Before his premature death in 1943, Frank Maxwell Andrews played a major role in building the small U.S. Army Air Corps of the 1930s into the powerful U.S. Army Air Forces of World War II. Furthermore, he had become one of the key military commanders in the United States' armed forces.
Born in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 3, 1884, Andrews entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in July 1902. Upon graduating from West Point in 1906, he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the cavalry. Andrews remained in the cavalry for 11 years, and he served at various posts, including the Philippines and Hawaii.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Andrews thought his cavalry unit would not be sent overseas, so he transferred to the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps. After a short time in the office of the Aviation Section in Washington, D.C., Andrews went to Rockwell Field, Calif., in 1918. There, he earned his aviator wings at the age of 34. Ironically, Andrews never went overseas during the war. Instead, he commanded various airfields around the United States and served in the war plans division of the Army General Staff in Washington, D.C. Following the war, he replaced Brig. Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell as the air officer assigned to the Army of Occupation in Germany.
After returning to the United States, Andrews assumed command of Kelly Field, Texas, and he became the first commandant of the advanced flying school established there. In 1928 he attended the Air Corps Tactical School at Langley Field, Va., and the following year he went to the Army Command and General School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, Andrews served as the chief of the Army Air Corps' Training and Operations Division for a year before taking command of the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Mich. After graduation from the Army War College in 1933, Andrews returned to the General Staff in 1934.
In March 1935 General Andrews took command of the newly formed General Headquarters (GHQ) Air Force, which consolidated all the Army Air Corps' tactical units under a single commander. The Army promoted Andrews to brigadier general (temporary) and to major general (temporary) less than a year later. Under his command, GHQ Air Force started the development of air power that became the mighty U.S. Army Air Force.
A vocal proponent of the four-engine heavy bomber, Andrews advocated the purchase of the Boeing B-17 in large numbers. The Army General Staff disagreed with Andrews, believing it better to purchase a large number of twin-engine light and medium bombers like the Douglas B-18 rather than a small number of four-engine heavy bombers. Through his insistence, however, the War Department purchased enough B-17s to keep the program alive.
His tour as the GHQ Air Force commander ended in 1939, and he reverted to his permanent rank of colonel. The Army assigned him to the same position to which Gen. Mitchell had been sent after vigorously advocating the importance of air power. To many, it appeared that the Army was punishing Andrews for advocating the B-17 so forcefully. However, after less than four months, the Army reassigned Andrews as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations with the rank of brigadier general.
In 1941, promoted again to lieutenant general, Andrews became commander of the Caribbean Defense Command, which had the critically important duty of defending the southern approaches to the United States including the vital Panama Canal. In 1942 Andrews went to North Africa, where as commander of all United States' forces in the Middle East, he helped to defeat Rommel's Afrika Korps.
In February 1943 Andrews became the commander of all United States forces in the European Theater of Operations. In his memoirs, Gen Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces in WWII, expressed the belief that Andrews would have been given the command of the Allied invasion of Europe -- the position that eventually went to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Unfortunately, on May 3, 1943, the B-24 carrying Andrews on an inspection tour crashed while attempting to land at the Royal Air Force Base at Kaldadarnes, Iceland. Andrews and 13 others died in the crash, and only the tail gunner survived. (Click here to read a summary of circumstances for the crash.)
Andrews Air Force Base, Md., is named in honor of Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews.