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MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELLTHE
This rate of casualties had a terribly wearing effect on units, and gave the ever-dwindling handful of old hands an even more fatalistic view of their fate than usual. As the war dragged on it seemed that only a 'million dollar wound' was going to get a GI out of the war with all his limbs. The exception was the Airborne force (82nd and 101st Divisions). They did suffer severe losses, and were kept in the line for longer than they should have been after D-Dav, but they were pulled out of the line to keep them available for future airborne operations.
The giant olive drab machine needed a constant flow of additional troops to keep up its strength. The AEF in World War I solved this problem by disbanding about every fourth division arriving in France and redistributing its men. In World War II the Army refused to allow this, and depended on individuals sent from the US to fill the gaps. Emphasising its machine-like viewpoint, the Army called these men 'replacements'. In 1944 the number of men individually trained for posting as replacement parts rapidly fell short of the needs of the ravenous armies in France. The units based in the USA were soon mercilessly plundered. This weakened these training units, and sent bewildered replacements forward to units with which they had no connection. The semi- trained (Us lurched through the system until they arrived at forward replacement depots, called 'Repple-Depples'. Here combat- experienced GIs, sent forward again after recovering from wounds, mingled with the green replacements for days or even weeks as they awaited new assignments.
Metz, late November 1944: riflemen and a BAR gunner from the 5th Division check houses for enemy 'stay-behinds'. Notice that only one wears a pack (to which he has strapped a K-ration box) and the others have their blankets, raincoats or ponchos stuffed through the back of their belts. The Germans turned Metz into a fortress which held up the Allied advance for many weeks; it finally fell to XX Corps of Gen Patton's 3rd Army on 22 November after a fortnight's hard fighting. At that time MajGen Walton Walker's XX Corps consisted of MajGen Stafford Irwin's 5th Infantry Division, the 90th Infantry Division, the 7th Armored Division, and the 2nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Group; but divisions were often switched between corps at short notice, and by the following spring XX Corps' composition was entirely different.
The 'savvy' veterans wanted to return to their old units, and commonly went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) to hitch a ride forward - whereupon their old outfits looked the other way and gladly took them in. The fresh replacements were ushered in small groups to their new units, usually in the front line and in the dark. Friendless and almost untrained in surviving this deadly environment, they were killed and wounded in droves, often still anonymous to the GIs of their platoons. In historian Stephen Ambrose's Citizen Soldier he says of the 'reppledepple' system: 'Had the Germans been given a free hand to devise a replacement system for the ETO, one that would do the Americans most harm and least good, they could not have done a better job.' General Norman Cota, who distinguished himself in combat as second-in- command of the 29th Division on Omaha beach, considered it both foolish and downright cruel to send a green young man into action in this way, robbed of the psychological support of buddies he had trained with and leaders he knew.
The authorities slowly realised the brutal and wasteful nature of the system, but did little to improve it beyond changing the name 'replacements' to 'reinforcements'. Some divisions took it on themselves to introduce reforms, however; they began holding replacements back after their arrival for (re)training by veteran NCOs. These men were then hopefully introduced to their new units out of the front line, with a chance to get to know, and be known by, their leaders and comrades. These replacements had a much higher survival rate and more quickly became assets to their units.
In MAA 347 we mention the 10,000-odd African-American soldiers of non-combat units who volunteered for infantry service in response to Gen Eisenhower's call during the manpower crisis of winter 1944/45. Other classes of recent civilians and soldiers were also rushed forward to swell the ranks of the rifle companies, including deferred college men (ASTP), surplus air cadets, and GIs stripped out of anti-aircraft, tank destroyer, and other support units. These were intelligent and sometimes seasoned men, making the quality of replacements received at the end of the war surprisingly superior.
January 1945: a 'lost patrol' of the 94th Division pose for a photo, happy to be back in the fold and getting canned rations. Both Parsons and M1943 field jackets can be seen, and note the 94th's patch worn by the medical tech-corporal at right foreground. At left centre, the BAR man's weapon still has its bipod (often discarded), and he carries the cleaning kit on his belt. Peering over his shoulder is a dark-bearded veteran; the smooth-faced boy at extreme left is probably a more recent replacement.
Historically, Americans have been a technically minded people. As early as the 1840s the 'flying artillery' of the Mexican War earned a high reputation, and at most periods, including World War II, the artillery has been the most effective branch in the US Army. The artillery suffered far fewer casualties than the infantry, and this contributed to its level of professionalism and cohesion. The quality of its mostly redesigned and sometimes motorised guns was about average for the period, but US-developed fire control and ammunition made all the difference.
Ammunition was first rate and usually in good supply. By German standards, US employment of artillery was lavish. In part due to its availability, US leaders were much more willing to expend ammunition than men. The introduction of air-bursting VT (radar) ammunition in late 1944 made the US guns even more deadly. With the use of Forward Observers, light spotter aircraft and telephone/radio communications to tie them together at a Fire Direction Center (FDC) they had unequalled potential to co-ordinate their fires, creating a specially devastating 'Time on Target' (ToT) technique. ToT was executed by mathematically co-ordinating different guns at different locations to land their shells on target at exactly the same moment. The FDC's accuracy and speed in calculating the complex mathematics was aided by a US-developed artillery Graphical Firing Table (GFT) slide rule.