Advocates of change during the Interwar Period
The interwar period that lasted almost two decades marked a time during which the United States army was greatly underfunded. There was little political will to improve the operations of the army, as there seemed to be no need for that with no war in sight. The influential persons at that time were used to un-mechanized warfare where horses were used as a weapon to aid in increasing the mobility of the Calvary men. They could not fathom having their horses replaced by tanks and armored vehicles and stuck to the status quo. However, some persons saw a bright possibility of engaging in mechanized warfare in future. They included both civilians and military men that advocated for change in the way that the army operated in the US.
One of the proponents of mechanization was J.Walter Christie, a civilian inventor that believed in mechanized warfare as superior to the regular war approaches of the time. He in a great way contributed to a change in the way US Army viewed mechanization, only that they saw its importance after his demise. He is a both puzzling and controversial figure in the history of mechanization, despite which, he produced very innovative designs of warfare vehicles and tanks. Being a trained machinist, Christie designed his first military vehicles in the World War I. he was responsible for the designing of the steel steed in 1918, which was the first American tank. This tank was more advanced than any other tanks in the world at the time.
This model was however, not adopted by the army on the premise that the First world war was over and claims of having insufficient funds for external research. Christie forged on and went ahead to design the first amphibious tank in 1921. The Army seemed not interested in this design causing Christie to approach the Marine Corps. They tested the amphibious tank, and it proved effective. The Marine Corps still failed to purchase the tank on grounds of having insufficient funds. Bielakowski claims that the reluctance of the American military in buying the designs of the military vehicles made by Christie forced him to sell the plans for the amphibious tank to the Japanese government in order to avoid bankruptcy.
Christie designed a hybrid of a truck and tractor in the period between 1926 and 1929. It proved to have both commercial and military uses, but was still rejected by the Army citing lack of funds. This did not discourage Christie, as he continued to work on a new tank design together with his son, secretly. They came up with the Model 1928 Christie Tank that could perform feats never seen before. It had a system of individually sprung wheels with coil suspensions and a knee-action suspension that made it superior to all the other tanks. Despite the Calvary and Infantry being interested in this design, the Ordinance Department rejected it.Bielakowski narrates that the design was later adapted by the Soviets to create their BT series tanks and by the British to come up with their Crusader tanks. Christie gained very little financially from his efforts and died a poor man in 1944.
Another civilian advocate for mechanization in the American Army was Dwight F. Davis. He played a significant role in the mechanization of the Army during his tenure as the secretary of war in the period 1925-1929. Davis got the opportunity to observe mechanized training by the British army during his travels to the United Kingdom in 1927. Upon returning home, he proposed that same be adopted by the American Army. This led to the formation of the Army’s Experimental Mechanized Force at Camp Meade in Maryland. The purpose of this was to explore the military possibilities that could be occasioned by mechanization.
The force functioned as exclusively offensive, special unitmission as opposed to the traditional division size combat element. It was a completely self-contained unit that combined striking power and mobility in a way that had not been witnessed in the other existing arms. The force was given a one-year lifespan during which it was to serve as a laboratory to experiment with mechanization tactically and technically. The force was further given by Davis the freedom to experiment all the ideas they could fathom concerning mechanization.All the branches of the Army sent representative units to participate in the mechanization experiment. The Experimental Mechanized Force was laterdiscontinued after the equipment and machines they were using were worn out and broke down. Many persons in the media and the Army considered the experiment a failure, while others attributed the performance to usage of old equipment that was not up to date.
General Douglas MacArthur was the other advocate that contributed to the mechanization of the Army through channels that were at first glance seen as retrogressive. In his position as the chief of staff, MacArthur disbanded the Experimental Mechanized Force that had been reinstated earlier on by his predecessor, Gen. Summerall. The assets of the Experimental Mechanized Force were transferred to the Calvary by MacArthur. This move was criticised, but it later on became clear that since the Calvary was responsible for mobility and manoeuvre, then it fitted best the mechanized forces.
MacArthur completed this implementation by restructuring the Calvary into two regiments one using the traditional horses and mules, while the other was to be mechanized completely. He also encouraged the other branches of the army to embrace mechanization wherever possible. In the National Defence Act of 1920, the Calvary was not permitted to use tanks, and it was therefore suggested by MacArthur that the Calvaryadopts “combat cars” that were in essence identical to tanks.He was forward looking in that he recognised the need for the Army to improve despite having limited funds.
COL. Daniel Van Voorhis was in charge of the Experimental Mechanized Force at the time it was disbanded by GEN. MacArthur. He at first protested the move, but after grasping the vision that MacArthur had regarding mechanization of the Army, he became energised and played a critical role in implementation of the recommendations made by MacArthur. Van Voorhis recognised that veteran Calvary men were not in support of the mechanization of the force and therefore requested that the mechanized regiment be placed in a different location other than the one traditionally occupied by Calvary forces. He oversaw simulated battles between the mechanized Calvary and the traditional Calvary in different conditions and terrains.
Van Voorhis worked together with Adna R, Chaffee through the 1930s to develop and equip the mechanised Calvary. They had problems in getting men to volunteer and join the mechanized Calvary that they were forced to reactivate some regiments that had been deactivated in the 1920s. In 1932, the mechanized cavalry got a boost after the election of that year that led to the War Department designing the 1st Calvary regiment for mechanization. Works Progress Administration and Public Works Administration programs provided the mechanized group with the finance they required. The mechanized and traditional Calvary went head to head in six different scenarios. The umpires that made evaluations of these encounters seemed to favour the traditional regiment. Despite that, it became clear later on that the mechanized regiment had higher mobility and manoeuvre capability compared to the Calvary men on horses.
The persons described above were in favour of mechanisation when it was being objected by a majority of the personnel in the Army. It was observed during that period that junior officers preferred mechanization while the older senior Army personnel were bent on sticking to the traditional warfare methods. The adoption of mechanization in warfare came at an opportune time for the United States and assisted it in the Second World War. The military prowess of the Americans was improved a lot by mechanization that they ended up being the ones to determine the outcome of World War 2. Had mechanization not been adopted, United States might not have become the superpower that it turned out to be.
Bielakowski, Alexander M. “Mechanization in the Interwar U.S. Cavalry.” US ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE. (n.d.). accessed April 7, 2014. http://www.academia.edu/1916418/Mechanization_in_the_Interwar_U.S._Cavalry .Alexander M. Bielakowski, “Mechanization in the Interwar U.S. Cavalry,” US ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE,(n.d.) 2, accessed April 7, 2014, http://www.academia.edu/1916418/Mechanization_in_the_Interwar_U.S._Cavalry  .Ibid., 3.  .Ibid., 3.  Ibid., 3.  Ibid., 4.  . Alexander M. Bielakowski, “Mechanization in the Interwar U.S. Cavalry”, 5  Ibid., 6.  Ibid., 8.