Chapter XIX

A renowned British soldier has observed that for every ten military students who can tell how the Battle of Blenheim was fought there is only one who has any knowledge of the administrative preparations that made the march to Blenheim possible. In most military books, he noted, strategy and tactics are emphasized at the expense of logistics. He left no doubt of his conviction that the emphasis should be reversed. The principles of tactics and strategy, he said, can be apprehended in a short time by any reasonable intelligence. It is in the field of movement and supply that "most critics and many generals go wrong."1

Developments of the last hundred years have caused an inexorable encroachment by logistics on tactics and strategy. Resistance to this trend has been futile, and commanders had reason to regret attempts during operations in Europe in 1944-45 to ignore the iron laws of logistics, notably in such cases as the effort to acquire combat strength without giving sufficient consideration to the logistic requirements for its support, as in the U.K. build-up in 1942, and in the premature acceleration of the divisional build-up, as on the Continent in the summer and fall of 1944.

Operations in Europe demonstrated with probably greater force than ever before the extent to which logistic factors have entered into all strategic and tactical planning. To cite only the most obvious examples, logistic considerations dominated the selection of the place for the Normandy invasion, determined the time when it could be launched, and clearly influenced the tactical decisions of September and October 1944.

Recognition of logistic requirements was obviously sufficient to achieve victory in Europe. Some outstanding feats were accomplished in the field of supply. The most noteworthy probably were the logistic aspects of the assault itself and the subsequent support over the Normandy beaches. It can hardly be claimed that U.S. forces operated on a shoestring. In fact, few armies in history have been as bountifully provided for.

The European theater nevertheless experienced many difficulties in supplying its forces, and at times the shortages reached truly critical proportions. It might be said that two fundamental problems explain the theater's logistic difficulties. One was the problem of the theater's command and organizational


structure, which defied solution to the very end. The other, and more important, is to be found in "limiting factors," which also defied elimination to the end.

In retrospect, it is safe to say that the thorniest command and organizational problem which the theater had to face was that of the proper place of the logistical function vis-à-vis other functions of the theater. This would have been a vexing problem in any case, but it was complicated by the presence of U.S. forces in what was predominantly an Allied theater of operations, and by General Eisenhower's dual role as American theater commander and Supreme Allied Commander.

In 1942-43 the basic problem was the relationship between theater headquarters and the SOS in controlling the logistical function during a time when the theater was mainly occupied in preparing for combat operations. A viable solution to this problem had been reached early in 1944 in the consolidation of the theater and SOS headquarters with General Lee designated the deputy theater commander for supply and administration.

The introduction of SHAEF as an over-all Allied headquarters under an American who was also the U.S. theater commander altered the position of the new ETOUSA-SOS headquarters and in effect relegated it to a more subordinate position, even within the strictly U.S. command setup. Since the top U.S. commander resided at SHAEF, and since he had with him a staff of influential and high-ranking U.S. officers, many decisions on U.S. supply and administrative matters were made at Allied headquarters. SHAEF consequently assumed more and more the aspect of a U.S. theater headquarters. The ultimate result was really to divide the theater headquarters between ETOUSA-SOS (or ETOUSA-COMZ) and SHAEF, leaving the former in a difficult position in which it might be said that it ceased to be a genuine theater headquarters.

General Eisenhower apparently recognized some of the difficulties inherent in this arrangement and at the time when the transfer to the Continent began took pains to emphasize that the staff members resident with him at SHAEF were not to be regarded as members of the theater staff. He obviously intended to preserve as far as possible the integrated control of supply and administrative matters in the theater which had been achieved through the consolidation of the ETOUSA and COMZ headquarters. But the intent was at least partially voided by the simultaneous revocation of General Lee's status as deputy theater commander for supply and administration, which relegated the Communications Zone to a position coequal with that of the top air force and ground force commands.

The position of ETOUSA-COMZ headquarters thereafter was anomalous. In the sense that it contained the official theater staff, including the chiefs of technical services, who exercised theaterwide control in their respective fields, it was a true theater headquarters. General Lee continued to issue theaterwide instructions on administrative matters in the form of ETOUSA orders and circulars. But he actually held no position in the strictly theater setup, for his authority as deputy theater commander had been terminated. His staff, meanwhile,


held a dual position, as both the COMZ staff and the theater staff. In the latter capacity Lee's staff members were in the strange situation of occupying positions in a headquarters in which their chief in the COMZ command had none.

The field commands preferred to regard ETOUSA-COMZ as a COMZ headquarters only--that is, as a co-ordinate or coequal command--and not as a true theater headquarters speaking with the authority of the theater commander. The tendency of the U.S. officers at SHAEF to render many decisions normally made by a theater staff, combined with the lack of confidence in the Communications Zone, often openly expressed, encouraged the field commands to look to SHAEF as the ultimate authority even in purely American matters.

This point of view is clearly evident in the prolonged argument between the armies and the Communications Zone over the control of scarce items and the apportionment of service troops, which culminated in the Lutes-Somervell criticisms of the requisitioning of Class II and IV supplies. The armies generally took the view that the Communications Zone exercised too much control. They preferred that control in such matters be exercised by the theater commander through the technical service chiefs, and that the Communications Zone act only as a freight-handling agency. The armies, in other words, desired that SHAEF assume the role of theater headquarters even more completely. The argument was interesting, for it pointed up the fact that no genuine theater headquarters existed when the chiefs of services were physically separated from the theater commander.

The U.S. component at SHAEF, on the other hand, was in no position to provide detailed guidance in logistic matters. The result was that no theater headquarters existed which could properly enforce uniform policy on administrative matters. Unfortunately theater directives, well intentioned as they were, consistently fell short of clear-cut delineations of authority and responsibility, always leaving room for contention, so that constant efforts had to be made to keep the organizational mechanism running with some degree of harmony.

The shortcomings of the system can be clearly seen in the matter of manpower management. Enforcement of the War Department's policies on manpower conservation was obviously a job for the highest theater command level, since it involved all three major subcommands. While the Communications Zone undoubtedly was remiss in effecting the necessary manpower economies and conversions in its own house, failure to forestall the predicted manpower crisis was definitely a theater responsibility, and the problem was not resolved until unequivocal action was taken at the highest theater level of authority--that is, by General Eisenhower.

It is ironic that the goal toward which General Lee had worked so long--the theaterwide integration of all supply and administration under one headquarters--and which appeared to have been achieved with the consolidation early in 1944, was substantially voided by the subsequent revocation of the authority by which it might have been more effectively attained. It is understandable that the field commands should object to having the Communications Zone, a coordinate


command and thus an interested party in all logistic matters, control the supply and administrative matters in which they had a vital stake. Whether a true theater headquarters, completely independent of the Communications Zone, should have been established is debatable. Personalities affect the way in which any command and organizational system actually operates, and it is conceivable that the system which evolved in ETOUSA might have worked better in other hands. But denying ETOUSA-COMZ the authority of a theater headquarters was surely inconsistent with the accepted goal of complete integration of all supply and administrative activities under one authority.

If the history of command and organizational difficulties in the European theater contains any lesson, it is to reaffirm the long-accepted principle that responsibility and authority must be clearly defined and understood and that the grant of authority must be consistent with the missions and responsibility assigned.

Command and organizational difficulties of another kind within the Communications Zone had their repercussions on theater logistics. The conflict between territorial and functional organization and control is an old administrative problem. The principle of centralized control and decentralized operation to which General Lee was firmly committed was often difficult to follow, particularly where operations were intersectional, as in the case of transportation. Failure to define adequately the COMZ-wide "technical control" which technical service chiefs were authorized to exercise inescapably led to the friction with base section commanders which characterized the first year or two in the United Kingdom. Constant efforts at co-ordinating the activities of the technical service chiefs with the section commanders eliminated much of this friction. But technical service chiefs generally felt that the cellular structure of the Communications Zone hampered the centralized control of their respective supply depots and made them too dependent on command action via the circuitous route through G-4 or on personal diplomacy.

Important as was the command and organizational problem, its effect on logistical support was never as far-reaching or real as the various "limiting factors" which constantly threatened to restrict the tactical operations of the field armies by creating supply and manpower shortages in the combat zone. In general, these limiting factors were of three types: (1) supply and manpower shortages resulting from the War Department's inability or refusal to meet the theater's request, (2) movement difficulties within the theater, arising from port discharge, port clearance, or long-distance transportation deficiencies, and (3) faulty "administration," which prevented supplies available in theater depots from reaching units needing them even when transportation capacity was adequate for movement.

Shortages in the zone of interior were almost inevitable in view of the global commitments of the United States and the necessity to plan production many months in advance of actual need. War Department replacement factors and reserve allowances, first based on empirical data from World War I and later on experiential


data from other theaters of war in World War II, did not always fit experience in the European theater. On the whole, replacement and reserve factors were designed to meet average expenditures and losses over a long period. The War Department, its demands always subject to close Congressional scrutiny, was understandably reluctant to increase allowances in response to every demand from the theater, particularly when it suspected that the demands did not represent average expenditures of losses over an extended period. Moreover, supplying a force of several million men over sea lines of communication several thousand miles long involved tying up huge quantities of supplies in transit. The order and shipping time for most supplies averaged about 120 days. The time involved between placing a requisition for a tank and delivering it to a using unit required that 135 days of supply be in the pipeline at all times. With a replacement rate of 11 percent and a T/O&E allowance of approximately 4,000, this meant that nearly 2,000 tanks were constantly tied up in the pipeline.

Unfortunately, relations between the War Department and the theater often suffered from misunderstandings or arguments arising from conflicting interpretations of ground rules. In more than one case the War Department had ample reason to believe that the theater's reading and application of War Department policy and regulations were contrary to the original intent. This was most clearly evident in such matters as the policy on ammunition reserves, the application of the term critical as used in requisitioning supplies under the express shipping procedure inaugurated early in 1945, and the interpretation of War Department policy with regard to the replacement pool. On some issues, notably ammunition and replacements, the argument dragged on for months, and it appeared that there would never be a meeting of minds. In some cases the theater had just ground for exasperation, as, for example, the War Department's persistence in editing theater requirements for ammunition on the basis of past expenditures that had been limited by nonavailability, and its habit of ignoring certain requests for increases in replacement and consumption factors.

Despite the uniformity of Army training and indoctrination, relations between the theater and the War Department at times betrayed a surprising need for a common language.

Normally, while insisting that the theater follow established doctrine and policy, the War Department leaned over backward in trying to meet the theater's demands and, in accord with long-standing command policy, granted the theater a large degree of independence of decision, particularly in matters where the theater presumably was in a better position to judge its needs. In at least two instances it had reason to regret its indulgence. In both the winter clothing controversy and the replacement problem, the War Department unquestionably possessed superior knowledge based on experience in other theaters. ETOUSA ignored its advice in both cases, and important lessons learned in other areas consequently went unheeded.

The theater's logistic difficulties were often aggravated by the unexpected


course of tactical operations. The unpredictability of the course of operations is one of war's inherent characteristics and has always posed its greatest dilemma. One of the central features of war in the twentieth century, with its tremendous material requirements, is the long lead time required in all logistic planning. The requirements for a major operation must be anticipated and requisitioned from eighteen to twenty-four months in advance, a factor which the ASF never ceased to impress upon the various theaters of operations. But the experience in Europe taught logistical planners that they could not expect to have anything but the vaguest operational data by the time orders had to be placed for the bulk of supplies. Lack of firm planning factors plagued logistical planners constantly in preparing for the OVERLORD operation, as was evidenced in such matters as estimating ammunition requirements. Technical data on which to base estimates of requirements under a given set of assumptions are usually available--for example, the material requirements to rebuild a given length of quay--and in the European theater the schedules of materials and labor required for particular units of work served admirably well. But determining what the assumptions should be is ever a matter of judgment based on a cold analysis of all known factors. There is obviously no way of predicting with any certainty the requirements for a distant battle. The best plans went sour as operations took an unexpected turn, and the sudden needs generated by unexpectedly heavy fighting, an unexpectedly rapid advance, or an unexpected reverse, often threw consumption and expenditure factors, and therefore "production" plans, askew, whether for material items, like ammunition and tanks, for manpower in the form of trained replacements of the proper SSN, or for services such as transportation.

The difficulty in anticipating future needs, and particularly in attempting to schedule supply deliveries, is clearly illustrated in the effort to preschedule supply shipments from the United Kingdom to the Continent for the first ninety days of the OVERLORD operation. Fortunately, sufficient resiliency was built into logistic plans to permit adaptation to the needs of tactical operations in the first few months. But the scheduling of supplies so far in advance proved unwise and resulted in a wasteful immobilization of shipping because of the resort to selective unloading necessitated by the limited port capacity.

The most disrupting event of the entire eleven months of operations was the breakout from Normandy and the subsequent chase across northern France. It is doubtful whether many persons even in the Communications Zone immediately foresaw how far-reaching and lasting the effect of this explosive lengthening of the lines of communications would be. The immediate effects were obvious in the restrictions imposed on the combat forces. But these restrictions were only the most apparent. The pursuit had cumulative effects on capabilities for future logistic support from which the Communications Zone did not recover for several months and which explain to a large degree the logistic difficulties that crippled all tactical planning in the fall of 1944.

There is no questioning the wisdom of the strategic decisions of August 1944


which led to a major tactical victory and at the same time upset logistic plans so drastically. The pursuit which followed entailed a sacrifice of future capabilities, however, that eventually had to be rectified. The damage to logistical capabilities was eventually recognized in such things as: (1) the costly attrition of equipment, particularly motor transport which had to be relied on heavily for long-distance hauling at the sacrifice of proper maintenance; (2) the failure to establish a proper depot system; (3) the suspension of other activities, such as port clearance, with its inevitable repercussions on related activities such as ship unloading; and (4) the inability to establish stocks in forward areas. For several months thereafter the logistical structure had practically no resiliency to meet unexpected demands, and was in fact hard put to meet minimum operational needs. The events of August and September precluded an orderly development of the Communications Zone, and at the end of 1944 it still suffered from major weaknesses as the result of its premature exertions, an important one being the lack of a proper depot system.

It was this last deficiency, in fact, which largely accounted for the Communications Zone's inability to ensure the kind of selectivity and certainty of resupply so important to the field armies. The test of a good supply system is not in amassing huge quantities, but in the certainty of replenishment and in selectivity. Nothing concerned the field commands quite so much as the lack of assurance that they could count on getting the items they wanted within the tonnages allocated. Uncertainty over future deliveries inevitably led the armies to requisition supplies beyond their needs as insurance against possible future supply failures.

The varying demands of the combat forces and the shifting course of tactical operations naturally aggravated the eternal problem of achieveing proper balance in the logistic structure. The efficiency with which the supply mechanism operated depended to a large degree on the efficiency with which its various components or parts were employed in relation to each other. The capacity of the system could never be measured in terms of any one of its parts, and the capacity of any one component, like port discharge, was always the sum of many variables. Port discharge might be affected by a combination of many factors, including congestion in the British ports, lack of berths on the far shore, improper stowage, or shortages of amphibious craft, service troops, or shipping. The shortages, in turn, could be laid to a chain of factors, such as low serviceability rate (that is, repair time on ships), long turnaround, selective unloading, or the use of ships as floating storage. Port clearance, in turn, depended on a multitude of related capacities, such as the availability and condition of rail transportation from the quays, the maintenance of trucks and the availability of drivers, the efficiency of traffic control, the prompt unloading and release of rail cars or trucks and trailers at the destination, and so on.

The movement of supplies from ship to army depot, in other words, entailed a series of highly synchronized functions, the failure of any one of which could have a resonant effect, reverberating along the entire line of communications.


At no time were all the components of the structure in perfect balance. Indeed, the elimination of one limiting factor sometimes created another at a different point. The elimination of the deficiency in rail transport in November, for example, made the forward depots one of the main strictures, for they were unable to receive the large tonnages which the railways had become capable of forwarding. The history of logistic operations in the European theater, in fact, seems characterized by a succession of alarums over one critical deficiency or another, and the theater was occupied at all times with efforts to eliminate some bottleneck and to bring the system into balance.

The problem of balance applied with equal force to the troop basis. The objective at all times, of course, was to maintain the highest possible ratio of combat to service forces in order to achieve the greatest possible combat potential. The War Department, always fearful that the theater might become top-heavy in service troops, never stopped urging the theater to "comb its tail" and "sharpen its teeth." But achieving the perfect balance was an elusive goal. The ratio naturally will vary with circumstances. Combat commanders, although recognizing that developments in warfare of the past century have reduced the proportion of a total force that can be put into the front line, never ceased to demand a larger slice of the total manpower allocation, as was evidenced in the premature acceleration of the divisional build-up on the Continent in the late summer and fall of 1944. Within the Communications Zone, meanwhile, each technical service, concerned primarily with its own mission and desirous of providing perfect service, naturally tended to exaggerate its own needs and asked for the largest slice of the manpower pie which it could justify. The sum total of "minimum" requirements invariably exceeded the authorized troop ceiling. Resolving such conflicting demands usually calls for an arbitrary decision. Unfortunately the wisdom of the allocation must always await the test of operations.

The difficulty of achieving balance in the theater's logistic structure and troop basis and the time element involved in preparing for large-scale operations underscore two fundamental characteristics of the modern system of logistic support for large ground forces--its size and complexity. The logistic base required for the support of U.S. forces in Europe was a huge complex of ports, depots, rail lines, repair and maintenance shops, and hospitals, much of it of a semipermanent nature and representing a prodigious effort in planning and organization and an enormous material investment. It was also an intricate system, requiring the synchronization of many activities and the satisfaction of unpredictable demands.

Organizing and operating such a system has all the attributes of "big business" and requires managerial ability of the highest order. Success in battle now depends as much on the "generalship" of those who plan and organize the logistic system and control its various functions as on the command exercised in the field. That this may not have been fully recognized in the European theater is evidenced by the complaint often heard in the Communications Zone that it was


used as a dumping ground for officers who did not measure up in combat. Those officers were often no better suited for assignments in supply and administration, in which training and competence are also exacting, than in combat. The premium which officers have traditionally placed on "troop duty," usually considered more rewarding in terms of standing and promotion, has hardly been conducive to providing the corps of personnel with training in the field of logistics so badly needed under the conditions of modern warfare.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the Germans' famed Afrika Korps, may have exaggerated when he said that battles today are fought and decided by the quartermasters before the actual fighting begins. But adequate logistic support undoubtedly constitutes a far more critical ingredient of victory on the battlefield than ever before. By the same token the failure to provide such support is an almost certain invitation to defeat.

The increasing dependence of the combat elements on their supply base has naturally conflicted with the eternal desire for greater mobility. Its huge appetite has made the present-day combat force dependent on continuous replenishment, practically on a daily basis. Self-sufficiency, or self-containment, has become impossible except for a few days at a time. In effect, therefore, the modern ground army has become shackled to its base, unable to venture far afield because it cannot risk severance of its line of communications. Despite all its vehicles, the modern field army's mobility is actually extremely limited, for its knapsack is relatively small in terms of the days of supply it can carry. The supply base on which it depends, ponderous and immobile, cannot be shifted with ease. Consequently it is the position of the base that largely determines the line of advance and the eventual course of operations. In effect, under this system of logistic support the battle must be fought much as it is planned.


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1. Field Marshal Earl Wavell, in a lecture on "Generals and Generalship," delivered at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1939, published as part of his Soldiers and Soldiering (London: Cape, 1953), pp. 21-22.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation