January 23, 2015

Marshall and the Benning Revolution

In a February 2014 Congressional Research Service Report, Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress, noted that Army endstrength would go from 570,000 in 2010 to 490,000 by the end of 2017. The drawdown of American forces has been a cyclical part of the nation’s military experience and “the Army has historically focused on education and professionalization as mitigating factors during drawdowns.”

28 to 31 M at Benning [770]At the conclusion of World War I, which was followed by a significant military drawdown, the Army focused its attention on education for broadening the next crop of officers. Lt. Col George C. Marshall led the Army’s Infantry School at Fort Benning during the post-World War I period from 1927-1932. When he was appointed assistant commandant of the Infantry School in 1927 and the Army was a skeleton standing army, he initiated major changes that resulted in a revolution at Fort Benning and the birth of the “Spirit of Benning” that shaped the creation of the Army’s World War II military character and high command. (Mark Stoler, George C. Marshall: Soldier Statesman of the American Century).

Marshall was appalled by the high casualties of World War I caused by what he thought was insufficient training. He was determined to prevent a lack of preparation from costing more lives in future conflicts. He and his subordinates, some considered nonconformists, overhauled both the method and the content of the instruction at Fort Benning. Based on the staff’s recommendations, Marshall advocated a major shift of instructional hours to tactics, including an increasing emphasis on mechanized warfare.

30 Inf School staff [1086]Marshall changed the curriculum from its emphasis on doctrinal principles to stress the art of tactical improvisation and creativity, not rote regurgitation of standard formulas. The practical details of how best to defeat an enemy and how to prepare and to conduct challenging field training were emphasized to enable the officer-student to think clearly about problems of the battlefield without being entangled in elaborate techniques, long planning, and the distribution of elaborate printed orders. (Henry G. Gole, Exposing the Third Reich: Colonel Truman Smith in Hitler’s Germany) Within a few short years Marshall and his staff remade the Infantry School into an institution that developed flexible, effective leaders for the modern battlefield.

Tactical innovativeness, simplicity, and operational flexibility were the result of the Benning Revolution. From 1927-1932, 200 future general passed through the school, 150 as students and 50 as instructors including Joseph Stillwell, Omar Bradley, W. Bedell Smith, Matthew Ridgway, and J. Lawton Collins. (Forrest Pogue, Marshall: Ordeal and Hope). General Marshall considered these officers and others at Fort Benning to be the most brilliant men he served with during his career. Educated at Fort Benning during the Benning Revolution, they won World War II that Marshall organized for victory.