Army Ground Forces, Study No. 1



General McNair’s requests in his memorandum of 25 July 1941 for the enlargement of the authority of GHQ precipitated a long and critical discussion within the War Department terminated only by the reorganization of 9 March 1942. It was finally concluded in the light of the strategic situation confronting the United States that execution of the Harbord Board plan of 1921 was inadvisable. The training activities of GHQ were to be continued as a function of a new command, the Army Ground Forces, but its planning and operational responsibilities were transferred to agencies which received the powers never granted to GHQ.

Reform of GHQ vs. Reorganization of the War Department

It was quickly seen that the proposals in General McNair’s July memorandum would, if adopted, “affect both the peace and war activities of almost every agency of the War Department.”1 On 14 August General Marshall referred the issues raised to a Board representing the five sections of the General Staff, the Chief of the Army Air Forces, and GHQ. Holding its first meeting on 14 and 15 August this Board concluded with only one opposing voice that “a major reorganization of the War Department was in order.”2 Thereupon WPD drafted a study to implement this recommendation. It sketched an organization similar to that later-put into effect in March 1942, in which GHQ was eliminated.3 But its study, which was to reappear in October, was soon withdrawn and WPD proceeded with an effort to achieve a satisfactory redefinition of the “functions, responsibilities and authority” of GHQ.4 This effort, continued through September and October, was finally defeated by wide divergencies of opinion and interest. The two successive formulas which WPD put forward proposed too little authority for GHQ to satisfy that headquarters and too much to obtain the concurrence of G-4, G-1, and G-3 of the War Department or the Chief of the Army Air Forces.5 In November the proposal to reorganize the entire War Department was again given the right of way.

The Point of View at GHQ on Reorganization

The criticisms at GHQ of the successive proposals to redefine its authority or to reorganize the War Department were focused on the lack of an executive agency in the War Department capable of dealing with operations comprehensively and promptly. In his 25 July memorandum General McNair did not confine himself to specific proposals, but pointed out that under existing procedure

... there is no War Department agency, which at present can with satisfactory promptness,

a. Coordinate the defense of contiguous bases,
b. Operate economic supply, replacement, transportation and evacuation systems,
c. Effect efficient administration.

When the first plan for reorganizing the War Department was put forward by WPD in August, Lt. Col. George P. Hays, who represented GHQ in the August conferences, emphasized this point in expressing his dissatisfaction with the reorganization proposed. He could not find the strong executive agency required and felt that the failure to provide one “shows either an unwillingness on the part of the War Plans Division to face realities or a decision to put over a study in which the element to furnish vitalization is implied rather than stated frankly.” He believed that what the War Department machine needed was a “spark plug.” “Responsibility should be clearly fixed in


one individual, designated as chief” of the desired command group. “His authority, under the Chief of Staff, to direct action by other War Department agencies must be unquestionable.” His office “must not be drawn into current business nor should any other War Department agency be allowed to usurp its authority.”7 When WPD produced its plan for increasing further the authority of GHQ, Colonel Hays returned to the charge. “The basic concept underlying this study is that no real emergency exists, and therefore there is no need, at this time, for the United States Army to prepare for combat operations. As long as persons in responsible positions within the War Department maintain this concept, they will successfully oppose the establishment of a command agency which can effectively prepare for and conduct combat operations. This study evades and offers no solution for the primary issue, i.e., that the United States Army now lacks an agency which is equipped to effectively prepare for and conduct combat operations, and that such an agency must be provided either in GHQ or within the War Department.8

On 5 December 1941, two days before Pearl Harbor, General Malony, the Deputy Chief of Staff, GHQ, commented on the “mission of GHQ” in these words: “The international situation is critical. Equipment is lacking. No adequate reserves are available. Experience to date indicates: (1) Transportation and delivery of supplies by the Navy is inefficient (Iceland); (2) Joint Board procedure is ponderous and provides no direct supervision... (3) War Department retains control in such detail as to make administration confusing; (4) War Department is not organized on a war basis.”9

In July, when planning and operational responsibilities had been given to GHQ; it had been decided that this headquarters was to be the executive agency of the War Department for “prompt decision and expeditious action,” providing effective “coordination, conduct and control” of operations.10 Though powers were delegated to it only “if, as, and when,” many officers at GHQ interpreted the step taken on 3 July as an action to implement the GHQ envisaged in the Harbord Report and embodied in the doctrine of the Army for twenty years. For several months after July 1941 the War Department, or at least the War Plans Division, adhered to that concept.11 Nevertheless, when the War Department delayed to give GHQ the power it needed or to create some other “spark plug” agency, it seemed at GHQ that the difficulty “boils down to the War Department not wanting to give up any authority.”12 By December, after five months of strenuous effort, General Malony, who had been charged with making GHQ work as a planning and operational headquarters, reached the discouraging conclusions stated above.

Basic Problems Encountered in the Attempt to Strengthen GHQ(August-November 1941)

The War Department was in fact faced with a situation which made GHQ as conceived by the Harbord Board a device difficult to operate. The essentials of such a GHQ were (1) power to coordinate all operations outside the continental United States; (2) prompt executive action. But in July 1941, the war danger was developing in “a number of relatively minor and widely scattered theaters,” instead of one major theater as in 1917, and coordination was an extremely difficult task. On the other hand, it was quickly seen that to make GHQ effective as a command agency, or even as a coordinating agency, it would have to be given control of supply. In his memorandum of 25 July General McNair pointed out that the command of each base theoretically under GHQ was actually divided between GHQ and two other War Department agencies. On 15 August he expressed the opinion that GHQ should be authorized to issue instructions directly to other War Department agencies in connection with the means assigned for the operation of overseas bases and theaters.13

The problem of supply formed the main obstacle faced by the 1921 plan for GHQ and became largely responsible for the dissolution of GHQ in 1942. Commenting on General McNair’s 25 July memorandum, WPD promptly concurred in his idea “that control of supply


is an essential element of command.”14 But it stated at the same time that as long as a critical shortage of equipment and shipping continued and the demands of Lend Lease, competing with those of our Army, had to be met, “rigid control by the War Department” would be necessary. The contention was raised that to give GHQ in Washington effective command of overseas departments, bases, and theaters meant giving it powers which would place it above the War Department.15 The Chief of the Army Air Forces granted General McNair’s position that GHQ could not exercise effective command unless given control of all agencies essential thereto. But the consequence, he declared, would be that “in substance GHQ must have control of War Department agencies, Quartermaster Corps, Ordnance Department, etc.”16 This conclusion was not believed at GHQ to be necessary. The need for higher coordination between the requirements of the Army and Navy and the demands of Lend-Lease was recognized. What was desired at GHQ was a block allotment of means to GHQ, on the basis of a plan approved by the General Staff. But to this G-4 of the General Staff would not consent, insisting that it must review and check the supply and transportation requirements of all operations planned by GHQ and also pass on every requisition from a base, defense, or theater commander.17

As early as 2 September General McNair himself expressed doubt as to the workability of GHQ:18

Speaking broadly, superior command of the operations of two or more theaters may be by either of two methods:

a. GHQ—on the basis that the War Department is not organized suitably for the expeditious action required. It follows inevitably that, unless GHQ can be freed from the complications of War Department organization, there is little advantage and some disadvantage in having a GHQ;
b. A War Department streamlined in the same general manner as Gen. Pershing streamlined his own GHQ—by establishing a Services of Supply. The War Department will then exercise superior command directly.

The second alternative seemed to represent General McNair’s preference for solving the problem of supply. “The views stated in the basic memorandum [a WPD Memorandum of August], coupled with the brief experience of this headquarters to date, indicate that serious consideration should be given to the latter method—b—in spite of the upheaval involved.” On 21 October, no action having been taken in the War Department, General McNair returned to the issue, this time definitely stating his preference for reorganization. “I incline to favor the second line of action, to streamline the War Department by separating from it a zone of interior with its own commander, and absorbing GHQ into the War Department thus streamlined, and have rather indicated this view to the Chief of Staff.”19

The Decision to Reorganize the War Department

The Chief of the Army Air Force had advocated reorganization in the Board meetings in August. On 24 October he launched a drive to realize his original recommendations. This was accompanied by a proposal to enlarge still further the autonomy of the Air Force by a revision of AR 95-5 as published in the previous June—a revision which, in the opinion of General McNair, would have effected a “separation of the Air Force from the rest of the Army as complete as the Commanding General, Army Air Force, chooses to make it.”20 In the first of a series of AAF memoranda advocating reorganization of the War Department as against enlargement of the authority of GHQ, General Arnold’s headquarters revived the proposals for reorganization put forth by WPD in August.21 In the second of these the Army Air Force outlined its own plan. It was in two parts. Part I proposed the reorganization of the Zone of Interior into three commands, air, ground, and service; Part II the creation of a “Military Policy Staff”


representing the Army, the Navy, the State Department, and the Office of Economic Warfare, under a Chief of Staff. General Marshall declared himself to be “favorably impressed by the basic organization proposed,” but Part II was excluded from the further study now ordered. He directed WPD to develop Part I with a view to “determining its practicability and the extent to which it is an improvement over the present organization.” It thus became the working basis for the reorganization put into effect on 9 March 1942. General Marshall’s directive is dated 25 November 1941.22 From that date forward there is no trace of a further attempt to make GHQ workable for the purposes for which it had been designed in the Harbord Plan.

Development of the Reorganization Plan (November 1941-March 1942)

Both the WPD plan sketched in August and the plan now proposed by the Army Air Forces had a common central feature.23 Both proposed the delegation of the operative functions of the War Department in the Zone of Interior to three major commands, the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and the Services of Supply. Both accepted the Army Air Forces as established by the terms of AR 95-5, 20 June 1941. Neither was clear as to where command or supervision of the four internal defense commands was to be lodged. Neither provided for an integration of the Offices of the Chiefs of Branches, though they were subordinated in both plans to the Zone of Interior commands. In the WPD plan they were all placed under the Commanding General of the Services of Supply. In the Air Forces’ study the Chiefs of Infantry, Cavalry, Field Artillery, and Coast Artillery were placed under the Commanding General of the Army Ground Forces. Furthermore, the WPD study assigned to the Services of Supply not only West Point, the general and special service schools, and officer candidate schools, but also the boards of the arms and services, civilian component training and administration, and air raid precautions. All these agencies and functions were given a different distribution in the final set-up.

When interviewed at a later date AGF officers who were on the staff of GHQ during the winter of 1941-42 seemed to feel that the reorganization of 9 March 1942 was “sprung” by an inner circle of planners in the War Department. It is somewhat difficult to understand this impression, since the minutes of the daily GHQ staff conferences show that, at least until mid-October, the debate in the War Department regarding the status of GHQ was being reported to its staff. There is no indication that General McNair’s conclusion, stated in his memoranda of 2 September and 21 October, that a reorganization of the War Department was probably desirable, was not known to his immediate advisors at GHQ, including General Malony, if not to all members of the staff. The record shows that on 5 February 1942 General McNair discussed the plan of reorganization with General McNarney, who had been recalled from England to take charge of it. The criticisms which he submitted in writing the next day raised no serious objections.24 On 4 March he wrote: “The new organization seems entirely sound. The experiment of having GHQ operate—which has been underway since last July—was foredoomed to failure in my estimation, since the War Department could not turn over its responsibilities in that connection. The alternative is what is now being done—the Services of Supply—just as in the A.E.F.”25

It is clear therefore that the principles underlying the plan for reorganization were known at GHQ from the first, and it can hardly be doubted that the staff was aware of the views of its chief. On the other hand no evidence has been found to indicate that it was informed of the decision of General Marshall on 25 November to set a committee to work on a specific plan. Certainly as late as 5 December, General Malony still believed that there was a fighting chance for enlargement of the operational authority of GHQ. GHQ was not represented on the committee initially entrusted with formulating a plan of reorganization.26 Only on 11 February was formal notice


received at GHQ that the proposal to reorganize War Department was under consideration and that an executive committee was to be created under the chairmanship of General McNarney. GHQ was directed to select a representative, and Lt. Col. James G. Christiansen was appointed.27 At this date the contents of the plan were known at GHQ, for the minutes of the staff conference on 11 February record the following comment of its G-3: “Proposed reorganization of WD still leaves burden on General Marshall.”28

Given these circumstances, several reasons may be conjectured for the later impression that the plan of reorganization had been sprung on the group working at GHQ. The specific plan that was adopted and that apparently was worked out between 25 November 1941 and 11 February 1942 without the knowledge of GHQ included a novel form of staff organization for Headquarters, Army Ground Forces, which that headquarters found unworkable and rejected on 12 July 1942. This probably contributed to a feeling that the plan of reorganization was excessively theoretical, and intensified the disfavor with which it was bound to be regarded by the group at GHQ who had enthusiastically supported General Malony in his effort to make GHQ the driving force in the Army high command and through it to speed up and invigorate the executive action of the War Department as the United States moved into the dangers of open warfare.29

The reorganization adopted had three main features:30 (1) Top control was kept in the War Department General Staff and the Commanding General of the Field Forces, and the Zone of Interior functions of the War Department were delegated to three great commands, the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and the Services of Supply—an organization designed to “follow functional (task) lines.”31 (2) The arms and services were subordinated to these commands. The technical services, together with the two combat services, the Engineers and the Signal Corps, were assigned to the Services of Supply. The arms and the new quasi-arms were assigned to the Army Ground Forces. The services remained in being as organized, but their chiefs were subjected to the authority of the Commanding General of the Services of Supply. In the case of the arms a different principle was followed. The chiefs of the four traditional arms disappeared. Their authority was vested in the Commanding General of the Army Ground Forces and their agencies were reassorted and integrated with the other agencies of that command. On the other hand, those of the newly developed combat arms, Armor, Tank Destroyers, and Antiaircraft (separated at this time from the Coast Artillery) remained or became distinct commands, under the Commanding General of the Army Ground Forces. (3) GHQ was liquidated and all theaters of operations and the four defense commands of the continental United States were placed directly under the War Department General Staff. WPD, shortly to be known as OPD (Operations Division), took up the planning and operational functions which had been exercised since July 1941 by the staff of GHQ.

By these changes the War Department sought to relieve the General Staff and its Chief of operative and detailed administrative duties in order to set them free to devote themselves to planning and over-all supervision.32 This purpose had also been one of the main objectives of GHQ, but had not been fully realized largely because the powers delegated were insufficient and the current international situation made it impossible to carry out the original plan of the Harbord Board.


In this reorganization of the War Department the Army Air Forces, according to the evidence available, took the lead and supplied the drive. Its motives were clearly stated in its memoranda on the subject. GHQ, as constituted on 3 July 1941, cut in on the position which the Air Forces had gained as an autonomous entity on 20 July 1941.33 The proposed enlargement of the powers of GHQ would limit this independence even further. Such a development did not coincide with the ideas current in the Army Air Forces, which aspired to still greater freedom of action in the belief that the effective prosecution


of modern warfare required a fully autonomous air arm.34 The Chief of the Army Air Forces sought to protect and regularize the new position of the Air Forces by a reorganization which would give the Ground Forces and the Services of Supply a similar autonomy. This objective was in general attained, though the simultaneous proposal to institute a command transcending that of the War Department was not carried out.

Though the Army Air Forces played a prominent role in the reorganization, many other reasons justified the administrative changes in the War Department effected in March 1942. In the circumstances imposed by the course of events, a GHQ on the lines of the Harbord Plan was subject to grave disadvantages. These became evident to General McNair, as well as other observers, as soon as the attempt was made to administer such a headquarters or develop plans for its future. War had come upon the United States in an unanticipated form, and the conclusion was reached that it had to be waged with new administrative as well as with new technical and tactical weapons.

New developments like armor and tank destroyers were cutting across the pattern on which the traditional arms were organized. These changes, implying refinements of specialization and new tactical combinations, brought to a head the old question of the arms and services and their relation to the General Staff. Though the chiefs of the arms and services were less independent than formerly, their actual relation to the General Staff made difficult the close command and staff planning as well as the coordination and training necessary to produce flexible and hard-hitting teams of the combined arms. The old pattern of tactical organization had to be adapted to the new type of warfare. Moreover, the existing combat arms had developed, together with a desirable branch loyalty, an aggressive and somewhat jealous branch spirit, which the new quasi-arms tended to emulate. The proposed reorganization of the War Department put forward a plan for bringing the arms and services under firmer control.

Given these circumstances, the type of reorganization first put forward in the WPD Memorandum of August made a strong appeal. General McNair favored and the Air Forces pressed for reorganization. The final plan, which delegated the complex Zone of Interior responsibilities of the War Department to three subordinate commands, offered the War Department General Staff an opportunity to perform its over-all planning and directive-duties with greater efficiency. It effected, under these three major commands, a coordination of the services and an integration of the arms in better accord with their future use in combined operations. Finally, it provided a centralized control of operations in widely scattered theaters. On the other hand, it did not meet specifically the criticism repeatedly advanced in GHQ that the War Department as organized lacked a “spark plug,” that it needed “an executive group” which “would in reality be a command section,” and that to achieve “prompt decisions and expeditious action” a new driving agency was required. The agency that subsequently developed this role was the Operations Division of the General Staff.

General Headquarters, United States Army, closed sine die, and Headquarters, Army Ground Forces, opened at the Army War College on 9 March 1942. Although GHQ had not fulfilled the purpose for which it had been intended originally, it had been conspicuously efficient in making and implementing theater plans. It had from the first accomplished with notable success the mission of training with which it had been entrusted initially. This, in general, was the view taken by representatives of the War Department in the discussion of its fate during the fall of 1941.35 With the creation of the Army Air Forces as the training agency of the Air Forces on 20 June 1941, GHQ had become more than ever the agency which directed the training of the ground forces.36 This was what the new Army Ground Forces command was to be.



Go to:

Previous Chapter

Return to Table of Contents

Search CMH Online
Last updated 18 February 2005