Experience of an Infantry Division QM
Lt. Col. John E. O’Hair, QMC*
(*Assistant to the Ground Quartermaster)
The Quartermaster Review
Having been the Quartermaster of an Infantry Division from the date of its activation in December 1942 until its inactivation in September 1945, I had the good fortune to train a Quartermaster company in the States and observe the results of this training during the combat operations of the division in the European Theatre of Operations. Some of these observations are related hereafter with the hope that they will be informative from a training and organizational standpoint.
Just prior to the New Year of 1943, the division Quartermaster company was activated under the newly adopted T/O & E, substituting a company for the battalion which had previously provided Quartermaster service support for an Infantry division. The place of activation was a new mobilization-type camp which was just approaching the final stage of completion. The station operating staff was assembled just prior to the arrival of the division cadre. Being new, both organizations were faced with numerous difficult problems; however, through close cooperation these problems were effectively resolved and harmonious policies and procedures established.
The cadre for the Quartermaster company, consisting of ten officers and thirteen non-commissioned officers, arrived about two months before the division was activated. The non-commissioned officers were experienced, having received their specialist training in their parent unit prior to joining the division. Although the officers received initially had had some experience, during the initial stages of activation and prior to receipt of filler personnel, the majority of the experienced officers were transferred, and recent graduates from officer candidate school were received as replacements.
For approximately two months the cadre represented the unit, since personnel to bring the division to authorized strength had not arrived on schedule. During this period the Quartermaster cadre bore the burden of maintaining the daily requirements of the division cadre, consisting of approximately 2,500 officers and enlisted men, in addition to effecting the receipt, issue, and transportation of hundreds of Quartermaster items, representing many tons of initial issue equipment stocked by the technical service at the station prior to and during activation. Station storage facilities being inadequate, supply was transferred to regimental, battalion, and separate company areas for interim storage in supply rooms and barracks. This was accomplished in spite of lack of transportation, shortage of personnel, and other difficulties. During this period it was not an uncommon sight to see a Quartermaster officer driving a cargo truck, fully loaded, with a non-com on top of the load, on their way to deliver the goods.
Approximately two months after the activation of the division, notification of arrival dates of filler personnel was received, and plans previously formulated for the feeding and processing of fillers at a central plant prior to assignment to permanent organizations were placed in operation. A flexible schedule was initiated for issue of Class I supply on a basis of daily requirements, as deduced from scheduled train arrivals and reports from personnel depots. Personnel shipments arrived in contingents of 600 to 1,200 daily for a period of fifteen days, when the authorized strength of the division was reached. As the personnel received consisted of the first eighteen-year-old citizen-soldiers called to the colors, we were known as the Baby Division.
The following period with its many problems and difficulties presented an opportunity for cadre personnel to apply the knowledge acquired in officer candidate schools and cadre training courses to practical Quartermaster operations. Each successful accomplishment increased immeasurably the individual’s confidence in himself and the team. The processing finally completed and the company having received its quota of new personnel to bring the unit to authorized strength, on-the-job training began immediately, as continuous supply to the division, particularly Class I, was a matter of major importance.
As the unit was filled with untrained personnel, the old question of work or train was resolved by a system of rotation. One half the unit maintained the division supply while the other half received basic training, alternating every other day. Under this rotational policy the unit progressed through all training phases in mastering required subjects. Subjects emphasized were map-reading, convoy operations, motor maintenance, blackout driving, perimeter defense, reconnaissance, and supply procedure. Practical application of training doctrine was the rule, with operations “field type,” under simulated combat conditions, utilizing to the greatest advantage the most difficult terrain features, around-the-clock time element, and other adverse conditions to improve technique in the accomplishment of the supply mission. Training was not individualized; all members were trained to be conversant with the duties of other sections in order that uninterrupted service would continue regardless of unforeseen emergencies.
An incident occurred during the advanced training phase that served as a general test of the ability of the unit to operate successfully under considerable pressure. Two regimental combat teams were on an extended problem at a location one hundred miles from the home station. The Quartermaster unit was operating in two echelons-the rear at the station and a forward echelon with the RTCs. Daily trains were loaded by the rear element and dispatched to the “front,” and the forward operated a railhead and Class III points in the combat team area. During the problem the War Department directed that an immediate shipment of eighteen hundred men be made to a replacement depot for overseas service. The division commander directed each RTC commander to select six hundred enlisted men of appropriate MOS and return them to the home station while the problem continued. Quartermaster transportation was limited, but by shuttling over a route of some two-hundred-odd miles, the movement of the men was accomplished in twenty-four hours. At the rear echelon a processing plant was set up in production-line style, inspection teams were organized, and supply obtained from the post supply agencies. When it was learned that post stocks would be inadequate, trucks were dispatched to a depot a distance of one hundred miles to obtain additional supply. All men were equipped with Class A clothing and equipment, and were loaded on the trains within seventy-two hours.
Participation in the Tennessee Maneuvers during the winter of 1943 contributed greatly to practical experience through full field operations. Fast-moving situations simulating “Blitzkrieg” conditions required tremendous expenditure of energy and effort to maintain supply, while constant changes of location taught many lessons in reconnaissance, map-reading, and load-planning, and in ways of living in comparative comfort under extremely adverse conditions.
From maneuvers the division was shuttled by motors over some six hundred miles of highway, in seven days, to a new station, which became the scene of much activity during the ensuing period. The division was called upon to furnish six thousand replacements for combat theatres and received a like number of replacements, all of whom were ineligible for immediate overseas service. Despite this loss of personnel the division was ready for overseas service after seven months at the new station, and after a total of nineteen months of training and service operations in garrison and in the field, orders to move the division to the European Theatre of Operations were received.
Upon arrival of the division in England, in October 1944, it was found that supply operations there were similar to operations in the United States. Minor adjustments had to be made to conform to local conditions. The unit operated a Class I supply point which served the division and other troops in the area, including a replacement depot which fluctuated in strength from four thousand to fifteen thousand with little or no warning. A one-day reserve was maintained for emergency issue. Class II supply depots were scattered throughout the island, and the securing of requirements was difficult and time-consuming. Class III supply points-petrol (gas) filling-stations with ground tank capacities of 100 to 500 gallons-were operated at widely separated points within a fifty-mile area and required timely refill scheduling through British POL agencies. These filling-stations were augmented by the establishment of a Class III dump for can exchange near the ration point. No general reserve of Class II or III was maintained, the procedure being one of “hand to mouth.” Replacement of items lost or damaged in transit overseas and issue items “authorized by theatre commander” would not have been possible had the unit personnel been untrained. Each truck driver had supplies of one kind or another to obtain, and there were not sufficient non-coms to accompany the drivers to the different supply points. Failure to obtain necessary supply was not evident.
Operation on the Continent during movement of the division to assembly areas was similar to the move from the Tennessee maneuver area except for hazards such as mined areas and strafing from the air. Class I supply was maintained and consisted of Type C and B rations, supplemented by bread and coffee issues from points established en route. This necessitated twenty-four-hour operation of trucks and, as a result, made it convincingly evident that all cargo trucks were in need of assistant drivers.
Further adjustment was necessary upon commitment to combat operation in service support to the division. A Graves Registration Section was not available for attachment from higher headquarters; therefore a section was organized, and enemy and American casualties were processed and transported to Army cemeteries. Distances involved varied from seven to two hundred miles as the conflict progressed.
At this time the tactical situation indicated a necessity for a division reserve, and supply was accumulated as follows: Class I, three days’ operational rations; Class III, thirty thousand gallons and a quantity of oils and greases. In addition the equivalent of twelve cargo-truck-loads of Class II supply in a more or less balanced stock was maintained. Requisitions from units were filled immediately upon receipt, and division stocks were replenished twice weekly or more often if the occasion demanded. This procedure continued until VE-day, differing only in amounts of all classes of supply as was dictated by the tactical situation. The foregoing naturally placed a terrific burden on the company for additional personnel in the operation of the different sections, and the requirement for labor and transportation for the division reserve constituted a problem throughout the entire combat period. Movement was accomplished by shuttling; truck companies were attached to the division, and, on one occasion, a Belgian freight train was requisitioned near the front. Trucks were operated on a twenty-four-hour schedule and drivers received little or no rest. In addition, truck drivers were of necessity scheduled for duty in the perimeter defense of the installation. Due to the size and dispersion of the unit it was normal for all personnel to draw guard duty every third day. It was not unusual for truck drivers to find themselves manning positions after coming off long and arduous trips, due to the lack of other available personnel.
The service platoon furnished personnel for a salvage section, a stove- and lantern-repair section, a tire-repair section that repaired from fifty to seventy-four flat tires daily, and additional personnel for the Class II and III sections. This left a bare minimum available for the ration section to supply the division and attached troops, the strength of which averaged between eighteen to twenty-two thousand. The training received was evident as day and night operations were carried on successfully under the most adverse conditions.
Service support to the division was maintained from locations ranging from two thousand yards to eleven miles in rear of the combat elements. Mobility and flexibility of operation was evidenced by the numerous times it was necessary to operate in two echelons in an endeavor to keep Class I and III in the immediate vicinity of the combat units.
The experience gained during maneuvers in making reconnaissances was the foundation for successful selection of roads, sites for bivouacs, supply points, and locations for the laundry and bath platoons which were attached to the division. All personnel were reconnaissance-minded. and a constant flow of information on possible locations was volunteered by personnel upon return from trips to the front as far forward as the regimental and battalion positions.
VE-day found the division in territory to be temporarily occupied by the American Army pending adjustment of the occupational zones, and, for two months, occupational duties were performed. The load was increased from a supply standpoint as some thirty thousand prisoners had been taken and rations from captured German warehouses under control of Army had to be transported daily for issue to prisoners.
After approximately two months of occupational duties the unit received orders for redeployment; all equipment was turned in except for minimum essential items, and the unit returned to the United States. VJ-day occurred during the period of recuperation leave, and, upon reassembly, orders were received to inactivate the division. Personnel was transferred to other units being redeployed or to separation centers operating personnel.
The successful accomplishment of the supply mission during 154 days of continuous combat, over 564 miles of enemy territory, under every conceivable condition of weather, terrain, and combat hazard, without loss of any supply and with a minimum loss of seven trucks (worn out) and three men wounded, could only result from proper training.
In conclusion, it is desired to make the following comments based upon my experience:
The enlisted cadre under the T/O & E was insufficient to adequately staff the unit for operation and provide the instructors for basic training without undue hardship.
The system of a Quartermaster unit being formed and basically trained concurrently with the division operates as a deterrent to progress of the service element. Should a Quartermaster company continue to be the service component of an Infantry division, it should be pretrained in basic and advanced subjects prior to the formation of the division. Upon assignment prior to activation it would then be ready and available for its service mission. Advanced and field training can be accomplished in conjunction with the training of the division.
The operation of the Quartermaster company in more than one echelon proved advantageous and was a must on many occasions.
The Quartermaster company is lacking in sufficient personnel for the additional duties and sections that are formed from necessity. “The service platoon normally supplies labor for a division strength of 14,000 where, in actual experience, the division has attached units in combat bringing the total strength for service purposes to 20,000.
In order that the Division Quartermaster may adequately serve the division it is felt that he should have additional personnel and tools. Therefore it appears essential that the Quartermaster component of the division should have organic service elements such as Laundry and Bath Platoons, Salvage and Repair
Platoon, Graves Registration Section, and an additional Truck Company, assistant drivers for all cargo trucks, and additional personnel in the service platoon-in short, a battalion complete for real service support to the division.