AGF Study, NO. 7: Provision of Enlisted Replacements
FURTHER QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE SEVERITY OF INFANTRY COMBAT
Early in 1944, as has been said (pp. 36-40), the severity of infantry combat had aroused misgivings about the adequacy of the individual replacement system. Battle and non-battle casualties in infantry were so much higher than in other branches that divisions rapidly lost their full effectiveness, even though non-infantry elements of the divisions were capable of further effort. Long periods of unrelieved combat produced large casualties; these in turn laid heavy demands on the replacement system. Even when replacements were provided promptly, they usually had to be fed into units while actively engaged with the enemy. New Men, under these circumstances, suffered heavy casualties because they were not adjusted to battlefield conditions or acquainted with members of their units. The dwindling stock of veterans was more rapidly reduced because these men had to expose themselves more often in providing needed leadership for the large drafts of replacements.
The remedy recommended by Army Ground Forces and by General Devers, on the basis of his experience in the Mediterranean Theater, had been to modify the individual replacement system by providing additional units for rotation or replacement. The War Department, in 1943 and early 1944, had thought such a modification undesirable and impracticable. In October 1944 Army Ground Forces renewed its recommendations for additional infantry units, to replace divisional units withdrawn for rest, rehabilitation, and the integration of replacements. For immediate use in Europe it proposed to fill the eight separate infantry regiments then training loss replacements. For long-term planning of operations in the Pacific, it recommended that one separate regiment be provided for every two infantry divisions scheduled for that theater. The War Department vetoed the first proposal because of Troop Basis limitations, and postponed decision on the second until after the defeat of Germany.129
Meanwhile strong support for a modification of the replacement system had come from the Surgeon General of the Army. A survey of divisions in the Mediterranean Theater, conducted during the spring and summer of 1944, had revealed the heavy cost of keeping divisions continuously in the line.130 A significant portion of battle casualties in divisions in this theater was due, not to deaths, wounds, or capture, but to psychiatric disorders induced by prolonged exposure to danger. Psychiatric casualty rates of 1200 to 1500 per 1000 men per year were not uncommon in rifle battalions, whereas corresponding units of all other branches rarely suffered rates above 30. In general, 15-20% of all non-fatal battle casualties in the Mediterranean Theater were neuropsychiatric. The front-line soldier, having nothing to look forward to except death or wounds, and having exhausted the reservoir of pride and devotion to his unit, cracked under the strain. The survey found that "practically all men in rifle battalions who are not otherwise disabled ultimately become psychiatric casualties." The point at which men wore out occurred, on the average, after 200 to 240 days of combat. Men who broke down before this could usually be rehabilitated in the theater for further combat duty; those who broke down after the maximum period were useless for combat assignments without at least six months of rest. The infantryman's combat usefulness could be increased and losses from psychiatric causes reduced, the Surgeon General reported, if he had a positive goal toward which to work and the only goal worth anything to a soldier in the lines was the prospect of relief. Therefore the Surgeon General recommended that front-line infantrymen, upon completion of 200 (or 240) aggregate days of combat, be relieved from combat duty for six months and given the option of serving that period in the United States.
Besides recommending provision of enough replacements to attain this end, the Surgeon General proposed changes in the method of training and shipping replacements. Continued effectiveness in combat, it had been found, depended chiefly on the soldier's refusal to submit to the most compelling motives for giving way. The strength of the bond between a soldier and his comrades was the chief element in forcing a man to
carry on. The individual replacement, lacking any strong attachment to other members of the unit, had been found less effective in resisting combat strain than the man who entered battle with a unit. The Surgeon General recommended that replacements be trained, shipped, and assigned in groups of from 3 to 9 men, so that they would enter combat with a certain unit esprit.
The Army Ground Forces welcomed this careful documentation of the plight of the infantry soldier and used it in November as basis for new recommendations to the War Department. But Army Ground Forces did not at this time believe a limited tour of duty for infantrymen to be the answer:
Our whole system of the employment of divisions for long periods and continuous replenishment of these divisions by replacements while they are in action has created a vicious cycle with respect to battle fatigue which no system of individual relief can overcome.
Instead, Army Ground Forces recommended unit replacement at the division level as the best solution: fresh divisions from a reserve would replace divisions withdrawn from the line. It was not contemplated, of course, that unit replacement would supersede the individual replacement system. The two would be complementary: unit rotation would reduce casualties, thereby relieving the strain on the individual replacement system; it would also permit new levies to be fitted into units more efficiently, thereby reducing casualties among replacements.131
No reply to these recommendations was forthcoming from the War Department. After the replacement crisis of December had passed, and when plans for the Pacific War were being formulated, Army Ground Forces renewed its agitation for a fundamental change in the replacement system. Army Ground Forces had come by this time to believe that the individual tour of duty, dismissed as impracticable in October 1944, was both feasible and necessary, and that unit replacement should be instituted at the regimental level, preferably by providing a reserve regiment for each infantry division. As part of its continuing program to improve the effectiveness of the infantry soldier (see Study No. 5), Army Ground Forces in January 1945 proposed that the War Department institute after V-E Day a plan for rotating regiments in combat and a tour of duty for infantrymen. It was estimated that provision of one additional regiment for each infantry division to be deployed against Japan would require 155,000 troops; if regiments were supplied in a ratio of one for every two divisions only 79,000 men would be needed. Army Ground Forces proposed that the tour of combat duty for individuals be 120 days; the cost would be 143,000 or 214,000 additional replacements, depending upon whether the unit replacement scheme was adopted as well. Since it was contemplated to use against Japan only a portion of the ground units then present in the European theaters, Army Ground Forces believed the time had at last arrived when a genuine reserve could be maintained.132
The War Department Troop Deployment of 1 February 1945, forecasting the distribution of manpower for Pacific operations, made no provision either for additional regiments or for individual relief. General Stilwell, who had recently assumed command of the Ground Forces, took up the cause. In a memorandum to General Marshall on 13 March, General Stilwell pointed out that casualties in air combat crews and in infantry regiments occurred at the same rate but that the Troop Basis, while providing for rotation of air crews after a stipulated number of missions, made no similar provision for infantrymen, who continued to fight on with diminishing chances of survival. The January recommendations were repeated.133 By this time the War Department had been won over, and the Chief of Staff approved in principle a plan for both individual and unit rotation.134 The Redeployment Troop Basis of 1 June 1945 included 34 separate regiments, to be obtained from inactivated divisions, with which to implement the plan.135 Whether the changing requirements of the Pacific War would permit the execution of these innovations was uncertain as redeployment got under way. But Army Ground Forces and the War Department were now agreed that the replacement system under which the war
had been fought to V-E Day was inadequate. To keep a minimum number of divisions almost constantly in contact, refilling them from a stream of individual replacements, resulted in excessive losses, weakened units, and hopeless veterans. The individual replacement system, to function effectively, had to be part of a more comprehensive scheme of unit and individual rotation.
In his memorandum to Army Ground Forces on manpower loss due to psychiatric disorders, the Surgeon General had recommended that replacements be trained and sent overseas in groups of 3 to 9 men so that they would enter battle equipped with a degree of esprit not possible when they were handled as so many military "bodies."136 In November 1944 Army Ground Forces had regarded this suggestion as desirable but not feasible. A similar, but more elaborate, plan looking toward an improvement of the morale and effectiveness of replacements was explored early in 1945. General Eisenhower, in December 1944, had directed that use of the word "replacement" be discontinued in the European Theater and that "reinforcements" be substituted: troops covered by these designations, the order declared, were as vital to operations as a reserve regiment in a division.137 General Stilwell, saw in this change an opportunity to integrate replacement training more closely with combat operations and at the same time to improve the effectiveness of the individual loss replacement. He proposed that units in the replacement training centers be designated as training sources for particular divisions overseas. Within these units individuals would be grouped by platoons, or at least by squads, remaining in these groups throughout their training and during movement overseas. He considered requesting the return to the United States of officers from the respective divisions to accompany the shipments. Individuals would thus be "reinforcements" from the outset.138
Asked to comment on the feasibility of this plan, theater commanders and their representatives, agreeing that improvement in morale and combat effectiveness would result, replied that it could not be effected at this stage of the war. Fundamental objection from the theaters was to the rigidity which the scheme would introduce into the replacement process, by forcing assignment of replacements to units and in quantities determined without regard to immediate operational requirements.139 The reaction from theater commanders was so unfavorable that General Stilwell decided to abandon the idea.140 Replacements continued to be trained and assigned as individuals, being formed into temporary companies only for disciplinary effect and administrative convenience during actual shipment.
Last updated 18 October 2005