If the United States had not won its latest war through leadership, fighting skill, technical resources, and industrial ingenuity, it might have won eventually through industrial ingenuity alone, expressed in sheer weight of material. Once we got rolling, there was scarcely a seaway or battlefield or beachhead where we did not enjoy an overwhelming superiority in machinery and supplies. Almost always, as we took over the offensive, we had more ships, planes, tanks, weapons, miscellaneous equipment, and foodstuffs than we actually needed, even making allowances for massive reserve. Now that our tidal wave has receded from the battlefronts, leaving a residue of abandoned and unused material, sightseers are poking about in the depots and supply dumps, muttering balefully of the scandalous waste. Yet it would appear that the United States has contributed to the uncertain science of war the most efficient and economical means ever devised for subduing an enemy: the unconquerable inertia of too much of everything. Too many cannon and too much ammunition saved us thousands of men, the only really priceless element in war. And if those cannon and that ammo must rust away on a remote Pacific island or a beach in Normandy—why, so be it! At the cost, it was a sensational bargain. Balancing them against human lives on the scale of that world struggle, with its death-and-damnation ideologies, it is the cheapest war we ever won, and wars are notoriously extravagant affairs.1
There was often a surplus of manpower also, however, and here an altogether different principle must be applied, not only because manpower is an imponderable, expensive beyond figuring, but also because a quantitative superiority of men has seldom gained a victory, and military history abounds with its defeats. Nonetheless, arguments pro and con can be brought to bear on the Navy’s wartime complement and its distribution; the ultimate defense seems to be that we were prepared to meet any contingency, any turn of fortune, and that in occasions of urgency there can never be an excess of manpower. To that logic there is no respectable answer. I want to examine only a small facet of that question, at a point where I think the Navy can take the measure of its wartime experience: the surplus of officers. That surplus could not possibly have been avoided, and is not, in my opinion, a legitimate source of criticism; but I do believe that a few not-too-revolutionary changes in officer policy will go far toward correcting the situation and avoiding its recurrence.
With the manner in which the Navy procured its temporary officers there can be little debate. It is true that a handful of colorful characters received commissions, and sometimes pretty generous commissions, on the basis of their colorfulness rather than their character. It is also true that there were occasional minor discrepancies in the ranking of reserve officers: at my Indoctrination School were 31-year-old ensigns and 28-year- old j.g.’s with the same date of precedence, the former having acquired commissions at an Eastern Office of Naval Officer Procurement while the latter luckily acquired theirs at Midwestern or Southern ONOP’s. This divergence was finally resolved, and the officers at the short end cannot be said to have suffered unduly as a result of their misfortune.
Lieutenant Commander Preston S. Lincoln’s discussion, in the February, 1945, Proceedings, of the need for utilizing established tests in “leadership aptitude,” while screening officer-candidates and probationary officers out of civilian life, is a decidedly gravid contribution to procurement policy. Except for that, and for a policy that will admit much more liberally of promotion from the ranks, it is difficult to see how, all things considered, the Navy’s officer-procurement program in World War II could have been materially improved on. The standards set were sensible, and they were sufficiently flexible to allow for exceptional cases (such as men without college degrees, and even without college education, whose civilian background showed a requisite merit). Investigation into the personal and business affairs of the candidate for a commission was thorough but never offensive. The process of conditioning him as rapidly as possible to service life and leadership- attitude was handled with notable success by the various indoctrination, specialist, technical, and midshipmen schools. His assignment to active duty was governed insofar as practicable by his own proclivities, and in all but a very few instances the assignments were both equitable and expedient. Superfluous officers, overlapping billets, and sluggish replacement pools resulted not so much from any flaw in the methods of assigning officers, as from remarkably small percentage of inactivations due to casualties and other causes: the high command could not afford to base its plans on a cheap, fast- moving war, and it did not; thus, with casualties phenomenally low, the ponderous machinery of procurement could not be geared down overnight, and surplus personnel accumulated almost everywhere. I will return to that presently.
The officer was well looked after. (Because he could be cared for in smaller quarters and messes than enlisted men, he lived more comfortably than enlisted men; and so there are those who contend now that he was too well looked after. Chief petty officers, who for similar reasons could usually avail themselves of similar arrangements, have not yet come under the censuring eye.2) The officer’s business with BuPers, and whatever other Bureau may have had cognizance, was transacted by those overloaded “bureaucracies” with promptitude. (For example, those of us Stateside who requested sea duty could count on orders within ten days, once we had wheedled our requests through the local commands-—reluctant dragons if there ever were such.) Griping about promotions was as universal as griping about the weather, but I never heard anybody advance a better system than the AlNav, for all its weaknesses, and I could never work out a better system myself. Of the “spot” promotion, about all that can be said is that every one denied elicited howls of wrath and every one approved elicited—howls of wrath. Since that rare practice partook in miniature, on a laboratory scale so to speak, of both the Army’s Table of Organization setup and the so-called “merit” system, I think it can be said that promotion on any other basis than longevity of service has received a fair and unfavorable trial. It has been suggested, not without rancor, that at the very least an officer should be required to submit to tests for promotion, as are men in the ranks. It seems to me that officers are on test—and 24 hours a day, at that. Neither officially nor socially is the vigilant watchfulness over him relaxed, and periodically it takes shape in the fitness reports that can make or break him. Each fitness report becomes, in a very literal sense, a test of all his qualities, not merely of an aptitude or skill; and he has to flunk only once, on only one of the numerous counts, to find himself in dire trouble. “Promotion tests” would doubtless be far more attractive to the officer, but far less utile to the service at large.
We remain confronted, then, with one paramount problem: the superfluity of officers in the shore-based Navy. It is paramount because an officer left idle, or set at a perfunctory leaf-raking job, is no asset to the service. Bad morale is an infectious disease, and never more so than when an officer —consciously or otherwise—becomes the carrier of it. Very large numbers of reserve officers who went overseas primed for “the shootin’ Navy” (especially those dispatched as casuals or replacements) recall dismally the letdown of long weeks, even months, in a transient camp: then a renewed surge of animation upon receiving orders to an outfit at last, all too frequently followed by a second keen disappointment of reporting to commands where they were not needed, or where other types of personnel had been requested, and where they were nudged around from one spear-carrying role to another until somebody could unearth or invent some sort of employment for their by-now-apathetic minds. Who has not listened to such gloomy hyperbole as: “I’m doing the work of a yeoman-striker,” or “I understand my relief has arrived—he’s a seaman deuce”?3
A farsighted Navy Department has provided total documentation of the war in the form of organizational histories, supplemented by the comments of unit commanders and the reports of staff representatives. From this rich mine of experience can now be drawn the necessary data for a new scale of officer-billeting in the garrison Navy, and the shore-side Navy generally—including, in this respect, the amphibious forces. Despite the natural hesitation of historical officers or their supervising seniors to acknowledge an over-supply of officers, it will appear from their testaments not only possiible but imperative to revise complements of officers downward in nearly all echelons and components.
I have indicated that my remarks are directed solely toward land-based naval organizations. The seagoing Navy in the late war was the climax of many generations of precedent and know-how; it was manned with taut efficiency from bridge to steering engine. On the other hand, island garrisons and their rear-area sources were something new—much newer, indeed, than “new” amphibious warfare itself, with traceable origins at least as far back as the Athenian Navy of 480 B.C. which defeated the mighty Xerxes. As to both strategy and tactics, “island-hopping” is an American invention, like the inertia-and-momentum of superabundant material—it was developed for the most part by the Navy, and the development of it consisted in a series of brilliant improvisations. Now it belongs to the military textbooks, where the small errors will be assessed against the great achievement. But nothing in the nature of excess officer- personnel is likely to be analyzed therein for the guidance of succeeding regiments of midshipmen at Annapolis: that task will have to be undertaken by the doers and makers themselves, not the historians.
In the disposition of reserve officers, the Navy afloat might almost have been a different organization from the Navy ashore. Ensigns and lieutenants junior grade in a seagoing status were awarded commands as a matter of course—and be it aboard a PT boat or a subchaser, a skipper is a skipper! Brother “administrative” officers on the beach, however, more often than not performed the same routine clerical work as lieutenant commanders that they performed as ensigns; it was not unknown for some officers to go from responsible billets held as ensigns to filing-clerk jobs held as lieutenant commanders; and regularly as sunrise, ensigns relieved lieutenant commanders and lieutenant commanders, ensigns. The situation was demoralizing on either side, for the lieutenant commander would have preferred relief-in-rank, while the ensign naturally wondered why he didn’t rate another stripe and a half. Furthermore, both men were unhappily aware of the fact that the job was not one that called for an officer to begin with, at least in a large proportion of cases.
The Army’s Table of Organization is perhaps not a system that could or should be introduced to the naval establishment, but somewhere in its framework lies the pattern of a naval administration ashore and at garrisons. To investigate even a typical assortment of officer billets where a noncommissioned or warrant officer might have served as well or better is appalling in its immensity; likewise beyond my scope is the enumeration of jobs handed to commissioned officers that should have been detailed to enlisted men—there were thousands of them. But it may be asked why $15,000-per-year civilians should be assigned duties which their clerks and stenographers could have discharged more capably. The fact is that the Navy found but little suitable employment for the older business and professional men it commissioned as officers. Because it wanted that element in its wartime officer corps, it literally had to fabricate billets for the resulting flood of commissions. It seems, in retrospect, to have been one of the few miscalculations. Speaking as just such an officer myself, I know that most of us could have been replaced by enlisted men to the Navy’s advantage, that many of us were wasted, and that precious few of us contributed in any real sense whatsoever to the Navy’s magnificent record. That record was made by the seagoing men-—officers and enlisted, regulars and reserves—-by the incomparable Marine Corps, and by isolated groups of shore-based men, more often enlisted than commissioned. The air arm, with which I was associated, made its own unique contribution to our successful war—but of that, more in a moment.
The Navy could have got along, quite unimpeded, without the services of all but a relatively small percentage of trained civilian specialists, technicians, and engineers. The run of business executives, teachers, newspapermen, managers, and miscellaneous white-collar stratifications over thirty-five years of age might better have been kept, whether they liked it or not, at their private callings, where their usefulness was recognized and their place in the war effort, though possibly less “glamorous,” would certainly have raised them above the listless khaki anonymity of commissioned paper- shufflers.
If it is beyond the reach of this paper to outline specific examples and offer specific solutions, it may nonetheless be possible to suggest a line of policy by treating briefly of two present concepts of officers which seem to require adjustment. The first of these, which I will mention only in passing, is the Navy nurse. She is not an officer; she does not have an officer’s authority or duties. Yet she is graded a commissioned officer. And when that can result in such ludicrous situations as a ward nurse “out-ranking” the medical officer in charge, it is time to do some thinking on the situation. The point seems to be—as with the pilots I will discuss next—the payment of a salary adequate to her services. There is no way of paying an individual beyond a certain sum in the Navy unless he be accorded commissioned status, and that is where the difficulty lies. No one who has ever seen Navy nurses at work overseas (as I have) could want them to be paid less than now; and no one who has even benefited from their devotion to duty (as I have) could think of denying them any privilege they now enjoy. But nurses are actually warrant officers. They should be classed as such, with provisions made for the continuance of their present pay levels, including such increases as they might earn through longevity and seniority as commissioned officers.
The naval aviator is another case in point, and the outstanding one. He is a highly skilled technician, usually without any duties or responsibilities of leadership beyond those normally exercised elsewhere by petty officers. But here again the question of adequate reward for service is raised-—and answered ineptly by the commission-plus-flight-pay arrangement. So far as military aviation is concerned, the United States has gone beyond the philosophy of abundance to one of sheer extravagance. I say “the United States” and not “the Navy Department” because the War Department, of course, has been even more lavish in strewing aviation commissions over its flying personnel. In Britain, we are told, it was not at all unusual for a tiny P-51 to take off in escort of a huge British Lancaster—the former, with a crew of 0, commanded by a 23-year-old lieutenant colonel, and the latter, with a crew of a half- dozen in addition to considerable tonnage in bombs, commanded by a 33-year-old RAF flight sergeant. When and where the Empire air forces did bestow commissions, they bestowed them sparingly, and only at long intervals. As a typical comparison, any Royal New Zealand Air Force squadron would be composed mainly of flight sergeants and pilot-officers; there might also be two or three flying officers or flight lieutenants, and certainly never more than one squadron leader. A Navy patrol squadron working side by side with that outfit might consist wholly of senior lieutenants and lieutenant commanders, with the exception of a stray ensign or j.g. now and then.
It is inconceivable that the Navy should attempt any reform of this system without parallel changes in the Army; but if the services can get together on it, the procedure already exists for a proper rating of flight personnel in the Navy (and to a less complete extent in the Army, as well). Of course there could be no thought of retroactive changes; present flying officers would remain such, just as they remain the sound nucleus of the post-war aviation Navy. Nor need there be any paring of flight pay, should the high command deem such remuneration essential; nobody grudges the airman his reward—if it can be called that—for the toughest job going. But he is not an officer and should not hold an officer’s rank—or at any rate not until he has demonstrated leadership ability and risen to at least a subcommand within his squadron. Until that time, as I have said, the Navy has access to the Aviation Pilot rate, right up to CAP—to which warrant and commissioned warrant designations could be added.
There must be a closely integrated corps of flying officers; no question about that.4 Airmen should lead airmen, for one thing; for another, they should wield their own weight in the counsels of high command; and ultimately, upon reaching flag rank, they should enter the “general duty” classification. For such reasons, and toward such ends, we may look to the Naval Academy and its associated facilities to supply the leadership in aviation, from the ranks of first classmen and NROTC seniors who elect to serve in that specialty and are directed to flight training—as others of their comrades, electing other specialties, proceed to postgraduate courses in engineering, supplies and accounts, or law, and so on. The point I would stress here is that a simple—or even a complex—mechanical proficiency like the ability to fly an airplane is not in itself a qualification for officership, even when cursory instruction in an officer’s code is superimposed.
Our experience of recent years has demonstrated that many superb fliers do not make good officers; it has also demonstrated, on the other hand, that many youngsters who had the makings of superb fliers could not be accepted for flight training, or could not be retained in flight training, because they lacked certain of the more obvious requisites of an officer—age and education, among other things. Moreover, an aviator’s curve of progress as a flier does not parallel his curve of effectiveness as a combat man; the older and wiser he becomes, the less inclined he is to take the kind of chances that culminate in an array of stenciled victims on his fuselage. What it adds up to, in short, is that at the optimum age for combat flying- say from 17 to 21-—a pilot is too young to be an officer, even if he had an officer’s functions, which he does not. The splendid record of naval aviation in the war need not divert us from the fact that it was gained by “old men” in their twenties and thirties (for as in baseball, and for much the same reasons, a man over thirty is regarded as senescent). To accept the principle of noncommissioned pilots, led by men who were trained officers before they became fliers, is to open the way for boys in their late adolescence, who are the finest material obtainable for combat aviation, but who too often, in the last war, were sent to boot camps instead of pre-flight schools. When, latterly, the Navy began to accept high-school graduates, it was clear enough that the natural skill of such youths as airmen was not balanced by their conduct as officers.
If flight pay is as strong an incentive as it is generally held to be, then by all means let it stand! I am not convinced that it is, for I have encountered numerous enlisted fliers in the Aviation Pilot rate, and without exception they have been the equal of their commissioned brethren in ability, audacity, and enthusiasm. If, as I suspect, the glamor of flying is at least as attractive to youngsters as the remuneration, it will certainly not be diminished by the absence of collar ornaments. Our most gallant and handsome lieutenants-with-wings, and the Army’s most dashing young Air Force colonels, were crowded hard all the way in the night-club sweepstakes by enlisted paratroopers, Rangers, and Marines—to say nothing of the once-unsung combat infantryman, who turned out to be as irresistible at a USO dance as he was on the far bank of the Rhine.
Stated crudely but emphatically, this paper is a plea for a hard-boiled officer policy, for a rejection of lavish and indiscriminate commissioning of reserves. It is a plea for a sharper definition of officership in all its categories. There are no anti-democratic implications: we all want to see a Navy officered by the people and not by any class or segment thereof. The recent Holloway Board findings, approved by the Navy Department, will do much to insure that ideal. But officers must be officers in every sense of that much-abused word, and after that they must be competent specialists.
I cannot round off this discussion without citing two incidents which occurred in my hearing. Early in 1942, before I went into the Navy, I was standing in a small clot of spectators on a street in Newport, watching a great mass of brand-new ensigns pour out of an auditorium. A British sailor, also among the onlookers, shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. “Cor!” he gasped. “Hi sigh, ‘oo rows the bloomin’ boats in the Ameddican Nivy?”
The other incident, even more to the point, took place soon after the graduation of our class at the Naval Training School (Indoctrination) at Dartmouth College. As we emerged from the chapel after listening to a valedictory address, a j.g. with shiny, unsalted gold braid turned to a companion and giggled self-consciously. “But I don’t feel like a naval officer!” he squealed. A critical CPO on the sidelines growled, surreptitiously but audibly: “Brother, you ain't! Not yet.”
Author’s Note.—As I review the proof of this article, early in August, I have before me a news item from Washington announcing the Navy Department's alternative, and perhaps opposite, solution to the liquor problem—that of authorizing liquor sales to enlisted men stationed outside the United States. Excellent! But I still think the better solution would be to abolish completely the liquor mess at overseas garrisons.
1. From this obvious conclusion, military historians may some day deduce a new methodology of war. Classically it has precedent enough, but a layman may be more interested in the analogy with Nature herself, who appears so hideously perverse at times. Only a few months ago she was striking down Southern citrus orchards with drought, and simultaneously swamping Northern potato farms in flooding rains. Her winged creatures and wild animals and secretive fish and obscure insects regularly produce vast progenies, most of which starve or are slain before maturity. Her flora strew seeds as readily on rock and gravel as on nourishing soil. Everywhere man looks there seems to be prodigious waste, but wherever man has investigated he has found a purpose served, an equilibrium maintained, by the very prodigality of Nature.
As for the countless tanks, planes, and guns that are falling apart in desuetude today, their raison d’ètre was existence itself, and the potentiality of that existence. Anyone who doubts that they served an end, lying untouched, need only refer to the published comment of Axis leaders now engaged in explaining their downfall. The stockpiles of the United Nations, mostly American in origin, have loomed in all their melancholy calculations from the outset.
2. The prime source of ill-will against officers seems always and everywhere to have been the liquor mess at overseas garrisons. Why not abolish it, wherever enlisted men do not have like facilities? The seagoing Navy gets along fine without a rum-tub; the Army has never been demoralized by the absence of bars inside their compounds, and to the majority of naval officers, who were light druinkers or none, such bistros were often a genuine nuisance.
3. No personal recollections are entailed here. As an air operations specialist, fortunately, I encountered a warm welcome and plenty of work wherever I was assigned— Stateside or in the Pacific Theater. At Espiritu Santo, in fact, ComSoPac asked for volunteers in my classification to go into the combat zones, and it was thus I was spared an overseas tour in a rear area.
4. But how did the usage get started that all pilots be officers? Well, the Crusaders of a thousand years ago furnish, in their Knights Templar and Knights Hospitalers, some engrossing analogies to what has been described as our “modern chivalry of the air.” Chivalry as we know it was created in the Crusades (though not knighthood itself, of course). The conception of an elite force, then as now, came about partly through the novelty of that force, partly through its tremendous instrumentality in combat, and partly through its being a law unto itself. Because the medieval knight was superlative in combat, there was an instinctive tendency to press leadership upon him. It was unwise. He worked best alone, or as one of a small homogeneous band (the principle of “teamwork” expounded by contemporary athletic directors, and so essential in modern sport, owes much to the esprit de corps of the Knights Templar). His natural skill and intrepidity made him a magnificent warrior, but when he essayed strategical or even tactical leadership he usually floundered as helplessly as he did when unhorsed on the field. Was there ever a more colorful failure than Richard Coeur de Lion, peerless in a mêlée and witless at a planning board? His great adversary, Saladin, was by contrast strictly a desk man, unmatched at organizational genius until Pershing came along nearly ten centuries later—followed by his four successors-in-kind of World War II who fashioned a colossal victory from modest headquarters: Marshall, King, Eisenhower, and Nimitz.
Officership based on knight-errantry—an emotional basis and sometimes social or political, but never logical —was not abandoned until the introduction of gunpowder to the Western world, when leadership on the ancient Roman model was restored. It did not reappear until World War I, in the person of a latter-day knight clad in tailored breeches and leather jacket, leaning negligently against the wooden propeller of his latter- day steed. It was unthinkable that a man of such good family, with so romantic a mission, could be anything but an officer, although the troops he commanded were nil, and his authority did not extend beyond the upkeep and operation of an airborne internal-combustion engine. In no sense was he a leader of men (albeit as an infantry lieutenant or torpedo-boat ensign he might well have been a very good one). I do not think that this revival of knighthood, carried over into the Second World War at terrific expense to taxpayers and terrific confusion to military protocol, will be discouraged by reasoned debate. It has been inhibited to some degree, however, by the law of diminishing returns: toward the end of the war, pilots were becoming so plentiful, and their ornamentation of rank so gorgeous, that even civilians began to view the situation with humorous dubiety. But what will eventually result in a second abandonment of the chivalric principle, I believe, is a series of technological developments quite as revolutionary as gunpowder—the atom bomb, coupled with rocket-propulsion and remote control of flight. The knight of old could have held out no longer against a robot in the saddle than he did against cannon.