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To Captain Lloyd N. Winters1
February 26, 1931 Fort Benning, Georgia
My dear Captain Winters:
I am inclosing some comments on the Meuse-Argonne to meet your request. Frankly, I don’t like to have much to say publicly. It is all right here in the school in connection with instruction, but your proposition is another matter.
However, I am sending you some brief comments; but please see that they are not published or otherwise distributed, save by you verbally in the delivery of your lecture.
I have no written notes of my talk on the A.E.F.,—never had any. I had to deliver the first talk on twenty-four hours notice, all the daylight time being absorbed in a 400-mile motor ride to Brest, so I was committed without written notes and so continued. I did not hear General Drum’s talk and do not know whether or not he had written it up.2
Benning has changed considerably this past year,—looks quite a finished place, with new quarters and many paved roads. The school goes along smoothly.
With kind regards,
G. C. Marshall, Jr.
Critical reviews of the Meuse-Argonne operation are usually concerned with strategical and larger tactical aspects of the battle. The most instructive phases would seem to be those related to smaller affairs, matters of direction and method within the brigade, and especially in the battalion and the company. However, every lesson should be learned with a clear understanding of the special conditions under which the battle was fought—a tired and outnumbered enemy, unable to strike a heavy counterblow but extraordinarily skillful in the employment of artillery and machine guns; our troops strong and vigorous, but deficient in training and lacking that finesse of troop leadership which comes from experience.
To me, the following were the most instructive aspects of the battle:
The chaotic conditions which usually developed within a few hours of a formal “jump off”. Troops could be lined up for a set assault and carried through the first phase in comparatively good order, but as the necessity for local decisions, maneuver, adjustments and cooperation developed the efforts became disorganized or confused to a remarkable degree, and only the courage and determination of the natural leaders enabled the troops to press on. Leaders understood how to deploy but seldom how to ploy or regroup their scattered forces without bringing the action to a standstill. Fighting of this character will be normal to open warfare.
The inability of subordinate leaders to achieve a combination of fire and movement. Under the stress of battle headlong attacks were usually launched, and while often successful, heavy losses and disorganization usually robbed the unit of further striking power.
Inability of local leaders to approximate any idea of the situation beyond their immediate flanks. The misunderstandings and unfortunate results, due to the above reason, made tragic history over the entire battlefield. The strain of the fighting was so intense that the brain of leaders seemed a blank to all but the violent impressions of their immediate front.
The small part pure tactics played in the handling of most situations. Local decisions were usually dominated by reasons other than tactical,—fatigue, inability or unwillingness to alter existing dispositions, and response to orders to renew the attack by efforts straight to the front. Yet in our training we usually consider only the tactical problem.
The serious effect of poor arrangements to provide hot food to the fighting line. In the few divisions where the supply of hot food was rigorously required, the more so when the fighting was desperate, troops performed feats utterly beyond those who received cold food or went hungry. The former were able to remain “in the line” for much longer periods, to the great saving of the army reserves being collected to stage a renewed general assault. In prolonged fighting the delivery of food is as important as the maintenance of communications.
The small understanding of the practical proposition of maintaining morale. Few officers understood the fatal effect on their troops of a pessimistic attitude and of criticism of seniors. Where the opposite condition existed the troops often achieved the impossible. Their success was seldom due to tactics or technique, unless it was the technique of leadership. It might truthfully be said that in most instances the performance of the troops could be accurately measured by the mental attitude and bearing of the leaders. It was seldom that a determined, resourceful leader failed. It was seldom that a dispirited or disgruntled or critical leader succeeded. Courage was a common trait, but not fortitude and unquestioned loyalty.
In general, it has seemed to me that we discuss the battle in a large or ponderous fashion, ignoring those features which really determined the issue in the hundreds of local situations which made up the great operation. Unless we deal with the facts about these, the errors will all be repeated, and to a more serious degree in warfare of movement with an army taking the field in the first month of a war.
Document Copy Text Source: Lloyd N. Winters Papers, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed letter signed.
1. Winters had been a member of the Infantry School’s Company Officers’ Course, 1929-30. At the time Marshall wrote, Winters was stationed with the Twenty-first Infantry at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
2. Concerning Marshall’s lecturing, see the above Memorandum for the Deputy Chief of Staff, March 20, 1919 (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #1-159 [1: 183-184]).
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. 370-372.