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The Reforms of General McNair
Battalion: An Organizational Study of United States Infantry
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The estate of the late John Sayen has graciously given permission to the Tactical Notebook to serialize his study of the organizational evolution of American infantry battalions. The author’s preface, as well as previously posted parts of this book, may be found via the following links:
Before the ink was dry on the tables of organization of 1 April 1942, the newly appointed commander of Army Ground Forces, Lieutenant General Leslie J. McNair, began a program of reforms aimed at reducing the size, and thus the logistical footprint, of the ground combat units they described. When applied to the tables of organization for the infantry regiment adopted on 1 March 1943, these reforms resulted in units with far fewer men, and much less in the way of motor transport, than their immediate predecessors.
Many of these changes resulted from the application of a set of regulations that General McNair applied to most units within his purview. These “ground rules” included the assignment of additional duties to most drivers, thereby reducing the number of men serving in each company headquarters, and a reduction in the number of officers’ orderlies and “basic privates.” They also called for greater use of 1.5-ton trucks, each of which replaced two smaller vehicles (such as jeeps and 3/4-ton trucks) or, when provided with a trailer, a single 2.5-ton truck. McNair’s ground rules also deprived units of items that he classified as luxuries. Thus, regimental, battalion, and company headquarters lost all of their portable tables, chairs, and safes, as well as most of their typewriters and many of their tents.
At the same time, McNair provided the trucks that survived his culling of the motor transport herd with a new means of protecting themselves against low-flying aircraft. In exchange for the Browning automatic rifles that had previously been issued to ever second (or so) vehicle, each infantry regiment got thirty-five .50 caliber machine guns.
In keeping with the theme of improving the “tooth to tail” ratio within the Army Ground Forces, McNair’s reforms made few reductions to the personnel strength of the rifle company. Leaving squads and platoons as they had been, he cut a cook’s helper, a messenger, a basic private, and a driver from the company headquarters. (The driver was made redundant when a single 1.5-ton truck took the place of the two jeeps in the company headquarters.)
Following the same logic, McNair deprived the weapons company of a cook, a cook’s helper, an orderly, two basic privates, and two liaison agents. (One of the latter had served in the heavy machine gun platoon. The other had belonged to the 81mm mortar platoon.) He also removed the thirteen drivers made redundant when thirteen 1.5-ton trucks took the place of twenty-six sets of jeeps and trailers.
As might be expected, McNair’s axe fell heavily upon the headquarters company of the infantry battalion. That unit lost twenty-seven men, eight vehicles, and one of its four 37mm antitank guns. (The removal of the fourth antitank gun from the antitank platoon of the headquarters company converted that unit from a binary organization into a triangular one. Thus, in addition to cutting the five men of the gun crew and the drivers of two jeeps, this reform also made redundant the two sergeants who had led the two two-squad sections of the old antitank platoon.)
A similar reform replaced the three binary platoons of the regimental antitank company with four triangular ones. When combined with the dissolution of the mine laying platoon and the issue of a .30 caliber light machine gun to each platoon, this change increased the resemblance between the regimental antitank companies of the US Army of 1 March 1943 and their German counterparts of 1940.
The biggest reform that General McNair imposed upon the infantry regiment merged the regimental cannon company with the regimental headquarters company. This measure reduced the size of the communications platoon, replaced the eight self-propelled artillery pieces of the old cannon company with six M3 105mm towed howitzers, and abolished one of the old howitzer platoons, for an overall saving of two officers, fifty men, and five vehicles.
Recently developed for use by airborne forces, the new towed howitzers weighed half as much as the 105mm howitzers serving with the field artillery regiments of infantry divisions. Nonetheless, they fired the same projectiles, albeit with different amounts of propellant. (As might be expected, the larger piece enjoyed an advantage when it came to range.)
The service company exchanged thirty 2.5-ton trucks for twenty-nine 1.5-ton vehicles. It also lost twenty-two soldiers, most of whom were mechanics, messengers, cooks, or basic privates. (Strange to say, McNair declined to abolish the positions of the athletic and entertainment directors.)
Table of Organization T/O 7-11 Infantry Regiment (1 March 1943)
Table of Organization 7-12 Headquarters and Headquarters Company (1 March 1943)
Table of Organization 7-13 Service Company (1 March 1943)
Table of Organization 7-14 Antitank Company (1 March 1943)
Table of Organization 7-15 Infantry Battalion (1 March 1943)
Table of Organization 7-16 Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Infantry Battalion (1 March 1943)
Table of Organization 7-17 Rifle Company, Infantry Battalion (1 March 1943)
Table of Organization 7-18 Heavy Weapons Company, Infantry Battalion (1 March 1943)