This blog post on “Industrial Electrification and the Technological Illiteracy of the U.S. Army Air Tactical School 1920-1940” marks the new year with a departure from past history columns I’ve written for Chicagoboyz in that it is exploring a theme I refer to as “The Bane of Technologically Illiterate Military Leaders.” As such, it will not be fully fleshed out with sources and notes. Consider it a ‘first draft’ of an article I’ll post later.
The issue with ‘Technologically Illiterate Military Leaders‘ I’ll be exploring in this and future articles is that such leaders tend to make the same classes of mistakes over and over again. And when those military leaders reach flag rank on the bones of theories and doctrines that fail the test of combat through their technological illiteracy. They then bury the real reasons why those doctrines failed behind walls of jargon and classification to avoid accountability for those failures.
Where you can see this pattern most easily in the historical record is with the US Army Air Corp Tactical School (ACTS) “Industrial Web” theory of strategic bombing and it’s inability to understand what the changes that industrial electrification caused had meant to this theory. The “Industrial Web” theory stated there were “choke points” in an industrial economy which bombing would cause a disproportionate reduction in enemy nation’s weapons production supporting total war.
On the surface, this was a logical sounding intellectual construct. In practice, it failed miserably at places like the 14 October 1943 second Schweinfurt raid on German ball bearing factories and the Yawata Strike, the start of the early B-29 campaign on Japanese Coke ovens.
The unavoidable, in hindsight, issue for USAAF leaders trained in the Air Corps Tactical School in the period between 1920 and 1940 was that it spanned the change in industrial infrastructure from steam engine, line shaft and power belt to electric motor powered mass production. Thus the ACTS theorists had a fundamentally flawed understanding of industrial economies vulnerability to aerial bombing going into World War 2 (WW2) because they were technologically illiterate regards the radical change industrial electrification caused.
This flawed understanding was that roof damage in a factory with line shaft and drive belt power transmission — whether steam or electric driven — stops all production until the roof-mounted line shaft is re-seated or replaced. This was not the case for electric motor delivered power located on the factory floor. The technological illiteracy here was not seeing the fact that electric motors fundamentally disassociated factory production processes from factory physical structure. 
The basic idea that ACTS theorists had at the time was that their “Industrial Web” was a serial system where every component had to work to produce an effect. Thus ACTS theorists fundamentally believed in the “weak link” theory of reliability, rather than the need to obliterate all key components that a parallel, or complex serial/parallel system, with redundancy required. The point failure weakness of line shaft and drive belt industrial infrastructure fit this “serial system with a weak link” belief system of ACTS theorists to a tee. 
So when you read wartime USAAF bomb damage assessment reports from the WW2 Combined Bombing Campaign giving such and such percentages of factory roof’s destroyed being used as a means of determining whether production there was knocked out. You are seeing a “weak link” short hand based upon line shaft power transmission infrastructure assumptions.
When you read later post-war bomb damage surveys reading “…that machines and machine tools were damaged far less severely than factory structures,” you are seeing a USAAF staffer dodging those pre-WW2 “Industrial Web/Weak Link” line shaft infrastructure assumptions by not using the term at all.
This sort of language shift to hide real world meanings with jargon, thus neatly avoiding accountability for failure in combat, is one of the classic ‘poker tells’ in researching ‘Technologically Illiterate Military Leaders‘.
WHAT INDUSTRIAL ELECTRIFICATION MEANT
There were vast productivity increases in new manufacturing plants built in the 1920’s based on the widespread availability of electric motors. And there were large ones in the conversion to electric power of existing manufacturing plants designed around steam-engine driven line shaft and belt power transmission. But it was the new manufacturing plants, designed with factory floor layouts optimized to use small electric powered motors, that were the most efficient.
When the Great Depression hit in America in 1929, the remaining steam-powered and mechanical line shaft driven industrial plants were quickly closed and never re-opened. The converted-to-electric-power mechanical line shaft plants were gradually closed and did not re-opened. All remaining American commercial production was then funneled through the newer, more efficient plants with layouts designed around electric power, and those simply did not need the manpower per unit of output that the closed plants, designed around steam power and line shafts did.
This meant that the industrial output of the late 1930’s could be provided solely with physical plant built in the 1920’s, but at far lower levels of employment. Furthermore, the 1930’s saw a vast amount of additional productivity increases as industry “tweaked” the factories built in the 1920’s based on experience with the then-new all-electric power layouts. This allowed still greater production from the same numbers of workers and electric power being used. 
When the US got involved in World War Two, industry mobilization in the 1940-1942 period — after factory conversion to armaments — just meant added more shifts to the 1920’s-built industrial plants as “tweaked” in the 1930’s.
ACTS MISSING THE INDUSTRIAL ELECTRIFICATION BOAT
Electrification of the major power economies in the run up to WW2 was an unrecognized “money solvable problem” for the “Industrial Web” theory of strategic bombing that happened at a time — the Great Depression — when there simply wasn’t the money. There was no money to do the necessary international intelligence gathering on German or Japanese industry to identify “choke points.” And even if there was presidential support for money then — and there was not — the isolationist sentiment in Congress made any such funding request dead before arrival. Such was the American military’s 1920’s to 1930’s fear of budget cut political blow back from powerful and isolationist Midwestern Senators and representatives for suggesting such a thing.
The sole data set the ACTS theorists had available in the 1930’s was a very limited investigation by Air Corps officers of the industrial vulnerabilities of New York City. A city that had been industrialized during the 19th century steam age, from before the American Civil War of 1861-1865, and that had a line shaft and drive belt dominated industrial infrastructure reflecting it. New York City was one of the last places in America where industry fully converted to electric motor based mass production during the Great Depression due to the sunk investment in existing factories.
This funding shortage was further compounded by interwar institutional issues in the US Army Air Corps. Officers in the US Army Air Corps had to be rated pilots at some point in their career. There simply wasn’t the money for anything in the depression and thus there were very few planes and pilots. So the pool of Army Air Corps intellectual talent for good staff officers to even recognize the issue, let alone solve it, simply was not there going into WW2. The very best US Army Air Corps staff officers of that small talent pool were put on the staggering logistical job of expanding the Army Air Corps of tens of thousands in the period of 1940-1943 to an Army Air Force of _millions_.
There simply wasn’t the discretionary pool of Army Air Corps staff officer talent available to address electrification as applied to the “Industrial Web” theory and the search for “Choke Points.” This lack of talent meant very fundamental assumptions were never validated against real world data prior to repeated and bloody failures in combat.
Thus life and death decisions were made via logical constructions based on articles of doctrinal faith and selective picking of incomplete data, which replaced hard researched staff work. The time that should have been spent gathering and vetting data was instead put into glossy presentations, networking, and scholarly logical arguments based on accepted doctrinal ideas unvetted by real world data.
To be blunt about it, these 1940’s USAAF staffers were “Power Point Rangers” before the invention of Microsoft Power Point. This is another “poker tell’ behavior pattern to look for in researching ‘Technologically Illiterate Military Leaders‘.
Two examples of this WW2 lack of USAAF staff officer intellectual talent are the following:
1. The very shallow investigation of the American electrical power grid that took power plants off the aerial target lists after pre-war ACTS theory identified electricity as a “choke point,” and
2. The wartime identification of Japanese steel coking plants as a “choke point” done by USAAF Washington D.C. target planners.
The efficiency of America’s power grid had convinced USAAF target selection staffers that it was unprofitable to strike power plants. While at the same time the wide usefulness of steel convinced them that Japanese coal to purified carbon “Coking Plants” were profitable “Choke Point” targets.
The USAAF target planners didn’t think through questions like “What was the vulnerability of steam turbines and electrical generators to bomb blasts?” and “What was the lead time for steam turbines, multi-megawatt electric generators and high capacity electrical transformers?” because they didn’t see what it would buy them given the efficiency of the power grid.
This was bad staff work all around. If the USAAF target planners had asked those questions they would have discovered that this electrical capital equipment were very long lead items, on the order of a year to 18 months and that they were highly vulnerability to both bomb blasts and fragments. Either of those hitting large steam turbines and power generators having huge masses of metal moving at rotational velocities measured in terms of thousands of rotations per minute are very bad news. Furthermore, electric transformers generate a lot of heat when under load which required very vulnerable to bomb fragments liquid filled cooling blankets. The combination large steam turbines, power generators and large electrical transformers had a very distinctive visual signature that was easily seen by photo reconnaissance and bombers in good visual conditions.
If those power plant attacks had occurred. The regular striking of German power plants would have required the Germans to honor the threat of any approaching American bomber raid and shut down power generation plants regularly. This would have been done to protect the turbines and generators from blast damage that would cause fast moving rotating metal parts to “self-disassemble” like fragmentation bombs if aerial bomb blasts unseated the close tolerance rotating parts or fragments punched through the exterior jackets. And there was really no way to protect the massive transformers and their long haul electrical cables from bomb fragment damage that catastrophically severed power plants from their load.
The second order effects of unpredictable rolling brown outs and black outs on German industrial production, particularly high electrical energy aluminium smelting used to make aircraft engines and structure, can only be imagined. It certainly was not staffed out by WW2 USAAF target planners.
As far as the USAAF target planning focus on Coking plants for the XXth Bomber Command in China, CIA Author and former 14th Air Force Intelligence officer A.R. Northridge put it this way:
The realization on the part of the 14th USAAF staff that this magnificent new weapon with its enormous supporting base was being deployed a good two-thirds of the way around the globe to bomb coke ovens gave rise to wonderment — and argument. Each of us could think of targets by the score that were vulnerable to the B-29s and if attacked with vigor would save countless Chinese and American lives. To cite but one example, despite the slight pressure that the 14th Air Force could exert, slight because of our logistic transport difficulties, the Japanese had accumulated large stocks of materiel at Hankow. With this they had launched a drive that cost the 14th its eastern airfields and gave the Japanese an overland route between their Hong Kong-Canton enclave and their holdings on the middle Yangtze and the North China plain. Unequipped to offer serious resistance, the Chinese suffered personnel losses, military and civilian, numbering in the tens of thousands. The XXth Bomber Command could have destroyed the Hankow supply dumps in a single strike.
Or, again within easy range under a full bomb load, there was on Taiwan an operational air depot where new aircraft, fresh from the Japanese factories, were readied for combat and ferried off to the Philippines and the southwest Pacific to do battle with General Kenney’s air forces and Admiral Nimitz’ ships and the planes from his carriers. The destruction of this depot could well have shortened our approach to the Philippines and saved considerable losses in men, ships, and aircraft.
As the debate began to get acrimonious, the briefers left us. We spent the rest of the night studying their brochure and preparing an alternative plan for them to carry back to the JCS. We had not worked very long, plowing through the impressive presentation, before we could see that the conclusions reached were derived from elaborately contrived projections of equally elaborate hypotheses which were based, in the end, on meager data of dubious authenticity. This is an important point. The program was a scholarly piece of work, honestly researched and presented without gloss. The argument was logically flawless, but the authors simply lacked the basic data necessary to determine the proper use of the China-based B-29s. It became eminently plain that someone in Washington who had a fixation about the role of coke in Japan’s war economy had enlisted followers and somehow taken the JCS by storm. He must have been a very persuasive man.
It scarcely needs saying that the alternative program we prepared for the XXth Bomber Command was found wanting in Washington, and it was not long before the B-29s reached China under the original plan. 
GENERAL “HAP” ARNOLD TAKES A HAND
It was only through costly failure in war, and General Hap Arnold pulling in outside civilian academics for USAAF Operational Analysis, that the USAAF leaders and staff got even a limited understanding of industrial electrification during the Combined Bomber Offensive vis-à-vis fusing aerial bombs to explode between the roof a factory, where mechanical line shafts lived, and factory floor, where electrically powered machine tools lived. And that bombs had to explode between the two, as the Germans put up blast and fragment abatement walls inside their electrified factories. 
USSBS LESSONS LEARNED AND HIDDEN
In the aftermath of the end of the war in Northwest Europe, the UK and the USA conducted a serious evaluation of the effects of strategic bombing. The American investigation was called the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS). This effort was the brain child of former ACTS instructor and now Maj. Gen. Muir S. “Santy” Fairchild. It was a wide ranging effort to document the American portion of the Combined Bomber Offensive. It had 212 reports and the summary report for the European air campaign declared, “Allied airpower was decisive in the war in Western Europe.”
This is what the USSBS summary report for Europe said regards targeting electrical power in the war against Germany.
The German power system, except for isolated raids, was never a target during the air war. An attack was extensively debated during the course of the war. It was not undertaken partly because it was believed that the German power grid was highly developed and that losses in one area could be compensated by switching power from another. This assumption, detailed investigation by the Survey has established, was incorrect.
The German electric power situation was in fact in a precarious condition from the beginning of the war and became more precarious as the war progressed; this fact is confirmed by statements of a large number of German officials, by confidential memoranda of the National Load Dispatcher, and secret minutes of the Central Planning Committee. Fears that their extreme vulnerability would be discovered were fully discussed in these minutes.
The destruction of five large generating stations in Germany would have caused a capacity loss of 1.8 million kw. or 8 percent of the total capacity, both public and private. The destruction of 45 plants of 100,000 kw. or larger would have caused a loss of about 8,000,000 kw. or almost 40 percent, and the destruction of a total of 95 plants of 50,000 kw. or larger would have eliminated over one-half of the entire generating capacity of the country. The shortage was sufficiently critical so that any considerable loss of output would have directly affected essential war production, and the destruction of any substantial amount would have had serious results.
Generating and distributing facilities were relatively vulnerable and their recuperation was difficult and time consuming. Had electric generating plants and substations been made primary targets as soon as they could have been brought within range of Allied attacks, the evidence indicates that their destruction would have had serious effects on Germany’s war production.
While the USSBS in the passage above underlined that the USAAF failed to strike electric power during WW2 that was identified as a “choke point” vulnerability per its pre-war “Industrial Web” theory.  What it didn’t do was document in one place what that lack of understanding of industrial electrification meant for the strategic bombing campaign. And specifically how that lack related to the fundamental assumptions of the Industrial Web theory of strategic bombing. Other than the USSBS summary reports of the European and Pacific, most of the evidence gathered via wartime operational research and in the USSBS — which showed how often the “Choke Point/Weak Link” part of the “Industrial Web” theory didn’t pass the test of combat — was classified until after the end of the Cold War.
It wasn’t what pre-war USAAF leaders didn’t know that got many of the 26,000 airmen and pilots killed in the strategic bombing campaign in Europe in World War 2 — more than died in the US Marine Corps from all causes!
It was what the ACTS instructors and students thought they knew about industry, which wasn’t true — because of the industrial electrification revolution — that got many of those men killed.
And, as the declassified CIA report authored by A.R. Northridge shows, those military leaders used the classification system to hide their responsibility for this failure of “Industrial Web” theory. It is this use & abuse of the classification system that is the common denominator regards “The Bane of Technologically Illiterate Military Leaders.”
Notes and Comments
 The genesis of this ‘Technologically Illiterate Military Leaders’ writing theme is my watching the Department of Defense wrestle with the emerging industrial revolution of 3D printing/additive manufacturing. And in particular, watching the pronouncements of senior US military leaders about how their services will be producing parts for themselves. These pronouncements show an appalling ignorance of issues of ownership of technical data for the parts and what amounts to technological illiteracy on issues of industrial quality control in military organizations that have between 20% and 40% personnel turn over a year.
As most of the 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing TED talk gurus and consultants are using the electrification of the American economy from 1920 thru 1940 as their baseline comparison. This is where I’m starting.
 The term “Industrial web theory” was never in any US Army Air Corps doctrinal publication. This term was coined in the 1930s by Donald Wilson, an instructor at ACTS, to cover strategic bombing concepts then under development. See Wikipedia link:
 Line Shaft and Drive Belt Technology
 This failure was not limited to just the American Army Air Force. The UK Air Ministry, senior Royal Air Force leaders, the UK’s wartime Ministry of Economic Warfare, and most importantly RAF Bomber Command were equally ignorant and illiterate regards the disassociation of factory processes from factory structure in industrial society that electrification wrought at the start of WW2. For issues of RAF Bomber Command’s WW2 intelligence, see RAF Wing Commander John Stubbington’s “Bomber Command: Kept in the Dark” Pen and Sword (June 19, 2010) ISBN-10: 9781848841833, ISBN-13: 978-1848841833.
It is unclear if the very poor German Luftwaffe intelligence arm ever considered the issue of industrial electrification at all. This lack would hurt them after Operation Barbarossa, when evacuated electrical motor based production equipment lead to the industrial recovery of the Soviet Union’s armament industry in 1942-1943.
 For understanding the “weak link” versus more robust approaches to reliability, see J. DeVale (1998). “Basics of Traditional Reliability”
 Robert Higgs “Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Conflict and Prosperity” (Independent Studies in Political Economy), Independent Institute; 1st Printing edition (May 1, 2009), ISBN-10: 1598130293, ISBN-13: 978-1598130294. Higgs’ book is very useful because it includes a careful analysis of economic productivity factors of electrification underpinning the American economy in the 1920 – 1945 period.
 “History of the Air Corps Tactical School, 1920-1940” Research Studies Institute, USAF Historical Division, Air University, 1955. (USAF historical studies; no. 100). www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a432954.pdf It’s telling that when you search inside the Adobe PDF version of this history that the word “electric” appears three times (pages 27, 65 and 75), with the first time referring to powering the base where ACTS was housed. While the terms “line shaft” and “drive belt” do not appear at all.
 A.R. Northridge suffered a “Death by Power Point” briefing decades before it was invented by Microsoft. He did far better in his complaints than did fired US Army reserve Colonel Lawrence Sellin in 2010 for a similar rant. For what it is worth, the Okayama air depot on Formosa (now Taiwan) mentioned by A.R. Northridge was struck by the B-29’s of XXth Bomber Command using then secret radar proximity bomb fuses the night of October 13-14, 1944 as a part of the preparation for the Leyte Campaign. See pages 137-138 of W.F. Craven & J.L. Crate’s Volume V of The Army Air Force in WW2 “The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki June 1944 to August 1945” and page 423 of SUMMARY TECHNICAL REPORT OF DIVISION 4, NDRC, VOLUME 1, RADIO FOR PROXIMITY FUZES FIN-STABILIZED MISSILES, WASHINGTON, D. C., 1946
 Charles W. McArthur “Operations Analysis in the United States Army Eighth Air Force in World War II,” American Mathematical Society, London Mathematical Society; 1st edition (January 7, 1991) ISBN-10: 0821801589, ISBN-13: 978-0821801581. See in particular the various bomb fuse sub-sections through out his fine work.
 As then USAAF Maj Gen. Fairchild was the ACTS instructor advocating hitting electrical power as a USAAC major in 1939. This passage was certain to be in the USSBS, if the data supported it. See page 75 in note  above.
 A.R. Northridge, “B-29s Against Coke Ovens,” APPROVED FOR RELEASE, CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM, 22 SEPT 93, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol9no3/html/v09i3a05p_0001.htm Please carefully note the Post-Cold War _1993_ declassification date. Having your “Power Point Ranger before there was Power Point” rant about poor USAAF WW2 staff work by officers who likely went on to flag rank in the USAF classified for 49 years _in the CIA_ sure helps your career as an intelligence officer.