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Rich Anderson Articles
US Army in WWII

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US Army in World War II
US Army in World War II
Manpower and Segregation

by Rich Anderson

Manpower, Replacements, and the Segregated Army

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.

Unfortunately, the poor initial planning Army-wide was exacerbated by the general replacement policy in effect. Simply put, once a soldier was separated from his unit by wounds or illness, there was little chance of him returning to that unit. Instead, he was sent to a replacement depot, a repple-depple in Army slang. From the depot he would then be reassigned as needed to whatever unit had a shortfall in his particular MOS (military occupation specialty). This meant that a soldier could spend months of training, forming close bonds with comrades, the basis for unit cohesion, and then in his first day of combat could be separated from them, never to fight with them again. This system of individual replacement caused many soldiers to disguise illness and wounds so they could stay with their units. Other soldiers, in hospital, went AWOL (absent-without-leave) so as to rejoin their units. It wasn't until 1945 that the individual replacement system was modified to allow a majority of sick and wounded soldiers to rejoin their unit after recovering. 

At the other end of the replacement pipeline, replacements were trained by replacement centers (or stripped from divisions), shipped as anonymous replacement increments to a theater of war, and held at the repple-depple until needed by units. These men were military orphans with little esprit de corps and no cohesion. Many thought of themselves as replaceable parts in the giant army "machine," or as rounds of ammunition. The sole virtue of this system was that it allowed divisions to stay in near continuous combat for days on end, theoretically without eroding their numerical strength. As casualties left, replacements came in. However, the reality became that replacements came in, and with no combat experience and no one in their new unit looking out for them (the "I don't know him and don't want to know him, he's only gonna be a casualty" syndrome), they quickly became casualties.

Worse, the planning factors for replacements by branch were badly out of kilter. The original War Department replacement-planning factor for infantry was 64.3 percent of total casualties. Following continued pleas from Europe the factor was raised to 70.3 percent in April 1944. However, the fighting in Normandy soon showed that this was still much too low. By mid July the ETO estimate was that 90 percent of total casualties occurred in the infantry. Infantry divisions saw 100 percent losses in rifle strength in the two months after D-Day. The lack of Infantry replacements soon approached near disastrous proportions. For example, on 8 December 1944 the Third Army was short 11,000 infantrymen. This was only about four percent of the Third Army's total strength, but was the equivalent of fifty-five rifle companies - the rifle strength of two infantry divisions - or close to fifteen percent of the infantry combat power of the Third Army.

The Infantry further suffered from the Army's personnel policy, which allocated the most highly qualified and intelligent people to specialist arms (Airborne, Ranger, Artillery, Armor, and Engineers). The Infantry was filled with men who had scored lowest on the AGCT (the Army General Classification Test) - an intelligence and aptitude test and those who had not held a skilled job in civilian life. The elimination of the ASTP (the Army Specialized Training program), which allowed selected enlisted men to gain a college education while deferring induction into the Army and the reduction of specialized troop units (especially antiaircraft) had remedied matters to some degree by the end of 1944. Nevertheless, mediocre motivation and low intelligence continued to plague the Infantry.

Intense combat and heavy losses in 1943 meant that in 1944 many divisions still in the United States were stripped of trained men to build up the replacement pool. Some divisions were stripped of available manpower a second time later in 1944. This in turn affected the training cycle of the divisions, causing some to deploy late and requiring most to have some problems with their initial combat deployment. Four armor, one airborne, and seventeen infantry divisions (nearly one-quarter of the total formed) were eventually subject to large scale stripping of men (nearly all of the other divisions in training also had smaller numbers of personnel stripped out prior to deployment). Fourteen of the seventeen infantry divisions were stripped twice. The aggregate affect was tremendous the 69th Infantry Division lost 1,336 officers and 22,235 men, nearly enough personnel to form two divisions.

Exacerbating the Army manpower woes was the policy of segregation. In the 1940s Jim Crowism was rampant in the United States. Racism and segregation affected all aspects of society in the South. Matters were little better in the Northern and Western states. The effect was that over fifteen percent of the nations military manpower was underutilized. Most African-Americans were restricted to serving with Service and Supply units, many of which were simply pools of brute-force, unskilled labor. 

Only three Colored divisions were formed during the war. Only one saw extensive combat service and it was plagued by problems. On the other hand, the few separate Colored combat battalions formed gave excellent service, most in the ETO.
The second 2nd Cavalry Division (originally it was the 3rd Cavalry Division, it became the 2nd Division when the original 2nd Division was disbanded) was disbanded in 1944. Ironically, the 2nd Cavalry Division was arguably one of the most experienced and professional divisions in the Army. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments of the division, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, were two of the most famous regiments in the Army. When the division was disbanded the men of these two great regiments were assigned as laborers to port and engineer battalions. 

In Italy, the 92nd Division was placed under the command of Major General Edward M. Almond, an avowed racist. Almond despised his men believing them incapable of learning the duties of combat soldiers, training was perfunctory at best. Officers, who were mostly white, took their cue from General Almond and ignored many of their fundamental duties. In it's first engagements, the division appeared to confirm his fears, making little headway with heavy losses. The division was then reorganized in March and recommitted along the Ligurian coast, again with little effect. Post war studies of the use of African-American combat troops confirmed however that most of the divisions problems could be directly associated with poor training, poor leadership, and neglect of troops in the field.
The experience of the 93rd Division in the PTO was similar. It was split up and served mostly as labor parties on various Pacific islands. It suffered only 138 combat casualties however, losses to disease were severe.

Probably the most famous Colored units were the 561st Tank Battalion, the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, and the 969th Field Artillery Battalions. The 561st was assigned to Patton's Third Army over his strong objection (he believed them incapable of "thinking fast enough to fight in armor"). However, the intrepid gallantry of the Black tankers soon won him over. By the end of 1944 Patton declared "I have nothing but the best in my army. I don't care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut son's-a-bitches." In 1978 the 761st was awarded a belated but well deserved Presidential Unit Citation. The 333rd was caught by the German onslaught in the Ardennes and was partly overrun defending its guns. The remnants of the battalion fought on, joining the 969th as the backbone of the defense of Bastogne.

Another use of African-American manpower was a result of the massive attrition that was suffered in the winter of 1944 in Europe. As the infantry replacement pool evaporated in the ETO, radical steps were taken. In January 1945 General Eisenhower took the then unprecedented step of allowing African-American soldiers to volunteer as combat infantry replacements. The response was overwhelming, soldiers accepted reductions in rank in exchange for the chance to fight. These men were assigned to hard-hit divisions where they soon made an impression. Eager to prove critics of African-American combat prowess wrong, these men made up for their lack of experience with a reckless bravery. Most of the replacements continued to serve in effectively segregated units however, most of the divisions formed them into separate platoons or companies that were attached to White units. 

The experience of African-American soldiers in World War II had one major and unexpected beneficial effect. Postwar investigations showed that the Colored units that performed poorly had experienced indifferent training, were poorly led, and were often issued with substandard or condemned equipment. Food and housing was also generally poorer than for comparable white units, both in garrison and in the field. On the other hand, the better led units usually performed well. These findings were partly responsible for the post-war drive to integrate the military, which indirectly led to the integration of the entire country in the 1950s and 1960s.

Doctrine and Training

U.S. Army doctrine, as developed during the prewar and early-war Army expansion, emphasized mobility and combined-arms in both attack and defense. Mobility was achieved by developing reliable, robust armored and soft-skin vehicles. Unfortunately, in the case of tanks and tank destroyers, thickness of armor was sacrificed in the interest of mobility to the detriment of U.S. Army armored vehicles in tank-versus-tank-combat. This flaw was exacerbated by one of General McNair's fundamental beliefs (later proved to have been fundamentally unsound) that the armored division would not be required to engage and destroy enemy armored formations since that would be the task of the tank destroyers. Rather he visualized the armor divisions as a cavalry force to exploit gaps opened in the enemy lines by the tank-supported infantry divisions. The major flaw in this concept was that the lightly armored tank destroyers proved regularly that they were unable to engage and destroy enemy armor when it attacked in mass, even when the tank destroyers were deployed in concealed defensive positions. While the tank destroyers on defense were often able to delay or blunt an armored attack, they could rarely defeat them. Thus, instead of operating in an independent antiarmor role, the tank destroyers were semi-permanently attached to infantry and armored divisions, while armored divisions were forced to take up defensive as well as offensive missions, a role for which they were not well designed (since they lacked sufficient infantry). 

Another fundamental doctrinal belief espoused by General McNair was that pooling and standardization in the organization of the combat arms would facilitate the cross-attachment of units into combined-arms teams. Here too the realities of wartime experience proved to be somewhat different. It was discovered that the close cooperation required of combined-arms teams required extensive training and combat experience to be effective. Unfortunately, the infantry division training program involved extensive practice in infantry-artillery coordination, but no training in armor-infantry-artillery coordination. In most cases the first armor-infantry-artillery combined arms operation for an infantry division was conducted in combat and not in training. Furthermore, pooling meant that most of the infantry divisions did not have tank or tank destroyer battalions attached until after they had entered combat. The result was predictable; the introduction of "green" infantry divisions into combat often resulted in disaster rather than success. Eventually combat experience and unnecessary casualties forced changes in the emphasis in the training regimen, but problems continued to persist until the end of the war.

Finally, the basic tenant of U.S. Army Infantry doctrine was based on fire and maneuver at the squad level. The M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle and the BAR provided firepower at the squad level. However, in the ETO it was found that these were unequal to the job of suppressing the firepower of the German squad, which was equipped with the formidable MG42 light machine gun. Over and over the advance of American infantry faltered when encountering this German weapon which was capable of firing up to 1,100 round-per-minute (the distinctive sustained roar of this machine gun gave rise to common GI epithet applied to it, "burp gun"). Worse, German small arms utilized ammunition which gave off little flash or smoke. American ammunition had a pronounced signature, giving off a distinctive puff of blue smoke and an intense flash. The result was that German infantry could fire with a good chance of not revealing their position, American infantry could not. All American ammunition had this characteristic to a degree; tank and artillery rounds also gave off a prominent flash.


In the ETO the 42nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division was equipped with twelve M7 Priest SP 105mm howitzers, rather than the M1 towed 105mm howitzer normally found in the infantry division. This apparently was a holdover from the 4th Division's brief existence as the Army's sole Motorized Infantry Division.

In the ETO the 18th Field Artillery Battalion was equipped with seventy-five 4.5" TXXXX rocket launchers as a test. Results were encouraging enough to justify the formation of two more 4.5" rocket battalions. They eventually served in the PTO. 

In the ETO the 79th Field Artillery Battalion (Provisional) was formed from personnel of the 79th and 179th Field Artillery Groups to fire captured German artillery pieces during the height of the ammunition shortage. Similarly, the 244th Field Artillery Battalion was temporarily equipped with a miscellany of captured German 88mm guns and 105mm and 150mm howitzers.
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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 military campaigns.

Published online: 2000.
Last Modified: 02/11/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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