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Published by Paul D Carrier
Development of the US Armor Corp 1917 to 1945
Development of the US Armor Corp 1917 to 1945

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Published by: Paul D Carrier on Jul 14, 2011
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On 15 September Chaffee submitted to the War Department a formal proposal to
expand the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) into a division. He believed that German
panzer operations in Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland demonstrated the value of
large mechanized formations, writing, “It can no longer be said—‘It might be done in
maneuvers but how about war?’” He now sought approval of the previously developed
mechanized cavalry division organization, rapid procurement of the corresponding
materiel, and improvements to Fort Knox to house the formation.40
The proposed division required additional manpower. Chaffee wanted its full
complement and a 50 percent surplus to provide a trained cadre for additional
mechanized units upon mobilization. He preferred to cover these personnel needs
through an increase in the Army’s establishment; but as an alternative he recom-
mended transferring offcers and enlisted men from horse cavalry, infantry, and
nonmechanized artillery units. Moreover, because of the greater technical demands
of the mechanized cavalry, he requested that Regular Army soldiers constitute the
bulk of the new division’s strength, leaving National Guard and reservists as the
principal manpower source for the horse cavalry and infantry units.41
Chaffee’s proposal represented a deliberate effort to assert the primacy of
mechanized cavalry. He saw little utility for horse cavalry: “It is my belief also,
based on maneuvers and the war reports, that in any important war involving armies,
and fought in a terrain where important wars are fought, mechanized cavalry is a
vastly more powerful, mobile and decisive force than an equal or greater force of
horse cavalry. I believe that a nucleus of horse cavalry should be kept for mountain,
desert or tropical expeditions.”42
Implicit in Chaffee’s recommendations lay a clear preference for an independent
branch. His desire to collocate personnel from multiple branches, subordinate their
training to mechanized cavalry needs, and expand Fort Knox to accommodate them
all indicate his unwillingness to subordinate mechanized cavalry interests to those
of the Cavalry Branch. Already gaining infuence on materiel developments through
technical boards convened at Fort Knox, Chaffee’s proposals would also give him de
facto authority over doctrine development, personnel, and training—responsibilities

normally held by a branch chief.

Chaffee also routed his recommendations to the War Department through
Van Voorhis, the V Corps Area commander, rather than through Herr, the chief of
Cavalry. The latter learned of Chaffee’s actions only after the adjutant general dis-
seminated copies of his memorandum for comment. While Van Voorhis supported
the proposals, they constituted a complete break with Herr’s plans for branch mod-

40

Memo, Brig Gen Adna R. Chaffee to The Adjutant General (TAG), sub: Some Observations
and Recommendations Pertinent to Any Future Expansion and Development of Mechanized Cavalry
Which May Be Contemplated by the War Department, 15 Sep 39, quote from p. 1, Ofc of the Ch of
Cav, Gen Corresp, RG 177, NARA.

41

Ibid.

42

Ibid., quote from p. 2.

233

a new beginning: the arMored Force

ernization, and, indeed, from the branch chief altogether.43

Chaffee’s rejection of
horse cavalry in favor of a greatly expanded mechanized cavalry force ruptured the
relationship between the mechanized cavalry commander and the chief of Cavalry.

It also threatened to destroy the unity of the mounted branch.

Herr reacted with his own set of proposals to the War Department. He used the
similarity between German armored operations in Poland and mechanized cavalry
concepts to justify continued American mechanization efforts under Cavalry leader-
ship. He reminded the War Department of the prior support rendered to expansion
of the mechanized cavalry by successive chiefs of Cavalry and proposed a new
division organization. Given the disparity between Germany’s ten mechanized
divisions and the U.S. Army’s single mechanized brigade and assorted tank units,
he believed that public sentiment favored increasing the Cavalry’s mechanized
component. In fact, with 450 combat cars and tanks in service, the U.S. Army’s
mechanized assets proved inferior to the nearly 1,100 armored vehicles in Poland’s
preinvasion inventory.44
Therefore, on 3 October, in lieu of the earlier two-regiment confguration, Herr
proposed a larger mechanized cavalry division. He boosted combat-car strength

43

Memo, Chaffee to TAG, 15 Sep 39, 1st End, 18 Sep 39, and 2d End, AG, 3 Oct 39.

44

Memo, Chaffee to TAG, 15 Sep 39, and 3d End, 9 Oct 39; Memo, Lt Col Willis D. Crittenberger
to Ch of Cav, sub: Tanks and Combat Cars in Army, 10 Oct 39, Crittenberger Papers; Steven J. zaloga
and Victor Madej, The Polish Campaign, 1939 (New york: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1985), p. 88.

General Chaffee (second from left) consulting with offcers during winter training

234

Mobility, Shock, and Firepower

from 112 to 500 and included a motorized infantry regiment.45

Like Chaffee, Herr

recommended that supporting motorcycle, antitank, engineer, signal, and medical
units be stationed at Fort Knox. Although he did not envision the Kentucky post’s
becoming the permanent center of mechanized development, he did seek to make it
an important training point for mechanized cavalry. Consequently, he also worked
to expedite equipment deliveries to the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized).46
The proposed division organization continued to change. In general, orga-
nization planners sought to create an American panzer division. The formation
grew to include a tank brigade and a holding brigade built around a motorized
infantry regiment. Emulation of the Germans resulted in organizational changes
that lacked meaning. For example, a divisional antitank unit was initially included,
but “then, in order to make our proposed division comparable with the German
Panzer Division, the antitank unit was taken out of the divisional troops and put

in the holding brigade.” Similarly, “we had our hands forced somewhat when

a signal battalion and signal and engineer squadron were included. Once again
the injection of these two sizeable elements was somewhat due to the German
infuence.” The large number of motorcycles refected the German usage and
Herr’s interest in motorcycle troops—an enthusiasm one assistant described as

his being “motorcycle-minded.”47

Generally, these changes increased the size of
the formation, but they received consistent support from the assistant chief of

staff, G–3.48

Simultaneous with the design of a new mechanized division, the chief of Cavalry
sought to preserve the mounted branch and defend the utility of its preponderance
of horse cavalry. To Herr, “the equipment, training, and methods of employment
of American horse cavalry in every way ft it to perform a necessary role in the
army which no expansion of mechanization, in its present state of development, can
hope to replace.” Rather than strip already understrength horse regiments to meet
mechanized cavalry needs for skilled soldiers, Herr recommended withdrawing
Regular Army personnel from civilian component training assignments, replacing
them with reservists and retirees. Similarly, he did not want Fort Knox to receive
exclusive responsibility for mechanized cavalry training. While he supported efforts

45

Robert W. Grow, “The Ten Lean years: From the Mechanized Force to the Armored Force
(1940),” p. 86, Robert W. Grow Papers, MHI Archives; Ltr, John K. Herr to Maj Gen Robert W.
Grow, 7 Jun 45, Grow Papers; Draft Memo, Ch of Cav Maj Gen John K. Herr to CS, sub: Expansion
of Mechanized Cavalry, 30 Sep 39, Crittenberger Papers. This document is the draft for the 3 October
Memo and indicates the principal views expressed in the latter.

46

Memo, ACS, G–3 Brig Gen Frank M. Andrews to CS, G–3, sub: 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mecha-
nized), 11 Oct 39, National Archives Project, GCM; Draft Memo, Herr to CS, 30 Sep 39.

47

Ltrs, Lt Col Raymond E. McQuillen to Lt Col Willis D. Crittenberger, 17 Oct 39, and Lt Col
Willis D. Crittenberger to Lt Col Raymond E. McQuillen, 20 Oct 39, both in Crittenberger Papers.

48

Memo, ACS, G–3, Brig Gen Frank M. Andrews, to CS, G–3, sub: 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mecha-
nized), 11 Oct 39. “American Panzer Division” became a common expression in War Department
memorandums following the Polish invasion, suggesting the impact of Germany’s successes with
armored units on War Department thinking.

235

a new beginning: the arMored Force

to acquire more land at Fort Knox, he reminded the War Department of his broader
plan to create a cavalry training complex near Fort Bliss.49
Herr also asserted his role as the principal Army adviser on Cavalry matters. As
a bureau chief, he considered it his prerogative to suggest modifcations to cavalry
mechanization. In a thinly veiled reference to Chaffee’s proposals, he wrote, “I
cannot refrain from adding that recommendations as to methods to be employed
in any expansion of cavalry units are within the province of the Chief of Cavalry,
rather than that of a commander of any individual unit in the feld.”50
Chaffee in turn asserted the right of a feld commander to present his views directly
to the War Department. Van Voorhis supported him, and the War Department found
itself barraged with competing proposals for mechanized cavalry expansion from the
chief of Cavalry and the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized).51

With each round of

correspondence the rift between Chaffee and Herr widened. Each considered his own
views superior and came to perceive the other as an obstruction to implementation
of his proposed courses of action. Ultimately, however, Herr’s efforts to coordinate
Cavalry modernization under his own leadership failed. Lacking direct control over
the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) or the V Corps Area, he could not prevent
Chaffee—with Van Voorhis’ support—from recommending actions at variance with

those of the chief of Cavalry.

49

Memo, Chaffee to TAG, 15 Sep 39, and 3d End, 9 Oct 39.

50

Ibid.

51

Memo, Chaffee to TAG, 15 Sep 39, 6th End, 12 Dec 39, and 7th End, AG, 14 Dec 39, all in
Item 4886, Reel 314, National Archives Project, GCM.

German tanks advancing into Poland, 1939

236

Mobility, Shock, and Firepower

The G–3 Division of the War Department General Staff favored plans to build
a mechanized division similar to the panzer division. It generally supported the
proposals of Herr and Chaffee. Germany’s conquest of Poland and a military intel-
ligence report identifying the panzer division as the criterion for determining an
army’s modernity or obsolescence fueled this support. The report further considered
the German Army, with its mechanized divisions and air support, easily capable of
defeating any army not similarly equipped.52
The War Department faced a dilemma. The desire to create a combined-arms
mechanized division did not accord with the bureau system’s emphasis on organi-
zational separation by function. The Army eschewed the creation and collocation of
combined-arms formations for training purposes throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
Instead, it encouraged the branches to develop separately according to mutually
exclusive missions. Such a precedent could not easily be overturned.
Manning a mechanized division also posed a problem. No branch chief wished
to transfer personnel to the new formation. Each feared the transfer would become a
permanent loss, undermining his own modernization efforts. A similar fear had contrib-
uted to the earlier demise of the Mechanized Force. The larger size of the mechanized

division and the likely need for more of these formations in the future threatened a

much greater personnel loss. Despite the onset of war in Europe, Congress could not
be relied on to provide suffcient additional soldiers. It had indeed raised the Army’s
strength—but only by seventeen thousand. The transformation of square to triangular
divisions quickly absorbed this small increase.53
Centralized leadership might have overridden branch considerations and simply
directed the transfer of personnel. The Army’s command structure in 1939, however,
still refected the decentralized, horizontal organization of the interwar years. Its
decision-making process lacked decisiveness and rapidity. Indeed, the acceleration
of war-readiness measures threatened to overwhelm the leadership altogether. The
combination of intensifed strategic and mobilization planning, increased training
activities and feld maneuvers, and Air Corps expansion resulted in a rising tide of
administrative minutiae. Related correspondence created endless paperwork for all
War Department agencies, but especially for the Offce of the Chief of Staff.
In August 1936 the chief of staff became the feld army’s commander in time
of peace and war until replaced by an offcer designated by the president. These
responsibilities added to the chief of staff’s existing duties of presiding over prepara-
tions for future confict and supervising implementation of actions approved by the

secretary of war. Collectively, these changes increased the authority of the chief of

staff. Moreover, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s willingness to consult directly
with Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall further enhanced the chief of staff’s
infuence on military affairs, particularly the course of Army modernization.54

52

Memo to ACS, G–3, Brig Gen Frank M. Andrews, sub: Mechanization, 1 Dec 39; Ltr, Col
Charles L. Scott to Brig Gen Adna R. Chaffee, 13 Dec 39; both in Crittenberger Papers.

53

War Reports, p. 18.

54

Watson, Chief of Staff, pp. 64, 66; James E. Hewes Jr., From Root to McNamara: Army Or-
ganization and Administration, 1900–1963
, Special Studies (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center
of Military History, 1975), pp. 58–60.

237

a new beginning: the arMored Force

An exponential increase in administrative responsibilities charged exclusively
to the chief of staff paralleled the increased authority. Consequently, nearly every
War Department organization and feld army (some sixty different offces by 1941)
reported directly to the chief of staff. These responsibilities undermined the chief’s
ability to focus on broad policy measures, even with the support of a deputy. Worse,
the failure to separate policy from implementation threatened the War Department
with a breakdown of its administrative machinery similar to that experienced at the
start of the Spanish-American War and World War I.55
Consequently, 1940 began with no War Department action on the mechanized
division. Not until February, fve months after submission, was Chaffee notifed
that his division proposal had been received and taken under consideration.56

The
competitive relation developing between the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) and
the Offce of the Chief of Cavalry further complicated the determination of how to
create a combat formation now generally considered necessary. The General Staff

continued to study the issue, but the time-consuming nature of formal analysis gener-

ated further delay. In the interim, mobilization plans included only one mechanized
cavalry brigade per feld army, although funds were budgeted to enlarge Fort Knox
and procure additional materiel for mechanization. Finally, the War Department
opted to delay action on the mechanized cavalry division until after the Third Army

maneuvers scheduled to occur in May.57

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