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



To hold down the size of headquarters staffs was one of General McNair's principal goals. Substitution of the group for the regiment, with the group headquarters handling four battalions and passing administrative matters on to army, was intended to economize headquarters overhead. The same object was aimed at in elimination of the regiment from the armored division, in the general cutting of division staffs by the Reduction Board, and in the paring of headquarters companies at all levels.

General McNair's reasons for cutting all staffs applied especially to the staffs of higher headquarters, those of armies and corps. One reason was to conserve manpower. Higher staffs tended to absorb large numbers of the most experienced officers. By 1943 only one officer in fifty was a professional soldier. "I wish we could give green divisions more experienced officers," General McNair wrote to General Patton, "but they are just not available. One primary reason almost the only one - is the great mass of Regular Army officers who are serving in the unimaginable array of command echelons with their staggeringly large staffs."183 The other reason was to speed up operations. Large staffs, in General McNair's opinion, produced a mass of paperwork, liaison and unnecessary coordination which threatened to block the very rapidity of action for which modern armies were physically equipped. "Operations cannot possibly be swift and effective if staffs are large and clumsy. Lack of staff training and fitness cannot be compensated for by increasing size."184 General McNair limited his own staff to about 250 commissioned officers, in a headquarters controlling at the maximum some two million troops.


One method by which he hoped to reduce army and corps headquarters was to combine staff and command positions in the manner well established in the division artillery.185 Here the artillery commander was at the same time the artillery officer on the staff of the division commander. General McNair believed that special staffs could be greatly reduced by general application of this plan. He held that if a corps, for example, had no tank destroyers attached to it it needed no antitank section on the corps staff; if it did possess tank destroyers, then the senior commander of attached tank destroyer units (probably a colonel commanding a group) was better qualified than anyone else to act as staff adviser to the corps commander on antitank matters. Similarly, at the army level, the brigadier general commanding the antiaircraft brigade, if the army possessed one, and the brigade or group commander in every other arm and service represented among army troops, would be the special staff officer for matters of his branch. But because the duties of certain officers were multiplied to a point considered impracticable by some, with consequent doubt as to whether real economy would result, the plan met with resistance both in the War Department and in the field, and was not systematically followed in practice.

Another means of economizing staffs was to limit their work to strictly defined essentials. General McNair wished the corps to be a combat unit only, and administrative activities to be concentrated in army. He held down his own staff by leaving a maximum of administrative work to the War Department.

But the more the principle of flexible organization of army and corps troops was adopted, the heavier was the work load imposed on army and corps headquarters. These headquarters, under combat conditions, carried the major responsibility for shifting separate battalions and companies about, combining and recombining them in temporary formations, attaching them to divisions, detaching and attaching them elsewhere, determining where they could best be used, ordering their movement, and keeping the record of their whereabouts and availability at all times. With non-divisional units dissolved organically into battalions and companies, under lieutenant colonels and captains (in contrast to the division with its major general), and with the intermediate group and brigade headquarters exercising no administrative functions, a great deal of assistance and control of many small units by army and corps headquarters was required. It was therefore difficult to reduce higher headquarters as much as General McNair desired.

In view of the difficulties, the table of organization for army headquarters was not materially modified in 1943. Corps headquarters was drastically reduced by the Army Ground Forces in March 1943, though the reductions did not stick.186 (See Annex VII.) The principle adopted was that the corps consisted essentially in its commander and a small headquarters, with an organic headquarters company, an organic signal battalion and an organic headquarters and headquarters battery for the corps artillery, which in turn possessed organically only a field artillery observation battalion. Thus the means of corps command were organic; troops would be put in and taken out according to the shifting needs of combat. The brigadier general commanding the corps artillery and the colonel commanding the corps signal battalion (a full colonel being provided) would function as corps staff officers; hence the artillery and signal sections of the old headquarters were dropped. The antiaircraft section was dropped also, the commanding officer of corps antiaircraft troops (if any) being expected to discharge staff duties. Staff advice on armored, tank destroyer or other matters pertaining to a single arm would be procured in the same way. Since the corps was intended to be tactical only, the staff sections for technical and administrative services were reduced.

Column I of the table in Annex VII shows the corps headquarters of 1942; column II the reductions desired by the Army Ground Forces in March 1943; column III the less drastic reductions approved by the War Department and incorporated in a table of organization in July 1943. Corps in the Army Ground Forces were reorganized according to


this table in August. They received an augmentation for training, it being delivered by the Army Ground Forces that corps in training carried a greater burden of inspection and supervision than they should carry in combat. Protests against the new table were received from the theaters. General McNair was accused of proposing for overseas use a smaller corps headquarters than he would use himself in training. The War Department ordered an upward revision of the table, with results shown in column IV.187

Before submitting the revisions called for, General McNair wrote to the War Department, on 15 October 1943:188

"...The present strength can be increased to any figure desired by the War Department. This headquarters is opposed to such increase.

"The overhead of headquarters in this war is viewed as staggering. We have the advantage of the most modern equipment in communications and transportation, which should operate to reduce overhead but actually is operating to increase overhead instead. General Bradley stated to me recently that the present corps headquarters was too small because he required each of his staff sections to visit the troops daily. Thus he was demanding in substance a double corps headquarters. General Fredendall stated that the present corps headquarters is more than adequate. General Patch expressed the same view ... The last two commanders voiced the view that large corps headquarters not only were unnecessary but would hinder mobile operations. I concur in such views.

"...If commanders are allowed to indicate their own needs, experience has shown repeatedly and almost invariably that there will be no end to the increases demanded. Headquarters will go on increasing so long as this policy is followed. The results are apparent in our theaters all over the world."

The reply of G-3, WDGS, made no comment on these remarks. The corps, as again reorganized, was about as large in commissioned strength as in 1942.



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Last updated 15 March 2006