Nathan Farragut Twining
Chairman from Aug. 15, 1957 – Sept. 30, 1960
Nathan Twining was born in Monroe, Wisconsin, on 11 October 1897. His family later moved to Oregon, where he joined the National Guard in 1916 and saw service along the Mexican border. Rising to first sergeant in the Guard, Twining won appointment to the US Military Academy in 1917. As the result of an accelerated wartime program, he graduated just over a year later in November 1918.
After initial infantry assignments, Twining attended flight school and transferred to the Army Air Service in 1926. During the next several years, he was a flying instructor and then served with pursuit and attack groups stationed around the country and in Hawaii and with the Army Mail Service. After he completed the Air Corps Tactical School and the Army Command and General Staff School, he was Air Corps Technical Supervisor at the San Antonio Air Depot. Staff assignments with the Office of the Chief of the Army Air Corps in the years 1940 to 1942 rounded out his experience and brought promotion from major to brigadier general.
General Twining began his World War II combat experience in July 1942 as Chief of Staff of the US Army Air Forces in the South Pacific area. In January 1943 he assumed command of the Thirteenth Air Force and in February was promoted to major general. While flying a B-17, Twining crashlanded in the Coral Sea. He and his crew floated in rubber life rafts in shark-infested waters for six days and five nights before being rescued. In July 1943 he became Commander of Aircraft, Solomon Islands, one of the first combined air commands in US history, with tactical control of all Army, Navy, Marine, and Allied Air Forces in the South Pacific.
In late 1943 Twining was transferred to the Mediterranean theater, where he assumed command of the Fifteenth Air Force and the Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Forces. His Allied command not only supported operations in Italy and southern France but also conducted bombing raids against Germany, Austria, and Romania. With the surrender of Germany, Twining returned to the Pacific. Now a lieutenant general, he commanded the Twentieth Air Force. Forces under his command launched B-29 attacks against the Japanese home islands, and planes under his command dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After World War II, Twining commanded the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field in Ohio. With the creation of the US Air Force in 1947, he took command of the newly established Alaskan Command. In 1950 he joined the Air Staff. After serving briefly as Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, he received his fourth star and assumed duties as Vice Chief of Staff.
In 1953 General Twining became Chief of Staff of the Air Force. In that position, he worked diligently for the development of aircraft, missiles, and weapons for his service. In 1956 President Dwight Eisenhower selected him to lead a delegation of technical experts invited to inspect Soviet air facilities. This was the first visit by US officers to the Soviet Union since World War II.
General Twining became the third Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 15 August 1957. Just ten days after he took office, the Soviet Union announced the successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile and, less than two months later, placed the first artificial earth satellite, “Sputnik,” in orbit. It appeared that the Soviet Union had or would soon have the capability to launch missile attacks against the United States. General Twining endorsed steps to strengthen and protect strategic retaliatory forces but saw no reason for the large accelerated buildup favored by the Air Force. Twining was confident that the Strategic Air Command was superior to its Soviet counterpart. He opposed any major change in US strategy and, like his predecessor Admiral Arthur Radford, remained a firm advocate of the Eisenhower policy of main, but not sole, reliance on nuclear weapons.
Three crises occurred while Twining was Chairman. The first one began on 14 July 1958, when a coup toppled the pro-Western government in Iraq. The president of neighboring Lebanon, concerned about maintaining his regime, appealed for US assistance. Radical Arab nationalism, encouraged by the Soviet Union, appeared to threaten Western interests. Speaking for the Joint Chiefs, Twining told President Eisenhower that he saw “no alternative but to go in.” The President promptly decided to act. Marines began landing at Beirut on 15 July, followed by Army troops. With the arrival of approximately 14,000 US personnel, enough stability existed for Lebanese factions to work out a political compromise and for US forces to withdraw by the end of October.
Another crisis soon followed in the Far East when the Chinese communists began bombardment of the nationalist-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu off the Chinese mainland. With the eruption of this crisis during August 1958, General Twining and the Chiefs quickly agreed that the United States should not permit the loss of the islands to the communists. They recommended the use of whatever force was necessary, including atomic weapons. General Twining forcefully presented their recommendations to the President. Eisenhower agreed that a show of force was needed but took great care to keep his military options open. He ordered the Seventh Fleet, plus two carriers from the Mediterranean, to the Formosa Strait and provided convoy protection in international waters for Chinese nationalist supply ships bound for the offshore islands. The show of force, combined with various political initiatives, worked. The bombardment ceased and the crisis passed.
The third crisis came in November 1958, when the Soviet Union announced its intention to transfer its access and occupation functions in East Germany to the East German government unless West Berlin became a demilitarized “free city” within six months. President Eisenhower responded with a firm but low-key approach. Twining told the President that the JCS feared that the United States would “go half way” in meeting Soviet provocations and “then quit.” They believed that the United States had to be ready to risk general war. Some Service Chiefs favored a major mobilization, but Twining told the President that he saw no need to go that far. Eisenhower, however, held resolutely to his lowkey approach, and the Soviets backed away from their deadline.
During 1959 and 1960 General Twining played a central role in working out new procedures for coordinating nuclear strike plans. The advent of land-based missiles and Polaris submarines to complement the bomber fleet created major complications in target assignments, command, and control. Twining collaborated with Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates to create the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff and the Single Integrated Operational Plan, arrangements which lasted beyond the Cold War.
Following major surgery, General Twining elected to retire on 30 September 1960, midway through his second term, before a new administration took office. During the next decade he worked as vice chairman of the publishing firm Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. In 1966 the firm published Twining’s views on the state of national defense under the title Neither Liberty nor Safety. General Twining died on 29 March 1982 at Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.