The Army Service Forces was an experiment in War Department organization for handling wartime supply for, and service to, the Army of the United States. It was set up in response to various weaknesses in prewar organization. These were recognized early. There were too many separate bureaus and commands, requiring in turn a large top staff for planning and co-ordinating the various units; duplications and uncertain spheres of responsibilities among some of the - bureaus and commands; and separate top supervisory staffs for procurement and supply duties. Therefore one result of the simplification of the general top command reorganization which followed was the creation of the Army Service Forces.

In large part the organizational purposes posed in the winter of 1941-42 were realized. All supply and service activities, with a few exceptions, were concentrated under the jurisdiction of the commanding general of the Army Service Forces. He became the one person whom the Chief of Staff could hold responsible for the performance of essential and diverse duties. While the many individual parts of the ASF were largely responsible for the high degree of achievement that resulted, the command as a whole insured that a wide variety of duties were done promptly, on a balanced schedule, and with a minimum of waste.

There were questions that were left unanswered in the organizational rearrangement of March 1942. Did the Army Service Forces top command function as staff on supply and service matters as well as an operating command for the War Department? General Somervell maintained that it did. Some persons in the War Department General Staff were not so certain. The fact that it proved difficult in practice to draw hard and fast lines between strategic planning and logistical planning further complicated the arrangement. But in effect there can be no doubt that Somervell combined the duties of top logistical planner for the Army with command of the various agencies charged with carrying out the logistical mission.

Was the ASF co-ordinate in authority and responsibility with the AGF and the AAF? Somervell maintained that it was not. In his view the ASF was a centralized supply and service agency for the War Department, with duties entirely different from those assigned to the Ground Forces, the Air Forces, and overseas theaters of operations. The ASF was a central service agency existing for the purpose of helping the other two commands perform their operating duties successfully. The Army Air Forces in particular was not enthusiastic about this definition of the ASF mission. It desired to handle supply and service as incidental to its operating activities. Here was a direct conflict in organizational thinking, a conflict between the concept of centralized supply and service and decentralized supply and service. Related as it was to Air Forces aspirations for a separate military status coequal with that of the Army and Navy, this issue could not be resolved


within the Army during World War II. In the third place, the many and varied component parts of the Army Service Forces were restive because of their subordinate position under the commanding general of the ASF and resentful because of the strong central direction provided by the ASF staff: To overcome this and build a sense of loyalty and unity to a common purpose of supply and service was not easy to achieve in a short period of time.

There was external criticism of the ASF as well. Some of this criticism came from elements in agencies having central control over the nation's economic resources, especially the War Production Board. Other criticism came from legislative groups, perhaps prompted in turn by dissidents within the War Department.

Much of the criticism of the Army Service Forces centered upon the person of its commanding general. As already stated, it was difficult to distinguish between the ASF and General Somervell. The two were virtually synonymous during World War II. A different kind of personality might have aroused different reactions, but he would have commanded a very different kind of agency from that which the ASF proved to be. Somervell was Somervell, and his energy, his drive, his penchant for efficiency, his seeming indifference to the personal prestige and status of others made the Army Service Forces what it was.

One of the criticisms which arose out of the difficulties mentioned above was that Somervell was an "empire builder." This charge is perhaps best answered by a sympathetic observer of the ASF during the war:

In the jurisdictional. wrangles that developed there was one argument ad hominem that was constantly used, to wit: that the A.S.F. and its dynamic Commanding General were constantly seeking as `Empire Builders' to enlarge their job by encroaching on that of others. By dint of repetition it got considerable acceptance inside the Department and out. There was something in the drive of the Commanding General of the A.S.F., his quickness on the mental trigger, his adroitness and his evident ambition to tackle tough jobs that in itself lent some support to this feeling of impending encroachment among those of a more deliberate pace. I should be surprised if the Chief of Staff ever had any such feeling though he must have been well aware of the feelings of others in his organization in this respect.

As a matter of fact, if the feeling was well founded, then Somervell, no matter how efficient he was in other respects, showed himself to be a very poor `encroacher.' During the whole four years he held the job I cannot think of a single direction in which he enlarged the scope of the S.O.S. and the A.S.F. beyond the initial scope of the function that the terms of the Reorganization Plan of 1942 assigned to it in Circular 59 or the scope of the War Department supply function beyond that defined in the joint circular of the Chairman of the W.RB. and the Under-Secretary on March 12, 1942. On the other hand, by interpretation or formal change from the terms of Circular 59, the scope of A.S.F., as pointed out above, was narrowed in a number of respects.

Perhaps I should record as bearing on this an incident of my first talk with Somervell when I came down to Washington on January 7, 1942. He showed me with evident pride a draft of an executive order he had just prepared on the functions of the War Shipping Administration. This draft as he pointed out would subordinate certain functions relating to shipping, which he had been exercising as head of G-4, to the Shipping Administration. Such subordination he felt essential to a proper overall handling of the shipping situation. That it meant a contraction of his `empire' had not dulled his instinct for efficiency and his drive for what he felt would help win the war.1


Somervell's Departure

All day on 14 August 1945 General Somervell waited in his office for the official announcement that the Japanese had surrendered. The decision was known in the War Department in the morning, but the official announcement did not come from President Truman until seven o'clock that evening. When it came, General Somervell signed the order on his desk for the Army Service Forces to put its demobilization plans into effect. He signed another piece of paper that day: a short memorandum written in longhand to the Chief of Staff. It was an official request for voluntary retirement from the Army to be effective on the same day that General Marshall retired from the post of Chief of Staff. Because he had completed more than thirty-one years of active service since his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy in 1914, Somervell was eligible for retirement on his own request.

Several reasons motivated General Somervell's determination to leave the ASE In the first place, he felt that his task had been completed. True, demobilization meant heavy tasks for the ASF, ranging from the return of troops to the United States and their separation, to the settlement of terminated contracts. Plans for these activities had been prepared, reviewed and revised over a considerable period of time. All that one man at the head of a great organization could do to anticipate this task had been done. Others could now direct actual performance. In the second place, Somervell had not been indifferent to or unaffected by the criticisms of his wartime conduct. He was ready and willing to step aside, to let others continue the work. Moreover, since the Army Service Forces had been so peculiarly the creation of the Chief of Staff, Somervell thought it particularly fitting that his own retirement should coincide with that of General Marshall. Somervell received no official acknowledgment of his request. Marshall indicated only that he believed Somervell's usefulness was by no means ended, and that in any event he preferred to have his own successor act on the request.

On 2 September, coincident with the formal capitulation of the Japanese Government in Tokyo Bay, General Somervell issued a memorandum of appreciation to all members of the Army Service Forces. In the next few weeks he gave special attention to expressing in various ways his awareness of the loyalty and hard work of his associates. At a military review at Ft. Belvoir he presented Distinguished Service Medals to each of the technical service chiefs and to other heads of army branches such as The Adjutant General, the Judge Advocate General, and the Provost Marshal General. Awards to his staff assistants were presented in a series of ceremonies in his own office.

On 14 October 1945 he entered an Army general hospital and later underwent two surgical operations. He returned to his office briefly on 17 December to prepare testimony on postwar military organization for presentation to the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. In the meantime, General Eisenhower had become Army Chief of Staff. On 26 December Somervell's retirement was announced, to go into effect on the expiration of his terminal leave at the end of April 1946.

Secretary of War Patterson issued the following statement to the press:

It is with extreme regret that I announce the retirement of General Somervell as Commanding General, Army Service Forces. In


Picture : SECRETARY OF WAR ROBERT P. PATERSON decorating General Somervell for distinguished service, October 1945
decorating General Somervell for distinguished service, October 1945

organizing and directing the world-wide supply lines on which our troops depended for their offensive power, General Somervell performed a service without parallel in military history. He was completely dedicated to the task of winning the war in the shortest possible time and with the smallest cost in American lives, and the energy and ability he applied to his task contributed in great measure to the force of our attack and the speed of our victory. My own work in the field of procurement would have been impossible of accomplishment without his help and counsel. He has been an inspiration to all who worked with him. He will be sorely missed, but he has earned his relief. He carries with him the eternal gratitude of the Army he served so unselfishly and so well.2

Of the many expressions of appreciation which came to him, one that expressed the sentiments of many officers came from the then supply commander in China, a man who had served both as an ASF staff officer and as a service commander:

To return to the subject of your retirement, I feel sure that all of us who have been under your command since the SOS was established in March 1942 regret very much that you will no longer have the directing hand in it. As I remember these Service Command conferences with your key staff people in attendance, I was always impressed by the fact that most of those close to you were of the


high-spirited, imaginative and forceful type. The job of controlling so many adventurous souls always appealed to me as insurmountable, yet you turned all of the best qualities of these people in the right direction to achieve a common end, and as long as we stayed headed that way, you let us run.

Through your kindness, I have gotten around the world quite a bit and I can say truly that I have not found a single commander with whom I worked or under whom I served who displayed the qualities of leadership that you have as head of this great organization.

What is more, I was fairly familiar with the mess the War Department was in in March 1942. I knew of the conflict between those who would prefer to go into procurement on a small scale rather than the all out procurement which the emergency indicated. know of the difficulties and dangers attendant upon the course which you took. Those of us who served under you well remember the many courageous decisions you made during those early days when the war's outlook was the blackest. No one can challenge the fact that the war would probably have lasted a great deal longer had you not, at that time, made the courageous decisions of which I speak.

It has been a great privilege to be a subordinate of yours, not only in those days, but in the more outwardly successful ones which followed. All of us will long remember the great loyalty to your subordinates which you displayed even at a sacrifice to your own prestige. When you do leave the Army, we will continue to admire you for the unsurpassable job which you have done for your country.3

Somervell's chief of staff, General Lutes, succeeded him as commanding general of the Army Service Forces. For all practical purposes he had already been in command continuously since 15 October 1945.

In the meantime the ASF was performing its burdensome responsibilities in demobilizing the Army, terminating war contracts, and disposing of property.

There were numerous problems to decide, such as what equipment to leave in Europe and what to return to the United States, what property to preserve and store for possible future use and what to declare surplus, and what procurement and research to continue.4 The Army Service Forces still had much to do.

The key organizational problem for the future, of course, was whether the ASF was to continue as a War Department agency. It was to a consideration of this question that the War Department had turned immediately after the conclusion of hostilities.

The Dissolution of the ASF

On 30 August 1945 General Marshall created a Board of Officers on Reorganization of the War Department. The head of the board was Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch, who had commanded a division in the Pacific in the early days of the war and an army in the European Theater of Operations later. There were five other members, all general officers. One came from the Operations Division of the War Department General Staff, one from the Office of The Inspector General, and one from the Special Planning Division of the WDGS; the others were the Chief Signal Officer and the commanding general of the Aberdeen Proving Ground of the Ordnance Department. There was no one on the board from the ASF staff but rather two officers from technical services. Somervell had urged General Handy, the deputy chief of staff of the War Department and former head of OPD, to include


General Robinson of the ASF as a board member. This was not done, with the result, as just indicated, that there was no one on the Patch Board who had been active in the central direction of the ASK

The Patch Board held extensive hearings on the question of War Department organization during September. Somervell was among those invited to testify. As early as the summer of 1944 he had his Control Division prepare a plan on postwar organization.5 These ideas became the basis of his proposals to the Patch Board. He argued first of all for the continuance of the Army Service Forces as a central supply and service agency of the War Department. Second, he urged that the commanding general of the ASF should be the logistical planner for the Chief of Staff. Third, he proposed a simple "staff-line type of organization" for the ASF. These proposals closely paralleled those which had been developed for ASF reorganization in 1943. The principal change was that the staff of the Commanding General, ASF, would consist of twelve officers, all but one of whom was a head of a traditional branch of the Army. Six chiefs of technical services would be joined on the staff by the Judge Advocate General, the Chief of Finance, The Adjutant General, and the Provost Marshal General. The two staff titles would be Chief of Military Training and Inspector General, ASE One technical service would be dropped; the Chemical Warfare Service, with its duties transferred to the Ordnance Department. Each of these staff officers would have functional rather than commodity specializations. Thus the Chief of Ordnance would become the procurement officer of the Army; The Quartermaster General, the supply officer; The Surgeon General, the medical officer; the Chief of Engineers, the construction and maintenance officer; and the Chief of Transportation, the movements officer. Most field activities would come under the general administrative direction of service commands. (See Chart 7.)

By September 1945 Somervell had modified his 1943 organizational thinking somewhat, partly at the suggestion of Under Secretary Patterson. He now proposed that there be commodity procurement divisions under the Chief of Ordnance located outside Washington and administered directly by the Chief of Ordnance, not by the service commands. These procurement divisions would let some contracts centrally. Others would be let, administered, and inspected by ordnance officers under the commanders of the service commands. The same type of system was recommended to function under The Quartermaster General in the storage and distribution of supplies. There would be commodity supply divisions under The Quartermaster General which would be located at commodity reserve depots outside of Washington. These reserve depots, in fact, would be located near the commodity procurement divisions which purchased the item and operate under the direct authority of The Quartermaster General. Distribution depots would be under the service commands. The reserve depots would be the central point of record keeping for the entire military supply of a particular commodity. They would handle such central bulk storage as was desirable and issue shipping instructions for the delivery of supplies to other reserve depots or on fast-moving items directly to the various distribution depots. The Quar-




termaster General would also have commodity maintenance shops for the major (fifth echelon) repair of equipment for return to reserve depots for distribution. Otherwise Somervell proposed that all ASF field installations-staging areas and ports, hospitals, field printing plants, disciplinary barracks, posts, and others should come under the administrative direction of service commands; technical direction would be retained by the chiefs of the services in ASF headquarters. These were the basic ideas put forth by General Somervell and his organizational adviser, General Robinson.6

The report of the Patch Board was transmitted to the Chief of Staff by a memorandum on 18 October 1945.7 The instructions to the board had been to consider the War Department proper, its relationship with overseas bases and departments, the arms and services, and the zone of interior. The board declared that its problem had resolved itself into four major issues:

1. Shall the major commands-Army Air Forces, Army Ground Forces, and Army Service Forces-be retained as now constituted or with modifications as to responsibilities and functions?

2. What shall be the scope of the War De Fartment General Staff responsibilities and junctions?

3. Shall the arms and services as now constituted be retained?

4. What type of territorial organization shall be used for the continental United States ?

Without any statement of underlying reasons, the board then presented twelve recommendations, the first of which was that the postwar organization be prescribed as shown in an attached chart. By omitting any reference to the ASF, this chart implied that the command was to be dissolved. The Patch Board recommended that the existing technical services be continued as then constituted, that the Transportation Corps be made permanent, and that the service commands be "discontinued" and their functions be taken over by four Army areas to be set up under the Army Ground Forces. What had been ASF headquarters was now to be divided into three parts. The designation "administrative services" was revived, to be applied to The Adjutant General's office, the Judge Advocate General's office, the Chief of Chaplain's office, the Provost Marshal General's office, and the Civil Affairs Division. Second, these services were to be supervised by a Director of Personnel and Administration of the WDGS, who was to combine the activities of G-1 with the personnel work taken over from the ASE Third, the procurement and supply duties of ASF headquarters were to be combined with G-4 under a Director of Service, Supply, and Procurement. Procurement and supply supervision were to remain under common military direction, with the Director of Service, Supply, and Procurement reporting to the Under Secretary of War on procurement policy matters.

The basis for staff operation by the WDGS in the future was put forth in these words in Tab B to the Patch Board report:

The Staff must operate, in order to direct and supervise. The old theory that a staff must limit itself to broad policy and planning ac-


tivities has been proved unsound in this war. This was clearly demonstrated as a result of the 9 March 1942 reorganization of the War Department. In that reorganization, G-1, G-3, and G-4 were stripped of all "operating" functions and personnel assigned was reduced in the case of G-4 from 211 officers and 275 civilians to 8 officers and 31 civilians. This reduction rendered the office ineffective and did not even permit membership on the important logistical committees of the Combined and Joint Chiefs of Staff. Under such circumstances, G-4 (and G-1 and G-3) could be of no real assistance to the Chief of Staff as an adviser in Army-wide, world-wide logistical matters. Nor could he adequately assist the Chief of Staff in his exercise of command of supervision of the Army program. Unless a staff officer is able to assist his commander in getting things done, in addition to co-ordinating, planning and policy making, he is not serving his full usefulness. In short, a staff is a commander's principal means for determining that his orders, instructions, and directions are being carried out as he intended.

This was in a sense a reply to General Somervell. He wanted the commanding general of the Army Service Forces to be both staff adviser to the Chief of Staff and a subordinate commander. The Patch Board preferred to strengthen the War Department General Staff and to eliminate ASF headquarters as an unnecessary echelon. The seven technical services were still to be designated as such, together with an eighth, the Chief of Finance. These and the administrative services were to become a separate level of War Department organization, operating under the direction and supervision of five WDGS directors.

The recommendations of the Patch Board were transmitted to the commanding general of the ASF, among others, for comment. In General Somervell's absence, General Lutes was responsible for the reply. There was no question of concurrence, but only one of how strong a protest to record. An analysis of testimony before the Patch Board revealed that only one chief of a technical service favored the continuation of the ASF-General Gross of the Transportation Corps. Others who had favored its continuation included Under Secretary Patterson, Assistant Secretary Lovett, General McNarney, and Maj. Gen. Russell L. Maxwell, the G-4. Among those opposed were General Eisenhower and his chief of staff, General Walter Bedell Smith.8 It was unofficially learned that objections to the Patch Board report would be in vain since it had already been approved in principle and only minor modifications would be considered. Lutes knowing this nevertheless dissented. A new board headed by Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson considered the various adjustments suggested and recommended only minor changes to the Chief of Staff on 28 December 1945.

The demise of the ASF became official on 14 May 1946 with the issuance of a new organization plan for the War Department, effective 11 June 1946.9 The War Department order establishing it stated: "Headquarters, Army Service Forces is abolished." The various major functions of the ASF were transferred as shown in table on next page.

In another section the order declared: "The command functions of Headquarters, Army Service Forces with respect to service, supply, and procurement activities are abolished." The Director of Service, Supply, and Procurement of the WDGS assumed "general staff responsibility" in these fields. His office absorbed


JSF Staff Divisions

Military Personnel Division Personal Affairs Division
Director of Military Training Intelligence Division
Labor supply and industrial relations activities of Industrial Personnel Division
Civilian personnel functions, Industrial Personnel Division
Research and Development Division 
Office of Fiscal Director 
Special Services Division

New Location

Personnel and Administration Division, WDGS
The Adjutant General
Organization and Training Division, WDGS
Intelligence Division, WDGS
Service, Supply, and Procurement Division, WDGS
Civilian Personnel Division, Office, Secretary of War
Research and Development Division, WDGS Chief of Finance
Special Services Division, a new administrative service
of the Army

most of ASF headquarters, including all duties performed by the ASF Director of Plans and Operations, the Director of Materiel, and the Director of Supply. In addition, it took over both the former G-4 Division of the WDGS and the Logistics Group of the Operations Division.

Finally, the nine service commands of the ASF were abolished and their duties assigned to the headquarters of six armies set up under the Army Ground Forces. For general administrative purposes the continental United States was divided into six Army areas. While Ground Forces commanders were to operate the six Army areas, on all supply, service, and administrative matters (that is, all matters affecting the operation of Army posts as installations and not troop organization and training matters), the Army areas were to receive orders and instructions directly from the War Department General Staff.

The new War Department order provided for six administrative services: The Adjutant General's Department, the Judge Advocate General's Department, the Corps of Chaplains, the Office of the Provost Marshal General, and the Special Services Division. The technical services of the War Department provided for were eight in number: the Ordnance Department, the Signal Corps, the Quartermaster Corps, the Corps of Engineers, the Transportation Corps, the Medical Department, the Chemical Warfare Service, and the Finance Department. The heads of administrative staff services were recognized as administrative staff officers of the War Department while the chiefs of the technical services became technical staff officers of the War Department. The new orders declared: "These two separate functions of staff and command, although vested in a single individual, are separate and distinct in that each involves different responsibilities and duties, and the exercise of one is not to be confused with nor permitted to interfere with the exercise of the other.10

The May 1946 reorganization of the War Department profited somewhat from the experience gained in World War II. First of all, it officially combined ASF headquarters and the Logistics Group of OPD under G-4, WDGS. The head of the division was no longer termed a "commanding general," but was labeled the Director of Service, Supply, and Procurement for the War Department General Staff. As already noted, the first officer appointed to fill this post was General Lutes, successor to General Somervell in


the command of the ASF and his close associate throughout the war.11 The concept for which Somervell had stood, of one individual combining the functions of adviser to the Chief of Staff on the interrelationship of supply and strategy and director of all procurement activity, was not accepted officially in the sense that it had been practiced in World War II. Second, the vital interrelationship of procurement and supply was acknowledged. No longer was there to be a G-4 Division of the General Staff and a separate Office of the Assistant Secretary of War giving instructions to the supply arms and services, as was the case from 1921 to 1941. Rather, there was to be one staff office, whose director reported separately to the Under Secretary of War "on procurement and related matters." Third, the Department wide responsibilities of chiefs of the administrative and technical services were reaffirmed and, if anything, somewhat strengthened by the new arrangements. The service commands reverted to the status of serving the Army Ground Forces, but the chiefs of technical services now were in a position to supervise equally the work done at air bases and ground installations. This arrangement, however, became less significant after 1947 when the National Security Act created a new executive department: the Department of the Air Force. In the fourth place, all the management improvement accomplishments were by no means thrown away; in fact most of the procedures and methods of doing business within the ASF were carried over almost intact into the War Department General Staff.12

The Army Service Forces as an experiment in centralized command of War Department supply and service activities had come to an end. But its experiences and accomplishments continued to influence the postwar thinking and activities of the Army. No institutional effort so widespread and so vital as that of the ASF could be eliminated overnight. The Army Service Forces had written a memorable chapter in the history of the Army on the organization and methods required to meet the tremendous supply and service needs of global warfare.



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