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US Army Ground Forces in World War II

Although the strength of American armed forces in World War II reached approximately 12,000,000, the strength of combat units of the Army Ground Forces, including combat engineer and signal troops, never exceeded 2,300,000, and the strength of all ground units intended for the combat zones, including close-support services, never exceeded 2,700,000. Almost as many combat ground troops has been forthcoming in 1918 for the single theater of the American Expeditionary Force. In World War II they were needed on opposite sides of the globe.

There were conceivably two ways in which the headquarters of the Army Ground Forces might have sought to increase the combat strength of the ground army. One would have been to protest against ceilings set by the War Department, to demand with insistence that men and materials be furnished more liberally. General McNair, while he repeatedly recommended increased authorizations for combatant ground troops, was not one to take issue indefinitely with the decisions of higher authority. In any case more men or materials would have been difficult to obtain, so enormous were the calls of the Air Forces, the Service Forces and the Navy upon the national stock of manpower and productive facilities, to which the requirements of foreign powers for equipment produced in the United States must be added. The requirements of the Ground Forces, until 1944, did not enjoy a high relative priority.

The other way was to organize men and materials, in the quantity provided, in such a manner as to produce a maximum of fighting power. It was the method of economy, entirely congenial to General McNair. Economy, it should be remembered, properly means not getting along with the least possible but getting the most out of what one has -- not a minimizing of effort, but a maximizing of results. General McNair hoped, by reducing the size of units, to make it possible to mobilize and ship a large number of units. He hoped also, by pooling and by flexible organization, to make every unit available for maximum employment at all times.

The need of drastic economy was not usually clear to theater commanders who could not fully understand that the bottom of the barrel was in sight, at least for practical purposes and so far as combatant ground troops were concerned. Nor was General McNair's sense of urgency in the matter always fully shared by his subordinate commanders in the field, or by officers of the War Department General Staff. To General McNair it was evident, by the close of 1942, that every man, weapon and ship ton made available to the Ground Forces must be used to the utmost, at whatever strain to individuals concerned, and that economy of ground forces was vital to winning the war, in so far as large ground operations by American troops might be necessary to winning. How far this might be was not clear in advance even to officers of the Army Ground Forces, but it was the business of the Army Ground Forces to assume that large-scale ground combat would develop.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:37:52 ZULU