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August 22, 2019

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Short Rounds

National Guard General Officers, 1940-1945

When the National Guard began being called into Federal service in September of 1940, there were 66 generals on the Regular Army permanent promotion list, and 95 on the National Guard promotion list.

Regular and National Guard Generals, 1940
RankRegularsGuardsmen
General1 0
Lieutenant General 6 0
Major General 14 21
Brigadier General 45 74
Total 66 95

Actually there were no officers holding permanent rank higher than major general in the Army in 1940. The nine officers shown on the table ranking as lieutenant generals and full general were all serving with temporary commissions, including George C. Marshall, the Chief-of-Staff, who wore four stars. So in fact, there were actually 21 major generals on active duty in the Regular Army in 1940.

The war proved a hard testing ground for these officers, and many were found wanting. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the deck was stacked in their favor, it was the Regulars who proved less able than the Guardsmen.

The 1940 Generals Still on Active Duty in Comparable Posts in 1945
RankRegularsGuardsmen
Major Generals 6 (28.9%) 8 (38.1%)
Brigadier Generals 26 (57.7%) 43 (48.1%)
Total 32 (48.5%) 61 (64.2%)
Note: Officers rated as general and lieutenant general in 1940 are here included in their substantive rank of major general.

As if the statistics didn't speak loudly enough, it's worth noting that several of the 1940 class of National Guard generals came out of World War II with commissions as general officers in the Regular Army.

Similar comparisons can be made for other grades. Thus, about 54-percent of the 273 National Guard colonels activated in 1940-1941 were still on active duty in the same or higher grades at the end of the war, compared with only 39-percent of 705 Regular colonels on active duty in October 1940. And, by the way, the Regular Army figures for 1945 are for January 1st, with six months of war still to go.

Despite this excellent performance, at the time, and even today, the Regular Army insists that the National Guard and its officers were inept, a falsehood repeated as recently as 1998 in an article in Armed Forces International.

 

The Oldest Oldest Outfit

Many military units have claimed the distinction of being the oldest outfit. Thus, the Royal Scots claim the honor of being the oldest outfit in the British Army, the Picardie the oldest in the French Army, the Rey the oldest in the Spanish Army, and so forth. Now these outfits are pretty old, dating to the sixteenth century. But at best that gives them less than 500 years of active service. Which still makes them pikers compared with the world’s record holder, the Roman legio V Macedonica.

The V Macedonica traces its origins to the legio Urbana. Raised in 44 B.C., as a garrison for Rome, possibly by Caesar shortly before his death, or possibly by his senatorial opponents shortly after they had succeeded in bumping him off. The Urbana survived the complex civil wars of 44-30 B.C. to emerge as the Imperial legio V Macedonica. The V Macedonica had a distinguished record during the Empire. In the fourth century it was divided into two parts, one of which was stationed on the Danube frontier, and the other in Egypt. The history of the Danubian vexillatio of the legion ends sometime in the fifth century. But the Egyptian vexillatio remained active on the army list until the Great Romano-Persian War of 603-628, when the Persians overran Egypt in 616-619, making it, at nearly 670 years, the hands-down oldest "oldest" outfit in military history.

 

The Other Side of Helmuth von Moltke

Arguably the greatest European soldier of the century that followed Waterloo, Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) engineered the reform of the Prussian Army and the formation of the Great General Staff, and directed the Prussian victories over Austria in 1866 and over France in 1870-71 that led to the creation of the German Empire. But he was also a man of enormous literary talent and business skill.

Literate in several languages, including English, Latin, Italian, French, and Greek, Moltke kept a diary in three languages interchangeably, English, Italian, and French. He was an author of some note, producing numerous short stories, novels, historical essays, and other works of considerable literary merit during his long life, as well as translations from other languages, including Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, feats that made him one of the most popular German authors of his times.

Moltke was also a man of considerable business acumen. An early advocate of railroads, he invested heavily in their development, which paid off handsomely, and not only in money; The organizational innovations the were necessary for the rise of “Big Business” were very much similar to those embodied in the general staff concept, of which he was a major proponent.

Oddly, despite his enormous experience, including a tour of duty as an advisor to the Turkish Army during the 1840s, until 1866, when he exercised supreme command under the King, he had never directed so much as a company in combat!

 

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