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



It was clear in 1942 that the Army must prepare itself for a variety of specialized operations, both operations under extreme conditions of climate, exemplified in Finland, Libya and Malaysia, and operations by special means of assault, such as amphibious and airborne. The practical question was how far to go in organizing special-type units for these operations. General McNair did not wish to go very far. Following the principles of flexibility and economy, he was disinclined to organize manpower and resources for special needs which might never materialize, or which, if they did, might be less urgent than the need for standard forces. He believed that training in special-type units almost invariably taught particular skills ("tricks") at the expense of general military proficiency. He emphasized the futility of perfecting men in the technique of skis, gliders or landing craft if after meeting the enemy they were not competent all-around soldiers. He preferred, therefore, to have the Army Ground Forces concentrate on production of standard units, and to give special training only to units which had completed their standard training, and only when operations requiring special training could be definitely foreseen. Much of such training, he thought, could best be given in the theaters. Training for specialized operations could be more realistic in the theater where the operations were to take place, and such operations usually required a long enough period of preparation to make appropriate training feasible.133

In the six months from March to September 1942 the Army Ground Forces launched four special installations: the Desert Training Center, the Airborne Command (later "center"), the Amphibious Training Command (later "Center"), and the Mountain Training


Center.134 Each had the mission of testing equipment and formulating requirements within the field of its specialty, and of supervising the special training of such standard units as might be entrusted to it for the purpose. The Airborne Command also produced special-type troops, at first mainly parachutists but including a glider battalion. At the Mountain Training Center a few specially designated mountain units were assembled. No specially designated desert or amphibious forces developed. Airborne and mountain troops were not organized in units as large as the division.

The airborne and the mountain division, though not yet physically organized, were among the six types of divisions recognized by the War Department in March 1942. The mountain division was a true division, with a published T/O. The airborne division was thought of, not as a true division, but as a task force to be assembled when needed by combination of parachute regiments with standard forces trained in air transport for the occasion. This conception of the airborne division kept reappearing in the following years.

The strategic plans initiated in March 1942, looking to invasion of western Europe in April 1943 (see above, pp. 23-24), included the use of one United States airborne division.135 General McNair, after consultation with the Airborne Command, became convinced of the need for a formally organized airborne division, activated and trained as such. "An airborne division should be evolved," he noted for his staff in June 1942, "with a stinginess of overhead and in transportation which has absolutely no counterpart thus far in our military establishment."136 The War Department approved an AGF proposal to activate two such divisions, and in August 1942 the 82d and the 101st Airborne Divisions were formed by conversion of the 82d Infantry Division and addition of parachute regiments.137 A table of organization for the airborne division, prepared at the headquarters of the Army Ground Forces in August, was published under date of 15 October 1942.138 Five airborne divisions were eventually activated under this table.

As conceived in 1942 (and until the end of 1944) the airborne division was a miniature infantry division, aggregating only 8,500, but complete with all normal divisional parts plus a small organic antiaircraft battalion. Each division had one parachute infantry regiment and two glider infantry regiments, aggregating 1,958 and 1,605 respectively, in contrast to the 3,000 of the standard infantry regiment. Weapons were as in the infantry division, with a predominance of the lighter types; the division artillery consisted of 36 75-mm pack howitzers. Vehicles numbered only 408 motors and 239 trailers, a total of 647, in contrast with some 2,000 in the standard infantry division. The division had no organic aircraft, depending for movement on the pool of transport planes controlled by the Army Air Forces.

Tables for the airborne division remained substantially unchanged for two years. On entering combat, however, the airborne divisions departed considerably from their tabular organization, rearranging their resources to meet the circumstances of each case.

Meanwhile in the summer of 1942, with an offensive in the Southwest Pacific in view, the War Department turned its attention to the preparation of mountain and jungle troops. The standard infantry division had too many heavy weapons and vehicles to move easily through roadless, mountainous or densely wooded country. The Operations Division, War Department General Staff, in August 1942 urged consideration of a lightly equipped jungle division of some 10,000 officers and men.139 War Department plans for mobilization in 1943, though not fully crystallized at this time, contemplated some two or three mountain and jungle divisions.140

General McNair, while believing jungle training to be possible in certain parts of Florida and Louisiana, had no desire to establish a bungle center in the United


States. This view received support from General MacArthur, who notified the War Department that he preferred his units to receive standard training at home, and jungle training in the Southwest Pacific under his own supervision. At the same time General MacArthur agreed that experiment with a lightly equipped infantry division might be profitable. General McNair saw the formation of mountain and of jungle units as two aspects of a single problem, namely the creation of a unit dependent in large measure on human and animal transportation. He wished a minimum of animals in the Army, and advised against the "formation of 'light divisions,' which include animal units, of unsuitable power for employment in many theaters." He thought that for the time being the whole enterprise should be kept on an experimental basis, confined to research on mountain and jungle requirements, and to the special training of a few infantry regiments and supporting units. Mountain training on this scale was already beginning at the Mountain Training Center, and jungle training was conducted in Panama. By using personnel so trained as cadres, and drawing on the results of research, mountain and jungle divisions could be formed in the futures in General McNair's view, if and when prospects of their employment became more certain.141

But the G-3 Section and the Operations Division of the War Department General Staff both favored the formation of light divisions at once.142 The whole problem of reducing Ground Force needs for ship space was under discussion in October 1942.143 It was also felt that standard divisions would have to be virtually reorganized, reequipped and retrained for amphibious operations and for mountain or jungle warfare. This had been the experience with divisions sent to England in the summer of 1942 for the abortive cross-channel plans, with divisions preparing for amphibious landings in North Africa, and with divisions initiating the offensive in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. The Operations Division, to avoid such special refitting of standard divisions, proposed an all-purpose light division, to be usable in any conditions where relatively little equipment could be carried. Such conditions were thought by OPD to exist not only in mountain and jungle warfare but in amphibious and airborne undertakings as well. It was felt by OPD that the light division, like certain Japanese forces, should be able to operate not only without motors, but even without animals.144

In January 1943 the War Department directed the Army Ground Forces to prepare tables for such a unit.145 The light division now proposed was more acceptable to General McNair than the light division previously envisaged. It was less subject to the disadvantage of overspecialization. At the same time the general program for economizing manpower and equipment had begun. The Army Ground Forces was engrossed in the reduction of units of all types. Ship space for ground troops was critically short. These were the months (see above, pp. 29-30) when no divisions were leaving the United States. Without having initiated or promoted the idea of the light division, the Army Ground Forces assumed the task of developing it with genuine interest in its success. It was hoped that the light division, though admittedly weaker than the standard infantry division, would nevertheless bring to bear, in the circumstances in which it was used, as much fire-power as would a standard division in the same circumstances. It would be shipped overseas in greater numbers than the standard division, would be easier to supply and maintain, and like all divisions could be reinforced as needed from non-divisional pools.

Preliminary tables for a light division were submitted to the War Department on 2 March 1943.146 The division as outlined aggregated about 9,000. It had the same parts as an infantry division, except that all parts were smaller, no reconnaissance troop was provided, and field artillery was limited to three battalions of 75-mm pack howitzers. The division was meant to be usable for mountain, jungle, airborne or amphibious operations through attachment of appropriate transportation. Organic transportation was limited to handcarts (together with toboggan sleds for cold-weather mountain operations), except that the field artillery had either pack mules or 1/4-ton trucks. Other elements than the field artillery would receive transportation by


attachment in the form needed - either pack mules, light trucks or native bearers - in quantity sufficient to bring supplies from army supply points (or their equivalent) five miles in the rear, or in larger quantity if supply lines were longer. For airborne operations the light division would train with gliders, and be combined with non-divisional parachute regiments to form an airborne striking force of divisional size. In mountains, the division could be reinforced by attachment of ski troops. Used amphibiously, the division would of course train with landing craft. Armament would vary slightly according to the operation, with special issues of submachine guns for jungle fighting, automatic rifles for airborne and amphibious assaults, M-1 rifles for the mountains.

Organization was now ready, but mobilization remained problematical. Whether or not to convert airborne to light divisions long remained an open question. Conversion of the cavalry divisions was likewise suggested.147 General McNair in April 1943 recommended the formation of eight light divisions.148 Ten light divisions were proposed in May by G-3, WDGS, to be formed by conversion of six infantry and four airborne -- all the airborne divisions except the 82d, which was already overseas preparing for the landing in Sicily.149 General Eisenhower thought the light division might have a limited usefulness in such country as Tunisia.150 Colonel F. D. Merrill, then representing General Stilwell in Washington, called the proposed light division almost identical with the Chinese divisions as reorganized in India, and believed that light divisions would be valuable in jungles and mountains and in undeveloped countries such as China.151 General MacArthur, for whose theater the light division had been primarily designed, thought the proposed light division too lacking in fire-power and too weak logistically for employment in the Pacific islands.152

Proceeding cautiously, the War Department in June 1943 authorized the formation for test purposes of only one light division, to be obtained by conversion of one of the standard infantry divisions already mobilized.153 Attached transportation was to be trucks. The Army Ground Forces, believing that the time had come to give divisional organization to units at the Mountain Training Center, recommended the formation of 5 second light division, using pack mules. This was approved by the War Department.154 Recurring to the idea of a jungle division, the Army Ground Forces also recommended the formation of a third light division, to train as a pack unit.155

Three light divisions were therefore authorized in June 1943. The 89th Light Division (Truck) was formed by conversion of the 89th Infantry Division. The 10th Light Division (Pack, Alpine) was activated mainly from elements trained at the Mountain Training Center, centering about the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment. The 71st Light Division (Pack, Jungle) was activated from miscellaneous elements already mobilized, mainly the 5th Infantry and 14th Infantry, which had received jungle training in Panama. Each was to engage in tests and maneuvers at the earliest practicable moment. Each was in effect a special unit, hardly embodying the flexible principles which lay behind earlier plans. Indeed, the mountaineers and ski experts now incorporated into the 10th Light Division could hardly be used in tropical warfare without excessive waste of human material.

Activation of the three light divisions added no strength to the Army, being simply a reorganization of elements already in existence. The three light divisions were included in the total of 90 divisions of all types to which the mobilization program was reduced in June 1943. With the number of standard divisions thus restricted, no more was heard of converting standard infantry to light. In September General McNair again raised the question of converting the airborne divisions.156 Airborne operations in Sicily had been disappointing. Three airborne divisions were still in the United States, with their usefulness limited to special activities whose value was currently in doubt. General McNair proposed that the airborne divisions be broken up, with their parachute elements set up as non-divisional units, and their remaining


elements organized as light divisions and given a broad general training. Training for airborne operations, he proposed, should be given in the theater for each operation, to combinations of parachute units and light divisions selected for the purpose. This proposal was not accepted by the War Department. In October 1943, while the idea of expanding the Ground Forces to 105 divisions was under consideration, the War Department proposed activating four more light divisions, to make a total of seven.157 It was now General McNair who advised against an increase of light divisions.158 He did so even before the collapse of the 105-division program, after which in any case no increase of light divisions would probably have occurred.

General McNair advised against further activation of light divisions because of opposition from the Southwest Pacific. Officers of this theater pronounced the light division useless for amphibious operations, since the first landing waves had to be immediately reinforced in all possible strength. Heavier artillery than 75-mm pack howitzers, and more capacious vehicles than 1/4-ton jeeps, were said to be indispensable at whatever cost of ocean shipping or road-building effort. The theater preferred to use the standard division even when only a fraction of the division was committed, employing the remainder of the division as a source of reinforcement and supply. Commanders in the theater declared that the best policy for fighting in remote localities such as the north shore of New Guinea, at the end of long airborne and seaborne supply lines, was to put in a standard division and use it to the point of exhaustion. The Southwest Pacific Area was unwilling to receive light divisions, except in addition to the standard infantry divisions allotted to it.159

General McNair believed this attitude short-sighted and wasteful. He wrote to the War Department on 17 November 1943:160

"3. The Southwest Pacific Area now has a United States force aggregating some 272,000, including 124,000 service forces (46%). The maintenance of this force probably involves over 270,000 ship tons per month - one ton per man. There are five combat divisions which have reached there over a considerable period of time. These divisions are substantially equivalent to eight light divisions, without considering the supporting units required. Five standard divisions require 173,000 ship tons for equipment while eight light divisions require 54,000 tons. Thus, the light divisions would effect a saving for equipment of 119,000 tons - a fairly negligible amount in comparison with the shipping required to support the present great garrison.

"4. Under current War Department policies allowing the theater commanders wide latitude in utilizing the shipping available them, it is clear that the Southwest Pacific Area has no intention of accepting a light division of whatever organization, unless forced to do so by the War Department. The 1st Cavalry Division now has a reported aggregate strength of 13,258, practically the same as the standard infantry division.

"5. ... Upon completion of the current tests of light divisions, it will be necessary to decide, not only the details of such organization, but whether theater commanders will be required to accept a light division when they prefer the heavier standard infantry division. In the meantime, it appears highly inadvisable to contemplate the activation of light divisions in addition to the three already in being."

The 10th, 71st and 89th Light Divisions therefore remained the only units of their kind. They were experimental organizations, rather than units known to be forming for combat. They continued with their tests with the outcome already partly decided against them.


Tests of the 71st and 89th Light Divisions (Pack and Truck respectively) culminated in maneuvers of the two divisions against each other from February to April 1944. The terrain chosen was the mountainous, virtually roadless, relatively warm area of the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation in California. The III Corps, which supervised the maneuvers, reported unfavorably. Handcarts, used by both divisions, were found to be inadequate and excessively fatiguing. Additional pack and truck transportation was added during the maneuvers to permit continued action, and additional engineers to build trails needed by both mules and jeeps. Infantry regiments, only two-thirds the strength of the standard regiment to start with, employed a third or a half of their combat soldiers to build trails and bring up supplies. Neither division managed to deploy more than six battalions of infantry. Reconnaissance units had to be improvised. The III Corps, concluding that the light division was incapable of sustaining itself for a period of any length, recommended a return to the organization and equipment of the standard infantry division, with transfer of organic pack units (field artillery and quartermaster) to the non-divisional pool, from which they might be attached to standard divisions for mountain warfare.161

These recommendations being accepted by General McNair and by the War Department General Staff, which had lost faith in the light division even before the tests were concluded,162 the 71st and 89th were reconverted to standard divisions. Receiving additional personnel from inactivation of antiaircraft battalions, and retraining as standard divisions at the last moment, both were among the last divisions to go overseas, leaving the command of the Army Ground Forces in January 1945.163 The 71st Division, despite its jungle background, was dispatched to the European theater to help meet the emergency of the German break-through of December 1944. The incident illustrated the wisdom of avoiding overspecialization of forces.

Tests of the 10th Light Division (Pack, Alpine) produced equally negative results. Personnel and equipment were found insufficient in quantity. The Army Ground Forces, in May 1944, recommended that the 10th Light Division also be reorganized as a standard infantry division. It was pointed out that standard infantry divisions were fighting successfully in the Italian mountains. The Army Ground Forces feared administrative complications in maintaining a single special-type mountain division, but suggested that the mountaineer and ski personnel of the 10th Light Division be kept together for use as needed, and expressed a readiness to organize an enlarged mountain division if desired.164 The War Department decided to retain the 10th as a special mountain division. The Army Ground Forces prepared the tables, outlining a division of 14,101 officers and men, using over 6,000 mules and horses, but with motor transport for heavy hauls.165 The new T/O 70, published as of 4 November 1944, in general resembled, in the size and structure of the division it authorized, the corresponding table of 1942 which had never been used. The 10th Mountain Division embarked for Italy in December 1944.

Airborne divisions developed in the opposite direction from that favored by General McNair in 1943. His desire to convert them to light has been seen. In November 1943 General Ridgway, then commanding the battle-tested 82d Airborne Division, proposed an enlargement of the airborne division almost to the size of the infantry division.166 The European theater concurred. General McNair, clinging to the idea of an easily transportable airborne division (no doubt instilled in him with especial force by difficulty in obtaining transport planes since the beginning of airborne training in 1940), and restating his doubts as to the need of airborne divisions at all, advised against the proposal, and no action was taken.167 The European theater continued to favor a larger airborne division, believing in the employment of airborne forces in masses. The influence of the European theater naturally became dominant in 1944. The Organization Division, Headquarters, Army Ground Forces, processed new airborne division tables in December 1944, with such expedition as to draw a commendation from the War Department.168 The new table closely resembled the Ridgway


proposal of a year earlier. Where the old division aggregated about 8,500, with infantry in one parachute and two glider regiments, with no artillery heavier than the 75-mm howitzer, and with supporting elements at the barest minimum, the new division aggregated 12,979, had two parachute infantry regiments, a glider regiment virtually identical with standard infantry, a battalion of 105-mm howitzers, and more fully developed supporting units. The four airborne divisions in Europe were reorganized under the new table, the one in the Southwest Pacific remaining under the old.

In summary, by the beginning of 1945, all the experimental and special-type divisions of 1942 had either disappeared or to a large extent lost their special features. The motorized and the light division had come and gone. The jungle division had never developed except as a form of light division. The mountain division was substantially an infantry division in which motor transportation was largely replaced by mules. The cavalry division was fighting as infantry. Both the mountain division and the cavalry division were unique organizations, not types. With one exception, the airborne divisions resembled infantry divisions in strength and structure, with modifications made necessary by their mode of reaching the scene of combat. The tendency was to have only two wholly distinct types of divisions - infantry and armored. With increasing demands for organic tanks in infantry divisions, and for more infantry in armored divisions (beyond the infantry increase of 1943), even the distinction between these two types was becoming less pronounced. Changes made in the infantry division in 1945 are considered below.



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