AGF Study, NO. 6: The Procurement and Branch Distribution of Officers
ELIMINATION OF UNSUITABLE OFFICERS
In 1942 the shortage of officers was so great that separation from the service for inefficiency was unusual, and vacancies were so numerous that an unsuitable officer could be reassigned to a position in which it could be hoped that he would be more effective. At the same time, with the wholesale operation of officer candidate schools and rapid promotions in all grades, officers were produced whose competency was open to question. At the end of the year, as the pressure to produce numbers relaxed, attention turned to reclassification, the standard procedure by which officers were demoted or dropped for reasons of efficiency. In December 1942 General Lentz, G-3 AGF, in protesting against the severity with which the War Department then cut OCS capacities, argued that an over-strength of officers should be developed as an aid, among other reasons, to reclassification. More officers should be reclassified, he said, but would not be unless a margin in numbers existed.91
Study of the matter went on for some time in the War Department. As of 9 June 1943 a revised AR 605-230 was published, designed to increase the use of reclassification. On 10 July Army Ground Forces enjoined subordinate commanders to employ fully the powers granted.92 On 14 July, over the signature of General Marshall, a confidential radiogram was dispatched by the War Department directly to the field, including Ground Force commanders down to the division. "The officer problem," it read, "demands closer attention. Out of 500,000 officers only four were eliminated from the Army for inefficiency during the month of May ... It is inconceivable that of 500,000 only four should fail to come up to the required standards of leadership ... Commanders of every echelon will be judged by their discernment and moral courage in the elimination of the unfit."93
Inertia was great because of the personal embarrassments involved for individual commanders, and because the required administrative process remained formidable and indirect. Jurisdiction in reclassification cases rested with the commanding generals of the service commands. General McNair believed that Ground Force commanders might use more initiative if case could be settled nearer home. A plan was drawn up, in August 1943, by which reclassification jurisdiction should be granted to the commanding general of the Army Ground Forces, and delegated to commanders having general court-martial jurisdiction.94 These included, by a recent action, commanders of armies, corps and divisions, special training commands, service schools, replacement training centers, and replacement depots. On 2 September Army Ground Forces requested permission to test the plan with the Second and Third Armies. The War Department disapproved. General McNair noted for his G-1 on 9 November:
I favor requesting reconsideration ... Basic premise should be that the reclassification of officers is an important function of command, that the Chief of Staff, USA, has recently stressed the importance of this function and criticized the manner in which it was being performed by commanders. In spite of this fact, reclassification cases are heard, not by the responsible commander, but by service commanders who have no responsibility for the efficiency of ground force units.95
Successful efforts were made to speed up the working of the existing system.96 The number of officers separated from the service by reclassification rose to over 200 a month. In December 1943, in the three major commands, the number was 286. Of these, 207 were in the Army Ground Forces.97 A smaller number were separated under authority granted in AR 605-10, which provided that officers commissioned in the Army of the United States (i.e., not in the Regular Army, the National Guard, or the Organized Reserve Corps, meaning mainly the graduates of the officer candidate schools) might be eliminated without reclassification at any time within six months of receiving their commmissions.98 The policy of the War Department, adopted in January 1944, of relieving from active duty officers over thirty-eight for whom no suitable assignment existed was of little importance for Army Ground Forces, because the AGF surplus was mainly in the younger age levels.99
Notwithstanding the improvement in the use of reclassification under the existing system, an improvement in which Army Ground Forces led the other major commands, the War Department on 4 January 1944 decentralized reclassification jurisdiction as was desired by General McNair.100 Army Ground Forces delegated jurisdiction to immediate subordinate commanders, who were authorized to delegate in turn, to commanders having general court-martial jurisdiction, the power to hear reclassification cases involving captains and lieutenants. To overcome the inertia of subordinate commanders, Army Ground Forces devised, at General McNair's suggestion, a special monthly report.101 In this report, required in a directive of 8 March 1944, each commander had to state the number of cases in which he had instituted proceedings since last reporting, or, alternatively, to state that no unsatisfactory officers were assigned or attached to his command.
One reason for the inertia of commanders in arranging the separation of unqualified officers from the service was that, until early in 1944, the overstrength system made it possible for a commander to rid his own unit of unwanted officers by less drastic methods. The problem of elimination of unqualified officers was tied in with the general problems of surplus.
Last updated 15 September 2005