Tangential evidence

This doesn’t have anything directly to do with sabotage and the internment question, but the dichotomy between what some emailers have said and the production figures got me curious about something. The common wisdom had it that the USA’s military equipment, particularly the planes, were inferior going into WWII. I had always assumed that was correct, but the fact that in 1940 we suddenly jacked up our production makes me wonder… what planes were being produced in 1940 and 1941?

Consider the P-51 Mustang, which many aviation authorities consider “to be the best American air superiority fighter of the Second World War.” And when was it first produced? North American Aviation began designing and building it in 1940.

“By November 1941, the first of over 600 aircraft produced under British contract were delivered to the RAF.”

In other words, we already had our best fighter coming off production lines before Pearl Harbor. It seems pretty clear that even though we still had older aircraft on our carriers and at our bases in the Pacific, it had to be known that all the good stuff was coming online, and coming online quickly, at a pace of 1600/month in 1941 increasing to almost 4,000/month in 1942. It’s also clear that as far as the strategists were concerned, the Pacific war was basically a sideshow. Consider the following statement from a survey on the United States Strategic Bombing Survey:

“United States aircraft production and pilot training exceeded the Japanese totals by wide margins, but only a portion of this strength could be deployed to the Pacific. United States first line strength in the Pacific west of Pearl Harbor increased from some 200 planes in 1941 to 11,000 planes in August 1945.”

The same report also showed that the US lost 8,500 planes in combat in the Pacific War. What is odd about those numbers? The fact that the US produced 301,500 planes over the course of the war, 25,500 before January 1942. Now, obviously this doesn’t account for second-line strength (I have no idea what first-line means in this context), but it seems strange to insist that the nation is facing a dire national emergency while simultaneously bringing less than one percent of your air strength to bear.

I’d like to find out how many of those 25,300 new planes which aren’t accounted for were sitting in Pearl Harbor or on the West Coast. It seems obvious that the key word is “west of Pearl Harbor”, since it would have been risky trying to get the planes there while the IJN was still dangerous. But then, if they had 10,000 planes already sitting unused on the West Coast, it’s hard to argue that sabotage was a real concern. As Malkin reports that one-quarter of our aircraft production was on the West Coast, that would indicate that barring any decision to ship those planes elsewhere, around 7,375 new planes were available for the defense of the West Coast prior to February 1942, more than 10x the IJN’s 717-plane carrier transport capacity prior to its losses at Midway.