So, we’ll be posting more historical stuff about the Army of World War II. Many of the terms readers are familiar with today didn’t exist back then. Remember, there wasn’t even a Department of Defense back then. There were two cabinet level Departments, the Department of the Navy, and the Department of War.
The War Department was of course the office of the Secretary of War, but it was also the office of the Chief of Staff of the Army, or CSA (which during the period we’ll be discussing was GEN George C. Marshall). The CSA in the days before the war was the senior officer of the Army, but he was outside the chain of command. The SecWar gave the orders directly to commanders in the field (though as a practical matter, he transmitted them via the CSA). The CSA wasn’t so much in charge of the troop units, but rather with the institutions of the Army, such as the various arms and services. The arms were the Coast Artillery, Field Artillery, Cavalry, and Infantry. These arms were established by law. Similarly, the various services such as the Quartermaster Corps, Signal Corps and Ordnance Corps were established by law. Each of these branches was led by a Major General, and ran that branch’s center and school. Each branch established its own training and doctrine, and developed its own equipment, and ran the school establishment that served as each branches repository of corporate knowledge. The CSA also ran The Army Staff, which was responsible for the personnel (G-1), Intelligence (G-2), Plans and Training (G-3) and Supply (G-4) policy of the Army as a whole. The Army Staff likewise was outside the chain of command.
In an era when the wartime mission of the Army was seen as one of continental defense (or a single expeditionary force, such as in Mexico in 1917 or France in World War I), having the SecWar serve as the direct superior of the field forces wasn’t impractical. But Marshall and the staff foresaw that the coming world war would be different. The Army would likely have to fight in multiple theaters spread across the entire globe. Few Secretaries had the military background to effectively manage such a wide spanning endeavor.
Americans traditionally loathed the thought of a national general staff on the lines of the continental powers, preferring to keep a far greater degree of civilian control over the Army. But Congress finally recognized the need to centralize control of field forces under a uniformed commander in Washington. The Secretary would still be his superior, and responsible for overall policy and strategy. But the actual command would be vested in a general. But not just yet. A law was passed permitting the formation of General Headquarters, US Army. But the law restricted GHQ to plans and training until such time as the Army actually entered the war. Marshall was finally in the chain of command, sorta. In the interim, the Chief of Staff of GHQ, LTG Leslie McNair assumed responsibility for training of all troop units in the entire Army.
After Pearl Harbor, Marshall was determined to get a better grasp of the reins of the Army. He needed to reduce the influences of the branch chiefs, and cut back on the number of people that theoretically had the right to demand an audience form him. There was already the autonomous Army Air Forces, run by Hap Arnold, with its own Air Staff. Marshall in turn transformed GHQ into The Army Ground Forces, and simultaneously formed the Services of Supply (later renamed the Army Service Forces). This three legged stool was the stable platform that built the wartime Army.
Most of our posts that look at the Army in World War II will focus on the ground forces, and thus AGF.
AGF was what today would be called a “force provider.” That is, AGF didn’t command the troops in the field. Instead, it created, equipped, trained and prepared for deployment the troops that the various theater commanders would command in battle.
We’ll examine the creation and command of theaters of war later.