By Kimball Worcester
|Mitchell the Aviation Hero|
Billy Mitchell spent his postwar days proselytizing for an independent air force run by knowledgeable aviator warriors. His words and deeds were implicitly, and eventually explicitly, critical of his superiors in the Army and War Department. He also waged an ongoing doctrinal guerrilla war with the U.S. Navy especially after his public relations victory resulting from the sinking of the Osfriesland. In 1925 it came to a head.
Rebecca Maksel summarized the events nicely in Air & Space Magazine (July 1, 2009):
The popular Colonel Mitchell faced a court-martial for his controversial remarks to the press on September 5, blasting two military disasters: a bungled flight during which three Navy seaplanes failed to make it from the West Coast to Hawaii; and the crash of the Navy airship USS Shenandoah while flying over the Midwest on an ill-advised public relations tour. “These incidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments,” Mitchell stated. “The bodies of my former companions in the air molder under the soil in America, and Asia, Europe and Africa, many, yes a great many, sent there directly by official stupidity.”
|Mitchell the Defendant at His Court Martial|
Within days, the War Department charged Mitchell with violating eight specifications of the Ninety-sixth Article of War, which covered “all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the military service.” After more than seven weeks of testimony and 99 witnesses, he was found guilty of all charges and was sentenced to a suspension from rank, command, and duty, with forfeiture of all pay for five years. Mitchell resigned his commission and died in 1936. He received many posthumous honors for his visionary work.