Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, December 28, 2020

How America Raised an Army for World War One, Part Two

Recruits Taking an Intelligence Test

By Leo P. Hirrel

Ed. note:  Part One of this article appeared in yesterday's Roads to the Great War.

Although the overwhelming majority of the drafted soldiers went to the infantry, machine guns, or artillery, the modern army still required numerous non-combatant skills. Most of these trades had civilian counterparts and often required special schooling. Therefore, the Adjutant General's specialists needed to cull the soldiers with training or aptitude for the required work.

Shortly after the declaration of war, academic experts in personnel management and psychological testing, led by the Carnegie Institute of Technology, decided to offer their services to the Army. In a fashion typical of the Progressive Era, they believed that “scientific” methods would resolve the Army's personnel problems. To help the Army, they organized themselves into the Committee on Personnel Classification. Although theoretically an advisory body, the committee developed the essential personnel policies and procedures for managing the new soldiers. Many also received commissions to work for the Adjutant General in an official capacity.

These experts brought two innovations to the Army: civilian occupation interviews and intelligence testing. To find the soldiers with desired experience in noncombat functions, the committee developed a system of interviews to determine which soldiers possessed the needed skills. Soldiers who self-identified a necessary skill were sent where their civilian expertise could be put to best use. As the war progressed, the process improved with better questioning. The Adjutant General's Department created a position of Camp Personnel Adjutant for the purpose of screening and evaluating the draftees. These personnel adjutants attended special schools and could not be replaced without approval from Washington.

Large-scale intelligence testing was introduced into the Army at the same time, based upon the recommendation of civilian psychology experts. Every new soldier took a test to measure his basic intelligence. The alpha test used written questions and the beta test used pictures for those who could not read English. Results of the test supposedly identified soldiers with potential for advancement or those who would have difficulty performing Army work. Development of the personnel replacement system came painfully slow, but the lessons resulted in a blueprint that lasted through World War II and the Cold War.

Camp Grant, IL, Under Construction

Before training could begin, the Army required housing, uniforms, and equipment. Without training facilities, the National Guard soldiers were simply kept in their home states to protect key infrastructure against potential sabotage. By autumn, the Army expected to have training camps waiting for them. The Army planned to use tents for the National Guard divisions and temporary wooden buildings for  national Army divisions. Additionally, the Army required a wide variety of other construction, including new training installations for specific functions, fields for the new air service, depots, camps to support embarkation points, terminals for outbound cargo, and hospitals. By the end of the war the Army had initiated 448 major construction projects. 

. . . Having successfully created shelters for the new soldiers, the Quartermaster Corps turned its attention to the problem of feeding them. Despite the effects of the war upon the food supplies of all nations, the Quartermaster Corps did a credible job of obtaining subsistence both at home and in France. Soldiers stationed in the United States ate well, and for the most part soldiers in France ate reasonably well under the circumstances. Later, the War Department, Navy Department, and Allied Provision Export Commission all channeled their purchases through the new Food Administration.

If the Quartermaster Corps did an effective job of sheltering and feeding the new soldiers, clothing was another issue. The principal difficulty came because of the worldwide wool shortage, and wool was the best material for warm clothing at that time. Before the war, Australia and New Zealand dominated the wool export market, but as wartime shipping shortages increased, it became difficult to export the wool across the vast Pacific distances. By 1918 these two nations had a surplus of approximately one billion pounds of wool. The problems affected most nations, but the United States relied heavily upon imported wool.

U.S. Infantryman's Kit

With an inadequate supply of woolen uniforms and blankets, the Army suffered grievously that winter, which was exceptionally cold in all parts of the nation. The National Guard soldiers who were housed in tents fared the worst. The soldiers already in France repeatedly requested more blankets and winter clothing, only to be told none were available. The shortage of winter clothing produced a congressional outcry that cost Quartermaster General Henry Sharpe his job. 

Source:  "America Mobilizes," Over the Top, September 2017

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