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Hughes, Overlord

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Hughes, Thomas Alexander (Quesada biographer)

Author & Context

Dr. Thomas Alexander Hughes (BA, Saint John’s University; MA, PhD, University of Houston) is an associate professor at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He formerly served as associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Strategy and International Security, Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and held the Ramsey Chair in Naval History, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Dr. Hughes contributes regularly to airpower and strategic journals, and is considered an expert on the role of airpower in Normandy.

Thesis/Argument/Evidence

The work is a biographical examination of Pete Quesada (1904-1993) used by Hughes to tell the story of airpower in Operation OVERLORD. Quesada is not canonized, but is portrayed positively. The secondary thrust of the work is a demonstration of the USAF’s institutional habit of neglecting the consolidation of lessons learned in favor of shifting focus and doctrine.

Themes/Sub-arguments/Evidence

- Focused on CAS (“grew up in the army and learned to support them"), less on stat bombing (really had just tactical A/C). Had enough A/C to do what was required


- Quesada was soldier first, airman second. Accepted his place and mission and pressed on. One of the few airmen who could see beyond his branch.


- Drove TAC to its height, for than to see it srop away as SAC/Nuc misson grew. (economy played a role too)


- Allied air superiority before D-Day was a massive weight in Allied favor; 15,000 sorties on D-Day for the Allies vs 200 for the Luftwaffe


- Streamlined C2 to improve CAS for IX fighter Command in the lead up to D-Day/ and underway in the battle.


- Combined arms limitations of Allied doctrine showcased early in operation; large miss distances when attempting bombing in adverse weather


o Weather forced creativity of better usage of radio in cockpit, also in tanks for direct FAC comms. CAS response time went dow.


o Still, interdiction credited by Bradley as instrumental in early D-Day successes. Bradley and Quesada worked close, he sat up his HQ near Bradlys army.


o Operation COBRA 44’ high number of friendlies killed, technological and navigational errors (flew perpendicular rather than parallel to the front…. But the real issue was they didn't expect the dust to rise and drift. When the third wave came through, they bombed the smoke line, but at that point the wind had carried it over the Americans. That led to many US forces, including L.General Leslie McNair, being killed or wounded. 


- Airpower elements competed with each other after the war; Quesada did not fight for his beliefs in the institution


o Air Force divested from CAS in favor of nuclear and strategic forces after the war; this hurt in Korea, Vietnam


o This stands as a broken promise to the Army; caused Army to field its own CAS forces


- Quesada had an unconventional rise; held aide and advisory jobs, was a stellar pilot, but did not get command experience along the way


o Was heavily impacted by a short period working for Marshall


o Was conceited and directive, but was also known as inspirational and fiery


Applications to Strategy

- Leaders can rise in various ways; diverse backgrounds help feed intellectual and deliberative efficacy at senior levels


- Close Air Support is a sensitive subject between Army and Air Force institutions; Air Force abandoned the mission after WWII, giving rise to Army aviation branch that is still a source of budgetary rivalry


- Air Force’s institutional impulse is to look to the future; at times, this can cause an abandonment of lessons and heritage


- Made GE movement during light “impossible” with his CAS support=army ‘happy’


- Ari power is not war winning, but a indispensable part of the joint team.

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