AGF Study, NO. 7: Provision of Enlisted Replacements
QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE SEVERITY OF INFANTRY COMBAT
As ground forces were increasingly committed to combat in 1943, both in Italy and in the Pacific, it became clear that despite all the apparatus of mechanized warfare the infantry foot soldier was having a difficult time. The burden placed on the infantryman was if anything heavier than in World War I. Infantry divisions remained in contact with the enemy for prolonged periods without relief. In World War I the whole period of engagements of major American forces had not exceeded four months. The Fifth Army had been operating in Italy for four months by January 1944, at which time it seemed likely that the Italian campaign was still only in its initial stages. In January 1944 the Fifth Army, with a T/O strength of 200,000, of which 77,000 was in divisions, had sustained 80,000 casualties. Only 24% of these were battle losses, the remainder being cases of sickness, accident or exhaustion, induced in large measure by the grueling conditions to which combat soldiers were subjected.73
The situation was well described by General Devers, shortly after he became senior United States commander in the North African theater. He wrote to General McNair on 4 February 1944:74
It has been demonstrated here that divisions should not be left in the line longer than 30 to 40 days in an active theater. If you do this, as has been done in this theater, everybody gets tired, then they get careless, and there are tremendous sick rates and casualty rates. Everybody should know this. The result is that you feed replacements into a machine in the line, and it is like throwing
good money after bad. Your replacement system is bound to break down, as it has done in this theater.It should be noted that the replacement system had not broken down in the full sense. The 80,000 casualties mentioned above had almost all been replaced; 41,000 men had been returned to units from hospitals, 35,000 new replacements had been supplied.75 In saying that the system had broken down, General Devers apparently had in mind the idea that it was wasteful that if divisions could be relieved after 30 or 40 days casualties would be fewer, fewer replacements would be needed, fewer seasoned men would be lost through carelessness or fatigue, and fewer unseasoned men, among whom the casualty rate was high, would be constantly present in front line units.
The solution suggested by General Devers, that enough divisions be kept in the theater to enable them to relieve each other every few weeks, was never feasible during the Italian campaign. Although in January 1944 57 divisions remained in the United States, ten times as many as were operating in Italy, either they could not be shipped (demands of air and service forces and of aid to allies on shipping to the Mediterranean being very high), or they had to be reserved for the forthcoming invasion of France or for operations in the Pacific. The number of divisions in Italy always remained at a minimum, and they continued to be committed for prolonged periods.
A related problem was raised by General MacArthur in January 1944. He reported that the infantry of divisions engaged in the Pacific were out more rapidly than other divisional elements, and that within the infantry the rifle companies were out more rapidly than headquarters, service, cannon or even heavy weapons companies, so that divisions had to be withdrawn, or at least became useless for offensive action, while many of their elements were still capable of further effort. To prevent the waste of having these elements stand idle, General MacArthur suggested that something be done to heighten the staying power of infantry. Various possibilities were discussed in the War Department, including an increase in the strength of rifle companies, and the addition of a fourth rifle company to the battalion, a fourth battalion to the regiment, and a fourth regiment to the division. None of these was much favored, and General McNair was opposed to all of them. It was agreed that these additions, if made, would result in an occupation of wider frontages, not in provision of a reserve, so that the whole problem would remain as before, or would indeed be worse, since the ratio of artillery and other support to infantry would be less.76
Various palliatives were adopted. General McNair was at this time requesting readjustments in classification procedures, by which more emphasis would be put on physical strength in assigning men to combat units and combat replacement centers. He pointed out that most losses were not direct battle casualties but were cases of sickness or exhaustion, that such non-battle casualties (like battle casualties) were highest in the infantry, and that if the physically strongest men, with the greatest powers of endurance, were assigned to infantry the infantry casualty rate would decline.77 He likewise urged that if more men in the higher intelligence groups could be assigned to infantry than in the past, the alertness of soldiers and the quality of combat leaders would improve, with further saving of casualties.78 Steps were in fact taken to raise the physical and mental quality of combat troops in 1944 (see Study No. 5), but these were of limited effectiveness, both because the Army was already mobilized, and because most newly inducted men received by the Army in 1944 were assigned to the Army Ground Forces, so that selective assignment of inductees to combat positions was possible only within narrow limits.
Combat soldiers, other than fliers, were too scarce in active theaters to permit a general system of rotation. It was suggested that the strain might be relieved by the granting of periodic four-day passes to front line fighters, and by authorization of small overstrengths to make possible this program without loss of fighting strength. General McNair, while approving this idea, believed that "no method can be set up which
will result in units retaining their fighting effectiveness after excessively long periods in line." Like other measures, this was a palliative, the only adequate cure being to have larger reserves of combat units in the theaters.79
From the discussion of General MacArthur's problem one distant repercussion ensued. It was decided that units should have improved means of dropping hospitalized personnel from their rolls, so that they might requisition replacements and fill their T/O strength with effective fighting men. To cover the increased number of men thus charged to hospitals, a large figure (ultimately 415,000) was set up in the troop basis. To accommodate this figure within the ceiling set on Army strength, tables of organization of all units except rifle companies were reduced by 50% of their basic privates. The net result was that fighting effectiveness of rifle units was somewhat easier to maintain, so long as qualified replacements were on hand in the theater.80
In general, though disadvantages were apparent in the system of maintaining units in action indefinitely through a continual stream of individual replacements, this was the system to which the War Department was committed. Reserves of inactive divisions were difficult to maintain overseas. Temporary unit replacement, with nondivisional infantry battalions or regiments substituting for hard-hit units within divisions, recommended by the Army Ground Forces early in 1943, had been rejected by the War Department as not feasible within troop basis limitations.81 Nondivisional infantry units, far from being provided to furnish unit replacements, were steadily inactivated to provide individual replacements in 1943 and 1944. In January and February 1944 G-3, WDGS, observed that use of nondivisional regiments to replace exhausted regiments in infantry divisions would conflict with "our national conceptions as to the sanctity of our divisional organization," and that since the United States could deploy only a small number of divisions it was important that they be kept at fighting strength by "a sound and completely efficient replacement system in operation in all theaters."82
In short, the successful outcome of operations projected for 1944, which it was hoped would be decisive in Europe, depended on the effective functioning of the individual replacement system already in effect.
Last updated 17 October 2005