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Divisions in World War II

George Marshall became Acting Chief of Staff in July 1939, and was sworn in as Chief of Staff on 1 September 1939, the day the Germans invaded Poland. The newly promoted general headed a Regular Army of some 189,000; the National Guard, none of it federalized, had a total strength of 199,000. About one-fourth of the Regulars were stationed outside the continental United States, and the remainder dispersed among 130 posts, mostly in battalion-size garrisons.

Stationed in Texas against trouble out of Mexico were two understrength Regular divisions, one of them horse cavalry; no other formations in the United States were assigned specific contingency missions. Corps area headquarters were administrative, territorial commands, and field armies existed only on paper. For land combat, there were immediately available three half-strength infantry divisions, two cavalry "divisions" of about 1,200 men each, and one half-strength mechanized brigade. Six infantry divisions were at cadre strength.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor the Army had thirty-six divisions, excluding the Philippine Division, and two brigades on active duty. The nation was thus much better prepared for war in December 1941 than in April 1917.

After 7 December 1941 the General Staff also turned its attention to the future size of the Army and the number of divisions required to wage and win the war. Some officers believed that as many as 350 divisions might be needed, while others estimated considerably fewer. Outside considerations included the manpower needs of the other services and civilian industry as well as the speed at which divisions could be organized, equipped, and trained given the limited pool of experienced leaders and industrial limitations.

On the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor General McNair, then Chief of Staff, General Headquarters, estimated that an army of 200 divisions could be necessary for offensive action by the United States. Expectations of the War Department General Staff (WDGS), ran in 1942 to somewhat the same figure. A study of the Joint Chiefs on the ultimate size of the Army envisaged 334 divisions, an Air Force of 2,700,000 and an antiaircraft artillery force of no less than 1,120,000. These forecasts for the American army were in the nature of preplanning estimates, and are significant mainly in illustrating the feeling at the time. Practical and specific planning could hardly look beyond a year into the future. In the spring of 1942 the United States, ejected from the Philippines, was everywhere on the defensive. The military value of its allies was profoundly open to question, the British having been driven from Singapore and being hard pressed in the Middle East, and the Russians making a seemingly, desperate stand on the Volga.

Before 1940 the term "Army of the United States" had embraced the Regular Army, the National Guard while in the service of the United States, and the Organized Reserves. With the growth of the force, the term Army of the United States was broadened to encompass units that had not been a part of the mobilization plans during the inter-war years. The 25th Infantry Division was the first division-size unit activated under the expanded definition.

The plan in effect at the time of the establishment of the Army Ground Forces was the troop basis issued by the War Department in January 1942, about five weeks after the entrance of the United States into the War. The Army at the time of Pearl Harbor, after fifteen months of peacetime mobilization, consisted of about 1,600,000 men. Some 36 divisions had been organized. The Air Corps had a personnel of only 270,000. Certain types of service units had not been developed in the proportions needed in war. The troop basis of January 1942 provided that by the end of that year the Army should reach a strength of 3,600,000 enlisted men to include 73 divisions and an Air Force of 998,000. So far as ground forces were concerned, emphasis was placed on the mobilization of new divisions. Divisions required a year to train. Nondivisional units, whether of combat or service types, could for the most part be trained in six months. It was therefore believed that the nondivision program could proceed more slowly.

It was generally agreed by the summer of 1942 that activations of service units, were getting out of hand. By September 1942 the number of enlisted men authorized to put a division into combat had risen to 50,000, of which only 15,000 represented organic divisional strength. New units were created, but men failed to appear and shortages mounted. By September 1942 the Ground Forces were short 330,000 men; or over 30 percent of authorized unit strength. The Air Forces were short 103,000, or 16 percent, the Services of Supply 34,000, or 5 percent.

Planning began in the spring of 1942 for the augmentation of the Army to be made in 1943. The Operations Division of the War Department General Staff wished to add 67 divisions in 1943 and 47 in 1944, bringing the total of divisions to 140 at the close of 1943 and 187 at the close of 1944. G-3 of the War Department expressed his belief that only 37 divisions should be added in 1943, in view of limitations on shipping and construction and the undesirability of withdrawing men from industry and agriculture too long before they could be employed in military operations.

By October 1942, the War Department had revised downward its plans for producing combat divisions from over 200 to a new goal, projecting 100 divisions by the end of 1943. On 24 November 1942, nearly a year after United States entered the war, the War Department published a troop basis that called for a wartime force structure of 100 divisions - 62 infantry, 20 armored, 10 motorized, 6 airborne, and 2 cavalry - to be organized by 1943 within a total Army force of 8,208,000 men. The 100-division Army with an enlisted strength of 7,533,000 included enlisted strength proposed for ground combat units of 2,811,000.

At the close of 1942 the Army could look back on a year of unprecedented expansion. Almost four million men had been added during the year, actual strength (including officers) having risen from 1,657,157 to 5,400,888. Thirty-seven new divisions had been called into being. Seventy-three were in existence.

The sequence for inducting infantry divisions considered such factors as the number of World War I battle honors earned by units; the location and availability of training sites, particularly in the corps areas where divisions were located; and the ability of the Army to furnish divisional cadres. Based on these considerations, the staff established a tentative order, beginning with the 77th Division, which had the most combat service in World War I, and ending with the 103d, which had not been organized during World War I.

The War Department expanded the number of divisions in the Army of the United States. Induction of the infantry divisions began on 25 March 1942, and by 31 December, twenty-six of the twenty-seven divisions were on active duty. The 97th Infantry Division was not inducted into active military service until February 1943 because personnel were not available for its reorganization. Since none of these divisions had reserve cadre or equipment, the Army Ground Forces had to rebuild them totally.

Reversing a post-World War I policy, the staff planned to activate some all-black divisions to accommodate the large number of black draftees. On 15 May 1942 Army Ground Forces organized the 93d Infantry Division at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Although it had the same number as the provisional Negro unit of World War I, it had no relationship or lineal tie with the old 93d. Following its activation, the Army Staff chartered at least three more all-black infantry divisions the 92d, 105th, and 107th. The 92d Division, the all-black unit of World War I, was to be reconstituted, but the other two were to be new units. Under the plan, the 93d Infantry Division was to furnish the cadre for the 92d, the 92d for the 105th, and the 105th for the 107th. Army Ground Forces organized the 92d on 15 October 1942, but a shortage of personnel for worldwide service units prevented the formation of the others. Eventually the 105th and 107th Divisions were dropped from the activation list.

By 31 December 1942 the Army had fielded 1 cavalry, 2 airborne, 5 motorized, 14 armored, and 51 infantry divisions, for a total of 73 active combat divisions. In January 1943, in recognition of Army Ground Force [AGF]'s difficulties in meeting deployment schedules, it postponed into 1944 a total of 12 of the divisions scheduled for activation in 1943. By 1944, it was clear that activating 12 more divisions would not be feasible; every soldier would be needed to man the divisions on hand. As it turned out, by the end of 1944 there were only 90 divisions in the United States Army, whose aggregate strength (not counting the Air Forces) was then approximately 5,700,000 showing a ratio of over 60,000 per division.

The overall force structure for the war was 85 infantry, armored and airborne divisions activated and trained in the United States; in addition, one cavalry division was converted to an infantry division for the Pacific theater, and three divisions were raised and trained there.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:35:38 ZULU