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Ira Clarence Eaker

Military

Commanding General of 8th AF 1 December 1942 to 5 January 1944. Following that, Eaker was given command of all Allied air forces in the MTO, and in April 1945 became Deputy CG of the USAAF. Retired July 1947.

Ira Eaker became a pilot in 1918. As a general, he was the Eighth Air Force’s first commander. From February 1942 he faced the difficult task of beginning the bombing campaign against Germany, working with his British allies. Eaker believed that bombing would shorten the war and save lives: ‘I would be certain,’ he said after the war, ‘that if we had not had strategic bombing... perhaps a million men would have died that lived through that struggle.’ In January 1944 he moved to take overall command of Allied air power in the Mediterranean. He became Deputy Commanding General of the USAAF in 1945, retiring two years later.

General Eaker commanded United States Army Air Forces in Britain and the Mediterranean. In 1944, his job was to help ensure victory in Italy and Southern France. His aircraft and crews had to support the troops on the ground and stop the German army from reinforcing their positions. Targets included road bridges like the one at Pont-Saint-Martin. If he had failed in his job, there could have been thousands more Allied casualties, and the plan to liberate Southern Europe could have ended in disaster. Eaker was keenly aware of the consequences of his decisions, and of the realities of the situations his aircrews faced: ‘Nobody who fires a gun hits the target every time and we were learning as we went; we had limited resources and I think my crews did the best job possible under the circumstances.’

Ira Eaker joined the US army in 1917 and was commissioned 2nd Lt; in 1918 he got his wings and thereafter broke records for long distance flights. When The USA was drawn into the 2nd World War he was assigned to build up the nucleus of the USAAF bomber force in England. He was to become commander of the 8th Air Force from its arrival in Britain early in 1942 until January 1944 and thus oversaw the crucial phase of combined operations with the Royal Air Force, who bombed by night and the 8th who bombed in daylight hours, subjecting the enemy to 'round-the-clock' aerial assault.

Eaker had earlier met and was already firm friends with his counterpart Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris in 1938 when Harris was posted to the USA. As Eaker waited for his accommodation at Wycombe Abbey to become available he and his wife Jean stayed with the Harris's at their home for 'some months'. The two men were already working together to plan the bombing campaign against Germany; the key questions tactical or strategic, night or day?

Eaker was interviewed much later (no date is available) about this relationship by an anonymous interrogator determined to prove animosity between the two men; he failed completely. The RAF had tried daylight bombing with heavy losses but Eaker was convinced that with the B-17 - the literally 'Flying Fortress'- it was feasible. The 8th Air Force's very first daylight raid on the marshaling yards at Rouen was carried out by the 97th BG from Grafton Underwood on 17th August 1942. General Eaker flew in 'Yankee Doodle' as a passenger and Mission No 1 was deemed a success.

The ongoing controversy night bombing vis-a-vis daylight raids was to be resolved at the Casablanca Conference of January 1943 when Eaker was famously summoned by his boss General Arnold to personally convince Churchill of the merits of daylight bombing as well as the night raids and keeping the enemy on 24 hour alert. Apparently Churchill had earlier persuaded President Roosevelt that the 8th would be better employed joining the RAF in night bombing. Eaker had a private meeting with Churchill and gave him a memorandum he had prepared pleading his case. Churchill read it 'very carefully and very deliberately' and agreed to put on hold any change of plan.

The interviewer then went on to question the choice of targets; not - says Eaker- his or Harris's selection but that given them by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. They did their best with what intelligence they possessed. After the war Albert Speer, Germany's wartime minister of production, maintained that the war would have been shortened if the Allies had continued their very expensive attacks on the Schweinfurt ball-bearing factories. Eaker replied that at the time they could not correctly assess the damage caused and did not always have the means to continue the massive raids which had resulted in a huge number of losses.

Eaker when questioned about the significance of the combined bomber offensive contended that 'the greatest thing we did was to destroy the Luftwaffe...make it possible for our subsequent sea and ground operations to be successful...' Tactical strikes on airfields were a waste of resources as the aircraft on the ground were camouflaged and dispersed. He then goes on to defend the bombing of Dresden reminding the interviewer that it was at the request of the Russians because most of the German supplies and reinforcements for the Eastern Front were moved through that city's vast rail complex.

Eaker then goes on to say that he was well aware that some academic historians denigrated the air offensive's part in the defeat of Germany but asserted that 'without exception all the senior commanders accredited the air effort with their destruction'. The 8th Air Force had benefitted from the RAF's earlier experiences, used their drop tanks and fighter cover before the P47s and P51's took over, and its commanders had taken Harris's advice on limiting crew missions etc. RAF Bomber Command, says Eaker, was 'well lead and superbly executed'. In spite of the endless post-war pedantic 'nit-picking' Eaker is unstinting in his praise of Sir Arthur Harris and the joint effort of RAF Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force.

In January 1944 Lieutenant General Eaker assumed command of all Allied Air Forces in the Mediterranean. and in April he became Deputy Commander of the Army Air Forces and Chief of Staff in Washington. He retired in 1947, going on to write newspaper articles on military matters. He died aged 91 in 1987 and was buried with full military honours at Arlington.

Service

People

  • Asa Duncan

    Military | Brigadier General | 8th Air Force Chief of Staff
    En route to Maison Blanche, via Gibraltar on 17 November 1942, with Clark Garber, Co-pilot: Josh Kaplan, Navigator: John Roysden, Bombardier: Les Birleson*, Flight engineer/top turret gunner: Welcome Talbot, Radio Operator: Paul Padgett, Ball turret...

  • Arthur Vanaman

    Military | Major General | Command Pilot, Combat Observer, A-2 Berlin 1938-41, AWPD-42 Secretary of Air, Ultra-cleared, POW | 379th Bomb Group
    Hazebruck, France (marshalling yards) 27 June 1944 mission. 'Big Barn Smell,' had #4 engine on fire, four of the crew bailed out by order of the pilot and the remainder of the crew stayed with the Ship. The flames went out and the ship landed safely in...

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Units served with

Aircraft

Associated Place

Events

Event Location Date
Born Field Creek, Texas 13 April 1896
Commissioned 15 August 1917

Infantry

Died Prince George's County, MD, USA 6 August 1987

Camp Springs, Prince George's County, Maryland

Buried

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
09 January 2019 09:33:51 Emily Changes to biography
Sources

Biography completed by historian Helen Millgate. Information sourced from correspondence files and articles held in an IWM research collection related to the acquisition of various items and ephemera belonging to Ira C Eaker

Date Contributor Update
14 August 2018 09:50:09 general ira snapsorter Changes to biography
Sources

American Air Museum text from displays.

Date Contributor Update
15 April 2018 18:09:44 jmoore43 Changes to awards
Sources

Find-A-Grave memorial # 6634056

Date Contributor Update
15 April 2018 17:58:45 jmoore43 Changes to events
Sources

Data from Find-A-Grave memorial # 6634056

Date Contributor Update
17 June 2015 03:05:32 bombercommand Changes to events
Sources

BIOGRAPHICAL DIRECTORY OF THE 8TH AIR FORCE 1942-1945

Date Contributor Update
17 June 2015 02:12:13 bombercommand Changes to person associations
Sources

http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/239934

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:13:27 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / The Mighty Eighth by Roger Freeman

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