Skip to comments.The Magnificent Infantry of WW II
Posted on 05/01/2014 7:23:39 PM PDT by Retain Mike
The Army deployed 67 infantry divisions for the Second World War. Each was like a small town with its own equivalents for community services plus the eight categories of combat arms. Units such as artillery, engineering, and heavy weapons engaged the enemy directly. Yet of all categories, the foot soldier faced the greatest hazard with the least chance of reward. Except for the Purple Heart and the coveted Combat Infantrymans Badge, recognition was often missing because so few came through to testify to the valor of many. The infantryman faced the most dismal fate of all whose duty was uninterrupted by missions completed or a fixed deployment time.
Omar Bradley said, Previous combat had taught us that casualties are lumped primarily in the rifle platoons. For here are concentrated the handful of troops who must advance under enemy fire. It is upon them that the burden of war falls with greater risk and with less likelihood of survival than any other of the combat arms. An infantry division of WW II consisted of 81 rifle platoons, each with a combat strength of approximately 40 men. Altogether those 81 assault units comprised but 3,240 men in a division of 14,000 ..Prior to invasion we had estimated that the infantry would incur 70 percent of the losses of our combat forces. By August we had boosted that figure to 83 percent on the basis of our experience in the Normandy hedgerows.
Nearly a third of those 67 divisions suffered 100% or more casualties. However, regimental staffs saw their frontline units obliterated three to six times over. To deal with this problem there were never enough infantrymen coming from the states. Replacement centers continually reassigned artillerymen, machine gunners, cooks, and clerks to infantryman duties. The situation in Europe became so severe that rear area units in France and Great Britain were tasked to supply soldiers for retraining as infantrymen.
For example the 4th and 29th Infantry landed on D-Day and suffered about 500% battle casualties in their rifle platoons during the eleven months until VE-Day. Added to these numbers were half again as many non-battle human wrecks debilitated by trench foot, frost bite, pneumonia, hernia, heart disease, arthritis, etc. Many of these men never returned to duty. In the jungles of the Pacific non-combat losses exacted an even greater price. But somehow such assault divisions crossed Europe and the Pacific and always remained in the forefront of attacks.
Ernie Pyle said of them, The worst experience of all is just the accumulated blur, and the hurting vagueness of being too long in the lines, the everlasting alertness, the noise and fear, the cell-by-cell exhaustion, the thinning of the surrounding ranks as day follows nameless day. And the constant march into the eternity of ones own small quota of chances for survival. Those are the things that hurt and destroy. And good soldiers went back to them because they were good soldiers and they had a duty they could not define.
Partial bibliography: A Soldiers Story by Omar N. Bradley
Brave Men by Ernie Pyle
The U.S. Infantryman in World War II by Robert S. Rush Links for Listings of United States Divisions during WW II http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_Army_divisions_during_World_War_II http://www.historyshots.com/usarmy/
Army Battle Casualties and Non-battle Deaths in World War II http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/ref/Casualties/index.html
3rd 'Marne' Infantry Division http://www.custermen.com/ItalyWW2/Units/Division3.htm
National 4th Infantry (IVY) Division Association http://www.4thinfantry.org/content/division-history
The corps and army commanders had favorites and used them repeatedly. Other divisions were always sent to less active sectors or occupied a flank in a breakout.
Thank you in advance. I know I can expect a good review with suggestions when I post to Free Republic.
I guess they are what we now commonly call, “the point of the spear”. I recall Churchill seeing that the Russians had a 9 to 1 ratio of fighters to support troops. He recalled that Montgomery had just about the exact opposite.
Still as Patton once said, an Army is a team and everyone is important, from the guy who washes the pans to keep the soldiers from getting sick to the combat soldiers. They all have to perform.
Thank you for posting this.
I have a nice short book from the immediate post war period called “Fighting Divisions.” It contains brief unit histories of every United States combat divsion. I’m sure it’s no longer in print but it’s a nice quick reference.
The 1st. Infantry Division(’The Big Red One’’) was also in the D-Day landings.
What about Infantry organic to Armored Divisions?
There were what, 20 Armored Divisions?
Interesting footnote: George Patton, grandson of a Confederate officer and a Southerner by birth and temperament,without hesitation integrated his Third army units to maintain combat efficiency.
You mean quiet sectors like Bastogne and the Ardennes during the battle of ‘the bulge’...
Sometimes great units were put in quiet sectors to recover... Only they end up being very hot.
Good article! Just picking at ya.
Fighting Germans, now that is a nightmare.
On D-Day The 29th landed with”The Big Red One”at Omaha!The Fourth at Utah!!Patton had some favorites like The 90th and The 35th.He spoke to these men as often as he could and encouraged and congratulated them.To Patton,The Infantry WAS The Army!!!
Ernie Pyle... a true inspiration.
To all who served Thank you for my freedom....regardless of when or where. You have my heart
One thing the Germans learned early was that you have to have infantry to support Armor. You can’t just sent out the armor by itself.
Since my Father was in the Combat Engineers, I have noticed that infantry typically speak highly of the Engineers.
I also read a German book about their armor while attacking Russia. The author said they were going through heavy artillery fire but they were safe in their tanks but the “sappers” which they called their engineers, had nothing but their helmets to protect them while they were building and repairing bridges.
Patton had two Grandfathers who were Confederate veterans. One a general and the other a colonel. One died at New Market.
Patton was from California and he did not integrate his army. It actually would have been a big mess if he tried.
With all due respect he did. When he needed riflemen he placed African Americans into his combat units.
Thanks for posting this. I picked up a used copy of Brave Men and read it about 20 years ago, and it really opened my eyes to a lot. Got Omar Bradley’s book and read it about that time too. Regular guys did amazing things, not because they were looking for an adventure.
You often hear the point that today’s infantry fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen more infantry combat than most infantry during WW II in NW Europe, while serving multiple tours of duty. While that may be strictly true in terms of the total time in combat, it is misleading in the sense that the reason for such relatively short tours in WW II was owing to the 8 months from D-Day untill VE-Day and the fact that units in combat had such extraordinarily high turnover in personnel owing to the staggering casualty rate. There is no way that so many of today’s warfighters would have survived to complete so many tours of duty were our enemies in the Middle East able to project the same relative combat power and skill of the German enemy.
This is not meant to detract from the enormous sacrifice, diffuculties experienced and bravery of our contemporary warfighters in their struggles against a ruthless enemy. I just think it helps to place it all in historical context.
Finally as we cosider placing women into combat, let us not refight the last war. The next one may be a contest similar to WWII, if not in style than in the casualty rates. As the article shows, EVERYONE in the Army is ultimately an infantryman if needed. Just ask the men of the Word War II Army Specialized Training Program who had been trained in relatively rear area jobs such as radar technicians, aircrew, anti-aircraft artillery, engineering, dentistry, medicine and the like. Most of them were transferred to combat units has infantry to replace the unbelievable losses in the line infantry and armor units and in preperation for the invasion of Japan.
This possibility does NOT bode well for large percentages of women in the Army.
You do some fine writing, do you ever submit articles, or seek to write guest opinion pieces?
I forget the name of the division, but the whole outfit was killed, wounded, or captured before it was over. with the centuries of history, who ever decided the Ardennes would ever be a quiet sector?