Tag Archives: history

Pierre Sprey and the Fighter Mafia got it wrong.

In this post, I damned Pierre Sprey’s insights into the weapons development, particularly in aircraft.

Sprey was a part of the Fighter Mafia, alongside other notables, such as John Boyd, around whom something of a cult has formed. Indeed, your humble scribe is a member of a Facebook group devoted to Boyd and his theories.

But it is important to remember that while the Fighter Mafia had an outsized influence on the development of what would become the F-15, F-16, and eventually, the F/A-18, it’s even more important to remember that those three aircraft are all highly successful largely in spite of the Fighter Mafia, not because of them.

In the mid to late 1960s, appalled by the poor air to air combat record of the Air Force in Vietnam, the Fighter Mafia used Boyd’s E/M theory to argue successfully that the envisioned replacement for the F-4 Phantom should focus on maneuverability.

Eventually, that replacement became the F-15 Eagle, which, to be sure, is a highly maneuverable fighter. But the Fighter Mafia hated it. It’s a big, big fighter. Two primary factors led to its large size. First, fuel. For long range, you need a huge fuel fraction- that is, the percentage of gross take off weight dedicated to fuel. But the more fuel you carry, the more power you need to maintain performance and maneuverability. And of course, you get more power from bigger engines. Which need more fuel… The second factor driving the size of the Eagle was the radar. Radar range is largely a function of antenna array size. To achieve longer detection ranges, you need a larger array. The size of the antenna array ultimately has a large influence on the aerodynamic design of the rest of the aircraft. That is, a big radar results in a big airplane.

The Fighter Mafia also hated that the Eagle’s primary weapon was a quartet of AIM-7 Sparrow III missiles. To be sure, the Eagle also carried four AIM-9 Sidewinders, and an M61A1 20mm Vulcan cannon, in effect, the same armament as the late model F-4E it was to replace. The Fighter Mafia loathed the very idea of the Sparrow missile, with its heavy weight, required heavy radar, and the complexity and cost it imposed on the airplane. The rest of the Air Force, however, saw the Sparrow as the main battery, and the other weapons were just along for the ride, as they imposed a minimal penalty in weight and performance. The Eagle with its huge radar and beyond-visual-range, all aspect Sparrows would knock down MiGs long before the MiGs had a chance to maneuver against the Eagles. The Fighter Mafia did win some battles in the design of the Eagle- “Not a pound for Air to Ground” being one.

Overall the Eagle was the antithesis of what the Fighter Mafia sought in a new plane. They wanted, in effect, to out MiG-21 the MiG-21. They saw the perfect fighter as a lightweight, single engine plane armed with two Sidewinders, a cannon, and a simple radar along the lines of the APQ-153 for cueing the Sidewinders and gun-laying.

The Fighter Mafia also realized the cost of the Eagle would preclude the Air Force from buying nearly as many jets as they had F-4s to replace. And so, through some bureaucratic slight of hand, they convinced the DoD to open up a procurement program for what became the Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program.

Eventually, two prototypes would emerge from LWF, the General Dynamics YF-16, and the Northrop YF-17. At first glance, the Fighter Mafia would appear to have won. Both were small, very lightweight (well, compared to an Eagle), armed with Sidewinders and a gun, and with minimal radar.

Pierre Sprey did have a major influence at about this time. He was the driving force behind the competitive fly-off between the two prototypes.  At his insistence, the fly-off was conducted by operational test pilots, not engineering test pilots. That is, rather than pilots with a focus on ensuring the plane would meet some esoteric numerical data point, they wanted pilots who would evaluate the plane in terms of their experience with actual combat flying. Additionally, the test pilots would fly both types, giving them the opportunity to compare and contrast both. Both the objective data, and the subjective impressions of the pilots would influence the selection. In the end, the YF-16 won out.  The YF-17, after a major redesign effort, would be emerge as the F/A-18 Hornet now used by the Navy and Marine Corps.

While the YF-16 was almost exactly what the Fighter Mafia sought, the Air Force wasn’t entirely happy with it. Changes between the YF-16 and the production F-16A were extensive.

The Fighter Mafia saw the F-16 as the ne plus ultra of air to air combat. But the Air Force didn’t see much point to a second air to air fighter competing for budget dollars with the F-15 Eagle. What they did see a pressing need for was a light fighter bomber to replace hundreds of F-4 Phantoms, F-105 Thunderchiefs, and A-7D Corsairs. And so they gave the F-16 a significant air to ground capability. Additionally, advances in electronics and computing technology lead the Air Force to give the F-16 the APG-66  multi-function radar for both air and surface search, and air to air and air to ground weapons aiming. A few years later, the F-16C model began to enter service, and with it came the ability to use the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air to Air Missile, or AMRAAM. Where the Fighter Mafia envisioned an F-16 entering combat with no more external stores than a pair of Sidewinders, today an F-16 in combat typically carries two AMRAAMs, two Sidewinders, two to four Laser Guided Bombs, two 370 gallon drop tanks, and a jammer pod. To say the Fighting Falcon has strayed from the ideal of the Fighter Mafia is something of an understatement.

So where did the Fighter Mafia go wrong? They carefully analyzed the shortcomings of US airpower in air to air combat in Vietnam, and had a very plausible theory (E/M) that showed the way to overcome those failures.

The Fighter Mafia’s mistake was a failure to realize that many of the problems the US faced in Vietnam would be overcome by technology, much of it not directly related to the fighter aircraft themselves. Other issues were political or doctrinal, and would be overcome by training.

For instance, much of the bad reputation of the F-4 Phantom in combat was related to the early, all missile armed C and D models. Especially early in the war when they were equipped with the early AIM-7D model Sparrow, coupled with a requirement that all targets be visually identified, that poor air to air reputation was somewhat valid. But by the end of the Vietnam conflict, the vastly improved AIM-7E2 Sparrow was much more reliable, and a much better missile from a tactical point of view. Coupled with that technical improvement was early work on what we would today call Non-Cooperative Threat Recognition allowed US aircrews to begin using the Sparrow in the way it was intended, yielding much better results. Looking at the highest scoring ace of the Vietnam War, Chuck DeBellevue, we see that four of his six kills were with the radar guided Sparrow, and only two with the Sidewinder.

Similarly, the ability of airborne warning and control to definitively designate potential targets as hostile was on the cusp of being when the Fighter Mafia was arguing for a fighter that would, by design, be forced to merge to visual range with the enemy. The old EC-121 radar planes were being replaced by the vastly more capable E-3A Sentry.

Vastly improved training in air to air combat maneuvering also greatly changed the performance of US aircrews. Early failures in Vietnam were not merely a symptom of poor airframe design. Instead, prior to Vietnam, a very large percentage of the training time was spent on the tactical nuclear strike mission, as well as conventional air to ground training. Little thought was given to realistic air combat maneuvering. All these factors gave an unrealistic impression of the inability of the platforms such as the F-4 to succeed in the air superiority mission.

With continue improvement in missiles, in training, and in command and control measures allowing beyond visual range engagements, we’ve actually seen the virtual disappearance of the swirling dogfight the Fighter Mafia insisted the F-16 be built for. Looking at US Air Force air to air victories after Vietnam, the vast majority have been made with the long range Sparrow or the AMRAAM. Very few fights involved more than one sustained turn. Instead, the most common Eagle tactic is referred to as The Wall, with four Eagles line abreast using their powerful radars and Sparrows/AMRAAMs to sweep aside enemy fighters with “in your face” shots.

One of the prime drivers in the design of the F-22A Raptor was the need for very high, very fast flight because that high/fast combination gives a missile an even greater standoff range than one launched lower and slower.

And it is not just the US that increasingly saw that the long range standoff attack was the future. The Soviet MiG-29 and Su-27 were both primarily armed with the  R-27 (NATO reporting name AA-10 Alamo) and later the R-77 (NATO reporting name AA-12 Adder) long range radar guided missiles. European nations use either the AMRAAM or a variety of similar long range missiles. Had the F-16 become the Fighter Mafia wanted, it would be severely handicapped in the face of such BVR capable opponents.

It’s interesting that John Boyd, later famous for his OODA loop, would himself, as a member of the Fighter Mafia, arguably make a grave error in his own OODA loop in justifying his vision of the Lightweight Fighter.



Having observed the poor air to air performance of the Air Force in Vietnam, his orientation led him to mistaken assumptions about what the future of air combat would look like.

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Filed under Air Force, history

The First Troop of the Philadelphia City Cavalry

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on what is probably the most unique unit in the entire Army.

Formed even before the beginning of the American Revolution, FTPCC has been at the service of our nation ever since.

First Troop members ride in a George Washington memorial event in Philadelphia in 2006.

Gregg Connell ’s enlistment into his National Guard cavalry unit went like this:

Already well-lubricated at the armory bar, members of the troop passed around a wooden box. Those who wanted to accept Spc. Connell dropped in white marbles. Those opposed, black marbles.

White marbles outnumbering black, Spc. Connell was summoned into the armory’s mess hall, where, beneath oil paintings of bewhiskered men in silver-buttoned tunics and helmets topped with bearskin crests, the captain pinned a fabric rosette to his blue blazer. Spc. Connell saluted and signed a muster roll with names dating back to 1774.

Then he stood on a chair and sang a selection from the troop’s big book of bawdy songs: “Take It Out at the Ballgame.”

So it was that the 24-year-old aspiring architect joined what is probably the most idiosyncratic unit in the U.S. military: First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry.

Hopefully the rest of the article isn’t behind the paywall for you. It’s well worth reading.

Here’s the thing, because the unit existed before the Militia Act of 1792, and subsequent revisions, it has been permitted, by law, to continue its traditions, such as election of officers.

Now, every member has to enlist in the Pennsylvania National Guard before standing for membership in FTPCC. There’s no guarantee they’ll get into the troop.

And while the troop seems to focus mostly on social events, understand, that is in addition to performing their actual Guard duties. That means a weekend of honest to goodness Army type drill each month, and then the troop specific stuff on a separate occasion. And troopers are expected to donate their drill pay to the troop for maintenance of troop specific property, such as the tack gear for their horses. The taxpayer isn’t funding the historical aspects nor the social aspects.

The troop or members of the troop have been activated and served in or during almost every war in our nation’s history.

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The early days of the Cold War saw the US military establishment obsessed with two major themes in weapons- nuclear weapons, and guided missiles. And an early attempt at combining the two was the now almost forgotten Rascal standoff nuclear missile.

Developed by Bell to deliver a nuclear warhead 100 miles from the launch point, the Rascal was a massive missile. It was also to ambitious for the state of the art, and by the time it entered into production, the decision had been made to abandon it.



Early missile programs went through an array of various schemes of nomenclature, but we’ll stick to the final one, the GAM-63.

Powered by a three chamber liquid fueled rocket, the Rascal would climb from its launch altitude of roughly 40,000 feet to a cruise altitude of about 50,000 feet. Two of the rocket chambers would shut down, and the third would sustain the Rascal at a speed of about 1200 miles per hour. About 20 miles out from the target, the Rascal would nose over into a terminal dive.

The Rascal had a pretty interesting guidance system. It had a radar in its nose. That radar would send video of its radar system via radio to the launching bomber.  Having launched, the bomber would turn away, and a retractable receiver antenna in its aft fuselage would pick up the signal, and display it to the bombardier. The bombardier would would then radio steering commands to the missile. As the missile got closer to the target, the better the radar display was, theoretically improving accuracy throughout the flight.

In practice, the Rascal was a mess. Liquid rockets were still very delicate instuments and had a high failure rate. The complex guidance system was unreliable, and was vulnerable to jamming.

There was also a disagreement over which type bomber should carry Rascal. The Air Force first wanted it for the B-29, then the B-50, then the B-36, and finally, the B-47. Strategic Air Command, who never seemed terribly enthusiastic about a weapon Air Force headquarters insisted on, wanted first to arm the B-50, and then the B-36, but not the B-47.

By the time the missile was almost ready for deployment, the B-52 was in service, along with its own standoff weapon, the jet powered Hound Dog missile (AGM-28) with similar speed, but with a 500 mile range, and a simpler, more accurate inertial navigation system.


Filed under Air Force

“Make Sail!”

The Royal Navy in the age of sail was a force so dominant that it led a small island nation to rule over a quarter of the world’s population. How many of us are avid readers of historically inspired fiction of the era, such as the Aubrey/Maturin series, or Horatio Hornblower, among many others?

The Royal Navy was the greatest naval power in the world until World War II. The stupendous cost of the war, coupled with the unprecedented  growth of the US Navy saw the end of the RN as the master of the seas. Even so, for some time after, she would remain a significant force, with ships deployed worldwide for a variety of roles.

One such ship was HMS Dampier. Laid down as a Bay class anti-aircraft frigate in World War II, she would be commissioned in 1946 and serve for over 20 years as a hydrographic survey ship, mostly in the Far East.

In 1967, returning to Britain, the ship lost a screw near the off the coast of southern Africa. To be sure, the ship had twin shafts. But a 3000 mile journey, with only one shaft on an elderly machinery plant was a long way to limp home. And there were only three weeks until Christmas. It would be nice to reach home and hearth in time for the holiday. What to do?

Yes, they fashioned lug and square sails from awning canvas.

And made it home on the 23rd of December.

The crew apparently became quite adept at trimming and jibing. Old traditions, like old habits, die hard.


Filed under navy

The Death of HMS Vanguard

Look at Life was  a popular British film series, short 8-10 minute documentaries shown in British theaters before a main attraction. Most were upbeat and interesting, if somewhat overly chipper.

But the short on the end of HMS Vanguard, in spite of the relentless optimism of the of the narrator, is poignant and sad.

HMS Vanguard was the last battleship completed anywhere. Laid down during World War II, competing shipbuilding needs meant she wasn’t completed until after the end of the war. A modified Lion class, she bore King George VI on a Royal Visit to South Africa. Other than that, she mostly spent her time in routine training, and serving as the flagship for various fleets and stations. And in 1960, she was decommissioned, and sent to the Clyde for scrapping.


Filed under history, navy

Albert Wedemeyer and the Victory Plan

The 1941 Victory Plan came up in the comments about the mobilization of divisions for World War II.  It’s a topic that’s little known outside historical circles, but one worth serious scholarly study. Unfortantely, I’m pressed for time, so you only get the briefest gloss on the subject.

The US Army had for some time anticipated that it might be drawn into the war in Europe. And it had sown the seeds of a massive mobilization of the Army. In 1940, for the first time, the Congress enacted a peacetime draft, greatly swelling the ranks of the Army. But at that time, while the Army might anticipate being drawn into war with Germany, the nation was still at peace, and there was still a very strong isolationist sentiment in the country. The first role of the swelling Army authorized in 1940 was to train an Army for the defense of our own coasts, and then to provide task forces for the defense of the Western Hemisphere, particularly in areas such as the Caribbean and the Panama Canal.

With the increased cooperation with Britain in 1941, however, it came to be understood that if the US did in fact find itself at war with Germany, it would have to come to grips with the German army and destroy it. That meant deploying across the Atlantic.

That summer, GEN George C. Marshall tasked an obscure Major, Albert C. Wedemeyer to come up with a plan, outlining what the national objectives were (based on political guidance and the assumption that we would in fact join with Britain to fight Germany), what would be needed to defeat Germany in terms of forces, and the production and manpower required to fulfill that need.

With all the officers senior to Wedemeyer, even in the Pentagon, Marshall’s choice seems a touch odd. But Wedemeyer was hardly your run of the mill Major. He had a few things going for him. First, the wave of promotions the Regular Army was about to undergo hadn’t quite caught up to him yet. But like virtually all Regulars, he would have seen some level of promotion soon in the expanding Army. Second, he had spent the 20s and 30s largely in schools, schools that had made him almost uniquely qualified to undertake this task.

Wedemeyer knew the Germans better than almost any other officer in the War Plans Division. He’d actually attended their Kriegsakademie, the German Army Staff School.

Second, Wedemeyer had access to the Army Industrial College. Stung by the poor showing of American industry in the mobilization of World War I, the Army in 1924 set up a think tank to analyze the industrial capacity of the country, and determine which industries could be converted to militarily useful wartime production. The college had an encyclopedic knowledge of virtually every industry, virtually every set of machine tools in the entire nation. If you wanted to know where the Army could buy 8 million entrenching tools, the AIC had a master document that could show which companies could best convert to making them.

Most importantly, Marshall knew and trusted him. Marshall had a short list of officers he knew, or knew of, whose past performance had impressed him sufficiently that he would task them with seemingly impossible planning missions. Having assigned a task, Marshall would then leave the officer to work with little interference. If that officer measured up and produced, he would almost certainly be rewarded with promotion, and command. If the officer failed, he would be banished to less critical roles.

Wedemeyer understood that a modern industrial nation could realistically only put about 10% of its population in uniform. His estimates of manpower in total, and roughly how they would be equipped, and the industrial might required to do that, were incredibly prescient. His estimate that, accounting for the Navy and the Marines, that the Army would put about 8 million men in uniform spot on.

Where he erred badly, as noted in the comments of the previous post, was the estimate of the total number of divisions the Army could field. The rough number he estimated was 215 divisions. As it turned out, the Army would only activate 91 divisions. There were a couple reasons for this. Again, as noted in the comments, the support troops required were far in excess of original estimates. That includes both the institutional side of the Army dedicated to training troops, as well as the logisticians required to keep the Army in the field. Further, the numbers of non-divisional troops raised were far in excess of his estimates. For instance, the Army raised dozens of tank destroyer battalions during the war, none of which Wedemeyer anticipated in the Victory Plan. Similarly, he had not anticipated the large numbers of independent tank battalions, nor the large numbers of field artillery battalions outside of Division Artillery. In the event, the habitual attachment of a TD battalion and an independent tank battalion to almost every division in Western Europe resulted in a de facto level of armor in an infantry division that was utterly absent in Wehrmacht infantry divisions.

Wedemeyer did see that the relatively small triangular division would have to be heavy on firepower, with generous numbers of automatic weapons, mortars, field guns, anti-tank guns, and artillery. Further, it was incredibly mobile. US infantry divisions both had huge numbers of trucks assigned (compared to the German army) both as prime movers, and as lift for logistics and troop transport. And there were also huge numbers of non-divisional truck companies to support the logistics of the Army in the field.

Wedemeyer got far more right than he got wrong. Most importantly, with a fairly rational starting point, the Army could do just that- get started.

Marshall eventually rewarded Wedemeyer with stars, and duty in the Far East. Not as visible or as important as other theaters, Wedemeyer’s name is almost unknown outside military history circles. But that doesn’t diminish the incredible accomplishment of his Victory Plan.

For further reading, this is a good place to start.


Filed under history

World War II- Mobilization on an Industrial Scale- The Creation of a Division

From the Napoleonic Era through the end of WWII, the basic model of large scale land warfare was of the mobilization army. That is, a small professional army in peacetime would vastly expand in time of war by means of conscription of a major swath of the military aged male population. The standing army would provide the framework upon which to build new units, and the command structure of corps, armies and theater headquarters.

For most of this era, the regiment was the standard formation raised. Roughly 1000 men strong, and virtually all of it infantry, as little as a few weeks of drill would suffice as training before a conscription regiment was considered fit for duty.

But by the time of the beginning of World War II, the US Army had evolved its doctrine to embrace combined arms, especially the integration of infantry with artillery as a team. Further, advances in motorization, signals, and engineering, coupled with a shift to the division as a standing permanent formation, as well as being the primary tactical formation, meant that rather than simply raising regiments, the Army would focus on raising divisions, training them as a single unit, and once trained, deploying that entire division overseas to a theater commander as an integrated tactical unit.

First, let us take a quick look at the Army’s triangular infantry division. The division consisted of a headquarters, three Infantry regiments, a Division Artillery of roughly regimental size, and the Division troops, with such diverse units as the Engineer Combat Battalion, the Medical Battalion, the Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, Quartermaster, Ordnance, and Signal companies, and a Military Police Platoon.

All total, the division would have a strength of just over 14,000 officers and men. And virtually the entirety of the divisions men would be draftees with absolutely no military experience. The division would have to train them both in the most basic of military skills, then for the specialty the Army intended for them at an individual level, and finally, once some semblance of individual skills had been imparted, begin training the component units as units.

A couple months before a division was activated, the head of Army Ground Forces, LTG Leslie McNair, would sit down with the head of Army personnel and pick the future Division Commander, the Assistant Division Commander, and the Division Artillery Commander; that is, the three general officers of a division, one Major General, and two Brigadier Generals. Those officers would be sent to a short course at the Army’s Command and General Staff School to be indoctrinated on the organization, training, and tactical employment of the division

Concurrently, a cadre of about 1300 officers and senior NCOs would be selected from an existing division to form the skeleton of the new division. For instance, the Division staff, the commanders of the various regiments and battalions, and key positions in their staffs would be named. This cadre would also undergo training in anticipation of the division’s activation, but with more an emphasis on how to train the draftees that would shortly come into their charge.

The great majority of divisions raised for the war were infantry divisions McNair’s AGF laid out a standard training schedule that divisions would follow. Lasting roughly one year, at the end of a crawl-walk-run approach to unit training, AGF would have produced a division that it could release for embarkation overseas to a theater commander.

The broad overview of the training schedule looked like this:

17 weeks of basic and advanced training
    13 weeks of unit training
    14 weeks of combined arms training and large-scale exercises
    8 weeks of final training

The first 17 weeks would be devoted to what today we would call Initial Entry Training. Rather than conducting basic training at another post and then joining the division, here the division bootstrapped its own basic training course, over about 8 weeks, and then conducted what amounted to Military Occupational Specialty training for the many, many different jobs in the division.

The 13 weeks of unit training would quickly build from the team to the battalion level. Examples might start small, such as the rifle squad in the defense, then quickly grow to an entire company live fire attack course.

Fourteen weeks of combined arms training was where the division’s regiments began integrating with the supporting divisional artillery battalions, forming the Infantry/Artillery team that was the heart of the division’s combat power. See also this link.

The final 8 weeks of training ideally saw the entire division maneuvering as a single unit, and exercised not just the combat troops, but also the logistical elements of the division. And of course, as larger and larger units maneuvered, the staffs and headquarters of those units became more familiar with how to best employ them.

The Chief of Staff of the Army, GEN George Marshall, was a great believer in large-scale, force on force maneuvers. During unit and combined arms training, the various companies, battalions and regiments of a division could square off against one another. Eventually, the division would conduct maneuvers against another division going through its own mobilization and training.

Having completed its year long training schedule, the division would continue training at various levels until such time as it was alerted for embarkation and deployment.

Two other major ingredients were needed for the division’s recipe. One was equipment. The other was a post, or cantonment for the troops to live and train on. Personnel turbulence would also have a major effect on a division’s ability to constitute itself and train for deployment.

The common perception today is the the US simply produced vast quantities of all the material needed for war. And to be sure, the US did pull off a miracle of manufacturing. But in the early stages of mobilization, the production of equipment was not yet vast enough to equip units as they were activated. Typically, as a division was planned for activation, the Quartermaster Corps would begin planning to issue all the thousands of different pieces of equipment a division would need, from uniforms to rifles, to trucks, artillery pieces, signal wire for field telephones and untold other numbers of items.

But as noted, rarely was the production of war material sufficient to fully equip a division. Usually, a division would be issued roughly half the equipment its tables of organization called for. That limited allocation would at least allow the division to begin training.

But while a partial allocation might be enough to begin training, it was usually only sufficient to train at the individual and small team level. A division however, is more than a collection of small teams. It was a carefully designed tactical formation, a weapon that was more than the sum of its parts. It was designed to be wielded as an entire formation, and as such, it needed to train at all levels, from the individual up through and including the entire division. But putting the entire division through its paces was clearly impossible without its full complement of equipment.

Of course, the division’s Quartermasters would attempt to draw the rest of the division’s equipment as training went along. The hope was that by the time regimental and divisional level training took place, the full allocation of equipment would be on hand.

It rarely worked so smoothly. First, even as the Army was struggling to mobilize divisions, industry was still struggling to ramp up production of military equipment. Worse, just about the time the fruits of that production started to come forth, Lend Lease came upon the scene, and much of what the Army had planned for was suddenly diverted to Britain, Russia, China, and other Allied nations.

Even as divisions trained on what little equipment they had, changes were afoot. New models of equipment or entirely new types were introduced into service, meaning that a division would have to completely retrain on new equipment. One example is the basic rifle of the Army. M1 Garand production was slower than hoped, so prior to 1943, virtually all the divisions created trained throughout their mobilization with the M1903A3 Springfield rifle. Only when they were alerted for embarkation for overseas service would they receive M1 rifles.

The production of equipment and the mobilization of divisions did not often align, and neither did the mobilization of divisions, and the need for divisions to deploy. Early deployment of US forces, particularly before our entry into the war in December 1941, were usually regimental sized and limited to the Western Hemisphere for the defense of advance bases in places such as the Caribbean. Early campaigns such as the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch employed divisions that hadn’t fully completed their training. Worse, not having the full complement of their equipment, they were forced to strip other divisions in training of what little equipment they’d managed to gather. That had a knock on effect of delaying the training of those units. It would be well into 1943 before a division could reasonably expect to have a complete divisional set of equipment for the final phases of its training.

Simply keeping people in the division during training was a struggle. One of the key concepts of the Army in WWII was that we would field a small overall number of divisions, but they would be kept at full strength through individual replacements once committed to combat operations.

But even before deployment, indeed, throughout training, a division would face a drain on its manpower. The cadre that first formed the core of a division had come from another division, further along in the training pipeline. Eventually, our division in training would be tasked to calve off 1100 or so of its most experienced officers and men to form the cadre of yet another division. This large-scale turnover in often key personnel was often a significant blow to the training of a division. And it wasn’t the only drain on manpower. Throughout the Army, volunteers were sought for special programs, such as Airborne training, special units, transfers to the Air Corps, and large numbers of the brightest enlisted men to attend Officer’s Candidate School (OCS). New draftees would be sent to bring the division back up to strength during its training, but the need to train those draftees at the individual level while simultaneously trying to train the units at higher levels was a challenge. Turnover of a quarter of a division’s personnel was not uncommon, and as much as half in some cases.

We will describe the challenges of providing a post and associated facilities for raising and training a wartime division in a later post.

In spite of the challenges facing a division commander when tasked to raise a division for service in World War II, the Army, and LTG McNair’s Army Ground Forces had devised a well thought out program that did allow the Army to raise and train divisions rapidly. Some divisions were better trained than others when deployed, but that was often more a matter of the talents of the commanders than of the training program devised. The division making process was successful enough that of the five US divisions committed to the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, arguably the single most important day of the war, three had never before been in combat.


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, history