Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Frank Maxwell Andrews
Lt. Gen. Frank Maxwell Andrews, for whom Andrews Air Force Base is named, was one of the founding fathers of military aviation in the U.S. In leadership positions within the Army Air Corps, he succeeded where predecessors and allies such as Billy Mitchell had failed. Andrews was the first head of an autonomous American air force and the first air officer to serve on the Army's general staff. In early 1943, he took the place of Dwight D. Eisenhower as commander of all U.S. troops in the European Theater of Operations.
Today, he is virtually unknown.
Born in Nashville in 1884, “Andy” Andrews graduated from the city's Montgomery Bell Academy in 1901 and the U.S. Military Academy in 1906. The Army he joined was smaller than that of Bulgaria and beset with internal turmoil, but it gave the young lieutenant ample opportunities to play polo, see the world, and observe the high and low politics of leadership in an ossified organization. After marrying the high-spirited daughter of Maj. Gen. Henry Tureman Allen , Andrews gained entrée into elite social circles in Washington and within the military. Gregarious and widely admired within the ranks, he could be quietly ruthless and cunning in pursuing institutional goals on behalf of the Army’s nascent air service.
In 1935 he was chosen as the first commander of the first military air unit to enjoy a hint of independence, known as GHQ Air Force. From that pulpit he evangelized for a strategic commitment to air power as a bulwark against rising threats from Germany and Japan. He became the most trusted air adviser to a rising officer in the Army bureaucracy, George C. Marshall, but he pushed too hard for the taste of more senior authorities. At the end of Andrews’ term at GHQ, he was reduced in rank, exiled to a remote air base and expected to retire. Instead, he chose to bide his time. When Marshall took over as chief of staff on the day of the Blitzkrieg, September 1, 1939, he chose Andrews to handle training for the entire Army in the run-up to America’s inevitable involvement in the war.
Marshall would say, late in life, that Andrews was the only general he had a chance to groom for a possible supreme Allied command later in the war. Marshall made him the satrap of the Caribbean in 1940, charged with the vital task of protecting the Panama Canal from a feared Japanese attack. Command of U.S. forces in the Middle East, from a base in Cairo, followed in 1942. Then, as Andrews took part in the 1943 Casablanca conference with Roosevelt and Churchill, the Allied leaders decided to place him in charge of all U.S. forces in Europe, with his base in London. Eisenhower, a general of lesser experience, relinquished this command to take charge of the invasion of North Africa.
Why isn’t Andrews famous, then? Why is he in fact all but forgotten, mentioned only in passing if at all in the myriad volumes of history and biography that focus on his era? Chalk it up to bad luck. Frank Andrews did not go on command a victorious Air Force, like Hap Arnold, nor to play a controversial role in the Cold War, like his underling Curtis LeMay, nor to share his experiences with future generations over a long life, like his younger fellow general Ira Eaker. Even within the community of historians interested in the development of American air power, Andrews has never garnered the attention accorded other key figures in early military aviation. Some have noticed the anomaly: Col. Phillip S. Meilinger, dean of the USAF School of Advanced Airpower Studies, has called Andrews a “forgotten airman” whose life is “a topic worthy of a full-length biography.” Perhaps things would be different if Andrews had lived to write his memoirs.
Andrews met the fate he had said he wanted. Perhaps it was just John Wayne bravado talking when he told a Nashville audience he didn’t want to be “one of those generals who die in bed.” But what we know of his personality suggests he meant it. The May 1943 crash of his B-24 Liberator on an outcropping near the Icelandic shore was front-page news, to be sure. He was the highest-ranking Allied officer to die in the line of duty to that point in the war. But this tragedy happened in the couple of weeks between the liquidation of the last resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto and the final surrender of Axis forces in North Africa. It was a momentary story. The war effort moved on.
He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
- Updates on Andrews biography project begun in 2004 (including document images and audio)
- Biographical pamphlet by DeWitt C. Copp
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