AGF Study No. 8: Reorganization of Ground Troops for Combat
SECOND PERIOD: THE AGE OF ECONOMY
OCTOBER 1942 - OCTOBER 1943
REACTION TO THE AGF TABLES
All tables prepared by the Army Ground Forces for component units of the infantry division were immediately approved by the War Department and published in April under date of 1 March 1943. When the consolidated table for the entire division was submitted it met a different fate. G-3, War Department General Staff, recommended approval, all component elements having already been approved.75 The Chief of Staff directed that the consolidated table first be submitted to the overseas theaters for comment. "The Chief," wrote General McNair privately, "is reserving final decision until Edwards [G-3, WDGS] and I get back from Africa, where we hope to go this week. I am not clear as to the purpose of this step, but we shall do our darnedest to check up on various features of the organization by consultation with those who have fought through the mill. However, I have little hope of convincing any division commander that he can spare 450 trucks or 2,000 men."76
Wounded within a few days after reaching North Africa, General McNair missed the opportunity for a full discussion of the proposed division with officers in the theater. It is doubtful whether representatives of the War Department put the matter in quite the light in which he saw it. The positive side of economy, the possibility of increasing the number of divisions through reduction in size, was the easier to overlook since at this time only four United States divisions had been employed in North Africa, with some sixty in training at home. That the saving in divisions should be turned back into divisions was indeed not the policy of the War Department at this time. In June 1943, when final decisions on the reduced division were made, the number of divisions in the mobilization program for 1943 was not raised but lowered.77
The North African Theater of Operations disapproved of the new division in toto.78 General Eisenhower reported unanimous rejection by his corps and division commanders. The division was said to be already at an absolute minimum, providing no relief for worn out personnel - a somewhat irrelevant argument since the reductions mainly affected personnel least subject to the wear of battle. The theater reported the defense platoon at division headquarters to be essential in combat; asked for more military police, not fewer; warned that reduction of the engineer, signal and other auxiliary units would seriously impair their operations; deplored the telescoping of cannon companies and service batteries; and in general pronounced no reduction anywhere to be feasible. Organic assignment of antiaircraft and tank destroyer battalions to the infantry division was also desired.
General McNair wrote at length to the War Department, when asked to comment on the view taken by the theater. He noted that the reductions had been ordered by the War Department itself, and continued:79
"I know of no instance where a commander has recommended a reduction of the means at his disposal - either personnel or materiel - and of but few cases where a commander was satisfied with what he had. Invariably commanders seek more and tend always to
make their unit self-contained. It was such proclivities that brought about the present wasteful and unwieldy organization. Commanders do not consider the large picture. For example, the Commanding General, 1st Division, told me during my recent visit overseas that he needed organically a military police battalion, a reconnaissance squadron, a tank destroyer battalion, and an antiaircraft battalion. I asked him whether he would be willing to give up four infantry battalions in exchange, to which he replied No, vehemently. Nevertheless, such an addition to his division would deplete or eliminate other divisions, since the bottom of the manpower barrel is in sight.
"The big question in the case of the mass of streamlined units before the War Department for decision is not what it would be nice to have in the way of a complete and perfect organization, but what is the very minimum organization which can fight effectively. It would be comfortable to have 12 men in an organic gun squad, but the gun can be served readily by 8 men and 12 men certainly will not be 50% more effective than 8 men.
"Our theaters now are developed sufficiently to make it quite apparent that there is gross extravagance in both human and material resources everywhere. Theater commanders naturally seek to make themselves as secure against eventualities as they possibly can. They expect the War Department to find the resources which they demand, and thus far the War Department has met their expectations obligingly. However, sooner or later, the War Department will be forced, by inadequate total resources, to decide the form and substance of theater allotments, and direct theater commanders to carry on with what is given them, not what they would like to have. There is no doubt in my mind that the total resources now in the North African theater could be changed in form with an enormous gain in fighting power.
"My study of operations in the North African theater particularly, by both observation on the ground and from reports and dispatches, convinces me thoroughly that the combat forces there are too much concerned with their own security and too little concerned with striking the enemy. The infantry is displaying a marked reluctance to advance against fire, but they are masters of the slit trench - a device which is used habitually both in defense and attack. Regimental and higher commanders are not seen sufficiently in the forward areas, and battalions show the lack of this first-hand supervision. Commanders are in their command posts. I found that infantry battalions in the assault have their command posts organized in forward and rear echelons, the latter the stronger. Commanders of all echelons cry for both antiaircraft and ground defense. One high commander seized the reconnaissance company of a tank destroyer battalion for his personal guard, thereby rendering the destroyer battalion virtually ineffective. This attitude is everywhere and is undermining the offensive one, not cringly defensive. We cannot provide thousands of purely defensive weapons with personnel to man them without detracting from our offensive power. Nothing can be more unsound than to provide a headquarters guard organically for a high command post. If the commander feels so much concern for his own safety, let him withdraw a battalion from the front line for his own protection, but do not provide him with such a unit organically.
"It is to be emphasized that the proposed organization, in this and other similar cases, does not weaken the fighting power of the unit, but merely strips away unessential overhead and weapons which are not usable against the enemy in offensive action. When field commentators see that the unit has been reduced in strength, they charge immediately that the revised unit is weak and lacks staying power. The facts are the reverse, since the unit has more fighting power per man than the extravagant unit which it supersedes. There will be more of the reduced unit for a given manpower, hence greater total fighting and staying power.
"The reduced organizations are based on the sound fundamental that the division or other unit should be provided organically with only those means which it needs practically always. Peak loads, and unusual and infrequent demands obviously should be met from a pool - ordinarily in the army or separate corps. Such a principle is particularly applicable, for example, to engineer and medical units. In both such cases demands vary widely with the situation, and it is uneconomical in the extreme to provide the division organically with the means of meeting extreme demands which occur seldom.
"General Eisenhower's comments in this case can be replied to in detail, but such discussion seems hardly appropriate. It is clear that his viewpoint is so wholly different from that upon which the reduced division is based, that it is small wonder that the reduced organization is unacceptable to him. The issue does not lie in these details but rather is, whether we are to base our military organization on comfort and convenience or on offensive fighting power."
At this very time, in June 1943, the manpower situation was so critical that 500,000 men were dropped from the proposed strength of the Army, and twelve divisions were cancelled from the mobilization program for 1943.80
A middle ground between General McNair and General Eisenhower was found by G-3 of the War Department.81 Although the compromise, by adding over 800 men to General McNair's figures for the division, made the mobilization of any given number of divisions more difficult, it produced an individual division of considerable soundless and strength, used without substantial change in the European campaigns of 1944 and 1945. (See Annex I.) In general, the auxiliary units of the division were held down to General McNair's figures, except for the division headquarters company, to which the defense platoon was restored (as a guard against stray tanks, parachutists, disaffected civilian inhabitants, etc.), and except for the quartermaster company, to which the service platoon was restored, on the ground that the division quartermaster had no other pool of labor. In general, the combat elements of the division were modified in the direction desired by General Eisenhower. The cannon company was restored to the infantry regiment, and the service battery to the field artillery battalion. In view of developments in North Africa, the 37-mm. antitank gun was definitely abandoned in favor of the 57-mm., the mine-laying platoon was restored to the regimental antitank companies, and infantry regiments received increased allowances of mine detectors. Other questions of armament remained as decided by General McNair. Infantry regiments kept their 2½-ton trucks. About 400 vehicles were restored to the division. A medical detachment was added for the "special troops," or smaller auxiliaries, of the division. A division surgeon was provided in addition to the commanding officer of the medical battalion. This compromised the principle, stressed by General McNair, of reducing special staffs through combination of staff and command positions. To these amendments made by G-3, the office of the Chief of Staff added another, directing that a headquarters special troops be included for administration of the signal, ordnance and quartermaster companies and the military police platoon. This headquarters, revised from the old square division, was regarded by General McNair as a wholly unnecessary piece of overhead.82 But for the most part the cuts made by General McNair in headquarters establishments, especially at the regimental and battalion levels, were maintained. Restorations made by the War Department were chiefly in combat elements, largely defensive, and to service elements operating in the closest conjunction with combat troops. In addition, the Army Ground Forces, acting on reports from the theaters and without instructions from the War Department, restored the medical detachment of the infantry regiment to its old figure. The disputed postal clerks were likewise added.
The division which emerged consisted of 14,253 officers and men, about 850 more than desired by General McNair, but about 1,250 fewer than currently authorized. The
Army Ground Forces prepared new T/O's as directed. These were published as of 15 July 1943. Infantry divisions in the United States were physically reorganized as of 1 September 1943, those overseas by installments in the following months. Since in the long run only 66 infantry divisions were mobilized, it may be said that the T/O's of 15 July 1943, saving about 1,250 in each, saved altogether 82,500 men. Or conversely, the number of men formerly required for 60 divisions now produced 66.
Significant economies were therefore effected. But to General McNair the failure of the War Department to accept his views, or to stand firmly by its own announced policies of economy, was a source of grave disappointment and concern. He saw in it an indication that the War Department would yield to the theaters to a degree which he believed destructive to central control. His own zeal for economy was somewhat dampened. "Since the War Department's decisions in connection with the infantry division," he wrote on 23 June 1943, when reviewing the T/O for army headquarters, "I have much less sting in me than heretofore."83
Last updated 15 March 2006