How did the promotion system work in wwii

Jul 2011
1,426
Sweden
#1
How did a soldier get promoted in wwii? And could a regular soldier become a general without any higher education and only by battle experience?
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,626
Australia
#2
As the war progressed combat experience became the main promotion driver in most armies. I don't know if any ordinary soldier made it as high as General, but large numbers were commissioned based on experience rather than formal education.
 
Jul 2016
9,118
USA
#3
There were private soldiers from WWI who by WWII were general officers, and there were private soldiers who in WWII received battlefield promotions who also achieved very high rank, a few to general officers. From North Africa in '43 to Germany in '45, Audie Murphy went from private to company commander, holding all ranks and positions between, all while in the same rifle company, through ability and because of major unit attrition.
 

Pendennis

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,386
Kirkcaldy, Scotland
#4
Yes battlefield commissions in Britain could never be taken away from those who won them or at least that was the popular belief.
Race and social class played a part in becoming an officer -at least in the early part of the wo world wars.
For example, as far as I know, only one coloured Brit Walter Tull-was commissioned in the W.W. One British Army (I am talking here of native born British coulored men- not colonials)
Even in the Second World War social class played a big part in the British Army officer selection process.
Some cavalry regiments were very sniffy about who could be an officer or not and the Royal Air Force was full of social class attitudes. None were worse that Guy Gibson V.C. -a brave man without doubt, but a ferocious snob who treated ordinary working class RAF ground staff like sh*t. But then, Gibson was brought up in a very narrow upper middle class social mileu prewar.
Let's not forget that English nobleman and uber snob Lord Curzon -on seeing ordinary British tommies bathing in a river in India said ''Good God!-I never knew that lower orders had such white bodies.' and there were a lot of Pukka Sahibs in the British officercorps who regarded commissions as the exclusive, natural province of good public school chappeis from Eton and Harrow.
Although as the Audie Murphy case shows that was less likely to happen in the US ARMY, let's not forget that George S. Patton didn't come out of a log cabin but from an uber rich background which explains why he slapped an ordinary dogface who was probably from a blue collar background and Afro-American officers were segregated too in W.W.2 from commanding Cauacasian troops.
 

Poly

Ad Honorem
Apr 2011
6,692
Georgia, USA
#5
Field commissions were commonplace in the British army during both world wars

This makes a lot of sense - a capable leader coming up through the ranks is far better than a 20 year old kid who's just completed officer school.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,841
Dispargum
#6
Most European armies did not require a college degree for commissioning. The fascination with university education is almost uniquely American. While university educations are becoming more common in Europe the past few decades, I believe it's still fairly common for European officers to not have a college degree.

There was an American general named Vessey who enlisted circa 1937, received a battlefield commission in WW2, and in the 1980s was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He never went to college, but by the end of his career he was almost unique among US officers for not having a college degree.

It was more common during WW2 for American officers to not have a college degree, but the US military was probably the most highly educated military in WW2.
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,335
South of the barcodes
#7
How did a soldier get promoted in wwii? And could a regular soldier become a general without any higher education and only by battle experience?
Depends how you define higher education.

Standard practice if a lower rank is talent spotted is to send them off to an Officer Cadet training unit where they will be assessed for suitability, then either sent on for further training or returned to their unit.


When they pass beyond junior officer ranks they will again be diverted to one of the staff colleges.

Army schools and colleges are a form of higher education, but just as likely since recruits are being pulled in from everywhere in civilian life many of them will have higher education qualifications when they are drafted and they are usually diverted straight from recruit to officer selection.

Enoch Powell is a classic example who joined as a private, made Brigadier but was a an academic in classics before joining

Its very possible for someone to receive a battlefield promotion but at the first opportunity they will be shipped off to assessment and education, if they cant pass that test then they will be shunted aside to some sort of safe posting and not promoted higher.

It also depends on when they were promoted, for example in the later years of the war the OCTU was well organised for taking promising bright young men and testing them out for an officers role, in the early years when the army was still expanding they were far more informal, men are more likely to be promoted for acts of bravery rather than intellect or problem solving.

Yes, a man could rise to general from privates rank, it had been common in WW1 , faded between the wars as the army shrank and keeping your job depended on being the 'right sort of person' and then became more likely in WW2 again.

The obvious example is Wullie Robertson who made it from private to General and Chief of the General staff in WW1 but also lower careers like Sergeant Nelson and Sergeant-Major Dorrell of L battery royal horse artillery who fought the guns until their officers had been killed and they ran out of shells, Dorrell was a 34 year old Boer war veteran and so not the sort of person likely to have had a formal education, add the VC and he finished WW1 as a Captain and went into WW2 as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the home guard, Nelson made Major in WW1 but died in 1918

Richard Vincent joined as a private in the 50s and ended up as a field marshal https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Vincent,_Baron_Vincent_of_Coleshill
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,335
South of the barcodes
#9
Race and social class played a part in becoming an officer -at least in the early part of the wo world wars.
For example, as far as I know, only one coloured Brit Walter Tull-was commissioned in the W.W. One British Army (I am talking here of native born British coulored men- not colonials)
True but that was mostly because the home army was a lot more insular and elitist than the colonial forces and even that had exceptions, for example the highest ranking black/coloured officer in the British army in 1914 was Horace Sewell who was descended from a freed jamaican slave and a scottish accountant.

Sewell senior had seen the sugar plantations being sold off after the slave owners took government compensation and quit the business, he jumped into the fire sale, bought up the properties before they became derelict and became stinking rich when the sugar industry revived.

Horace Sewell lived on the Isle of Wight, used to take the families yacht back to Jamaica to see grandma and attended Harrow and Trinity college before taking up a commission in the Royal irish dragoon guards, started WW1 as a Captain, ended it as a General, a rank he also retained in WW2 when he served in Washington.

Supposedly he could pass for white if he wanted in the UK, the yanks used to spot it quickly and he used to get some interesting incidents on public transport round Washington and his regimental nickname was Sambo so it couldnt have been that well hidden.

Black/coloured enclaves in Britain tended to be working class and economically deprived so theres little chance of a kid from Tiger bay getting to Sandhurst, strangely the one exception if the Northumberland fusiliers, Tyneside Irish and the DLI who had black soldiers since the 1880s, the existence of smoked geordies (arab, black and Lascar volunteers from the port of Newcastle and Sunderland) in the ranks was commented on at the time and during the Boer war Lieutenant Isacke of the Northumberland fusiliers serving in the Transvaal against the Boers was black or of mixed race.

Tull stands out not because he's black but because he's a working class orphan who also happened to be black, thats a triple challenge. The British army banned foreign national, africans and so on from taking up officers posts but being Jamaican, Canadian or other parts of the empire you were British so some very odd people joined in the colonies then transferred to more prestige units.This is after all the era when an officer and a gentleman had to have gone to the right school, know the right people and be of the right type to survive in the mess, if you wanted to be a Guards officer you needed to have a title so Tull really stands out.

The exception is the Royal artillery for various historical reasons, during the milita craze of the early 19th century and the volunteer craze of the 1870s as well as the reduction of regular forces in the caribbean the slack was taken up by various militia units like the Bermuda volunteer rifle corps and the Bermuda militia artillery.
Rifle volunteers were recruited and organised through a private shooting club so the elite kept black members out, rifle shooting was an elite and expensive sport through the victorian era. the artillery was open to anyone who didnt mind being dirty and lifting heavy stuff in the course of making a loud bang so the BMA was mostly black including officers.

Come WW1 and the crash expansion of the RA then many of the colonial and garrison artillery units were drafted or asked for volunteers and the BMA was subsumed into the Royal artillery and served in France.
 
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Nov 2011
8,864
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
#10
As the war progressed combat experience became the main promotion driver in most armies. I don't know if any ordinary soldier made it as high as General, but large numbers were commissioned based on experience rather than formal education.
Fitzroy McClean--he was "in the diplomatic service" in Russia before WW2--in other words, a spy. Because of this, he was not allowed to join up when war broke out, so he resigned with the intention of standing for Parliament, but immediately joined the Cameron Highlanders as a Private. In 1941 Lance-Corporal Fitzroy McClean was elected in a by-election as Member of Parliament for Lancaster and was shortly commissioned 2nd. Lieutenant. He fast tracked with David Stirling in the new SAS and LRDG in North Africa and subsequently had a thrilling career in dirty tricks in Persia, Palestine and the Balkans eventually becoming Churchill's envoy-cum-military liaison to Tito. He ended up as a Brigadier (full-not acting) during the war and a Major-General in 1947.
McLean though was born a toff--the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in WW1 however was not. Field Marshal Sir William Robert Robertson, 1st Baronet GCB, GCMG, GCVO, DSO started out, the son of a postman, as a garden boy after leaving school as twelve years of age. He progressed to footman (menial servant) in Lady Cardigan's household (yes Light Brigade Cardigan) before joining up with the cavalry just shy of his 18th birthday. He worked his way up the ranks, shining at each step and was put forward for Officer's examination and passed and at the age of twenty-eight was commissioned 2nd Lt in 1888. A working class boy with no independent means could not live an officer's life in those days even in India where he was posted, so rather than play polo or sleep during the afternoons he studied under native teachers and became fluent in several Indian languages for each of which he was paid a bounty. He distinguished himself sufficiently in India to become the first ranker to attend staff college an then with hops and skips and admirers in high places became an authority in military intelligence and in the Boer War was promoted Lt Colonel (from oldest Lieutenant to youngest Colonel in the Army), by the time of WW1 with all of the early mistakes and Blimpishness which--he was the best man standing and became CIGS in 1916. He never lost his Lincolnshire accent and reportedly told Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, as he was sacking him "'orace. Ye's fuh bloody' 'igh joomp.
 
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