The unprecedented scale of World War II resulted in an equally exceptional amount of resources left in multiple theaters at the end of the war. The lack of Allied demobilization planning is a valuable general case study for logisticians seeking best practices and points for improvement for strategic planning. Three key challenges undermined the Allies demobilization efforts after World War II. First, the Allies struggled with planning variables that harmed their future capabilities. Second, the systems they employed to affect demobilization plans also lacked flexibility or coordination and suffered from planning deficiencies. Third, human resource challenges caused significant problems in forces that remained static overseas.


Logistical planning for demobilization of the vast human and technical resources in the European theater at the end of the World War II was shortsighted. American planners predicted the European war would end in late 1944 and the Pacific war would end as late as 1947, necessitating an exodus of forces from Europe into the Pacific to continue fighting in that theater. They were surprised by the sudden need to repatriate their joint forces after the atomic bomb-driven victory over Japan. Canada, on the other hand, began demobilization planning in December 1939 because of the incredible size of forces being deployed; however, the range and scale of planning assumptions meant that no operational plan could be developed until the outcome of the war was clearer.

Finding the appropriate window to begin demobilization planning is clearly challenging. When planning starts too late or is reactionary, there is an increased risk of operational and human resources problems; however, if started too early, there will be no realistic assessment of the end state available. For example, Canadian demobilization planning in World War II seemed to ignore the potential for battle damage to transport craft and non-serviceability, which would constrain redeployment at the end of the war. Additional or reserve transport capacity must therefore be prepared ahead of demobilization.

Even the most skilled logisticians and planners may not have been able to foresee the challenges of re-mediating surplus real property and equipment. At the end of the war, the United States was responsible for over 30,000 installations on 2,000 sites across the globe. The scale of the logistical task at hand was extraordinary: the United States alone was responsible for redeployment of 1.2 million personnel and 5 million tons of material. There were long-term effects on the strategic capabilities and readiness of Allied forces caused by demobilization. The Royal Canadian Navy's (RCN) 278 hulls needed to be repatriated, repaired, and repurposed for the new vision of the RCN -- a formidable task for a battle-weary service that was a leader at sea at the time. The United States Armed Forces' financial and human resource demobilization reduced itself to a size that was below its needs for maintaining an effective force and for planning for future engagements. This became evident quickly as the Cold War emerged and the Allies recognized a pronounced need for major force generation in continental Europe opposite the newly expanded Soviet Union. Demobilization planning must begin as soon as a likely and desired end state is identified, and capabilities and resources ideally must be allocated to independently support demobilization.


The systems used to facilitate demobilization after the World War II were characteristically bureaucratic. The Allies variously attempted to consolidate their forces either quickly or in an orderly fashion, but did not seem to focus on both. Canadian personnel demobilization was complicated by their aversion to a points system, based on the dominance of volunteers over draftees in their forces. Nonetheless, the Canadian approach may have been the most comparatively efficient of the Allies by the numbers: the RCN reported at the end of fiscal year 1945/1946 that 76,905 all ranks had been discharged. The Royal Canadian Air Force released 147,263 members, and the Canadian Army had released 342,361 (33,265 were engaged in compulsory service). Initially, British demobilization after the war was also rapid: 3,000 releases occurred per day in the first two months, accelerating after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, signaling that mass forces were no longer needed to invade.

Despite their extraordinary success in returning volumes of service members home, the urgency of British and American demobilization left a crucial personnel gap of experience and trade skill. Historically, units had been deactivated as a whole, whereas this effort was individual-based, leaving disengaged draftee replacements to take the places of hardened, experienced veterans. A longer planning timeline may have facilitated more innovative repatriation systems that could have prevented such a serious atrophy in institutional knowledge.

Systems, by nature, are constantly expanding and interconnected, and are therefore susceptible to error. For example, in Canada's case, transportation capacity issues impacted the speed with which service members returned. The final plan for Canadian personnel demobilization was withdrawal through checkpoints across continental Europe: the 1st Canadian Army disbanded, followed by its Divisions and their residual forces, and moved through Nijmegen, The Netherlands to England for a final return trip to Canada. This approach intended to use existing infrastructure "to simplify planning by reversing the reinforcement flow and retaining the logistical, administrative, and command staff already in place", as inflows of returning personnel increased by over 60 percent to 50,000 personnel in holding facilities at any time. Unfortunately, long-term Canadian planning had apparently overestimated transportation capacity. While much of the withdrawal had worked effectively for it, Canada had to bid for "tonnage" through the Combined Chiefs of Staff's Allied Shipping Pool to execute the final leg of the trip home, so Canadians were prioritized below the millions of Americans overseas, returning Allied prisoners of war (rightfully so), and interned civilian nationals.


As every senior noncommissioned officer knows, the backbone of a military is its personnel. Effective management of personnel is still necessary in periods of low operational tempo. At the end of the World War II, morale deteriorated amongst deployed soldiers rapidly. Over six months after victory over Japan, British deployed personnel's morale and discipline had deteriorated so badly that a noticeable increase in service offenses was observed. When the Bevin plan (the British point system for repatriation and discharge) was amended, delaying and confusing returns for many, over 50,000 Royal Air Force personnel took the extraordinary and mutinous step of striking between 1945 and 1946. The sheer scale of the strikes appears to have prevented charges from being laid against the airmen, but their frustrations were understandable: the average British serviceman didn't return home until 1946, and total redeployment wasn't complete until 1947.

Morale was somewhat better for Canadians, though not drastically so. Minister of Veterans Affairs Ian MacKenzie visited several bases in The Netherlands in 1945 to find split opinion on the unit system of demobilization versus the point system, and he acknowledged "a sense of grievance among the troops here that the government is not carrying out its promise to soldiers that the policy of "first in, first out" would be followed." Minister MacKenzie had actually attempted to support reintegrating veterans for five years prior to the end of the war, starting a veteran's division in the Department of Pensions and National Health in December 1940. He recognized the immediate outcomes and long-term impacts of educating veterans, and implemented an education reimbursement program that resulted in a student population of 42-49 percent veterans between 1947 and 1949 at the University of Toronto alone. MacKenzie's approach was forward-thinking and ultimately somewhat successful, recognizing servicemen's and veterans' needs and taking action before they arose, in order to implement human resource management policies and programs immediately when required.


Critically evaluating this exceptional case provides us with opportunities to improve logistical planning in future conflicts or operations other than war. The scale and scope of the World War II makes it a useful case study for logisticians because its consequences are so pronounced.

Senior leaders, strategic and operational planners, and operations staff should include demobilization planning considerations in their consciousness from the very outset of any mission or task, accessing the expertise of logisticians within their or their partners' organizations. Stating a desired end state is not sufficient: logistics should be given a great deal of attention, and risk needs to be identified proactively. The example of Allied forces experiencing skill fade, needing to rapidly force generate to defend against the Soviet Union (and the Korean War), and failing to seamlessly transport soldiers home are examples of logistical consequences affecting strategic objectives.

Coordination with friendly actors and process innovation are also characteristics of strong logistical plans. In the case of Canadians waiting for spots on transport ships to be purchased, a more coordinated approach could have resulted in a more appropriate fleet of ships leased and dispatched. It may have been worth considering innovative solutions such as, for example, immediate cash bonuses for those who wish to release immediately and make their own way home. Such a process might have alleviated both the duty of responsibility over affected soldiers and at the same time prevented the serious human resources concerns of striking service members and plummeting morale.

Logistics--the broad business of coordinating gaps and needs, staff, equipment, capabilities, resources, supplies, and fleets--should obviously be well-planned. The post-World War II Allied demobilization provides ample opportunity for reflection on current military and paramilitary logistical practices and areas for improvement, and emphasizes the need for constant strategy and process improvement.


Sgt. Simon D.H. Wells is a member of the Canadian Army, 4th Canadian Division headquarters. He is a graduate of the Bachelor in Military Arts and Science Program at the Royal Military College of Canada, and a human security and peace building graduate student at Royal Roads University. He has served in several roles in the division headquarters, and other units, as a human resources supervisor. He spent approximately two years in federal public service as an operations, planning, and logistics officer in emergency management. Wells is a certified Professional Logistician (P.Log). His area of graduate research is space conflict and escalation norms.


This article was published in the January-March 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.