McNair, Lesley James, GEN

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Last Rank
Last Primary MOS
00GC-Commanding General
Last MOS Group
General Officer
Primary Unit
1942-1944, 00GC, Army Ground Forces
Service Years
1904 - 1944

Six Overseas Service Bars

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Casualty Info
Home Town
Last Address
Not Specified

Casualty Date
Jul 25, 1944
Hostile, Died
Accidental Homicide
World War II
Location of Interment
Not Specified
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 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
4th Field Artillery Battalion1st Division (Big Red One)Command and General Staff College (CGSC) CourseUS Army Hawaii, US Army Pacific (USARPAC)
HQ, US Army Cadet CommandArmy War College (Staff)Field Artillery Center & School (Staff)2nd Field Artillery Regiment
Department of the Army (DA)Army Ground Forces
  1909-1914, HHB, 4th Field Artillery Battalion
  1918-1918, 1st Division (Big Red One)
  1919-1921, Command and General Staff College (CGSC) Course
  1921-1924, US Army Hawaii, US Army Pacific (USARPAC)
  1924-1928, ROTC Purdue University (Cadre), HQ, US Army Cadet Command
  1928-1929, Army War College (Staff)
  1929-1933, Field Artillery Center & School (Staff)
  1937-1939, 2nd Field Artillery Regiment
  1939-1940, Command and General Staff College (CGSC) Course
  1940-1942, 2010, Department of the Army (DA)
  1942-1944, 00GC, Army Ground Forces
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1914-1917 Mexican Service Campaign (1911-1919)
  1918-1918 World War I
  1918-1918 Meuse-Argonne Campaign/Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Phase 1
  1942-1942 WWII - Africa Theater of Operations/Algeria-French Morocco Campaign (1942)/Operation Torch
  1944-1944 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Northern France Campaign (1944)/Operation Cobra
 Colleges Attended 
United States Military Academy
  1900-1904, United States Military Academy
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
General Lesley James McNair
(May 25, 1883 �?? July 25, 1944)
American Army officer who served during World War I and World War II. He was killed by a USAAF bomb during Operation Cobra as part of the battle of Normandy.
McNair and Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., both lieutenant generals at the time of their deaths, were the highest-ranking Americans to be killed in action in World War II; McNair and Buckner were both promoted posthumously to general, on July 19, 1954, by Act of Congress.
Early life and career
He was born in Verndale, Minnesota, the son of James and Clara Manz McNair. He graduated eleventh in a class of 124 from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant of Artillery (1904). He then served in a series of ordnance and artillery appointments in Utah, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. (1904-1909). He was promoted to 1st lieutenant (June 1905) and captain (May 1907) and was then assigned to the 4th Artillery Regiment in the west (1909-1914). While attached to the regiment he was sent to France to observe French artillery training for a period of seven months (1913) and upon return took part in Major General Frederick Funston's expedition to Vera Cruz (April 30-November 23, 1914). He then saw service under General John J. Pershing, in the Pancho Villa Expedition, and was promoted to major (May 1917).
World War I
When the United States of America entered the First World War, McNair went to France, where he served with the 1st Infantry Division. For his outstanding service, he was awarded both the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Légion d'honneur. He was also promoted in due succession to lieutenant colonel (August 1917), colonel (June 1918), and brigadier (one-star) general (October 1918) thus becoming the youngest general officer in the United States Army at the time at the age of 35.
Between wars
Following the end of the First World War in November 1918, he left his position as senior artillery officer in the General Staff's Training Section and reverted to his permanent rank of major (1919), returning to the United States to teach, first, at the General Service School (1919-1921), then doing a stint as a staff officer in Hawaii (1921-1924), then as a professor of military science and tactics at Purdue University from 1924 to 1928.
He was promoted to permanent lieutenant colonel (1928) and graduated from the Army War College in 1929. Following this, he served as assistant commander of the U.S. Army Field Artillery School (1929-1933) then in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the first Franklin Roosevelt Administration (1933-1935). He was promoted to colonel (May 1935) and received command of 2d Field Artillery Brigade in Texas following his promotion to Brigadier General in March 1937, and commanded from March 1937 to April 1939.
As Commandant of the Command and General Staff College from April 1939 to July 1940, McNair initiated changes that prepared the College's graduates to meet the upcoming challenges of World War II.
World War II
McNair was Chief of Staff of GHQ, U.S. Army from July 1940 to March 1942. He was promoted to Major General in September 1940, and temporary Lieutenant General in June 1941.
In March 1942, General McNair became Commanding General, Army Ground Forces. As such, he was responsible for the organization, training and preparation of the U.S. Army for overseas service. He was instrumental in preparing large-scale divisional and corps exercises to provide Army commanders with some experience in controlling large forces in simulated combat. However, McNair's emphasis on abbreviated basic combat training schedules for inductees, as well as his programs for the training and supply of individual replacements to combat units would later face widespread criticism after the U.S. Army invasion of North Africa in 1942, criticism that continued until the end of the war in Europe.
McNair, who had already received a Purple Heart for being wounded in the North African Campaign, was killed in his foxhole July 25, 1944 near St. Lo during Operation Cobra, by an errant aerial bomb dropped during a pre-attack bombardment by heavy strategic bombers of the Eighth Air Force.
His son, Colonel Douglas McNair, chief of staff of the 77th Infantry Division, was killed two weeks later by a sniper on Guam.
Fort Lesley McNair in Washington, D.C. was renamed in his honor in 1948. McNair Barracks in Berlin, Germany was named in his honor.
Initial Training Issues
During the early months of the war, Lieutenant General McNair received largely favorable treatment for his training programs and policies. McNair was frequently quoted for his pronouncements that no army could be fully effective unless it is properly organized, correctly equipped, adequately led, and completely trained In a 1943 wartime profile for The Saturday Evening Post written just before the rout of U.S. Army forces at Kasserine Pass, reporter John T. Whitaker effusively wrote of McNair: "If you have a son or husband in uniform, you may owe his welfare or even his survival to 'Whitey' McNair."
Under pressure to quickly produce huge numbers of soldiers, McNair resorted to cutting back basic and advanced combat training, particularly in the areas of combat initiative (small-unit leadership exercises for enlisted troops, where all NCOs and officers have been ruled killed or wounded), combat acclimatization,[6] weapons proficiency, and small unit tactics. With the exception of elite combat units such as airborne forces, who received intense physical training as well as realistic weapon and unit combat instruction, McNair used the bulk of the training cycle to train Army inductees in their particular specialty or classification. The faults in this system were soon exposed after the battle of Kasserine Pass and other critical initial encounters with the battle-seasoned German forces, in which U.S. infantry, service, and supporting arms troops lost unit cohesion and retreated in disorder after being overrun. While U.S. forces in continual operations against enemy forces soon acquired combat experience of their own, the cost of 'on the job training' proved extremely expensive in terms of casualties and loss of morale. Though McNair and his successors later implemented more realistic training based on modern battle experiences, widespread reports of insufficiently-trained soldiers and combat specialists would continue to occur for the duration of the war. In this respect, McNair was not helped by the practice of theater commanders such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mark Clark to recommend generals who had failed in combat assignments, such as Lloyd Fredendall and John P. Lucas, to head stateside training commands.
Individual replacement system
Another problem surfaced with the individual replacement system (IRS), a concept devised by General George C. Marshall and implemented by McNair. Instead of learning from combat veterans in the same unit (via transfer to an existing battalion or regiment temporarily rotated out of the combat zone for retraining), replacements were first trained at a variety of facilities, then sent to replacement depots (repple-depples). Shipped without unit organization or strong command, they were passed from one temporary duty station to another, often spending months between leaving their original organizations and assignment to a unit.[15] During this time they became physically soft, their discipline slackened, and their acquired basic infantry or combat skills tended to be forgotten. It was at this point that the individual army replacement was transferred to an active duty unit, frequently a fighting arm such as armor or infantry that was 'on the line' (currently engaged in combat operations). In addition to this, U.S. commanders frequently encountered replacement soldiers that had received no training on their individual rifle or assigned weapons system at all. As the IRS plan began to break down completely in late 1944, other men, including older individuals and those physically incapable of rigorous physical duty were taken from other army specialties (clerk-typist, cook etc.) or training programs and hurriedly given six weeks' infantry training, upon which they were reassigned as combat infantry replacements. In consequence, casualty rates skyrocketed; in many frontline units, replacement soldiers lasted an average just three to four days before being killed or wounded. At the same time, veteran soldiers were retained on the line until they were killed, wounded, or became incapacitated by battle fatigue or physical illness. Demoralized and resentful, increasing numbers of infantry soldiers found any excuse to avoid participation in offensive operations, even committing acts of self-injury in order to get off the line.
Tactical doctrine controversies
McNair also espoused controversial theories on armored support of infantry forces, theories which were later found to be inadequate He particularly came in for criticism over tank destroyer doctrine. As an artillery officer, McNair favored towed anti-tank artillery over self-propelled tank destroyers, even after it had become apparent that German forces were converting their anti-tank forces into self-propelled guns as soon as such vehicles could be produced. Due to inherent delays in deploying such towed guns, combined with greatly increased crew exposure to German small arms and mortar fire, American towed anti-tank artillery was never really effective during the war in Europe; instead, some units were tasked as substitute howitzers firing conventional artillery missions. When used in their original role as towed anti-tank guns against German tanks and defensive emplacements, the towed battalions suffered disproportionate casualties compared to the self-propelled tank destroyer battalions.
Command ability
McNair was not always successful in selecting subordinate commanders with genuine military leadership abilities. He had a natural affinity and very high regard for General Lloyd Fredendall, perhaps the most incompetent U.S. senior battlefield commander of World War II. McNair even included Fredendall on a list of three senior generals he thought capable of commanding all American forces in England. As part of Operation Torch, Fredendall was later sent to North Africa, where he was relieved of command by General Eisenhower after the debacle at Kasserine Pass.
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