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"WWII and the G.I." Topic

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05 Dec 2018 6:33 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Areas of Interest

World War Two on the Land

956 hits since 15 May 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian15 May 2018 11:34 a.m. PST

Historian Roger J. Spiller once wrote:

The war on the ground was predominantly the infantryman's war. Despite notable advances in the equipment and techniques of armored warfare, this war belonged to the GI.

Do you agree?

Wherethestreetshavnoname15 May 2018 12:20 p.m. PST

Useless without any context.

deephorse15 May 2018 12:46 p.m. PST

It doesn't need context. Infantry are the ‘Queen of Battle'. You need infantry to capture and hold ground, something that the Navy, Air Force and tanks are not particularly good at. It's such an obvious statement that I'm surprised that it needs to be discussed at all, and certainly not be the subject of a poll.

Legion 415 May 2018 2:51 p.m. PST

I generally agree with deephorse … But of course I'm biased …

That being said @70-75% of all losses in a conflict are in the Infantry for obvious reasons I'd think …

USAFpilot15 May 2018 3:06 p.m. PST

Infantry is queen of battle, but artillery is king. ;-)

No matter past, present, or future conflict, you will always need troops on the ground to occupy and hold land once it has been taken.

Legion 415 May 2018 3:25 p.m. PST

All know the Queen tells the King where to … well you know the rest … evil grin

That being said, as a former Inf Plt Ldr and Mech Co Cdr, one of the many "first" things we trained to do was call-in indirect fires. Or just tell your FST the coordinates of where to place the fire support.

FA Destroys
Armor Seizes
Infantry Holds

A very simplistic "saying" but in a very broad sense it is generally accurate.

But of course we were all trained to be Combined Arms warriors. Grunts, tanks, FA, Gunships, CAS, etc. working together in a coordinated effort to kill, capture and destroy enemy personnel and equipment.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP15 May 2018 3:31 p.m. PST

Infantry is queen of battle, but artillery is king.

Yeah, but Nagasaki and Hiroshima got one helluva joker …

But, yeah, I see the author's point.

The war on the ground was predominantly the infantryman's war

Infantry did very poorly in the air and open ocean.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 May 2018 5:36 p.m. PST

Suddenly tankers and gun bunnies are not GI's? The man needs to get his vocabulary straight before we dissect his thesis.

Mark 115 May 2018 7:16 p.m. PST

Treadheads are GIs? OK I can see that. Maybe not crunchies, but GIs.

Still, the author in question used the term "infantryman", which I think leaves little to argue over.

That said, I think the hypothesis is a little weak.

The war on the ground was predominantly the infantryman's war.

Yes, it was an infantryman's war, if we are asking who was the most numerous participant. Or who suffered the most casualties.

But I'm not at all sure we would get to the same answer if we asked who's participation was the most decisive, or who's participation characterized the differences between WW2 and other wars, whether before or after.

Couldn't win without the infantryman? Yes, quite agree.

But … could you win with just the infantryman? Nope. Ask the Romanians or the Finns about that one.

What made WW2 different from all wars before it was the contribution the tank and aircraft made to victory in Europe, and that aircraft made to victory in the Pacific.

(And before the rabid squids get me I am NOT suggesting the navies didn't play a key role. Only that there were many wars prior to WW2 where navies also played a key role.)

And what made WW2 different from all wars to follow was that for several major combatants, mechanization had not yet reached the infantry. So they still had foot soldiers a-plenty, even though they had tanks and planes a-plenty too.

So if we ask what characterized WW2 combat, what made it distinct from wars before and wars after (other than shear scale), it was the combination of tanks and aircraft with foot-soldiers.

If the Germans proved anything to the annals of military art, it was that an armored spearhead could defeat dug-in defenses, even if the bulk of the army was still foot-bound.

Then most everyone else proved that armored spearheads with motorized and mechanized following formations could out-maneuver even the masters of tank warfare, because the spearhead can't be everywhere at once.

So today any major combatant will have fully mobile forces (except in special circumstances like elite light infantry). Only the 3rd-tier combatants will still rely on foot-power.

And we all know the redlegs are just there for show anyway, right?

(aka: Mk 1)
(…digging his shelter as fast as he can)

Lee49415 May 2018 8:53 p.m. PST

All wars have been and will be infantryman s wars whether riding on a horse or in a helicopter or apc or some robo contraption in the future. You don't own it unless an infantryman with a rifle and bayonet is standing on it. All other land branches are simply support to accomplish that end. Cheers!

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2018 2:57 a.m. PST

If the Germans proved anything to the annals of military art, it was that an armored spearhead could defeat dug-in defenses, even if the bulk of the army was still foot-bound.

Except when they didn't, the Maginot Line, Tobruk, El Alamein, Monte Cassino, Stalingrad, Kursk, Abbeville etc.

Panzers (and tanks in general) usually work best when they find the gap in the line where they can pour through without getting tied down to assault enemy lines. An enemy who knows what they are doing and has the means the hold the line remained a serious problem in WWII, especially when mobility as a tool of victory was being denied.

Now when it comes to the GI, it's clear that they were probably among the best fighting troops of WWII. Not because individual soldiers were exceptionally good, but because the US army deployed so many means relative to each individual soldier the comparison with other troops is simply ludicrous.

German infantry relied mostly on two weapons, the MG and the grenade. Everything else was mostly window-dressing. Support came from more MG's one a superbly designed tripod mount that could lay down some serious firepower. The rest was mostly mortars and infantry guns. The majority rarely saw a truck let alone a tank to support them and they were almost never used by them other than some fortuitous accidental turn of circumstances. Higher echelon artillery was available, but doesn't really relate to infantry on their scale.

The US infantryman relied mainly on massed rifle fire and radios, supported by Automatic Rifles and MG's and mortars providing direct support. They may not have had the firepower of the German MG, but a company of infantry blasting away was nothing to sneeze at. Trucks and jeeps were relatively common, so marching was less of an issue. The radio was vital in that, thanks to the handie-talkie and walkie talkie, SCR 536 and SCR 300 respectively, were issued on a vast scale, even a lowly lieutenant now had control over extra artillery assets other armies could only dream of. To give a low ranking officer access to artillery would have shocked the French of 1940, who believed "dur comme fer" that control over artillery should perpetually remain the domain of the higher ranks. "To give up total control over the artillery," said one observer. "It to surrender victory to the enemy."

US Tanks were not unusual, even in infantry divisions, they may not always be available, but unlike the Germans, to which tanks may have been as common as rainbow farting unicorn cavalry, there was this notion that if they got into trouble, tanks might eventually come round to give them a push in the back.

"Superior" is usually the term thrown around for anything relating Germany in WWII, but when you look at the facts like industrial capacity, fuel, available manpower, logistics, it's an entirely different picture.

Germany only had a 2-3 year gap in which they had to secure a victory or they would face a war of attrition, and depending on the opposition, this might be a huge problem. With time Germany managed to fight three superpowers and utterly failed to gain anything of value around 1942 other than the Ukranian grain production. No oil, no extra coal and steel or anything that would help fuel the engine of war.

By 1942, the Germans have used up their oil reserves, units are being demotorized to keep the panzers rolling. Industry has to be shut down as machines that use oil are converted to coal or other alternatives or wait until synthetic oil kicks into gear.

No such problems for the Soviet, Commonwealth or US troops who do have the fuel reserves (90% of world oil vs only 5% for Germany/Italy/Romania etc) They can throw trucks and tanks at the problem without having to look back. The Germans have a very tight budget and they need to spend it wisely, hoping in 1943-1944 that they can secure victory in a straight battle, either beat the Russians at Kursk or push the Allies out of Normandy and neither happens.

Yes, the Allies have problems moving in oil supplies as they rush across North West Europe towards the German border, US units have a manpower shortage, but it's not as crippling as the ones faced by the German army.

I always make the distinction that the Germans had a very capable army, the US sent a complete war machine to fight the war. But the battle is not won until there is a boot standing on the X-spot on the map, and in that regard the GI had a significant edge over his German counterpart, especially the last ones standing in 1945, malnourished to a level similar to the mid period of the Stalingrad encirclement, stuffed full of Pervitin or "Tanker chocolate", very likely to be carrying a pre-WWI vintage Gewehr 98 or any of a wide range of weapons captured during the glory days, one or two panzerfausts and if lucky a grenade or two, a mix of civilian clothes and army uniforms under a patched-up greatcoat made from recycled cloth and erzatz leather webbing that fell apart when it rained too hard.

A far sight from the dapper men in smart uniforms who marched with a smile on their lips through France and Russia only a few years before. Yes they are always shown marching in the Wochenschau partly because it gave an image of healthy virility and partly because most of them had no other choice.

Infantry played a key role and every army had its own emphasis, but the GI was one of the luckier ones, he may have been overpaid, overequipped and over here, but he still had to pay a price as about 100,000 of them never made it home.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP16 May 2018 4:36 a.m. PST

In any terrain other than desert, I think an army composed entirely of infantry would ultimately beat an army composed of nothing but tanks, artillery, and aircraft.

Fred Cartwright16 May 2018 4:53 a.m. PST

Overpaid, oversexed and over here was the term I think! :-)

Legion 416 May 2018 8:26 a.m. PST

Tankers & Gunny Bunny's etc. are GIs … anyone in the Army are basically GIs. Only really separated by branch selection. Either assigned or voluntary … I volunteered to be an Infantryman … huh?

But you had to list 5 choices total, the other 4 of mine in order were :





Of course I got my first choice – Grunt … evil grin

Infantry did very poorly in the air and open ocean.
But I have/earned Parachute & Air Assault wings and graduated from USN/USMC Basic Amphib Training !? huh? wink

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP16 May 2018 8:40 a.m. PST

the rabid squids

The second best band name I have read on TMP today.

I get your point, but as a rabid squid, I would say that infantry has also contributed significantly to wars before WWII. And following your change and innovation theme, at least wolf packs (responsible for the birth of modern military operations analysis!), depth charges, aircraft carrier battle groups, and nuclear bombs (not a navy thing, but the Chair Force (well the Army Chair Corps at the time) needs some props) were peers to the infantry innovations in terms of change and impact.

Walking Sailor16 May 2018 11:53 a.m. PST

From the op:

The war on the ground
"Only infantry can take and hold ground."

Over paid, over fed, over sexed, and over here.
Under paid, under fed, under sexed, and under Eisenhower.

Lion in the Stars17 May 2018 4:58 a.m. PST

I'd argue that the Submarines were doing the heavy lifting of strangling the Japanese military, but we still needed the Marines and Army to take the islands.

Today, we are seeing that an army of nothing but foot-sloggers can still hold it's own.

Legion 417 May 2018 6:36 a.m. PST

@ 50+% of all IJFs naval assets were sunk by US Subs …

"The poor bloody Infantry …" I think the saying from WWI was ? thumbs up wink

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