Book Review: The U.S. Army in World War II


by Army Center for Military History

Washington: Government Printing Office. 80 volumes. Illus., maps, tables, appends., biblio., index. . Free. ISBN:

The U.S. Army Center for Military History has just made available in pdf format the entire official history of its role in the Second World War, online at .

Better known as “The Green Books,” The U.S. Army in World War II consists of 79 volumes plus a reader’s guide.

Official histories tend to have a poor reputation among historians, as in they have often been used to manipulate the facts, even to the point of falsification, in order to protect institutions or individuals, or besmirch reputations.  But the Green Books have quite a different reputation. 

The note late John Keegan once remarked that the Green Books were “very good indeed.”  Unlike the official histories of some countries, these volumes were often written by professional historians, such as Robert R. Palmer, Forrest Pogue, or Bell I. Wiley, rather than staff officers. 

Although the 79 volumes are grouped into a dozen series (see below), they fall roughly into four groups:

·       Policy, Strategy, and Organization: Preparing for war, creating the force and developing strategy.

·       Operations:  The Army in action.

·       Services and Support:  Logistics, technical services, weapons procurement, and so forth.

·       Special Studies:  Monographs on particular specialized subjects.

The most “popular” volumes in the series are the operational accounts, with their detailed looks at often desperate fighting across the globe.  These are excellent treatments of the Army at work, in all theaters.  Unlike many official histories, these are not “top down” accounts, but often look at events from the “bottom up,” putting the reading with battalion or company commanders, and even in the fox hole or the tank turret, providing a comprehensive view of events.  Well written, and usually supported by excellent maps, they have generally stood the test of time well.  Naturally, since many of these were prepared before many documents were declassified, they are sometimes in need of updating.

But the operational volumes are not the most valuable ones in the series.

The really valuable volumes are the ones dealing with what might be termed “the boring stuff.”  That is to say, the volumes on organization, logistics, ordnance, medical service, and more.  The detail in these is often extraordinary, as  they delve into matters that, although largely invisible in most histories, were essential to shaping an army that could fight and win.  A couple of examples can serve to illustrate this.

In The Organization of Ground Combat Troops, one of the earliest volumes to be published (1947), we are treated to a very detailed account of how the units came to be structured as they were.  There is a lengthy account of the various iterations of divisional organization, involving complex calculations of things like the overall effects of adding a man here, or deducting a machine gun there.  The volume also looks at policies such as “modularization,” which was intended to insure that units of particular types (e.g., independent tank battalions and divisional tank battalions), would be interchangeable, to facilitate command and control when they were operating together.

In The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply, and Services, among many other subjects, we can find a lengthy discussion of the Army’s efforts to develop a balance field ration.  This includes the problem of providing fresh bread to troops in the field when possible, which proved at times to be difficult and complex, but for which novel solutions were often found.  Modern soldiers might appreciate this effort, while munching their MREs.

Anyone with a serious interest in the role of the U.S. Army in the Second World War will find these volumes indispensable.

--A. A. Nofi,

Review Editor            


The U.S. Army in World War II

The dozen series:

·       The War Department: Eight volumes on organization, policy, and strategy

·       The Army Ground Forces:  Two volumes on the recruiting, organization, and training of ground forces

·       The Army Service Forces:  One volume reviewing the role of the service forces, which are covered in more detail in the series “Technical Services”

·       The Western Hemisphere: Two volumes on hemispheric cooperation and defense planning

·       The War in the Pacific: Eleven volumes covering planning and operations in the Pacific

·       The Mediterranean Theater of Operations:  Four volumes on operations in North Africa and Italy

·       The European Theater of Operations:  Ten volumes on strategy, command, planning, operations, and logistics in preparation for and following the D-Day landings through the surrender of Germany

·       The Middle East Theater:  One volume on the American role in the region.

·       The China-Burma-India Theater:  Three volumes

·       The Technical Services: 

    • The Chemical Warfare Service:  Three volumes
    • The Corps of Engineers: Four volumes, including one each on operations in the war against Japan and against Germany
    • The Medical Department: Four volumes
    • The Ordnance Department: Three volumes
    • The Quartermaster Corps:  Four volumes, including one each on operations in the war against Japan and against Germany
    • The Signal Corps: Three volumes
    • The Transportation Corps: Three volumes

·       Special Studies:  Nine volumes (The Women’s Army Corps, African-American troops, aircraft procurement, military relations with Canada and France, the “Manhattan Project,” etc.)

·       Pictorial Record:  Three volumes, one the war against Japan and two on the European war.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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