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The Admirals' Revolt of 1949: Lessons for Today

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Journal article

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The supercarrierB-36 controversy of 1949 was ostensibly a struggle between the Navy and the Air Force over funding priorities. At the controversys most basic level, the two services disagreed over the division of the defense budget. The Navy wanted the largest share of the defense dollar in order to build more aircraft carriers, specifically supercarriers, capable of launching large multi-engine aircraft. The Air Force, in turn, argued that it should receive the largest slice of the defense pie to expand to 70 combat groups. In the struggle that followed, Defense Secretary Louis Johnson seemingly sided with the Air Force and ordered the cancellation of the Navys new supercarrier. In the aftermath of the cancellation, a number of rumors circulated that cast considerable aspersions on the characters of Johnson, Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington, and Air Force Chief of Staff Hoyt Vandenberg. These rumors alleged corruption in the procurement contract with Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation for its new bomber, the B-36. Carl Vinson, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, scheduled hearings to examine the matter. Those hearings, held in August 1949, proved conclusively that corruption was not involved in the B-36 contract, and the issue thus appeared to be settled. But the Navy insisted upon further hearings to examine the broader issues of national defense strategy and the conduct of a future war. This article examines the war planning and budgetary constraints that culminated in the revolt. The incident also implies wider questions of professionalism and civilian control of the military. Although the supercarrierB-36 controversy has been written about before, it has been addressed in considerably shaded hindsight the Navys mission was transformed therefore, the seamen must have been right. This article, based largely on primary sources hitherto unused, will examine the Navys methods and the implications of those methods.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Logistics, Military Facilities and Supplies

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