Spaatz was born "Carl Andrew Spatz" on June 28, 1891, in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. Spaatz added the second "a" in 1937 at the request of his wife and daughters to clarify the pronunciation of the name, as many pronounced it "spats". He added the second "a" to draw it out to sound like "ah", like the "a" in "father". (The name is thus correctly pronounced "Spahtz".)
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 J. Pershing during his expedition to Mexico in 1916. Spaatz was promoted to First Lieutenant in July 1916 and to Captain in May 1917.
Spaatz was assigned to the office of the Chief of Air Corps, working directly for Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, when World War II began in Europe. He was promoted to Colonel in November 1939 and sent as a military observer to England during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Spaatz was appointed to the 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 commander of Air Forces Combat Command in January 1942 and promoted to the temporary rank of Major General, but this organization was disbanded the following month by presidential executive order that eliminated both it and the Air Corps as a command echelon of the USAAF. He was subsequently promoted to the permanent rank of Colonel in September 1942
In May 1942 Spaatz became commander of the Eighth Air Force and transferred its headquarters to England in July. Spaatz was placed in overall command of the USAAF in the European Theater of Operations, while retaining his Eighth Air Force command, until subsequently assigned command of the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa in December 1942. Subsequently his role increased as he was named commander the Allied Northwest African Air Force in February 1943, the Fifteenth Air Force and Royal Air Forces 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, which was now commanded by Lt. General Jimmy Doolittle, based in England, and the Fifteenth Air Force, which was now commanded by Lt. General Nathan Twining, based in Italy.
As the commander of Strategic Air Forces in Europe, Spaatz was under the command of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and the supervision of Gen. Hap Arnold, the USAAF Chief of Staff, and he continued under Gen. Arnold's command in the Pacific.
Carl Spaatz received a temporary promotion to General on March 11, 1945. He was transferred to the Pacific and assumed command of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific as part of the Pacific Theatre of Operations, with headquarters on Guam, in July 1945. From this command, Spaatz directed the strategic bombing of Japan, including the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Spaatz had been 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 man of General rank or equivalent present at all three of these 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 Ploieşti oilfields in Romania under the subterfuge that the actual targets were the rail lines that supplied the oil production facilities. Despite their great personal friendship, Spaatz sometimes argued with Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower about military issues. But after the war, Eisenhower said that Spaatz, along with General Omar Bradley, was one of the two American general officers who had contributed the most to the victory in Europe. The USAAF daylight bombing of Germany and Austria broke the back of the Nazi Luftwaffe and gave air supremacy over Europe to the Allied Air Forces.
Spaatz retired from the military at the rank of General in June 1948. He worked for Newsweek magazine as military affairs editor until 1961. He also served on the Committee of Senior Advisors to the Air Force Chief of Staff, from 1952 until his death. From 1948 until 1959, he served as National Commander of the Civil Air Patrol. In 1954, Spaatz was appointed to the congressional advisory board set up to determine the site for the new United States Air Force Academy. Spaatz died on July 14, 1974 and is buried at the Academy's cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.