1-133 Editorial Note on Move to GHQ and St. Mihiel Planning, July 1918

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on Move to GHQ and St. Mihiel Planning

July-August 1918

The last First Division troops left the Cantigny sector on July 8. Marshall remained behind for a day to complete the transition to the French, then motored south to the new headquarters at Chateau Nivillers, near Beauvais.

Marshall had hardly begun to adjust to rear-area life, when on July 12 he received orders to proceed to Chaumont for service with the Operations Section at General Headquarters. “My plans had all been laid to get command of a regiment in the division,” Marshall wrote in his Memoirs, “and this not only denied me that duty, but removed me from the front.“ Leaving the division was hard, he wrote. “Bigger problems were to come—but never again that feeling of comradeship which grows out of the intimate relationship among those in immediate contact with the fighting troops.” Writing in the early 1920s, Marshall said: “Whatever else was to happen to me—in the war or in the future—could be but a minor incident in my career.” (Memoirs, pp. 116-18.)

Arriving at Chaumont on the night of July 13, Marshall was given a room in the house of Chief of Operations Fox Conner (U.S.M.A., 1898). Most of the members of the section were old friends. Marshall found the atmosphere they worked in “strange.“ Their problems and plans were entirely different than those facing the First Division staff. They dealt with ocean tonnage, ports of debarkation, dock construction, tank manufacture, methods of training divisions, and the complexities of inter-Allied politics. “To me this was a different world from that in which I had lived during the past year.” (Ibid., p. 121.)

Marshall’s first assignment, given to him on his first morning in Chaumont, was to collect as much information as possible regarding the St. Mihiel salient and to begin developing a plan to reduce the salient. (Ibid.) His “Preliminary Study,” which assumed four American divisions in assault and three for mopping-up and reserve, was finished by August 6. The operation sought to achieve three general objectives. The first was to “free the main line of the PARIS-NANCY railroad in the vicinity of ST. MIHIEL.“ The Germans had to be driven back at least fifteen kilometers from the railroad. The second purpose was to “carry out a purely American major offensive before the start of the rainy season in 1918.” Consequently, the operation had to begin “by September 15th, if practicable.” Finally, the attack would prepare the way for the 1919 offensive, “for which the Operations Section at Chaumont was already planning.“ (Marshall to Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 [Fox Conner], August 6, 1918, NA/RG 120 [GHQ, G-3 Reports].)

But the St. Mihiel planning was strongly influenced by British and French successes elsewhere along the front and by inter-Allied politics. The number of divisions available changed constantly, and each change affected the basic conception of the operation. Marshall recalled, “I have always been rather embarrassed by the fact that I submitted a number of different plans—none of them you might say conclusive.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 220.) An August 9 plan envisioned a ten-division drive with French support from the south. The plan, dated August 13, utilized fourteen divisions attacking both faces of the salient. Three days later, Marshall submitted the following seventeen-division plan.

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. 151-152.

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