The 92nd Infantry Division Experiment

By | June 5, 2015

[June 05, 2015]  Truly good leaders care about history and the “behind the scenes” stories of why a particular leader or unit succeed or failed in their mission. Those leaders are interested in learning valuable lessons; both good and bad. The 92nd Infantry Division experiment is a good example where the fusion of politics, racial identity, and military necessity met and resulted in exposing fault lines in the United States yet ultimately provided the vehicle for blacks serving honorably in the U.S. Army during World War II.

General Douglas MacArthur once said that “It is fatal to enter a war without the will to win it.” The same can be said of how will plays in achieving success in one’s mission. The 92nd Infantry Division of World War II was the result of irresistible forces that resulted in its activation to fight in Italy. The 92nd was composed mostly of black soldiers (Buffalo Soldiers), large numbers illiterate and most members being classified by the U.S. Army was category IV or V; the lowest acceptable. All senior offices were white, mostly of southern origin because they knew how to “handle blacks”.1

Political pressure from black groups, a shortage of infantry soldiers, and the desire to begin the racial integration of the U.S. military forces all converged to create the conditions of the 92nd’s rebirth during WW2. Originally formed in WWI, the unit was now to take part in the attack of the underbelly of the Nazi Third Reich through the Italian campaign. For those who remember the strategy of the war, this military effort was not the main effort of the Allies. That was to come through the landings in Normandy on D-Day.

The commander was Major General Ned Almond who, among others, considered the unit a trouble command and professionally he came to believe that his command was a “profound disappointment”. Certainly is likely to be racism on his part; in this case the belief that the black soldier was inferior to white soldiers. Many officers were unhappy because they believed the unit was part of a social experiment, one that had failed badly. Almond blamed the failures of the 92nd on his black soldiers and characteristically did not believe that he also was responsible as the commander.

The treatment and ultimately the performance of the 92nd was not up to par with other U.S. units and little was expected of them. Many instances of individual bravely have been documented in the 92nd and some compare it with the famed Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team; one of the most highly decorated U.S. regiments of the entire war. The 92nd’s performance was a disappointment to many military and senior civilian leaders but not to the nation.

Today, many can look back on the formation of the 92nd Infantry Division as the vanguard to the U.S. military being the lead on racial integration in America. Without the 92nd, the nation’s advancement into the civil rights era of the 1960s would have been without the rich tradition of black soldiers serving honorably.

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[1] The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, David Halberstam, 2007.

[Note] Some very good websites to learn more about the 92nd Infantry Division can be found here:

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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