Carl Andrew Spatz (Spaatz added the second "a" in 1937 at the request of his wife and daughters to clarify the pronunciation of the name) was born on June 28, 1891, in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. He attended West Point, where he received his nickname because of his resemblance to another red headed cadet named F.J. Toohey, and graduated in 1914. He served briefly in the infantry but was assigned to military aviation in October 1915.
Spaatz served in the First Aero Squadron which was assigned to General John Pershing during his expedition to Mexico in 1916. Spaatz was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in July 1916 and to Captain in May 1917.
Following America's entry into World War I, Spaatz was sent with the American Expeditionary Forces in command of the Thirty-First Aero Squadron. Spaatz spent most of the war commanding the American Aviation School at Issoudun, France but he saw three weeks of action during the final months of the war. In this brief period, Spaatz shot down three enemy planes and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Spaatz was given a temporary promotion to Major in June 1918, reverted to his permanent Captaincy in February 1920, and was permanently promoted to Major in July 1920.
During the interwar years, Spaatz held a number of commands in the Air Corps. In January 1929, Spaatz along with fellow Air Corps officer, Captain Ira Eaker, established an aviation record by keeping the airplane Question Mark in the air for over 150 hours. Spaatz enrolled in the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in August 1935 (graduating in June 1936). He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in September 1935.
Spaatz was assigned to the office of the Chief of Air Corps when World War II began in Europe. He was promoted to Colonel in November 1939 and send as a military observer to England during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Spaatz was appointed assistant to the Chief of Air Corps in October 1940 with the temporary rank of Brigadier General. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war, he was named Chief of the Army Air Force Combat Command in January 1942 and promoted to the temporary rank of Major General (he was subsequently promoted to the permanent rank of Colonel in September 1942). In May 1942 he was named commander of the Eighth Air Force and transferred his headquarters to England in July. Spaatz was placed in command of all U.S. Army Air Forces in the European theater of operations while retaining his Eighth Air Force command. Spaatz would subsequently be given command of the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa in December 1942, the Allied Northwest African Air Force in February 1943, the Fifteenth Air Force and Royal Air Force in Italy in November 1943, and the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe in January 1944. Spaatz received a temporary promotion to Lieutenant General in March 1943. As commander of Strategic Air Forces, Spaatz directed the strategic bombing campaign against Germany, directing the Eighth Air Force, now commanded by General Jimmy Doolittle, based in England, and the Fifteenth Air Force, now commanded by General Nathan Twining, based in Italy. Spaatz received a temporary promotion to General in March 1945 and assumed command of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, with headquarters on Guam, in July. From this command, Spaatz directed the strategic bombing of Japan, including the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Spaatz was present at Reims when the Germans surrendered to the Americans on May 7, 1945, at Berlin when they surrendered to the Russians on May 9, and aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered on September 2. He was the only general present at all three surrenders.
Spaatz made several controversial decisions in his leadership of the American strategic bombing campaign. He insisted on daylight missions despite the British insistence that daylight missions produced unacceptable casualty rates. Spaatz also believed that German oil production should be the primary bombing target despite the official decision that transportation was the primary target. In April 1944, Spaatz ordered bombings of the Ploesti oilfields in Romania under the subterfuge that the actual targets were the rail lines that supplied the oil production facilities. Despite their personal friendship, Spaatz argued with Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower about military issues on several occasions. But after the war, Eisenhower said that Spaatz, along with General Omar Bradley, was one of the two American officers who had contributed the most to the victory in Europe.
In July 1945, President Truman nominated Spaatz for promotion to the permanent rank of Major General. Spaatz was appointed commanding general of the Army Air Forces in February 1946 following the retirement of his friend General Henry H. Arnold. After the creation of the independent Air Force by the National Security Act of 1947 and Truman's Executive Order No. 9877, Spaatz was appointed as the first Chief of Staff of the new United States Air Force in September 1947.
Spaatz retired from the military at the rank of General in June 1948. He worked for Newsweek magazine as military affairs editor until 1961. Spaatz died on July 14, 1974 and is buried on the grounds of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.