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Thread: Support vs Line Troops

  1. #1
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    Default Support vs Line Troops

    Another thread spoke of the US Army having three support troops for every one front line soldier. I've seen other estimates, such as seven support troops for every man on the line. I guess the actual figure depends in large part on definitions, but it seems to me the 3:1 ratio is way too low: cooks, laundry, medical units, communications, transport, supply and logistics, HQ staff, intelligence, quartermasters, wounded, maintenance and repair, etc. Does anyone have a solid figure and source for this? How does it consider soldiers in training, in reserve, in transit, on leave? Does include such things as women's axillary units, even though barred from combat? Would it include the USAAF, which I assume had an even higher ratio of support personnel to those troops engaging in actual combat, or only ground forces? Is the number looking at a snap shot in time -- how many soldiers it takes to support the relatively low number in the trenches at a given moment, or an aggregate number -- which would be distorted by the relatively low casualty rates for rear echelons, especially over longer time periods?

    I would think given the more complicated technology, today's forces would require even more soldiers to support every soldier pulling a trigger in earnest. You search on-line and you get various numbers, but no clear idea what the number means. It's just curiosity on my part, but does anyone have insight?
    "...we have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Not something you can get a clear definition or numerical value of. Too many variables, especially today.
    Hell, people are earnestly pulling triggers on drones from bunkers in Missouri.

    The high numbers of motorized folks moving things about in our present combat zones increases the number of those potentially exposed.
    We don't use trenches much anymore.
    Lots of folks like to use figures for personal edsification, but they are too vague to be really accurate.
    Others like to use figures to downplay the roles of others. Not really a good thing as at least they are present and not hiding at home.
    So called support troops are taking lots of casualties from roadside bombe, the near signature of wound producing event in some areas.

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Quote Originally Posted by Ardee View Post
    Another thread spoke of the US Army having three support troops for every one front line soldier. I've seen other estimates, such as seven support troops for every man on the line. I guess the actual figure depends in large part on definitions, but it seems to me the 3:1 ratio is way too low: cooks, laundry, medical units, communications, transport, supply and logistics, HQ staff, intelligence, quartermasters, wounded, maintenance and repair, etc. Does anyone have a solid figure and source for this? How does it consider soldiers in training, in reserve, in transit, on leave? Does include such things as women's axillary units, even though barred from combat? Would it include the USAAF, which I assume had an even higher ratio of support personnel to those troops engaging in actual combat, or only ground forces? Is the number looking at a snap shot in time -- how many soldiers it takes to support the relatively low number in the trenches at a given moment, or an aggregate number -- which would be distorted by the relatively low casualty rates for rear echelons, especially over longer time periods?

    I would think given the more complicated technology, today's forces would require even more soldiers to support every soldier pulling a trigger in earnest. You search on-line and you get various numbers, but no clear idea what the number means. It's just curiosity on my part, but does anyone have insight?
    Very interesting questions.

    Is the ratio determined by simply dividing the number of front line troops into the total enlistment in the army? That will give a very different figure to dividing it into the number of troops engaged in direct support, such as ammunition trains. But where is the line drawn, as the ammunition train relies upon various clerks in the home country ordering, paying for, and arranging transport for the ammunition. And the same with all other supplies.

    How do we classify soldiers who have nothing to do with supporting front line troops, such as legal officers, graves registration, archives, statistics and so on? If we're dividing the total enlistment by front line troops, surely they should be excluded.

    Then there are others with a foot in both camps, such as MPs who generally exercise a function designed to piss off front line troops on leave but, certainly in WWII in Western Europe, Allied MPs were often very much at the front performing crucial duties under or at risk of fire in directing traffic, often at crossroads or other junctions registered by the enemy artillery.

    What is a front line soldier? A member of the arms, being infantry, artillery and armour in contact with or seeking contact with the enemy? Is a supply truck or ambulance driver operating under or at risk of fire a front line soldier?

    Is a member of the arms necessarily a front line soldier if not engaged in combat, such as a mortar crew operating as stretcher bearers when mortars are not required.

    Is it sufficient to be subject to or at risk of fire to qualify as a front line soldier or service person, regardless of where the battle lines are? If so, RAF ground crew, searchlight crews and so on who never left England were front line troops as they were subjected to attacks from the air by the enemy. The same for their counterparts in Germany and occupied Europe. If so, Queen Elizabeth II qualifies as a front line serviceperson as she served in the Auxiliary Service.

    I think forager is correct in saying there are too many variables to produce a correct figure.
    Last edited by Rising Sun*; 01-12-2014 at 03:33 AM.
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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Thank you for both replies. When thinking of today's forces, I was thinking only about the technological aspects, such as forager referred to with drone comment. I hadn't included in my thought how much more fluid combat fronts are currently.

    Regarding WWII, I was trying to recall the largest "ratio" I can remember coming across -- I think the number was 15:1, and if I'm correct, the source was oral and uncheckable. Again, what does that number mean? Maybe the number is just too fluid, depending on too many variables. To me at least, a 3:1 ratio seems way too low, especially with the day's supply lines going all the way back to the states. The 3:1 might be a figure for the total war, given the replacement of combat casualties. But it seems hard to swallow as a "working" day-to-day number. I would think the military planners would still have had some kind of target figures, so they can figure out how to allocate their new recruits/draftees to replace losses?
    "...we have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Simplifying it like many estimates do - you have Teeth Arms (armour, infantry, artillery) and support arms (all the rest).

    So they just add up the troops in the Teeth arms (which includes their organic support and logistics personnel) and the rest as separate entity's to get a crude ratio which technically could be correct.

    Unfortunately it does not include units like Engineers (who vary between teeth and support) who are often in the front line, attached units (commando/para - Engineers, signallers, logistics etc).

    You also see more units now being labelled as combat support who are typically the front line support units so more likely to be in combat of some form.

    All soldiers are combat soldiers first - level of training and equipment varies so ability in combat varies but all are expected to fight - except medical personnel and padres (although they carry a weapon if they wish) who carry a weapon for self defence and for any men under their charge.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    I have a book that gives a pretty good figure on the army combat and service troops. Most books say that by the end of WWII the US had about 8.3 million in the Army. Out of that 2.3 million were in the army air force and that of the 6 million ground troops about 3 million were service troops and about 3 million were combat troops. Another book I have breaks it down better and it list just over 2.7 million as combat troops and about 3.3 million service troops. I can tell you this that of the 8.3 million listed in the Army just over 5 million were oversea's. Almost 1 million were army air force troops and just over 4 million are ground troops with just over 2 million being combat troops and 1.4 million service troops. The rest are replacements , hospital patients and overhead. In the European and Mediteranean theater the US Army had 3.5 million troops there. About 1.7 million were combat troops and around 700,000 were service troops along with 592,000 army air force troops and the rest were replacements , patients , overhead and staff. In the Pacific the Army had 1.5 million troops with 500,000 combat troops and about 440,000 service troops along with about 360,000 army air force troops and of course the rest are replacements and so on. The US also had 2.6 million Navy and Marines oversea's as the total US troops oversea's at the end of WWII was 7.6 million and the rest were in the states of the total of 12.3 million counting the Army , Navy and Marines. Hope this helps some. Course this is how the troops were listed but as was said sometimes service troops are considered combat troops and vice versa. Heck somtimes supply troops could get ambushed and have to fight. Ron
    Last edited by 383man; 01-13-2014 at 12:44 AM.

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Quote Originally Posted by Ardee View Post
    Thank you for both replies. When thinking of today's forces, I was thinking only about the technological aspects, such as forager referred to with drone comment. I hadn't included in my thought how much more fluid combat fronts are currently.
    I think that during the Vietnam war era it was said that the ratio of support service people to pilots in the USAF was around 30:1.
    ..
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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Again, thanks. Perhaps I should rephrase what I'm asking for clarity. Thinking like an employer, for every fighting "position" in the line, how many support "positions" are required? I'm interested in answer from the "snapshot in time" perspective.

    For that answer, what 383 discussed doesn't work. Those were aggregate figures, which considerably lower the ratio by "inflating" the number of combat soldiers. Combat soldiers have a much higher "turnover" rate than support personnel, so their raw number will be much, much higher than the number of actual "positions." And I am also limiting it to people on military payroll: the Army supply clerk back in the states would be counted, but not the civilian in the factory making bullets (how to count civilian secretaries in the Pentagon, though? )

    Yes, I am aware every soldier is potentially a combat participant, and every one (except possibly women's axillaries? I don't know how WWII militaries dealt with that issue) received basic training and knew how to shoot a rifle, etc. But it you think of it in terms of number of "job positions" intended to actually engage the enemy in fighting, and how many "support" positions that required, that might be closer to the number I'm curious about.
    "...we have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Civilian secretaries in the Pentagon, is it ? Should have a look at our Irish Health Service Executive. Every time a problem arises (and that seems to happen daily) a different "Director" or "National Director" or "Assistant Director" or "National Programme Manager" or whatever comes on radio to try (usually unsuccessfully) to explain the problem away. The HSE seems to have more "Directors" etc. than it has nurses - and that is taking no account of the army of lesser bureaucrats backing them up. Verily I say unto ye - those bureaucrats - whether in the Pentagon or elsewhere - are pretty good at looking after themselves ... Best regards, JR.

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    You are asking a question that simply does not have an answer.
    You seem to have no concept of how the military is structured.
    Troops, equipment and assets are moved about in often seemingly unrelated activities.
    "The Big Picture." There is no formula or figuring as to amounts or numbers.
    A lot like those un proveable sayings like "A machine gunners life expectancy is..."

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    In my answer about the WWII troops I have posted what I have read over the years. The one book that breaks down the army's 8.3 million troops in WWII says that first 2.3 million were airmen of the US Army air force. The so called combat troops are all of the troops in the 90 actually 89 divisions and all the other combat troops connected to the 89 divisions. The US army did not always have a cetain number of lets say artillery in a division as most were added to the normal divisions strenth so that when you look at the normal infantry division it has about 15,000 men but when you look at all the added combat units like artillery units and say tank destroyer units and medical units or engineer units the division may have a strenth of about 22,000 troops. The 89 division oversea's in WWII came to a bit over 2 million front line combat troops including the added support units so that may throw the balance off alot as some of the combat units may also be doing support jobs. But when you divide 2 million by 89 you get an average of over 20,000 troops per division yet the statistics list an infantry division at almost 15,000 men. The best info I have says 89 division oversea's at the end of WWII with a bit over 2 million combat troops oversea's and about 1.4 million support troops overseea's. Also when they list the troops just in the European and Mediterenean it list just over 3.5 million with the field army (combat troops) at about 1.7 million and 700,000 service (support) troops. I can only list it as it reads but I have also heard it takes almost 10 men to keep just one combat soldier fighting you know with all his supplies and food , water gas and so on to keep him in the line fighting. But I can only list the statisics I have read. Ron
    Last edited by 383man; 01-18-2014 at 05:08 PM.

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    the only way to work that out would be to know every unit engaged, their losses, theatres, TOS and a myriad of other details that do not exist

    As a point how many and what type of infantry battalion, tank, artillery support etc in a particular division then go to the official TOE and TOS for those type regiments for the particular time frame and theatre and count all the troops up.

    Quite a few TOE and TOS here

    http://www.bayonetstrength.150m.com/index.htm

    many units especially late war on all sides were understrength - replacements came from a centralised pool and often were not the same capbadge as units they were sent to so personnel could be double accounted for. Regiments were re-rolled from support to teeth and vice versa depending on need.

    The only way it can get anything near how you want is to just say

    X Infantry Battalions + Y Armoured Regiments + Z Artillery Regiments = combat troops (and ignore the make up of each unit)

    All other units are support again ignore the make up of each unit

    Find out the number of men in every battalion or regiment for the whole army at the particular time you wish total the numbers up and you have a ratio.

    Here is an attempt to explain the complexities of the job

    http://www.cgsc.edu/carl/download/cs...grath_op23.pdf

    http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/...Victory-5.html
    Last edited by leccy; 01-13-2014 at 11:02 PM.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    the only way to work that out would be to know every unit engaged, their losses, theatres, TOS and a myriad of other details that do not exist

    As a point how many and what type of infantry battalion, tank, artillery support etc in a particular division then go to the official TOE and TOS for those type regiments for the particular time frame and theatre and count all the troops up.

    Quite a few TOE and TOS here

    http://www.bayonetstrength.150m.com/index.htm

    many units especially late war on all sides were understrength - replacements came from a centralised pool and often were not the same capbadge as units they were sent to so personnel could be double accounted for. Regiments were re-rolled from support to teeth and vice versa depending on need.

    The only way it can get anything near how you want is to just say

    X Infantry Battalions + Y Armoured Regiments + Z Artillery Regiments = combat troops (and ignore the make up of each unit)

    All other units are support again ignore the make up of each unit

    Find out the number of men in every battalion or regiment for the whole army at the particular time you wish total the numbers up and you have a ratio.

    Here is an attempt to explain the complexities of the job

    http://www.cgsc.edu/carl/download/cs...grath_op23.pdf

    http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/...Victory-5.html
    The complexities and imponderables don't end with looking at an army, as an army doesn't exist in a vacuum. It needs, among other things, air and sea transport for troops and materiel which usually requires the support of the navy and or the air force, which then brings in the front line versus support elements in those services.

    In the Pacific War in particular the navy (primarily USN in the Pacific but also RN in the Indian Ocean, with relatively minor elements of the RAN and Dutch navy in both in most cases plus the crucial Dutch merchant fleet in the SWPA) was critical. Without naval and merchant naval transport and naval vs naval and naval fire support MacArthur wouldn't have got past New Guinea, and maybe not even that far. Without air forces in New Guinea, both USAAF and RAAF, he wouldn't have got to his jumping off point of Hollandia, for a range of reasons relating to transport, fire support and parachute drops of troops and supplies.

    How do we work out the ratio of support to front line (i.e in contact with or seeking the enemy) troops in, say, New Guinea when their support wasn't just army but the other two services?

    This is complicated further by the difficulties in working out the support versus front line even within the other two services (yes, I know USAAF wasn't a separate service in WWII, but it is for the purposes of this discussion) which had their own problems on that front. One of the reasons the RN played, compared with the USN, a minor role in the war against Japan was the RN's inability to maintain the fleet train (ships which supply fighting ships and which requires several supply ships to maintain each fighting ship) for fighting ships in the Pacific Ocean.

    Looking at it from the other end, where do we put the likes of Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, whose work on statistics related to bombing and air transport by the USAAF in various theatres in the later years of WWII might have had a significant effect on the efficiency of front line USAAF members and their operations against the enemy? Was McNamara just another support member whose contribution was equal to a sailor who loaded ships but never sailed on one?

    Pursuing that line, was an Australian army doctor who enforced the simple step of rolling down sleeves at dusk to reduce malaria in New Guinea, which produced a useful improvement in sickness rates, making a contribution to the front line or just support staff? Does one determine his contribution by whether he was a regimental medical officer (RMO), i.e. attached to an infantry battalion or other front line arm (artillery or armour) where he could enforce such orders, or further back in a casualty clearing station or field hospital where all he could do was treat the wounded, and perhaps return as many or more to battle than the RMO kept healthy by preventive measures?

    The difference is that the RMO, despite being a member of a medical corps separate from the infantry, artillery or armour unit to which he is attached, is on the strength of a front line arm and, although not a combatant (normally, anyway) is included in the number for front line troops, but the rear area medical officers, who are members of the same medical corps but not attached to a unit in another corps, aren't.

    Then add in various odds and sods who might be briefly attached to a front line infantry or other arm* unit, such as air observers and dog handlers, but who won't appear on the unit strength but might appear on the strength of other units which appear to be support units, despite being primarily front line troops routinely attached to front line units for short times for specific operations.

    I think all this merely reniforces forager and leccy's views that it is impossible to come to a precise, or probably even vaguely accurate, figure.


    *Arm = the fighting corps: infantry, artillery, and armour. That appears to be the modern version of teeth, which seems to owe more to corporate military bullshit than the old and simple term of "arm". Although it is entirely consistent with the modern military embracing corporate bullshit.
    Last edited by Rising Sun*; 01-14-2014 at 04:26 AM.
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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    Gentlemen, I must be getting old. I rarely have been guilty of such written miscommunication.

    You are of course correct in saying the number does not exist, for all the reasons cited, and more. Forager, I may perhaps illustrate I know at least something about the military as I say in the same breath that of course the number *does* exist.

    I am *not* looking for a precise number. As you all so ably pointed out, the variables are both numerous and chaotic. If you want me to add more, I can readily do so: size of the combat unit(s) being supported, the climate, the intensity of combat, the operational level of experience of the units, and the length of the supply chain are five that spring immediately to mind. A cook may be rifleman, a rifleman a scrubber of pots and pans, a unit will rarely if ever have its exact TO&E as drawn up on paper. Supply/transport troops regularly pass in and out of combat zones, perhaps multiple times a day. And so on.

    Looking back at how I failed in my writing, I think it may have started with a single word choice: I said I was looking for a "solid" number. I didn't mean precise. Or actual. I had said was that while looking (through my books and specifically on the Internet) for some number, an approximate ratio of support to combat troops at a "typical" (that's a sardonic quoting of the word, BTW) moment of WWII combat, you get numbers all over the place, doubtless in part due to the exact variables that have been mentioned. What I wanted to find was a number, a ratio, along with the definitions used to achieve it (whether that definition was precise or loose). A number that was "solid" in that sense: imperfect, theoretical, the starting point of planning, or if you prefer, total BS (but at least with an explanation of how the BS was arrived at).

    The reply from 383man prompted me to try to clarify: I was not looking for an aggregate number, because that loses the at-one-point-in-time element. I attempted to illustrate my meaning by using a workplace analogy. My bad: I infer some of you took it too literally.

    My comment about civilian secretaries was deliberate humor, but apparently that failed to come across. Or at least that's how I interpret the response from JR, and perhaps others. One of the risks of writing a facetious comment, I guess.

    With all that said, I repeat: of course the number does exist (and in probably quite a few variations). You could not conduct any planning without it. The number *may be* integral to unit design: you don't create an artillery unit of Long Toms without providing the trucks necessary to move the guns. A Division or Corps was designed with x number of medical units, and so on. In the same fashion, you don't try to advance your forces across a hundred-mile front (or whatever) without at least trying to make sure they will have supplies and resources to do it. The army certainly had figures for things like the combat consumption of fuel and ammunition, and knew it had to move x tons to keep those soldiers supplied, and doubtless knew that moving the supplies distance y took z men and trucks. Sure as hell such planning was imperfect. Yes, the numbers changed over time and with different locations. The planners were sure to know the sandy environment of North Africa, for example, was going to be tough on equipment, and therefore planned to increase repair facilities and resources accordingly (including repairmen) – but increase them from what? They had to have a starting point.


    That's the sort of number I'm looking for. A ratio: theoretical, flawed, how ever you would like to describe it – along with the assumptions the number is based on, so you can see what it does and does not cover. The same sort of thing that obviously some researchers have been able to access, because they DID come up with the 1:7 and 1:15 ratios I mentioned, the 1:10 ratio of 383man, and the 30:1 ratio proffered by Rising Sun. Unless the researchers “made them up,” they were based on something. The ratio by itself, as you pointed out, means little. With the rationale of how the number was arrived it, it means more, and I’m curious to see how much more it means.

    The topic of support personnel is rarely discussed. You certainly are more likely to find a book on Patton’s campaign around Metz than about the soldiers that supplied the campaign. In books, I’ve seen a ratio mentioned in a stray sentence or two, in passing, but never with the explanation of how the number was arrived at. I had thought with all the people with a common interest, the odds of someone knowing of such a discussion would be higher.

    If that’s not the case, so be it.
    "...we have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

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    Default Re: Support vs Line Troops

    The bottom two links I posted do give ratios as how they work them out, along with differences in what was assumed to be adequate and what was later to be found the needed, they are of course best guess estimates.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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