3-493 Memorandum for General McNair, February 1, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 1, 1943

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for General McNair

February 1, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]


While I was in Algiers Eisenhower referred a number of times to the urgency of having a higher standard of discipline developed in our troops. He stated that laxness in saluting and in the observance of small regulations was magnified many-fold in its unfortunate results once the troops became involved in the confusion and discomforts of campaign. He spoke of their eating up their reserve rations, of ignoring instructions regarding minor matters which became major considerations once they were in contact with the enemy.

The impression I got was that the divisional organizations were held up to a much more satisfactory standard than the separate units. The influence of the division commander, and his feeling of direct responsibility, evidently produce much more satisfactory results than those of separate regimental or battalion commanders of varying degrees of ability as leaders.

The day of my return to Washington I sent a letter direct to General A. D. Bruce about a Tank Destroyer battalion, and directed that a copy be furnished you.1 Normally of course I should have communicated this through you, but I wanted General Bruce to get this from me direct. I was shocked at the condition of affairs, particularly as a young West Pointer of the Class of 1937 had been advanced to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel in command of the battalion. Such rapid promotion is only justified by outstanding qualities of leadership and I wish to be sure that other promotions of this nature are not made until the man has proved his efficiency. It is perfectly satisfactory to have a Major command a battalion, but to advance him to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel when he is possibly of mediocre qualifications, is bad business.

I find somewhat the same situation in units of the Air Corps; they suffer from the same deficiency as our separate regimental and battalion units do, in contrast to a much higher state of discipline in divisional commands. Some way or other we must immediately enforce a more exacting discipline and bring all of these men to understand what it means and why it must be done. I don’t know that we can accomplish this through a mimeographed order, but it must be done.

One more item. Our men must be prepared for the necessity of keeping their guns in action during dive bomber attacks. If they were to know what has already happened, maybe that would stress the point. It appears that in our first contacts, even in the well-developed Armored forces, the men left their guns, leaving the Germans free to smear up the command. Finally, after discovering that there was more noise than casualty involved, they manned their guns and shot down enemy planes. The dive bombing attacks then ceased, but meanwhile we had lost heavily in vehicles.

Possibly we should get out quickly some brief pamphlet or order similar to that relating to Guadalcanal,2 giving the lessons of the fighting in Tunisia and frankly showing up the weaknesses in our training. Something has to be done to remedy the present defects.3

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. See Marshall to Bruce, January 30, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-488 [3: 520-21].

2. In the autumn of 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Russell P. Reeder, Jr. (U.S.M.A., 1926), of the Operations Division, visited Guadalcanal and conducted interviews with numerous Marines of all ranks to learn about their experiences in jungle warfare. Marshall ordered Reeder’s notes published in early 1943—”because of their unique character and their excellence”—as Fighting on Guadalcanal (Washington: GPO, 1943), an eighty-page, pocket-sized pamphlet. (Marshall to Reeder, December 29, 1942, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)

3. McNair replied that he had transmitted the chief of staff’s comments to “several high commanders,” explained the causes of some of the problems Marshall had observed, and noted certain steps that had been taken to correct the situation. He also observed: “While nothing can excuse a lack of discipline, I do feel that it is becoming harder [in] this war than the last one—perhaps for two reasons: a. our experienced officers are spread very thinly indeed. A division this year is entitled to a quota of Regular officers of little more than 20. We have headquarters all over the world, and I allege that most of them are grossly over-staffed; b. The quality of our manpower declined visibly toward the end of 1942. In 1917 our officers were very largely college men. This time, the college graduates in candidate schools run from 15 to 20%. The Air Forces have made tremendous inroads on the leadership of the Ground Forces—unavoidably, but nevertheless with telling effect.” (McNair Memorandum for General Marshall, February 2, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 250].)

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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 525-526.

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