AGF Study, NO. 6: The Procurement and Branch Distribution of Officers
THE POOL AND OVERSTRENGTH PROBLEM
The War Department, when on 16 March 1943 it prescribed that 18,500 officers be maintained as a source of overseas replacements, specified that they should be carried, except for small pools, as overstrength in tactical units.102 The requirement for 18,500 officers, all in the seven arms and quasi-arms for which Army Ground Forces was responsible, constituted about 20 percent of officers of those arms in the Army Ground Forces (i.e., roughly, in the continental United States) in 1943. A commissioned overstrength of 25 percent had been authorized by the War Department, for units in the United States, since 27 March 1942.103 In 1942 the shortage of officers made such overstrength impossible to realize. In 1943 many unit commanders showed a reluctance to requisition up to a full 125 percent of their tabular commissioned strength. In so far as units failed to carry full overstrength, officers tended to accumulate in pools. To clear the pools and to distribute the accumulating surplus (of which the chief single component was the 18,500 officers produced as replacements), Army Ground Forces on 12 July 1943 made it mandatory for units to requisition up to the full 125 percent of tabular commissioned strength.114 Although the directive was not universally acted on, unit overstrengths increased in the latter half of 1943.
Pools also grew rapidly. After the reduction of the general Troop Basis in July 1943 and of the antiaircraft Troop Basis in October, units for which officers were produced in advance failed to come into being. Pools therefore expanded. Pools were kept at high levels by the increase of the number of officers returning for overseas, by the dissolution of air base security and barrage balloon battalions, by the dropping of officer overstrengths from units preparing for embarkation, and by the commissioning of ROTC students after the need for new officers had ceased. In the infantry, the number of officer replacements maintained by order of the War Department -- 9,000 out of
the 18,500 -- was larger than could be accommodated in infantry units even at a 25 percent overstrength. Infantry pools grew correspondingly, until the increase in battle casualties turned surplus into shortage.105
Overstrength units, not pools, were the source from which officer replacements for overseas theaters were supposed to be taken. The North African campaign revealed second lieutenants entering combat as replacements without adequate experience with troops in the United States. Army Ground Forces thereafter enforced stringently, and with more success after the establishment of replacement depots under AGF command, the requirement that officer replacements serve at least three months with tactical units in the United States. It was ruled specifically that officers sent to replacement depots must have served with table of organization companies, batteries, or troops (not with units in replacement training centers); that they should preferably be in quality above the average of their units of origin; and that they must have gone through an infiltration course with overhead fire, fired a marksmanship course, etc.106
Divisions and other units required an overstrength in order to supply officer replacements without loss to their own integrity. But unit overstrength was a source of trouble. If excessive, as it came to be in many antiaircraft units, overstrength could be ruinous. Officers got in each other's way, confused command responsibilities, and spent their time either in idleness or at the work of noncoms, to the disadvantage of all concerned. Usually the trouble was not that overstrength was excessive, but that it was known to be temporary.
Units dropped their overstrength on preparing to move overseas. In 1943 no distinction was made during the training period between officers who were overstrength and those who were not, all being assigned to a unit in the same fashion. A unit commander could knowingly go through his training period with officers whom he did not wish to take into combat, expecting to drop them as overstrength before embarkation. In these circumstances only the strongest commanders took action, by reclassification or otherwise, to separate unsuitable officers from the service. Ineffective officers, dropped as overstrength, might pass through a pool, be assigned to another unit, dropped again, and so on. The pool-and-overstrength system was a kind of no man's land in which, if it was not carefully watched, unsuitable officers might be hidden indefinitely, and in which the best officers might deteriorate from lack of proper activity.
In pools it was especially difficult for all officers to be profitably occupied. General McNair raised the question in October 1943 on returning from an inspection trip.107 There were then 10,000 officers in AGF pools. G-1, AGF, reported that they attended schools, served as supplementary instructors at replacement training centers, and were rotated into units as rapidly as possible, to fill vacancies left when units furnished overseas replacements.108 On 27 December 1943 The Inspector General reported very unfavorably on AGF pools, charging that they had become a means of avoiding reclassification of the unfit.109 It was believed at AGF headquarters, after consultation with the Replacement and School Command, that the charges were overdrawn.110
On 20 December, before The Inspector General's report, Army Ground Forces had taken steps to control the abuses of overstrength.111 A directive of that date provided that unit commanders must fill their table of organization positions by organic assignment of officers in the prescribed grades. This procedure forced a determination, within a unit, during the training period, between individual officers who were permanently assigned and those carried as overstrength. Instead of carrying an undifferentiated group of officers, from which to choose his permanent commissioned personnel shortly before sailing, a unit commander was committed at once, and could dispose of unsatisfactory individuals, within his organic strength, only by initiating reclassification or other means of earmarking the unfit. Delegation of reclassification jurisdiction to subordinate Ground Force commanders, early in January 1944, reinforced the new policy.
On 20 January 1944 the War Department abolished overstrength, for most units in the United States, except in the grade of second lieutenant, in which an optional degree of overstrength was permitted.112 Implementing this action, Army Ground Forces required a 25 percent overstrength in section lieutenants to be requisitioned by Infantry and Cavalry units, and a 50 percent overstrength by Field Artillery, Antiaircraft, Armored, and Tank Destroyer units.113 Since the surplus of officers, like the need for overseas replacements, was heavily concentrated in second lieutenants, these measures helped materially to reduce the pools and to promote the training of officer replacements in tactical units.
For officers of the grades from first lieutenant through colonel, the distinction between organic assignment and attachment unassigned was clarified further.114 Officers of these grades, whether in pools or serving in units in excess of tables of organization (no longer as "overstrength," since overstrength in these grades was abolished), were considered to be attached unassigned. They became subject to immediate organic assignment to table of organization positions in other units. All units were obliged to requisition officers, in the prescribed grades and numbers, to fill their tabular requirements. If they failed to submit proper requisitions, the Replacement and School Command (or Antiaircraft Command for antiaircraft officers) assigned the necessary officers anyway. The effect was to force a distribution of officers, by organic assignment in grade, throughout all units and establishments of the Ground Forces. If inefficient, once so assigned, they could not be passed from one organization to another. A commander could rid himself of the unqualified only by instituting appropriate proceedings, leading to separation from the army.
Last updated 15 September 2005