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US Army Repple Depples (Replacement/Deployment units)

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by A-58, Aug 20, 2020.

  1. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    From reading in past in several publications, occasionally I come across situations where a GI after being wounded, treated and released from the hospital, he is then transferred to the Replacement/Deployment Unit to be re-assigned. Usually he is sent to a unit he was not originally assigned to when wounded. Why wouldn't the powers to be just send him back to his old unit? Obviously they have an open slot (the wounded man in question), and I've never been assigned to an infantry unit that was anywhere near being 100% filled in peacetime. From what I understand from my readings, if they are treated and don't spend too much time in the hospital, they usually get sent back to their old unit upon release. But if treatment and rehab goes on longer, off to the Repple Depple they go, often to their dismay. Many times I've read that soldiers go AWOL from the hospital and make their way back to their buddies in the old outfit, and many desert from their newly assigned units and "re-assign" themselves from their original units on their own. Of course there are always some guys (usually draftees) who have no real attachments to their units, or don't really know anyone there and could care less if they are sent to another unit. The first I remember reading about this was in the book "Up Front," Bill Maudlin's book with a collection of cartoons posted in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. Also in the movie of the same name there was a scene when Willie (or maybe it was Joe) went to see Joe (or maybe it was Willie) in the field hospital to ask him to leave as soon as he could walk to avoid being sent to the Repple Depple.

    I am currently reading "The Black Devils Brigade", aka the First Special Service Force. They are fighting in the Anzio perimeter at this point. Multiple entries have wounded FSSF men being sent to Repple Depples and re-assigned to line units. Once word of this got out to the rest of the men in the force, they began to going AWOL when they felt that they were healed up enough. It got so bad that hospital staff were under orders to take their uniforms away and give them light blue pajamas for the duration of their stay. But as soon as they were given their uniforms back, off to the FSSF they went, own their own "orders". Wounded paratroopers were re-assigned to leg units like this too.

    I know that being short handed in combat is a fact of life everyone has to get used to, but a trained FSSF man or a paratrooper or Ranger should have be sent back to their units and not to a regular line unit. Doesn't make sense to me. But of course neither does the US Army system of feeding in new replacements directly into the line as opposed to the British system of pulling unit out of the line for refitting, replacing and rest, etc.

    Any ideas of why such a terrible system (IMHO only) was in place?
     
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  2. firstf1abn

    firstf1abn Member

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    Define 'old unit.' Squad, division, in between?
     
  3. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    Bobby, I suspect it was just easier on the paperwork to just shotgun them out to the first unit on the list. After all, weren't GIs just considered to be another part of inventory to be dispensed as needed?
     
  4. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    The unit that they were in when they were wounded. At least their original company should be considered I believe.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2020
  5. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    Yeah but it was not really good for the morale of the men who got shuffled off to other units. Bean counters are good for things like this. But what really doesn't make sense is the FSSF men, paratroopers and rangers got shuffled off to non-specialty units. Really a poor utilization of assets in those cases. If it were me, I'd go and "re-assign myself on my own recognizance" back to my old unit (the one that I was in when wounded) at the earliest opportunity to be back with my buddies. What's the worst they can do, put me in the infantry, send me into the line, bend my dog tags?
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2020
  6. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    I recall reading that one US officer said that if the Germans had designed our replacement system, they could hardly have come with anything that would suit their purpose better.

    A lot of the problem was the overall shortage of troops, particularly infantry. The Allies in northwestern Europe had about the same number of divisions as the Germans, more fully manned and equipped of course. For example at the end of 1944 Eisenhower had only 44 American divisions. The infantry regiments of several divisions from the United States were sent to Europe ahead of the rest of their units with the idea that they could be attached to existing divisions and allow regiments of those divisions to be pulled out of the line for a bit, including absorbing replacements. Good idea, but the overall shortage of infantry meant that new units had to be thrown in while old ones could rarely be pulled out.

    I agree that recovered wounded ought to have been returned to their units, especially special ones like FSSF. I expect the bean counters, who in fairness were trying to do the right thing, saw a problem if the unit received a replacement for the wounded man and then he came back, putting the unit over strength and potentially shortchanging some other unit. In real life of course, being over strength was rarely a problem in the infantry!
     
  7. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    There is a long explanation in books on the history of the US Army. Seen from the outside the US took a very materialistic approach to its army. By that it employed similar concepts as it did to its highly successful corporations. A military formation is a combination of x equipment + y men + z supplies. The US way in war is the be there "fustest with the mostest"

    The infantry which did most of the fighting had a very low priority on recruits. There was little recognition of the significance of Unit cohesion. By contrast ot the Germans, there was little or no effort to assimilate replacements, many of whom became the FNG for a short period before becoming a casualty.

    One of the paradoxes is that the US WW2 Units which have featured in the literature and movies are far from typical. Easy Company 506 PIR, suffered, but there was a core of men who served through out their operational service. Band of Brothers could not have been written about a company of the 4th Infantry Division because the 5-6,000 men in its rifle companies suffered 25,000 casualties in eleven months from D Day to VE Day.

    Returning to the question. Why care about sending a man back to his unit if the comrades he knew are no longer there?

    Post WW2 the US reversed its policy.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2020
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  8. firstf1abn

    firstf1abn Member

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    Looks like you fell over that all too familiar tripping hazard - after reading a couple of anecdotes, you thought you understood the policy and went into (mild:p) indignation mode. Actually it was a bit more complicated than that; not entirely different, but not the answer to a true-false question either.

    If you truly want to understand, go Google Logistical Support of the Armies (v.2) (this is for the ETO) and read pgs. 343-45 and you can come back and explain it to everybody else (who also don't show much hint of having looked at it closely).

    Good luck.
     
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  9. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    I recall reading that logistics & circumstances often affected whether soldiers went back to their units or to Repple Depple. If the lines were fairly static & their unit reasonably close, the soldier was more likely to be returned to their unit. On the other hand, if their unit had moved, or they were sent to a medical unit/hospital far from their unit, they were more likely to end up in the replacement system. I don't remember where I read that, but it does make sense.

    A few years ago, member Earthican had a thread or 2 on the Army replacement system. It might be worth looking it up.
     
  10. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Well, since it pretty much is a truism, accepted by most, he's hardly alone.

    Or, alternately, you could read the 3,800 pages on the GFRS, ETOUSA in files 571a-571m of the ETOUSA records at Fold3. The problem is there is a lot of material, not very well known or understood, on why the U.S. Army replacement system worked the way it did. Worse, few understand what the faults in the German system that they usually tout were, because it too wasn't perfect, but was the system the Germans accepted as suitable for their requirements.

    Fundamentally, they were different systems, each with its own faults and problems. Each also evolved in attempts to adapt to changed circumstances, with more or less success. Fundamentally, the major problem in both was that they never had sufficient manpower to work with.
     
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  11. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I asked about this a long time ago but nobody seemed to know the persons who are mentioned having created this nor are there sources. Yet must admit I have not visited Ernie HerrĀ“s site.

    So not sure if Ike ever truly gave this order. But maybe someone of the newer members has seen this elsewhere? Seems like this would have been made before/during Hurtgen forest battle??

    BATTLE OF HURTGEN FOREST

    "The first step down the road to this disaster can be traced to the following order:

    COMBAT UNITS ARE AUTHORIZED TO BASE DAILY REPLACEMENT REQUISITIONS ON ANTICIPATED LOSSES FORTY EIGHT HOURS IN ADVANCE TO EXPEDITE DELIVERY OF REPLACEMENTS. TO AVOID BUILDING UP OVERSTRENGTH, ESTIMATES SHOULD BE MADE WITH CARE. SIGNED EISENHOWER.

    This order was based on the necessity of providing replacements for battle losses in time to insure that the initiative would not be lost in battle situations where the enemy was on the run but might recover if replacements were not quickly available. Unfortunately, the order enabled inept staff officers to bring in replacements at such a fast pace that companies and even divisions could take tremendous losses that only could be acceptable because of this replacement policy. The officers making these decisions were never close enough to the front lines to be in danger themselves so they were always around to continue to make more costly mistakes."

    --------------

    If I remember correctly the Germans often made towards the end of the war ad hoc units which included for instance AA units, AT units, tanks,infantry from various units combined to make fast moving and acting attack/defensive units immediately instead of waiting for replacements to arrive and combining with original units which would take time.
     
  12. firstf1abn

    firstf1abn Member

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    The OP's question was why. Which truism explains that and covers the complexities I warned about? 'Accepted by most' is oftentimes indicative of the problem, not the solution. With all the knowledge and experience around here, it appears you and I are the only ones familiar with the account I mentioned (fuzzy memories get a pass). Three pages isn't that big a burden.

    The truism is that it was always done the one way the OP understood. Maybe by now he's hunted up the reference and a whole new world has opened up.

    It's an interesting story of imperfect individuals muddling through a tough situation the best they can, not cardboard cutouts being mean or dumb. No personnel management system could fundamentally alter the basic math (truisms breaking out all over the place!)

    I have found anecdotes to be useful as entertainment, but rarely enlightenment. At best, they can lead to a better question, or spark a new interest, but their downside is there is a temptation to stop there. My response to the OP was to say, "Here's where to find a better answer, and here's where your thinking went off the rails." - same method I use on myself (with opportunities for fixing screwups presenting themselves almost hourly)
     
  13. wooley12

    wooley12 Active Member

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    After 5 years of researching anecdotes by the men involved and from their children I'll add my thoughts.

    In the beginning, the Rangers and FSSF were specially chosen for their civilian skills and highly trained for their mission and thus expensive and difficult to replace. The US military in particular kept their combat troops on the line too long without a break. Wore them out. The records show that in the Rangers during 1942, 3 and 4, there was a steady stream of men getting sick or wounded and returning after treatment. The replacements after Sept 43 were insufficiently trained for the mission. The Band of Brothers bond is deeper than we can imagine. The use of commando units changed in the mountains of Italy. Rangers and FSSF were being used to plug holes in the regular infantry due to manpower shortages. That's why Cisterna happened. A Ranger returning to his unit from a hospital in Africa in Dec. 44 was not in a hurry to return. He pause when he landed back in Italy for 3 days in a whore house and his battalion was wiped out while he was in the stockade. he went on to serve in Korea and Nam.

    It has taken me multiple log on's, misdirected clicks and a password change using three different devices to post this. Wish I could figure this out. Driving me nuts ans it's a short trip.
     
  14. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Yes, the OP's question was "why [did this truism I'm accepting as fact have such an effect?]". The truism is the "accepted wisdom" that the U.S. Army replacement system in World War II was "a terrible system", even though he did qualify it as "IMHO".

    Indeed. Mind, you, the history of the GFRS is pretty truncated in the two volumes, which can lead to misunderstandings. For example, if you read the section on the pre D-Day setup you might imagine the FFRS (as it was known then) was comprised of the 14 Replacement Depot and its five Replacement Battalions attached to FUSA, when there were actually 12 depots and 54 battalions.

    Pretty much all military in a nutshell...or maybe history in general...as a truism.

    Yep, anecdotal history can be a trial, but it can also be entertaining as all get out...did you know that probably the first Armored Force KIA battle casualty in the U.S. Army was a black enlisted man, passing as white? I don't know if that anecdote sparks new interest or better questions, but it's interesting.
     
  15. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    Whoa!

    This reinforces the point I made in post #7. The ideas that replacements should be introduced in the middle of a battle to maintain momentum explains a lot about what was wrong with the US replacement policy.

    If this is true, it means that the US army considered a depleted platoon (mins x casualties ) plus replacements = one platoon. No recognition that individuals need to know each other, or train together to be effective. One reason the British .staged offensives in pulses was to allow units to absorb replacements.
     
  16. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Sorry, but again, no, it is not "wrong". Rather, it is the way the system worked, for reasons that seemed quite "right", but which had unintended consequences.

    The U.S. Army has pretty much always considered personnel as "plug and play". If they are qualified as a particular MOS then they can be slotted in at any time and will function as such.

    However, that is not actually what Ike's order was about. It was an attempt to ensure replacements were where they needed to be with a minimum of time lost before they could be used as reinforcements for combat-depleted units, balanced with the requirement that unit's not be too over-strength. Note that a 10% unit over-strength was authorized for assault units for NEPTUNE, but that apparently resulted in imbalances that "wasted" manpower...and correct manpower utilization was of paramount importance (never mind the profligate wastefulness of Army manpower into things like CDL battalions, AAA battalions, excess Service Support units, and so on). So the 1st and 29th ID had insufficient replacements even with the 10% to reconstitute those units hard hit, while the 4th ID had too many replacements.

    Originally it was intended that each corps would have a FFRS/GFRS Replacement Depot attached with a Replacement Battalion and a Casual Detachment (for casualties returning form hospital) for each division in the corps. Furthermore, specialty training was furnished by attaching combat units to the FFRS/GFRS (infantry, cavalry, armor, FA, and AAA were all represented). Except that did not work well as the division's frequently shifted attachment...as did corps sometimes. The constricted nature of the beachhead also created problems since there was no room for training areas to prepare replacements for combat, the intended role of the replacement battalion. Instead, they became simple holding/cantonment areas, which meant that the staffs of the Replacement Battalions were themselves wasted manpower. The problem got worse as the breakout occurred, since the RD and RB had no organic transport...so it was easier to just truck replacements forward in mass in cattle cars and dole them out directly. When the RD and RP were able to move forward after the front stabilized, the early affiliation between them and corps and divisions were essentially moot, so the system was streamlined and the RD/RB became what they effectively were, simple admin units with minimal overheads that could quarter personnel. The need for troops also meant that the combat troops attached to the GFRS were removed and sent to the front.

    Of course, the field forces recognized the problems in the system early on and tried to apply their own band-aids, with minimal success. For example, the 29th ID organized both its own RB with its own combat vets as staff as well as a "Rest Center" for NP casualties and had considerable success with them until the tempo of operations made it impossible to fully maintain them. Other divisions had similar experience. Ideally, once the front stabilized then units could be rotated into reserve and then incorporate and train up replacements...except the rapid advance outstripped the ability of the US to transport units directly to Europe as planned, especially when troop transport was balanced with moving supplies...combine that with the width of front led to the months-long inability to keep units in reserve long enough for them to fully reconstitute.

    Note that the German system of complete unit reconstitution also did not ultimately work well...nor has it worked well in the modern American attempt to use it.
     
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  17. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Btw, they were not "replacement/deployment" units but replacement depots . Depple was slang for depot. And then they were reinforcement depots. Just to make it confusing.
     
  18. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    This says it all. .

    Maybe the modern British Army is an extreme, but no replacements seem to have been deployed on recent operations in Iraq or Afghanistan., If you did not do the pre tour work up you could not join the unit in theatre. Casualties resulted in a unit ending its tour with four man rifle sections. What has the US done?
     
  19. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    One of the problems the Germans faced was that Hitler all the time wanted to create new units not send men to replace the dead and wounded. In April 1945 Someone had counted that according to units flags if the units had full manpower Hitler would have had 10 million men to use for battle still.
     
  20. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Essentially the same. A BCT would go through its rotation and suck it up. At the end of the tour it returns to CONUS and resets. If the same system was used in the Second World War, the U.S. Army would have deployed perhaps 50 of its 88/89 divisions at peak. That was unworkable.

    Note that for most of the war, the German Ersatzheer, which imperfectly supported a rotational system, numbered between 1.5 and about 2,5 million personnel, about one-third to one-quarter the Feldheer strength. If the US employed a similar system then about 60-70 divisions would have been available at peak. That too was unworkable.

    The system chosen worked, albeit imperfectly, but remained better than a system that would not have worked at all given the strategic manpower reality.
     

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