The War Plans Division

Between the two world wars the chief activating agent in the system of Army high command was the War Plans Division of the General Staff. General Pershing and his principal advisers, notably General Harbord, had recommended integrating the staff function of strategic planning with that of assisting in the command of military operations. They proposed to accomplish this result by establishing a special group of staff officers who had the twofold duty of drawing up strategic plans in time of peace and of going into the field to help carry them out in time of war.1 In accord with this plan WPD was constituted as the fifth division of the General Staff in 1921.

Strategic Planning Agency for the Army

As established, WPD was "charged, in general with those duties of the War Department General Staff which relate to the formulation of plans for the use in the theater of war of the military forces, separately or in conjunction with the naval forces, in the national defense." 2 This definition of responsibility, which survived in Army Regulations until after the entry of the United States into World War II, brought out the three main features of WPD's work. First, it had no duties beyond the normal General Staff type of duties, a limitation which had special meaning in view of the plans and policies tradition of the General Staff. Second, it nevertheless had a sphere of responsibility quite different from the rest of the General Staff, namely the formulation of strategic plans for military operations. Finally, it was the sole staff agency which represented the Army in interservice strategic planning.

In elaborating this general assignment of duties, the 1921 Army Regulations also specifically charged. WPD with the "preparation of plans and policies and the supervision of activities concerning" three major Army problems which continued to be part of WPD's staff responsibility until after Pearl Harbor. These duties were as follows: "[1] Estimate of forces required and times at which they may be needed under the various possible conditions necessitating the use of troops in the national defense. [2] The initial strategical deployment (plans and orders for the movement of troops to execute the initial deployment to be the duty of G-3). [3] Actual operations in the theater of war." 3 The first two in-


volved the broadest kind of military planning that the Army did in peacetime. The third duty, though virtually dormant during the peacetime years of the 1920's and 1930's, indicated the main direction of WPD's interest. While the term theater of war included areas potentially as well as actually involved in warfare, theoretically actual operations would not begin until theaters of operations had been designated.4 None was so designated until Pearl Harbor brought a conclusive end to the uneasy 1940-41 period of transition from peace to war. In the years between the wars, Army officers assumed that a staff for controlling combat operations in the field would be set up outside the General Staff by the time hostilities should begin. Nevertheless, in the interim WPD had a general responsibility for such staff control of operations on behalf of the high command.

From the beginning WPD's broad responsibilities made its position exceptional. The G-1, G-3, and G-4 Divisions of the General Staff were each concerned with devising general plans for some specific aspect of mobilizing men and material resources in the zone of interior. WPD's activities centered on planning in general outline the actual operations which the Army would have to conduct in the field and support from the zone of interior. The G-2 Division, with its clearly delineated task of collecting and disseminating information about potential enemies or potential areas of operations, was like WPD in taking a broad view of warfare. The primary responsibility, however, for translating this military intelligence into terms of strategic plans for Army operations did not belong to G-2 but to WPD.

Moreover, WPD was widely recognized as having primary staff interest in problems related to the defense of overseas bases, which at the outbreak of war were most likely to become zones of combat. A lecture prepared by WPD officers in 1925 stated:

It is the accepted theory that the War Plans Division naturally is concerned mainly with affairs in the Theater of Operations and that the other Divisions of the War Department General Staff are concerned mainly with affairs in the Zone of Interior. It is this responsibility for planning for the Theater of Operations which makes the foreign garrisons of special interest to WPD. At present all matters of policy concerning our foreign garrisons are referred to WPD.5

To fulfill responsibilities so closely related to the basic Army objective—military operations—WPD needed to take account in general of the war-waging capacity of the Army, which in turn reflected the political and economic resources and policies of the United States.

WPD devoted itself, when necessary, to studying staff problems that did not fall into any one of the functional spheres of responsibility of the other divisions. The successive Chiefs of Staff, beginning in 1921 with General Pershing, referred many of the most general and most complex studies to it for final recommendation.6 While the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff, under the President, had the final responsibility for representing the Army in the spheres of national policy and international relations, WPD drew up plans, made rec-


ommendations, and on occasion participated in deliberations in those spheres. Its officers were staff agents for the Army, particularly for the Chief of Staff, in joint Army-Navy planning, and they studied closely the military phases of international negotiations engaged in by the United States between the wars.7 As a result of all these factors, WPD took its place during the period between the wars as the part of the Army that looked at Army problems with a perspective comparable to that of the Chief of Staff himself.8 As World War II approached, General Marshall placed increasing reliance on this particular staff division, as chief of which he himself had briefly served in 1938.9

WPD and the GHQ Concept

In addition to its strategic planning activities, WPD as originally conceived had to be ready to meet its responsibility for providing a nucleus of personnel for a GHQ in the field should mobilization for war occur.10 The GHQ system was planned by the Harbord Board in accord with the Army's experience in World War I, it was recommended by General MacArthur in the 1930's, and it was the Army's approved solution for meeting the extraordinary demands that would be made on the high command in wartime. It would serve as a field-type staff agency separate from the General Staff and the technical and administrative agencies of the War Department. Through it the commanding general of the field forces would be able to exercise command of Army forces engaged in military


operations. According to Army doctrine as of 1921, the Chief of Staff probably would himself serve as commanding general of the field forces and move into the field in a major theater of operations, presumably overseas or at least outside the boundaries of the continental United States. The assumption in the 1920's was that, once there, he would follow General Pershing's precedent of directing operations in virtual independence of the War Department, which in turn would devote all energies to the zone of interior functions of mobilizing men and material resources. Since it was to be hoped that he would either retain his position as Chief of Staff or be succeeded in that position by the incumbent Deputy Chief of Staff, friction between the Army in Washington and a general headquarters overseas could be controlled and minimized.

The Harbord Board particularly desired to integrate responsibility for high-level planning in peacetime with the direction of operations in time of war. The subcommittee of the Harbord Board appointed to study the question agreed: "The War Department is, and of course must remain the President's agency in deciding the political-strategical aspects of any particular war. But once these have been decided, the same officers who in peace have prepared the plans as to the strategical distribution of troops should be the principal staff officers charged with execution of further operations." 11 Therefore the Harbord Board provided that the "War Plans Division shall be so organized as to enable it, in the event of mobilization, to furnish the nucleus of the general staff personnel for each of the General Staff Divisions required at the General Headquarters in the Field." 12 The intent of the Harbord Board plan was that, in the event of a general mobilization, the War Plans Division "as a whole would sever its connections with the War Department and go into the field as the nucleus of G. H. Q." 13

Working on a static conception of political-strategical planning of a kind that could be settled once and for all at the beginning of a war, the Harbord Board made no provision for continuous interaction between strategic plans and military operations. Consequently it left unclear how a close relationship could be maintained between operations in the field on the one hand and new developments in War Department and national planning on the other, although new ideas and policies affecting the course of the fighting were bound to develop from time to time in the event of a long war. No specific administrative techniques were devised and set down in writing whereby the commanding general of the field forces, however unlimited his authority, could in fact keep strategic plans and military operations in harmony with zone of interior programs. Relations between GHQ and the General Staff, both of which might be serving the same man in different but closely interrelated capacities, were left undefined.

The considerable prestige which WPD soon came to enjoy cast some doubt on the wisdom and feasibility of the 1921 provisions in respect to WPD and the nucleus of GHQ. The first specific suggestion that WPD would have a continuing usefulness in time of war, as a General Staff agency to assist the Chief of Staff in giving strategic direction to Army activities, appeared somewhat incidentally in a memorandum on per-


sonnel prepared by the first WPD chief, Col. Briant H. Wells (brigadier general 4 December 1922), in December 1921. In justifying the retention of twelve officers on duty in WPD, he expressed the opinion that should hostilities occur, the functions of his Division would increase rapidly rather than diminish. He foresaw that in such a situation it would "become, under the Chief of Staff, the strategical directing body of the War Department General Staff." 14

Whatever their individual theories about establishing a GHQ, Army leaders after 1921 generally agreed that it would be inadvisable to disrupt the work of WPD in time of national emergency. Both General Wells and Brig. Gen. Stuart Heintzelman, who in 1923 became the second WPD chief, pointed out to the Chief of Staff that WPD would have to continue to function in time of war with at least a part of its trained personnel in order to avoid putting the burden of a great deal of unfinished business on the other General Staff Divisions at a particularly critical time. Especially important would be WPD's work in interservice planning with the Navy. "Furthermore," General Heintzelman observed, "at the initiation of operations it will be important that someone thoroughly familiar with plans should be with the War Department as well as with G. H. Q." 15

Efforts to define the functions to be performed by WPD after the establishment of GHQ also clearly indicated that the Division would continue to be vitally needed in time of war. A WPD officer, speaking at the Army War College as early as 1924, indicated almost precisely the operational responsibility that OPD was to be given in World War II. He said that in time of war "there should be some agency in the War Department to see to it that the point of view of the Theater of Operations is not lost sight of . . . [War Plans Division] should guard the interests of the Theater of Operations, anticipate its needs, and make every effort to see that its demands are met." 16

In 1933 WPD officers prepared a study of the Division's post-mobilization functions. In their opinion war would bring heavy responsibilities to WPD. It would be a "primary liaison agency of the War Department" and would provide membership for the joint Army-Navy boards and committees as well as for any other "governmental super-agencies, inter-departmental committees, or special War Department committees which have responsibilities affecting the military strategy of the war." WPD would "carry through to conclusion any modification of the pertinent strategic plan," would "keep informed of the progress of the initial strategical deployment," and would conduct a "survey of possible developments of the international political and military situations." Upon the basis of the knowledge gained in all these activities, it would complete "such strategical plans as the situation required," and revise them or develop new plans "as a continuing function." The War Department Mobilization Plan, 1933, specifically provided for the continuance of WPD after mobilization. Furthermore, a revision of Army Regulations 10-15 was then under consideration in order to make them "conform to the War


Department Mobilization Plan, 1933, whereby the duties of the Commanding General of the Field Forces and of the Chief of Staff in the War Department are to be centered in one head." 17 The revision of Army Regulations 10-15 that appeared in 1936 formally embodied this latter provision.18

In 1936 Brig. Gen. Walter Krueger, who preceded General Marshall as WPD chief, summed up the case for WPD as a permanent, that is peacetime and wartime, General Staff agency with extensive responsibilities. While paying tribute to the tradition that WPD should not indulge in "interference in the proper functions of some high command or of some other agency of the War Department," General Krueger stressed the conviction that, in event of a major conflict, the Army would need "a group in the General Staff of the War Department capable of advising the Chief of Staff on the broad strategical aspects of the war." If WPD were not used as the agency for this job, he predicted, it should "be one formed by the Chief of Staff and used by him directly."19 By 1938, although the GHQ concept remained a basic element in Army planning for war, the indispensability of some kind of War Plans Division in Washington had become so evident that the commitment to furnish the nucleus of GHQ meant merely that WPD would supply three or four officers for the G-3 Division of GHQ.20

War Planning: 1921-40

During the first two years of its existence, WPD established a pattern of work which persisted for the next twenty years. The officers on the staff prepared voluminous studies for use at the international conferences on limitation of armaments, drafted and distributed to other Army agencies' several strategic plans for the employment of military forces in the case of certain hypothetical war situations, and represented the Army in joint Army-Navy planning.21 WPD also worked on the basic War Department mobilization plans, but after 1923 primary responsibility for this kind of planning was transferred to G-3. This transfer resulted in a clarification of WPD's responsibility in line with a practical distinction which emerged from preliminary discussion of the issue. Brig. Gen. Hugh A. Drum, then Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, stated:

The War Department Mobilization Plan, the Corps Area Department and Unit plans all pertain to activities of the Zone of Interior, the mission of these plans being the mobilization of troops and their prompt preparation for entering the theater of operations. While the War Plans Division is very much concerned in the development of these plans, its primary function is that of establishing the basis for the mobilization, that is to say, the estimate of the troops required for theaters of operations


and the times and places for their concentration.22

In this sense war planning as distinct from mobilization planning was the functional core of all WPD's work throughout the existence of the Division under that name. Originally this function involved literally the writing of formal plans describing in considerable detail the missions to be accomplished and the forces to be employed under some particular military situation. Once approved by the Chief of Staff, they provided a strategic outline of military operations to be undertaken by Army commanders whenever the President or the Chief of Staff should order a particular plan into effect. Later, planning came to mean, in addition, staff participation in strategic deliberations, particularly in the interservice and international sphere, which led to formal command decisions binding on the Army.23

In every kind of planning the objective was to reach an agreement on specific military operations which would achieve the strategic objective sought and which would also reflect an intimate appreciation of the Army's mobilization, organization, equipment, training, supply, and replacement capacities. The other General Staff Divisions were almost completely occupied with these matters, and close collaboration with them was essential. In the peacetime years Army strategy had to be tailored to available resources more often than the reverse. In many cases, particularly as World War II came closer, G-4, G-3, or G-1 took the lead, in accordance with their assigned staff functions, in radically altering the Army's strategic capabilities by recommending and securing, through the efforts of the Chief of Staff and his civilian superiors, new munitions procurement policies, new troop organization schedules, or new manpower programs for the Army. But WPD always performed the staff function of defining and developing the strategic factors in these as in all other kinds of Army planning.

Theoretically, and to a great extent in fact, the main enterprise of WPD during the 1920's and 1930's was the preparation of the "color" plans. The philosophy of these early war plans derived from the classic General Staff ideal of being prepared with detailed military plans for action in any conceivable emergency. Each emergency situation was given a particular color as a code name, which usually also applied to the principal nation visualized as an enemy in that particular situation. The existence of a plan in no way reflected any real anticipation of hostilities involving the nation or nations for which the plan was named. In fact, in the peacetime atmosphere of the years when most of the color plans were drawn up, there was no immediate menace to the United States. The emergency situations visualized were either highly improbable or of comparatively minor importance. It is true, of course, that such situations were the only ones then foreseen as possible causes for a declaration of war by the Congress or support of a war by the people of the United States. Even the minor operations contemplated probably would have strained the resources of the skeleton Army of the years 1921-40.

The keynote of all war planning before 1939 was the strategic concept, required


by national policy, of defense of the United States by the United States alone against any and all combinations of foreign powers. Thus of the ten or twelve color plans current and approved in the years between the wars, the one which occasioned the most staff work was not, properly speaking, a war plan at all but instead a "National Position in Readiness" plan called BLUE (United States).24 Of the others only two called for general mobilization of the armed forces, and these two represented highly improbable developments in international affairs, namely a war against RED (British Empire) or against a coalition of RED and ORANGE (Japan). The most significant plan from a strategic point of view was the ORANGE plan proper, which visualized a major conflict that, although primarily naval, would require the mobilization of more than a million men in the Army. The other war plans provided for actions in comparatively minor emergencies.25

In all cases the color plans were simple outlines of missions to be accomplished and Army forces to be mobilized, concentrated, and used in combat in the event that military operations became necessary under the circumstances presupposed in any one of the plans. As strategic planning in a broad sense, the early war plans, with the exception of ORANGE, were virtually meaningless because they bore so little relation to contemporary international political and military alignments. They were valuable, however, as abstract exercises in the technical process of detailed military planning, providing useful training for the officers who drew them up. By 1940 the color plans had been largely superseded by the more comprehensive RAINBOW plans, which provided a variety of military courses of action to meet the real strategic situation imposed by Axis aggression.26

Making the detailed military calculations needed to draft formal war plans, regardless of how limited their usefulness as current strategic policy might be, required painstaking work on the part of the whole General Staff. A statement on the complex process of war planning was formulated by WPD early in 1940 for use in a course of instruction in war planning given at the Army War College. It read as follows:

The War Plans Division is not the only war planning agency of our General Staff. Our entire General Staff is a war planning agency organized on functional lines: namely Personnel, Military Intelligence, Operations and Training, Supply, and War Plans. The War Plans Division is in a sense the keystone division of the General Staff, in so far as war plans are concerned, since it provides contact with the Navy in formulating Joint Basic war plans, and is charged with preparing the basic part of the Army Strategic Plans.27

Four representative staff actions of the 1930's that involved WPD were summarized for the Deputy Chief of Staff's information in September 1936 by Colonel Krueger (brigadier general 1 October 1936) who had just become division chief. To illustrate WPD's activities, Colonel Krueger selected two cases involving the study and resolution of issues that had arisen concerning the distribution of equipment among several interested Army agencies, a


third case involving extra-War Department negotiations, for which WPD was responsible, and a final case of pure war planning. The actions were described as: (1) replacement of airplanes for overseas departments; (2) pack artillery in the Hawaiian Department; (3) War Department participation in the development of civil airways and landing fields in Alaska; and (4) procedure for co-ordinated action within the General Staff for the development of an Army strategical plan.

These four cases indicated in what sense WPD was the "keystone division of the General Staff." In solving the airplane problem, WPD consulted G-3, G-4, and the Air Corps to reach a compromise that would satisfy the commanding generals of the Panama Canal, Hawaiian, and Philippine Departments as well as the GHQ (combatant) Air Force in the United States. In disposing of two batteries of 75-mm. howitzer pack artillery, WPD had to reconcile the views of the same three department commanders, the Commanding General, Fourth Army, the Chief of Field Artillery, the Chief of Ordnance, The Quartermaster General, G-3, and G-4. The third case was comparatively simple since WPD not only had general authority to deal with extra-War Department problems, but also in this instance was explicitly directed by the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff to "formulate the basis for action" upon a request from the Secretary of Interior for Army Signal Corps assistance in the Alaska airways program. Nevertheless, WPD consulted the Chief Signal Officer and the Chief of the Air Corps for technical information, G-1 and G-3 concerning personnel, G-4 concerning funds and equipment, and the Budget Advisory Committee concerning legislation. Finally, even in drafting a war plan, WPD worked closely with G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4, these divisions drafting sections in accordance with their functional duties.28

As these four cases indicated, WPD was the "keystone" of the General Staff only in the sense that it had an interest in almost all kinds of Army affairs in which the Chief of Staff's authority had to be exercised, and had primary interest in those issues that most directly affected the Army's ultimate purpose, military operation. But however active or influential it might be as a result, the Division worked in accordance with prescribed General Staff procedures, conferring with all interested agencies, securing their concurrences to proposed solutions, and centering all activities around the final memorandum for the Chief of Staff's approval. Nor was the Division unique in playing such a role of co-ordinator. In staff actions that could be defined as problems primarily concerning personnel, organization and training, or procurement and supply, G-1, G-3, and G-4 respectively played similar roles.

Staff Authority

Whatever difference there was between WPD and the other divisions of the General Staff when it came to exercising delegated authority on behalf of the Chief of Staff, it enjoyed by virtue of its exceptional knowledge of his ultimate objectives in the broad sphere of military operations. The heads of all the divisions had the same discretionary authority. General Staff regulation provided: "The Assistant Chiefs of Staff, in charge of the divisions of the General Staff . . . are authorized on matters


under their supervision to issue instructions in the name of the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff." 29 Under this authority, WPD might issue instructions that had the force of authority in matters bordering between policy and execution of policy. The Division would first have to be confident that the case in question should be treated as requiring a secondary action necessary to carry out approved War Department policy rather than as raising a new issue for decision by the Chief of Staff. The fact that the Division had reached this conclusion was bound to influence the other divisions of the General Staff, who were apt to let the ruling stand.

Nevertheless, WPD's authority to make such decisions was obscure. If any Army agency, particularly one of the other staff divisions, took exception to the actions in question, the whole policy had to remain in abeyance until submitted to the Chief of Staff. The WPD chief thus had no grant of power to co-ordinate the work of the entire General Staff in the interests of supporting the strategic plans of the Army. A thorough canvassing of this question took place in 1925, when the Division chief's authority was subjected to particularly searching inquiry. The result of the whole study, in which WPD officers took a leading part, was to confirm the idea that WPD was on a level with, not superior to the other General Staff Divisions, and that it had to refer all basic policy decisions to the Chief of Staff rather than to try to coordinate the work of the rest of the General Staff. The consensus of the General Staff reflected very closely the line taken by WPD:

No additional authority and responsibility should be given to the Assistant Chief of Staff WPD, with a view to more expeditious and economical General Staff action. The authority granted by Par. 6, AR 10-15, is ample. In fact, as indicated below, the full authority granted by this paragraph has never been exercised by any Chief of the War Plans Division. In my opinion, the Assistant Chief of Staff, WPD cannot properly and advantageously take final action concerning any type of cases now referred to the Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff for action. . . .

The following wording of Par. 6, AR 10-15, is suggested as more clearly expressing what is believed to be real intent of the paragraph, and as in accordance with the actual practice of the War Plans Division, which is thought to be correct:

The Deputy Chief of Staff and the Assistant Chiefs of Staff in charge of the divisions of the General Staff hereinafter provided for, are authorized on matters under their supervision to issue instructions in the name of the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff except that basic policies, plans and projects, and such other matters as may be required by supplementary instructions issued by the Chief of Staff, shall be submitted for approval by higher authority.30

This doctrine was invoked in a concrete case at about the same time. The issue was whether or not WPD had to get the Chief of Staff's approval to annexes and appendices of formal war plans which had already been approved by the Chief of Staff or whether these supplementary documents could be prepared by the various staff divisions "under the direction and coordination of the War Plans Division." 31 The orthodox War Department opinion was set forth by a distinguished senior officer, Maj. Gen. Fox Conner, then Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4. He categorically asserted:

While it is believed that great differences between the several Divisions of the General


Staff will be infrequent these differences will arise from time to time. When they do arise direction and co-ordination should not be left to the War Plans Division nor to any other Division of the General Staff. Direction and coordination as between General Staff Divisions is strictly a function of the Chief of Staff and any departure from this principle is regrettable from every point of view.32

By the end of 1939 the Chief of Staff and some of the officers in WPD were beginning to be disturbed over the limitations of staff procedure at a time of world crisis. General Marshall observed in a memorandum written shortly after he had assumed the duties of Chief of Staff: "It occurs to me that the current routine procedure of the War Department General Staff might have to be materially altered in the event of a war emergency." 33 Lt. Col. Thomas T. Handy and Lt. Col. Walton H. Walker of WPD, who drafted replies to this memorandum, stated: "Many questions now presented to the Chief of Staff do not require a decision by him. They could and should be acted upon by a division of the General Staff after being properly coordinated with other divisions." 34 Nevertheless, throughout the period between the wars WPD did not exceed the limits of authority placed on the General Staff by traditional doctrine. It was not a central staff in co-ordinating Army-wide activities. It had neither authority nor incentive to act for the Chief of Staff in the day-to-day process of trying to link staff planning with military execution or operation of plans by subordinate agencies or commands. In peacetime such a staff was little needed, or at least the lack of it caused no disasters. In time of growing emergency the peacetime system put an enormous burden on the Chief of Staff, his deputies, and the Secretary of the General Staff, the officers who in their own persons were responsible for achieving coordination among Army plans and policies.



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