Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Understanding the U.S. Army World War II Infantry Division

The United States Army had studied its organization extensively after World War I and reorganized the infantry division in the 1930s and again in 1942 and 1943 after a series of large training exercises. The division that fought in World War II was a more compact offense force than in the previous war, carrying a minimum of defensive weapons, streamlined for open warfare, and backed up by other types of units as needed. "It was the smallest Army unit capable of operating completely independently."[1]

However, divisions were still what most would consider large organizations of about 14,000 men organically composed according to the Order of Battle of the United States Army World War II, European Theater of Operations, Divisions. They could be modified to suit any tactical situation by the attachment of other types of units, such as anti-aircraft, chemical, and engineer, etc. Central to the infantry division's mission was the rifle squad, composed of 8 to 24 men, though 12 was most typical.

Organization of a generic Army World War II infantry division
without the support and specialty unity which augmented
battalions, regiments and divisions; created using Microsoft

My father-in-law, Peter Charles Dagutis (1918-1991) served as a Staff Sergeant during World War II, having been promoted to that rank from Private, with the 5th Infantry Division. The organic composition of his division included the following units:

Organic units of the 5th Infantry Division; image from Order of Battle of the
United States Army World War II, European Theater of Operations, Divisions

Divisions are attached to corps, corps to armies, and armies to an army group. For example, my father-in-law's chain of command was:

The Army officers in my father-in-law's chain of command; created using
Microsoft Excel

Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley reported to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. When I am reading about World War II, I keep this chart nearby. Enlisted men are very rarely mentioned in the histories or even contemporary unit reports. The commanding officers are much more likely to be mentioned. If I spot a name on this chart, especially a name near the bottom, I make a note of it as whatever occurred may have involved my father-in-law. Knowing how the Army was organized and the chain of command also enables me to better understand combat narratives and the after action reports.

[1] Forty, George. The Armies of George S. Patton, (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1996) , page 65.

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  1. great post. Even though I have several family members who served in various wars, I have no military background and am always confused. This is a great reference!

    1. Things made a lot more sense to me once I paused researching people and spent some time studying the Army of World War II. After that, I felt I could write about my World War II ancestors with more confidence.

  2. Thank you for this post, very interesting! I've been performing a lot of military research lately and this really helps me to understand the levels within military divisions.

    1. When I figured out the hierarchy, things I made a lot more sense and I stopped getting lost in the sea of unit names. My brother has helped me a lot in this regard.

  3. How informative! Love the chain of command chart! I don't have excell, but if I have someone make a blank one would I be able to use? Be nice to have a template to make anyone your researching their specific one. I have to go and dissect my uncle and See if I can figure out the commanding officers. I really loved this post - thanks for taking the time to write it up with diagrams.

    1. Do you have access to any type of word processing software? If so, just make a box with the same number of columns and rows and your're set.

  4. Good stuff, my grandad (1924-1980) was in able company, 2nd IR. Do you a pic of your father in law? I can see if he is in any of my grandads photos he took