89 years ago today, air power advocate General Billy Mitchell sank the battleships USS New Jersey and USS Virginia in his third demonstration of the potential of air power in naval warfare. General Mitchell proved that only a handful of bombers and airmen could render impotent 2 former crown jewels of the US Navy.
Two years earlier, in July of 1921, General Mitchell had successfully sunk the former German dreadnought SMS Ostfriesland and vindicated his theory that precision bombing could sink naval vessels. General Mitchell followed up several months later with further tests on the USS Alabama. While tactical bombing had been performed on both sea and land during World War I, no naval vessel had yet fallen prey to air power until Mitchell’s successful tests off the Virginia coast.
After World War I, General Mitchell returned to the US convinced that air power could fundamentally change the way naval warfare was waged. Facing opponents both within the military and in the halls of Congress, Mitchell’s tests on the Alabama, New Jersey, Ostfriesland and Virginia helped pave the way for the age of the aircraft carrier and the obsolescence of the big-gun battleship. General Mitchell was later court-martialed for statements he made about the competence of certain Army commanders. Although Mitchell passed away prior to World War II, his foresight proved prescient as numerous battleships succumbed to air power during the war, most notably HMS Prince of Wales & HMS Renown and the Japanese super-battleship Yamato. The North American B-25 Mitchell bomber was named for General Mitchell – 16 of which would later be launched from the USS Hornet in the Doolittle Raid against the Japanese home islands in 1942.