15. The Navy expanded as the Army continued to shrink
During the 1930s the US Navy acquired its first aircraft carriers, contracted for new battleships, modernized older battleships, and focused its attention on the Pacific and Japanese aggression. The peacetime crews of most ships were by necessity smaller than would be required to take the vessels to war. There wasn’t enough money to pay crews at wartime strength. The Navy’s chunk of defense budgets allowed it to continue to grow from the mid-1930s. Seen as the nation’s first line of defense, the Navy and their infantry branch, the US Marines, were also favored by President Roosevelt. The Army continued to shrink, dwindling to just over 180,000 men on active duty, called the Regular Army. Morale was low. Pay was low. Routine was boring. There weren’t enough weapons to train adequately, and when weapons were to be had there was often no ammunition.
Recruits marched with wooden mock-ups of guns, practiced attacking machine gun nests consisting of mock-up guns. Automobiles, and even bicycles, bore signs which read “tank” during training exercises. There wasn’t enough money in the training budget to allow the expenditure of fuel in real tanks. By 1938 the US Army ranked, according to some sources, as the 19 largest in the world, behind the armies of Portugal and Belgium. The pace of promotions was that of a snail. Dwight Eisenhower, a major in 1920, still retained that rank in 1935. That year he accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines, where MacArthur accepted the rank of Field Marshall in the new Army of the Philippines (the promotion was his own idea). The following year Ike finally received a promotion to Lt. Colonel, US Army, after 21 years of active service.
16. The Army finally began to expand in the late 1930s
After years of Japanese aggression in China, and s those of the Italians in Africa and the Germans in Europe, the US Army began to expand in 1938, though it remained around 200,000 men. MacArthur had officially retired from the US Army, though he remained on its payroll in his capacity as Military Advisor to the Philippines. He also received pay for his role as Field Marshall of the Army of the Philippines, making him the highest-paid soldier in the world in 1938. Eisenhower, critical of MacArthur’s activities and behavior in the Philippines, returned to the United States in late 1939 to his first position as a commanding officer of a battalion. By that time, the Germans had invaded Poland, England and France were at war with Germany, and isolationists were demanding the United States stay entirely neutral. FDR was already exploring ways to help the British.
By Autumn, 1940 France had fallen to the Germans. The British Empire was the only entity still at war with Germany. Japanese aggression was on the rise. In the Philippines, MacArthur called for increased American presence and financial support for the Philippine Army. After a summer of intense debate, in the national press and in Congress, the first peacetime draft in American history was authorized through the Selective Service Act of 1940. The Army expanded rapidly, in terms of the number of men called into the service. By mid-summer, 1941, less than one year later, 1.5 million Americans were conscripted into the US Army, which was ill-prepared to receive them. Inventories of uniforms, weapons, and even rations appeared adequate in numbers. But many of them, even rations, dated to the military buildup of World War 1, more than two decades earlier.
17. Draft boards determined who was eligible for conscription
The Selective Service Act of 1940 required all American men between the ages of 21 and 35 to register for the draft. Throughout the United States, communities formed draft boards to determine who among the registered manpower pool would be actually conscripted into the service. The boards were comprised of prominent local leaders; businessmen, political activists, clergy, and so forth. The boards evaluated each case to determine in which category an individual belonged. Those found to be 1A were the first to enter the service after being assigned a number by lottery. Boards took into consideration overall health, occupation, marital status, children, and many other factors when evaluating candidates. Early in the war, some men of draft age avoided the Army by enlisting in the Navy, a practice discontinued in 1942. From then, volunteers had to go through the draft process, to ensure the needs of all services were met.
A draftee wasn’t necessarily in the Army yet, even after receiving his notice and reporting to an induction center. Physical and mental health examinations came first. It was possible to qualify for one service and be disqualified for another. For example, chronic ear infections could disqualify a man for naval service (inner ear problems contribute to seasickness) but he could still be useful to the Army. Eyesight which disqualified a man from pilot training did not necessarily mean he couldn’t carry a rifle in the infantry. Draftees could state which service they preferred, but the needs of the service branches outweighed the desires of the serviceman. After the examinations, fingerprinting and signing the induction papers, an oath was administered and the new recruit was sent to a reception center. Most draftees were allowed a short period of time to arrange their affairs before shipping out.
18. Draftees arriving at training centers still faced shortages in 1941
The draft allowed the Army to amass manpower in 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but it still faced shortages in practically everything needed to equip, train, and feed the new recruits. American industry had begun to focus on war production, thanks to Lend-Lease, but it was a mere fraction of what was required. What supplies were produced were necessarily first needed at advance bases to prepare for defense; the Canal Zone, the Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Wake Island, and others. New recruits arriving at training centers received haircuts, inoculations, uniforms, and little else. Weapons for training recruits were, in 1941, often unserviceable. Uniforms were poorly fitted, mostly leftover from the First World War. The same applied to boots and shoes. Recruits in 1941 trained with obsolete equipment, some of which were leftover from the Spanish-American War.
Nowhere was the Army’s lack of preparedness more readily apparent than in Washington DC in December 1941. Following the Pearl Harbor attack officers working in Washington, offices were required to appear in uniform. Some of them had not worn their uniform, other than the full-dress used for formal affairs, in decades. According to David Brinkley, who witnessed it firsthand, in the second week of December Army officers appeared in a collection of different uniforms, most out-of-date for years, such as choker collar tunics, leggings and gaiters, riding pants and boots, Sam Browne belts, a variety of caps and hats, all in varying shades of green, gray, brown, and khaki. Obtaining up-to-date uniforms had been impossible on short notice, and many turned to private tailors or the Woodward and Lothrop Department Store for new uniforms as the weeks went on.
19. For many draftees, the Army provided their first trip by train
New recruits left the induction centers bound for training camps. Some, such as Madison Barracks in upstate New York, had been in continuous use by the Army since the War of 1812. Others were brand new and their numbers increased rapidly. For many recruits, particularly those in the South and on the plains, the journey represented their first departure from the community of their birth. Some went by Army trucks or by bus, most went by train. They arrived in civilian clothes, with civilian haircuts and with their individuality intact. The Army immediately went about removing any vestige of the civilian life they knew. They were dressed the same, given the same haircuts, marched in unison to training, to meals, to classes, and to medical care. The goal of recruit training was to instill instant, unquestioning obedience to orders, adherence to Army principles and traditions, and physical fitness.
During recruit training, individual skills and training led to some men being destined to go on to artillery school, or paratrooper school, or tank training, or signals and communications schools. Some advanced training was open to volunteers only, such as the Navy’s submarine school or the Army’s airborne units. Others were based solely on the needs of the services and the evaluations made by one’s superiors. A soldier who demonstrated an aptitude for heavy weapons was pointed to heavy weapons platoons; a sailor with skills in engine mechanics went on to training as an aviation mechanic, or a shipboard engine room specialist. Drivers with civilian experience in large vehicles went into transportation jobs, bakers became cooks and bakers, heavy equipment operators were often sent to the Navy’s Construction Battalions, known as Seabees. The military used the manpower pool to meet its needs, rather than the men’s whims.
20. The US endured several months of failures thanks to its attitude toward the military between the wars
Across the Pacific, in the Philippines, at Wake Island, Guam, and other areas, the US Army and Navy paid for the long years of neglect during the early months of 1942. Where they did achieve success, such as at Guadalcanal, they paid a heavy price in losses of men, materiel, aircraft, and ships. So many American and Dutch ships were lost around Guadalcanal the area became known as Iron Bottom Sound. The US Army and Air Forces initially achieved success in North Africa during Operation Torch in November 1942, mostly because the Vichy French troops opposing them offered only token resistance, when they fought at all. Three months later the numerically superior Americans faced the Germans in a series of battles fought around the Kasserine Pass in North Africa. They suffered a major defeat, blamed on inexperience, poor leadership, poorer organization, and often inadequate equipment.
Life in the American military during the interwar years, especially in the US Army, was a dreary existence. Enlisted soldiers were poorly paid, poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly housed. Officers who entered West Point with glowing ideas about a military career discovered a promotion system which offered little or no advancement, a hidebound command structure which resisted innovation, and a public with little patience for a costly standing army. The burst of patriotism which marked victory in the Great War quickly faded into indifference, impatience, and even open hostility to supporting an Army. That so many great leaders, Eisenhower and Marshall, Bradley and Patton, Nimitz and King and Spruance, unnamed non-commissioned officers by the thousands, endured the years of neglect is remarkable. They enabled the United States to prevail in World War II.
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