Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Quesada, Elwood Richard "Pete" (1904–1993)

U.S. Army Air Forces general and innovator of tactical air support. Born in Washington, D.C., on 13 April 1904, Elwood Richard "Pete" Quesada earned his wings and a commission in the Air Reserve in 1925. He briefly played professional baseball before going on active duty in September 1927. He flew as a crew member of the "Question Mark," a modified Fokker C-2A trimotor monoplane that set a world record for airborne endurance in 1929. Quesada served in the 1930s as assistant military attaché to Cuba, personal pilot to the assistant secretary of war for air during an expedition to collect African wildlife, and technical adviser to the Argentine air force. Stints at the Air Corps Tactical School and the Army's Command and General Staff College led him to consider the problem of air-to-ground coordination.

After commanding the 33rd Pursuit Group at Mitchel Field, New York, in 1941, Quesada was promoted to brigadier general in December 1942 and deployed to North Africa. Taking charge of 12th Fighter Command, he served as deputy commanding general of the Northwest African Coastal Air Force. Here he learned the tactical air doctrine developed by British air marshal Sir Arthur Coningham. It featured air liaison officers (ALOs) to coordinate air-to-ground operations, co-located air and army command centers, and streamlined command-and-control procedures between ground units and supporting tactical air. All of these Quesada adopted and enhanced in 1944.

Promoted to major general, Quesada commanded the Ninth Tactical Air Command in Europe for Operation overlord. His support of Major General J. Lawton Collins's VII Corps demonstrated brilliant innovative skills. Recognizing that close air support (CAS) was a key Allied force multiplier, Quesada installed very-high-frequency (VHF) radios in tanks to enable ALOs in armored assaults to talk directly to pilots overhead. Deviating from accepted doctrine that air units sacrificed effectiveness if distributed in "penny packets," he allocated fighter-bombers in four-ship formations to provide constant reconnaissance and CAS to Collins's armored columns. German panzer commanders learned that to concentrate in daylight meant death from the sky. Yet in dispersing to survive, the Germans sacrificed much of their combat power. Quesada's tactics proved crucial to the success of cobra and the Allied breakout in July.

Throughout 1944, Quesada continued to innovate. At the Battle of the Ardennes (Bulge), he used radar to provide CAS in poor weather. Using modified Norden bombsights combined with radar, he enhanced navigation and bombing accuracy.

During 1946–1947, Quesada commanded the Third Air Force, and in 1947–1948 he commanded the Tactical Air Command. However, Quesada was marginalized within the newly independent Air Force, which stressed strategic nuclear bombing. After commanding Joint Task Force Three at Eniwetok (1948–1951), Quesada retired from the air force as a lieutenant general. He then entered private industry and later became first head of the Federal Aviation Agency from 1958 to 1961. Quesada died in Washington, D.C., on 9 February 1993.

William J. Astore


Further Reading
Hallion, Richard P. Strike from the Sky: The History of Battlefield Air Attack, 1911–1945. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.; Hughes, Thomas Alexander. Overlord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II. New York: Free Press, 1995.; Kohn, Richard H., and Joseph P. Harahan, eds. Air Superiority in World War II and Korea: An Interview with Gen. James Ferguson, Gen. Robert M. Lee, Gen. William Momyer, and Lt. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983.; Schlight, John. "Elwood R. Quesada: TAC Air Comes of Age." In John L. Frisbee, ed., Makers of the United States Air Force, 177–204.Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1987.
 

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