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



Over pooling in principle there was little or no disagreement. Differences of opinion arose over particular cases. The most controversial cases concerned tanks, tank destroyers and antiaircraft artillery.

These weapons, because highly mobile, were physically capable of assembly in large masses for a single assault, or of dispersion in close support of many small operations. It was desirable to develop a command organization capable of using such physical mobility to advantage, capable, that is, of alternately gathering together or spreading apart large quantities of tanks, tank destroyers and antiaircraft artillery. Not only mobility but the specialized character of these weapons called for a flexible organization. Tanks were of limited value in certain types of terrain, indispensable in others. Antiaircraft guns were useful where enemy aviation was strong, less necessary where friendly aviation was superior. It was desirable to have a command organization which could concentrate weapons in places or situations where their characteristics could be most fully exploited.

These weapons were therefore not assigned organically to divisions, with the major exception that the armored division of course had tanks, and the minor exception that the airborne division possessed a small antiaircraft battalion. The infantry division had organically no tank battalion, no tank destroyer battalion, and no antiaircraft battalion. The armored division had organically no tank destroyer or antiaircraft battalion. Both had antitank and anti-air weapons of lighter types. But all tank destroyers, all antiaircraft guns except the simple cal. .50 machine gun, and all tanks not in armored divisions or mechanized cavalry were pooled in non-divisional battalions. These battalions were designed for attachment to divisions as needed.

Demand for the organic inclusion of tanks in the infantry division hardly arose until 1944. Pooling of mechanized forces was a collateral doctrine in the development of the triangular division in the 1930's; and after the German victories in 1939 and 1940, and the formation of armored divisions and of the Armored Force in the United States in 1940, the idea of the tank as an auxiliary to infantry went further into abeyance. It was expected that tank battalions would be attached to infantry divisions as needed. Fewer tank battalions were formed for this purpose than were desired by the


Army Ground Forces. But it was felt generally that infantry would not need tanks habitually, and that tanks should be held apart for massed armored action where possible. Use of tanks against enemy tanks was not favored. Against small-scale use of tanks by the enemy, all troops had organic antitank weapons. Against enemy tanks assembled in large numbers, the intention in 1942 was to rush tank destroyers to the threatened spot. Friendly tanks would thus be kept free for action against targets vulnerable to armor. This matter did not become generally controversial until 1944.

Strong demands made themselves heard in 1942 and 1943 for organic inclusion of tank destroyers and antiaircraft artillery in both infantry and armored divisions. General McNair resisted these demands for two reasons. First, experience indicated that the most dangerous enemy air or tank attack would occur in massed formations, against which it was impossible for every division to be permanently protected, and which must be met by masses of antitank and antiaircraft artillery held in mobile pools. Second, he disapproved of loading the division with defensive "anti" weapons, for he wished to encourage an aggressive tactics and psychology in the divisions, and to avoid diversion of resources to the production of mere counter-measures. These reasons were the stronger in 1942 and 1943, since tank destroyers and antiaircraft guns had not yet developed a "secondary mission" as general-purpose artillery.

In May 1942 the Undersecretary of War urged organic assignment of antiaircraft artillery to divisions.42 Not convinced by General McNair's explanations, he applied to the Secretary, who requested from General McNair a statement of his views. General McNair gave his reasons, concluding that existing policy was only a starting point, pending the lessons to be gained from combat.43 The Secretary pushed the matter no further.

Among the numerous officers who believed the division required stronger anti-air and antitank protection some of the most important were armored officers, and among these a leading figure was Lt. General J. L. Devers, then Chief of the Armored Force. General Devers questioned the length to which the pooling principle was carried. He held that occasional attachment of non-organic units to divisions would produce poor combined training and poor battlefield teamwork, and that it was a doubtful way of achieving either unity of command or economy of force. "Economy of force," he wrote to General Marshall, "is not gained by having a lot of units in a reserve pool where they train individually, knowing little or nothing of the units they are going to fight with. It is much better to make them a part of a division or corps, even to the wearing of the same shoulder patch. If they are needed elsewhere in an emergency, they can be withdrawn easily from the division or corps and attached where they are needed. Economy of force and unity of command go together. You get little of either if you get a lot of attached units at the last moment. Team play comes only with practice."44

General Devers, after a trip to North Africa, recommended in February 1943 that tank destroyer and antiaircraft equipment be not only organic in the division, but assigned as far down as the battalion.45

The Secretary of War again called on General McNair for comment. At the same time, and independently, General McNair's own G-3, Brig. Gen. J. M. Lentz, noted for General McNair "I have come to believe that TD and AA equipment should be organic in divisions. The concept of attachment is sounder, but its effect has been absence of combined training."46

General McNair adhered to his position, writing to the Secretary as follows:47

"General Devers raises the issue of the number and organic set-up of (1) AA guns (2) AT guns. Equally logically and pertinently he might have raised similar questions with reference to (1) GHQ tank battalions, (2) Air Base defense units; (3) Command post and train defense units.


"All these items involve the basic question of whether we are building an offensive or a defensive army -- whether we are going to invest our military substance in security to the last detail or in elements which can be used to defeat the enemy's armed forces."

General McNair noted that General Devers' proposals would require 24,000 cal. .50 antiaircraft guns and 7,200 75-mm. antitank guns in addition to those provided under existing arrangements. "Our limited manpower and production facilities," he said, "can be utilized to better advantage."

"Having decided on the total resources to be devoted to these defensive elements there is the added question whether these resources are to be dispersed in driblets throughout our forces, or whether they are to be organized in mobile masses which can be concentrated at the decisive point under the principle of the economy of force. General Devers and his group obviously are dispersionists of the first water; I take the opposite view, believing that the artful concentration of forces at the vital point is the first essential in tactics ...

"It goes without saying that massed guns can be dispersed either partly or wholly if desired, but guns dispersed organically cannot be massed."

The War Department supported General McNair.

The question arose in different form in May 1943, when the Army Service Forces proposed changes in War Department policy on the arming of service units. Over four times as many cal. .50 machine guns, for antiaircraft protection, were recommended for installation on trucks; and 3-inch antitank cannon were proposed both for stationary depots and for truck convoys.48 The Army Ground Forces pointed out that 288,134 additional cal. .50 machine guns would be required by the end of 1943, although only 81,683 were expected to be available by that date for combat and service units combined.49 Some 50,000 additional 3-inch guns would be required.

"At the present time the greater portion of our national resources is being used to gain air superiority. We are engaged also in building an army for offensive action, not defensive ... Any additions of personnel, aramament or equipment for purely defensive measures must be held to the bare minimum ...

"A hostile armored threat will be countered by massing our antitank guns at the threatened point, not by dissipating our 3-inch self-propelled antitank guns by organic assignment to service units."

The War Department again supported General McNair.50 The principle of pooling antiaircraft and antitank weapons was reconfirmed.



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