US Army North-West Europe

us flagStrength and Organization of the US Army in Northwest Europe 1944-45.

US 1st Infantry Division lands at the bloody Omaha Beach

The US 1st Infantry Division lands at the bloody Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day.

arrow Here to Part I: US Army at the beginning of WW2.

US Army in North-West Europe 1944-1945

Loading war material for the Normandy invasion

Loading war material for the Normandy.

American troops had arrived in Britain since 1942 in preparation for the invasion of German-occupied Europe, and by the summer of 1944 more than two million Allied soldiers had been deployed for Operation Overlord.
The 1st U.S. Army under General Bradley was intended for the two western beaches of the landings in Normandy and its initial landing troops consisted of seven infantry and two airborne divisions. Despite heavy losses at Omaha Beach, the American landings on June 6 were successful and a bridgehead was consolidated to assemble the reinforcement for the break-out from Normandy with Operation ‘Cobra’.

In July, more American troops were brought into Normandy, so Bradley had 21 divisions under his command until August. This led to a reorganization of the American armed forces and the 12th US Army Group was founded. It consisted of the 1st US Army with the V, VII and XIX Corps and the newly formed 3rd US Army with the XII, XV, XX and VIII Corps.
Operation ‘Cobra’ became an American triumph and the rapid exploitation of the breakthrough by armoured elements of Patton’s 3rd Army changed the tactical advantage to a great strategic victory. Outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, the German troops were pushed back from France towards the Rhine.

Allied progress slowed in late autumn 1944 due to the stiffening of German resistance and an increasing shortage of Allied supplies and replacements. The front line stabilized along the Franco-German border in the winter of 1944-45.
On January 1, 1945, the American armed forces consisted of 31 infantry divisions, 11 armoured divisions and 3 airborne divisions. These units were organized into the 12th Army Group with the 1st and 3rd US Army and the newly formed 6th Army Group consisting of the 7th US Army and the French 1st Army. The last two armies had landed in the south of France with Operation ‘Dragoon’ and had united with the main forces in central France in September.
During 1945 another 15 US divisions (including 4 armoured divisions) arrived in Europe, bringing the total American strength to 60 divisions.

captured bridge of Remagen

The captured bridge of Remagen with US flags.

After the American troops had repulsed the German Ardennes offensive (Battle of the Bulge), they prepared to cross the Rhine and penetrate into the heart of Germany. The Rhine as a great obstacle was overcome in March 1945 and the 12th Army Group entered Germany. In cooperation with the British-Canadian 21st Army Group, 300,000 German troops were captured in the Ruhr pocket by the 1st US Army. On April 25 contact was established with the advancing Soviet troops and by the first week of May the organized German resistance had ceased.

 

During the eleven-month campaign in Western Europe, the US forces had to bear the brunt of the fighting and lost 591,802 men.

Organization

US infantry on Normandy Beach.

US infantry on Normandy Beach.

The basic unit of the US Army was the Infantry Division. The tripartite organization with three infantry regiments of three battalions each remained throughout the war in northwestern Europe. There were only few changes, with the exception of the general increase in the number and calibre size of the division’s weapons.
The infantry regiment of 1944 consisted of a headquarters company, an infantry gun company with six 105 mm infantry howitzers, an anti-tank company with twelve 57 mm AT guns, a service company and the usual three infantry battalions, each with 860 men.

US artillery fires German positions

US artillery fires German positions on the eastern bank of the Rhine in 1945.

The artillery regiment of the division had a medium artillery battalion and three light artillery battalions. Each of these artillery battalions consisted of three batteries of four towed 155mm howitzers in the medium and 105 mm howitzers in the light battalions.

The infantry division which was in action in 1944, was often reinforced by independent units with tanks, tank destroyers, anti-aircraft guns, mechanized cavalry and field artillery in addition to its TOE strength of 14,253 men.

In addition to the artillery units within the Division system, there were also a considerable number of independent artillery units organized into medium battalions of 4.5-inch (114mm) and 155mm howitzers and heavy artillery of 155mm, 203mm and 240mm cannons. At the end of the war there were 111 heavy battalions and 81 medium battalions of independent artillery.
The army also controlled independent anti-aircraft units, which amounted to 575 battalions in October 1943, but this number was reduced to 460 in 1944.

US tanks stop German advance

American M4 Sherman tanks to stop the German advance through the Ardennes.

During the period from June 1944 to May 1945, some 15 American armoured divisions were deployed in Western Europe, making a significant contribution to Allied victory.
The US Armoured Division was based on the September 1943 structure, which consisted of three tank battalions, three infantry battalions on armoured half-trucks and three artillery self-propelled battalions. Their total TOE strength was fixed at 10,937 men.
This armoured division was divided into two battle commands ‘A’ and ‘B’, each of which could control a different number of units at the discretion of the division commander. An additional command was introduced which was responsible for the division’s reserve elements, known as Combat Command ‘C’ or Reserve.

A considerable number of American tank units were formed separately from the armoured divisions as independent tank battalions. In the winter of 1944-1945, 65 of these independent tank battalions were in action.

The organization of the battalion was like that of the tank battalion of an armoured division and consisted of three medium and one light tank company with a total strength of 729 men and 68 tanks.
Originally, these independent tank battalions were intended as close support for the infantry divisions, but during the fighting in France they were deployed in a more mobile ‘Combat Command’. They were often grouped into groups of five and later three battalions. When they were combined to form a brigade with infantry in infantry fighting vehicles, this was called a ‘Armoured Group’.

M18 'Hellcat'

The M18 ‘Hellcat’, introduced in 1944, was a lightly armoured but fast tank destroyer that was able to penetrate the armor of most heavy tanks.

Another type of tank units not organized in divisions were the tank destroyer battalions, founded in 1942, which were supposed to fight the German tank divisions as very mobile anti-tank weapons.
With a total strength of around 100,000 men, this tank destroyer force consisted of 80 battalions, each with 36 self-propelled or towed anti-tank guns. The backbone of these battalions were the lightly armoured M10 and M18 tank destroyers, which were equipped with high muzzle velocity guns.

 

The United States had a long cavalry tradition that continued well into the 20th century. The outbreak of the Second World War marked the end of cavalry with horses, however, when regulations for the mechanization of this type of arms were issued in 1942. Some cavalry regiments formed the core for the new armoured divisions, while the rest were divided into mechanized reconnaissance units at squadron and group level. Nevertheless, two cavalry divisions remained with the American forces, one fighting as a dismounted infantry in the Pacific, the other sent to the Mediterranean theater of war. There, however, it was disbanded, with its components distributed among other formations.

US paratrooper captures a German soldier

With his M1 Garand rifle and bayonet an US paratrooper captures a German soldier during the invasion in the Normandy in 1944.

In 1941, the US Army only had a paratroop battalion. Impressed by the success of the German paratroopers, a rapid expansion of the American airborne troops began. Until 1944, the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were ready to support the landings on D-Day, while the 13th and 17th Airborne Divisions were still in formation. All four airborne divisions, however, were then deployed in the following battles in Western Europe.

The Airborne Division was designed as a small, highly mobile formation that could be deployed by air transport, consisting of a paratroop regiment and two infantry regiments for gliders that reached a strength of 8,505 men with the usual support units of a division.

In September 1944 the size of the division was increased to 12,979 men. The organization was also modified on the following basis:
Two paratroop regiments, each with 2,364 men, consisting of three battalions with a regiment headquarters and a service company.
An infantry regiment for gliders with 2,978 men, divided into three battalions and a regiment headquarters, a service company and an anti-tank company.
An anti-aircraft and anti-tank battalion with three machine gun batteries (each with 12 x Browning 12.7 mm heavy machine guns) and three gun batteries, each with eight 57mm anti-tank guns.
The division’s artillery consisted of three batteries with demountable 75 mm pack howitzers.
In addition there were companies of maintenance, engineer and signal troops and a reconnaissance platoon.

There were a number of other division types, including motorized and light divisions, which played little or no role in operations in Western Europe.

A special feature of the US Army was its logistical support services, which supplied the GI at the front. As in other technically well-equipped armies, the majority of soldiers in the US Army were not combat troops, but were part of the technical service, e.g. engineers, signals, chemical warfare, ordnance, medical and transport.
Therefore the American infantry division with a TOE strength of about 15,000 men, reached with all necessary supply and support troops, including the air force, an actual strength of 50,000. All these additional troops were known as the Division’s ‘slice’ and required an average of 1,600 tons of supplies per day.

In order to meet the complex logistical requirements of the US Army in Europe, the ‘Red Ball Highway’ was introduced, which consisted of a series of one-way routes reserved exclusively for transporting supplies to the front lines.
Although this system was successful, American troops were still often short of supplies, especially fuel, during the rapid advance in autumn 1944.
By the beginning of 1945, however, the strength of the American logistics system had proven itself and the GI was probably the best equipped and supplied soldier of all the forces fighting in the Second World War.

Infantry division 1943 Armoured division 1943 Tank battalion Tank destroyer battalion Airborne division 1942
Total units Northwest Europe 31 (Jan 45); 42 (May 45) 11 (Jan 45); 15 (May 45) 65 (winter 1944-45, often being combined in groups of 3-5, sometimes with mechanized infantry units) 80 (1945) 2 (June 44), later 4
Infantry regiments 3 (each with three battalions, each with 860 men) 1 (with three battalions, each with 860 men, all mounted on half-tracks) - 3 (each with 3 battalions)
Total men 14,253 10,937 750 671 8,505
Machine guns 636 (243 BAR, 157 medium, 234 heavy) 869 (465 medium, 404 heavy) 44 (18 medium, 26 heavy) 74 (30 medium, 44 heavy) 292 (187 medium, 105 heavy)
Bazookas 557 607 25 62 182
Mortars 144 (90 x 60mm, 54 x 81mm) 93 (63 x 60mm, 30 x 81mm) 6 x 81mm 3 x 81mm 111 (75 x 60mm, 36 x 81mm)
Artillery 66 (54 x 105mm Howitzer, 12 x 155mm Howitzer) - 36 x 75mm Pack How
Self-propelled howitzers - 54 (105mm) 6 (M4 105mm How) -
Anti-tank guns 57 x 57mm 27 x 57mm - -
Anti-aircraft guns all anti-aircraft battalions were controlled by the commanding Field Army = = = 24 x 37mm
Vehicles (trucks) 1,440 (note: this capacity was not enough to move all equipment and personnel simultaneously). All types total: 2,012 2,653 (all types, including Jeeps) 64 (trucks) 82 (trucks) 385 (trucks)
APC's 5 501 (M3 Half-tracks) 13 -
reconnaissance 77 (light tanks) 17 (light tanks) 36 (armoured cars)
Tanks - 186 (M4 Sherman) 53 (M4 Sherman) 36 (M10 or M18)
Supremacy 1914
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One Comment

  1. The US Army of WWII was unique in that it was the most powerful, flexible, best organized, supplied and most mobile force the world had ever known. Despite the founders deliberate intent to limit it to under 100 divisions, the number of independent tank battalions, Tank Destroyer battalions, Engineering battalions, AAA Battalions and so on, made it much larger. The independent battalions would if grouped into divisions would have equaled another 100 divisions. A great book on this subject is Perret’s “There is a war to be won.” I just finished reading it for the third time. One of the things interesting about it, is it documents how the US had to literally carry the British Army kicking and screaming across the victory line. The French too. It came as a surprise to me that the Brits kept several hundred thousand combat troops at home during 1944-45 all the while Montgomery was claiming he needed US divisions for his many failed or useless offensive gambits…Arnhem and Op Varsity come to mind. I believe he had at one point, eight US divisions under his control until Bradley took them back to close the Ruhr pocket encirclement.

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