US Army in World War II
by Rich Anderson
Introduction and Organization
The US Army of World War II was created from a tiny antebellum army in the space
of three years. On 30 June 1939 the Regular Army numbered 187,893 men, including
22,387 in the Army Air Corps. On the same date the National Guard totaled
199,491 men. The major combat units included nine infantry divisions, two
cavalry divisions, a mechanized cavalry (armor) brigade in the Regular Army and
eighteen infantry divisions in the National Guard. Modern equipment was for the
most part nonexistent and training in the National Guard units varied from fair
to poor. The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 led to a gradual
expansion of the Army. On 27 August 1940, Congress authorized the induction of
the National Guard into Federal service. On 16 September 1940 the first
peacetime draft in United States history was passed by Congress. However, the
draftees were inducted for only one year. Fortunately, on 7 August 1941, by a
margin of a single vote, Congress approved an indefinite extension of service
for the Guard, draftees, and Reserve officers. Four months later to the day,
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
Armor and Tank Types
US armored units underwent a considerable number of changes - most of them
forced by operational requirements -- during the war. The most significant of
these were the reorganization of the armored divisions in 1943 and the modified
Tables of Equipment (TE) that were utilized by most tank battalions in Europe
during late 1944 and early 1945. The modified TE was put in effect when losses
of medium tanks in Europe outpaced the Army's ability to replace them and
reduced the number of medium tanks in the battalion from fifty-three to
forty-one. All of the light armored divisions and separate tank battalions in
Europe in the fall of 1944 were placed on the modified establishment. It is
probable that those divisions (8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th) and battalions that
arrived in late 1944 retained the original TE, although some separate battalions
were temporarily stripped of equipment to provide replacement stocks for the
battalions that were already in combat. One battalion, the 740th, was stripped
when it arrived in Europe in December 1944. Then it was hastily refitted from a
British tank repair depot on 18 December and was flung into the path of KG
Pieper during the Ardennes Offensive. The 740th's odd lot of equipment included
M4s, Fireflies, M10 and M36 tank destroyers, and M8 armored cars, all of which
were equipped with British radios -- which the Americans didn't know how to use!
Despite this handicap the battalion (actually a reinforced company) materially
assisted in halting Pieper's advance west of Stoumont Station by a combination
of good luck and excellent gunnery.
Cavalry and Infantry
Reconnaissance in the armored divisions was performed by the armored
reconnaissance battalion -- in the heavy division -- or by the cavalry
reconnaissance squadron, mechanized -- in the light division. These units were
identical, except that the battalion was organized as companies, the squadron as
troops (although the light tank unit was a company in both organizations). In
addition, each armored regiment had a reconnaissance company and each infantry
division a reconnaissance troop (organized the same as below), while each tank
battalion had a reconnaissance platoon. The mechanized cavalry squadrons
were organized with three Cavalry Troops, lettered A to C, each equipped with 13
M8 armored cars and jeeps; an Assault Gun Troop, E, with six M8 HMC; a Light
Tank Company, F, with 17 M5 Stuart, or later M24, tanks; a Service Company; and
an H & H Company. The armored divisions reconnaissance squadron was identical
except that it had a fourth Cavalry Troop, D, and the Assault Gun Troop had
eight M8 HMC. Infantry divisions each had a single cavalry reconnaissance troop.
Artillery and AA Artillery
In World War I the artillery arm of the U.S. Army had fought in Europe equipped
entirely with French or British weapons. There were many reasons for this: the
need to standardize Allied arms, lack of shipping space, and lack of industrial
capacity. However, another factor was that many ordnance specialists in Britain
and France felt that the indigenous American gun designs were not up to European
standards. As a result, in 1921 the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Charles P.
Sommerall (one of the most brilliant artillerymen in U.S. Army history)
established the Westervelt Board to examine the army's ordnance requirements for
the future. The board's report was impartial and farsighted, and it had dramatic
consequences for the U.S. Army artillery in World War II. The board recommended
that the standard divisional artillery piece be increased in caliber from 75mm
to 105mm, while the general support weapon for the division was to be
standardized as the 155mm howitzer. The 4.7" corps general support gun (a
British design) was to be discarded in favor of the 155mm gun (a French design).
In addition, the board recommended that heavier pieces of the most modern type
be designed, and that all artillery pieces be suitable for rapid motorized road
movement. Finally, improvements in fire control methodology and communications
were recommended, based upon concepts that had been pioneered by Summerall as an
artillery brigade commander in France.
Engineers and Logistics
It was perhaps fitting that the U.S. Army, with an officer corps heavily
influenced by the teachings of the United States Military Academy (which was the
first engineering school in the United States), should be lavishly equipped with
engineer troops and equipment. The divisional combat engineer battalions were
capable of performing most engineering tasks (including demolitions, obstacle
emplacement, fortification, and light bridge building) for the division.
Additional battalions from corps or army augmented divisional engineers for more
extensive tasks. Corps battalions were assigned to the command of an engineer
group headquarters, which consisted of an H & H Company and an engineer light
equipment company. Normally there were between three and six battalions in an
engineer group and one or two groups per corps or army.
Manpower, Doctrine and Training
In late 1944 a severe problem in the U.S. Army in general was the manpower
shortage. Plans to expand the Army to 213 divisions were never met and it was
proving difficult to maintain the 89 divisions then in existence - even though
almost one-quarter of them had yet to see combat. Furthermore, the prewar
planning for replacements was found to be totally inadequate. The causes were
manifold: U.S. industrial and agricultural demands could only be partially met
by bringing women into the workforce; the Army was fighting a two-front war;
fear of the blitzkrieg had resulted in an over-expansion of the antiaircraft and
tank destroyer arms; the requirements of the massive expansion of the U.S. Armed
Forces in general had reduced the manpower pool; and, perhaps worst of all,
segregation meant that a large percentage o the available manpower,
African-Americans, were restricted to service support organization and a few
separate combat units.
Copyright © 2000 Rich Anderson.
Written by Rich Anderson. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Rich Anderson at:
About the author:
Richard C. Anderson, Jr. works as the Chief Historian at the The
Dupuy Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to scholarly
research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict
and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides
independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern
Published online: 2000.
Last Modified: 02/11/2007.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.