his 12 trips abroad during the war. The diaries provide centerpieces for the 12 chapters of this work, each of which is devoted to the trip covered therein. [. . .] These journals represent his immediate thoughts and spontaneous reactions rather than the reflective ruminations of a professional American military officer. Arnold had worn an Army uniform for almost 38 years when he began these volumes. His travels over the 51-month span included six major wartime diplomacy/strategy conferences that took him to all but one continent, into most war zones, and through four heart attacks. No matter where he traveled or what topics were discussed, his freshly recorded impressions made at the end of a busy day were not revised or supplemented by second thoughts or considerations of propriety.’
Huston further comments: ‘To this editor, they appear honest, illuminating, and reflective of the character, strengths, and shortcomings of General Arnold. No other American senior officer has left such an extensive, revealing, and contemporary account of World War II from such a vantage point.’ Here are a couple of extracts from the first volume, in all their military detail! (Square brackets are as inserted by the editor.)
10 August 1941
‘[Argentia, Newfoundland] Tried to copy Freeman’s British program for a fighting air strength of 10,000, [planes including] 4.000 H. B. [heavy bombers]; the thing scares me, it is so big and I know that they cannot meet it. British prod. [production of] H. B. [heavy bombers] 500 a month, US prod. H. B. 500 a month. We can’t do it as easily as that: 2,000 pilots a month. Where will they come from? Wishful thinking.
Time for boat to Prince of Wales, waited 30 minutes. US Destroyer came alongside. President came aboard, band playing Star Spangled Banner, sailors all paraded on afterdeck. Each Chief of Staff with his opposite: Pound. Stark; Dill. Marshall; Freeman, Arnold; Roosevelt, Churchill sitting out in front, in center of hollow square. Church services very impressive.
After church, conference with Freeman. His program is now clear: Britain has built it around our entire production; 100% of all planes produced in US go to Britain; US Army, Navy, Dutch, Chinese, get none; Britain gets all. [US] O P M [Office of Production Management] figures have at last confused almost everyone; believe it wrong to send them out so indiscriminately. Freeman told of misapplication of figures and deliveries and very much disappointed. Told him I could not change policies, all I could do was to make recommendations re change of policies.
Lunch call came while talking. Officers, US Navy, British Navy, Air Forces, Armies, all assembled in Ward Room, sherry; President and Prime Minister went in to lunch and the rest of us. Table seating attached. Prince of Wales withdrew from action with Bismarck. Had Bismarck followed with attack perhaps Prince of Wales, being more or less out of action, would not have come off so light. However, Bismarck missed that bus. After lunch. PM toasted President: President toasted King [George VI]. Good lunch: caviar, vodka, mock turtle soup, grouse, champagne, potatoes, peas, rolls, ice cream with cherry sauce, port, coffee, brandy. PM and President both spoke for a few minutes. President withdrew.
Destroyer told by Admiral Pound we would have a meeting of Chiefs of Staff. Waiting with Freeman then Stark and Marshall went aboard destroyer with President. Destroyer pulled away amid cheers from British sailors. No staff meeting until 9:00 a.m. Monday. Stopped and chatted with the PM awhile. Captain of ship told me that my boat was ready. Said goodbye to PM. Much to my surprise saw marines, band and sailors lined up at gangplank. They gave me a send-off as a Chief of Staff, I did my best to receive it as one. Back to Tuscaloosa with Burns, 4:50 P.M.
This has been a most interesting day. The church service out on deck in Placentia Bay with British warships. Canadian corvettes and destroyers and US warships was most inspiring. I can’t make up mind as yet whether most of us are window dressing for the main actors or whether we are playing minor roles in the show. Freeman will not talk training nor has he as yet been willing to take up civilian aid in the Near East. Looked over [British] Chiefs of Staff memo re the strategic situation. It is a sound paper in some respects from my point of view but needs study, much study before we accept it.
Back to Augusta at 5:50: Marshall, Dill. Freeman, Arnold, Burns. Watson in with President: PM Churchill joined later. Talked over production of tanks, big bombers, increase of production, Liberia airfields, Dakar, Azores, Cape Verdes, Canaries, Azores. Still talking priorities and their all-around effect when 7:00 came up and we had to get out.
Fog and high rain as we took off in barge and went aboard the Prince of Wales; that is the weather I had heard was normal in Newfoundland. We have been very fortunate so far. Sat around for a while in the Admiral’s cabin waiting for the dinner guests of General Dill: Dill, Marshall, Freeman, Welles, Cadogan, Burns, Hollis, Bundy, Leach and Arnold.
Leach, captain of Prince of Wales: it was in Scapa Flow with men from yards still in turrets when it received word to take off in pursuit of Bismarck. Captain was away fishing; he returned posthaste and arrived before steam was fully up to pressure. Ship must have been hit badly as Captain said the carnage, wounded and dead on bridge was so bad that he withdrew from action. He was only man not wounded or killed. They had a hard time intercepting the Bismarck, their courses approached at 90°, but due to snow and sleet missed. Then he changed course and paralleled Bismarck until they made contact. Home to Tuscaloosa in rain at 11:00 p.m.’
24 September 1942
‘[Noumea, New Caledonia] First Nimitz, then Ghormley, finally McCain: “Your bombers are doing no good over in England; your fighters are being wasted in Europe; here is where they can be of use; here is the only place where they can get results; MacArthur may need them but we need them more than he does.” The whole question revolves around: Where is this war to be won? What is our plan for winning the war? Is this not a local affair and should it not be treated as such? In any event, everyone from the Chief of Naval Operations on down should be indoctrinated with one plan for winning the war. So far everything we have seen indicates the necessity of having one theatre extending from Honolulu to Australia; one commander who can dictate an operating policy against one foe; one man who can move his forces to the place where they will be most effective; one plan for using all our forces and rotating them to be used as reinforcements and as replacements.
Two airports for landing at Noumea: (1) Plaines des Graiacs, 150 miles out of town; (2) Ton Tou Ta, much smaller. 40 miles from town. (l) has long 500 [sic] [5.000] foot runways made of iron ore; everything turns red and engine cylinders get badly scored; (make] low approaches and anything can land; most of planes parked here were well-dispersed; men live in tents, no town anywhere in sight. (2) shorter runways only used for fighters and transient planes, 40 miles to town over fair road.
Noumea reminds me of New Orleans insofar as buildings and signs are concerned. Natives are black but not negros, make excellent soldiers, not spoiled. Absence of wild life although deer and wild boar are supposed to be in hills. No citrus fruits, mangoes or coconuts.’