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"US Repple Depple." Topic


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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Fred Cartwright22 May 2018 10:09 a.m. PST

Been researching some stuff on the Ardennes offensive and hadn't realised before just how bad the US replacement system had got by late 1944. Here are some of the complaints about the replacements made at the time.
"‘We couldn't get the new untrained and inexperienced troops to move. We had to drag them up to the fort. The old men were tired and the new afraid and as green as grass. The three days we spent in the breach of the fort consisted in keeping the men in the lines. All the leaders were lost exposing themselves at the wrong time in order to get this accomplished. The new men seemed to lose all sense of reasoning. They left their rifles, flamethrowers, satchel charges and what not laying right where it was. I was disgusted and so damned mad I couldn't see straight."
"‘The quality of replacements has declined appreciably in recent weeks,' his division (4th Infantry) reported on 26 October. ‘We receive too many men not physically fit for infantry combat. We have received some men forty-years-old who cannot take exposure to cold, mud, rain etc. Replacements are not sufficiently prepared mentally for combat. They have not been impressed with the realities of war –as evidenced by one replacement inquiring if they were using live ammunition on the front.'"
"‘The worst fault I have found', reported a company commander, ‘has been the failure of men to fire weapons. I have seen them fired on and not fire back. They just took cover. When questioned, they said to fire would draw fire on themselves."
"Divisions also despaired at the lack of preparation for officer and NCO replacements. ‘We actually had a master sergeant sent to us,' one division reported. ‘All he had done since being in the Army was paint a mural in the Pentagon."
"An infantry division was horrified to receive ‘one group of officer replacements [who] had no experience as platoon leaders. They had been assistant special service officers, mess officers, etc.'"
"‘Men over thirty are too old to stand up under combat conditions,' a VII Corps officer observed, ‘while men under twenty are not sufficiently matured, mentally and physically.' Unfortunately, the vast majority of replacements were either under twenty or over thirty."
The above suggests that the US Repple Depple was struggling to provide replacements of sufficient quality and with the necessary training and preparation for combat, by late ‘44 and may be one of the reasons behind some of the panicked flights by US troops during the Ardennes offensive.

Fred Cartwright22 May 2018 10:13 a.m. PST

So good it got posted twice! :-)

Garand22 May 2018 10:24 a.m. PST

IIRC everyone was scraping the bottom of the barrel in late '44 & into '45, the Germans especially. Infantry losses could be staggering…IIRC the 1st Inf Division (or maybe the 2nd) lost something like 212% personnel between D-day & VE day. Considering those losses would be heavily weighted to actual infantrymen, you could have had a complete turn-over thrice over in 11 months! Also in the US the Infantry units got the last pick of troops, with the more able bodied, intelligent, or skilled troops going into technical services, aircrews, tanks, artillery, etc.

Damon.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP22 May 2018 10:36 a.m. PST

It all seems to jibe with what others have written, but nobody wants to command six figures in a game in which 3 guys hunker down, 2 guys just blast away to make noise, and 1 guy is actually trying to acquire a sight picture and hit his target.

Fred Cartwright22 May 2018 10:43 a.m. PST

IIRC everyone was scraping the bottom of the barrel in late '44 & into '45, the Germans especially.

Indeed and the parlous state of the German replacement system has been well documented and the other powers had no stomach or ear battalions, that's for sure. But given that the US had been fighting in the west about a year and half by late ‘44 compared to the German army's 5 years and had lost considerably less men I had expected the US system to be in a better state than this would indicate. It would suggest a failure in planning or a complacency about the scale of losses likely to be sustained. It certainly lead to a deterioration of the quality, particularly of the infantry divisions. One veteran of the 28th ID remarked that by December 1944 they were no longer the crack unit that they had been on D-day.

Lion in the Stars22 May 2018 11:02 a.m. PST

The WW2 Repple-Depple system was a mess.

The US kept units at the front and in combat and just fed fresh meat into the grinder. Similar problem in Vietnam, actually. Divisions were assigned to the area and basically never left Vietnam, but people transited through the divisions.

US finally got it right in Afghanistan and Iraq, you send a Division or Brigade in for a year, and then cycle them back out as an entire unit. Two or three years later you can cycle them back in-country again. I mean, it takes ~6-9 months to teach someone how to be a grunt, and then another 15-18 months to teach them how to be a combat-ready unit.

Dynaman878922 May 2018 11:29 a.m. PST

The blunt truth of it is there was no good method of replacing casualties in a high loss situation like the bulge. The Germans kept hollowed out shells of formations in the line with no replacements since they could not afford to pull them back for their normal rebuild process.

Given time to work new men into a unit the Repple Depple worked well enough IF the unit commander made the effort to realize the new guys were not going to magically fit in. Once again, the losses during the bulge were too high to allow that time.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP22 May 2018 11:55 a.m. PST

My late dad's unit was put into reserve in the Ardennes, supposedly a quiet sector. He and a friend of his won a drawing and were sent to Paris for a few days. While there the Bulge broke out. My dad says that MPs were all over the place in Paris grabbing any GI and herding them to waiting trucks to be shipped as replacements to any unit, no attempt to get them to their parent unit.

My dad and his buddy ducked the "press gangs" and managed to catch rides with supply trucks headed to the front. By some miracle they managed to rejoin their unit. They were apparently VERY welcome. There was no time to train or really incorporate what ever replacements the unit had received up to that point.

Personal logo War Artisan Sponsoring Member of TMP22 May 2018 12:15 p.m. PST

nobody wants to command six figures in a game in which 3 guys hunker down, 2 guys just blast away to make noise, and 1 guy is actually trying to acquire a sight picture and hit his target.

Somebody wanted to, apparently. "Men Against Fire", published by the inimitable Paddy Griffith in "A Book of Sandhurst Wargames" in 1982, was exactly that.

Fred Cartwright22 May 2018 12:17 p.m. PST

Once again, the losses during the bulge were too high to allow that time.

These quotes are prior to the Bulge. The system was broken before the need to replace losses from the German Offensive.
As for the Germans prior to the Bulge a significant number of units committed to the offensive had been pulled out and brought up to full strength and re-equipped. The losses sustained in the Ardennes bust the German replacement system completely. Even favoured units like the SS received scant amounts before transferring east.
The US were trying to pull units out of the heavy fighting to rebuild hence the Ardennes becoming the rest home for battered and new divisions.

wmyers22 May 2018 12:41 p.m. PST

I have always wondered why rule sets have never reflected this more accurately for USA troops.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP22 May 2018 12:41 p.m. PST

The US system had its serious flaws. The so-called 'Ninety Division Gamble' where the US did not raise an army of 300 divisions as was originally planned meant that what divisions they had needed to be kept in the front lines nearly all the time and kept supplied with an endless stream of replacements of very uncertain quality. The Germans (and most other armies) had more divisions which generally allowed them to pull them out of the line from time to time for rest and to assimilate replacements. Once back in the line, however, the German units received few, if any replacements.

Both systems had their advantages and disadvantages. The American system gave their divisions enormous staying power, but placed a huge burden on the infantrymen in the foxholes. The German system was probably superior--but only as long as you had fresh divisions to put in the line to replace worn out divisions. If you ran out of fresh divisions you were looking at a disaster. This is what happened in Normandy and a number of times on the Eastern Front. A major enemy offensive wore down the divisions in the line and when there were no new divisions to send in, the line broke--badly.

Major Mike22 May 2018 12:49 p.m. PST

The Allies had a major problem, things were moving way faster than they had planned for with the invasion of France and the breakout. Just go and read the Logistic reports in the Army Green Book series. Many of the replacement during late 44 where what could be gleened out of support units and thrown forward. Many of the trained were used to stand up new, complete units and Divisions. This was most notable in the Armored Divisions.

Dynaman878922 May 2018 2:50 p.m. PST

> These quotes are prior to the Bulge. The system was broken before the need to replace losses from the German Offensive

But the units that broke under the strain were sent to the Bulge to rest and refit or get some time to do a little frontline duty in a quiet sector. No system is perfect and the Huertgen campaign before the Bulge had more to do with the losses being so bad up till then. The other major problem was that the US training system was geared towards specialists instead of infantrymen. That was taken care of after the Bulge when they figured out the mistake.

wrgmr122 May 2018 4:04 p.m. PST

A chap I knew many years ago was in the US Air Force, chemical weapons section. In 1944 he was transferred into the infantry arriving at the 2nd Infantry division just before Huertgen as a BAR man.

Fred Cartwright22 May 2018 4:17 p.m. PST

No system is perfect and the Huertgen campaign before the Bulge had more to do with the losses being so bad up till then.

Most of these quotes relate to replacements arriving during the Heurtgen fighting, which suggests that neither Heurtgen or the Bulge were the problem. And yes no system is perfect, but the US system seems the worse of the lot. Either the losses sustained in Tunisia, Italy and Normandy had broken the system or it wasn't fit for purpose in the first place. I am inclined to think it was the latter.

William Ulsterman22 May 2018 4:50 p.m. PST

The US divisions in Tunisia and Italy were kept going by taking the trained man power from the divisions in the US – over a dozen US infantry divisions in the US were stripped twice of their man power during 1943 and 1944. This had a knock on effect in terms of these divisions being as prepared as they needed to be for Normandy. It was a system born of a "Henry Ford" production line – the individual soldier was simply a disposable and replaceable part that could be slotted into the machine. As he had completed his Army training, he was now able to do anything the army needed doing. Standardization of personnel as well as equipment was the order of the day. In late 1944 the system was fine tuned by changing the name replacement to reinforcement and trying to end the policy of individual and squad level detachments and keep them to a company level.

Another issue was that US man power was not prepared for the tremendous losses incurred by the infantry from Normandy onwards. There wasn't just a problem with the repple depple, but a fairly gross under estimation of the likely casualties the infantry would suffer. The Canadians and the British army suffered from this same error.

Fred Cartwright22 May 2018 5:25 p.m. PST

The Canadians and the British army suffered from this same error.

Neither the British or the Canadians had the same level of population as the US and had been fighting for longer. Also my reading of the British system was that is was much better than the US. The regimental system is one of the strengths of the British army. Replacements might have been new, but they were still part of "The Regiment" and had a sense of belonging and were in general accepted and treated well by the old sweats. This contrasts with the experience of US replacements who tended to be shunned by the veterans or treated as expendable cannon fodder.

William Ulsterman22 May 2018 6:24 p.m. PST

No – what I mean is that the British and the Canadians seriously under estimated the losses their infantry would suffer, just as the US did.

As you say the replacement system used by the British and Canadians was different, but it was arguably worse. The British had to disband two infantry divisions completely in late 1944 and sent half of their anti-aircraft gunners summarily into the front line as riflemen, in a fashion that was just as chaotic as the US. The Canadians were completely hamstrung and so continued to field half strength infantry battalions (or worse) until the end of the war.

The regimental system of battle replacement in the British/Commonwealth/Empire armies had basically ceased to function in active theatres of war by about 1943 – look at what happened at Salerno and the example of the NZ division after El Alamein and the British divisions in Anzio – all commitments where these divisions were basically committed with no reinforcements available and kept in the line for long periods of time and any reinforcements available where contrived by the most desperate means available – in the case of Salerno provoking a very rare mutiny. In order to avoid the replacement problem most "British" rifle battalions used their own LOB system – which often deprived rifle battalions of a company or so of bayonets and often reduced the ability of "British" infantry to sustain a contested assault.

So the poms effectively had a system ruled by expediency and the Canadians had no functioning system to speak of.

Fred Cartwright22 May 2018 6:37 p.m. PST

The British had to disband two infantry divisions completely in late 1944 and sent half of their anti-aircraft gunners summarily into the front line as riflemen, in a fashion that was just as chaotic as the US.

Indeed, but the British had been at war for over 5 years by this time and were running out of manpower. The anti aircraft units were no longer needed, what few German aircraft that did appear were rapidly dealt with by the airforce. The British started the campaign in NWE already desperately short of men, unlike the US who had to supply relatively modest numbers of replacements to Europe prior to D-day. The point being that it took 5 years to break the British system whereas the US system seems to have collapsed within 4 months of D-day.

Lion in the Stars22 May 2018 6:56 p.m. PST

but the US system seems the worse of the lot. Either the losses sustained in Tunisia, Italy and Normandy had broken the system or it wasn't fit for purpose in the first place. I am inclined to think it was the latter.

It's why I say that the post-2000 system is much better, but I'm still appalled and amazed that the WW2 system continued on 30 years after the end of the war in Vietnam, where a division was kept 'at the front' and troops were pushed forward to it with no regard for how well they were trained to work in a unit.

The British system at least meant that the new troops had been trained up in how the unit they were going to at the front operated.

So I'd have to say that US repple-depple was unfit for purpose.

William Ulsterman22 May 2018 7:24 p.m. PST

The British army was only desperately short of men through their own incompetent management. In 1944 the British had 15 infantry divisions at full strength with a 100% reinforcement level, which had been training to invade the continent for over two years. This was a deliberate choice based upon what the army believed it required for the Normandy landings and the subsequent battle for France – predicted to be a June to October commitment of continuous fighting against the German army. The difficulty was that the prediction of 100% casualty level was drastically wrong and should have been noticed – the British army had plenty of recent experience to draw upon and the commitment of the 78th, the 4th Indian and 46th Division (all infantry) in Italy from September 1943 to January 1944 showed that infantry companies needed something in the order of 200 to 250% replacements – which was neither a secret nor a surprise to the War Office. This was simply not catered for at all. The British could have done many things prior to D-Day to avoid or mitigate the infantryman crisis which struck their army after the Normandy Battles, but they took no steps.

The "man power" crisis was a misnomer – it was certainly an "infantryman" crisis – which is a different thing.

The UK anti aircraft gunners sent to be riflemen in September/October 1944 were mostly in their mid thirties and hadn't done any infantry training, or what little they had done, had been in 1941. Plonked down in whatever battalion needed them at the time, it was the very antithesis of the British regimental system and often a complete disaster.

Also, the US had its own infantryman crisis – they were unable to supply enough infantry replacements after Normandy and the Westwall Battles. This was so serious that it actually started the senior US commanders to break down the segregation of the US army and allow Negro service troops to become replacements.

These were two very different issues – 1. A lack of infantry replacements/reinforcements, which applied to the US, the British and the Canadians.
2. The fairly average or below set systems that these armies used to reinforce their divisions in Western Europe.

So, whilst I agree with your point that the Repple Depple was bad (and some historians claim it was insulting to the troops and ruined the infantry of the US army), I don't agree that the British or Canadians had a better system or that the difficulties were caused by the Repple Depple system alone.

donlowry22 May 2018 7:51 p.m. PST

I have read (somewhere) that often U.S. replacements were killed before their squad-mates, even their NCOs, had learned their names. They just didn't know how to survive at the front.

The Germans at least had replacement ("ersatz") battalions in each division to refine the training of any replacements received (if there was time -- though often these battalions had to man part of the front line).

William Ulsterman22 May 2018 9:09 p.m. PST

The Dominion Divisions – Australia, NZ, South African and Canadian had basically a similar system – they had battalion sized drafts of reinforcements that went to the divisional admin base – for example, Maadi in Egypt for NZ in the Middle East, whereas the 2nd AIF used most of central Palestine for their base area. The Canadians had a similar structure but were hamstrung by the policy of the Canadian government to only send volunteers overseas to fight. This meant that after Normandy the Canadian army in Europe received Bleeped text all infantry replacements, apart from wounded returning to duty. It was not unusual for Canadian infantry battalions to be in the front line with only 250-300 men. And there was just not an answer to this, aside from disbanding or amalgamating the units concerned.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2018 3:21 a.m. PST

I'd say a few mistakes and bad assumptions made it into this discussion.

The story about the new guy who gets shot before he even had a chance to say his name is one that is often repeated and is probably apocryphal for the vast majority of cases it is invoked for.

It also introduces the notion that the casualties were all "KIA", whereas in reality casualties were far broader than most people assume, as not only injuries and cases of disease, trench foot also are considered casualties.

And not everybody who came up as a replacement was an FNG. Many were injured veterans from other units, sure they may not have meshed in immediately with the rest of the unit, but they were just as capable as the next guy, possibly even more so if they joined a unit that had arrived at a later date.

I also hear mentions of the ear and stomach battalions as if they were just another batch of potential Wittmans or Murphies to be unleashed at the allies. The Germans incorporated many men who would have been declared unfit for service in the US and Britain. The replacement system was already breaking down. If you compare losses on the Eastern Front, and even though the Germans were allegedly masters of the defense by 1943, the Soviets are starting to inflict more losses on the Germans than they are losing themselves and by 1945, the masters of the defense, armed with Panthers, King Tigers, Sturmgewehren and enough Panzerfausts to kill every tank to come until the fourth millennium are losing 2:1 …

So despite being deplorable armies as the masochistic germanophilic fetish narrative loves to point out, they do beat the Germans systematically, they fail to win any major operations after 1942, yet every local battle the Germans manage to hold out is hailed as a resounding victory and we get another round of fanw*nking and the threat that if the war had gone on another few weeks the Germans would have pulled some kind of secret weapon out of their orifice and curbstomped the allies so bad we, their descendants would still be sore for several generations to come.

And the important details that are so easily overlooked because they don't systematically glorify the Germans as the supreme teutonic wargods is that while they do inflict high levels of casualties on the allies, many of them do survive and can be sent back into combat or serve as instructors, whereas the Germans are hemorraging badly and their pool of trained men is used up before 1944 is even out.

Which brings us to another odd point, that's that the men who arrived after D-Day for a large part got the same level of training as the men who did land on D-Day or shortly thereafter, but somehow the men with the same training perform well and once you land at a later date you're a useless noob. Yes, by the time of the Bulge some units barely had any combat experience before the Germans collapsed before they had a chance to fire a shot in anger, but even they shape up and end up performing pretty well once the initial shock has passed.

skinkmasterreturns23 May 2018 4:10 a.m. PST

To be fair,I haven't seen anybody mention the fact that the US had to send everything a long way for replacement, longer than anybody else.They also had to send replacements to the Pacific as well, so it makes sense that rapid losses would be difficult to replace

Durrati23 May 2018 4:38 a.m. PST

The US managed to expand their army from being smaller than the Romanian army in 39 to the second biggest in the world in 45.It had to cross oceans and be able to do the business when it met the enemy. This is a highly impressive achievement.

Were some mistakes made? Sure. Was the system that the US developed for replacing casualties in combat units one of those areas which could have been marked down as 'could have been done (a lot) better? From my reading, I would say yes. Making the infantry (who will do the bulk of the fighting) the back of the queue for the most able recruits being one of them. Not organising wounded soldiers to go back to their unit but sending them anywhere needed – seems like a very stupid decision.
Could their have been a better system for integrating new recruits into their units – probably.

The surprise is that the US army did not change the system for a long time as in many ways the it seems to be an organisation that is willing to evolve when presented with evidence of what works (or not).

Not sure it is the same as the German or British replacement system breaking down. Both those armies systems broke down due to a lack of bodies – both nations basically ran out of men to send to the army. The US problems seem to be systemic.

Fred Cartwright23 May 2018 4:40 a.m. PST

I am not sure I would agree that Britain was not short of manpower by late 1944. My father who was around at the time says that the only males not in uniform were boys and old men. Churchill wrote to Roosevelt during the Bulge promising to find another half a million men for the army, but privately expressed doubts Britain could raise even a fraction of that. The British, Russians and Germans were all having problems filling out units by that time of the war and running with very understrength units, except the Americans who had shortages, but not as bad as the other major powers. The problem with the Repple Depple was in providing suitably trained replacements and properly integrate them into their units. My great uncle was in the 43rd Wessex division from Normandy until the end of the war said that the replacements that they received were buddied up with one of the old sweats who would show them the ropes. It would probably be called mentoring these days!

Fred Cartwright23 May 2018 4:51 a.m. PST

To be fair,I haven't seen anybody mention the fact that the US had to send everything a long way for replacement, longer than anybody else.

Well to be strictly fair the US were not the only ones. The 14th Army had a million men under command at its largest and Burma is a very long way from the UK.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2018 5:50 a.m. PST

"Which brings us to another odd point, that's that the men who arrived after D-Day for a large part got the same level of training as the men who did land on D-Day or shortly thereafter, but somehow the men with the same training perform well and once you land at a later date you're a useless noob."

While I generally agree with your comments Patrick I do disagree with this comment. Training did not substantially change. But those who landed on or shortly after D-Day did so as a unit, one which had trained together. New units which landed or were committed up to and including the fall of Germany, once they had "seen the elephant" also tended to perform rather well. The problem was the replacement system. Sure the new replacement had the same training as his comrades but where as his fellow soldiers had trained together and deployed together he was an individual. The unit he was assigned too had sorted things out. Who they could depend on, who was better at what. The replacement, no matter the quality of his training, had not had the luxury to integrate into the unit. Given the way most replacements were fed in there was not time to provide that integration.

Legion 423 May 2018 6:46 a.m. PST

"Hard to find good help even back then …"

We saw something similar in the later years on the Vietnam War. Units were populated with many draftees, in some cases out numbering the volunteers and professionals.

Fortunately we don't have to fight wars with huge numbers deployed as in both World Wars, Vietnam, etc. Generally Tech, e.g. weapons, along with tactics has evolved since Vietnam, etc.

Forced Entry ops are generally a thing of the past, i.e. fight smarter not harder. The daily losses of the passed wars would not be allowed or be a standard as we saw in WWI & WWII or even Korea[Pork Chop Hill], and Vietnam[Hamburger Hill], etc. "The Meat Grinder" is not acceptable …

Quickly trained draftees Is Not the/a solution today … as we see based on the past, etc.

Fred Cartwright23 May 2018 7:14 a.m. PST

I also hear mentions of the ear and stomach battalions as if they were just another batch of potential Wittmans or Murphies to be unleashed at the allies.

Really?! I have only heard them mentioned in the context of being the desperate last scrapings of the barrel by the Germans in an attempt to put any man who could stand and hold a rifle into the line. Along with the old men and young boys drafted into the Volksturm.

4th Cuirassier23 May 2018 8:26 a.m. PST

IIRC Britain and the Commonwealth lost 40,000 prisoners in France in 1940, about 60,000 prisoners in the Western Desert, and another 140,000 in Malaya. So in aggregate, that's roughly one Stalingrad.

Given the further manpower tied up in the Royal and merchant navies, and the 120,000 used up in Bomber Command, it isn't surprising that we were running out of men by 1944.

The Commonwealth was a valuable manpower resource but apart from India it wasn't especially populous in 1939-45.

William Ulsterman23 May 2018 6:17 p.m. PST

The British army was not running out of man power. The British army had spent 4 years squandering the manpower resources it had been given – this was the conclusion of Carlo D'Este in his "Decision in Normandy" – furthermore the problem was well recognised within the British establishment with both the Beveridge Committee and the Army Council remarking upon the man power waste within the British army as early as 1941. Many of those prisoners in the Western Desert and in Malaya are Commonwealth and Indian Army POWs, which had no effect upon any UK manpower issues.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2018 6:28 p.m. PST

There was just as much a "Home by X-mas" mentality in the US stateside as was at the front. Many needed Programs ( Pershing, BT Fuses) and Training units were closed or slowed down because the war was over. Also the US Government was in a big hurry to save Money and keep the national Debt down. Many of the Division sent into the BUlge ( US 106th) Had been Cadered for experienced Officers and men Six time before they shipped out to Europe.

Durrati24 May 2018 6:26 a.m. PST

William Ulsterman. Am interested. I have assumed that the British were running out of manpower, I haven't looked at it to closely though, my assumption was mainly based on the breaking up of existing units and sending the men to infantry battalions.

Not sure I follow your point though – you say they were not running out of men and then go on to say the army had spent 4 years squandering the manpower resources they had been given. I would agree with you on the second point – but surely that is evidence that the British were running out of men?

Or is the argument that there were more men that could be conscripted and trained but the government mistrusted the army so much that they refused to send any more men to the army? Or the men were available but the training and replacement system had broken down so much that they were just not forwarded from bases in the UK?

Could you expand on your point and explain were there was a lack of replacements for the army if the men were available?

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP24 May 2018 7:41 a.m. PST

The British certainly did have manpower issues. I recall how the Royal Navy had to decommission four of its older battleships just to get the crews to man the landing craft it used on D-Day.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP24 May 2018 7:45 a.m. PST

Actually can take some of the guess work out of it. Here is a link to the British National Archives for the official paper "Manpower Requirements for the Army 1944/45" dated 12 June 1944.

link

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP24 May 2018 7:56 a.m. PST

And, for those interested in the "90 Division Gamble" here is a rather well done look courtesy of the official US Army history
link

donlowry24 May 2018 9:26 a.m. PST

The replacement, no matter the quality of his training, had not had the luxury to integrate into the unit.

I think this is the key point. You get better units if you occasionally pull them out of the line and let them absorb replacements than if you leave them on the line and continually feed in replacements who have no chance to integrate into the unit before going into combat.

Legion 424 May 2018 3:03 p.m. PST

But well trained troops generally integrate more quickly … However, not many had that "luxury" in both World Wars, or Korea, Vietnam, etc.

Fred Cartwright24 May 2018 3:25 p.m. PST

Here is a link to the British National Archives for the official paper "Manpower Requirements for the Army 1944/45" dated 12 June 1944.

Thanks for the link Marc. Knocks the "no manpower shortage" claim on the head. Looks like they couldn't get enough of anything. Not enough women for the ATS or civvies for desk jobs. Been reading up some more on the problems. They were getting women to take over in searchlight and ack ack batteries. Some were even sent to the continent. According to my calculations the UK had about 12% of the population in the armed forces (just from the UK) which is a preset significant number of the males in 18-44 military service age, which were about 17-18% of the total population. When you take off numbers for other essential work and those unfit for service that wouldn't leave many left. Only possible by mobilising the female population in the same age band to work in the factories and fields.

Ferozopore24 May 2018 4:28 p.m. PST

The volume entitled "Tankers in Tunisia" is a debriefing by all ranks in the 1st Armored Division about experience in Tunisia. A couple of the contributors bemoaned the caliber of replacements. Some had never fired a rifle, some were from the Cooks and Bakers school at Fort Knox. One respondent described each replacement being paired with a veteran who would teach him the ropes. The quality of the training of all US troops was questioned.

Walking Sailor24 May 2018 8:16 p.m. PST

There are two parts to the replacement problem:
1 Anticipating the areas of manpower requirements. e.g. With air supremacy, un-needed AA units were robbed to provide replacements for tank units suffering higher than expected loses in the bocage, they were later disbanded to provide infantry replacements.
2 Pre D-Day units received extensive training, Post D-Day replacements fed into the system had only their individual basic training. The problem with the repple-depple system becomes apparent when one breaks free from the Euro-centric parochialism of this thread and looks to warmer climes. In the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO), during the logistical build-up following each island campaign, army and Marine units were afforded the time to absorb replacements and train the unit up to the standard necessary to resume combat in the next island campaign. You don't hear repple-depple complaints coming from the PTO.

Starfury Rider25 May 2018 6:52 a.m. PST

Oddly enough the USMC had its own problems with the replacement system.

"The two Replacement Drafts were not received in sufficient time to thoroughly train them along with the Division units for which they would provide replacements. The status of the training of the replacement drafts when received was such as to require intensive and realistic combat training prior to their reaching a satisfactory state of readiness for combat and it is highly desirable that these drafts be available to the Division throughout the preparatory training period. (Recommendation) That battle replacement drafts be assigned the Division at least three months prior to embarkation for an operation in order that integrated training with the Division may be accomplished." From 4th Marine Division report on the invasion of Iwo Jima.

5th Mar Div provided a detailed account of its replacement policy and actuality for Iwo Jima, too long to type up. In essence they were planning to try to replace losses by matching the SSN (specification serial number) of the replacement with that of the casualty. So you lose a radio repairman, next day you should have in your replacements a radio repairman. If there was no equivalent available in the replacements, then no substitute was to be offered.

It seems a decent plan but the report states it did not function as hoped. USMC replacement drafts didn't sit waiting to be called into action, they acted as part of the often mammoth Shore Party organisation that kept supplies flowing from ship to beach to troops. The SP decided when they could be released to act as replacements. Also the SSN system only worked when the Classification officer had the right paperwork coming from the frontlines to know how many men of each qualification were actually needed, and the right info from the SP on who had been released as a replacement.

5th Mar Div had almost 2700 replacement attached for Iwo Jima and ended up sending 2196 to their three Inf Regts. They eventually took men from the Arty Regt (200), MT Bn (103) and even an attached Amphib Trac Bn (52) for the Inf Regts.

The 5th Mar Div did reference the likelihood of replacements becoming casualties. They noted that replacements suddenly being placed into a unit with new people, under fire for the first time, and who did not 'readjust themselves quickly had a high percentage casualties…'. There's no figure offered to underpin this.

1st Mar Div noted that, post Peleliu, they absorbed some 8000 replacements over Oct-Dec 1944, which was well in advance of them going to Okinawa, and felt this was accomplished with minimum fuss. They did note (and other USMC reports echo this) that they did not have enough specialists in their replacements to fill T/O slots, particularly engineer and signals roles.

The 1st Div noted that though they had two replacement drafts travel with them these were not released 'in appreciable numbers' for over a month, being retained for Shore Party duties. Replacements that were received were aimed towards Regts out of the line so they could be given 'a few days instruction and training prior to being committed'.

Note that these comments are from Mar Divs in early 1945, when it might be expected the replacement system had matured with experience. I can't find it now, but there was one particularly scathing comment, I think from a Regt report, that questioned whether the replacements it had received had even undergone basic training in the US.

The question of replacement systems and numbers in both British and US Armies in Europe in 1944-45 is I think more complicated than many of the printed arguments actually make it sound. I don't know if anyone has actually put together figures on the shortages at unit and formation level, and put it into context across the length of the campaign. Were there peaks before protracted operations and troughs directly after them, and were these evened out before the next big push?

As others have said, you need a certain amount of prescience to know what levels and specialisations of replacements you are going to need, not next week but in six months time. They have to be made available and shipped from home depots to theatres in among all the other items being sent.

A discussion on another forum referenced the 200,000 British infantry replacements allegedly sat in the UK while 21 Army Group was in the throes of its infantry replacement crisis. Seemingly of these 58,000 were classed as riflemen, and from that figure less than 15,000 were actually eligible for release to 21 Army Group, based on their medical classification and age. I suspect the UK and US situation was a lot more complicated than is often said and shortages meant different things at different times.

Gary

Thomas Thomas25 May 2018 8:16 a.m. PST

At the risk of being declared a neo-Nazi for pointing out any known efficencis of the Germans in WWII (how in the world did they hold out against three major powers given their hopeless incompetence and the Hollywoodesq abilities of their foes?)

The German replacement system of training through the combat divisions and withholding replacements until they can be integrated as a body has generally been acknowledged as superior to the "meat grinder" approach of just sending in fresh bodies as if replacement parts. Aggravating the situation for the Western Allies was the huge commitment of "support" troops (air naval etc.) and formation of large airborne forces which drained off potential NCO material from line formations.

The German system broke down simply due to the strain of fighting a huge two front war over numerically superior foes. The Western system broke down due to poor planning (they did not anticipate the high rate of casualties the Germans would inflict in combat) and the "assembly line" approach of feeding in replacements. (Though its only fair to point out that the continuous pressure method while resulting in higher losses help contribute to breaking down the German system as units could not be pulled out to absorb fresh blood).

Two good things actually came of this crisis. First Ike and Bradley were actually meeting to discuss the replacement crisis when news of the Bulge arrived – Bradley discounted it but because Ike happened to be at the briefing he over-ruled Bradley and insisted reinforcements be sent immediately.

Second just before the Bulge the US released a large body of men who had been held out of the replacement system due to high test scores. This brought a wave of high quality replacements into the system just in time to be feed into the Bulge maw. (The men involved probably would not have agreed that this was a fortunate turn of events.)

TomT

donlowry25 May 2018 8:45 a.m. PST

Aggravating the situation for the Western Allies was the huge commitment of "support" troops (air naval etc.) and formation of large airborne forces which drained off potential NCO material from line formations.

True, but the Germans also diverted a lot of potential NCOs (or officers) to be privates in SS and other elite formations (such as their own Parachute divisions).

Legion 425 May 2018 3:07 p.m. PST

At the risk of being declared a neo-Nazi for pointing out any known efficencis of the Germans in WWII (how in the world did they hold out against three major powers given their hopeless incompetence and the Hollywoodesq abilities of their foes?)
Very true … and I have seen this before here on TMP. E.g. for stating WWII Germany's Forces were generally considered very "effective & efficient" in may cases, etc. during the war. That does not mean I or anyone else supports the dogma, ideology, etc., of Nazi Germany, their SS units, etc.

Only based on what history tells us … the Germans for all their failings, war crimes, etc., controlled most of Western Europe, etc. for @ 2-3 years. On at least 2 fronts. We as students of history should consider studying this, etc., in detail in some cases. If we are so inclined/interested. As we know what occurs if one fails to study history…

And as historical gamers … it may be an interesting "exercise". Comparing and contrasting e.g. an the SS combat unit vs. e.g. ISIS, etc. As I had mentioned before. As in a war game … Not really reflecting their belief systems, dogmas, ideologies, etc. Only how they would fare in a conflict from a "pure" military standpoint. E.g. training, weapons, fieldcraft, etc.

There was a TV show, I forget the name but they would do this type of thing. Using computers, Vets, experts, etc. With a squad vs. squad or even individuals in a "battle".

I remember the SS vs. the VC …

Some Rough Riders under TR vs. a unit of Arabs under Lawrence of Arabia's command

Jesse James' gang vs. Al Capone's gang

The IRA vs. Mid East terrorists

US ARMY RANGERS vs. NOKO SF

Etc. etc. with some surprising results at times e.g. the James gang defeated Capone's most of the time after 1000 computer run "games". For a good reason which revolved around weapons deployed …

Of course this is all pretty much hypothetical, but most of us here are not only history fans but war gamers as well … And nobody really gets hurt … Well maybe their feelings when they get thoroughly beaten by his opponent on the gaming table … evil grin

Lion in the Stars25 May 2018 5:01 p.m. PST

The current US military holds that it takes 2 years to turn a civilian into a soldier ready to deploy into a counter-insurgency war.

Only ~6 months of that is training the soldier as an individual.

The rest of that time, ~18 months, is training the unit.

One of the reasons that the various Black units (Harlem Hellfighters infantry, Black Panthers armor, Tuskeegee airmen) generally outperformed their white counterparts is because they had as much as a year more training as a unit.

Now, since we have better training now, it might be possible to reduce some of the training time for a general war scenario. COIN requires shoot/don't-shoot training at the unit level that simply isn't necessary for a general war scenario. But that's probably less than 6 months time that could be shaved off.

Shaving off more training time than that is a trade-off against increased casualty rates.

Legion 426 May 2018 6:32 a.m. PST

Agreed …

Shaving off more training time than that is a trade-off against increased casualty rates.
Yes, as we all know the old adage, "Prior planning prevents Bleeped text poor performance "

Or IIRC a [now very] old Roman leader said … "Pray for peace but prepare for war" …

And to get real simplistic, "Haste makes waste." … If one is an elected or appointed gov't official make decisions about funding military training and equipment, etc., or Not. That usually does not affect them directly.

Of course WWII was a very different paradigm than we see today … Before WWI the USA was not really considered by most in Europe really as a world "military" power, per se. The US defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Followed by the conflict in the PI., etc. But other than that … it was pretty much all local wars at home.

And before WWII, IIRC the US military was rated at 38th in size in the world ? So … the start of WWII was a "unique event" … so to speak.

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