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INVESTIGATION OF AVIATION SERVICE, UNITED STATES
MARCH 16, 1916.- Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the state of
the Union and ordered to be printed.
Mr. CALDWELL, from the Committee on Military Affairs, submitted
[To accompany S. J. Res. 65.]
The Committee on Military Affairs, to whom was referred the joint resolution (S. J. Res. 65) creating a joint commission of Congress, to be known as the Joint Commission of Congress to Investigate the Aviation Service of the United States Army, having considered the same, report thereon with a recommendation that it do pass as amended by the Senate.
In favorably reporting this joint resolution the committee has had under consideration the evidence on file and the statements submitted by Senator Robinson, the author of the joint resolution, to the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, as embodied in Senate Report No. 153. In the judgment of this committee, under all the circumstances, a congressional investigation is imperative, and in support of this contention this report is submitted.
Sonate Report No. 153, Sixty-fourth Congress, first session.) The Committee on Military Affairs, to whom was referred the joint resolution (S. J. Res. 65) creating a joint commission of Congress to be known as the joint commission of Congress to investigate the Aviation Service of the United States Army, report the same back to the Senate with amendments and as thus amended recommend that it do pass.
Senator Robinson, the author of the joint resolution, appeared before your committee on Friday, February 18, 1916, and made a statement as to the inefficiency of the Aviation Service and charged that its true condition has been deliberately withheld from those high in authority in the War Department, and that misrepresentations as to the progress being made by the aviators are deliberately and repeatedly made to the department.
He also filed with the committee on the 21st instant another written statement relating to the necessity for an investigation, and both statements are made a part of this report, and are as follows:
Friday, February 18, 1916, Senator Robinson said:
“This resolution was introduced only after careful consideration of evidence conclusively establishing the fact to my conviction that the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps as now organized and conducted is hopelessly inefficient, and that this fact is known by the officers charged with its control and deliberately concealed by them from the War Department and from Congress. In support of this statement I produce copies of letters passing between Capt. Cowan, who has charge of the Aviation Station at San Diego, Cal., and Col. Reber, the actual head of the service. Under date of April 10, 1914, Capt. Cowan wrote Col. Reber, in part, as follows:
Frankly, I don't want to put down in black and write, over my signature, my opinion about the way the Signal Service has handled this work.
I wrote the Signal Office in March, 1913, that if our Aviation Service ever came under investigation by anyone outside of our own corps it would be impossible to explain the rotten way in which the work has been handled.
When I think of all the mistakes that have been made while I have had charge of this end of the work it just makes me sick. * * If I had known as much about this work six months ago as I know now, I am convinced that I could have saved this whole unfortunate situation, etc. * I don't know very much about how this work should be done, etc.'
“July 21, 1914, Col. Reber wrote to Capt. Cowan:
“We have until the 18th of September to qualify these men and get them in without having them detailed as students. All you have to do is to sit tight and draw your
On the same day he also said:
"I am going to push the question of getting students now as hard as I can. I will ask the Quartermaster's Corps to give you two Jeffrey four-wheel trucks to play with.'
“A deliberate purpose to deceive Congress by securing appropriations with the intention to divert them, is disclosed in the letter from Col. Reber to Capt. Cowan of December 15, 1914, in which, after saying that the Judge Advocate General had held that automobiles and motor trucks could not be purchased under existing appropriations, he said:
"However, this year's appropriation bill will contain a simple little clause, namely; for the purchase, maintenance, operation, and repair of airships and other aerial machines and accessories necessary in the Aviation Section. The word “accessories" will be like charity, and cover a multitude of sins; or, in other words, if we get these words in we can use our money as we need it, and be dependent upon nobody:'
“As further disclosing the contemptible deceit which Col. Reber prompted Capt. Cowan to practice, I refer to his letter of March 23, 1915, just prior to the occasion when a large number of Congressmen, including myself, visited the Aviation Section near San Diego. He said:
“It is a good thing for the Aviation Section for you to put on your company manners, and show off when Members of Congress turn up. You can give them rides, get them interested as much as you can, but positively decline to give their wives, sweethearts, or others joy rides in the air, stating that you did this once and the War Department howled for your head, which, although not a fact, will sound terrifying to the applicant.'
“It may be interesting, as well as amusing, for you to be informed that the captain pursued the above instructions to the letter. In a letter of September 10, 1914, from Capt. Cowan to Capt. Clark, after informing Capt. Clark that he should apply to The Adjutant General of the Army for detail in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps, as a junior military aviator, Capt. Cowan said:
**It will be understood that you will not be required to fly in time of peace, although nothing need be said about this in the official communication.'
“As conclusive evidence that Col. Reber prompted Capt. Cowan to make false reports concerning the true condition of the Aviation Service, I quote from his letter of February 25, 1915, as follows:
“He (the chief-Gen. Scriven) will probably ask you for the personnel of the First Aero Squadron, and I suggest that you have prepared a list showing the officers, who shall, I say theoretically, belong to the same. If you find it necessary to fill up by putting in the names of some of the aviation students, put them in and give him a list.'
“In his letter of May 19, 1915, Col. Reber cunningly suggests to Capt. Cowan to make a false report, informing him that the answer which he has theretofore made to certain inquiries is not the correct one at all, and that he would find his answer to the charges given in his (Col. Reber's) indorsement on the letter of Gen. Murray, copy of which was inclosed. He also said:
“Sit tight and say nothing to nobody until the inspector turns up, and then answer his questions along the line indicated in my indorsement.'
"I have also photographic copies of a large number of letters passing between Col. Reber and Capt. Cowan, showing favoritism to certain officers in the Aviation Service, and a purpose to demote others. I quote from his letters as follows: May 10, 1915, Col. Reber to Capt. Cowan:
"I want your recommendation as to what shall be done with Dodd and Taliaferro after the inspector gets through with the case, as I am free to confess that people who have acted as they have have lost their usefulness under me.'
“December 15, 1914, Col. Reber wrote Capt. Cowan:
* "I quite agree with your position with respect to Goodier. As I wrote you, I had a hint sent out to the Letterman Hospital to have him thoroughly overhauled, and expect a recommendation from the doctors out there looking to his relief.'
May 18, 1915, Col. Reber wrote Capt. Cowan:
“Push the instruction of your student officers as much as possible, as you are very liable to lose three junior military aviators in the near future.
"May 14, 1915, Col. Reber wrote Capt. Cowan:
"Set your mind at rest, keep perfectly quiet, say nothing to nobody about it, and let me handle the matter to my own satisfaction. I think I am going to get one or two scalps before I get through.'
**That the equipment of the Aviation Service at San Diego is defective can be established beyond any doubt. Col. Reber has instructed Capt. Cowan to keep this secret. This appears from his letter of June 21, 1915, in which Col. Reber said to Capt. Cowan:
"I note in the weekly letter that a reference is made to the condition of the machines and motors. This information should not be made public..
“I believe it can be easily demonstrated that there is no sincere effort upon the part of Col. Reber to improve the service, and that aviation in the United States Army is contemptibly inefficient, and its true condition deliberately withheld from those high in authority in the War Department, and that misrepresentations as to the progress being made by the aviators are deliberately and repeatedly made to the department. All of these circumstances, in my judgment, make imperative a congressional investigation. If the committee decides to make the investigation, I will take the liberty of furnishing the evidence to further establish the statements now made.”
COMMITTEE ON MILITARY AFFAIRS, UNITED STATES SENATE,
February 21, 1916. In connection with the resolution for an investigation of the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps, I submit a brief statement supplemental to the matter presented at the committee meeting last Friday, as also the material portion of my former statement.
The inefficiency and unsatisfactory results of the present management of the Aviation Section is disclosed by the fact that during eight years, or about that, in which the Signal Corps has had control of aviation only about 24 qualified fiers with the military rating have been produced. While the statement was made before the House Committee on Military Affairs that there are now 46 officers who are qualified as fliers and who are attached to the Aviation Section, I believe that an investigation will disclose that there are only about 24.
Very few of the so-called qualified fliers have ever done military work, or even seen from an aeroplane a field gun fired. Only one or two have maneuvered an aeroplane with bombs attached to it for use. The service has no bombs, no bomb-sighting device, no method of mounting a gun on an aeroplane, nor has a gun ever been fired from an aeroplane. We have no armored aeroplanes, and the machines on hand are Dot efficient enough for military flying.
During the eight years above referred to, which have netted only about 24 qualified fiers, there have occurred 17 deaths in connection with military aviation, 15 officers having been killed. The other two cases embrace the death of 1 soldier and I civilian. Thus approximately 65 per cent as many officers have been killed as there are now officer pilots on aviation duty.
Of the above-mentioned 15 officers who have been killed, 8 of them have died in frights at the North Island Station near San Diego, as follows:
Lieut. Rex Chandler, April 8, 1913; Lieut. J. D. Park, May 9, 1913; Lieut. Moss Love, September 4, 1913; Lieut. H. M. Kelly and Lieut. E. L. Ellington, November 24, 1913; Lieut. H. B. Post, February 9, 1914; Lieut. J. Gerstner, December 21, 1914; and Lieut. Walter R. Taliaferro, October 11, 1915.
Kelly and Ellington were drowned. Their aeroplane became unmanageable at a height of 900 feet and fell into San Diego Bay. Gerstner was drowned when he attempted to swim ashore when the aeroplane in which he was riding capsized during
a violent windstorm. It is claimed that Taliaferro became unconscious while in mid-air.
Six of these aviators were killed within 10 months, and it is believed that an investigation will disclose that their deaths were due to the fact that they were required to attempt flights in antiquated biplanes, known to be defective and dangerous. Following the death of Lieut. Post four of these machines were burned. It is believed that an investigation will disclose that other injuries were due to the use of unsafe machines, and that where warnings had been given that the machines were unsafe, officers who were required to fly in them were in some instances injured and in others killed.
It is a well-known fact that a short time before Lincoln Beachy was killed he visited this station and pronounced it outrageously defective in equipment and management and that he communicated his opinion in a bitter protest which came to the knowledge of the War Department.
The first company, second aero squadron, now in the Philippines, prior to February 1, 1916, had no aeroplanes. I am informed that four have been ordered, and that two have been or will soon be shipped. This first company, second aero squadron, in the Philippines, consists of six officer pilots. There are no other field organizations. There are two qualified officer pilots instructing students at the aviation school, and two are studying aeronautics in Boston.
The dangers connected with aviation at this stage of its development when surrounded by every safeguard which mechanical skill and scientific knowledge and due precaution can secure, are so great that only the ambitious and daring are prompted to undertake to master it. I will not use words to characterize a system such as that prevailing in our service, where incompetence and indifference have added to the dangers inherent in aviation through an unskillful, unscientific, negligent, and corrupt control. This committee, in the work of investigating and reforming the Aviation Service, may require the assistance of skilled aviators and expert mechanics. It can not deal intelligently with the subject without a thorough knowledge of the actual conditions surrounding the service, and to obtain this it would seem that it should proceed with a thorough investigation with a view of developing and improving aviation in the United States Army in conformity to the practice which has been pursued by other nations, and especially France. Whatever may be the size of the organization for military aviation in the United States Army, no one can gainsay the fact that whatever organization we do maintain should be speedily brought to the highest possible state of efficiency.
I have on hand a mass of detail, of more or less importance, touching the inefficiency of the Aviation Section as now organized and equipped; but I think that this statement, together with the one submitted last Friday, the material portions of which accompany this, is ample to disclose the necessity for a prompt and thorough investigation by a joint committee of Congress. Respectfully submitted.
JOE T. ROBINSON.
64TH CONGRESS, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. 1st Session
TERMS OF DISTRICT COURT, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF
MARCH 17, 1916.—Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the state of
the Union and ordered to be printed.
Mr. CARAWAY, from the Committee on the Judiciary, submitted the
[To accompany S. 377.]
The Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred S. 377, "An act providing for the establishment of a term of the district court for the middle district of Tennessee at Winchester, Tenn.,' beg leave to report it back without amendment and recommend that it do pass.
Courts are held at Nashville and Chattanooga, a distance of about 150 miles apart, by the same district judge. Winchester is located about halfway between the cities named. It has a new Federal building in which there is room provided for holding court. To hold two terms of court at Winchester will be a great saving to the people of the county of Franklin, in which Winchester is located, and the adjoining counties, and also save much expense to witnesses, litigants, and the Government. The holding of the terms of court as provided in the bill is recommended by the members of the bar and the people generally in that part of middle Tennessee. The holding of this court at Winchester as provided in this bill will not, it is believed, attach additional expense to the Government and will be a great saving of expense to the people.