AGF Study No. 8: Reorganization of Ground Troops for Combat
SECOND PERIOD: THE AGE OF ECONOMY
OCTOBER 1942 - OCTOBER 1943
THE ARMORED DIVISION
The armored division, unlike the infantry division, underwent not merely a shrinking but a thoroughgoing reorganization at the hands of the Army Ground Forces. (See Annex II). The process was complicated by the semi-independent status of the Chief of the Armored Force, who was responsible for tables of organization for armored units. The Armored Force, established in July 1940 to do a rush job of creating armored divisions, retained a great deal of prestige and vitality on coming under the headquarters of the Army Ground Forces in March 1942. (See Study No. 13 of the present series.) For over a year relations between AGF headquarters and Armored Force headquarters were in practice more on the level of negotiation than of military command. It was not that the two headquarters were at odds. There was considerable difference of view among General McNair's staff officers on the use of armor, nor did he insist that they present a united front during discussions with Fort Knox.84 Armored Force officers also represented various shades of opinion on the tactics, and hence the organization, of tanks. Differences of opinion were general, but polarized in two places.
Of one thing General McNair was convinced from the start: that the Armored Force, accustomed by the circumstances of its birth to doing big things in a hurry, was the most wasteful of the ground arms in its use of manpower and equipment. "Profligate," "luxurious," "monstrous" were terms he frequently applied to armored units in 1942 and 1943.85 "The present armored division," he wrote, "is fairly bogged down by a multiplicity of gadgets of all kinds ... In the matter of size, cost and complication, as compared with the number of tanks which can be used against the enemy, the armored division presents an amazing picture of unjustified extravagance."86 The AGF Reduction Board went to work on the armored division in January 1943. Certain of the division tables were pronounced by General McNair "so fat there is no place to begin"; others were to be "combined and debunked - a major operation"; and he instructed the Board, "before I personally struggle further with these terrible tables," to recast armored division elements along the lines of comparable elements in the reduced infantry division.87
Meanwhile the question or reorganization had arisen, overshadowing the question of mere reduction. Concurrently with the removal of "fat," the anatomy of the division was transformed. Economy was a major objective, but changes were also dictated by modifications in tactical doctrine.
Conceptions of the armored division passed through several stages during the war, largely, it must be admitted, in response to the activity of the Germans, whose successes made it possible for various native schools of American officers to get their ideas adopted. The American armored divisions were at first modeled on the German
panzer division of 1940, and were made up overwhelmingly of tanks with relatively little infantry support. Virtually all tanks in the Army were placed in armored divisions. It was thought that these heavy armored divisions would operate well ahead of the mass of friendly forces. Divisions of foot infantry were left a modest role by this school. "The triangular division," wrote the Chief of the Armored Force on 18 July 1942, "has its place in the scheme of affairs to protect lines of communication, to hold ground, to assist the armored units in supply and the crossing of obstacles such as rivers, defiles, etc. They do not carry the spearhead of the fight and never will when tanks and guns are present."88 The belief that armored divisions were a kind of elite troops, capable of peculiarly decisive action, was the basis for furnishing them so liberally with personnel and equipment.
But the successful employment of antitank guns and mines, notably by the Germans in the African campaigns from 1941 to 1943, but also by the Russians and British, confirmed the position of those American officers, including General McNair, who had always doubted the invulnerability of the tank. It became clear that tanks would frequently have to be escorted by foot troops sent ahead to locate and destroy antitank defenses. It was recognized that the armored division, internally, required more infantry in proportion to tanks, and, externally, would usually operate in closer proximity to infantry divisions than had been supposed. The increasing rapprochement between tanks and infantry raised the question, not only of the internal structure of the armored division, but of the number of armored divisions which ought to be mobilized, as distinguished from the non-divisional tank battalions by which infantry divisions could receive tank support. General Devers, two years after making the statement quoted in the last paragraph, wrote of the Italian campaign in 1944; "Of special importance has been the work of tank battalions attached to infantry divisions ... Throughout the entire campaign the infantry has been the major decisive element in the advance ... It is team play which has assured success."89
Armored divisions were being reorganized, under tables prepared by the Armored Force and dated 1 March 1942, at the time when the Armored Force became a component of the Army Ground Forces. (See Annex II) The tank-infantry ratio in the new tables remained substantially as in 1940. Aggregate strength of the division was 14,620 of which 4,848 was in tank units, 2,389 in armored infantry, 2,127 in armored artillery. Tanks were organized in 2 regiments, or 6 battalions; infantry in a regiment of 3 battalions; artillery in 3 battalions. Armored infantry differed from foot infantry, which was not organically motorized, and from motorized infantry, which was equipped to move in trucks, in that all personnel could move simultaneously in lightly armored half-tracks. Armored artillery consisted of self-propelled 105-mm howitzers; it was organized in 6-piece batteries, so that the 3 battalions had 54 pieces. The engineer battalion of the armored division comprised 4 companies plus a treadway bridge company. A strength of 1,948 was in division trains, which included a maintenance battalion six times as large as the corresponding company in the infantry division, and a supply battalion organically included on the ground that army supply establishments would usually lag far behind the fast-moving armored division. Division headquarters included two "combat commands," each a subheadquarters under a brigadier general, to either of which the division commander might assign such forces as he chose for specific tactical missions. Task forces could thus be made up flexibly within the division, embodying within limits any desired ratio of tanks to infantry and other arms.
General McNair in 1942, in view of the recent reorganization of the division, and considering the unsettled state of armored doctrine, wished to postpone another reorganization until combat experience had been gained.90 In August he called the attention of General Devers to the fact that the German armored division, having been substantially reorganized since 1940, now had five times as high a ratio of infantry to tank troops as did the United States armored division.91 General Devers, convinced of the need of more infantry, proposed that the motorized infantry divisions be
it ďarmorized," i.e., that their infantry be organized and equipped like the infantry of armored divisions.92 Large tank masses in armored divisions would thus operate alongside large infantry masses carried in half-tracks. But the problem was believed at AGF headquarters to be the placing of small infantry units in close association with small tank units. Armorizing of motorized divisions was not believed to be the solution.93
General McNair (as if to show the semi-independent status of the Armored Force) laid General Devers' proposals before the War Department along with his own on 7 December 1942.94 He himself, not wishing simply to put an armorized infantry division alongside armored divisions in an armored corps, nor simply to add infantry to the existing armored division which he believed already unwieldy, and not yet ready to break down the armored division and recombine the parts, proposed a temporary expedient pending experience to be gained in combat. He recommended that a pool of 25 separate armored infantry battalions be established, from which armored divisions could be reinforced as necessary. He likewise recommended curtailment of the program for motorized divisions, believing that armored infantry battalions would best fill the need for close support of advancing tanks, and that other forms of infantry support, such as the taking over of positions won by armor, could be furnished by standard infantry divisions, moved when necessary by trucks from an army pool.
The fate of the motorized division is traced below. The War Department hesitated to abandon this unit, but did authorize the mobilization of fifteen battalions of armored infantry. It was felt also, in the War Department General Staff, after further study of foreign armies, that reorganization of the American armored division must be immediately considered.95 The Commanding general of the Army Ground Forces was instructed, on 26 January 1943, to prepare new tables at once.96
General McNair submitted, on 28 January, one of his most careful statements on the use of armor:97
"1. The basic memorandum presents clearly and impressively a broad picture of tremendous significance - one which, in my view, we have not yet faced adequately.
"2. It is believed that our general concept of an armored force - that it is an instrument of exploitation, not greatly different in principle from horse cavalry of old - is sound. However, some, particularly armored enthusiasts, have been led away from this concept by current events which have been misinterpreted. The German armored force of 1940 was organized for a particular situation, and was brilliantly successful for that reason. It was used at the outset as a force of exploitation, since it was well known that nothing in Europe at that time was capable of stopping it; the antitank measures then in vogue were wholly and hopelessly inadequate.
"3. The struggles in Libya - particularly the battles of late May and early June, 1942 - demonstrated conclusively that armor could not assault strong, organized positions except with prohibitive losses. The German 88 ruined the British armored force, which was employed unsoundly. The German armored force then exploited the success obtained and ruined the entire British force.
"4. The battle of El Alamein demonstrated the correct employment of the British armor, which was held in reserve until the infantry, artillery, and air had opened a hole. The British armor then exploited the success and destroyed the German force.
"5. Thus, we need large armored units to exploit the success of our infantry. We need small armored units also, in order to assist the infantry locally. The Russians appear to have devoted their armor largely to the latter principle, influenced undoubtedly by the fact that until recently they have been on the defensive
strategically. It seems doubtful that they will need large armored units in the near future. If they do, such units can be formed readily.
"6. It is believed unwise to adopt the hybrid infantry-armored division of the British, since a division normally should contain organically only those elements which are needed in all situations. Armor is not needed on the defensive under our concept, tank destroyers being provided for the defeat of armored attacks, and having demonstrated their effectiveness for this purpose. Our GHQ tank battalions are sound for attachment to infantry divisions on the offensive where terrain and situation permit their effective employment.
"7. It is believed that our 1943 troop basis has entirely too many armored divisions, considering their proper tactical employment, and too few GHQ tank battalions. It is particularly important that the latter be available in quantities to permit all infantry divisions to work with them freely and frequently. Such training has been impracticable in the past and probably will be so in 1943. This matter was brought up in connection with consideration of the 1943 troop basis, but the view presented by this headquarters was not favored by the War Department.
"8. A reorganization of the armored division will be proposed in the near future, in accordance with your memorandum of January 26, 1943."
Or, as he later wrote to the commander of the 1st Armored Division in Italy "The big question in my mind is the relative merit of tank battalions attached to infantry divisions vs. infantry attached to armored divisions. I lean toward employing armored divisions for exploitation and tank battalions attached to infantry divisions for your present job of infighting."98
The work of preparing new tables for the armored division went on from January to August of 1943. Numerous conferences were required to harmonize the views of the Armored Force, the Army Ground Forces and the War Department General Staff.99 "During this period the 1st Armored Division saw action in Africa, the 2d in Sicily, but neither was employed as a unit in the type of mission for which armored divisions were intended. Combat experience therefore furnished fragmentary guidance. A board of officers convened by the Fifth Army during the African Campaign, under Major General E. N. Harmon, recommended many changes of detail, some of which were incorporated in the new tables, but on the whole favored no fundamental change until more armored divisions had engaged in combat.100 New tables were nevertheless published as of 15 September 1943. All armored divisions were then physically reorganized except the 2d and 3d, which remained under the 1942 tables with modifications.
In redesigning the armored division, in advance of combat experience and in view of wide differences of opinion, both the Army Ground Forces and the Armored Force desired as elastic and adaptable a structure as possible.101 The same principles of flexibility were applied as were currently being applied to non-divisional army and corps troops. The regimental echelon in the armored division was abolished. The battalion became the basic unit. The division received organically 3 battalions of tanks, 3 of armored infantry and 3 of armored field artillery. Infantry strength in proportion to tanks was thereby doubled. At the same time separate tank battalions, separate armored infantry battalions and separate armored field artillery battalions were set up in non-divisional pools. These battalions were made identical with the corresponding battalions organic in the armored division. Hence they could readily be attached to the armored division.
To make possible ready attachment and detachment all battalions of armored types - tank, infantry and artillery, both those organic in the armored division and those which were non-divisional - were made administratively self-contained. Each received a
service company (or battery) to bring supplies from army supply points, and a headquarters company (or battery) large enough to carry the burden of administration. All tank battalions became alike and hence interchangeable. Previously there had been battalions of medium tanks and battalions of light tanks. (Plans for the heavy tank battalion were suspended early in 1943 and in any case did not apply to the armored division.) The new composite tank battalion was much stronger than the old medium battalion. Like the old medium battalion it had 3 companies of medium tanks; it had in addition a company of light tanks for reconnaissance or other missions requiring speed, and 6 medium tanks mounting 105-mm howitzers.
"The fundamental objective," General McNair wrote to General Patton, "is to provide more infantry than at present. However, the organization is such that either armor or infantry may be added or subtracted from a division at will. Although the division organically probably will aggregate something like 11,000, you may make it 20,000 if you so desire, simply by adding armored of infantry battalions."102 He might have said armored artillery battalions also, or indeed engineer, ordnance or other units, since all non-divisional units in the Army Ground Forces were being reorganized in the same way. In General McNair's mind the distinction between the armored division and temporary armored formations tended to fade. He envisaged the possibility that armored groups might perform the role of armored divisions. Battalions of tanks, armored infantry and armored artillery, taken from non-divisional pools, could, instead of being added to armored divisions, be combined with each other under group headquarters, with such service units as were needed, and so in effect constitute small temporary armored divisions.103
In practice no such over-all flexibility was obtained. While some 20 separate battalions of armored artillery remained in existence, all but one of the separate armored infantry battalions were inactivated in 1943 in the face of the manpower shortage. Nor were enough separate tank battalions mobilized to provide an effective pool. The need of infantry divisions for tanks, in the campaigns in Italy, western Europe and elsewhere, proved to be more constant than was anticipated in 1942 and 1943. Hence virtually all available tank battalions became more or less permanently attached to infantry divisions. Interchangeability broke down. Armored divisions could not be reinforced by tank or armored infantry battalions. Nor could armored battalions be combined into armored groups. The armored group in the theaters lost its functions.104
Flexibility within the armored division was enhanced by the reorganization. Elimination of the tank regiments and of the infantry regiment, and creation of self-contained battalions, made all battalions directly attachable to the combat commands, or to the "reserve command" set up as a third subheadquarters in the reorganized division. General McNair desired that the two combat commands be redesignated "groups."105 As headquarters to which battalions could be variably attached by the division commander they strongly resembled the group headquarters then being widely introduced for flexible control of non-divisional units. Adoption of the term "group" would have emphasized the tendency for the armored division to lose divisional identity. But "combat command," preferred by the Armored Force, was favored by the War Department. It was decided also by the War Department that only one combat command should be headed by a brigadier general, the other being allotted a colonel - called a "curious set-up" by General McNair, since the functions of the two commands were the same.106
The Armored Force urged repeatedly that a tank destroyer battalion and an antiaircraft artillery battalion be made organic in the armored division. The argument for organic inclusion of these elements was stronger for the armored than for the infantry division; it was universally favored by overseas commanders, and by many officers of the AGF headquarters staff. Even the Reduction Board, General McNair's selected "No-men," recommended inclusion.107 General McNair would have none of it, declining to add to "the monstrous array of transportation already encumbering" the armored division.108
He insisted that these defensive weapons be pooled and attached as needed. The War Department supported him, even against a recommendation of the European Theater of Operations.109
The number of tanks in the armored division was cut from 390 to 263, as compared with about 200 usually found at this time in German and British armored divisions. Thus while tank battalions were reduced from 6 to 3, or 50%, and tank-unit personnel from 4,848 to 2,187, or 55%, the number of tanks was reduced only 30%. The number of medium tanks, M-4, was reduced only 25%.
Armored infantry was greatly strengthened. The commanding general of the 1st Armored Division reported that the armored infantry regiment, under the 1942 tables, had approximately the strength of an infantry battalion as organized in the infantry division, "after the overhead including some 544 drivers have been removed."110 He recommended the use of standard infantry in the armored division. General McNair, who generally preferred standard to specialized units where feasible, did not favor this proposal.111 Nor was it possible to delete many drivers from armored infantry units. The strengthening of armored infantry was accomplished by a positive increase in numbers, the battalion rising to an aggregate of 1,001. The three battalions combined carried 750 more rifles and carbines than the regiment which they replaced, as well as a heavy increased in machine guns and bazookas. The ratio for the division rose from 6.1 to 11.4 infantrymen per tank.
Overhead was saved, as in the infantry division, by pushing some functions forward to line units and others rearward to army. Concentration of administrative activities in the battalions, and elimination of the regiment as a rigid and unnecessary barrier between battalions and combat commands, led to a great saving in personnel not intended primarily for combat. Half the strength of the two tank regiments in the 1942 tables was regimental and battalion overhead. (See Annex III) Only a third of the strength of the three tank battalions in the 1943 tables was overhead. In the infantry component the proportion of personnel not in rifle companies fell from about a third to about a quarter. In the artillery battalions personnel was cut about 25% through drastic reduction of headquarters and service batteries.
Auxiliary elements were less generally reduced than in the infantry division. Indeed the reconnaissance and signal elements were enlarged. Economy was indirectly effected in reconnaissance through standardization; the battalion, hitherto a special armored organization, was now constituted as a squadron of three cavalry troops of the type organic in the infantry division, plus one light tank company of the type organic in the reorganized tank battalion. The engineer battalion was cut over 40% at the personal insistence of General McNair, who believed it should resemble the engineer battalion of the infantry division. The treadway bridge company was removed and made a non-divisional army unit. The four general engineer companies were reduced to three. General McNair found it inconsistent for armored proponents to argue that a great advantage of tracked vehicles was their ability to move off roads, and at the same time to demand an exceptional complement of engineers because roads used by tracked vehicles needed frequent repair.112
Over the division supply battalion, a quartermaster unit, much controversy developed. The supply battalion symbolized the doctrine that the armored division might operate far from the mass of the forces, beyond normal support by army units. "Unquestionably," wrote General Patton from North Africa, "our original conception that we needed 250 miles of rolling supplies is erroneous. In the fighting we are now having, and did have, you were damn lucky if you got forward three miles a day. When a breakthrough occurs you can always steal enough trucks from corps or army to give you the additional rolling reserve."113 This statement was seized upon by General McNair, who desired, for the armored division as for the infantry division, that supply
should be direct from army supply points to using units, by-passing the division. General Gillem, returning from Africa and Sicily, urged that the supply battalion be retained. Officers of General McNair's staff were divided. General McNair settled the issue, noting for his Requirements Section on 10 August 1943:114
"I feel definitely that we have passed the stage of arguments in connection with reorganizing the armored division ... I have contacted various individuals about it for a period of many months, and there are many, many views; it is impossible to meet all of them.
"There is no question whatever that the division is oversupplied. Patton has admitted this categorically. Also there is no question that the army can supply the armored division as well as any other element. I am informed that Patton now has in Sicily a mere 23,000 motor vehicles, and it is not hard for me to believe it."
The supply battalion was omitted.
The new armored division, to summarize, aggregated 10,937 officers and men. The main innovation was the increase in the ratio of infantry to tanks, achieved both by raising the number of infantrymen and by reducing the number of tanks. The division was cut almost 4,000 in personnel, of which 2,661 came out of tank units. Tank units lost over 50% in personnel, but only 25% in medium tanks. Some 500 individuals were taken from the armored artillery without loss of fire-power. Other savings of personnel were mainly in the relegation of certain quartermaster and engineer functions to army. The conspicuous feature of the new division was the 3-3-3 ratio of battalions of tanks, infantry and artillery, and the flexible command arrangements by which those battalions were held together. With its auxiliaries, the new armored division was a federation of thirteen battalions led by a major general. It was intended that the federation be an open one, able to absorb tank destroyer and antiaircraft battalions by attachment, as well as additional battalions of tanks, infantry and artillery.
Tank battalions withdrawn from the armored divisions became available as non-divisional units. Two were obtained from each of the 14 divisions reorganized (all but the 2d and 3d Armored Divisions.115 Theoretically the reduction from 6 to 3 tank battalions in each division should have released 3 in each; but the simultaneous enlargement of the battalions absorbed 1 battalion per division. The newly gained separate battalions, added to those already mobilized, produced for the first time a number of separate tank battalions roughly equivalent to the number of infantry divisions.116 This ratio had long been desired by the Army Ground Forces. It was tardily reached, in the closing months of 1943, because of the time spent in redesigning the armored division, and because the War Department was unwilling to authorize more tank battalions so long as the armored division question was unsettled.117 Consequently it was not until the end of 1943 that tank battalions were available in sufficient numbers to permit infantry divisions to undergo combined training with tanks.
The net effect of the reorganization of the armored division, aside from making the armored division a more effective team of combined arms, was to shift the bulk of the tank strength of the Army from armored divisions to the support of infantry. Plans at the end of 1942 envisaged, for the end of 1943, 120 tank battalions in armored divisions and only 38 in the non-divisional pool. What the Army actually had, at the end of 943, was 54 battalions in armored divisions and 65 in the non-divisional pool.118 (Difference in totals is due to overall curtailment of the mobilization program for Ground Forces. (See Study No. 3.) Tank battalions in the non-divisional pool, as already explained, despite projects for their employment in armored groups or in reinforcement of armored divisions, in practice became habitually attached to infantry divisions in the theaters. With the infantry division gaining tanks, and the armored division gaining infantry, the two came slightly together. But the difference
remained radical: the armored division had a battalion of tanks for each battalion of infantry; the infantry division, with an attached tank battalion, a battalion of tanks for nine battalions of infantry. The two divisions remained suited since their infantry also was differently equipped, for altogether different roles.
General McNair continued to consider the armored division an expensive military investment. The new tables had not long been published when he noted, on 9 October 1943, that the "slugging component" of the division (tanks and infantry) numbered only 5,190, the remaining 5,747 being supporting and overhead elements.119 To maintain sixteen armored divisions seemed to him a luxury in the circumstances then obtaining, with manpower so short that planned activations were being cancelled and infantry divisions were being stripped for replacements needed in Italy. Events of 1943 had confirmed him in the belief, stated on 28 January 1943 in the memorandum quoted at length above, that the proper function of armored divisions was to exploit a success already won. For this purpose he thought, in October 1943, that an army aggregating only 90 divisions of all types needed no more than 10 armored divisions. "An armored division," he wrote, "is of value only in pursuit or exploitation. For plain and fancy slugging against an enemy who is unbroken or at least intact the tank battalion or group is adequate." He thought that tank and infantry battalions could engage in close fighting with less overhead than the armored division provided. He recommended to the War Department that six armored divisions be inactivated, their tank and infantry battalions retained as non-divisional units, and their remaining personnel used either as overseas replacements or as fillers for new units in the mobilization program.120 The War Department rejected this proposal, and the Army retained its sixteen armored divisions.
It was felt by some that General McNair took a negative and unfriendly attitude toward armor. That he was a severe critic of armored organization cannot be doubted. His policies on armored equipment are treated elsewhere. Challenged on these matters in February 1944, he declared flatly to the Assistant Secretary of War, speaking of the forthcoming invasion of western Europe, that "whether armor will pay its freight remains to be seen."121 He had in mind the plan, as of that date, whereby one-third of the divisions used in the invasion would be armored. The whole question was one of ratios; it was not that General McNair scorned the armored division, but rather that he believed more infantry divisions were needed, and that ship tonnage would deliver more fighting power if the proportion of armor was reduced. As it turned out, the War Department after June 1944 was obliged to feed infantry divisions into the European theater more rapidly than been anticipated.
Last updated 15 March 2006