AGF Study No. 8: Reorganization of Ground Troops for Combat



It was therefore of the utmost importance that in the formative period the Army Ground Forces were commanded by Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, who was by experience and inclination an expert in tactical organization, possibly the leading expert in the Army. General McNair personally directed his staff on this subject. The organization with which American ground forces entered combat in World War II was to a large extent the product of his mind.

General McNair's understanding of tactical organization, while drawn from many previous tours of duty and from study and recollection of World War I, was especially strengthened in the field exercises of 1937 and 1939 in which War Department plans for tactical reorganization were tested, and from which had come the triangular infantry division used by the United States in World War II. General McNair had been chief of staff of the division which had conducted the tests. These were perhaps the most searching and thorough tests ever made of so large a unit up to that date in the United States. They were planned to be as realistic as was permitted by conditions of peace and the lack of funds and of modern equipment in quantity. General McNair had determined how the general questions set by the War Department should be broken down


into specific problems for testing, how personnel, armament and other equipment should be apportioned for each problem, and how the problems should be umpired and the results appraised. Beginning with fundamental study of the infantry rifle squad an entire divisional organization was put together piece by piece. Matters on which alternative ideas were tested included frontages and firepower per man and per unit; ammunition allowances; transportation capacities; motor columns; the requirement for artillery in proportion to infantry, with consideration of calibers, ranges, trajectories and capacities for concentration; the echeloning of automatic rifles, machine guns and mortars in the infantry regiment, battalion, company and platoon; the personnel, time and equipment needed for maintenance of weapons and vehicles; the time elapsed in transmission of orders from division headquarters to front line units; the time elapsed in hauling ammunition and supplies to front line units from the railhead; the amount of service support to be incorporated in the division and the degree to which the division, in the interests of its own mobility and striking power, should depend on corps and army for supporting services and reinforcing weapons. Findings on these and other questions, in the form of concrete data and statistics, were embodied in an extensive report drafted by General McNair.4 By no means all the recommendations in this report were adopted. The War Department, while reducing the old square division of 22,000 men to a triangular division aggregating about 15,000, did not reduce to the strength of 10,275 recommended in the report. (See Annex I.)

General McNair carried over into his command of the Army Ground Forces not only the mass of knowledge acquired in the tests of 1937 and 1939, but a rigorous sense of what was meant by fact as distinguished from theory or speculation, a tendency to deflate claims not based on full attention to detail, and a grasp of principles of organization developed by long reflection on the subject and by having seen the application of principles in the field. He was peculiarly qualified to assimilate into a balanced judgment the fragmentary combat experience of American forces in 1942 and 1943, the experience of foreign armies so far as it was known, and the views of specialists under his own command. He tried to keep in proper perspective the views of the specialist and of the man on the spot, believing both too inclined to forget the larger team. Specialists, particularly in the newer specialties such as aviation, armor, psychological warfare, psychiatry, morale building and the more elaborate forms of military intelligence, easily exaggerated the importance of their own contributions and were frequently impatient of criticism from outside their own circles. The evaluation and control of a multitude of specialties was one of the most difficult and important problems of World War II. The man on the spot, locally responsible for a particular mission, likewise tended to resist control, strive for self-sufficiency, and assure the success of his mission by gathering under his own command as much as possible of the manpower and resources of the United States. The theater commanders represented this tendency on the largest scale. With so many theaters it was impossible to give any one theater commander the freedom given to General Pershing in World War I. The evaluation and control of theater demands was therefore another major problem of World War II. General McNair always insisted that the only final test of military organization, as of training and equipment, was combat. One of his first steps was to request the War Department to obtain reports from overseas on the adequacy of organization and equipment.5 But he was not awed by commanders who had been in combat, believing that many decisions could best be made in the zone of the interior, especially in 1942 and 1943, when only minor elements of the enemy ground forces were being engaged by American troops. He noted for the Requirements Section of his headquarters after his visit to Africa in April 1943:6

I talked to General Patton about armored organization as much as the available time permitted. At first he was against a reorganization of the armored division ... but after a brief explanation of our proposals he seemed to go along quite wholeheartedly. I was impressed rather forcibly and generally with the fact that the people over there are fighting and have given only fleeting


consideration to organization. Even though they have the prestige born of combat experience I certainly feel that their off-hand and fragmentary views are not infallible.

By 1944, as will be seen below, General McNair was more willing to yield to theater opinion.

General McNair's leading idea in tactical organization was a simple and definite one to concentrate a maximum of men and materials in offensive striking units capable of destroying the enemy's capacity for resistance. The derivatives of this idea were many. One was to have a minimum of non-combat soldiers, to hold down non-tactical overhead and make tactical staffs small and efficient. Headquarters companies, staffs and administrative personnel could be kept small by elimination of unnecessary links in the chain of command, by reduction of paper work and the use of verbal orders. Combat units should be streamlined for quick decisive action; they should have only such personnel and equipment as were needed always. What a unit needed only occasionally should be held in a reserve pool under higher headquarters. Such pools not only kept personnel and equipment from idleness, but also permitted rapid massing for concentrated use. Transport and impedimenta of all kinds should be assigned sparingly and pooled where possible. Weapons and units primarily defensive in character should absorb as little as possible of the national resources. Special type units and excessively specialized personnel, useful on certain occasions only, should be discouraged. Links in the chains of supply and administration should be cut; divisions and corps should be lightened, with their overhead machinery relegated to armies.

These ideas were widely accepted. They were applications of the ancient principle of the economy of force. Some of them, such as emphasis on mobile warfare, the streamlining of the division and the use of pools, had been announced as basic by the War Department since 1935.7 No one advocated waste, unwieldiness or dispersion. Disagreement arose in the judgment of concrete cases. The distinctive thing about General McNair was the close attention he gave to concrete cases, and the strictness with which he defined, interpreted and applied the principles which nobody in theory questioned. In practice there were many obstacles to successful achievement of an economy of force. There was the tendency of every unit to demand additional men and equipment. There was the habit of "empire building," the tendency of an arm or service or specialty to multiply its functions as if in a vain effort to win the war alone. There was a tendency deeply rooted in American life to encumber the military establishment with comforts and conveniences, machines and inventions, technicians and experts, specialized services and complex agencies of control. Effects were cumulative increase in the number of dentists, for example, involved an increase of dental technicians; dentists and technicians had to be fed; dentists, technicians and cooks had to be transported; dentists, technicians, cooks and drivers required medical care; dentists, technicians, cooks, drivers and doctors needed clothing; hence quartermasters had to be added; all personnel required coordination, hence more higher headquarters; in the end a demand developed for more dentists. Against such proliferation, which added nothing to the real strength of the Army, General McNair resolutely set himself.



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Last updated 15 March 2006