AGF Study, NO. 7: Provision of Enlisted Replacements



Excepting the Philippine campaign of 1941-42, in which losses could not be replaced, United States Army forces first entered combat in fairly considerable numbers, and hence first obtained experience with battle replacements, with the North African operation launched in November 1942. Complaints were received from North Africa that replacements were unsatisfactory. It was reported that men reached North Africa as combat replacements who had not had the prescribed thirteen weeks of basic training, or had never fired their primary weapons, or were improperly equipped, or were physically unfit, or were disciplinary cases unloaded by units in the United States.25

The Army Ground Forces directed its observers in North Africa to look into the replacement situation. General McNair gave it his attention on his visit to Africa in April 1943, as did officers of his staff who went with him.

The conclusion reached at the AGF headquarters was that the supply of replacements had been unsatisfactory, but that the fault lay not so much in the quality of training as in misconceptions of that training among officers in the theater, and in defects in administration both in the United States and in Africa. It was not fully understood by overseas commanders that replacement centers in the United States were obliged, in thirteen weeks, both to give basic military training and to train men for individual jobs, such as riflemen, anti-tank gunners, clerks and radio operators. Soldiers when questioned in the theater often stated that they had had only three or four weeks of basic training, when in fact they had had the thirteen weeks prescribed by the War Department, but had spent much time during the later weeks at their specialties.

Faults in administration lay mostly outside the jurisdiction of the Army Ground Forces, since the Army Ground Forces had in general assumed jurisdiction only over training. It was found that medical examination, issue of equipment and other processing had in some cases been very cursory at the Shenango Replacement Depot and at staging areas through which replacements had passed before the depots were established. The experience of replacements en route was such as to destroy their morale and undo the effects of their training. Shipped without unit organization or strong command, they were passed mechanically from one agency to another — depot, port, transport and a series of temporary stations in the theater — often spending months between leaving their original organizations and assignment to a unit. In this period they became physically soft, their discipline slackened, and their rapidly acquired skills tended to be forgotten. What the front-line unit received was not what the Army Ground Forces had produced.


Assignment of replacements in the North African theater revealed other serious faults in administration. Some men were diverted from the replacement stream to form new units. It was estimated that by May 1943 17,000 men, mostly intended as combat replacements, had been utilized for the activation of new service units, particularly quartermaster and military police.26 Tank replacements were assigned to infantry units. Individual job specialties were not respected in making assignments. Some commanders, eager to get the best men available, were impatient of the aims and procedures of classification. "One division commander," wrote General McNair, "himself told me that when he needed replacements he went to the replacement depot and chose his men individually, regardless of arm or speciality, based primarily on their appearance and actions — somewhat as one would buy a horse."27

Misassignment of thirteen-week trainees, when much of their training had been devoted to individual specialties, naturally filled positions with men who were "untrained." It was wasteful of training time and of human material. It was not always due to indifference or error, but was frequently made necessary by the fact that depots had a surplus of trainees in some specialties, and a shortage of trainees in other specialties, usually combat jobs such as infantry rifleman, for which the requirement was heavy. Misassignment in this case showed that the number of replacements received, the timing of their arrival, and their distribution between arms and individual specialties were not correctly geared in Washington to actual theater needs.

Besides revealing defects of administration, the conditions in North Africa threw doubt on the adequacy of replacement training. There had long been a school of thought in the Army which held that replacements should receive more than thirteen weeks of training, and that they should be trained, not in somewhat formless "centers," but in units resembling the units to which they would ultimately be assigned (see Study No. 31.) Some of General McNair's staff officers recommended a lengthening of the training program.28 The Committee on Revision of the Military Program, which at this time was recommending reduction of the ground army to an 88-division basis (see Study No. 4), reached an unfavorable judgment on replacement training in the Army Ground Forces. It proposed on 7 June 1943 that replacement training be extended to six months, to include training in units; and that, pending the time when men trained under this longer program should become available, replacements should be taken from tactical units, including divisions, many of which, the committee observed, could not in any case be shipped until 1944. Since overseas commanders wanted almost no non-commissioned officers among their replacements, preferring to promote men already in their organizations, the committee recommended that only privates be taken from Ground Force units; and to prevent the casting off of undesirables by unit commanders, it recommended stripping all privates from the units selected, reducing the units to cadres. 29

On 13 June G-3, WDGS, in a strongly worded memorandum to the Army Ground Forces, declared that unfit and untrained men must be eliminated from overseas replacements by firmer administration, and that apart from defects in administration the training program itself must be reviewed. Following the recommendations of the Committee, G-3 invited the Army Ground Forces to consider a six-month replacement training cycle, and the organizing of training divisions or similar units, in which officer and enlisted replacements would be trained together, and from which they would be shipped together to theaters overseas.30



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