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Report to Major General George S. Simonds1
[August 28(?), 1937] [Fort Lewis, Washington]
Report of the Commanding General of the 5th Brigade.
1. The 5th Red Brigade, with the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery and an additional battery, 1 platoon of engineers, the 116th Observation Squadron, and detachments of the ordnance, quartermaster and medical corps, had the problem of preventing a hostile Blue force from crossing to the north of the Nisqually River from 1:00 PM, August 23 until the arrival of Red re-enforcements at 7:00 AM on August 27.
2. In the initial field order the decision was announced “to take a position in readiness to defend the line of the river, with detachments, holding the bulk of the command, prepared to attack the enemy’s columns as they emerged from the valley.” The critical front was defined as from McKenna to Puget Sound. The two infantry regiments (each lacking a battalion) were placed abreast in columns of battalions, the 4th Infantry on the right. The artillery was directed to select positions from which fire could be delivered on the principal crossings of the Nisqually, and from which withdrawal to alternate positions could best be effected under cover. To all elements of the command it was announced that concealment of position and movement would be the factor of major importance.
With the command totaling 1900 men and an active front of 14 miles, not to mention possible surprise crossings to the east of McKenna, with an enemy almost three times as strong in infantry, more than eight times as strong in artillery and engineers, and with tanks, the problem for the Red commander was largely one of conservation of manpower, vigilance of reconnaissance, improvising means of communication, and concealment of artillery. It was anticipated that the Blue artillery would seriously interfere with the Red artillery’s program of fire. The artillery situation was further complicated by the necessity of detaching two guns for antitank use.
3. In the initial deployment, after moving forward to the river, the 4th Infantry held the Argonne Forest and the open valley to the east, including the 91st Division Prairie southwest of Nisqually Lake. The Marne Woods in the center of the front was left virtually undefended, except for a machine gun company of the 7th Infantry as Brigade Reserve, which was placed in the southern edge of the woods. A platoon of engineers to cover the guns was provided when the engineer tasks were completed Wednesday night. A battery of artillery was located in the same locality with its automatic rifles well advanced on the prairie. The 7th Infantry, based on Ficker Woods, covered the remainder of the front.
Very few machine guns were allowed as far forward as the edge of the river bluff, due to the small number available and the strong possibility of their being pinned to the ground by artillery fire or otherwise separated from the command as the enemy advanced. Such horses or mules as could be made available were used for messenger service for the advanced patrols. The latter could seldom be of greater strength than a cossack post.2
The artillery problem was largely one of locating concealed and unlikely positions from and to which rapid changes could be made under cover. It only proved practicable to provide fire for a limited period in the Northern Pacific Railroad area. The initial dispositions permitted two batteries to fire on possible bridging operations from Muck Creek to the vicinity of the Power House. It was not practicable to dispose the artillery in depth, until withdrawals from the most advanced infantry positions had been made.
4. The enemy’s activities along the river bluffs and banks were observed in numerous localities from Tuesday until the actual crossings. On Wednesday afternoon bridging material, including pontoon boats, was brought to the river’s edge in the open and work started. These activities were taken under observed artillery fire. No machine gun fire was permitted, as it would merely disclose positions which would be of much more importance later on. In an actual operation these guns would have been used, but under the necessary complications of umpiring and the fact that enemy casualties would be but a temporary embarrassment—if any, the possible price did not justify the disclosure of important positions under enemy observation, which were to be of great value later on.
Crossings were observed at dusk on Wednesday, and advanced Red detachments became engaged with Blue detachments along the western edge of the 91st Division Prairie. Liberal use of artillery was made at this time on the crossing sites in that vicinity.
The principal crossings were reported before dawn on Thursday morning. Numerous obstructions, mines, etc., had been prepared, theoretically, by the engineers, with the labor assistance of the Infantry. All possible artillery fire power was developed to hinder the actual crossing and the debouchment on to the plain. Not more than eight machine guns could be employed in this phase.
The functioning of both infantry and artillery observers was deserving of praise. Throughout Thursday morning practically every enemy movement, except for a time in the vicinity of the Northern Pacific Railroad bridge, was reported and kept under almost continuous observation.
The functioning of the 116th Observation Squadron, both as to ground administration and air activity, was splendidly carried out. Night missions thoroughly covered the Blue area, and during daylight hours provided such a constant stream of accurate information as to prove almost an embarrassment to the small intelligence personnel at Brigade headquarters. The work of observers showed a high degree of training and an extremely conscientious and enthusiastic performance of duty. The photographic missions were carried out with exactness and the results made available in a minimum of time. The work of this squadron in these maneuvers demonstrated the remarkable degree of efficiency possible of development in National Guard observation aviation during peacetime training.
With the information available the general development of the Blue action could be closely followed. However, contrary to expectations, the principal difficulties for the much dispersed Red force did not consist of artillery embarrassment, but rather of the rapidity of the Blue advance in the face of prearranged machine gun fires from intrenched positions, and the excellent maneuvering of the leading Blue elements, to outflank the small Red groups or to penetrate the many gaps in the line. The withdrawals required by the umpires quickly contracted the Blue front, especially as it became evident that there was no serious threat from the southwestern portion of the Argonne Forest or via the possible crossings in the vicinity of the Tighe Farm. Throughout the action the engineer platoon and reserve company of machine guns provided a liaison group between the two regiments, and guarded the Marne Forest Area.
At dusk and immediately thereafter on Thursday evening considerable activity developed all along the front and heavy night fighting soon created a confused situation. This finally reached so serious a condition, in my opinion, that I directed all Red troops to hold their positions, making no moves whatsoever.
Having commanded a Red force of from 3 to 5 thousand men in the 2nd Army Maneuvers in Michigan, and this year commanded a smaller but somewhat similar force in the 4th Army Maneuvers just completed, I am tremendously impressed with the instructional value of these exercises. The errors made evident, the forced reduction of theoretical technique to a more expeditious and practical basis, the experience in troop leading and troop reactions in confused situations, and the intimate association of various arms and services under approximate campaign conditions provided by such maneuvers as these, are inestimable value to all components of the army, and should be of similar value to the faculties of our service schools. I am strongly in favor of continued maneuvers of this nature.
I submit that the practice invariably followed in organizing these exercises, of absorbing, for outside use as it were, large numbers of men, vehicles, horses and materiel, is the one phase most urgently in need of a better solution than the present practice. It is not conceivable, under ordinary conditions, that American troops would have to operate in the field with the reduced number of motor vehicles that we are required to depend on in our maneuvers. The absence of horses and the lack of motorcycles and light cars renders normal reconnaissance, under modern conditions of fast-moving motor vehicles, the greatest embarrassment to a commander. The lack of even a dozen trucks in a force already short of sixty per cent of its field and combat motor transportation, is pitiful in its limitation on the power of a commander to move small bodies of his troops tactically. I am not referring to long motor convoys. I respectfully suggest the advisability of having a special study made as to how to stage such maneuvers without absorbing for other purposes such a large proportion of military facilities and personnel, of vital importance to field training.
There are attached hereto copies of field order and overlays of the successive positions occupied by the Red forces.3
G. C. Marshall
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office 1917- (RG 407), 353, Bulky File [12-13-35], National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Document Format: Typed report signed.
1. Regular, National Guard, and Reserve units participated in the Ninth Corps Area phase of the Fourth Army maneuvers held at Fort Lewis, Washington, August 17-27. Marshall commanded the Red Forces, the reinforced Fifth Brigade; and Major General George A. White commanded the Blue Forces, the reinforced Forty-first Division. During the river-crossing maneuver, following a command post exercise simulating the approach march, it was the Blue troops’ goal to gain control of the river crossings along the Nisqually River defended by the outnumbered and outpowered Red troops. The high point in the maneuver came when the Blue army launched a surprise attack early Thursday, August 26, and by nightfall had most of its troops across the river. (Portland Oregonian, August 25-27, 1937.)
2. A “cossack post” was a four-man out-guard that posted a single sentinel.
3. The field order is not printed here, and the overlays were not in the file with the document.
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. 554-557.