Book Review: Combat Ready?: The Eighth U.S. Army on the Eve of the Korean War (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series)

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by Col. Thomas E. Hanson

College Station, Tx.: TAMU Press, 2010. Pp. xviii, 232. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $45.00. ISBN: 1603441670

With Combat Ready? Colonel Hason has made a valuable contribution to the study of the Korean War, yet actually says very little about the conflict itself, focusing instead on the preparation of the Eighth Army, and America, for war at the time. 

This is a careful look at the training and the doctrine of the post-1948 U.S. Army, and demonstrates that critics of the Eighth Army have long done a disservice to the men who fought in the desperate battles of the Summer of 1950.   In popular wisdom, the disastrous reverses are attributed to the lack of discipline and the effete youth of America, although the worst criticism fell on the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry and the "Colored" 24th Infantry Regiments, no part of the Army escaped this scapegoating.

Hason concentrates on the four infantry divisions of the Eighth Army on occupation duty in Japan in 1946-1950, the IX Corps, with the Cavalry Division (Infantry) and the 7th Infantry Division, in the north, and the I Corps, 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions, in the south.  By 1948, with occupation duties coming to an end, they were under-strength, equipped with old and worn-out vehicles, and had been deprived of towed antitank weapons, and thus had only 57mm Recoilless Rifles and 2.35-inch Bazookas against the T-34s of the North Koreans, and much other equipment was inoperable, especially Browning Automatic Rifles, foundation of platoon and company tactics. 

Training was inadequate, due to a shortage of facilities, but the senior troop commanders did what they could, developing intensive training programs for smaller units.  Army personnel policy, however, dictated the transfer of officers and enlisted men just as they became proficient in their jobs, which meant that units were always only partially trained, a disastrous situation that actually remained in effect until the1970's. 

The strategic situation was further complicated by the Truman Administration's inability to form a viable military policy where the army was concerned. America had the A-Bomb, most fearsome weapon yet known, and future threats were to be dealt with using it.  But that monopoly was broken in 1949.  So many factors came together to leave the Eighth Army unprepared. 

Col. Hason made extensive use of the training reports and official documents from many of the units involved, supplemented by interviews and published works.  Combat Ready? is an absolute necessity for anyone interested in the Korean War or the state of the U.S. Army in the early years of the Cold War.

Reviewer: Daniel David, www.nymas.org   


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