Skip to comments.Typical age of a WWII officer - compared to the officers today
Posted on 01/14/2010 3:14:47 AM PST by myknowledge
I am asking a question that may interest anyone who is a relative of any military officer from WWII all up to the present day.
My question: What was the typical age of an officer, from second lieutenant to colonel, during WWII? Compare that to the officers in the present day.
Richard Bong was a major at age 24. Brig. Gen Harrison Thyng was a colonel at age 26.
During the Battle of the Bulge, 2nd Lt. Lyle Balk, a platoon leader was a youthful 20 years old.
In the Vietnam War, Brig. Gen. Robin Olds was a colonel at age 44 when he led Operation Bolo.
Today's officers tend to be of more diverse age groups. You can have a captain and a colonel of the same age.
Young 26 year old colonels are like a relic from WWII.
The initial high-ranking officers in a war owe their positions to politics. After they get themselves and others killed, the war-savvy officers rise no matter what their ages are. That’s my opinion, anyway.
I am a Lieutenant in the Navy O-3 with 5 years commissioned service and I am 30 years old. However, I was 4 years enlisted before joining an officer program.
In the Navy. Your an Ensign for 2 years. As long as you are promotable on your Fitness Reports you will be promoted to O-2 Lieutenant Junior Grade. It is the same thing. As long as your promotable on your Fitness Reports you will be promoted to full Lieutenant O-3 in two additional years or 4 years commissioned service. To make Lieutenant Commander O-4, you must be selected by a board, and an officer is not eligible for this until he has been a full Lieutenant for 4 years, that is when he is in “Zone”. So he can be selected for Lieutenant Commander as early as his four year point but he will not pin that on for another year. The last year of the “Zone” is 6 years from when he makes Lieutenant. Which means he could pin Lieutenant Commander on 7 full years following the day he pinned on O-3. For an officer graduating from the US Naval Academy at 22 years old, he could become an O-4 as early as 33 and as late as 36. There are exceptions, but this is pretty typical. The same process is similar for the next couple ranks, but they have different timelines. I am most familiar with O-4 since that is the next one I am looking at.
Thank you for your service!
During WWII, in a USAAF fighter group, the average age of a first lieutenant would be around 21, a captain a year older, a major another year older, a lieutenant colonel around 24-26 and a colonel in his late 20s to early 30s.
Before I write a post mentioning that I am a Naval officer, I need to work on my writing skills. Appologize, but I hope my post helped you understand the career path of a junior officer.
My father served as an aircraft commander during the Second World War at the ripe age of 22. (1st. Lt.) Most officers were about that age during WW2.
My dad was a 1st. Lt. on Guam. He served as a pilot flying B-29's. The only reason he wasn't a captain was because his orders became lost, and he didn't get them until he was on his way out at the end of the war.
It sort of led to the youthening (opposite of aging) of commanding officers as the war progressed, down to the point where a colonel (a commander of a fighter / bomber group) was a young as 26, or a first lieutenant was 21.
It proves that rank promotion is hastened during wartime than peacetime.
It only stands to reason the officer corps of the U.S. military was considerably younger in WWII than is true today. We quickly geared up a huge military after the Pearl Harbor attack and a lot of young officers were commissioned to positions of authority and promoted quickly out of necessity. Officers have historically been promoted quickly in times of major wars.
I was a 1st. Lt. in Vietnam, age 22.
I am now a chief warrant officer, age 61.
And the colonels & generals I see nowadays look to me like boys playing soldier.
Agree. Young officers was a product of both rapid expansion of the military at the start of WWII and later as a result of battlefield attrition.
Different wars, different times.
I love Warrant Officers....they are the military’s “wildcards”...correct me if I am wrong, but a warrant officer answers to everyone, yet at the same time answers to no one....
1) In WWII, a college degree was not requied to be commissioned.
2) In WWII, the attrition rate was slightly higher than today.
My dad was 22, a LT (j.g.) in charge of an LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) on Utah Beach.
Most of my classmates (early 80’s) are Lt Cols to B Gen’s. That would put them between 47-51 years old. Some rose to Col faster, many are still Majors.
The majority of these guys have been in the reserves where the promotions come slower. Some of them were slow in the reserves, and “popped” up when they went active for Desert Storm and now in Gulf War II.
If we had a draft and a full mobilization you would see more Junior Officers rise faster, just to take the slots.
The Military is so much more efficient now. Imagine the power of a B2 Bomber compared the a squadron of B17’s. Not as many planes, not as many crew, and not as much support = not as many officer slots.
A very complex subject, not well explained by anecdotes. In general terms, young officers could be found in World War II because of the rapid expansion of the military caused by the war. This was especially true in the Air Corps. Regimental and Division commanders tended to be older than you find today simply because the old, peacetime officer corps generally held these positions. Battalion and company commanders were typically in their 20s and 30s and were selected based on ability from the group of officers who joined after the war started. There were also a fair number of older officers appointed directly from civilian life filling specialty roles in law, logistics, administration. Not too many 26 year old colonels, but lots of 60 year old ones.
Most officers today follow a normal progression: commissioned at 22 with a college degree, 4-5 years as a lieutenant, 5 years as a captain, 5 years as a major, 5 years as a lieutenant colonel. A few move along a bit faster. The war has speeded up promotions, the Army especially is short of officers at most grades. A number of officers have come back on to active duty from the Guard or Reserves, so their are a fair number of officers who are older than their contemporaries. What you won’t find are boy wonders like we saw during WWII and to a lesser extent during Vietnam. Tough to get a commission without a degree or several years of enlisted experience, so 18 year old lieutenants are pretty rare.
Most of the senior Marine officers in 1941 were >40. Puller, Edson, Vandegrift, del Valle, Henneken and Geiger were all experienced combat commanders.
Airman I could handle; but a teenage daughter fussing about what to wear 5 minutes before the school bus comes... well... that's a whole other ballgame!
Education is one of the big differences. Almost all officers don’t even start their service until graduation from college. That makes most junior officers 22-24 when they start.
In WWI, my grandfather was an officer with an eight grade education while today, I have friends with advanced degrees who are senior enlisted personnel.
My father made Lieutenant Commander by the time he was 28. This was in the late 1960s. He opted not to go further in rank and switched to the Reserves about the same time, retiring in the early ‘80s.
Without knowing the reason for the promotion, the camparison may not be all that meaningful. My Dad made Captain in the Army, in 1943, by age 23. But, that was largely because the other officers senior to him in his infantry company had been killed.
Times have definately changed. God bless your father for his service.
And God bless you and thank you for yours.
A cousin of my grandmothers joined the army at 17 and was field promoted to Lt at 19. He stayed in after WWII and fought in Korea and Viet Nam and retired as a Master Sgt.
“Frightening thought” - relative youth of senior officers today.
Just kidding. Their youthfulness only makes me feel older. I’m certain these young battalion and brigade and division commanders are the best our Army has ever fielded and in them I have the utmost confidence.
I’m just grateful that later in life I was granted a direct appointment as a warrant officer based upon my earlier aviation experience. And thanks be to G-d, I am on extension until age 62, which is a whole year off.
That’s only one of the many things I love about being a warrant officer.
I have a picture of my father becoming a major (by Gen Mark Clark) in Italy 7/12/44. He would have been 25. He served 1940 to 1946 then became a reservist and was a lt col when he died in 2004. Happy Father’s Day, Dad — I miss you!
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