4-092 Editorial Note on Marshall’s Second Biennial Report, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Marshall’s Second Biennial Report

May-September 1943

Beginning in May 1943 and continuing as time and circumstances allowed through the summer, Marshall wrote and dictated the text of his second biennial report to the secretary of war. He knew that his official position and the importance of the subjects discussed would make this report, like its predecessor in the summer of 1941, an important political and public affairs document. The 1941 report had been a call to action in the face of a grave national emergency, and its issuance engendered many hostile letters, particularly regarding its call for a larger army and support for pending service-time extension legislation. (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-529 [2: 589].)

Marshall’s 1943 report was twice as long, more optimistic in tone, and written as “a record of what was done and why it was done . . . to permit a better understanding of the great offensive operations now in progress.” (War Department, Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, July 1, 1941, to June 30, 1943, to the Secretary of War [Washington: GPO, 1943], p. v. To the eighteen-thousand-word, thirty-six-page report were appended twenty pages of explanatory notes—probably largely contributed by staff members—plus six maps and nineteen charts.) He clarified and extended his first report’s division of the war into phases. The first phase (September 1, 1939, to June 1941) “covered the period of national uncertainty as to the influence of the war upon the United States.” The second phase—from the Battle of Britain to the German invasion of Russia—”was conspicuous for a growing national appreciation of the seriousness of the international situation and was marked by a limited peacetime mobilization of the citizen army, large appropriations by Congress of funds to develop the Military Establishment, and the orientation of industry to speed up the peacetime production rate of munitions of war.” (Ibid., p. 1.)

Since his 1941 report, Marshall observed, the war had progressed through three additional phases. In the “grave situation” of the third phase (between the invasion of Russia in June 1941 and Pearl Harbor), the War Department had been “faced with the disintegration of the Army” until the Congress passed service-time extension legislation. (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-507-#2-509 [2: 565-67], and #2-531 [2: 590-91].) During this period, the War Department had been “embarrassed” by its lack of modern materiel and trained units. Marshall discussed the efforts to arm and reinforce the Philippines, one example of the “trying problem” of meeting “the urgent necessities of critical fronts without jeopardy to the security of continental United States.” (Biennial Report, pp. 2-3, 6.)

Marshall’s comments on the war’s fourth phase—Pearl Harbor to the battle of Midway: the high tide of Axis aggression—included a description of War Department actions immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, a lengthy discussion of the struggle in the Philippines, and praise for the navy’s actions at the battles of Coral Sea and Midway, which tipped the balance of sea power in the Pacific to the United States. (Ibid., pp. 7-14.)

The fifth and current phase of the war, the chief of staff wrote, had begun in the Pacific in the summer and fall of 1942 with Allied offensives in the Solomon Islands and Papua; simultaneously, in the European theater American troops had begun to arrive and air units had joined in the aerial assault on the fortress of Europe, demonstrating “the soundness of the tactical doctrines of our air forces and of the basic design of their aircraft.” Marshall was careful to discuss the background of the strategic decisions and the constraints that had influenced them (particularly shipping). He wrote at length of the North African campaign, defending the necessity of dealing with Admiral Darlan, and paying special attention to the battles around Tunisia’s Kasserine Pass in February 1943, refusing to downplay these and other Allied difficulties in the ten-front war. He praised the United States’s allies and its navy and marines and explained the major army command changes. (Ibid., pp. 14-28; quote on p. 18.)

Comparing the Allies’ strategic position in mid-1943 with that of twelve months earlier, Marshall spelled out the great improvement. “In brief, the strength of the enemy is steadily declining while the combined power of the United Nations is rapidly increasing, more rapidly with each succeeding month. There can be but one result and every resource we possess is being employed to hasten the hour of victory without undue sacrifice of the lives of our men.” (Ibid., p. 32.) Further good news was that the U.S. Army—having expanded 500 percent from 1.4 million men on July 1, 1941, to nearly 7 million twenty-four months later—was about to cease its growth, leaving it free to concentrate on “polishing up the existing military machines and developing them to the highest degree of efficiency in preparation for the great battles to come.” (Ibid. pp. 34-35.) The chief of staff was enthusiastic about the Army Air Forces’ contributions: “The outstanding feature to date of America’s war effort has been the manner in which our air forces have carried the war, in its most devastating form, to the enemy” in a remarkably short time. “The end is not yet clearly in sight,” he concluded, “but victory is certain.” (Ibid., pp. 35-36.)

As the following document shows, a typescript version of Marshall’s report was ready by September 1 (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-093 [4: 107-8].) Released to the press at 1:00 A.M. Eastern War Time September 8, the report was widely praised by reporters and commentators for its wealth of detail, its clear and concise style, and its excellent literary qualities. Sidney Shalett observed on the front page of the New York Times: “General Marshall’s report was viewed by many here as one of the most comprehensive and remarkable public documents of the war. Not only did he give insights as to the possible future course of the war both in Europe and the Pacific, but he lifted the curtain of military secrecy on many fascinating historical sidelights of past operations. The Chief of Staff set forth the answers to many questions that a reporter would have been reprimanded for asking at the Secretary of War’s press conferences.” (Late City Edition, September 8, 1943, p. 1.) While many newspapers and magazines ran lengthy excerpts from and analyses of the report, the United States News printed over three hundred thousand copies: two hundred thousand for its subscribers, seventeen hundred for the editors of every daily newspaper in the United States, thirty-six thousand for distribution in war plants, and seventy-six thousand for distribution to military reading rooms. (David Lawrence to Marshall, September 22, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].) The report was officially issued by the Government Printing Office in late 1943, but in the meantime the Infantry Journal released Marshall’s two reports together as Report on the Army, July 1, 1939 to June 30, 1943 in both hard cover and paperback editions. There was widespread agreement at the time with the sentiments expressed by Marshall’s friend John McAuley Palmer: it was a “tremendously important” historical document. (Palmer to Marshall, September 30, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers 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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 105-107.

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