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U.S. Army organizational structure in World War II

Discussion in 'General Military Arms & History Forum' started by 17thfabn, Jan 1, 2010.

  1. 17thfabn

    17thfabn New Member

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    What do you think about how the U.S. Army Divisions and independent battalions were organized in World War II?

    To a large extent General Lesley McNair was the man tasked with setting up the organizational structure of U.S. Army Divisions and independent battalions.

    I would like this thread to be about how effectively these units were organized.

    American units by and large were very standardized:

    All the standard infantry divisions were organized the same. The exceptions being the airborne divisions, the one mountain division (10th) and the 1st Cavalry Division. All the other American Army Infantry Divisions had three infantry regiments with three battalions each. There were four artillery battalions in divisional artillery, three with 105mm howitzers and one with 155mm howitzers. Plus an engineer battalion and other support forces.

    All but two of the Armored Divisions were organized under the “light structure” with three each, tank, armored infantry, and armored artillery battalions + one recon battalion and one engineer battalion. The 1st and 3rd retained the older “heavy structure”. The 1st was fighting in Italy, and the 3rd was getting ready to go into France at the time of the reorganization so they were left under their old structure.

    The American Army’s (General McNair’s ???) idea was to augment the standard Infantry and Armored Divisions as needed for its missions, for example:

    An Infantry Division on the offensive in “good tank country” might get a tank battalion, self propelled tank destroyer battalion, additional artillery battalions, and maybe a 4.2” mortar battalion and MECHANIZED CAVALRY RECONNAISSANCE SQUADRON

    An Infantry Division on the defensive in “good tank country” might only have a towed tank destroyer battalion and additional artillery battalions assigned.

    An Infantry Division on the defensive in “poor tank country” might have no additional units assigned, and have one of its infantry regiments loaned out to another Division that was on the offensive.

    German forces on the other hand had a wide variety of divisional structures. Some German Army infantry divisions had three regiments with three battalions each. Others had two regiments with three battalions each. And then there were the Luftwaffe field divisions, Vokssturm and S.S. divisions. These units were not interchangeable due to the wide variance in equipment and man power these units had. And the Japanese Army in World War II was even worse in this regard.

    I think one of the weaknesses of the U.S. Infantry Divisions and the Armored Infantry Companies in the Armored Divisions was their reliance on the towed 57mm anti-tank gun in the anti-tank role. It was a good weapon when introduced by the British in 1942. And in 1944-45 it could still deal with the majority of German armor, the Pz.Kpfw III, Pz.Kpfw IV and various self propelled guns and tank destroyers. But it could only take on the Panther and Tiger tanks from the sides and rear. Something better was needed.

    The setting up of a high proportion of the tank destroyer battalions as towed was a mistake that the Army saw and towards the end of the war most of these battalions were converted to self propelled battalions.
    The cannon companies in the Infantry Regiments with their short barreled M3 infantry howitzer seem redundant. These three companies could have been grouped to form an additional battalion at divisional artillery level and given the standard M2 howitzer that had longer range and better accuracy.

    Probably one of the areas that could be most improved in the American force structure was the choice of squad automatic weapon. The 12 man American infantry squad had one B.A.R. (Browning automatic rifle) which was a fully automatic weapon firing 30-06 rounds from a 20 round magazine as its base of fire weapon. A German infantry squad would have an mg34 or mg42 that were belt fed as their squad automatic weapon. At squad level the Germans had more fire power than the U.S. Army. Some efforts were made to improve U.S. squad fire power. Some Army infantry squads were issued a second B.A.R. Some squads were issued the belt fed M1919A6. This was an adaption of the M1919A4. But the M1919A6 was an awkward heavy weapon for the squad automatic weapon role. Something with the size and weight of the German mg 42 would have been better. I think the mg 42’s rate of fire was excessive. An American belt fed machine gun the size and weight of the mg42 on a bipod, possibly with the ability to fire from a tripod, with a quick change barrel and firing at around 600 rpm would have been what was needed. The American M60 that came out 20 years latter would have fit the bill. If the sainted John Moses Browning was still alive in the 40’s he could have designed something to fit this role.
  2. wpage

    wpage Active Member

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    How does this compare to the current array?
  3. 17thfabn

    17thfabn New Member

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    I think the only weapon a 1944 U.S. infantry division had that would still be in standard use would be the 50 cal M2 machine guns.

    60mm mortars are used by light units, but it is a newer model.

    81mm mortars are still in general use, but again it is a newer model.

    105mm howitzers are only used by light divisions, air borne, air assault, and mountain divisions. And again it is a lighter model

    155mm howitzer is now the standard howitzer for the Army. In most cases it is the self propelled model. With the lighter units it is the towed model. Again this weapon has been upgraded.

    The .45 colt automatic and .45 "grease gun" submachine guns went out of general use in the 80's.
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