ONLINE CATALOG SEARCH
Memorandum for General Pershing
October 24, 1930 Fort Benning, Georgia
High Points in the A.E.F.
The preliminary decision of July 11, 1917, as set forth in your cablegram of that date, was momentous. Directly from this flowed the vast plans for the foundation and development of the A.E.F. No such conception had ever before been attempted either in peace or war, in business or fighting. That you had the vision to make this beginning, marks your action as one of the great decisions of the A.E.F.1
Training for warfare of movement, as directed in the early fall of 1917, was a courageous and far-sighted decision. The long and desperate contest had drawn the Allied commanders too close to the situation day by day, to permit of proper perspective. But, they had three years experience in major warfare and you had none. You were untried and they were veterans. America was sympathetic to the French and British,—terribly critical of our state of unpreparedness. Your position in taking a view directly contrary to the Allied leaders, was precarious. Your action in suppressing the translation of Petain’s printed instructions on “The Offensive Training of Large Units”, required rare courage. I am inclined to think that had not the German offensive, opening March 21, 1918, conclusively proved the absolute necessity of training our troops for open warfare, you might have been forced from command by Allied pressure on Washington.
Therefore your determination, early in the war, to train our troops for open warfare was one of the great decisions of the A.E.F.
Your action in placing all of our troops at the disposal of General Foch on March 17, 1918, was a tremendous voluntary concession, in view of the embarrassment it was certain to cause you later in forming a distinct American Army. It was clearly the right thing to do, but the previous attitude of the Allied chiefs and their pressure, direct and indirect, to upset your program of organization and training, gave your action the color of a great decision.
The method of initiating the St. Mihiel battle was unique, daring to a remarkable degree and completely successful. Despite the fact that wire entanglements had been the tragedy and stumbling block of all offensives, unless methodically destroyed by artillery fire or torn open by fleets of tanks, and despite the fact that the St. Mihiel front was heavily covered with successive wide bands of wire entanglements, the attack was launched without artillery fire of destruction and without heavy tanks to cut gaps in the wire. Torpedo charges, carried by hand, were employed wherever necessary. A surprise attack was assured by omitting destructive artillery fire. The rapid advance and complete success of the American assault, causes your decision to omit the time consuming and customary preliminaries, to rank as a great one of the A.E.F.
The continuation of offensive assaults in the Meuse-Argonne battle from October 8th to 20th ranks as the greatest exhibition of leadership displayed by you during the war.
With distressingly heavy casualties, disorganized and only partially trained troops, supply troubles of every character due to the devastated zone so hurriedly crossed, inclement and cold weather, flu, stubborn resistance by the enemy on one of the strongest positions of the Western Front, pessimism on all sides and the pleadings to halt the battle made by many of the influential members of the army, you persisted in your determination to force the fighting over all difficulties and objections. This was the most severe test of the war. The British discounted our effort and criticized our methods; the French did the same; both strove to break up our army by securing detachments of troops. Even American high officials outside the army lent themselves to the clamor. Throughout you stood implacable and drove the army to its great assault, commencing November 1st, which reached Sedan, reclaimed the Meuse and brought us to the armistice.
Nothing else in your leadership throughout the war was comparable to this.
Document Copy Text Source: John J. Pershing Papers, Book File, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. Marshall may be referring to the “Report on Organization” dated July 10, 1917, forwarded to the War Department on July 11. This report stated that a force of one million men was needed in France by the 1918 campaign season, and that ultimately three million would be necessary. This report is printed in United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919, 1: 93-106.
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 361-362.