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Book Review

Patton's Air Force by. David N. Spires This is an unusual and insightful book. It is a history of the XIX Tactical Air Command, the air component assigned to support the US Third Army during the 1944-45 campaigns. The book avoids any claims that XIX TAC was in some way superior or exceptional to the commands that supported other armies. Rather, it carefully examines the experience, looking for lessons that remain valid and valuable today.

XIX TAC was assigned to support the Third Army but was not part of it. There were separate chains of command for ground and air forces, united in the theatre commander, some two levels above. This reflected air force doctrine, which was not wholeheartedly accepted by the ground commanders.

The commander of the XIX TAC, Brigadier General O. P. Weyland, found himself in a delicate but by no means unusual situation. The air force was still part of the army and the commander of the army he was assigned to support was Lieutenant General G. S. Patton Jr, an officer two ranks his senior and 17 years older, a former Olympic athlete with a distinguished combat record in North Africa and Sicily. By contrast, General Weyland had no combat experience. General Patton was also a very air-minded general and held a private pilot's licence. Considering this, one might have expected General Patton to have run roughshod over his junior air commander.

This did not occur and their relationship was instead one of close cooperation. Patton deferred to Weyland on all matters relating to the air force. Weyland spoke for the air force and Patton never once overrode him. Patton collocated his headquarters with that of XIX TAC whenever possible. And he could also be counted upon to support Weyland in any argument with his or Weyland's air force superiors, and do so vigorously. Yet it is also true that Third Army received more close air support than other armies.

Doctrine is seen by some as Holy Writ but General Weyland was willing to take liberties with the doctrine whenever the situation demanded it. His was a pragmatic approach to air power, with theory serving the air force rather than the other way around. Still, he never wavered in his support for the doctrine that control of air forces should be centralised in an air commander. It was goodwill and common sense that made this work.