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The St. Mihiel Salient


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By Walter J. Boyne

Feb. 1, 2000

The reputation of airpower pioneer Billy Mitchell will be forever tied to the World War I Battle of St. Mihiel, and that is as it should be. It was during that critical engagement in France in September 1918 that the world got its first clear view of Mitchell’s developing airpower creed.

The visionary airman believed that a nation should mass its airpower assets and concentrate their use against the enemy right from the start of an engagement. This was true of observation, pursuit, and bombing aircraft alike. At St. Mihiel, Mitchell’s principles were applied and vindicated, even if not to the degree that he might have wished.

In fact, the airpower portion of the battle of St. Mihiel was important more for its preparation and planning than for its actual execution, which was hampered by poor weather. The future of American airpower was charted in the way Mitchell and his staff planned the engagement and in the gallant manner in which his equally inexperienced fliers fought it. It was a pattern seen again and again in the decades to come.

“Aerial operations at St. Mihiel made the battle an important event in the history of US military aviation,” wrote Maj. Gen. John W. Huston, chief, Office of Air Force History, in the Air Force’s official history of World War I. “It was, primarily, … Mitchell’s show. He put together the largest air force ever committed to battle and drew up the plan for its employment.”

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