Still working my way through the first of the Army Green Books. I’m still studying the Army Ground Forces, responsible for fielding the the forces that theater, army group, army and corps commanders would eventually employ to defeat Italy, Germany and Japan.
We tend to remember the massive Army at the end of World War II, with millions of combat-hardened men under arms, a highly mechanized force, with enough motor transport to move the entire force, and lavishly supported by excellent artillery and tactical air forces. But the state of the Army in 1939 was parlous. There were only about 100,000 men on active duty, and no unit larger than a regiment. Divisions were organized, but with the regiments of the divisions scattered among posts across the country, they had no tactical cohesion. While many officers had served on division and corps staffs during World War I, few officers had any real experience commanding large formations. Further, the highly maneuverable forces of World War II were far more challenging to command.
Even before the Selective Service brought millions of men to the colors, Army officers had to envision their training and employment. For an able and ambitious officer, the paradigm shift from the sleepy days of peacetime routines of battalions and regiments to the employment of an army group of a million men or more was heady stuff. Some officers thrived and were immortalized in history, Bradley foremost among them. Many other officers were simply unable to make the mental transition to such a challenge and were shunted aside.
In the interwar period, the 1920s and 1930s, the tactical role of the Army was really little more than to keep a small force in existence. The upper echelons of the Army, however, had broader horizons. Almost from the day the Armistice was signed in 1918, intellectuals in the Army realized it was likely that another large scale conflagration would erupt on the continent. The whole emphasis of the institutional side of the Army would be on preparing for a massive mobilization of the population, inducting, training, equipping and fielding a massive army.
While this foresight does credit to the Army leadership, let’s not give them too much…
Ever since the days of Napoleon, the model for modern armies had been just that, the industrial scale mobilization of conscripted troops. From the American Civil War, to the Franco-German War of 1870, to the First World War and leading up to World War II, military staffs had devised plans to rapidly induct and train masses of men to field huge formations. As the era of the mass conscription army progressed, the military art and science progressed, and staffs refined the concept further and further. By World War II, it was no longer enough to simply issue men rifles and packs. Sophisticated training for specialized troops for motor transport, artillery, aviation and engineering was needed.
Our Army was faced with budgets in the interwar years that were almost inconceivably tiny. The Army was shunned by the citizenry to a degree that we today just cannot grasp. After the wholesale slaughter of World War I, there was great revulsion amongst the population, and virtually no support for any defense spending. Even in the 1930s, Roosevelt was far more comfortable supporting the Navy than the Army. The Army was on a starvation diet, sometimes almost literally. Troop units could barely afford rations for their men. But somehow, the Army managed to scrape together a tiny bit of money and invest it. And it invested it wisely, into its schools system. At a time when an officer could spend twenty years in the service and barely make Captain, and it was rare for a unit larger than a battalion to take the field, the Command and General Staff School was encouraging senior Captains and junior Majors to imagine themselves as being on the staffs, or even commanding, corps, armies and entire army groups. The Army also founded the Army Industrial College. If the time for mobilization came, the Army would somehow have to equip millions of men. The industrial mobilization of the First World War had been neither industrious nor really mobilized. The Army could ill afford another such disaster. The AIC’s job was to teach officers what industry could and couldn’t do, and sketch out where the Army would turn to to find the myriad and massive supplies it would need in the next war. The AIC also worked with leaders of industry to give them an idea of what it would be like to have the Army as a customer, and the unique needs of the Army.
Finally, given the level of sophistication any massive conscript army would have, the Army had to prepare to train not just large troop units, but the incredible numbers of soldiers in those specialized fields such as logistics and maintenance. Long before the schools were built for them, even before the idea for a draft was proposed, lesson plans and courses of instruction for hundreds of military specialties had to be devised, and then constantly revised to reflect advances in technology and equipment.
Possibly the most incredible feature of this great intellectual endeavor was just how small it was. General Headquarters, or GHQ, the staff responsible for training of troop units after the draft was enacted, was less than 100 officers, and yet was set to oversee the training of almost a hundred divisions, hundreds of separate tank, tank destroyer, artillery, and anti-aircraft battalions, as well as a plethora of other specialized units.