July 17, 1943 – The Film Victory Through Air Power is Released to Theaters
“Our country in the past has struggled through many storms of anguish, difficulty, and doubt. But we have always been saved by men of vision and courage, who opened our minds and showed us the way out of confusion.”
On July 17, 1943, the feature film Victory Through Air Power was released to theaters. The film was based on the book of the same name by Maj. Alexander P. de Seversky, who also served as the on-screen narrator of the film. De Seversky’s book explains how long-range air power could defeat the enemy during World War II. Walt Disney, like many who read the book, was impressed with the material, and it became one of his most ambitious projects. He used the film to educate and send a message to the public rather than to entertain, as at the time the film was released, an Allied victory was anything but certain. H.C. Potter was hired as the live-action director, and David Hand was the Animation Supervisor, with Art Baker as the animation sequence narrator. Critics did not like the film, and RKO, Disney’s film distributor, did not want to release it, so Disney released it through United Artists. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.
Although the film was not popular with critics, it did the job of presenting the idea of air power to win the war. “[T]he most important response to the movie came from Winston Churchill,” film critic Leonard Maltin explained. “When [Churchill] flew to Quebec for an Allied conference, and learned that President Roosevelt hadn’t seen the movie, he and Air Marshal Tedder prodded him until he ordered that a print be sent to him. H.C. Potter was told by Walt that it was only after Roosevelt saw Victory Through Air Power, that our country made the commitment to long-range bombing. And that, after all, was the reason that Walt committed to making this movie in the first place.”
The film begins with newspaper clips from past years, beginning with 1919, where men have tried to convince the public about air warfare, and how defense depends on an air army. The film is then dedicated to Billy Mitchell, who was a pioneer in the fight for air power, and the brave airmen of the United States military. The audience then sees the history of flight in an animated sequence, beginning with Orville and Wilbur Wright, and leading into the first air corps, the first aircraft carrier, and the first trans-continental flight. When World War I began, aircraft was used only for observation service, until the installation of the machine gun turned the plane into a weapon. The bomber would soon develop from this idea.
1939 brings about a new war, and American aviation is ready to meet the challenge of the Axis powers. This then leads to the introduction of Maj. de Seversky and his book, Victory Through Air Power. De Seversky began his military education in Russia at age 10, graduating as a lieutenant, and seeking service in 1914. He became a pilot and was assigned flying duties, but was shot down on a night flying mission, resulting in the loss of his right leg at the tender age of 22. Nevertheless, de Seversky became a strong proponent of air power, and the leading ace of air warriors. In 1918, he came to the US and worked for the United States Army, becoming a major in the U.S. Army when he became a citizen in 1928.
De Seversky begins his speech to the audience, warning that it’s only a matter of time until the U.S. has its share of civilian casualties, thanks to the advances of air power by other countries. He also declares that everyone must understand the strategy of war. There were formerly two ways to destroy the enemy: one was to destroy the enemy’s entire army to grab their source of power, the other was to sink their navy and enforce a blockade. With the airplane, there is no safe place: the plane can attack quickly over the heads of the enemy forces. Those that could foresee the usefulness of air power were considered crazy and ignored. An example is then shown of how England was supposed to attack the Nazis via sea forces, and the French were to attack via the land. Hitler, however, came in with air power, which allowed him and the Nazi forces to take over France. “Only when it was too late,” de Seversky warns the public, “did the French realize that their whole plan of defense was futile.” The British thought they could stop the Nazis through a blockade, only to find their battleships destroyed by bombers. The Royal Air Force grew out of this tragedy, ready to attack Hitler’s air troops. “As long as a nation controls its own skies, it cannot be invaded,” de Seversky tells us as the moral of the British story.
The audience is then shown the first real battle between air power (Nazis) and sea power (British Navy) over the island of Crete. Crete became the first territory to be conquered completely through air power. This then leads to Pearl Harbor, and how American troops left themselves unprotected against the air power of the Japanese troops, because the American troops were instead prepared for traditional naval warfare. De Seversky explains that the Japanese were imitating the German blitzkrieg, and were able to capture most of the Pacific. American armed forces finally realized that no place on Earth was safe without gaining control of the skies above. The success of American victory through air power demanded two things: to produce a vast amount of weapons of endless variety, and to deliver this equipment to battlefronts all over the face of the Earth.
The audience is then introduced to another problem to consider: the transportation of these weapons. America is able to transport across the country with no problem, but gets caught in the slow speeds of shipping to overseas locations. Americans also have to contend with the German submarines. The audience is warned that if Americans fight only on the surface of the Earth, Hitler has all the advantage. Air power would give American forces an advantage and the ability to cut off Hitler’s power at the source. Success will also depend on supply lines, and where American air bases are located. The film ends with a patriotic look at how American forces can use air power and airmen’s skills to win the war. “America should not hesitate to place its destiny in the hands of [the airmen],” de Seversky explains, “for with the strategy of air power, they will make the enemy fight on our terms, against the weapons of our choosing, at our time, but on his soil.”