Brereton, Lewis Hyde (1890-1967)

Photograph of Lewis Brereton

Library of Congress. Via

Brereton was born in Pittsburgh and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1911. He quickly exchanged his commission as an ensign for a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army. He was assigned to the Coastal Artillery and then the Signal Corps before finding his calling as an aviator in 1913. He led a squadron on the Western Front during the First World War, where he was wounded while shooting down a German aircraft and was subsequently decorated.  He was then assigned to Billy Mitchell's staff and formulated plans (which could not be acted on before the German surrender) to drop volunteers from 1 Division by parachute behind German lines. Brereton later served as Mitchell's defense counsel in the famous 1925 court-martial. Brereton attended the Command and General Staff School in 1928 and returned as an instructor in 1935-1940. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1940 and to major general  in July 1941.

Brereton was send to the Philippines in November 1941 and was the commander of Far East Air Force (FEAF) at the outbreak of war.  Half his command was destroyed on the ground on the first day of the war under circumstances that sixty years of historical research have been unable to elucidate.

What is known is that at the first alert, the B-17s of the FEAF took to the air to avoid a dawn raid, along with most of the fighter aircraft on Luzon.  When the raid failed to materialize (because the Japanese bases on Formosa were fogged in) the planes were landed to refuel and prepare for whatever mission was assigned to them.

At this point the historical record becomes confused.  Brereton claimed that Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff, kept putting off his requests to stage a raid over Formosa.  MacArthur claimed that Brereton was responsible for keeping the aircraft on the ground.  Either way, when the postponed Japanese raid finally arrived over Luzon, it caught half the aircraft of the FEAF on the ground at Clark Field, where they were promptly destroyed.

The records later presented by both parties to back their stories were so questionable that one is tempted to believe that both were lying, though the majority of witnesses seem to support Brereton's position. In any case, Brereton was one of the few senior officers who did not stay with MacArthur’s headquarters after it was withdrawn from the Philippines.  Instead, Brereton was given important commands in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, where he appears to have performed well.

It is noteworthy that none of Brereton's B-17s were supposed to be in Luzon the morning of the raid.  MacArthur had given Brereton an emphatic order to move the planes to Mindanao, but only half the B-17s had been relocated by the time the Japanese struck.  Brereton was one of the Air Force's foremost party animals, believing that this was important for the morale of his aircrew, and he may have delayed moving the remaining aircraft so that their crews could attend a celebration in Manila the night of 7 December.

Brereton organized 10 Air Force in India in March 1942 and was transferred to 9 Air Force the Middle East in June 1942. He remained in the European theater for the rest of the war, and commanded First Allied Airborne Army during Operation Market-Garden, the debacle in Holland in September 1944. He also commanded Operation Varsity, a breakout across the Rhine in the Ruhr area, that was rather more successful. He was an Anglophile who reminded Americans critical of the British that the Americans had not yet done anything comparable to the Battle of Britain.

Following the war, Brereton served with the Atomic Energy Commission and transferred briefly to the newly created U.S. Air Force before retiring in 1948.

MacArthur was not the only senior officer to hold Brereton in low regard. Bradley thought his management of close air support during the Normandy invasion was inadequate, describing Brereton as "not sincere nor energetic nor cooperative", while the chief of staff of XVIII Airborne Corps bluntly described him as "a stupid ass" (both quoted by Atkinson 2013). Reportedly capable of swearing in four languages, his reputation for philandering was sufficient to draw a rebuke from Marshall.

Service record


Born at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Graduates from Annapolis, standing 56th in a class of 193
2 Lieutenant     
Resigns from Navy to accept a commission as an artillery officer

Qualifies as a pilot

Commander, 12 Aero Squadron

Commander, 10 School Group

Commander, 3 Attack Group

Instructor, Air Service Tactical School

Commander, 2 Bombardment Group

Command and General Staff School

Commander, 88 Observation Squadron

Commander, 6 Composite Group

Instructor, Command and General Staff School

Brigadier general     
Commander, Barksdale Field

Commander, 17 Bombardment Wing

Commander, 3 Air Force
Major general
Commander, Far East Air Force

Commander, U.S. Army Forces in Australia

Commander, 5 Air Force

Commander, 10 Air Force

Commander, Middle East Air Forces

Commander, 9 Air Force

Commander, U.S. Army Forces in the Middle East
Lieutenant general     


Commander, 1 Allied Airborne Army

Commander, 3 Air Force

Commander, 1 Air Force

Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Board (Operation Crossroads)

Chairman, Military Liason Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission

Secretary General of the Air Board


Dies at Washington, D.C.


Atkinson (2013)

Boatner (1996)

Connaughton (2001)

Costello (1981)

Devlin (1979)

Dupuy (1992) (accessed 2007-11-26)

Morton (1953)

Spector (1985)

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