Skip to comments.Veteranís Day: The Magnificent Infantry of WW II
Posted on 11/11/2018 4:18:06 PM PST by Retain Mike
The Army deployed 65 infantry divisions for the Second World War. Each was a small town with its own equivalents for community services plus 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 often eluded them because so few came through to testify to the valor of the many. These civilians become warriors confronted the most dismal fate of all whose duty was uninterrupted by missions completed or a fixed deployment time. The infantrymen were enveloped within the most chaotic, barbaric, and brittle existence against extraordinary enemies where victory often required actions well beyond prior limits for impossibility.
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 the 65 divisions in the Pacific and European theaters suffered 100% or more casualties. However, their regimental staffs saw frontline units obliterated three to six times over. To deal with this problem there were never enough infantrymen coming from the states, though large numbers were transferred from Army Service Forces and Army Air Forces to Army Ground Forces. Replacement centers overseas continually reassigned artillerymen, machine gunners, cooks, and clerks to infantry 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. Those suffering battle fatigue came off the line for a few days for clean uniforms, bathing, hot food, and sleep. However, scarcity compelled their repeated return until crippling wounds, mental breakage, death, or victory brought final relief.
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, malaria, arthritis, etc. and most never returned to duty. In the jungles of the Pacific non-combat losses exacted an even greater price. But somehow the infantry 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. But they 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 quote named Tommy Clayton, but was generalized here because Ernie Pyle saw him as an example of the infantrymen he loved.)
Crusade in Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower
The U.S. Infantryman in World War II by Robert S. Rush
Foot Soldier by Roscoe C. Blunt, Jr.
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
45th Infantry Division http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/45th_Infantry_Division_(United_States)
Remembering the Thunderbirds Oklahomas 45th Infantry Division http://www.baptistmessenger.com/remembering-the-thunderbirds-oklahomas-45th-infantry-division/ Total casualties of 62,640 When Gen. George S. Patton described the 45th Infantry Division, he said it was one of the finest, if not the finest infantry division in this history of modern warfare.
My most often contact with these men started about age twelve when my dad began taking me out golfing on the weekends. There was a man who used the first golf cart I ever saw, because as a brigade commander of the 41th infantry in New Guinea he was debilitated by sickness. I remember one fairly good golfer who had kind of a weird back swing. I found out he was crippled while serving with the Big Red One in Sicily. My Economics professor in college served with one of the first UDT teams clearing barricades and mines in the surf zone before Pacific landings. I often ended up as a dishwasher at the country club and noticed the chef always limped as he moved around the kitchen. He saw my puzzled look, and said he got the limp from a wound received when he was with the Rangers at Pointe De Hoc. Those are just a few of the stories I remember among so many others I could tell or have forgotten.
I remain amazed how certain infantry divisions could be chosen repeatedly for initial assaults where they incurred terrible casualties. The corps and army commanders had favorites and somehow division staffs responded to reconstitute and retrain the rifle platoons every few weeks without losing the quality of the assault forces. It seems other divisions were usually sent to less active sectors, entered combat later in time, or occupied a flank in an attack. Again these were the most ordinary of men, so I keep hearing Aaron Coplands Fanfare for the Common Man as I read the narratives for this essay.
Thanks for this.
The Army deployed 65 infantry divisions for the Second World War.
My Father was in the Combat Engineers. He always spoke highly of the Infantry. Also respected the Armored units.
I never found out till years later that my late high school government teacher, tgen Reserve Major and later Colonel Thomas L Morning, was an infantry Second Lieutenant in the first wave landing in Normandy, June 6, 1944. He was a very humble man and had a great impact on my education. A real role model for me unknowingly to him back then.
Very good stuff. Thanks.
By V-J Day all eighty-nine active divisions were deployed overseas and all but two had seen combat.  Fortunately the crisis of late 1944 was the last unpleasant surprise. If another had come the divisional cupboard would have been bare.
It took a year to put a division together and that was amazing it could happen that quickly.
Bump, to read again. God bless our men.
The vice principal at my middle school in the early 1960s was a Marine combat veteran of Iwo Jima. He had a photo of the famous flag raising above his desk. No student ever tried to cross him. Most of my teachers, in high school too, were WWII vets.
Not the Infantry, but my Dad was on a 105 at Attu fighting the Japanese there.
A one time employer,John T Jones, of Houston was in a Sherman tank knocked out in Europe. He told me he was captured and held prisoner in Germany when he played dead in a ditch until as he told me,”Some German SOB came up and poked me in the back with a bayonette.”
It was really a priviledge to talk to these old Vets. It still is.
Made me think about what is a division although we use the word quite often regarding WWII. It was always emphasized that it was a self contained unit with everything it needed being internal. The move from 4 to 3 regiments, (one in reserve) is very clear now in my history reading.
World War II
The divisional system reached its numerical height during the Second World War. The Soviet Union’s Red Army consisted of more than a thousand divisional-size units at any one time, and the total number of rifle divisions raised during the Great Patriotic War is estimated at 2,000. Nazi Germany had hundreds of numbered and/or named divisions, while the United States employed 91 divisions, two of which were disbanded during the war.
One notable change to divisional structures during the war was the shift from square divisions (of four infantry regiments) to smaller triangular divisions (of three infantry regiments). This was due to increases in mobility and the need to pare down structures to be as efficient as possible. The triangular division also fitted with the tactic of “two forward, one back”, in which two of the division’s regiments would be engaging with the enemy with one regiment in reserve.
All divisions in World War II were expected to have their own artillery formations, usually the size of a regiment depending upon the nation. Divisional artillery was occasionally seconded by corps level command to increase firepower in larger engagements.
Regimental combat teams were used by the US during the war as well, whereby attached and/or organic divisional units were parceled out to infantry regiments, creating smaller combined-arms units with their own armor and artillery and support units. These combat teams would still be under divisional command but have some level of autonomy on the battlefield.
Organic units within divisions were units which operated directly under Divisional command and were not normally controlled by the Regiments. These units were mainly support units in nature, and include signal companies, medical battalions, supply trains and administration.
Attached units were smaller units that were placed under Divisional command temporarily for the purpose of completing a particular mission. These units were usually combat units such as tank battalions, tank destroyer battalions and cavalry reconnaissance squadrons.
In his six volume History of WWII, Churchill mentions that early in the war, Stalin demanded they send something like 30 divisions to the Middle East to take pressure off the Russians.
Churchill said they had just scraped the bottom of the barrel to raise a single division to sent to North Africa. He later learned that Stalin was secretly training and supplying 100 divisions East of the Urals.
I could be off on those numbers but I think they are close.
A local historian from my hometown had collected stories and archival data of the local men and women who served in the second world war. The school teacher, banker, mechanic and farmer, people who I had known as ordinary folk had their stories told. Often too late, did I learned of the sacrifices these folks made for our freedom. Multiply these stories across thousands of communities, and you had America's Greatest Generation.
The Dean of Men at my college in the early 70’s was reported to be a survivor of the Bataan Death March.
I will say that based on his physical appearance that reports were most likely correct.
I had a history professor who was on the Bataan Death March. He definitely showed the effects from it, both physically and intellectually. Some time he would just start rocking off the edge of his desk and go into a mumbling trance for a few minutes.
Pretty sobering stuff for an 18 year old to witness.
About 20 years ago my brother, a high school art teacher in a small town in Arkansas, had the students interview their grandfathers who served in WWII. They were reluctant at first but really got into. They discovered that some had served together. They finally saw their grandfathers as the heroes they were. They didn’t know because, as Ross Perot said, “They saved the world, came home and build America and never mentioned it.
I’m proud to be the daughter of a US Army Staff Sgt. (now deceased) who initially volunteered in 1940 with the Virginia National Guard, and in 1941 was transferred to regular Army with the 29th Infantry Division, 116th Battalion. His Company was in the first wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. After taking the beach and fighting their way to inland France, Daddy was wounded at Saint Lo, but was returned to the theatre of operations after a very few days of hospitalization (really before he should have been). He went on to serve until war’s ending. He never discussed the horrors of the D-Day landing and now I know why. These men, by confronting unknown horrors, became heroes by withstanding the menace the Axis powers presented them.
I truly appreciate your tribute to this wonderful generation of warriors.
This is my story about some WWII veterans I knew in the fifties.
When I was a young boy growing up in the fifties I always looked at World War Two veterans as bigger than life. They were of my daddys generation so I knew who all of them were. There was Herman and Snip Dale, Bill Horst, Edwin Sitzer and Zeke Carter, to name a few. Mr. Carter had lost an arm in Germany. I was amazed to see him light a cigarette.
To me, they were all heroes. But these men were reluctant heroes. The saved the world, came home and built America and never mentioned it again. But to me, they were truly special people, super heroes who fought the bad guys and won. They had brought peace to a world in turmoil. And I always listened intently whenever they did talk to my daddy about their exploits proving my suspicions that they had a lot of things to tell.
In 1955 when I was four years old we lived just down the road from Edwin Sitzer in Eastern Arkansas in a community called Harmony Grove. The house was on a dirt road that became practically impassable when it rained.
Daddy had bought an old Army surplus jeep, with no heater, and that was our only mode of transportation. One cold and rainy day I was sick and Mother was taking me to the doctor in Newport. We took off in the jeep with her trying to keep it out of the ruts in the muddy road. But she couldnt figure out how to shift the gears. She was nervous and worried and anxious. So was I. She stopped at Mr. Edwin Sitzers house and he came out and showed her the position the shifter should be in for each gear. I dont remember anymore of what happened that day but I never forgot that a genuine World War Two hero had come to the rescue and made me feel at peace.
In 2001 I was sitting in a pew at my brothers funeral. Sadness overwhelmed me as I reflected on our childhoods and how fast all those years had gone by. I was lost in thought when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and there sat an elderly gentleman who asked Arent you Terry?
I replied Yes, sir.
He reached out to shake my hand and said Im Edwin Sitzer. I dont remember ever having seen him since that day in 1955. But for some reason he remembered me. I thought of my big brother and how he would have been proud that this man had come to honor him. And I realized this man’s presence and the simple gesture of shaking my hand and offering his condolences was helping to ease my pain. Once again this genuine hero had made me feel at peace.
Your dad was lucky to survive. The 29th and 1st ID went through the meat grinder on Omaha Beach. Saint-Lo was no picnic either. The 29th was particularly hit hard at Omaha.
The 29th Commanding General was said to have commanded three divisions simultaneously. One in the field, one in the hospital and one in the cemetery.
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