AGF Study No. 8: Reorganization of Ground Troops for Combat



Streamlining and pooling (granted the incongruity of the metaphors) were the twin aspects of economy. They were phases of the same organizational process. To streamline a unit meant to limit it organically to what it needed always, placing in pools what it needed only occasionally. A pool, in the sense here meant, was a mass of weapons or units of similar type, kept under control of a higher headquarters for the reinforcement or servicing of lower commands, but not assigned to lower commands permanently and organically. Pooling occurred at all levels, from the GHQ reserve pools which reinforced armies, down through army pools, corps pools, division pools, etc., to


the company pool which, in the infantry, provided mortars and machine guns to reinforce rifle platoons. Like its corollary, streamlining, pooling was a means of dealing with the overwhelming variety and specialization of equipment. It was also a corrective to standardization, providing flexibility to an Army made up of standard parts. A standard unit with a fixed table of organization, when reinforced from pools, could be shaped into the task force required in a particular situation.

One reason for pooling, as for streamlining, was wide fluctuation in requirements from day to day. No unit was organically equipped to meet peak loads. Any unit which habitually carried enough bridging equipment to cross the most broken terrain, or enough truck transport to meet rare demands for strategic movement, or enough medical and ordnance personnel to deal with the human and mechanical casualties suffered on days of intensive combat, would not only be wasteful of the national resources but would be so loaded down with usually unwanted appurtenances as to be disqualified to perform its normal role. Such a unit was "streamlined" by removal of bridging equipment, trucks, doctors and repair men not needed normally; and those needed to meet peak loads were concentrated in pools.

Another basis for pooling was difference in the potential frontage of weapons, with consequent possibility of the massing of fires. For example, 60-mm mortars could cover more frontage than any single rifle platoon, and were therefore pooled in a weapons platoon of the rifle company, by which their fires could be shifted, distributed or concentrated from the front of one rifle platoon to another. Similarly 81-mm mortars and heavy machine guns were pooled in the battalion, antitank guns in the regiment, field artillery in division artillery. The longest range artillery, which could cover more frontage than was normal for a division, and hence be concentrated from various directions to support a division making a major effort, was organized in non-divisional units under corps or army control.

Differences in mobility produced the same effect. A mechanized cavalry squadron, performing distant reconnaissance, could cover a wider front than that of an infantry division, would be too restrictively employed if controlled by a division commander, and was therefore assigned to corps. Tanks, tank destroyers and mobile antiaircraft artillery were capable of rapid concentration at any point along a wide front. They also lent themselves to employment in mass attack. General McNair therefore opposed assigning them organically to divisions. The extreme application of the same principle was in aviation, which, as the most mobile of all weapons, with a potential "frontage" extending far in all directions, was not commanded organically by even the highest ground commanders.

Units whose mobility differed on the side of slowness likewise required separate organization. Supply depots with supplies laid out, evacuation hospitals filled with patients, heavy maintenance companies surrounded by disassembled equipment, were temporarily immobile, though operating close to combat troops or even located within division areas. They were organized nondivisionally, so that the division, if opportunity presented itself, could freely move forward without them. In this case higher headquarters, drawing on its pools, sent forward with the advancing division new depots, new hospitals and new maintenance units temporarily in a mobile condition, leaving the old ones to clear themselves at leisure of the stockpiles, wounded men and repair work which temporarily held them back.

To summarize, diversity in time and space - variations of daily need and difference in range and mobility - underlay the decision in each case as to where an item should be organically assigned. A unit was streamlined which had no elements (personnel, weapons, vehicles, etc.) not needed continually, no elements not primarily useful against its normal objective, no elements so slow-moving as to impair its mobility, or so fast-moving as to be frequently usable elsewhere. Pools existed to


make these disparate elements available when and where they could most profitably be employed. The advantages of streamlining and pooling were economy, mobility, flexibility and the capacity for massed employment. The disadvantage was the dependency in which commanders of streamlined units were put, obliged as they were to call for support, in all but the most commonplace situations, on higher commanders who might not always be able to provide it. Another disadvantage was that units only temporarily associated found it difficult to develop into smoothly functioning teams. There was therefore much disagreement on many particulars of organization; nor was it possible, with difficulties so fundamental, to find a permanent solution which all would accept. General McNair judged, in the circumstances of 1942 and 1943, that the need of economy and flexibility was paramount. Some of his decisions were later undone.

While pooling occurred at all levels, it was especially significant in the separation of non-divisional units from divisions, since the division was the primary unit of large-scale combat. General Pershing in 1920, to streamline the division, had recommended extensive pooling under corps and army. The War Department in 1936, to obtain a division suited for open warfare, laid down the principle that mechanized forces, motor transport, bands, reserves of supplies and ammunition, replacements, reinforcing artillery, engineers, medical and quartermaster personnel should be pooled. General McNair, and the Reduction Board working under his supervision, stood directly in this tradition.



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Last updated 15 March 2006