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Corps - World War II

The division, the largest T/O unit, was the largest unit shipped to the theaters in the form in which it was made up in the United States. Armies and corps were not shipped as such. What was shipped was the elements - divisions, separate battalions and companies, group headquarters, corps headquarters, and army headquarters. Overseas commanders made up their armies and corps from these elements as they chose. Armies and corps (also groups) were simply so many containers, between which the actual contents of the Army, T/O divisions, battalions and companies, were passed back and forth at will. Units were taken out of containers in the United States, shipped overseas, and put into new containers on arriving in the theater. Containers were shipped separately.

All containers were supplied by the Army Ground Forces with a few exceptions. The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Armies were activated overseas. So were all army groups and the First Allied Airborne Army. The First Army went to Europe directly from the Eastern Defense Command, never having been under the commanding general of the Army Ground Forces. These were the only exceptions. All corps were trained by the Army Ground Forces or its predecessor GHQ, and all those activated after 9 March 1942 were activated by the Army Ground Forces. By 1945 there were twenty-four corps, of which only one remained in the United-States. On the matter of armies General McNair proceeded slowly. He rejected advice of his staff, in 1942, to activate additional armies under his own command.189 Using the principle of flexibility to its utmost, he employed only the Second and Third Armies (and four independent corps) even when troops under his command reached their maximum, in August 1943, of sixty-seven divisions with corresponding non-divisional units.

For a short time at the end of 1943 the Second, Third and Fourth Armies were in the Army Ground Forces. The Third (i.e., its headquarters) then proceeded overseas. No new armies were activated by the Army Ground Forces until 1944, when the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth and Fifteenth Armies were activated and shipped in quick succession. Meanwhile the Second and Fourth Armies remained in the United States in the Army Ground Forces. The identity of these armies persisted, in name only, for it was largely their headquarters personnel, trained in army functions, which went overseas under new army designations. By January 1945 not a single division was left in the Second and Fourth Armies, which, virtually exhausted of troops of every kind, remained as empty containers awaiting the return of units to the United States.

The Army Ground Forces, though it shipped no armies or corps as such, nevertheless largely determined the form taken by armies and corps in the theaters. Theater commanders could build armies and corps as they pleased, but they worked with prefabricated materials. Every unit, whether troop unit or headquarters unit, was shaped by its T/O and E to perform certain functions and stand in a certain relation to other units, and it was for this function and this relation that its personnel were trained in the United States.

The idea insisted upon by General McNair was that the army was both a combat and an administrative agency, the corps a combat agency only, unless operating independently, in which case it should be reinforced to function as a small army.190 In administration and supply the army was intended to bypass the corps, and to a certain extent the division. For supply of food, fuel and ammunition, in the words of an AGF directive already quoted, "division and corps are not in the channel of supply, except in emergencies."191 Non-divisional battalions and separate companies, and the regiments and battalions within divisions, were provided with supply machinery expected to mesh directly with that of army. Army was to push forward supply points to positions accessible to the trucks of small using units. Army personnel sorted supplies into unit lots, and loaded the trucks arriving at supply points.

To enable army to discharge this role the troop basis included a great mass of units for assignment to armies or independent corps as needed - quartermaster truck, railhead and gasoline supply companies, ordnance ammunition companies, and depot companies of the several services. Similarly army provided third echelon maintenance for both divisions and non-divisional units, a function for which a mass of ordnance maintenance, engineer maintenance, chemical maintenance and signal repair companies were provided. Army likewise evacuated disabled or captured equipment, provided hospitals, and furnished reinforcing medical collecting and clearing companies for units whose needs exceeded their organic means. Facilities for major undertakings in bridge-building, water-supply, map-making, photography, etc., were likewise provided in engineer and signal units assigned to army.

The corps was conceived as essentially a commander and a handful of staff officers who gave unity of direction and continuity of purpose to a mass of units in combat, however much the individual units might be used up, exchanged or replaced. All combat units in an army, except those in army reserve, were intended to be passed on to the several corps, shifting from one corps to another at the discretion of the army commander. Corps operated the pools of non-divisional combat units - corps artillery, cavalry squadrons, engineers, tanks, tank destroyers, chemical battalions, etc. -- either distributing them to divisions by attachment, or using them to support a division most in need, or assembling them for mass action, or holding them in reserve. With the divisions lacking many weapons organically, and held down by T/O's to the minimum required for "normal" operations, the corps became the key headquarters for employing all combat elements in a proper tactics of combined arms.

With all corps made flexible, and the type corps abolished, the armored corps became an unnecessary special unit. General McNair in 1943 assigned armored divisions, as they completed their training under the Armored Force, to ordinary army corps as well as to armored corps, in order that all higher commanders might gain experience with armor. At the same time the abolition of the motorized division, designed for use in an armored corps, and the concentration of service functions in army, including the servicing of armor, deprived the armored corps of its specific functions. A a result, although four armored corps had been activated, they were not very different from ordinary army corps. The armored corps was abolished as a special unit in August 1943. Under the flexible system, any corps could be made into an armored corps by assignment of officers experienced in armor to its headquarters, and by assignment of armored divisions, truck companies to motorize its infantry divisions, and other suitable units. It was believed that services necessary to armored and fast-moving forces -- gasoline supply, bridging, maintenance -- could be moved forward by army with sufficient speed.

The Army Ground Forces, to obtain the structure in training which was intended to be used in combat, carried out a general reorganization of its army and corps troops in 1943, at which time the great bulk of combat units and close-support services were under AGF command. In 1942 the headquarters of the Army Ground Forces had assigned some units, but merely attached others, to its subordinate armies and corps. Assigned units had generally been those organic in the type organizations. Beginning in January 1943 the Army Ground Forces assigned all units to its subordinate commands, which in turn might attach them to their own subordinate echelons.193 Virtually all non-divisional service units were assigned by the Army Ground Forces to armies and separate corps, virtually all combat units to corps.

The ordnance battalion and the medical battalion formerly assigned to corps disappeared, their places taken by self-sustaining ordnance and medical companies, grouped in flexible battalions and assigned to armies (or separate corps). Reassignment became general in August 1943. At this time a mass of new T/O and E's was published, consummating the work of the Reduction Board, and reshaping units in the light of their intended position within armies and corps. At one sweep, as of midnight 8-9 August, about 200 non-divisional combat units were reassigned from armies to corps. Corps commanders were instructed to hold these units in corps pools, not to attach them to divisions except for specified periods for combined training.

Effects of army and corps reorganization may be seen in the type organizations of 1942, second, the actual composition of the Third Army as of 1 October 1942, and third, the composition of the Third Army as of 10 November 1943, after readjustments as described above had been made. The concentration of service elements under army is evident, as is the distribution of combat elements to corps. The use of brigade and group headquarters can be seen, and of the flexible battalion for medical, ordnance and quartermaster companies. The cavalry brigade and the mechanized cavalry and quartermaster regiments were survivals of the older organization, due for gradual elimination. The assignment of separate tank battalions to corps in significant numbers was at this date a new phenomenon, few such battalions having formerly been available, to the great detriment of combined infantry-tank training of smaller units. The mixing of infantry and armored divisions in the same corps for combined training at higher levels can be noted. The fact that the XIX Corps had until recently been the III Armored Corps reveals itself by the presence in this corps of two armored divisions and of a treadway bridge company and two separate armored infantry battalions. It will be observed that the VIII Corps had no troops whatsoever. This is because the VIII Corps was alerted for overseas movement, and was awaiting shipment as an empty container.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:35:21 ZULU