AGF Study, NO. 6: The Procurement and Branch Distribution of Officers
Although the total of officers in the Army Ground Forces at the period of maximum strength was less than the total of officers in the Army Air Forces, the number of general officers in the Army Ground Forces was considerably larger than in any other command of the army until well into 1944. On 31 July 1943, Lieutenant General McNair had 298 general officers under his command, including two lieutenant generals (commanding the Second and Third Armies), almost a hundred major generals, and over two hundred brigadiers, the total constituting nearly thirty percent of general officers in the United States Army. The number subsequently declined as troops moved overseas.16
In the field of promotions to general officer grades, General McNair's influence extended into the theaters of operations. It was important to maintain uniform standards of promotion between officers overseas and those at home who would presently go overseas in turn, both for reasons of morale and to assure that the best men available were placed in important positions. Generals had to be interchangeable. Many, under the policy of using battle-experienced officers in training, were brought back from theaters to the United States, where, if their background was in the ground arms, General McNair had to find a post for them commensurate with their rank. It was at one time suggested to him, by the Chief of Staff of the Army, that he have a general officer traveling as his deputy in the theaters to coordinate promotions overseas with those at home. "While your responsibility is technically confined to the continental United States outside the Coast Defense Commands," wrote General Marshall, "I want you to feel a responsibility to me regarding the entire field of Ground Force promotions. While G-l keeps the check on this problem for me, your knowledge is more intimate in most cases."17 General McNair preferred not to have a deputy in the theaters, wishing to leave theater commanders with undisturbed freedom of action; nor did he wish as a deputy the major general whose name was suggested, "since I believe that the talent in the Ground Forces should be utilized in the field rather than as staff officers at this headquarters."18 He continued to employ the system already in effect.
By this system, common standards were maintained through G-1 of the War Department General Staff, which submitted to General McNair the recommendations of theater commanders for promotions to the general officer grades. Sometimes, at least until the middle of 1943, when the need for additional generals rather suddenly declined (owing to previous promotions, Troop Basis reductions, and reorganization in the armored divisions) General McNair requested G-1 of the War Department to ask theater commanders for recommendations. Comparing the records of overseas officers with the records of
officers under his own command, General McNair stated whether the overseas officers, were they in the Army Ground Forces, would be considered for promotion. His answer was frequently negative. "Age" (meaning more than about fifty for promotion to brigadier general) and "not sufficiently outstanding" were the most common reasons given for disapproval.19
The War Department designated from among general officers available the commanders of the largest ground force units -- armies, corps, and divisions. Designation, usually followed the recommendations of the commanding general of the Army Ground Forces. The influence of Army Ground Forces in the choice of division commanders was particularly strong. In all instances except two, suggestions for division command originated with General McNair; in only one instance did the War Department turn down a nominee of General McNair for division command; and this officer subsequently was given a division which he led with distinction in the European Theater.20 Army Ground Forces itself designated the commanders of newly activated regiments and groups. For a time, headquarters directly subordinate to Army Ground Forces had assignment jurisdiction over officers up to and including colonels. Army and corps commanders showed an inclination to transfer the ablest colonels to their own staffs. General McNair believed that the most vigorous and effective officers should normally occupy positions of command. To prevent the transfer of regimental and group commanders to staff work (as well as to prevent needless turnover, and to employ officers with combat experience) Army Ground Forces in August 1943 assumed direct control over the assignment of colonels.21
The Commanding General of the Army Ground Forces, though his powers were in the strict sense only advisory, was in fact responsible for the selection of higher commanders of ground units at home. It was continuously necessary for him to evaluate the performance of general officers, to keep in mind colonels best suited for promotion, to estimate maximum future powers of officers known or described to him, and to watch and constantly to reappraise the performance of men in positions which they already occupied. The responsibility was the greater since it was accepted that a commander who carried a unit through its training should also lead it into battle. The effect of all training policies and directives depended on the force and intelligence of the commanders who carried them out. The quality of combat leadership down the whole chain of command depended, not on regulations and orders, but on the moral courage of commanders (also called "guts," "iron," etc., by General McNair) in eliminating ineffectual or unreliable subordinates, and on their discernment in finding the best men to replace them. It was an enormous waste to appoint as a division commander a man who could not do the job, for not only was time lost in making the division ready to fight, but the limited opportunity for future battle commanders to gain experience in handling large units was misspent.
In choosing higher commanders, General McNair relied mainly on a close study of the record. He attached a great weight to General Efficiency Ratings, since they consolidated the judgments of all commanders under whom an officer had served during the preceding ten years. Only an officer with a high GER, if possible above 6.5, rarely below 6.0, would be considered. Other things being equal, and age being within acceptable limits, he gave preference to seniority on the promotion list, regarding seniority as a measure of experience. He noted especially the succession of assignments in which an officer had spent his military career, demanding definite evidence of successful duty with troops. In addition, he himself knew personally, from years past, most of the men coming within the range of consideration except for some of the youngest.22
Initial selection was only the beginning. Once appointed, high commanders remained under scrutiny. If a commander failed to justify expectations, General McNair took the position that the sooner he was relieved the better, in order that his replacement might obtain a maximum of experience before facing the test of combat. On the other hand, caution had to be used against precipitate removals, not only to avoid
injustice but also because the number of men qualified for high command was too small to permit waste.
A few concrete cases may be taken to illustrate General McNair's handling of higher commanders. They are also of wider significance, for his dealings with his higher commanders reflect his idea of how these commanders in turn, and all commanders on down the line, should deal with officers for whose performance they were responsible.
Brutal behavior was reported on the part of the commander of a certain division. To obtain compliance with his program, he was reported to have resorted to intimidation of enlisted men and to have upbraided and publicly humiliated his officers. Senior subordinates were seeking reassignment, and the whole division was restless and resentful. The corps commander considered the division commander to be rough in his methods, but otherwise an able and valuable officer. General McNair shared this view. He handled the matter unofficially, sending the division commander a little private homily on leadership:23
Methods of leadership, as we all know, vary widely. I hold to no one particular procedure; the only criterion is the results obtained. However, I refuse flatly to believe that our officers today, especially those of the Regular Army, are unwilling to follow a division commander in his efforts to build a new division. If you have experienced difficulty along this line, I believe that the fault is yours in part. Either you are too impatient, considering conditions, or your methods are faulty. There is something wrong, I incline to believe, even though your objectives are above reproach ... My whole experience fixes my belief that the first essential of an efficient command is a happy one -- the happiness, or contentment, if you will, being based on confidence in the leadership and a realization that the leader's demands are just, reasonable, and necessary for victory in war.
The commander in question remained with his division, which presently quieted down, and he led it effectively in combat.
In another division an assistant commander made himself useless by excessive drinking. He was at times incoherent and unsteady, and was found by his subordinates to be unable to carry responsibility. The division commander long postponed action, but finally took steps resulting in his removal. The matter did not stop there. The division commander was himself removed. For allowing such a situation to develop so far, and for yielding to personal reluctance to hurt a brother officer, he was judged unsuited to command a division and was transferred to a nontactical post. Unfavorable attention turned also to the corps commander, who, however, continued to occupy high positions in the Ground Forces.24
A third division was commanded in 1943 by a major general of the National Guard, on whom General McNair, in October 1941, had passed a favorable though not final judgment. In 1942 the division had been assigned to the Eastern Defense Command and its parts scattered, so that the efficiency of its commander could not be clearly judged. In January 1943 the division came under the Army Ground Forces. In March the corps commander recommended the division commanderís reclassification. The army commander concurred. Army Ground Forces supported the recommendation. General Marshall advised a period of waiting, until, after longer service in the Army Ground Forces, the division commander's performance could be evaluated more fully.
By August 1943, after a visit to the division, General McNair decided that the time had come for action. He wrote to the War Department:25
This occasion, together with my previous observation of the officer, leads me to the conclusion that he is active, intelligent and intensely interested in his division. Doubtless he has the confidence of the mass of his troops, since he has
served them devotedly. The fundamental difficulty, however, is that he has grown up in the National Guard, with at best a restricted military horizon. He commands from his office. He seems incapable of training his division adequately, undoubtedly because he has no proper standard of training in his mind, due to his deficient military background ... I am convinced that the present condition of the division reflects essentially the Generalís military ceiling, and it is too low, beyond all question. It would be utterly inexcusable to send 15,000 Americans into modern combat under such leadership.
In the event that the pending action in this case evokes political repercussions, due to State pride, I should be willing to confer with one or a delegation of interested representatives, since I feel confident that they would understand the situation when explained and clarified.
Within a few days the commander in question was replaced.26
The main difference between higher ranking officers in the Ground Forces, including full colonels, and officers of the junior field and company grades was that the former, because of age and profession, had spent years in preparing themselves for the demands of war. Their specific training for the leadership of units in battle, like that of other officers, took place in the units themselves. By supervising the training of his unit, administering its affairs and employing it in maneuvers, a commander trained himself for his role in combat. General McNair insisted that the principle of keeping officers with troops applied to generals as well as to others. On a few occasions, in connection with very recently developed procedures, high commanders were assembled for indoctrination. Such occasions were the demonstrations in 1942 of air-ground coordination at Fort Benning and of tank destroyer employment at Camp Hood. But as a rule General McNair frowned upon higher commanders taking trips which diverted them from their essential duties. The opening of operations in North Africa gave training commanders an inviting opportunity to make tours of observation. General McNair limited himself to one brief visit. When General Marshall asked whether it might be wise for division commanders, halfway through their divisional training periods, to see some combat operations in North Africa, General McNair replied that division commanders were needed with their divisions, and suggested that a few corps commanders go instead, especially since General Eisenhower wanted to limit the number of visitors in his theater.27 Four AGF corps commanders consequently made tours to North Africa in the spring of 1943. Later in the year General Hodges, whose Third Army went overseas early in 1944, visited the battle zone in Italy. General Hazlett, commanding the Replacement and School Command, made a similar trip in February 1944.
The practice developed early in 1943 of appointing officers with battle experience to the command of troops training in the United States. In April General Fredenall, who had commanded the II Corps in Tunisia, assumed command of the Second Army on the retirement of General Lear. Officers with successful experience overseas were appointed to the general-officer positions of new divisions.28 The cessation of divisional activations in August 1943 terminated this practice. Officers were rotated between Army Ground Forces and the theaters. In the five months following 1 June 1943 Army Ground Forces released six major generals for overseas duty as individual replacements, and received twelve major generals from overseas in return, of whom six were given command of divisions, one of a corps, and two of replacement training centers. In the same period Army Ground Forces released eight brigadier generals and received ten by similar exchanges.29
Last updated 15 September 2005