|Unit History Project|
THE NATIONAL GUARD IN WAR: AN HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF
THE 27TH INFANTRY DIVISION (NEW YORK NATIONAL GUARD) IN WORLD WAR II
Chapter 7: Conclusions
The 27th Division participated in four operations in the Central Pacific in World War II: the invasions of Makin, Eniwetok, Saipan, and Okinawa. In all cases the missions assigned to the division were accomplished, yet it's performance was colored by the writing of TIME reporter Robert Sherrod who had inaccurately depicted the situation and events surrounding the relief of MG Smith at Saipan in 1944 and by General Holland Smith in his autobiography, Coral and Brass. Sherrod stated that it was the performance of the 27th Division that caused MG Smith's relief in that the men refused to fight and froze in their foxholes. The writings of Sherrod and H.M. Smith were inferences and not first hand accounts.
There are two parameters which could be used to measure how well the division performed each of the assigned task: time required to accomplish the mission and casualties. The longer the time used, the greater the inefficiency and the higher the number of casualties, the lower the overall efficacy of that unit.
At Makin, the division (165th Regimental Combat Team) eliminated enemy resistance in three days. V Amphibious Corps had planned for a one-day operation with the RCT then becoming a reserve force available for Tarawa. Corps made some fundamental planning errors which led to their unrealistic timetable. First, it underestimated the enemy as he had reinforced Makin and had been preparing defensive positions for 10 months prior to the invasion. Second, it overestimated the value of the pre-invasion Naval bombardment. And third, it assumed that the Army executed amphibious warfare exactly as the Marine. Corps, i.e., rapid build-up of combat power on the beaches and then fast penetrations inland, bypassing enemy strongpoints.
Corps' timetable was unrealistic and unworkable. The 165th RCT adhered to Army doctrine as they been trained and accomplished the mission with minimal casualties. From the standpoint of the V Amphibious Corps (H.M. Smith), the reduction of Makin took too long and wouldn't permit the use of the 165th on Tarawa. This is another shortcoming of the Corps staff as they assumed that the 165th would be available for use on Tarawa instead of programming another RCT, such as the division's 106th which wasn't committed.
On Saipan the division was initially programmed to be the Corps reserve and was then committed on the most difficult terrain as the main effort. Holland M. Smith had said that the he had serious reservations about the 27th yet he used them in the most difficult sector where the enemy was thickest. When the 27th couldn't maintain the pace of advance of the adjacent Marine Divisions Smith did nothing to aid them. He didn't reduce their sector or increase their combat power with artillery, tanks, or more infantry, instead he reduced their force and disrupted their chain of command. Smith and the staff of the NTLF had been on Saipan but had no appreciation for the terrain as they continually attacked with three divisions abreast with no attempt to maneuver around the strength of the enemy. The individual soldiers of the division demonstrated the ability to perform as they had trained and they fought courageously. The soldiers of the 27th Division proved that they would fight and lacked only reasonably logical tactical employment considerations from Corps.
The 27th was again the floating reserve for Operation ICEBERG, the invasion of Okinawa. The division was almost 2,000 men understrength with many new faces among the senior leadership. Once again using time and casualties as the measure of success the division met and exceeded all expectations. Inserted into the line to place greater pressure on the defending enemy the division made gains which equalled those of the adjacent 96th and 7th Divisions. The lack of quick success on Okinawa by 10th Army should have caused the initiation of a radically different tactical approach to reduce enemy resistance. Instead, General Buckner attacked repeatedly into the strength of the Japanese Shuri Line in an operation reminiscent of World War I.
The division's operation on Okinawa was a series of company-sized engagements which reflected a hands-off approach by the higher echelons. Division, regiment, and in most cases battalion, controlled the action from too far in the rear with no appreciation for the adversity which the companies experienced. On Okinawa, as on Saipan, the individual soldier demonstrated superior fighting ability and intrepidity but the division's senior leadership failed them. The commanders and staffs did not. adequately perform their role in setting the conditions for battle which would increase the chance for success.
To examine more closely the performance of the 27th Division,four areas were analyzed: personnel, training, military education, and external influences. The 27th was not unique in it's experiences in these four areas. Aside from it's external influences the 27th could be characterized as typical of all National Guard divisions in the areas of personnel, training, and military education.
All of the National Guard divisions entered active duty at half strength and were plussed up shortly thereafter with draftees. All through the critical first year of service when the divisions were maturing as units the NCOs were being siphoned off to cadre other emerging divisions and to attend OCS and other schools.
The officers were inexperienced but dedicated. The senior leadership was invariably too old and soon replaced with younger men. In the 27th Division battalion commanders rose from company grade positions while the company grade soon were filled with Organized Reserve Corps officers. The end result of this was as seen at Okinawa with eight of nine battalion commanders but only seven of 36 company commanders coming from the National Guard. At the time the 27th first saw combat in November 1943 there were approximately 3,000 . original Guardsmen. Of those the majority had been privates who became NCOs with little or no formal training.
The Guard divisions were systematically broken up to provide experience to other divisions. The recruiting slogan, "Join the Guard and go with the boys you know," was ideal but never realized.1 The foundation of the militia system was units who lived in close proximity during peacetime, trained together, and then went to war as a cohesive body. It was this cohesion which gave the units heightened fighting power.2
Major John S. Brown in his thesis "Winning Teams: Mobilization - Related Correlates of Success In American World War II Infantry Divisions", hypothesized that divisions which performed well in combat met certain criteria. These criteria were: personnel stability in the twelve months prior to embarkation; previous combat experience; and fighting a first battle which resembled their training exercises. The preponderance of the Guard divisions never met these criteria because of the Army's penchant for disassembling them.3
General Marshall, in a speech before the war to the National Rifle Association, highlighted the value of cohesion:
...the infantry soldier becomes an isolated individualist, with all of the frailties of the individual magnified a thousand fold. He lacks a physical rallying point—no ship, no heavy gun, no fortification, nothing but a few scattered buddies. Of himself, by him self , he can apparently do very little, though collectively he can win the war.4
The National Guard was the embodiment of cohesion. The rifle companies and artillery batteries organized in both small and large communities across the country, had developed a level of expertise sufficient for war. They possessed high morale and cohesion, dedicated and extremely patriotic officers and NCOS at battalion and below, and tactical and technical competence at the individual soldier and company-grade echelon. The greatest asset that the Guard had was their tight-knit, very loyal small units which are the foundation of all great units. Yet when broken up, scattered amongst new units made up of draftees, the expertise and efficiency was lost in the older National Guard unit and rarely acquired in the newer unit. Dr. Robert R. Palmer, writing immediately after the war, stated that the personnel losses were made up by a steady stream of replacements yet the efficiency of the organization suffered irreparably.5
Training in the Guard before the war was rudimentary and exemplified the Regular Army. Parades, retreat ceremonies, and spit and polish were the norm, and hard realistic training to prepare for war was unusual. The weekly drills and annual training were only adequate for individual and small unit development. The assistance and guidance provided by the Regular Army to the Guard was completely inadequate. Training upon mobilization was constrained by the lack of experienced NCOs due to their loss to OCS and to cadres. The large maneuver exercises served to train the Army, Corps, and Division staffs but not the fighting elements, i.e., the regiments and below. Training conducted by the 27th. Division reflected all of these problems.
The military education of the leadership of the 27th Division in particular and the National Guard in general was inadequate. Service school courses were available to the Guard officers but they weren't always available to take advantage of them. Upon mobilization most of the 27th's battalion commanders and principal staff officers attended the Infantry School's Battalion Commanders and Staff Officer's Course. Too few, however, attended the Command and General Staff School which was the preeminent course of instruction. Those who had attended received a condensed version of questionable utility. The end products, that is the students who would perform as operations officers in battalions and regiments, were shown to be less than capable. On Saipan, in particular, the operations orders produced by both division and regimental headquarters were incomplete and late. While it is true that the corps operations order arrived much too late to be useful, the division, as a minimum, should have been able to produce sufficient guidance for the regiments so that their detailed order could be developed.
There were a number of external influences which impacted on the performance of the division such as the relationship between the 27th and it's higher headquarters, in most cases, the Marine's V Amphibious Corps. The difference in tactical approach to warfare did not permit a smooth working relationship. The Marine approach was as General H.M. Smith described it in Coral and Brass, "Hit quickly, hit hard, and keep right on hitting. Give the enemy no rest, no opportunity to consolidate his farces and hit back at you."6 The Army's approach was not radically different but their forces executed this concept in a more methodical manner. This slower, more methodical approach was thought to reduce casualties especially in units with limited training time together. Admiral Raymond Spruance felt that the Army's methodology actually caused more casualties because it exposed the force to the enemy's attacks and fire for a greater period of time.7 This was the upshot of the difference of opinion between the Army and the Marine Corps in the Central Pacific.
The 32nd Division (Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard) was the first Guard division to be sent overseas, arriving on New Guinea in 1942. Initially, they were unprepared for the rigor of jungle warfare and suffered countless setbacks. The commanding general, MG Edwin Harding, was relieved and numerous other officers sent to other units. MG Robert Eichelberger took command and within weeks had transformed the division into a fighting unit which had no comparison in the Pacific.8 The basic units, the quads, platoons, and companies were the same but with different senior leadership after Eichelberger took command. This division performed magnificently once the weak and inefficient leaders were weeded out. The 32nd Division is a tribute to the National Guard and proved that the Guardsmen were capable.
The 27th Division, when it went into combat in November 1943, was not in the same situation as the 32nd. The 32nd embarked for the Southwest Pacific with the majority of the Guardsmen with whom they had mobilized. The 27th had perhaps 20% original Guardsmen and virtually none of the original NCOs. This division had been emasculated in the three years which lapsed between mobilization and entry into combat. The small unit cohesion which had been fostered over the years before the war was lost as the more experienced and valuable men of the 27th were sent to cadre other divisions or to OCS to be sent to yet another division.
The division that invaded Makin, Saipan, and Okinawa resembled the original 27th only slightly. The division's senior officers who did survive the levies lacked the fundamentals of leadership and military knowledge to overcome the serious training deficiencies of the young, inexperienced soldiers in their care.
Typically, National Guard divisions in World War II were used to train new inductees in the basics of combat and to provide new lieutenants for other divisions. The 27th was levied countless times and kept out of combat for three years before their initiation at Makin. Just as before the war, the Regular Army establishment provided little in the way of guidance or assistance to the division to prepare them in any way for combat.
Essentially, the Regular Army establishment wasted it's most valuable asset, the National Guard. Before the war the training of the Guard was inadequate and after mobilization the personnel policies of the Army permitted it's destruction. It was the protracted build-up time which the Army enjoyed which was it's salvation.
1 John K. Mahon, History of the Militia and the National Guard. (NY: Macmiilan Publishing Co., 1983), p.181.
2 Ibid., p.262.
3 John S. Brown "Winning teams: Mobilization - Related Correlates of Success In American WW II Infantry Divisions", Ft Leavenworth, KS, 1985, MMAS Thesis, p.107.
4 Major H.A. DeWeerd, ed., Selected Speeches and Statements of the General of the Army George C. Marshall. (Wash., DC: The Infantry Journal, 1945), p.14.
5 Dr. Robert R. Palmer, Mobilization of the Ground Army. (Wash., DC: The Historical Section, Army Ground Forces, 1946), p.2.
6 Holland M. Smith, Coral and Brass. (NY: Scribners, 1949), p.17.
7 Thomas B. Buell, The Quiet Warrior. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1974), p.358.
8 John Francis Shortal, Robert L. Eichelberger: The Evolution of a Combat Commander, Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilm International, 1985), p.88.
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military