ARMOR-CAVALRY: Part 1; Regular Army and Army Reserve/Armored Force

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  • At the end of the twenty years between World Wars I and II, an Armored Force finally emerged, but it did not evolve easily. Ardent supporters of armor had advocated even more than mechanized regiments or brigades. They urged divisions, at the least, and some recommended mechanized corps and armies. From the beginning of the 7th Cavalry Brigade's organization in the 1930's, almost continuous efforts had been made to expand it into a division. And while the Chiefs of Infantry and Cavalry had generally supported these attempts, both were opposed to the conversion of any of their existing units to accomplish the expansion. To them this would have resulted in the lost of units, as well as the loss of personnel, at the expense of their authorized branch strengths. Actually, the goal of armor advocates was the organization of a mechanized force that would be completely free from the control of other arms.
  • At the start of World War II Germany's rapid conquest of Poland in September 1939 demonstrated the power and speed of German armor. In the spring of 1940, panzer units of the German war machine were on the move again, this time rolling westward through the Low Countries and France. Also, during the U.S. Army maneuvers of 1939-40, it had been evident to armor enthusiasts that development of mechanization under cavalry and infantry was not being given enough consideration. The German successes and the Army maneuvers helped armor leaders to convince the War Department of the value of armor and the urgency of establishing similar units in the U.S. Army. On 10 July 1940 the Armored Force was created with Chaffee, promoted now to brigadier general, as its first chief. Since there was no Congressional authorization for a separate armored branch, it was established technically "for purposes of service test."
  • Authorized 530 officers and 9,329 enlisted men, the new organization was built around the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) and the 6th Infantry (Armored) at Fort Knox, and the approximately seven infantry tank battalions in the three infantry (tank) regiments of the Provisional Tank Brigade at Fort Benning. From these units the Armored Force was assembled, and by mid-1942 its assigned strength reached 148,192. Also under command of General Chaffee was the I Armored Corps, activated on 15 July 1940 and consisting of the 1st Armored Division (successor to the 7th Cavalry Brigade) at Fort Knox and the 2d Armored Division (organized from the Provisional Tank Brigade) at Fort Benning. Other elements of the Armored Force were the 70th Tank Battalion at Fort Meade, the Armored Force Board, and an Armored Force School and Replacement Training Center.
  • Inheriting fewer than 1,000 mostly obsolete tanks and other vehicles, the Armored Force was hampered from the beginning in its efforts to equip its units. One armored division alone, to be fully equipped, required 3,243 vehicles, of which 1,140 were of the combat type. To speed manufacture of new vehicles of all types, current designs were placed in mass production, but it was not until 1943 that the equipment shortage began to ease.
  • As Chief of the Armored Force, General Chaffee, initially functioning directly under the War Department, was given control over all existing tank units in both infantry and cavalry, as well as certain field artillery and service units. Although not technically the head of an arm, he, in effect, ranked equally with the branch chiefs. As they were activated, all armored corps, armored divisions, and other tank units were to be included in the new organization. Soon responsibility for the development of tactics and techniques for all of its units was also added to the Armored Force's functions.
  • The illness and then the death of General Chaffee in August 1941 deprived the Armored Force of its first chief. He was succeeded on 1 August 1941 by Maj. Gen. Jacob L. Devers, an artilleryman. The third chief, Maj. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, Jr., an infantryman, took over from General Devers on 11 May 1943. Each of these chiefs made significant contributions to the development of armored vehicles and weapons and to the organization and training of armored units.
  • On 7 December 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered the war. The establishment of the Army Ground Forces in March 1942 brought several policy changes. In time the chiefs of arms were eliminated, but the Armored Force was retained as an independent command. Armored divisions and corps, on the other hand, were placed under the commanders of combined arms those commanding standard corps and armies. Also, as armored units began more advanced phases of training with larger units of other branches, they were detached from the Armored Force. As units were deployed overseas, they were released from the control of the Armored Force. Hence, as the war progressed, the number of units directly controlled by the Armored Force greatly declined, and its attention became centered upon the training of replacement personnel, development of armor tactics and doctrine, and test and procurement of equipment- all functions requiring close and continuous coordination with armored units in combat overseas.
  • The Armored Force was redesignated twice during the war, becoming the Armored Command on 2 July 1943 and the Armored Center on 20 February 1944. These changes in name better described its changing functions as the war continued.
  • Four armored corps were activated under the Armored Force, based upon the then American tactical doctrine for employment of armored divisions and larger organizations under armored corps and armies. Under this plan two armored divisions and one motorized infantry division were to form an armored corps. But by late 1943 the War Department decided that armored divisions could be employed properly by standard corps, and it directed that the II, III, and IV Armored Corps be redesignated as the XVIII, XIX, and XX Corps, respectively. The I Armored Corps had already been inactivated overseas and its personnel used in the organization of Seventh Army headquarters.
  • The basic element of the Armored Force was the armored division- a complete, self-sufficient, combined arms team, whose components, strength, and equipment varied during the war. The first concept saw the division composed of five principal elements: (1) command, (2) reconnaissance, (3) striking, (4) support, and (5) service. Among these, its prime strength was in the striking force, an armored brigade, bristling with 368 tanks and made up of two light armored regiments, a medium armored regiment, and a field artillery regiment. For reconnaissance, the division had a reconnaissance battalion and an attached aviation observation squadron. The division support element had an armored infantry regiment, a field artillery battalion, and an engineer battalion. In the service element were quartermaster, ordnance, and medical battalions and a signal company.
  • Armor planners designed the armored division as a powerful striking force to be used in rapid offensive action against vital rear area installations. Those objectives were to be reached by penetrating weak points or enveloping open flanks, not by attacking enemy strongpoints. The division's ability for sustained combat was a most important ingredient. Its main characteristics were high mobility, protected firepower, and shock.
  • Based primarily upon combat experiences, the armored division as originally planned underwent five separate reorganizations. Only two were of much consequence, the one of 1 March 1942 and the other of 15 September 1943.
  • The 1942 reorganization left the division with 2 armored regiments (one less than previously), or a total of 6 tank battalions, 2 light and 4 medium. Another major change was the elimination of the armored brigade setup and the addition of two combat command headquarters that became popularly known as Combat Commands "A" and "B." These new type organizations provided great flexibility in that they could be composed of any combination of divisional units for as long as the division commander desired. The reorganized artillery called for three identical battalions and a division artillery commander, whose functions closely paralleled those of the infantry division artillery commander. Tanks in the division totaled 390, an increase of nine, with the proportion of mediums to lights being almost two to one, reversing the 1940 ratio of over two to one in favor of the lights. The aggregate strength of the original 1942 division, including attached chaplain and medical personnel, increased the division from 12,697 to 14,620.
  • The 1943 reorganization, in effect, eliminated another armored regiment from the division, for it replaced the 2 regiments with 3 tank battalions, thereby matching the division's 3 infantry and 3 artillery battalions. Within the new tank battalion, there was an increase from 3 tank companies to 4, 3 being equipped with medium tanks and the fourth with light tanks. In addition to the two combat commands (CCA and CCB) another major headquarters was added to the division, the reserve command (known as CCR or CCC), which was intended for control of the division reserve on the march rather than in combat. The reorganization also changed the armored reconnaissance battalion to a cavalry reconnaissance squadron, a title more in consonance with its cavalry mission. The 1943 division lost about one-third of its tanks, ending up with 263, with the proportion of mediums to lights remaining the same, about two to one. A similar substantial reduction in personnel brought the division strength down to 10,937, or a drop of almost 4,000.
  • Armored divisions organized under both the 1942 and the 1943 tables of organization participated in combat. The 1st, 2d, and 3d Armored Divisions were in action while under the 1942 tables. The 1st, "Old Ironsides," was later reorganized in Italy under the 1943 tables, but the 2d, "Hell on Wheels," and the 3d, "Spearhead," remained under the 1942 tables throughout the war. All other armored divisions were organized under the 1943 or later tables.
  • The 1942 organizations were known as "heavy" divisions, while those of 1943 and later were known as "light" divisions. Both types proved to be successful in combat, although each had weaknesses. The heavy division was capable of more sustained action, even though it was very weak in infantry. The light division helped correct the infantry imbalance, but it still needed at least an additional rifle company to form tank-infantry teams on a balanced basis.
  • In the 1943 division's reserve command, personnel authorizations proved to be inadequate and armored group headquarters and headquarters companies were attached to several divisions to alleviate the deficiency. Not until after the war did new tables of organization and equipment finally rectify this situation.
  • Near the end of the war the War Department already had under study a proposed structure for the postwar armored division. Recommendations of experienced commanders indicated a trend toward more armored infantry and a total divisional strength of about 15,000, an increase of 4,000. Tank elements appeared headed for little change, although many leaders favored either the light or the heavy type of division. Most commanders agreed that one, perhaps two, tank battalions should be organic to the infantry division. Hence, combat had taught and these proposals would seem to indicate that in the armored division, infantrymen are needed to support tanks, whereas in the infantry division, tanks are needed to support the infantry.
  • The number of armored divisions increased rapidly from only two in early 1941 to fourteen in late 1942. By the end of the war, sixteen had been activated and all saw service in the war against the European Axis Powers. They were designated as the 1st through the 14th and the 16th and 20th Armored Divisions.
  • Each of the several reorganizations of armored divisions during the war period usually resulted in numerous redesignations, including numerical changes, for the organic elements, and involved both the armored and the armored infantry regiments. The regiments within most divisions were broken up into separate battalions and other regiments were eliminated. The numerical designations of the resulting battalions had no appearance of any sequence or pattern. Separate armored groups were also formed from the headquarters portion of many of the split-up regiments. Only the 2d and 3d Armored Divisions kept their regiments intact, the 2d retained the 41st Armored Infantry and the 66th and 67th Armored Regiments, and the 3d retained the 36th Armored Infantry and the 32d and 33d Armored Regiments.
  • Although armor enthusiasts at the beginning of the war insisted upon the mass employment doctrine for armored divisions, and even for armored corps and armies, they also foresaw the continued need for close support of infantry by tanks. They suspected, too, that this infantry need would be satisfied by stripping armored divisions of some of their organic tank battalions to form tank-infantry teams. To prevent the weakening of the armored divisions, separate tank battalions, especially designed for attachment to infantry divisions, were organized concurrently with armored divisions.
  • When the Armored Force was established in 1940, the 70th Tank Battalion was its only separate or nondivisional tank battalion. By early 1941 four additional separate tank battalions, the 191st through the 194th, were organized from eighteen scattered National Guard divisional tank companies that had been inducted into Federal service. The 192d and the 194th went immediately to the Pacific, where they were assigned to the Provisional Tank Group and fought in the early Philippine Islands Campaign.
  • At first the structure of the separate tank battalion conformed closely to that of the former infantry tank battalion, but it was later revised to permit the separate battalion to be interchangeable with the tank battalion of the armored division. The 1943 tables of organization eliminated the light and medium battalions and called for a single type of tank battalion composed of one light tank company, three medium tank companies, and headquarters and service companies. This distribution gave the battalion a striking force in its medium companies and a reconnoitering, exploiting, and covering force in its light company. The dual capability of the separate battalion and the battalion of the armored division greatly simplified the functions of the Armored Force in training, supply, administrative, and personnel matters.
  • To help control the separate battalions, tank group headquarters were organized. With as many as five battalions under the group originally, experience soon proved that number to be too large and a maximum of three was set, a figure that generally prevailed for the remainder of the war. The tank group was primarily charged with supervision of training, but it was also used for specific combat missions. A few tank groups were later expanded to include armored infantry battalions and became armored groups. Their composition closely resembled that usually found in the combat commands of armored divisions.
  • Additional Regular Army separate (or nondivisional) tank battalions were constituted in 1941 as the 71st through the 80th Tank Battalions, but were shortly redesignated the 751st through the 760th and activated. Most of the separate battalions that followed during World War II were also numbered in the 700 series. By the end of 1944 a peak of 65 such active tank battalions was reached, which was slightly higher than the total of 54 that were elements of the armored divisions.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).