Army Ground Forces, Study No. 1



When authority to plan and control operations was vested in GHQ on 3 July 1941, an initial step had been taken toward putting into effect the policy for “mobilizing” the War Department laid down in the 1921 Report of the Harbord Board. That plan had been somewhat revised in 1938, but its central feature was still the transfer of the Chief of Staff, or the assignment of a commander designated by the President, to duty as Commanding General of the Field Forces. At the outbreak of hostilities this commander was to take with him into the field as his GHQ the War Plans Division reinforced by members of other staff divisions.1 By July 1941 the difficulties that would attend immediate execution of this feature of the mobilization plan were becoming apparent, and only the first steps were taken.

For a year before hostilities were openly declared the United States, taking over protective bases and arming friendly powers, was engaged in operations requiring centralized military direction. By June 1941 it was clear that in case of war combat operations might come quickly.  But war had not begun, and with Europe occupied by the Axis and with Japan threatening in the Pacific no great single theater of operations was in sight into which, immediately or eventually, the forces being trained in the United States would be launched with an organization similar to the American Expeditionary Force of 1917-18. War was coming in a form not anticipated by the Harbord Board, which had generalized the experiences of World War I. The present emergency forced General Marshal and GHQ to remain in Washington to supervise and direct the current major task of the Army, consisting not only of the training of the troops and the procurement of equipment but also of the preparation of task forces for such operations as seemed probable in the near future. Another difficulty was raised by the possibility of hostilities in more than one major theater.   In this case General Marshall and his staff could not take the field in any one of these without defeating the plan of having the operative functions of the War Department delegated to a single agency, as they had been in the circumstances of 1917-18. Meanwhile, until the future course of events could be more clearly foreseen, WPD could not become the staff of GHQ. That division of the General Staff was more than ever needed to advise on the adjustment of strategy to the rapid shifts taking place in the world situation. All that was clear in July was that “a number of relatively minor and widely separated theaters” were developing. GHQ, with a reinforced staff, could be used to expedite action in dealing with these and it was so used.

For several months after 3 July the 1921 plan for GHQ seems still to have been the guide to action. GHQ was expecting to receive command of all theaters, overseas departments, and task forces when war came or before.2 WPD repeatedly referred to the assignment to GHQ of all active theaters as the accepted policy.3 But, although the Eastern and Western Defense Commands were declared theaters of operations after Pearl Harbor and passed to the control of GHQ, command of no theater in which the enemy was fought, or likely to be fought, was ever vested in that headquarters.

The Outlook of GHQ on Its Mission

The outlook and evolution of GHQ as a planning and operational headquarters was profoundly influenced by the views of its Deputy Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. Harry J. Malony. His views were dominated by the belief that there was urgent need for a single command post in the War Department and that GHQ should be developed to be that post.


His previous studies and his recent experience had brought him to this conclusion. Until 1940 he had been on a tour of duty at the War College as an instructor in the G-4 Section and in the last year of this tour had been chief of that section. His studies had convinced him of the fundamental importance of logistics in military planning and in war. He formulated his conclusions in axioms inspired by the writings of General Sir John Frederick Maurice: Terrain governs strategy. Weapons govern tactics. Supply governs administration. When the three are in balance, war becomes a science and an art. When they are out of balance, it becomes a thing of gambles and chances.

General Malony also believed firmly in unity of command. He thought that the War Department should decide on over-all strategic plans and provide suitable types of personnel and materiel, but that the command of operations, including control of the necessary means, should be single and should be unified at the highest possible level.4

In 1940 he was detailed to the Devers-Greenslade Board which made a survey of the Caribbean area, Bermuda, and Newfoundland with a view to recommending the areas to be leased from the British. He was then sent to England as the Army representative on the board which negotiated the exchange of fifty over-age U. S. destroyers for British bases in the Western Atlantic.

When General Malony returned to Washington he was more than ever convinced that war was imminent. But assigned to WPD and temporarily acting as its chief, he found little evidence of this conviction reflected in the operations of the General Staff. It seemed to him that nobody was in a position to take decisive action or disposed to do more than register concurrences or nonconcurrences. Alarmed by this observation, General Malony asked General Marshall to let him take a group of top flight officers from WPD to GHQ to assist that headquarters in operational planning and in executing plans. As Deputy Chief of Staff of GHQ he was charged by General McNair with the supervision of its new planning and operational functions.

General McNair was primarily interested in training. No evidence has been found to indicate that he welcomed the expansion given to the functions of GHQ on 3 July 1941, but he shared the basic convictions of his deputy that command should be single and include complete control of the means necessary to its exercise. He also shared with him a sense of the extreme urgency of the crisis and the need for prompt and expeditious action. A “classic soldier”5 in the fulfillment of his responsibilities, he gave his deputy loyal support.

Limited Powers of GHQ as a Planning and Operational Headquarters

The functions and authority of GHQ as redefined in July 1941 were hedged about with too many restrictions to permit it to achieve the results envisaged by those who shared the views of General Malony. The basic study for the directive of 3 July 1941 laid down the promise that in delegating authority to GHQ “the War Department should be careful to avoid the relinquishment of that control which is essential to the execution of its responsibility for the Army’s function in the conduct of war. To meet this responsibility, the War Department must retain strategic direction of all military operations... While it must make available to GHQ all of the means required, it should retain control of the means not essential to the full execution of those operations in process.”6 By the terms of the final directive new authority was to be delegated to GHQ only “if, as, and when.” GHQ was to plan “as may be directed”; to control “in those theaters assigned to its command”; to exercise command over task forces “from the date specified”; to command such forces in the United States “as shall hereafter, from time to time, be designated”; and in order to execute these missions have at its disposal “such credits... as may... be specifically allotted.”7




Command Chart, 1 December 1941 - Click on Image for Full Size Resolution


Problems of Incomplete Tactical Control

GHQ immediately ran into difficulty in meeting the new responsibility assigned to it. In the first weeks of July 1941 it was given the command of Bermuda, and Newfoundland bases, “tactical control” of the Greenland garrison, and the mission of preparing a task force to relieve the British in Iceland, but because of incomplete tactical control serious complications quickly developed.

On 25 July General McNair tried to resolve some of these difficulties by recommending that contiguous base commands be grouped in larger defense commands.8 Approval of this proposal would assist GHQ in exercising the required coordination and at the same time indicate the willingness of the War Department to provide GHQ with means adequate for command. Specifically, he recommended that a North Atlantic Defense Command to consist initially of Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland, with headquarters at St. Johns, be activated at once. He pointed out that the directive enlarging the responsibilities of GHQ violated the principle that command responsibility must carry with it control of the means necessary to fulfill it. “With few exceptions,” he observed, the new bases acquired by the United States have been “placed under the partial command of three different agencies (one for tactical command, one for supply, and one for construction)...” His proposal to group contiguous bases, as well as his further recommendation that the Alaskan and Caribbean Defense Commands be activated at once,9 might lessen the confusion by putting more means at the disposal of GHQ, but it is clear from the memorandum that General McNair regarded these changes only as a palliative. GHQ had not been given control of all the means necessary to perform its mission as an operational headquarters and could not therefore exercise command either promptly or effectively. General McNair later cited the set-up in the Newfoundland Base Command an “an interesting example of superior command”:10

War Plans Division, WD

- Personnel and material resources available


Canadian-U.S. Permanent Defense Board

- Defense Plan

Second Corps Area

- Supply other than air technical

Middletown Depot

- Air technical supply

Chief of Engineers

- Construction

Chief of Army Air Forces through
G-3, WD

- Relief of the air squadrons at Newfoundland airport


- Such inspection and coordination as is practicable under the circumstances.


The confusing position of GHQ in the chain of command is presented graphically prepared in the chart opposite, which was prepared by General Malony and submitted to General McNair on 5 December.11

The nub of the command problem of GHQ was its lack of control over supply. The arrangements for the control of logistics described above in the case of Newfoundland were essentially the same in the case of other base commands as well as the Western and Eastern Theaters of Operations, when these were placed under GHQ in December 1941.12 In all cases the allotment, transfer, and movement of supplies on the basis of recommendations from GHQ remained directly under the control of War Department G-4 or of the Air Corps.


The Air Problem

Difficulties of a serious order arose from the relationship between GHQ and the Chief of the Army Air Forces, a relationship acknowledged in the War Department to be “indefinite and unsatisfactory.”13

On the Air side the basis of these conflicts lay in the Air interpretation of the powers with which the Air arm was invested with the creation of the Army Air Forces on 20 June 1941.14 By the terms of the basic regulation (AR 95-5, AAF, General Provisions) the Chief of the Army Air Forces, General Arnold, assisted by a fully organized staff, was given very broad authority to plan. He was directed to issue all plans for the new Air Force Combat Command and for the Air Corps; he was to determine “the requirements” of the Air Forces, “including overseas garrisons and task forces”; he was to plan “for defense against air attack of the continental United States.”15 Regarding operations directed by the Commanding General of the Air Force Combat Command, the language of the regulation was sweeping. It gave that officer “control of all aerial operations,” but was clearly qualified by excepting from his control units assigned or attached to task forces, overseas garrisons, or other commanders.16 In general, the Army Air Forces started not only with strong convictions about air power, but with the view that Air could not be used with maximum effect unless card was so arranged as to give full play to its unique mobility.17 They desired large autonomy of command in the hands of air officers in order not to be handicapped by commanders whom they regarded as incapable of understanding the new Air problems because of their long experience and education concentrated on slow-moving ground forces. To understand the problem confronting GHQ it must be remembered not only that AR 95-5 recognized the Air Forces as a powerful autonomous entity, but also that General Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, was Deputy Chief of Staff for Air. As such he had direct access to the Chief of Staff and did not have to obtain concurrences from the General Staff divisions of the War Department in proposing a directive. When GHQ was made an operational headquarters, the new Chief of the Air Forces and the Chief of Staff of GHQ stood on the same footing directly under General Marshall.

As soon as the new role of GHQ had been determined upon, General McNair personally sought from General Arnold his interpretation of the regulation governing the Army Air Forces. General Arnold later confirmed in writing the following definitions of his position:18

There is no thought of invading the established chain of command. The term “tactical operations” (in par 3 b, AR 95-5) refers to the allocation of the necessary air units and other means, and does not include their employment within the theater of operations; the term “aerial operations” (par 4 a: “control of all aerial operations”) does not refer to combat operations. ... There is no thought of aerial combat operations controlled by the Air Force Combat Command, coincident with similar operations controlled by a theater commander.

These statements are clear and definite, and no evidence has been found that General Arnold ever challenged the principle that, when a theater became active, the theater commander should be in complete command of all the means required by his mission. But GHQ was aware that the Air Forces wished to broaden the definition of powers contained in its charter. On 24 October General Spaatz, the Chief of the Air Staff, declared that Air War Planning was a function of the Chief of the Army Air Forces. He explained that the air plan for a theater, when coordinated by WPD and approved by the Chief of Staff, provided all the essentials for detailed planning by the theater commander without need of “monitoring” by GHQ. He also proposed that “an air theater of operations should be recognized, wherein the primary function of the Army Air Forces therein is to conduct air warfare, with the ground forces performing the mission of


protecting the air bases.” General Spaatz further declared that the air defense of the continental United States was properly to be regarded as a responsibility of the Chief of the Army Air Forces and that the Commanding General of the Air Force Combat Command, acting under him, must have the powers necessary to control combat operations, presumably throughout the United States.19 On 14 November he objected to the language of a proposed directive giving GHQ command of all army forces outside the continental United States. He raised the question of airplanes that might be flown to Bermuda in defense of the continent. Under the proposed directive they would cease to be under control of the Air Force commander.20 Finally, in November the Chief of the Army Air Forces, discussing the “priceless attributes of air power,” advanced the view that these could be utilized more effectively only if “the Air Force is organized and controlled as a single entity” and placed on a footing of complete equality with the ground forces.”21

GHQ was aware not only that such were the views of the Air Force Staff but that they were shared, in part at least, by WPD. In August that Division expressed the opinion that, inasmuch as GHQ was developing as a ground force command, its functions and authority should be modeled on those of the Army Air Forces. General McNair’s comment was that the comparison “is inapt, since the Chief of the Army Air Forces does not command the aviation of overseas garrisons—at least not yet.”22 WPD adopted the Air Force view that the air defense of the United States was an Air Force problem and that it should be subject to air command unified under the Chief of Staff.23

It is not surprising therefore that General McNair and his staff felt it necessary to maintain a watchful defense of the authority granted to GHQ as they interpreted that authority. In June General McNair had stated his position in the following words: “There must be a unified responsibility in peace for the preparation of war plans, even as there must be undivided command within a defense command in war.”24 In a memorandum dated 15 August 1941 he discussed the problem by starting with the principle of strict accountability for command, which the Chief of Air Forces had acknowledged. He defined with much care and explicit detail the position of GHQ as against that toward which the Air Force seemed to be working:25

I. … 5. GHQ will assume command over such air forces as are assigned to theaters, Defense Commands, and task forces under GHQ and will prepare plans for the utilization of these forces. These plans will be submitted to the Chief of the Army Air Forces for comment. GHQ will provide the local facilities for the employment of the combat air force as set forth in the approved plans of the Chief of the Army Air Forces.

6. Requests for air reinforcements will be made on GHQ by the theater commander. GHQ will take the necessary action to provide these reinforcements.

II. 1.  ... GHQ will be guided by the following concept of responsibility for air plans and air operations:

a. That during combat operations the Chief of Army Air Forces will be a member of the Staff of the Commander of the Field Forces and will, as such, operate as a member of the GHQ Staff;

b. That in the preparation of plans for air operations the Chief of Army Air Forces will submit to GHQ the plans for the employment of the Combat Air Force... ;

c. That [he] will submit to GHQ the plane for the employment of the Combat Air Force on independent missions… ;


d. [That these plans will] in each instance specify who exercises command over air operations conducted by the Combat Air Forces.

e. That upon receipt of these plans] GHQ will forward these plans with a directive to the commander of each Defense command or theater. The directive will require Defense commanders to prepare and forward to GHQ the appropriate local air plans to implement the plans of-the Chief of Army Air Forces.

f. GHQ will forward local air plans to the Chief of Army Air Forces for approval or comment.

Clearly General McNair regarded the role of GHQ as more active than “monitoring” Air force plans and directives. The views of GHQ and the Army Air Forces regarding the authority properly to be exercised by GHQ were far apart and would require a definite decision by higher authority in the near future.

On the relatively minor matter of air reinforcements for base commands an agreement was reached in accord with the views of GHQ. The original directives authorized the base commanders to call on the Air Forces directly for reinforcements.26 On 25 July Brig. Gen. C. W. Russell, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Combat Command, requested the Chief of the Army Air Forces that air reinforcements desired by the Commanding General of the Greenland Base Command be sought by him directly from GHQ, instead of the Commanding General of the First Air Force. The Chief of Staff of GHQ naturally approved this proposal and took the opportunity to request that plans be made at once “by the proper air staff, in collaboration with this headquarters to provide for the prompt air reinforcement of Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and Bermuda Base Commands in case the need therefore should arise.” Seven weeks later the Chief of the Army Air Forces expressed his willingness to comply. This action was received with much rejoicing at GHQ.27

But completely harmonious cooperation was difficult to attain. On 5 July Gen. Delos C. Emmons, Commanding General of the Air Force Combat Command, complained that he had been only indirectly informed about the plans for the task force which was being prepared for dispatch to Iceland.28 On 10 December General Marshall, apparently in response to complaints, explained “that Gen. Arnold has not understood his position in the War Department organization; that he is Deputy for Air and in that capacity functions as other Deputies; that so far as Theaters turned over to GHQ are concerned, he will function as do other Deputies, viz., through GHQ.”29 On 28 January 1942 General McNair pointed out to General Marshall that GHQ, having been given command of United States operations in the British Isles, must be informed of “War Department plans (including air plans) pertaining to this theater,” and invited his attention to the fact that the Deputy Chief of Staff for Air had sent the War Department a memorandum to implement plans for the theater without reference to GHQ.30 Again on 11 February 1942 G-3 of the GHQ staff complained that GHQ was “having difficulty keeping up with orders affecting the American forces in the British Isles which are being issued by the Chief of the Army Air Forces.”31

Not only in Iceland and Great Britain, but also in the Caribbean difficulties between GHQ and the Army Air Forces arose. On 7 January General McNair characterized as unsatisfactory the plans submitted by the Army Air Forces for the organization of the air force in the Caribbean Defense Command, for which GHQ was then responsible. He found the “arguments advanced those used generally by the Air Corps in its efforts to detach itself from the ground arms.” But, since the commanding general of the theater was an air officer and the forces within the command were working smoothly, General McNair confined himself to an extended “memorandum for record” closing with the words: “It is to be hoped devoutly that the results may be satisfactory in case an enemy appears.”32


Measures Taken to Improve the Position of GHQ

Despite the many difficulties encountered by GHQ in performing the missions assigned on 3 July 1941, only minor adjustments were made in the original grant of authority. GHQ obtained the right to summon theater and task force staffs to the War College for planning purposes. It obtained from General Marshall a directive ordering the Air Forces to route theater requests for air reinforcements through GHQ.33 But on the requests in General McNair’s 25 July memorandum favorable action was not taken.34 On the fundamental question of the control of supplies the War Department adhered firmly to the position stated in the original directive that this power must remain in its own hands. On 21 July WPD reaffirmed and defined this position: “The directive and the GHQ functional chart do not contemplate that GHQ will take over functions of G-4. Rather GHQ will control only such supply credits as are specifically allotted to it by the War Department. These allotments will be made by G-4 acting for the War Department.”35 In January 1942 a modus vivendi was attained by establishing a procedure for coordination between WPD, G-4, GHQ, and theater commanders, with regard to planning, command, and supplies.36 After the outbreak of hostilities General Marshall directed that the following sentence be put on all orders pertaining to the movement of units and equipment: “GHQ is charged with the execution of this order.” Moreover, General Arnold was instructed to forward to GHQ for transmittal all orders for activities under the control of GHQ. It was understood that the object was (1) to enable GHQ to act more expeditiously, and also (2) to give it, temporarily at least, “supervision and follow-up responsibilities” with respect to all movement orders. To assist it in the latter task GHQ was presently authorized to “deal directly” with other War Department agencies.37 Mention should also be made of a grant of authority to GHQ on 17 December 1941 to discharge enlisted men, direct travel in overseas commands, and grant leaves of absence—an authority which had been requested on 29 August.38

War had come suddenly and on two fronts. The plan proposed by the Harbord Board in 1921 had to be amended in the shortest time possible to fit the new situation. A decision had to be reached whether the direction of future operations should be vested in GHQ or the General Staff of the War Department.



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Last updated 18 February 2005