AGF Study, NO. 7: Provision of Enlisted Replacements
THE 18-YEAR-OLD POLICY
The disposition of 18-year-olds now produced, in July and August 1944, an acute administrative problem for the Army Ground Forces. The question had arisen
intermittently since the lowering of the draft age to 18 at the end of 1942. At that time, in December 1942, the War Department, having considered the matter, decided that combat troops needed an infusion of youth, and that men from 18 to 20 inclusive should be assigned preferably to combat units and to replacement training centers of the Army Ground Forces.93 Practically all combat units were then still at home, and only a small minority of RTC graduates went directly overseas. As operations developed in North Africa, more RTC graduates were sent overseas as combat replacements, simultaneously with the influx of 18- and 19-year-olds into the replacement centers after the lowering of the draft age. The Army Ground Forces, to which personnel assignment procedures had just been decentralized, raised the issue in May 1943 of whether these younger men should be sent into combat with only 13 weeks training, the program then in effect at replacement centers.94 It was pointed out that the public had been given to understand that teen-age men would receive a year of training. The Army Ground Forces proposed to the War Department that 18- and 19-year-old inductees be henceforth assigned to units, and that inductees assigned to replacement centers be men of 20 or over.95 The War Department rejected this proposal as unworkable on 29 June 1943, observing that activation of new units was coming to an end, and that henceforth almost all inductees would be assigned to replacement training centers, so that no differentiation according to age could be made.96 Men therefore continued to be assigned irrespective of age. In December 1943 General Eisenhower, in suggesting that overseas replacements be taken from divisions at home, gave as one of his reasons the extreme youth of many of the replacements arriving in the North African theater.97 It was also now evident that combat involved, for the close-in fighter, a high degree of physical and emotional strain. The War Department therefore imposed, first a conditional ban on the use of 18-year-olds as combat replacements, then an absolute ban on their use as replacements in infantry or armor.
The absolute ban, ordered in June 1944, came at a time when the reasons cited in June 1943 for the opposite decision had all become far more cogent. In June 1944 half the new men being received by the Army were 18-year-olds, three-quarters of all men received by the Army were being assigned to the Army Ground Forces, over 90% of inductees received by the Army Ground Forces were being assigned to replacement training centers, and 80% of men assigned to AGF replacement centers were assigned to the infantry and armored centers (about 75% and 5% respectively).98 This meant, that out of every 100 men inducted, even if the 25 needed by the Army Air Forces and the Army Service Forces were all taken from the 18-year-old group, there would unavoidably be 25 18-year-olds among the 75 men assigned to the Army Ground Forces, which, having to put 60 of the 75 men (80%) into infantry and armored replacement centers, would be obliged to include at least 10 of its 25 18-year-olds in the 60. This was feasible, because assignment of men 18 1/2 years old to infantry and armored replacement centers was permitted. But calculations had to be very close.
In July and August 1944 assignment of newly inducted men came to depend almost exclusively on age. To find enough men to fill the infantry and armored replacement centers virtually all inductees over 18 1/2 received by the Army Ground Forces were required, including the oldest inductees and those who were borderline physical cases.99 Inductees under 18 1/2 were concentrated in the antiaircraft, field artillery, tank destroyer and cavalry replacement centers. Many went to the Air and Service Forces. The Physical Profile Serial System, recently introduced to assure that the strongest physical specimens should go to the infantry, could not be applied. The outcome was in fact the reverse of that intended by physical profiling. Youth, vigor, and alertness were concentrated in the artillery branches. Infantry and armor, which needed the men with the highest endurance, had to fill out their ranks with the physically least qualified and with older men, including numerous Pre-Pearl Harbor fathers whom it was no longer possible to withhold from the stream of combat replacements. The deterioration of infantry and armored replacements being perceived, and the difficulties being in any case very great for merely arithmetical reasons, the 18-year-old policy was
rescinded on 4 August, having lasted less than a month and a half.100 Eighteen-year-old inductees were again assigned to infantry and armored replacement centers, from which they began again to be shipped as overseas replacements in December.
Damage had meanwhile been done. Discharge rates at replacement centers mounted abruptly in September 1944, and remained exceptionally high until the end of the year, almost reaching the level of a year before (see Tables II & III, col. 10). The increase was in large measure due to losses at infantry centers, resulting from the receipt in July and August of men physically unfit for infantry duty. Replacement training facilities were thus wasted, and the planned flow of replacements reduced at the very time when replacements were needed to sustain the offensive in Germany. In addition, many replacements of low physical quality reached the front.
It was not only the assignment of inductees that was affected. In June 1944, when the absolute ban on 18-year-olds was laid, there were currently in infantry and armored replacement centers, undergoing training, about 37,000 men who would be under 19 at graduation. Of these, after attritional losses, about 8,000 graduated at ages under 19 but over 18 years and nine months, but about 22,000 graduated while still under 18 years and nine months. The former were kept in the replacement stream, receiving up to three months additional training (as needed in each individual case), and then becoming available for overseas shipment as individual replacements. For storage and training during the intermediate period, the infantrymen of this group were transferred to certain special nondivisional regiments which had recently begun to train replacements converted from other arms (see below, p. 56); and the armored men, for whom no similar organizations were available, were attached unassigned to the 13th and 20th Armored Divisions, which were expected to be among the last armored divisions to go overseas. The 22,000 who left the replacement training centers while still under 18 years and nine months, and who could not be used as overseas replacements for three months or more, were withdrawn from the replacement stream. They were distributed among fourteen infantry and three armored divisions not intended for immediate overseas movement. To fill the void in the overseas replacement stream, caused by the loss to it of 22,000 graduates of replacement training centers, divisions to which the 18-year-olds were assigned gave up equal numbers of their own men, who were shipped to the AGF replacement depots.101
Last updated 18 October 2005