Power, Thomas S. (Thomas Sarsfield), 1905-

Alternative names
Birth 1905-06-18
Death 1970-12-07

Biographical notes:

Air Force officer.

From the description of Reminiscences of Thomas S. Power : oral history, 1960. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122619630

Thomas Sarsfield Power (1905-1970 was an American military officer who served as both Vice-Commander and Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command. Born on June 18, 1905 in New York City, he graduated from Barnard School for Boys and entered the Air Corps flying school in 1928, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in 1929. Early assignments took him to famed air corps fields of the day, including Chanute, Langley and Randolph Fields, where he served as an air mail pilot, a flying instructor and an engineering and armament officer.

In World War II Power saw combat as a B-24 pilot in North Africa and Italy, and in 1944 he was named commander of the 304th Bomb Wing on Guam. He led the first large-scale fire bomb raid on Tokyo in March 1945, initiating new tactics that resulted in massive destruction in the Japanese cities. He served as Deputy Chief of Operations under General Carl Spaatz during the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the war, Power was named as assistant deputy task force commander for air during the "Operation Crossroads" atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. He also served for a time in Washington and London. In 1948 he was named Vice Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command, serving under General Curtis E. LeMay, his former commander in the raids on Japan. In 1954 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. He was in charge of the Air Research and Development Command from 1954-1957. In 1957 Power succeeded LeMay as Commander in Chief of Strategic Air Command, a post which he filled for seven years. As head of the U.S. nuclear strike force, including over 1,000 nuclear-armed bombers and hundreds of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles, he was never far from the "red phone" connections that could bring him orders from the president to go to war.

During his military career, Power was an outspoken proponent of nuclear deterrence, a policy of peace through the achievement of overwhelming nuclear superiority. He favored patriotism, preparedness, and a tough policy toward the Communist enemy. His views on the nuclear strategy were incorporated in a book in 1958, but Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy refused to clear the draft for publication. As a result, Power gained fame in conservative circles as the author of a "banned" book. He was the sole military man to testify against the nuclear test ban treaty before a Senate investigating committee in 1963.

Upon his retirement in 1964, Power was named board chairman of Schick, Inc., with whom he was affiliated for six years. After extensive revision, his book was published in 1965 under the title Design for Survival . It spent a few weeks on the bestseller lists and helped to make Power much in demand on the lecture circuit, where he called for nuclear superiority and victory in Vietnam. He served on a Veterans for Nixon group for the 1968 presidential campaign. Thomas Power married Mae Ayre in 1936. They had no children. Power died on December 6, 1970.

From the guide to the Thomas S. Power Papers, 1928-1970, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)


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Ark ID:


  • Deterrence (Strategy)
  • World War, 1939-1945--Aerial operations
  • Aeronautics, Military--United States
  • Arms race
  • Aviation


  • Air pilots--United States


  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)