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Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, First Army
September 10, 1918 [Ligny-en-Barrois], France
As members of the Operations Sub-section, G-3, 1st Army, we feel it our duty to bring to your attention the following points.
The decision has been made that the artillery preparation for the corning operation will start with the commencement of the barrage, but that plans must be made to put down a 14 hour artillery preparation, so that, if at the last moment it should be deemed advisable to do so, it can readily be done.
In our opinion this 14 hour preparation should be made. The reasons for this are here enumerated.
1. There is no instance in this war where an attack has been made against a position as highly organized as this one without artillery preparation or the assistance of numerous heavy tanks.
2. To attack this position without artillery preparation is taking a gambler’s chance—it may succeed, but we must not be content with that: for, it must succeed.
3. An artillery preparation, considering the amount of artillery at our disposal, can do no harm, but can make the operation easier by shaking the enemy’s morale and determination, by putting confidence in our own troops, by causing breaches in trenches and wire, and by putting and keeping hostile batteries out of action.
4. Such preparation will permit a certain amount of registration, which we consider vital.1
5. From the moment the first gun is fired interdiction fire can be kept up to prevent the sending forward of any enemy reinforcements or altering his dispositions and can interfere materially with his exercise of command.
6. The artillery at our disposal constitutes a powerful weapon; to refrain from using it up to the maximum possible, without affecting the element of surprise, deprives us of a great advantage.
7. It had been hoped that large tanks would be available for cutting wire. Large tanks have not been forthcoming, and the small number of medium and small tanks are not sufficient for proper wire cutting.
8. Many areas such as woods, etc., should be drenched with gas before our troops are to pass through them, the gas bombardment on these places ceasing several hours before our troops arrive there. If there is no artillery preparation until H hour we will be deprived of the use of gas on those localities where the necessity of gas is the greatest.
9. It has been argued that if the artillery preparation is to commence on D-1 day it should start at daylight, otherwise many batteries, necessarily emplaced in the open, would be exposed to the enemy’s view, thus precipitating the artillery phase of the battle. We do not concur in this. Sufficient batteries can be emplaced in reasonably concealed localties to start the preparation at H minus 14 hours, the remaining batteries going into position at H minus 10 hours.
Enemy batteries can not interfere with our guns, however much exposed; our superiority is too great.2
W. S. Grant
G. C. Marshall, Jr.
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I) (RG 120), Records of General Headquarters (GHQ), First Army Reports, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
1. When a gun crew established a new position or prepared for a particular operation, it would fire a few rounds at selected targets in order to establish the proper ordnance settings for hitting that area. This was called "registration fire."
2. Assistant Chief of Staff Colonel Robert McCleave, one of Marshall’s Fort Leavenworth students in 1909-10, wrote at the bottom of the page: "I concur in the above, and recommend that artillery registration be completed just before dark. The fire to continue throughout the night, with the attack at daylight." General Pershing took the second option: five hours of preparation. Marshall later commented, "Whether it was his sound judgment, or the accident of circumstance, I do not know, hut his decision exactly met the situation." (Memoirs, p. 136.)
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. 158-160.