Following U.S. entry into World War I, Captain Spaatz served in France, first as commander of the 31st Aero Squadron and then as an instructor at the American Aviation School. In September 1918, he joined the 13th Squadron, 2nd Pursuit Group, and was credited with downing three German planes.
Following the war, Major Spaatz commanded the 1st Pursuit Group (1921–1924), graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School in June 1925, and spent three years in the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps (OCAC), in Washington. During 1–7 January 1929, Spaatz commanded an army aircraft, the famous "Question Mark," in a record endurance flight of nearly 151 hours aloft. From 1929 to 1935, he commanded the 7th Bombardment Group and 1st Bombardment Wing in California, subsequently returning to the OCAC. In June 1936, he graduated from the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He then served at Langley Field, Virginia, and had a third tour with the OCAC. In 1940, during the Battle of Britain, Spaatz spent several weeks in Britain as a military observer. By July 1941, he had risen to the rank of temporary brigadier general, serving as chief of the Air Staff for the newly created Army Air Forces (AAF).
Following U.S. entry into World War II, Major General Spaatz traveled to England in July 1942 to command the U.S. Eighth Air Force. That December, Spaatz transferred to command the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to lieutenant general in March 1943, he assumed command of Allied Northwest Africa Air Forces. During the last six months of 1943, Spaatz served as deputy commander for the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces.
Spaatz returned to England in January 1944 to command U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, consisting of the Eighth Air Force in Britain and the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy. These forces proved vital in preparation for, and then support of, the Allies' Normandy Invasion.
Promoted to temporary general in March 1945, Spaatz returned to AAF headquarters in June only to be assigned to command U.S. Strategic Air Forces, Pacific, in July. He supervised the final air campaign against Japan. Spaatz remained certain of the efficacy of strategic bombing of industry in the war, and he believed that still heavier bombing might have obviated the need for the Normandy Invasion. In October 1945, he recommended that atomic weapons should form the backbone of U.S. defense strategy.
In late 1945, President Harry S Truman nominated Spaatz for the permanent rank of major general, and in February 1946, he made Spaatz commander of the AAF, a post held previously by General of the Army Henry H. "Hap" Arnold. Spaatz played a leading role in the creation of the separate United States Air Force. Indeed, he was the last commander of the AAF and first chief of staff of the Air Force in September 1947. Spaatz retired in June 1948. Later, he served as chair of the Civil Air Patrol and wrote a column for Newsweek magazine. Spaatz died in Washington, D.C., on 14 July 1974. William Head
Copp, DeWitt S. A Few Great Captains: The Men and Events That Shaped the Development of U.S. Air Power. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980.; Davis, Richard G. Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe, 1940–1945. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1993.; Mets, David R. Master of Air Power, General Carl A. Spaatz. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1988.