3-125 Editorial Note on War Department Reorganization, May 9, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: May 9, 1942

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on War Department Reorganization

May 9, 1942

By the end of 1941, the army’s eight-fold expansion over the past biennium (and a doubling of that was planned for 1942) had overwhelmed the War Department’s antiquated, overly centralized administrative machinery. But this structure was mandated by law, and until Congress passed and the president signed the First War Powers Act on December 18, 1941, not even the commander in chief had the authority to redistribute power and responsibility within the department. While the chief of staff had the assistance of numerous military agencies in exercising his authority over the army, the General Staff had not developed into an organization empowered to keep the various commands and agencies working together effectively. (Ray S. Cline, Washington Command Post: The Operations Division, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1951], pp. 6-7, 91.) The ability of individual officers in the War Department personally to direct and supervise the myriad of details was becoming increasingly evident. “We must fight the fact that the War Department is a poor command post,” Marshall told his staff two days after the Pearl Harbor attack. (Frank McCarthy Notes on Conference in General Marshall’s Office, December 9, 1941, NA/ RG 165 [OCS, Chief of Staff Conferences File].)

In November 1941 Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold took the lead in advocating a thorough reorganization of the department. He wanted a streamlined structure that would allow the air forces to play a more effective role within the department as a whole. His ideas impressed Marshall, who assigned Major General Joseph T. McNarney to devise a feasible organization. When it became apparent in January 1942 that McNarney’s group did not fully comprehend the service and supply functions and their special needs, Major General Brehon B. Somervell, who was reorganizing his G-4 division, instigated a more collaborative reform effort. By mid-February, Somervell had submitted a proposal for a new Services of Supply, with wide-ranging administrative responsibilities. Marshall accepted the McNarney-Somervell reorganization plan, received Stimson’s approval, and approached Roosevelt with a draft executive order.

At this point an uncertain Roosevelt wanted to clarify the president’s role as commander in chief of the army. He suggested that the following language be added: “the Commander-in-Chief exercises his command function in relation to strategy, tactics and operations directly through the Chief of Staff.” Writing to Stimson, Roosevelt observed, “You, as Secretary of War, apart from your administrative responsibilities, would, of course, advise me on military matters.” Then to further clarify this chain of command, the reorganizers amended Executive Order 9082 to read: “Such duties by the Secretary of War are to be performed subject always to the exercise by the President directly through the Chief of Staff of his functions as Commander-in-Chief.” The president signed the order on February 28, 1942. (John D. Millett, The Organization and Role of the Army Service Forces, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1954], pp. 23-33; Otto L. Nelson, National Security and the General Staff [Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1946], pp. 347-48; Roosevelt to Stimson, February 26, 1942, and Stimson to Roosevelt, February 27, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 020].)

In a sweeping reorganization effective March 9, 1942, the War Department fundamentally altered the role of General Staff and created three major administrative commands to run the operations of the army. But an inherent contradiction still lay in the role of the chief of staff, no longer commanding general of the Field Forces, but as immediate military adviser to the secretary of war and the president, and as the secretary’s executive. While the rest of the General Staff confined itself to policy planning, an Operations Division was created to execute the chief of staff’s directives. Through his Washington command post, the chief of staff conducted both strategic planning and coordinated the army’s global operations. (Cline, Washington Command Post, pp. 92-95; Nelson, National Security and the General Staff pp. 393-96. The revised and expanded War Plans Division was formally redesignated the Operations Division on March 23, 1942.)

After March 9, three major commands assumed the burden of administering the operations of the army: the Army Air Forces, the Army Ground Forces, and the Services of Supply (redesignated the Army Service Forces on March 12, 1943). The Army Air Forces had been operating under a complex dual system, which distinguished between adminstrative and planning functions, since mid-1941. But this system had in effect created a second general staff—one functioning solely for the airmen. With reorganization the commanding general of the Army Air Forces assumed authority over all air personnel and equipment disposition, training, doctrine and aircraft development, specific air forces construction and supply, and all aerial operations except by units assigned to other commands. (Nelson, National Security and the General Staff pp. 380-82.)

The reorganization provided unity to ground forces suffering from the competitive and compartmentalized branch system. It removed the autonomous chiefs of arms and branches with their powerful bureaus that controlled doctrine, equipment, and personnel disposition. Under the commanding general of the Army Ground Forces, a single administrative command coordinated the disposition of personnel, the development of doctrine and equipment, the operation of training centers and schools, and the organization and preparation of task forces for duty in the field. (Ibid., pp. 378-80. See the Appendix, pp. 718-19, for a description of the new organizational structure.)

Most burdened by the accretion of numerous bureaus and offices, the newly created Services of Supply conducted all experimental development of equipment, procurement, construction, supply, and transportation for the army at home and, through its lower echelons overseas, for the army in the field. Similarly all War Department administration—budgets, personnel induction, and records maintenance—fell to the Services of Supply, which was under the command of newly promoted Lieutenant General Somervell. (Ibid., pp. 382-84; Millett, Organization and Role of the Army Service Forces, p. 37.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 127-129.

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