Cold War Corps

So, I just finished reading an interesting history of the brigade in the US Army, and its evolution, death and resurrection.


One thing that is clear is that the size, organization and force structure of the Army is constantly evolving. Some ideas are better than others. The author makes a pretty good argument that the reviled Pentomic Division organization of the late 1950s was designed based on the wartime experience of the Airborne Mafia in Europe, where the 82nd and 101st, nominally triangular divisions, in fact spent most of their time with five regiments. The parallel with today’s division with four ground maneuver brigades and an aviation brigade that is often argued as a maneuver element is subtle, but present nonetheless.

I spent virtually all my Army service under the Division 86/Army of Excellence organization. It was tailored specifically to support the Army’s AirLand Battle Doctrine, and was, mostly, geared toward the defense of Western Europe from the Warsaw Pact. As a newbie in Europe, it took me a bit to grasp the order of battle, but eventually, even from my lowly post as a grunt in a rifle squad, I could see there was in fact an element of intelligent design at work.

The US Army, as a part of the NATO coalition, held the sector of southern Germany. The overall headquarters was USAEUR, the United States Army European Command. The tactical warfighting headquarters was the US 7th Army. 

7th Army commanded two corps, the V Corps, and the VII Corps. Each of these corps had virtually identical strength. The corps, in Army doctrine, doesn’t have a fixed allocation of units, but if it did, it would probably look a lot like what these two had at the end of the 1980s.

Each corps had two heavy divisions, one armored, one mechanized infantry. 1 Both corps also had a subordinate independent ground maneuver brigade. An finally, each corps also had its own armored cavalry regiment. 2

In a perfect world, both these corps would probably have had three divisions, but the end strength of the Army, even at the height of the Reagan buildup, never allowed for that.

Both corps also had several brigades of supporting units that would act either for the corps, or in direct support of the subordinate divisions. For instance, field artillery brigades, engineer brigades, aviation brigades, Military Police brigades, and Military Intelligence Brigades all were tasked in support of the maneuver element.

If NATO had any strategic warning of an impending Warsaw Pact attack, reinforcement of 7th Army would be provided through REFORGER, the Redeployment of Forces to Germany.

III Corps, headquartered at Ft. Hood, TX would fly its personnel to Germany to fall in on previously stockpiled equipment. The corps primary elements were the 2rd Armored Division, the 1st Cavalry Division3, and the 24th Infantry Division (Mech) out of Ft. Stewart, GA.

III Corps and its units would fall under 7th Army, and likely form the army reserve.

Other reinforcements would be dispatched, but would have to come by sea, bringing their vehicles with them. Whether any would realistically be expected to actually arrive in time to fight is a question never really answered.

Maybe later we’ll take a closer look at the order of battle in Europe, and the roles and missions of some of the brigades involved.



1.Under Army of Excellence, armored and mechanized infantry divisions were identical, except the armored division had six tank battalions and four mechanized infantry battalions. The mechanized infantry division had five of each battalion. Both had three maneuver brigade headquarters, an aviation brigade, and identical support and service elements such as artillery, air defense, engineers, military intelligence, signal, and logistical formations. 

2. The ACR was an interesting formation, worthy of its own post some day. They were larger than brigades, in sheer manpower, but smaller than divisions. But they packed enormous firepower, had diverse, difficult missions, and were the “early adopters” of combined arms at the very lowest levels.

3. In fact, despite its name, the 1st Cavalry Division was an armored division.

4 thoughts on “Cold War Corps”

  1. Looking at the historical documents, US forces in Europe were HUGE. It’s hard to believe that soon the Army may have only one(!) brigade in Germany.

    1. Huge… unless compared to what the Reds had lined up against us. If I recall correctly, they had three Divisions lined up per Brigade in the Gap.

    2. Some one pointed out that we’d have to go Nuclear with Ivan almost from the first day. It was a good thing that Ivan was in such sorry shape. Just as sorry as we were during Jimmah Cahtah’s misrule.

      No, it might have been Jimmah’s foreign policy that emphasized human rights that did the trick. Prolly so.

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