On 9 March 1942 the Army Service Forces (ASF), the Army Ground Forces (AGF), and the Army Air Forces (AAF) came into being as the three major commands within the United States to do the work of the War Department.1 The Army Service Forces was a unique organization, although it was in part modeled after the Services of Supply (SOS) that had been set up in France as a separate command within the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) of Gen. John J. Pershing.2 There was no exact counterpart to it within the United States during World War I. When General Pershing became Chief of Staff of the Army in 1921 and reconstructed the War Department General Staff (WDGS), he did not provide for a Services of Supply. It was not until two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that Gen. George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson decided on a new organization for the War Department and the Army.

Without direct precedent, the Army Service Forces was unusual likewise in the variety of tasks entrusted to it. In truth, it was a hodgepodge of agencies with many and varied functions. From 9 March 1942 until its official termination in 1946 the ASF struggled constantly to build a common unity of purpose and organization.

The Army Service Forces took over certain basic tasks which had to be performed for the support of military operations. It was a procurement and supply agency for the Army both in the United States and abroad, and during both combat and training operations. This was its central purpose. But there were other tasks as well, many tasks that had to be done to keep a gigantic army in existence and effective in combat. Some of this work involved the handling of men-induction, classification, assignment, maintenance of central personnel records, and eventually separation. In addition there was a worldwide communications service to provide, ports, and land and sea carriers to operate. There were hospitals to be built, staffed, and operated to care for the sick and for both training and combat casualties. There were individual soldiers of service troops to be given technical training, and service units to be organized and trained. There were morale and recreational services to devise and make effective. There were such tasks as military justice to supervise, military prisons to run, military textbooks to print and distribute, and depend-


ents' allowances to pay while the soldier was overseas. There was a world-wide system of mail delivery to maintain. There was the spiritual welfare of soldiers to provide for. There were training films to prepare and a pictorial record of the entire Army to make. There were official orders of the War Department to issue, and official records to keep.

The Army Service Forces was big, sprawling, vital. An Army was inducted, armed, transported, supplied, and brought back again when the fighting was finished. As was to be expected, ASF performance varied in quality from time to time and in different fields. Perhaps the simplest verdict on the Army Service Forces was "It worked, didn't it?"

General Marshall summed up its achievements thus:

The tasks of the Army Service Forces have been difficult and complex beyond description:

The Service Forces have accomplished a prodigious task during the past two years in the supply of food, clothing, munitions, transportation, including the operation of a fleet of 1,537 ships; in the handling of pay and allowances amounting to 22.4 billion dollars; in the processing of approximately 75 billion dollars in contracts; in the management of 3,700 post or cantonment installations in continental United States; in the operation of great base port organizations centered in Boston, New York, Hampton Roads, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle; in handing 7,370,000 men and 101,750,000 measurement tons of cargo; in the administration of the medical service which has treated 9,083,000 hospital cases and operated 791,000 hospital beds; in the direction of post exchanges now doing a monthly business of 90 million dollars and the organization and management of entertainment and educational opportunities; in the conduct of the administration of the Army and finally in the enormous tasks of redeployment and demobilization.3


The Choice of General Somervell To Command the A SF

No introduction to the Army Service Forces would be complete without a brief sketch of its commander, Gen. Brehon B. Somervell. So much of the history of the ASF, its achievements and its difficulties, revolved around his personality that some knowledge of the man is essential. To a greater degree than most organizations, the Army Service Forces reflected the force of a single man.4 No one who knew the ASF ever doubted that the Army Service Forces and the name of its commanding general were synonomous. Credit, however, for the success of his organization, as General Somervell himself would be the first to point out, must of course go to its hundreds of thousands of loyal workers, military and civilian. The work was done by thousands of contractors and employees, laboring long hours to turn out the necessary supplies. The work was done by the railroad managers and trainmen who moved millions of tons to the seaports. The work was done by the shipping companies, the stevedores, and the seamen. The work was done by the different organizational units which directed the various parts of a vast enterprise. Yet presiding over all of this, holding it together by the sheer force of his own determination, constantly demanding greater performance, was General Somervell. For his many achievements Secretary of War Robert P Patterson voiced warm appreciation when on 12 October 1945 he awarded to Somer- 


vell an oak leaf cluster to the Distinguished Service Medal.5

When General Somervell once briefly enumerated the work which his command had to perform before the subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, which handled the War Department budget, the chairman of the subcommittee laconically remarked, "It would seem that you are kept pretty busy." The commanding general replied: "There are a great many duties there, sir." 6 This was understatement.

Brehon B. Somervell was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on 9 May 1892. His father was a doctor and his mother a former school teacher. In 1910 he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, was graduated four years later sixth in a group of 106 cadets, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.

Lieutenant Somervell happened to be in Paris on two months' graduation leave when World War I began. As an assistant to the military attaché in Paris, he helped get Americans in France back to the United States. Returning home in September 1914 he served in various capacities customary to junior officers in the Corps of Engineers. In the spring of 1916, he joined General Pershing's expedition to punish the Mexican raider Pancho Villa.

Promoted to the rank of captain on 15 May 1917, Somervell helped recruit and organize the 15th Engineer Regiment, a Rail road outfit which was the first engineer regiment sent abroad. It arrived in England in July 1917 and left for France soon after. Somervell was adjutant of the regiment. Its commanding officer, Col. Edgar Jadwin, later a lieutenant general and a Chief of Engineers, impressed him deeply and was a model for many of Somervell's subsequent ideas and activities. In France the regiment worked on a number of large construction projects, including a great munitions dump at Mehun-sur-Yevre and the advanced depot and regulating station of Is-sur-Tille. For these activities he subsequently received the Distinguished Service Medal. While the work was exacting and strenuous, it was scarcely exciting.

He visited the front lines in 1918 and volunteered for service on the staff of the 89th Division. For successfully leading a patrol to inspect the damage of a bridge some six hundred yards in front of the American outposts, he was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

With the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel, Somervell in October 1918 joined the 89th Division and became Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, in charge of operations. After the Armistice he became Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4, in charge of both personnel and supply. When the division was shipped back to the United States in May 1919, Somervell remained overseas as G-4 of the Third Army, the force assigned to occupy the U.S. zone in Germany.

It was as supply officer for the Army of Occupation that Somervell first met Walker D. Hines, who had just become arbitrator of shipping on the Rhine River, and who turned to him for help in preparing a report on Rhine shipping. This association began a friendship which was to have far-reaching influence on Somervell's subsequent career. With the reorganization of the Army on a peacetime basis, Somervell reverted to the permanent rank of major in July 1920.


Picture : LT GEN. WILHELM D. STYER. (Photograph taken 1944.)

(Photograph taken 1944.)

In the mid-twenties he again assisted Mr. Hines with surveys and reports dealing with navigation conditions on the Rhine and Danube Rivers. In 1933 and 1934 he worked with Mr. Hines on an economic survey of Turkey to be used as the basis for a five-year plan of industrialization. Somervell covered most of the country by automobile in order to observe conditions for himself. Mr. Hines was succeeded after his death in the autumn of 1933 by his law partner, Goldthwaite H. Dorr. With the help of a small staff, Somervell finished a seven-volume report in three months, worked with Mr. Dorr on the final recommendations, and returned to the United States in April 1934 for duty with the Chief of Engineers.

In 1935, after the passage of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, Somervell became executive officer of the newly created Division of Applications and Information. He quickly saw that it would be impossible for this office to review projects, since the final decision in any event had to be made by the operating units, the most important of which soon became the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under Harry L. Hopkins. He joined in recommending that the office be liquidated. In the meantime, on 1 August 1935, Somervell received his first promotion in fifteen years. Now a lieutenant colonel, he was sent to work on the Florida ship canal.

When the New York City WPA, the largest single operating unit of the nationwide program, found itself in need of an administrator who would be acceptable to Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia as well as to Washington, both Hopkins and the mayor agreed that an Army Engineer officer would be suitable. The choice was Somervell, who served as administrator from 1 August 1936 until November 1940. His handling of relief workers was firm but conciliatory. Furthermore, Somervell succeeded in staying out of newspaper battles between Mayor La Guardia and Commissioner Robert Moses on the problem of park development. Somervell built a disintegrating organization into a tightly knit, loyal, and hard-working enterprise. There was general agreement that the New York City WPA was well run.7

When the-United States began active preparation for its own defense in 1940, Somervell was eager to return to military duty. He hoped he might be assigned to


duty with troops. Through an intermediary he sought an interview with General Marshall, who had become Chief of Staff on 1 September 1939. Somervell had a brief conversation with General Marshall in the early autumn of 1940. He reminded the Chief of Staff of his service in World War I and of his subsequent staff training. He added that in spite of his varied assignments he still looked upon himself as a field soldier, and asked to be kept in mind for a field command. General Marshall was noncommittal.

Somervell first learned in November 1940, through a personal friend of Robert P. Patterson, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of War, that he was being considered for a War Department position. He was told that the War Department was concerned about delays in constructing Army camps. Because of the existing emergency, the Department had received a large appropriation for construction. The National Guard had been called into serv ice in August 1940 and the Selective Service Act, passed by Congress in September, provided for 600,000 additional soldiers. It was imperative that the rapidly expanding Army be sheltered before winter set in. Somervell was asked if he thought he could speed up this construction job. He was willing to try.

In November 1940 he was first detailed to The Inspector General's office of the War Department to examine the construction program, preliminary to his assignment as head of the Construction Division in the Office of The Quartermaster General. On 11 December 1940 Somervell took charge of the Construction Division. He was promoted to the temporary rank of brigadier general in the Army of the United States on 29 January 1941. He went to work with enthusiasm, putting many of the individuals who had worked with him in New York City into key places. As his chief assistant he picked an old Corps of Engineers' friend whom he accidently encountered in Washington, Col. Wilhelm D. Styer. Almost at once Somervell was required to testify before several Congressional committees about delays in the cantonment construction program. He pointed to the magnitude of the job and to the evidence of progress in its performance.8 Before the heavy February rains began in the south, most of the newly inducted soldiers were under some kind of shelter. Everywhere Somervell put emphasis on speed. He accepted no excuses, and economy was secondary to action. While admitting that speed increased the cost at least $100,000,000, he claimed that time was more important than money. By February 1941 more than 485,000 persons were employed on the Army's construction work. At the same time, the building of new powder and ammunition loading plants was hastened. Time magazine advised its readers to "watch Somervell."

Toward the end of October 1941 the post of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4, in the War Department General Staff, became vacant. Apparently the selection of a successor fell to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Supply, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Moore. General Moore picked Somervell and told him of his forthcoming assignment. He was officially appointed on 25 November 1941. This was the first time Somervell had served on the WDGS. On 28 January.


Picture : LT GEN. LEROY LUTES. (Photograph taken 1945.)

(Photograph taken 1945.)

1942 he was promoted to the temporary rank of major general.

On the same day that the Army Service Forces was officially activated, General Somervell received his third star. (He was to become a full general on 6 March 1945.) The new command was not the field command which he had wanted in the autumn of 1940, and which he still wanted. Instead, he had been given "the biggest headache" in the War Department.

Characteristics of the Choice

The selection of General Somervell to command the Army Service Forces was notable in several respects. He was relatively young and unknown in Army circles. At the time of his appointment he was just two months short of his fiftieth birthday. There were many officers in active service who were better known, and who held higher permanent rank (on the Regular Army list Somervell was still only a lieutenant colonel). Many of these were now placed under his command.

This situation inevitably meant that General Somervell would encounter resentment from some officers who felt their own military careers entitled them to more consideration than that received as a result of the reorganization. Like others such as Eisenhower and Bradley in Europe, Somervell faced the constant problem of building loyal and co-operative relationships among men who were his seniors in age and in rank.

In the second place, he had had anything but an orthodox military career. An article which appeared in Fortune magazine commented: "Somervell is every inch an Army man-but an Army man with a difference. The difference is that he has mixed in civilian affairs too."9 Somervell had had several lengthy assignments outside the customary Army pattern, including his work abroad with Walker D. Hines and his more than four years as WPA administrator in New York City, as already indicated. To the ordinary Regular Army officer this was an unorthodox military career and was not to be compared with the long drudgery, patience, and even frustration that had been the lot of so many officers between 1919 and 1940.

In the third place, General Somervell's best known characteristics were his energy and his drive. In many of his assignments between the two wars, and particularly after 1935, he had worked in the midst of crisis conditions. He was often asked to do the work of months in a matter of days.


He drove himself as hard as he drove his subordinates, perhaps even harder. He was not afraid of responsibility, he was not loath to cut red tape, and he rode roughshod over opposition. The very language of War Department Circular 59 suggested that these qualities were urgently desired in 1942. Each of the three major commanders was instructed in the circular to make use of "judicious shortcuts in procedure to expedite operations." There were probably few officers in the Army in 1942 better prepared psychologically to carry out this injunction to the full. Somervell's energy and determination to overcome obstacles regardless of cost alienated some and occasionally disturbed others, but he did get things done. Senator Harry S. Truman once commented to his colleagues on the Senate Committee on Military Affairs: "I will say this for General Somervell, he will get the stuff, but it is going to be hell on the taxpayer. He has a WPA attitude on the expenditure of money." 10

With Somervell's sense of urgency and drive went also a quick temper. No one knew this limitation better than did Somervell himself. Because of it there were some misgivings at the time he was being considered to head the ASF11 Intellectually alert, he was inclined to be impatient with persons who were slower than himself in reaching a decision and in taking action. Continued indecisiveness aroused his anger, as did a failure to carry out instructions or a surrender to what seemed to him to be surmountable difficulties.

Early in the war a journalist described Somervell in these words:

he is out of the tradition of the Elizabethan Englishman, all lace and velvet and courtliness outside, fury and purposefulness within.

"Dynamite in a Tiffany box" is the impression Somervell left with one WPB industrialist. The General has never found it necessary to invite journalists in to hear him deliver a fierce ultimatum to himself to get tough. While the bureaucrats in mufti are conscientiously trying to transform themselves into fire-eaters and nail-chewers, "Bill" Somervell is working just as conscientiously to water down his own triple-distilled potion of the grapes of wrath. His problem is not to work up a temper but to control one . . . . When goaded beyond endurance, rather than trust himself to act, he will shut himself up in the office until a judicial calm descends. 12

General Somervell was also well known as an Army officer with an unusually good sense of organization. He had a number of definite ideas about how an organization should be set up and how it should work. Many of these details will be discussed later. But it was typical of his brief career as G-4 of the War Department that he raised fundamental organizational questions and sought consideration of vital relationships between his own office and that of the Under Secretary of War. He was not willing to accept an arrangement just because it happened to be in force, particularly when he saw it as an obstacle to the performance of a basic task. He had revealed his organizational sense further as a participant in the discussions during February 1942 of War Department reorganization. As head of the Army Service Forces it was to be expected that he would always take a keen interest in such matters as they applied to the work of his command.


One other factor should be mentioned. The people who knew Somervell seldom felt neutral toward him. They reacted with either intense like or dislike. There were those to whom the very mention of the name of Somervell was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. They thought him a power-hungry officer, a "man on horseback." 13

On the other hand, General Somervell aroused sentiments of great loyalty among the people closely associated with him. Within the WPA in New York City, he had found several persons whose work habits suited him and whose performance was so satisfactory that he brought them into the Construction Division of the Office of The Quartermaster General and later into the Army Service Forces. In the short time in which he was in G-4, he

spotted two officers, one of whom in particular, Brig. Gen. LeRoy Lutes, was to become his close associate in the ASF and was to be described by him later as the "perfect" staff officer. Yet before 25 November 1941, he had never met this man who was to remain with him throughout the entire history of the Army Service Forces and who was to succeed him in 1945 for the brief remaining period of the ASF's existence. The loyalty of the men around Somervell and his support of them were indispensable for the effective operation of the Army Service Forces.



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