AGF Study, NO. 6: The Procurement and Branch Distribution of Officers
PROCUREMENT OF OFFICER CANDIDATES IN 1942
Army Ground Forces, when established on 9 March 1942, took over from the old chiefs of the combat arms the responsibility for the training of officer candidates. Since July 1941, when the officer candidate schools had started operation, the numbers of candidates to be admitted had been under the control of the War Department. No change in this arrangement was made with the establishment of Army Ground Forces; for
another year, until March 1943, control over the size of OCS operations remained with the War Department. Although Army Ground Forces took over the personnel functions formerly performed in the offices of the Chiefs of Infantry, Field Artillery, Cavalry, and Coast Artillery, specific exception was made of functions relating to the procurement of officer candidates.30 The War Department progressively stepped up OSC capacities to keep pace with expansion of the Troop Basis, for the new units in which officers were needed well in advance of activation. The OCS population, from slight beginnings in 1941, when only 1,389 officers were graduated, leaped upward in the spring of 1942 and virtually doubled every three months until the end of the year. (See Table II.) In all, 55,440 officers were graduated from the ground officer candidate schools during 1942. (See Table III.)
While the officer candidate schools were expanding, the rapid activations of 1942, outrunning the supply of inductees, left troop units with serious shortages of enlisted personnel.31 Procurement of officer candidates in the prescribed numbers was therefore difficult in the extreme. It was necessary to resort to several expedients -- including the recruitment of volunteer candidates from civilian life and the award of administrative commissions -- to keep the officer candidate schools filled. An AGF directive to the field, dated 4 September 1942, pointed out the urgency of the OCS program, cited the case of a company commander relieved for not filling his OCS quota, and urged commanders to use "salesmanship" in recruiting candidates.32
In procurement of officer candidates, Army Ground Forces was handicapped by the fact that its enlisted ranks represented a sub-average cross section of the population of the United States.33 Good men were kept from the Army by the recruiting methods used by the Navy and the Marine Corps. Within the Army, the classification system, emphasizing achievement in civilian vocations, tended to concentrate high-grade personnel in technical and noncombat branches. In addition, the classification system was modified in practice by special rulings to protect the quality of the Air Corps, which, under the "75 percent rule" and its successive equivalents, drew most of its inductees from the higher levels (by intelligence) of men available to the Army. Tens of thousands of high-calibre men were withheld from the Ground Forces by this means. For some branches, such as Antiaircraft, Field Artillery, and Engineers, in which mathematical knowledge was needed, it was especially difficult in 1942 for Ground Force units to meet officer candidate quotas.34 There was a marked tendency also for able-bodied officer candidates, after basic training in a combat arm, to elect officer candidate school in such branches as Quartermaster and Finance. This practice was stopped by an amendment to Army Regulations.35
The Army Ground Forces could not supply enough candidates to fill its own schools, despite repeated screenings of its units, the harmful effects of which are mentioned below. AGF schools were thrown open to candidates secured from all branches of the Army.36 Even this broadening of the base from which selections were to be made did not suffice. It became necessary, in the interests of expediency, to depart from the theory on which officer procurement had been based. As has been noted above, the prevailing Army policy was to secure new officers from the enlisted ranks of the Army, except for certain specialists appointed directly from civilian life, and to award commissions for general duty, including combat leadership, within a branch. Both these fundamentals were compromised in 1942.
The Volunteer Officer Candidate plan, inaugurated in March 1942, was an attempt to tap a large pool of potential officer material -- men deferred from military service.37 Under the VOC scheme, a man deferred for dependency might apply for officer training with the understanding that if not selected at the RTC to which he was sent for basic training or if not commissioned at OCS, he could return to civilian life and former draft status. By December 1942, 38,134 VOC's had been accepted in the Army as a whole; 27,000 were attending OCS.38 The program tapered off in 1943, when the need for officers declined, and disappeared late in that year when dependency ceased to confer draft exemption. The VOC program was a source of many officers who, but for the
exigencies of procurement that forced its adoption, might have remained outside the military service altogether or accepted commissions in one of the services whose officer procurement program was less restricted. The VOC's did much in 1942 to relieve the almost impossible burden of filling officer candidate schools, and without a lowering of quality.39
But going outside the Army for candidates did not entirely make good the shortage of officer material. It became necessary, in the summer of 1942, to make another breach in the established plan by redefining the qualifications for a commission. According to the original theory, every officer was qualified to be a combat leader; the mission of OC schools was defined accordingly: "to produce platoon commanders for units of the field forces";40 candidates judged lacking in leadership qualities were relieved from OCS. As the shortage of officers mounted, this practice seemed wasteful. Some 59,000 purely administrative positions in the Army at large had to be filled, none of which required combat leadership ability. To conserve some of the excellent material being squandered at officer schools under the restrictive view of fitness for commission, the War Department in June 1942 gave the OC schools a second mission: "to produce good administrators from those who lack combat leadership qualities." Only when a candidate was unfit for any type of commissioned duty was he to be relieved.41
This revision of procurement standards was not popular with the ground arms. The number of administrative positions in the arms was relatively not great. Double classification and complicated bookkeeping procedures reduced flexibility of assignment. In practice the restriction "commissioned for administrative duty only" was generally disregarded, officers being assigned to any duty for which they were needed.42 No figures are available on the number of men so commissioned in the Ground Forces. By February 1943, the crisis in procurement having passed, the original standards for commission were reinstated and candidates once more had to qualify as potential combat leaders.43
With pressure of the strongest kind being exerted to find candidates for officer training, it was inevitable that the system should break down at some point. Breakdown occurred at several points.
To find enough candidates in units it was necessary to deplete the sources of good noncommissioned officers. General Lear wrote to General McNair in October 1942: "We are scratching the bottom of the barrel now for officer candidates. We are decidedly short of the right material for noncommissioned officer leaders. We will pay dearly for this in battle."44
The quality of candidates declined as the enlisted sources were repeatedly picked over. Despite the desire of OC schools to graduate as many men as possible,. the percentage of candidates graduating fell steadily through 1942:45
|January 1942||July 1942||December 1942|
|Field Artillery||80.3 (Feb)||78.3||62.9|
|Tank Destroyer||--||91.4 (Oct)||88.1|
Academic failures, resulting chiefly from lack of proper educational background, rose at the Armored School from 3.2 percent in February to 14.8 percent in December, at the Coast Artillery School from 1.1 percent in July to 21.9 percent in December, and at the Infantry School from 1.8 percent in April to 17.3 percent in November.46
In October 1942 Dr. James Grafton Rogers, visiting officer candidate schools at the request of General Marshall, found them "notably troubled by poor quality."47 General Bull, commanding the Replacement and School Command, admitted that "emphasis on filling officer candidate quotas had influenced commanders in many instances to sacrifice quality for quantity."48 But General McNair defined the dilemma when he remarked to General Lear that "we must not set up arbitrary standards and ignore the fact that we must have officers."49
Numerous expedients, discussed in detail in Study No. 30 of this series (Training in the Schools of the Army Ground Forces), were adopted at the OC schools to combat or offset the poor quality of the available candidate material. Special tests were devised to screen out men sent to OCS merely to fill quotas; preparatory schools were established to give basic training to candidates brought in from other arms; and the policy was adopted of turning back weak candidates to repeat all or part of the course in the hope of salvaging as many men as possible. The result was unavoidably an adulterated product. By the end of 1942 the quality of recent OCS graduates had declined so far that The Inspector General suggested sweeping reforms in the selection and training of officer candidates. (See Study No. 30.) Army Ground Forces opposed the recommendations, feeling that the trouble lay not in the details of the selection system but in the reluctance of unit commanders to send key enlisted men to OCS and in the shortage of high-intelligence personnel which a year of preferential treatment of the Air Corps had brought about and which operation of the ASTP was now beginning to accentuate.50 (See Study No. 4, Mobilization of the Ground Army.)
The matter ceased to have practical significance for the procurement of officers in 1943. With passage from shortage to surplus, difficulty in finding enough qualified men to fill quotas disappeared. Quality could again be insisted on and high standards reasserted. The War Department, late in 1942, wrote a commentary on the problems of the year just past and a forecast of the year to come.51
While the reduction in officer candidate requirements will not operate to deny qualified applicants the opportunity to attend an officer candidate school, it will permit more careful selection, and will place officer candidate opportunities on a higher competitive basis. With a broad field from which to select a smaller number of candidates, commanders should give most careful attention to final selection to the end that the highest type of officer material available is selected.
The issue in 1942 had been numbers; it was expected that attention in 1943 could be concentrated on quality. This expectation proved to be incorrect. Numbers continued during 1943 to be central in officer procurement, but the question was no longer how to get enough candidates but how to avoid getting too many.
Last updated 15 September 2005