103d Infantry Division History: World War II



ASTP Program







The Army Specialized Training Program ("ASTP") was established by the United States Army in December 1942 to identify, train and educate academically-talented enlisted men as a specialized corp of Army officers during World War II. Utilizing major colleges and universities across the country, the Army provided a four-year college education combined with specialized Army technical training over a period of one and one-half years to those enlisted men who were accepted into the program. The men of the ASTP were distinguished by the octagon shoulder patch insignia of the program which was worn on their uniforms (shown above). It depicts the lamp of knowledge crossed with the sword of valor -- an allusion to both the mental and physical capabilities of these specialized officers-in-training.


ASTP soldiers were to serve as Army officers in both the successful prosecution of the war and the restoration of civilian governments in Nazi-occupied Europe after the war's end.


The critical shortage of infantrymen in the winter of 1943-44 was largely responsible for the virtual liquidation in February 1944 of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), which had been initiated at the close of 1942 on broad grounds of public interest and policy. The ASTP had been approved by the Secretary of War in September 1942, in anticipation of the lowering of the draft age from twenty to eighteen. The program was established primarily to ensure a continuous flow of technically and professionally trained men for the prosecution of the war, men who could not be procured without deferments if the draft age should be lowered to eighteen. Continuous replenishment of the national stock of young men with such training was an urgent necessity, especially if the war should last more than four or five years. There were strong arguments for training them in the colleges and universities. The training and educational facilities of the Army were believed to be insufficient in extent and character to give the type of education required. Moreover, the use of the colleges and universities would protect these institutions from impoverishment or collapse, and the provision of students by the Army might be expected to lower the resistance of civilian educators to the reduction of the draft age to eighteen. To avoid the shortcomings of the Student Army Training Corps of World War I, the plan for the ASTP was to be tied firmly to the military program of the Army. Selected enlisted men were to be assigned to various colleges and universities for academic instruction, but only after they had received basic military training, which was to be continued under a cadet organization while they were in college. Under the plan proposed, the Army would be assured of receiving from each oncoming age e group a due proportion of men with advanced training, shaped with reference to ultimate military requirements. At first it was contemplated that most of these men would become officers after completing their college work.


General McNair, taking a grave view of the Nation's requirements for effective strength in combat, based his opposition to the ASTP on strictly military considerations. Confronted with the ASTP proposal of 30 September 1942, he observed that a college program would further deplete units in training of high if, grade men and would compete with the program of officer candidate schools, whose quotas the Ground Forces were already having difficulty in filling. He recommended that the college program not be launched until it was clear that the war would last beyond 1944. For the time being the Army, in his opinion, had a sufficient backlog of college-trained men. Fourteen percent of the men who had entered the Army in 1942 had had some college education, and if General McNair believed that, in view of the general policy of providing liberal opportunities for promotion and of tapping all available manpower, not more than a quarter of the officer corps need be college graduates. Fearing that the military discipline and the few hours of military training received by ASTP men in colleges might be considered the equivalent of regular Army training, he advised against the introduction of this phase of the program. "If it is necessary to keep men in college to provide Army officers, then their whole effort might well be placed on academic studies, because, presumably, that is the reason for their going to college."


The decision to institute the program had already been made when General McNair submitted these observations on 4 October 1942. With them he submitted a plan as requested. The plan took the form of estimates, necessarily hurried, of the number of graduates of the proposed program which Army Ground Forces could use. The organizers of the program construed these estimates as a statement that the Ground Forces "required" these graduates. Army Ground Forces immediately disclaimed this interpretation. It was reiterated that, in the arms for which the Army Ground Forces was responsible, the supply of college men would last through 1944 and the facilities of the normal officer candidate schools were sufficient for officer training.


The Army Specialized Training Program was formally established in December 1942. It differed from some of the preliminary proposals in placing attention not so much on the production of officers as on the production of specialists who might or might not ultimately be commissioned. The specialties were chiefly scientific, engineering, medical, and linguistic. Enlisted men under twenty-two years of age, and having an AGCT score of 110 or more, were eligible. For advanced study men over twenty-two might be sent. "The mission of the Army Specialized Training Program," it was announced in February 1943, "is to prepare personnel for officer candidate schools and for other military tasks."


For its trainees, the Army Specialized Training Program was a series of disillusionments. Some, had they not been sent to college, would undoubtedly have gone to officer candidate schools, to the advantage both of themselves and of the Army Ground Forces, though it is true that recruiting for ASTP came at a time when OCS quotas were declining. Among civilian educators participating in the ASTP the abrupt termination of their efforts, though accepted as a military l necessity, was difficult to understand. It seemed arbitrary, after repeated declarations by the War Department of the importance of specialized training, suddenly to snatch away the young men undergoing such training, a select group numbering only 2 percent of the Army, for conversion into infantry privates.


The fact was that a crisis had been developing for two years in the ground arms. Quantitatively, the provision for combat troops in the Troop Basis, especially for infantrymen, left no margin of safety. Qualitatively, the ground combat arms had been persistently denied a proportionate share of high-intelligence personnel. The extension of ground combat in the last part of 1943 made the consequences fully apparent. They could not be ignored on the eve of the invasion of France. Conversion of manpower from the Air and Service Forces to the Ground Forces, though contemplated at this time, was difficult to effect. The sacrifice of the ASTP was one means, among others, of meeting the critical need for a speedy rehabilitation of the ground arms.


As the unit Morning Reports, acquired by the 103d Infantry Division World War II Association, are transcribed, a better picture will emerge on the number of those in the ASTP program that were assigned to the 103d Infantry Division (Cactus) and the contribution these men made to the success of Division operations.


Albeit, the Morning Report transcription project for all units of the 103d Infantry Division (Cactus) will not be completed until sometime in 2018, there are sufficient Morning Reports transcribed for the Infantry Regiments to give an emerging picture of the numbers of those who were affected by the discontinuance of the ASTP and Aviation Cadet programs. As pointed out above, the cancellation of the program was precipitated by a compelling need to reinforce combat units. The reports below provide insight into incoming transfers to the 409th, 410th, and 411th Infantry Regiments. Note, as more Morning Report transcriptions are completed, this data will reflect those changes.

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