In the chronicling of America's earlier wars the record of military events was unrolled almost entirely in the theater of war, within sound of the guns. In that area was the fighting, and close to the battlefield itself was devised much of the major strategy of each campaign and of the war itself. Consequently, in the hands of the field commander was vested the full control of the troops, for all planning and all employment in battle, subject only to the supreme control of his own constitutional Commander in Chief, the President himself. In World War I the accepted duty of the War Department's military establishment in Washington was to support the field commander, 3,000 miles away, by supplying him as fully and as rapidly as possible with the men and materiel requisitioned by him, for purposes determined by him in large and in detail.1

In World War II the American forces' high command, in the realms of plans, supply, and the approval of operations, was exercised from beginning to end in Washington, rather than in the theater of operations. Gen. George C. Marshall, the man who had been the Army's chief planner and organizer in the days before war came, remained its principal director in all theaters from the conflict's dismal beginnings down to its triumphant conclusion. Never before did one man, through his own strong chain of command, have such a large responsibility for the Army's very pattern, its size, its equipment, its training, its organization and reorganization, for the strategy that dictated its employment in skillful coordination with all other forces American and Allied, for the very timing of its actions defensive and offensive -all of these determined by a multitude of political and logistic considerations familiar at the time to the Chief of Staff and to a small group around him but known in detail to relatively few persons even now, and still difficult of appraisal even by them. The unbroken continuity of the chieftainship for six years, its unprecedentedly broad authority, plus the generally harmonious relations with President and Congress and apparent popular approval throughout that term, had two outstanding results. It made possible


the development of the great Army in a closer approach to orderliness than in any previous war, and it permitted such co-ordination with other forces on distant fronts as has been attained by no other grand alliance in history.

In World War I there had been no necessity for such concentrated authority and no mechanism for its effective use. For activities in a one-theater war, as World War I was, dominantly, for American troops, the theater command could readily stem direct from the Commander in Chief in the White House, as it did in Gen. John J. Pershing's case, while the Chief of Staff in Washington concerned himself chiefly with providing full support for the distant expeditionary force. Indeed, the strategy for the American front in 1918 was more effectively devised in France than it could have been in Washington, because of the delicate balance, political and military, of French, British, and American participation, and because of the fact that decisions could be made almost on the scene of action and carried out with a minimum of delay.

As a result of that experience the single-theater concept of command in the field dominated the between-wars thinking of American military leaders whose principal experience had been that of 1917-18. Influenced largely by General Pershing himself, who remained in Washington in touch with succeeding Chiefs of Staff until his death, the Staff for years contemplated for any future war (1) the creation at Washington of a General Headquarters (GHQ), with the Chief of Staff of the Army as commanding general, and (2) the transplanting of that GHQ and its commander to the theater of war, (3) leaving the residual duties of Chief of Staff in Washington to a newly named and really secondary authority.

That concept of the relative powers of the two wartime posts continued until 1941 and ruled War Department organization until early 1942. By that time a much more dispersed war and the problems of an informal alliance had demonstrated the need both for simultaneous direction of operations, not in one overseas theater but in a great many, each with its own commander, and for simultaneous planning of further operations upon an immense and complex scale. It was this situation that forced a revision of the earlier theory and a reconstitution of the departmental organization. It brought recognition that in the global war of 1942 the Chief of Staff's Office in Washington was the establishment that not only must train and supply and administer, but must plan in considerable detail for all theaters, must co-ordinate and control their efforts, and-so closely does supply govern planning, and planning lead to operations-must actually direct each of the theater commanders in major aspects of


command itself. Vastly improved powers of communication, thanks to modern techniques, made such organization possible.

Today this concept is a truism. Yet obvious as it is in retrospect, its reasoning was not generally accepted in 1939, when wars that one day were to involve the United States were already thundering in Poland to the east and in China to the west; nor even during the next two years, when the United States was actually shipping garrisons and supplies to Caribbean islands, to Iceland, and to distant bases in the Pacific. During those years, when the Chief of Staff's Office was still going through an organizational development based upon lessons of World War I, there were already in progress external changes, not fully interpreted until actual and violent contact with them forced a swift reorganization of the Army's mechanism at the very time when that mechanism was severely strained by a multitude of tasks whose performance could not be delayed.

The sudden need for these changes in thinking and in organization raises in the mind of the observer a series of questions. Inasmuch as the chosen leaders of the military establishment possessed (in comparison with their civilian contemporaries) a superior degree of military education, military experience, and current military information, why did they by a wide margin in certain cases fail to reach correct conclusions as to needs and capabilities? Why during the two decades between wars (more significantly during the closing years of that period when war was known to be imminent in Europe and Africa and when it was under way in Asia) did the military chiefs continue to build up a command and-staff organization that in late 1941 they themselves finally decided was unsuitable for new requirements and in need of remodeling? If there was such a need, why did they not foresee that need earlier? Why were the forces themselves so unready for expansion, the materiel so deficient, the accepted estimates of certain situations so cloudy or so distant from reality? Such questions can be asked in a few words, but the answers call for an examination of events covering broad reaches of space and time.

The Influence of Two Decades

The Chief of Staff for World War II and the General Staff, like the Army and the War Department as a whole, were heirs to what had been done in the reorganization that immediately followed World War I and in the subsequent developments upon that basic structure, and that was a great deal. But they were


heirs also to what had been left undone in a peace-minded nation whose day-by-day thinking from 1919 onward had been on other than military affairs, partly from actual antagonism to everything suggestive of "militarism," but chiefly from ignorance and apathy about the peacetime requirements of national defense. During the prosperous decade there was a popular delusion that another war was so remote from possibility that no large defenses against it were necessary, and certainly no acquisition of offensive means; appropriations for military purposes were made grudgingly and on a falling scale. During the succeeding decade of depression, the enormous governmental deficits of each fiscal year discouraged anything beyond bare maintenance of even the small establishment which the recent years' reduced appropriations had permitted. The first resumption of a naval building program in mid-depression years was justified by the White House itself on the ground that it was a make-work enterprise to reduce public unemployment. 2

After two decades of neglect, despite known armings in Germany and Japan, the United States Army of 1939, reviving from its low point of 1933, was still weak in numbers, ill equipped by 1939 standards, scattered over a great many posts, and never assembled for true corps maneuvers, partly because it included no complete organization for corps or army troops or their service elements. The air elements were still feeble in numbers, but encouraged by the new appropriations stemming from a 1938 revitalizing. The National Guard, counted upon to provide early support for the Regular Army, was far below nominal peace strength, unbalanced, insufficiently equipped, and insufficiently trained. The supply services of the Regular force were low in number of personnel and in reserve stocks. Even so limited, their surviving personnel, notably that in ordnance arsenals, was efficient in operation and watchful in development work, and from that fortunate circumstance sprang memorable results. Industry as a whole, upon which the 1918 experience had clearly shown the armed services would have to rely for the vast output of wartime, was not set up for wartime production, nor even acquainted with the requirements for grand-scale munitions production. The "antimilitarism" groups throughout America, most of them temperamentally opposed to war of any sort, a few inspired from abroad to block American rearming, were still active, but were less of a handicap to national defense than was the apathy of the nation as a whole. Recalling today how magnificent was to be the effort of the nation and all its parts once war actually came, one is struck


the more by the inertness of 1939, when war was almost at hand but when a large part of the American public was still suspicious of "militarists" and still sure that war could not come to America.

The public's hostility to both the principle and the cost of rearming inevitably affected White House thinking during the two decades between wars; Presidential messages to Congress sought much less in military appropriations than the services urged, and on one occasion (during the Coolidge administration) even the Congressional appropriations were reduced by a horizontal percentage cut. Public hostility to military outlay also influenced the attitude of Congress and was in turn encouraged by Congressional arguments in opposition to new outlays of money. Because Congress determined the appropriations, it was Congress which the War Department, aware of the rapidly changing world situation, had to inform of the full significance of the distant drumbeats in Berlin and Rome and Tokyo. Information had to be cautiously imparted at such a time. Yet until Congress should understand the dark prospect and the critical needs of America, there was small chance that the public would understand, or that the President would feel warranted in pressing the rearmament program with determination. National awareness of the situation appeared to come only with the burst of Blitzkrieg in mid-1940. Even this awakening was incomplete; some of the incredulity that war would really touch America, which had been shaken away in June 1940, was to return, and the public state of mind remained serene on the very eve of Pearl Harbor.

The Large Influence of President Roosevelt

Public as well as Congress had much to do with the state of defense, but an immediate influence could always be exerted by the White House, and was so exerted on the eve of World War II. It must be borne in mind that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the real and not merely a nominal Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Every President has possessed the Constitutional authority which that title indicates, but few Presidents have shared Mr. Roosevelt's readiness to exercise it in fact and in detail and with such determination. In any examination of Army responsibilities prior to and during World War II this circumstance must be remembered, even with regard to episodes of which the surviving written record is itself barren of pertinent evidence of White House intervention. If the absence of written evidence hampers the historian, it can be surmised that, at the time, it hampered the Staff. General Marshall and


Admiral Harold R. Stark, his naval colleague, were on close terms with the President. Mr. Roosevelt discussed orally with them a flood of matters which they thereafter handled through their Staff subordinates as needed, and also on occasion he gave them guidance so profoundly secret, involving policies still in the making, that it was not to be transmitted to anyone else for a period. On such occasions, as a result, junior Staff officers undoubtedly continued their work on enterprises already foredoomed, which was unfortunate and unprofitable, but in the vast majority of cases great advantage accrued from this highly confidential relationship. It enabled the Chiefs to do their planning upon safe assumptions of what a policy would be, before the policy was announced or even had fully matured. At need they could press the President for guidance upon a critical issue, and to no small degree they could help in the determination of a policy by merely indicating their own powers and limitations in implementing such a policy. This unrecorded personal influence by the Chiefs of Staff is difficult to trace and impossible to measure, but its existence is a certainty.

Yet nobody, reading the record, can doubt that the determining influence in the making of military policy in these prewar days was that of the President as Commander in Chief, as is the Constitutional design. During his long stay in office Mr. Roosevelt made countless decisions which guided the behavior of his civilian subordinates and upset their professional calculations. As the Chief of State he had unquestioned authority to do so. It sometimes is forgotten that alongside this full control of his civilian cabinet was the Commander in Chief's proper control of the military force when he chose to exercise it. Certainly it was not forgotten by Mr. Roosevelt, and he chose to exercise his military authority more frequently and far more significantly than had any of his recent predecessors.

How fully he regarded the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations as his immediate advisers (which they of course were), rather than advisers only to his appointed Secretaries of War and Navy, was evidenced on 5 July 1939, well before the outbreak of the war in Europe, when by executive order he directed that on certain matters the Joint Board and other service elements report to him directly rather than through their departmental heads. This immediate influence on the services had already been evidenced in numerous respects: in his employment of the relief program long before for betterment of Navy and Army materiel; in his personal imposition of the air expansion program in late 1938 (followed abruptly and somewhat surprisingly by his reduction of the expected allotment of funds for that purpose) and his personal


pressure for later air programs larger than his advisers sought; in his refusal to support the draft bill until the prospect of its success was greatly brightened; in his ardent advocacy of arms for Britain, and later of arms for Russia, when this outward flow of supplies was at the immediate cost of rearming the United States; in his decision of September 1941 to reduce the size of the Army when its considerable increase had only just been assured by the hard-won victory for draft extension; in his determination with Mr. Churchill (and against his own advisers) in favor of a 1942 operation that would necessarily postpone the major 1943 operation already solemnly agreed upon. The present purpose is not to question the merits of these and comparable military decisions made at the Presidential level rather than by the professional military command. The purpose is simply to note that, right or wrong, with professional approval or without it, the decisions were made at the Presidential level and that in these and other instances the dutiful behavior of the Chief of Staff was determined by his civilian superior as precisely as orders from the Chief of Staff in their turn determined the dutiful behavior of his subordinates. The Army was an implement of the state, and must be studied in sound perspective.

The Chief of Staff and Congress

The planning within the Army itself throughout these varied years was primarily the responsibility of the Chief of Staff. By regulation his was the chief responsibility for the training program, for the changing organization, for the design and improvement of equipment, for the guidance of supply authorities, for military liaison with the Navy and the State Department, for relations with military missions from those foreign nations which were destined in all probability to be our allies, for study of the swift developments in the war theaters then aflame and in the still larger theaters where war was bound to extend, and for professional estimates of the situation. These are military activities and it is the ranking military officer of the Army who must see that they are performed as efficiently as possible. But in this critical period of 1939-41, far more than in comparable periods of the past, the Chief of Staff was repeatedly called on by the committees of Congress to furnish information and actual guidance reaching into the realm of national policy. He was found to be an effective witness profoundly informed on military matters and at the same time better acquainted than are most professional soldiers with the political difficulties which beset a legislator, and appreciative of the anxieties of civilian America at such a time.


Committee decisions that were of incalculable value, because they were made at just the right time and sometimes by the slimmest of margins, can be traced to the pleas and warnings and patient arguments presented to the Congressional committeemen by General Marshall, then Chief of Staff. The period of 1939-41 is not fully understandable unless one is aware of the part which a military witness played at that time in the decisions of a friendly and trusting Congress. The pattern of that fruitful collaboration will be discerned in the chronicle which is to follow; it compares in importance with the purely military work conducted in the Office of the Chief of Staff, and is inseparable from it.

The co-operation of Congress, interrupted as it was by delays, was both active and passive. In the former category were constructive acts; in the latter an avoidance of legislation that would have been confusing rather than helpful. Particularly to be noted is Congress' cautious attitude toward repeated suggestions for granting to the Air Forces a larger degree of autonomy, or actual separation from the Army. The bills were for the most part held in committee in order to avoid raising for legislative decision questions that were better settled within the services if settlement should be possible. In this matter General Marshall's restraint was influential. His desire to move only gradually toward Air Force autonomy, to prevent its separation from the Army at a critical time, and, rather, to gain within a reorganized Army the largest possible amount of air-ground co-operation, was a factor in bringing about all three desiderata. The cooperation of the Air Force chiefs greatly eased the tasks of reorganization within the Army itself. One of the first needs in 1940-42 was the maximum development of the Army Air Forces. For the important form of that development the Chief of Staff was largely responsible, and for an appreciable part of the substance.

There is another aspect of the good relationship between War Department and Congress which prevailed in late 1941 and early 1942 in particular and which to some extent was traceable to Congressional confidence that had developed from the 1939-41 discussions. That is the steadfastness with which the War Department was supported in Congress when the sudden disaster at Pearl Harbor and the ensuing tragedies in the Philippines shook the country. It would have been natural to seek a scapegoat in the Department, but so thoroughly was Congress informed upon the work which the Army chiefs had lately done in spite of grave handicaps that there was no immediate distraction of a desperately busy Department with complaints about past disaster; Congress' protracted inquiry into the causes of Pearl Harbor was delayed until the end of hostilities.


The Department that had been preparing for war was free, for the present, to handle the war. Both in what it did and in what it refused to do, the wartime Congress co-operated consistently and almost unquestioningly with the suggestions and requests from the Chief of Staff. On the experience of 1939-41 was founded the confidence which inspired that relationship.

In the early confusion of war unexpectedly at hand, in confusion confounded by conflicting desires and requirements, there was need for the Army's highest authority to make certain decisions which would be absolute in order to create a basis, temporarily firm, for future planning. This called for his summary rejection of the nonessentials. It called for his denying pleas that could not be satisfied without sacrifice or diversion of materials or manpower vitally needed elsewhere. It called for decision to give in small lots rather than large, and not to give at all. The judgments made and the actions that followed, for the most part made or approved by the Chief of Stall in person, were accepted by Congress and public with surprisingly little resentment.

Controlling Decisions on War Policy

Two basic principles emerged at an early date, never to be lost sight of. One was the decision that, regardless of the natural desire to avenge Pearl Harbor, the first aim had to be the defeat of Germany, and with its accomplishment as early as possible nothing whatever should be allowed to interfere; this meant, of necessity, delays in the Pacific war. The other was the decision that, in view of logistic problems that threatened to make the most attractive plans unattainable on schedule, there would be maximum emphasis on mastering the logistic difficulties in order to make these plans feasible, rather than on adapting the plans to current logistic conceptions. They were two momentous decisions, soundly made and firmly executed.

The influence of the two basic policies-to defeat Germany first, and to do the maximum with all possible speed-is seen in the making of later decisions of the war. Making some of those decisions was particularly difficult in that the grave reasons which compelled them could not be stated publicly lest the enemy be given information thereby. As a result, from civilian America came troubled and sometimes angry demands for the dispatch of reinforcements first of all to the Pacific, long before schedule and long before they could have been effective in any large sense, so dependent were troop operations upon transport and supplies and air cover and events in remote theaters. From other sections of


civilian America in those difficult days came puzzled and earnest inquiries about the reason for recruitment of troops in advance of full weapons supply, and about equipment of troops whose ships did not come, about air crews in training without new planes to fly, about "old model" planes in production when better planes were designed, about shortages of personnel here and excesses there with resultant abandonment of training programs that proved costly and at length unworkable. On few of these matters could public curiosity be fully satisfied at the time, sometimes because the situation could not be clarified for the advantage of an observant enemy, sometimes because the reasons for error were not immediately clear.

In retrospect the mysteries are less baffling and many of the seeming errors less offensive. Some were inevitable at such a season; others are recognized in time's perspective as not highly important; others, examined in the light of facts not publishable at the time, prove to have been not errors but sound decisions. There are decisions, whether by Chief of Staff or by joint or Combined Chiefs of Staff or by Chiefs of State, that remain in dispute and will remain topics of professional debate indefinitely. Such are the decisions on the use of manpower and on the training of personnel.3 Such also are the decisions that determined from time to time the division of authority in the Pacific and the time and place of invading Europe. Long after the war two of the Allies' most distinguished field commanders continued to maintain that in September 1944 every Allied resource should have been placed back of a single attempt to force an immediate crossing of the Rhine, rather than spread over the broad front for the slower, irresistible drive with which General Eisenhower gained his victory months later; significantly, those two dissenting views disagreed not only with General Eisenhower's, but with each other. The aim in this work is not to defend the decisions, but to record them, to present the reasons for making them, and to recite the developments apparently traceable to them.

In particular it is desirable to observe the number and complexity of details that of necessity crowded in upon the Chief of Staff's Office just before the war began and during much of its course. The final decisions in many instances were those of higher authority, but the arguments that largely guided them were those of the Chief of Staff. The Army had to be built up and used at the same time,


even though the building process made it impossible to use any large part of it, and even though using any part whatever greatly impeded the building up of the rest -much as if a trucking crew was engaged in repairing a vehicle while employing it to move goods at high speed through traffic. There could be employment of a small well-trained force this year, or employment of a large well-trained force next year- either, but not both. There were similar decisions on the use of limited materiel just becoming available from the arsenals-would one send it overseas for the arming of Allied troops who undoubtedly needed it immediately, or to American camps to make possible the training of battalions which would not fight immediately but which, once trained with that materiel, would be able a little later to turn the tide of battle? This was the supply issue that was repeatedly posed both before and after passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941, each time requiring immediate answer, and each time involving disappointment on one side or another. Men waited for arms, and arms for men. Potential Army recruits were diverted to industry when industrial output was desperately needed; at another time potential and actual munitions workers were drafted for the Army because infantry replacements were then essential. Ground forces were long denied their proper ratio of prime recruits because air and sea forces (which were being prepared for immediate duty) had been granted larger ratios of such men.4  Reinforcements were denied to harassed theater commanders not only because there was a prior call elsewhere, but also because certain critical items that would make reinforcements useful were not immediately available, or because shipping was committed to another area. Invasion was delayed because transports were lacking or, when transports were at hand, because assault boats were lacking. Air defense here was denied because air offense there was urgent, or vice versa. A renewed submarine campaign by the enemy could force abandonment of a fixed plan, or the subsidence of such a peril could as quickly cause a move in the opposite direction, with consequent new strains.

In the making of decisions military wisdom was not always enough, for there were nonmilitary considerations which at times outweighed the military. The reason was partly that a democracy is not ruled by warriors, even in wartime, but by civilian authority, with the result that the wishes of Army or Navy had always to meet with approval of the President. Partly it was that, as in some of the cases cited, there was an occasional superior demand for manpower in


the industrial economy. Partly it was that the requirements of the military are not always understood.

One of the largest difficulties in adjusting a peace-minded people to the temporary pursuit of war is that the facts of war are often in total opposition to the facts of peace. An industrialist trained in economy will employ for a given job just enough means to perform the job. He will avoid all excessive use of manpower and material alike. Nothing could be more rational than this instinctive economy of force. But war is irrational and war is waste, fundamentally; likewise its processes are appallingly wasteful of the less important-and sometimes wisely so, the peacetime economist is astonished to learn. Unlike the industrialist just mentioned, the efficient commander does not seek to use just enough means, but an excess of means. A military force that is just strong enough to take a position will suffer heavy casualties in doing so; a force vastly superior to the enemy's will do the job without serious loss of men and (often more important still) with no loss of the all-important commodity, time; it can thereafter plunge straight ahead to the next task, catching the enemy unaware and thus gaining victory after victory and driving a bewildered enemy into panic. What is the "force vastly superior" ?

It may be superior in the number of men in concentration. Or superiority may lie in new weapons and techniques, as in the cases of the 1940 Blitzkrieg and the Allies' 1944 drive through Normandy. Or it may be in transport that quickly moves men and supplies from one place to another and thus, in effect, multiplies them, as was the case both in Normandy and in the Pacific campaigns. It may be in goods which, if plentiful, can be scattered among many advance bases and used at will when local need suddenly arises. To the untrained observer all of this is clear enough after the fact, but rarely is it acceptable in advance, when the mere suggestion of getting more men, more goods, more speed than are demonstrably needed is interpreted as a statement of bald intention to "waste." The military planner in peacetime must make the civilian mind accept the principle of "wastefulness" in this sense as an ideal to be sought. If he does not do so, he himself must yield to necessity and make the best of that foreordained peacetime economy which, when war arrives, proves to have been very bad economy indeed. The nation that winds up a war with a surplus of equipment is likely to be the nation that wins the conflict. The lessons of war are painfully learned, yet with war over are quickly forgotten until it is time to begin learning them again by the same painful process as before. They can at least be chronicled by the historian, to facilitate the relearning.


Training of the Individual and the Team

To the controlling decisions already mentioned as among those for which the Chief of Staff pressed vigorously from time to time during World War II may be added two more. One of them called for a more prolonged and systematic training than ever before in American history had been given to a whole wartime army, whereby each soldier would be soundly trained as an individual, then as member of a small unit, and then as member of a full division in field maneuver. This was the aim and for a time (and to a greater degree than in previous wars) the accomplishment. The exigencies of 1943 forced a relaxing of the rule, and those of 1944 brought swift abandonment of previous policies which, seeking better training, had not justified themselves. Unhappily, it now was necessary to utilize individuals and units alike imperfectly trained.5 Performance did not match design, and the planning was proved not only faulty but tragically insufficient. Nevertheless the basic program produced results better than those of previous wars.

The other decision was for such intensive coordination of many-sided effort as the United States had not seen before. It included development of infantry-artillery-tank-engineer teamwork that had long been a precept of training but certainly not an achievement. It included coordination of ground forces with air forces, which in its thoroughness would one day excel the German example. It called for coordination of ground and air with sea forces, which alone made the amphibious operations possible, and with equal thoroughness gained a coordination of American and Allied endeavor in theaters on opposite sides of the globe. At home it supported the methodical timing of military planning with industrial capabilities. A vast number of men and agencies, military and civilian, shared in this widespread and deep-reaching coordination, a few as co-leaders, a legion as supporters, but it is difficult to name one other who in its planning and encouragement and direction was so largely responsible for its success as was the Chief of Staff of the Army.

For a detailed account of events in the theaters of operations the student must examine the record of each theater. Likewise, for intimate knowledge of the complex tasks of raising the troops, of supplying them, of training them, of transporting them, one must explore the appropriate and particular record. The roles of the civilian bodies similarly are fully portrayed in detailed records


of their own activities. Yet the most intensive study of each of these activities, whether before or during or after the war, is insufficient unless one re-examines those very activities in their relationship to the Army's principal agency for planning, co-ordinating, and performing. That agency was the Office of the Chief of Staff. From that control point one beholds in balance and perspective the entire panorama of America's part in World War II in all the confusion and frustration of early days, the tumult of the battle period, the majesty of the victory. To present that panorama is the purpose of the pages which follow.


page updated 30 January 2003


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