Curtis LeMay

From Academic Kids

General Curtis E. LeMay

Curtis Emerson LeMay (November 15, 1906October 3, 1990) was a General in the United States Air Force. He is credited with creating an effective systematic strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific Theatre of World War II and later reorganizing the Strategic Air Command as a military arm for conducting nuclear war. However, he was also characterized by his opponents as a belligerent warmonger whose aggressiveness threatened to enflame tense international political situations like the Cuban Missile Crisis into war between the United States and the Soviet Union.



Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, he studied civil engineering at Ohio State University. He joined the Air Corps in 1928 and became an officer through the ROTC. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1930. He transferred to bomber aircraft in 1937 and soon demonstrated excellent abilities. His severe and demanding character earned him the nickname "Iron Ass".

At the outbreak of World War II he was a group commander in the Eighth Air Force. By early 1942 he was a lieutenant colonel and directed the 305th Group into action over Europe. He was given command of the 3rd Bombardment Division in late 1942 and in July 1944 he transferred to Pacific Theater. He was promoted to major general and directed the XX Bomber Command and then the XXI Bomber Command

LeMay commanded B-29 operations against Japan, including the massive incendiary attacks on over sixty Japanese cities, including the firestorm bombing of Tokyo on March 9 -March 10, 1945, which killed more than 100,000 civilians in one night. Precise figures are not available, but the firebombing and nuclear bombing campaign against Japan, directed by LeMay between March, 1945 and the Japanese surrender in August, 1945, certainly killed more than one million Japanese civilians, mostly women and children.

Roosevelt and Truman justified these tactics by referring to a very realistic estimate that one million American troops would be killed if Japan had to be invaded. Additionally, the Japanese had decentralized their armament industries into small workshops in civilian districts, which (according to the rationale) made these areas legitimate military targets.

LeMay referred to his nightime incendiary attacks as "fire jobs." The Japanese nicknamed him "brutal LeMay" (鬼畜ルメイ).

In addition, LeMay oversaw Operation Starvation, an aerial mining operation against Japanese waterways and ports which disrupted the enemy's shipping and food distribution logistics.

Post-war he was briefly transferred to The Pentagon as Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Research & Development. In 1947 he returned to Europe as commander of USAF Europe, heading operations for the Berlin Airlift in 1948. He was back in the US by 1949 to replace George Kenney in command of the Strategic Air Command. He headed SAC until 1957, overseeing its transformation into a modern, efficient, all-jet-engined force. He was appointed Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force in July 1957, serving until 1961 when he was made Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force on the retirement of Thomas White.

He was not a success as Chief of Staff; he was a belligerent and totally committed anti-Communist and clashed repeatedly with more flexible minds, such as Robert McNamara, Eugene Zuckert, and General Maxwell Taylor. LeMay lost a number of significant appropriation battles (for Skybolt ALBM, the F-111, and the B-52 replacement, the XB-70.) He also lost in his desire for a much more vigorous engagement in the Vietnam War. The quote "we should bomb Vietnam back into the stone age" is often attributed to him. His passion for promoting strategic air campaigns over tactical strike and ground support operations did come to be reflected in the Air Force, which became disproportionally strong in favour of strategic bombing operations during his tenure. Area bombardment of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia led to the deaths and maimings of up to hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians during the wars in those countries.

LeMay retired in February 1965 and seemed to be headed for a potential political career. His highest accomplishment in politics was to be selected as the vice presidential candidate to segregationist George Wallace in 1968.



  • (with MacKinlay Kantor) Mission with LeMay: My Story (Doubleday, 1965) ISBN B00005WGR2
  • (with Dale O. Smith) America is in Danger (Funk & Wagnalls, 1968) ISBN B00005VCVX
  • (with Bill Yenne) Superfortress: The Story of the B-29 and American Air Power (McGraw-Hill, 1988) ISBN 0070371601


As Himself

  • The Last Bomb (Documentary, 1945)
  • In the Year of the Pig (Documentary, 1968)
  • The World at War (Documentary TV Series, 1974)
  • Race for the Superbomb (Documentary, 1999)
  • JFK (Movie, 1991)
  • Roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Documentary, 2001)
  • The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Documentary, 2003)
  • DC3:ans sista resa (Documentary, 2004)

As Based on Him

  • Dr. Strangelove (character of General Buck Turgidson, played by actor George C. Scott) (Movie, 1964)
  • Thirteen Days (character of General LeMay, played by actor Kevin Conway) (Movie, 2003)


External links


ja:カーチス・ルメイ de:Curtis E. LeMay

Preceded by:
Gen. Thomas D. White
Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force
Succeeded by:
Gen John P. McConnell

Template:End box


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