Kenney, George , born 06-08-1889 in Nova Scotia,
the same year as Adolf Hitler
, to visiting American parents. He was an MIT graduate who left a career as an engineer to join the Air Service in World War I. He was credited with two “kills” during that war. Remaining with the Air Corps, he graduated from the Army Air Service School in 1921, the Army Air Corps Tactical School in 1926, the Army Command and General Staff School in 1927, and the Army War College in 1933. He rose through the ranks to become a Brigade General in early 1941. In March of 1942 Kenney was again promoted, to Major General, and took command of 4 Air Force
on the U.S. West Coast. On 01-08-1942 he became air commander in the Southwest Pacific Area under Douglas MacArthur, here decorating Kenney
. He soon imprinted his unique gift for tactical and engineering improvisation on the forces under his command. An apocryphal story is told that illustrates Kenney’s willingness to stand up to Richard Kerens Sutherland
, MacArthur’s Chief of Staff. Sutherland called Kenney into his office and began to lecture him on how air operations were to be carried out in the Southwest Pacific.
Kenney interrupted Sutherland to draw a small dot on a sheet of paper. “General, if the dot represents what you know about air operations, the rest of the paper represents what I know about air operations.” Kenney ran air operations pretty much the way he wanted thereafter. During the Buna campaign, Kenney badly overestimated what his air forces were capable of. Arguing that tanks and artillery were useless in the jungle, Kenney declared that “The artillery in this theatre flies.” This proved grossly overoptimistic. His pilots so frequently numbed their own troops by mistake that the ground troops began to feel safer without direct air support. These problems would eventually be worked out, but it took time, and in the meanwhile it was the belated arrival of tanks that turned the tide of the campaign. Kenney’s most publicized victory was the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, fought in early March of 1943. A Japanese convoy to Lae was attacked using skip-bomb techniques, which proved enormously effective, sinking all eight transports and four of the eight destroyers in the convoy.
Kenney’s 5 Air Force
was less successful against Rabaul, taking heavy casualties and failing to close down the base until it was isolated by sea in late 1943. Kenney was a tremendous believer in the tactical value of air forces. He was not part of the heaver bomber cult that dominated most of the Air Force, preferring to use fast medium bombers at low level. He encouraged his engineering officers to arm these bombers with numerous forward-firing machine guns, and was a strong advocate of lay-down munitions such as parafrag bombs and the Kenney Cocktail, a 100-lb phosphorous bomb. These munitions were designed so that they could be dropped from treetop level.
Kenney was also a master of deception. For example, during the New Guinea campaign, he had a small number of engineers visibly work on an old airstrip at Bena Bena while a larger group worked very quietly on another old airstrip at Tsili Tsili. The Japanese regularly raided the highly visible activity at Bena Bena, but were not aware of the work at Tsili Tsili until fighters from the strip escorted a devastating raid against the Japanese base at Wewak. Kenney’s fliers routinely exaggerated their claims, but Kenney himself had a good feel for the state of the enemy, as when he accurately judged that the enemy had lost more aircraft in 1943 than they had had on the line at the beginning of the year, and that the best Japanese ground crew were cut off and starving in isolated pockets in New Guinea. Kenney was not universally beloved. He got along poorly with the Navy, who felt he was unwilling to support their operations.
The saying among senior Navy officers was that Kenney thought “damn Navy” was a single word. On October 15, 1948, General Kenney assumed the position of commander, Air University, where he remained until his retirement from the Air Force 31-08-1951. General Kenney has continued to serve military affairs, and the nation, as president of the Air Force Association, in 1954, and as an official with national charities. He also has written several popular books.