Private to Major in <2 years (wartime)??

I recently received an email about movie stars and their activities during World War II. The email had this to say about Clark Gable:

I understand, of course, that most of the jump came when he went to OCS. However, I find the following things odd:

  1. He was able to apply to and graduate OCS in two and a half months.
  2. He went from 2nd Lieutenant to Major in less than two years?

I understand, of course, that in wartime, promotions are awarded much faster (and sometimes on a brevet basis) than in peacetime. But is this rapid an ascension realisitic even in wartime? Or is it possible that (a) Mr. Gable got help because he was Mr. Gable and Miss Garland sang to his picture or (b) the facts in the quote are just wrong.

Zev Steinhardt

No doubt he had arranged admission to OCS before enlisting but that’s still awfully short as I thought OCS was 90 days, hence the nickname “~ wonders.”

Not at all impossible, especially for a Hollywood star, who has tremendous propaganda value.

I personally knew a man who joined the Canadian Army in September 1939 as a private, was a Captain by June 1940, and a full Colonel by February of 1942. He was in no way famous.

Mind you, he was a First World War veteran, and had been a Captain in that war, and had been twice decorated for valour. He was also a well-placed prosecution lawyer in British Columbia, and wound up in a very specialised unit in Britain, hence the rapid promotion–he was second in command of the Judge-Advocate General section of the Canadian Army in the UK.

It took Galusha Pennypacker three years to make major, but less than a year later, he was a general, all before the age of 21.

Nathan Bedford Forrest went in a private and came out a Lt. General.

How long did it take Dick Winters (Band of Brothers) to go from second lieutenant to major? Don’t say ten episodes, ya jokers.

Also worth pointing out that if he flew bombers in the 8th Air Force (I’ll assume he did until someone tells me otherwise) then that particular work environment is… I don’t know if I’d quite call it a meatgrinder, but it was a possible path to quick promotion via slots opening up above you due to the deaths of the people who previously had the jobs (or their likewise getting promoted).

Combine that kind of attrition with some name value to throw around, and you’ve got a quick rise of the ranks.

Well someone has to be the major. When the military expanded so quickly, only a handful of regular officers were at hand to be promoted, so of course at least some newbies got kicked upstairs due to their education, bravery or position.

Oh yeah, I forgot that. At the beginning of WWII, the US Army was about the same size as the army of Portugal. Something like 15th or 19th largest military force, granted, but that still left us behind everyone else who was actively involved in the war. (Of course, most of the other folks involved when we joined had been fighting for several years, while the US didn’t begin seriously expanding it’s military until around 1940)

Gable’s was an aerial gunner/propaganda film maker. His job was to promote the idea that aerial gunnery was a fun thing to do. He was tasked to make propaganda films for the purpose of increasing recruitment of gunners. He could have just stayed in Hollywood to do it but apparently decided that he had to actually become an aerial gunner and fly combat missions in order to do a good job. Very commendable.

Yep. He and Jimmy Stewart became two of my favorite actors because of the way they comported themselves in WWII. Both were big enough stars that they could have easily sat it out stateside, making propaganda films. Plenty of their peers did that. Those two among others went to war, and both of them stood out far from pack.

Stewart eventually went on to become a Brigadier General in the reserves.

Was he a true Major or held the operational rank of Major? WWII had tons of officers with operational ranks a lot higher than what they normally would be. I know there’s a real term for this but I can’t think of it now.

There was just a TV a few months ago about Ike. At one point he is talking to General Bradley and said something about both of them going back to being Colonels riding desks in the Pentagon when it was all over.

I believe that in WWII, many regular army officers had permanent ranks and then the temporary ranks to which they were promoted to in the reserves.

I recall an amusing bit in Ike’s autobiography when, though serving as a four-star general and theater commander, he finally acquired enough official time in grade to to apply to the regular army for promotion for Lt. Colonel to Colonel. He quoted his rather dry letter about how he had passed his physical and appeared to have all of the other qualifications and requested promotion. As you may have guessed, the promotion was approved, and in fact, he was promoted to Brigadier General the next day, because there were no time in grade requirements for that promotion.

Up until the end of World War II, there were two seperate armies- the “Regular” army, and the “Volunteer” Army. At the outset of most wars (Mexican-American, Civil, World War I, and World War II, IIRC), the Volunteer Army was created, and all members of the Regular Army transfered into it, usually to higher rank. Once the war was over, the Volunteer Army would be disbanded, and they would return to the Regular Army at whatever rank they had previously held, possibly with one promotion or two for time served. Since the Regular Army tended to be very small, promotions were few and far between.

That’s why Eisenhower was slated to go back to being a Colonel even as he was planning the D-Day invasion; it’s why “General” Custer was only a Lt. Colonel at Little Big Horn.

(Amusingly, one could also have a military rank in one’s state militia, meaning that some generals in the Civil War held three seperate ranks- one as a Regular Army member, one as a Volunteer Army member, and one as a Militia member. Add in brevets and field promotions, and it gets real complicated.)