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Kenney, George Churchill (1889-1977)


Photograph of General George C. Kenney

U.S. Air Force

George Kenney was born in Nova Scotia to what he later claimed were vacationing American parents. However, Gamble (2010) claims that they were Canadian citizens and that Kenney was raised in Nova Scotia until his parents moved to Boston near the turn of the century. He attended MIT but dropped out after three years due to financial concerns. However, he became a successful businessman and civil engineer before joining the Air Service in World War I.  He flew 75 missions and was credited with two "kills" during that war. He was also shot down once. Remaining with the Air Corps, he graduated from the Army Air Service School in 1921, the Army Air Corps Tactical School in in 1926, the Army Command and General Staff School in 1927, and the Army War College in 1933.  During this time he became the Air Corp's foremost advocate of attack aviation, invented the parachute-retarded fragmentation bomb, and directed the airlift of troops in exercises. He rose through the ranks to become a brigadier general in early 1941.

In March of 1942 Kenney was again promoted, to major general, and took command of 4 Air Force on the U.S. West Coast.  On 1 August 1942 he became air commander in the Southwest Pacific Area under Douglas MacArthur.  A short man (5'5" or 165cm) but with boundless confidence and energy, Kenney soon imprinted his unique gift for tactical and engineering improvisation on the forces under his command.

An apocryphal story is told that illustrates Kenney’s willingness to stand up to Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff.  Sutherland called Kenney into his office and began to lecture him on how air operations were to be carried out in the Southwest Pacific.  Kenney interrupted Sutherland to draw a small dot on a sheet of paper.  "General, if the dot represents what you know about air operations, the rest of the paper represents what I know about air operations."  Kenney ran air operations pretty much the way he wanted thereafter.

During the Buna campaign, Kenney badly overestimated what his air forces were capable of. Arguing that tanks and artillery were useless in the jungle, Kenney declared that "The artillery in this theater flies." This proved grossly overoptimistic. His pilots so frequently bombed their own troops by mistake that the ground troops began to feel safer without direct air support. These problems would eventually be worked out, but it took time, and in the meanwhile it was the belated arrival of tanks that turned the tide of the campaign.

Kenney’s most publicized victory was the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, fought in early March of 1943.  A Japanese convoy to Lae was attacked using skip-bomb techniques, which proved enormously effective, sinking all eight transports and four of the eight destroyers in the convoy.  Kenney’s 5 Air Force was less successful against Rabaul, taking heavy casualties and failing to close down the base until it was isolated by sea in late 1943.

Kenney was a tremendous believer in the tactical value of air forces.  He was not part of the heavy bomber cult that dominated most of the Air Force, preferring to use fast medium bombers at low level.  He encouraged his engineering officers to arm these bombers with numerous forward-firing machine guns, and was a strong advocate of lay-down munitions such as parafrag bombs and the Kenney Cocktail, a 100-lb phosphorous bomb.  These munitions were designed so that they could be dropped from treetop level.

Kenney was also a master of deception.  For example, during the New Guinea campaign, he had a small number of engineers visibly work on an old airstrip at Bena Bena while a larger group worked very quietly on another old airstrip at Tsili Tsili.  The Japanese regularly raided the highly visible activity at Bena Bena, but were not aware of the work at Tsili Tsili until fighters from the strip escorted a devastating raid against the Japanese base at Wewak.

Kenney’s airmen routinely exaggerated their claims — as did Kenney, both during and after the war — but Kenney himself developed a good feel for the state of the enemy, as when he accurately judged that the enemy had lost more aircraft in 1943 than they had had on the line at the beginning of the year, and that the best Japanese ground crew were cut off and starving in isolated pockets in New Guinea.

Kenney was a strong believer in rewarding his men to improve morale, and awarded over 250 decorations during a tour two months into his command of 5 Air Force. However, Kenney was not universally beloved. He got along poorly with the Navy, who felt he was unwilling to support their operations. The saying among senior Navy officers was that Kenney thought "damn Navy" was a single word.

In March 1945 Kenney was promoted to full general and took command of all Allied air forces in the Pacific.

After the war, Kenney served as commanding general of Strategic Air Command and as commander of the Air University (predecessor to the Air Force Academy) before retiring in 1951.

Service record

1889-8-6     

Born at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
1911

Graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1917-6

Flight training
1917-12
First lieutenant
Advanced Flying Training School, France
1918-2

91 Aero Squadron
1919-3
Captain
Commander, 91 Aero Squadron
1919-6

Commander, 8 Aero Squadron, McAllen, Texas
1921

Army Air Service School
1926

Army Air Corps Tactical School
1927

Command and General Staff School
1933

Army War College
1935-3
Major

1935-3
Lieutenant colonel

1939

Chief, production engineering section, Wright Field, Ohio
1940-3
Colonel
Assistant attache for air, France
1941-1
Brigadier general
Commander, Air Corps Experimental Depot, Wright Field
1941-2
Major general

1942-3-5     

Commander, 4 Air Force, Riverside, California
1942-8-4

Commander, Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific
1942-9-3

Commander, 5 Air Force
1942-10
Lieutenant general    

1944-7

Commander, Far East Air Force
1945-3-9
General
Commander, Allied Air Forces, Pacific
1945-12

Military Staff Committee, Joint Chiefs of Staff
1946-4

Commander, Strategic Air Command
1948-10-15     

Commander, Air University
1951-8-31

Retires
1977-8-9

Dies at Miami, Florida

References

Arlington National Cemetary Website (accessed 2008-1-12)

Boatner (1996)

Dupuy et.al. (1992)

Gamble (2010)

Mayo (1974)

McAulay (1991)

Murray and Millett (1996)

Perret (1991)
Tuohy (2007)



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