The National Guard In War: An Historical Analysis Of The 27th Infantry Division (New York National Guard) In World War II: Chapter One - Introduction

The National Guard was an integral part of the foundation of the defense establishment in America prior to World War II. Along with the small Regular Army the Guard was to provide the initial force which would ensure the inviolability of the United States. However, when global war became unavoidable, and the Guard was called to serve, some questioned the effectiveness of that service.

The intent of this paper is to derive some general characterizations about National Guard productivity in World War II, and to determine the causes for that measure of productivity. To do this I examined one Guard division, the 27th, in the period 1940-1943. Whereas I do not imply that all National Guard units were equal during mobilization or on the battlefield I do believe that the similarities permit meaningful and appropriate generalization. The measure of productivity is not relevant, as such, but what is significant is the reasons that affected that productivity. Therefore, an analysis of the 27th Division and their performance in the Central Pacific becomes the focal point of this study. In that analysis a detailed determination of the personnel make-up, the extent of training, the organizational flaws, the military education of the leadership, and the impact of external influences is necessary.

The 27th Division (New York National Guard) was typical of the era and, despite it's ignominious relationship with the Marine Corps, would serve as a useful tool for examination.

This paper is organized into seven chapters.

Following the introduction is a chapter describing the events between the two world wars that are relevant to the National Guard. In order, the next chapters then deal with the reorganization and training of the 27th Division; their combat action on Makin; their participation in FORAGER (Saipan); combat on Okinawa; and conclusions detailing why their performance was as it was.

The contribution of the National Guard in World War II is a controversial subject. Many senior officers, who held positions of great responsibility, cast doubt as to the worthiness of the Guard in battle. General Omar N. Bradley said in his autobiography that he could not "continue to support the fiction that the National Guard could be relied upon for anything more than local riot control."1 Lieutenant General Leslie J. McNair, Commander Army Ground Forces, in a memorandum to General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, said:

the National Guard, as organized before the war, contributed nothing to National Defense. On the other hand dependence on this component as a great part of the Initial Protective Force of our nation was a distinct threat to our safety because of the belief of our people that the National Guard could enter a war and act with combat efficiency.2

General Peyton March, Chief of Staff during the First World War, expressed his concern early on stating that the National Guard could not be used outside of national boundaries because of their unreliability. And General Omar Bradley again said that the "National Guard was virtually worthless in a major national crisis" and that the draftee divisions were superior to those of the Guard.3

How did the National Guard come to be "an expensive boondoggle" as General Bradley described it? To better understand the nature of the National Guard and it's role in the military establishment it is instructive to review it's development since the turn of the century.

The National Guard of 1900 was a direct descendant of the militias of the earliest settlers to this country. Throughout our history America's wars have been fought predominantly with armies raised upon the commencement of war. Our tradition has not been one of large standing armies rather we have relied upon volunteers and state militias.

The reliance upon volunteers and state militias assumed that the majority of the population understood and accepted their responsibilities and obligations in a free society. Adam Smith in "A Wealth of Nations" stated the obvious: "The soldiers are maintained altogether by the labor of those who are not soldiers (and) the number of the former never can exceed what the latter can maintain."4 This attempted to put into dollars and cents terms the moral responsibility of the citizenry. The public could serve in the military themselves or they could foot the bill for the maintenance of a Regular Army, either way fulfilling their moral obligation. To maintain the free society in which we live all citizens incur an obligation to serve in some capacity the institutions which keep it free.

There have been three predominant schools of thought regarding the manner in which the United States military was to be organized. The John Calhoun theory was an expansible army in which a very small regular army would be enlarged with an influx of volunteers driven by overwhelming patriotism. The regiments would have a cadre of officers and NCOs to be filled out with volunteer enlisted men.

The exact opposite of Calhoun's theory was that of Emory Upton. Upton, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, proposed a large standing regular army which would serve to respond to all of the country's military needs. For Upton, there was no substantive role for the National Guard other than providing for the state's needs.

Between these two extreme ends of the spectrum came Elihu Root. Root, Secretary of War under President William McKinley and Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt, was responsible for a number of significant achievements such as the organisation of the General Staff with a Chief of Staff and the origin of the Army War College. It was also during his tenure as Secretary of War that the Dick Act (Militia Act of 1903) was passed establishing a greater role for the National Guard, i.e., as a first line reserve for the Regular Army. In an address to the National Guard Association in May, 1903 Root said, "whenever we come to fight a war, it will be fought by a volunteer army, as the war with Spain was fought. Those National Guard organizations are the great school of the volunteer to which the country must look."5 Root, as early as 1901, was promoting for the National Guard new equipment, regular army advisors, higher military education for their officers, and money to enable them to train adequately. It was apparent to Root that there was a direct relationship between the efficacy of the Guard and the support provided them by the Federal Government. 6

From the Dick Act in 1903 to the National Defense Act of 1920 there were a number of significant changes to the Regular Army-National Guard relationship. The National Defense Act of 1908 provided for a National Militia Board to advise the Secretary of War on the conditions and needs of the Guard. This board was responsible for making recommendations on allowances, ammunition, inspections, and field training.7 The war in Europe in 1916 dictated some changes in the Guard as reflected in the National Defense Act of 1916 in which the Federal Government assumed a tighter control over the Guard. The government provided drill pay for the Guardsmen and more equipment while instituting a series of inspections to raise their standard of efficiency. The first full-time training of the Guard in a Federal status occurred in 1916 with their mobilization for duty on the Mexican Border. By the end of that summer 158,664 Guardsmen had served.8

Following the Great War the entire military establishment underwent wholesale revision. Brigadier General John McAuley Palmer wrote the bulk of the National Defense Act of 1920 while on detail with the U.S. Congress. His concept was, for the most part, accepted and written into law. Palmer's blueprint for the military called for a small professional army which would garrison outposts and overseas bases, train the civilian reserves, and man a few divisions for initial protection during mobilization. Furthermore, there would be a citizen reserve of National Guard and Organized Reserve divisions, and universal military training.9 The Act called for a Regular Army of 280,000 enlisted and 18,000 officers with a National Guard of 450,000. The Federal Government would retain control over the Guard through appropriations and training inspections. These would be used to fill primarily the Organized Reserve Corps but also the National Guard and to a very limited degree the Regular Army.10

Universal military training was not passed as a part Of the 1920 National Defense Act. America's new-found abhorrence to war precluded the adaption of mandatory, peacetime military service. Should general war require full-mobilization the plan was for the Regular Army and the National Guard divisions to protect the country while the Organized Reserve Corps cadred volunteers in the new divisions. Palmer's creation was the embodiment of Root, expanded.

The National Defense Act of 1920 was the vanguard legislation directing the defense of the country until 1940. The original intent and the plan for the implementation of that intent was viable. However, the fiscal realities of the age and the rising pacifism in America never permitted it to mature. Neither the Regular Army nor the National Guard was brought to peacetime standards in personnel, equipment, or training. This left a great readiness void which would haunt it's leadership on the brink of World War II.


Front Matter  

Chapter Two



1 Omar N. Bradley and Clay Blair, A General's Life (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p.483.

2 LTG Leslie J. McNair, memorandum dated 12 July 1944, subject: Recommendations on the Post-War National Guard.

3 Bradley, A General's Life, p. 483.

4 Martin Anderson ed., The Military Draft. (Stanford, Calif.: The Hoover Institution Press, 1982), p.303.

5 Elbridge Colby, The National Guard of the United States. (Manhattan, KS: MA/AH Publishing, Co., 1977), ch II, p.24.

6 Ibid., p. 6.

7 Ibid., ch IX, pp. 3-4.

8 Ibid., ch V, p. l.

9 M. Garry Clifford and Samuel R. Spencer, Jr., The First Peacetime Draft. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1986) pp. 36-37.

10 Colby, ch VIII, pp.18-19 and Bennie J. Wilson ed., The Guard and Reserve in the Total Force. (Wash., DC: National Defense University Press, 1985), pp. 22-23.