By William S. KelleyJuly 18, 2019
As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Dr. Leo P. Hirrel's book about the logistics of that war is worthy of the attentions of Army and joint sustainers. Field Manual 3-0, Operations, has refocused the Army's attention toward large-scale combat operations, and the Army is challenged to prepare for operations against a near-peer competitor where all of the domains are contested. While the challenges we face today are great, we should consider the state of the Army 100 years ago.
World War I brought the Army into the 20th century with a modern administrative system and processes for manning, equipping, and training. We can gain perspective and understanding to address the issues in today's sustainment environment by studying the numerous sustainment challenges faced by the Army in World War I.
Reading Supporting the Doughboys: US Army Logistics and Personnel during World War I, benefits joint sustainers by addressing the size, organization, and logistics capabilities of the 1917 force. Moreover, the book demonstrates how the Army and nation met the challenges of mobilizing for a large-scale conflict.
BEFORE WORLD WAR I
After the Civil War, the Army went fifty years without fighting a major war. As a result, it had none of the equipment, doctrine, organization, or experience needed to support what would become a two-million Soldier Army deployed to France.
The pre-World War I Army was a small, constabulary force of approximately 100,000 active duty Soldiers. Regiments were the largest units in the force.
Logistics functions were not streamlined. Each supply bureau--Quartermaster, Ordnance, Engineer, Signal, Adjutant General, and Surgeon General--exercised extensive autonomy over their operations and their logistics. Congressional politics allowed these bureaus to resist efforts by the Army General Staff to streamline operations. The supply bureaus competed with each other for scarce resources, without any thought to the other bureaus or the Army at large.
For example, Hirrel notes that at the beginning of the war, the Adjutant General's Branch purchased all available typewriters on the market, and the Army's Rock Island Depot purchased all the available leather, without any consideration for the needs of the rest of the service.
TRAINING AND EQUIPPING ISSUES
Hirrel explains the immense challenges faced in reorganizing the economy to support the war. Due to a policy of strict neutrality, President Woodrow Wilson did little to prepare the economy before the United States declared war.
The industrial base took 12 months to retool. Only by end of the war was it able to supply the needs of the Army. As a result, many Soldiers in stateside training bases were not properly equipped and had no chance even to fire a rifle before deploying to France.
The United States relied extensively on France and Great Britain to arm and equip its Soldiers. In his book, Truman, David McCullough writes that field artillery units, like those commanded by Harry S. Truman, were equipped with the French 75-millimeter howitzer upon arrival in France. Due to a lack of equipment in the United States and a desire for realistic combat training, Gen. John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), instituted a 60-day training period for all arriving U.S. units. Training and equipping issues delayed U.S. participation as an independent force until the summer of 1918.
One of the earliest issues faced was clothing the Army. The war in Europe created a serious wool shortage for the U.S. textile industry in 1917 because imports were not available from suppliers in Australia and New Zealand. The brief military campaign in Mexico had exhausted the Army's inventory of uniforms, and rapid mobilization for World War I exacerbated the situation. As a result, there was widespread suffering the first winter. Soldiers lacked blankets, tents, and warm clothing at U.S. training bases and in France. Through a combination of legislation, government allocation of war materiel, purchases in theater, and salvaging of used uniforms, the issue was resolved by the summer of 1918.
Another issue that arose from the 1917 campaign in Mexico was related to the widespread acceptance of trucks to extend operational reach. No centralized process or strategy existed for purchasing and maintaining trucks. Each supply bureau simply went to the market and purchased what it required.
By the end of the war, the Army operated over 294 models of trucks, including many European models manufactured with metric measurements. This led to widespread shortages of repair parts and created challenges in keeping trucks operational.
The Army introduced a standardized 3-ton Liberty truck, but only 8,000 were purchased--far too few to meet operational needs. Altogether the Army only had about 50 percent of the trucks it needed. The challenge was keeping these trucks operational. This resulted in severe shortages of short-haul transportation assets. Hirrel writes that this issue was never fully resolved, but it set the stage for centralized planning and purchases of trucks for World War II.
Hirrel's astute observations include detailed descriptions and careful research, especially in the chapters focused on the challenges and adaptations made the by the Army in theater. Using today's parlance, Hirrel describes the Army's establishment of what was its theater distribution network. The author reiterates that the Army, was small force inexperienced with large-scale operations. The only guidance available to sustainment planners was the service regulations of the time. Planners applied these regulations to establish a theater area of operations.
The area adjacent to the U.S. portion of the lines was called the zone of the armies, and everything behind this area was called, the line of communication (LOC). Hirrel writes that the area inside the LOC was further divided to provide sustainment capabilities by echelon. The advanced section, closest to the zone of armies, contained smaller depots, repair facilities, and most importantly, regulating stations. Regulating stations served as central receiving and shipping points, breaking down trains shipped from depots and slotting rail cars by destination, typically to the division railheads.
The intermediate section of the LOC contained the key facilities required to sustain the Army, including depots, warehouses, ice plants, bakeries, replacement depots, salvage and repairs facilities, forestry services, and other activities. These facilities were quite large. For example, Gievres Depot had 165 miles of track, 208 warehouses containing 2 million square feet of storage, and employed 20,000 workers by the end of the war.
The base section of the LOC contained a major port, smaller ports, and supporting services, such as rail, warehouses, and personnel processing centers. The British Army, which had operated in France since 1914, used the most capable French ports on the English Channel adjacent to their lines. The U.S. sector, located in Lorraine, relied on the smaller Atlantic coast ports of Brest, St. Lazare, and Bassens. These ports supplied the needs of the French people and were generally less capable than those along the English Channel.
The ports needed extensive adaptations. Wharfs, rail lines, cranes, and warehousing were added. The American ports also needed a large labor force. Much of this force was provided by African-American stevedore units. By war's end, the United States operated nine base sections with 26 ports.
Planners assumed the Army would contract for its transportation needs once in France.
However, years of war had left French rail lines in poor shape. Rail lines connecting Atlantic ports to Lorraine ran 600 miles on secondary lines. Sections of rail were removed to be used at the front, and rail cars and locomotives were in short supply and in need of repair. As if that was not enough of a challenge, the employees running the French railroads were at the front.
The U.S. Army was tasked with an enormous challenge to build and manage hundreds of miles of rail lines with no experience or operational capability to do so. For this reason, the AEF Transportation Service was born. Its units were created with Soldiers who had railroad expertise from their civilian occupations.
COMMAND AND SUPPORT RELATIONSHIPS
Hirrel details the challenges in theater of resolving command and support relationships between the War Department, the AEF, the supply bureaus, and theater sustainment organizations, known collectively as the LOC. There was confusion about the roles of the LOC components. In addition, the AEF railroad community insisted on extensive autonomy within the LOC, and this precipitated a series of clashes with the AEF.
Pershing resolved the situation by strengthening the sustainment command's authorities by shifting responsibilities from the AEF Headquarters to the newly created Services of Support (SOS) command. Hirrel writes that under the command of Maj. Gen. James Harbord, the SOS was able to further improve the efficiency of theater sustainment through his enhanced authority and close relationship with Pershing.
Hirrel points out that important precedents developed in World War I concerning sustainment and unity of command. Pershing established the principle that theater sustainers work for the theater commander. In 1918, word reached the War Department of issues with frustrated cargo at the ports due to mismanagement. The War Department drafted a plan in which Pershing would be relieved of responsibility for theater sustainment so he could focus on directing combat operations. The Quartermaster General would come to France to take charge of the SOS and coordinate with
Pershing but report directly to the War Department.
Pershing acted quickly and decisively to voice his objections to the plan and stressed unequivocally that the theater commander must have control of all his assets. Pershing won the argument, and to this day, theater commanders control sustainment in their theaters.
Hirrel highlights innovations from World War I that are now common place in doctrine and operations. The AEF established theater stockage levels, expressed in days of supply (DOS), to safeguard against interruptions in the flow of supplies from the United States. The base section at the ports would hold 45 DOS, the intermediate section would hold 30 DOS, and the advanced section would hold 15 DOS.
Automatic re-supply, "push" logistics, was first used by the AEF to speed supplies to front-line units without a need for requisition. Much like today, commodities, such as subsistence, fuel, and other supplies, were consumed at predictable rates and so were pushed forward based on unit populations and regular logistics reports.
The AEF developed classes of supply to aid in the management of the vast qualities of materiel needed. These classes were based on supply method, automatic or requisition-based. Routine daily supplies, such as fuel, food, and animal forage, were shipped automatically. These were classified as class I. Supplies needed regularly, but not daily, such as clothing, were class II. Durable items, such as mobile kitchens, were considered class III. Lastly, munitions were considered class IV and were shipped based on operational need.
Hirrel's book is well-documented, accessible, and enjoyable to read. He takes the reader from the small constabulary focused Army of 1917 to one that grew to over two million Soldiers over 18 months and participated in the final campaign that brought the war to a close. He highlights the immense challenges the Army and nation faced to mobilize and equip for war.
The lessons learned and innovations of theater sustainers from 100 years ago are particularly durable. For example, clear command and support relationships, forward-based logistics, and responsive support all have their place in large-scale combat operations. On the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, today's sustainers can gain a better appreciation of the challenges faced by our forerunners and apply these lessons to the challenges of today's operating environment.
William S. Kelley is an instructor at the Command and General Staff School, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He holds a master's degree from San Diego State University and a bachelor's degree from Indiana University. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.