Military: United States Army

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In 1929, the U. S. armed services received more funding than the armed services of any other nation, despite the absence of a discernible enemy. The 1920 National Defense Act, which was the nation's first true military policy, had authorized the War Department to recruit 280,000 enlisted personnel and 17,043 officers. Shrinking appropriations during the 1920s lowered the totals in 1930 to 136,216 enlisted and 12,000 officers. In 1935 the enlisted figure had shrunk by executive action to 118,750. The 1920 Act also federalized the 135,000-man National Guard, and by 1933 there was a National Guard Bureau within the War Department. Douglas MacArthur, who became chief of staff of the Army in 1930, could also expect, in an emergency, the activation of 101,000 organized reservists, 127,000 reserve officers, and 28,000 members of the Citizens Military Training camps. In addition, existing war plans included a civilian draft and mandated an initial 4.5 million-man Army with 225,000 of-ficers. Such a force would require one year to assemble, and even longer to reach full production of supplies and weaponry.

Army budgets increased during Herbert Hoover's first two years as president. In 1930, a congressionally-mandated War Policies Commission, the most thorough peacetime war planning inquiry to that date, reviewed mobilization plans and procurement policies. Administered by the assistant secretary of war, prototype legislative drafts defined war rationing, a draft, and government control of the economy. In 1933, MacArthur published a new field manual that established four regular field armies, built upon the nine corps areas. He centralized authority under the chief of staff, inserted Army command over assembling divisions, and provided steps for a partial mobilization, if necessary.

As the Depression deepened, Hoover exercised executive authority to decrease expenditures, but concern over domestic strife and Hoover's long-held theory that public works would speed economic recovery led him to treat the Army in kinder fiscal fashion than other federal agencies. During the Hoover administration, new construction from work relief funds began replacing decaying World War I facilities. The Depression also increased the purchasing power of the dollar and so augmented military funding. Only Hoover's dictated furloughs and later wage cuts for federal agencies gave the Army reason to suffer and protest. By 1935, however, wages were restored. Between 1932 and 1935, maintenance budgets protected the core of the War Department.

The military establishment struggled to absorb new technologies generated by World War I, but MacArthur's commitment to infantry in this environment of curtailed personnel and materiel led to a subordination of armor, chemicals, light weapons, and airplanes. Rather than maintain a separate tank corps, MacArthur integrated mechanized armor into the infantry and bypassed more effective models. The 1926 Air Corps Act had established a five-year plan to secure 1,800 planes. Congress approved the purchase of hundreds more of the fragile machines, but, given their quickly obsolescent designs and high number of crashes, the mandated goal was not realized until 1937. In the same year, Congress increased the number to 2,300. Furthermore, the Air Corps's growing personnel requirements continued to conflict with the General Board's infantry preference. As with the tanks, the planes were scattered among field troops. In 1935 the General Headquarters Air Force, designed as a strategic support for land forces, concentrated the Air Corps command, with a plan for dispersal at the outbreak of a war. That same year Congress passed the National Frontier Defense Act, which authorized the construction of ten huge regional airdromes to strengthen security, especially in the West Coast. Work relief projects throughout the decade greatly enhanced Army air fields and land support structures.

Other events, such as the 1932 Bonus March and the use of regular and guard troops to quell strikes, soured civilian attitudes and harmed the Army's public image. In 1933, the Army vehemently opposed the use of its facilities and personnel by the Civilian Conservation Corps. By 1935, however, Army leaders had discovered that the CCC was a useful source for funds to replace old expended materiel. In addition, officers such as George C. Marshall gained experience in mass mobilization as tens of thousands of CCC recruits were processed. The CCC also contributed to an improved quality of Army inductees during the Depression years.

Difficulties with procurement contracts caused the removal in 1936 of Air Corps chief Benjamin Foulois. In addition, with the exception of the B-17, the aviation industry failed to provide world-class pursuit planes and bombers, and corporate delays hampered delivery of contracted models. After severe congressional pressure, the Army moved to completely motorize the infantry and adopted a semiautomatic rifle (the M-1) in 1935. That same year, Congress authorized an increase of the Army to 165,000 enlisted men, while maintaining 11,500 officers on active duty. The Army could now fully man four divisions, each with 11,500 soldiers. Other divisions remained only partially manned until required by a war to expand. The War Department also used personnel for support bureaus, the Air Corps, and regiments to garrison the country's island possessions and the Panama Canal Zone. Recruit overcrowding and Roosevelt's fiscal fears prolonged full realization of Congress's plan for three years.

Malin Craig, who became chief of staff in September 1935, emphasized a forward vision and a greater realization of the time required for war preparation; he also argued that the shape of national defense was determined by staff decisions and congressional actions made years earlier. As the naval arms limitation treaties faded in 1936 and the Axis Powers emerged, the Army benefited from a general rearming that was led by Congress. From fiscal year 1934 onward, total annual military and naval expenditures averaged over a billion dollars. Although the War Department still estimated a year or more would be required to reach full production in the event of war, by 1939 the United States possessed a well-trained Army and increasingly modern military facilities. Infantry tactics and pilot training had advanced, although defense command remained divided as Army and Navy feuding continued. Contemplating a two-front war, one in the Pacific and another in the Atlantic, at the end of the 1930s the U.S. military profited from excellent noncommissioned officers and a strong cadre of younger officers. The depressed job markets had encouraged the enrollment of both.



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Killegrew, John W. The Impact of the Great Depression on the Army. 1979.

Kreidberg, Marvin A., and Henry G. Merton. History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army, 1775–1945. 1955.

Shiner, John F. Foulois and the U. S. Army Air Corps, 1931–1935. 1983.

Vander Meulen, Jacob A. The Politics of Aircraft: Building an American Military Industry. 1991.

Wilson, John R. M. Herbert Hoover and the Armed Forces: A Study of Presidential Attitudes and Policy. 1993.

Henry C. Ferrell, Jr.