4-229 Memorandum for General Surles, February 6, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 6, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for General Surles

February 6, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]

Subject: Appreciation of Infantry soldier.

We have been endeavoring by means of awards, authorities for citations of units (on a new basis), etc., to improve the morale of the infantry soldier.1 At the same time we are confronted with a great difficulty in keeping the infantry rifleman up to strength in the units now on the various fronts. The reports from General MacArthur to me personally, and from the principal officers in the Mediterranean operations, have been unanimous in the statement that we have to do something to maintain infantry rifle strength in order that it will not be necessary to withdraw divisions as early in action as is now the case, and also in order that the divisions can be maintained with greater power of thrust instead of becoming too quickly inert due to the extreme fatigue and hardships of the infantry riflemen and the heavy casualties they are suffering.2 The interest of the country has been focussed on the losses of the airmen, notably the 8th Air Force over Germany. We have fought off too emotional a reaction of the American people and have done all in our power to buck up the air crews concerned.

Now General McNair tells me, in connection with his exceeding difficulties in providing the necessary trained replacements of riflemen for overseas, that he finds that while only 11 per cent of the Army—air and ground—are infantrymen they bear 60 per cent of the present casualties in Italy.

Men will stand almost anything if their work receives public acknowledgment. They are inclined to glory in its toughness and hazards if what they do is appreciated. There has been so little of glamour in infantry work that the public is little aware of the requirements. On the contrary, if you will recall, I was opposed vigorously in the early formation of the army for my attitude regarding the infantry soldier and his importance in our war army. It was to be all tanks and air, maybe a little artillery, with everybody motorized, etc. Now the picture is being completed in accordance with the fundamental requirements of waging a successful war. The haphazard theorizing is found to be without solid foundation and the influence of the more glamorous methods of making war is found not to be sufficient for the purposes of successful operations.

I am wondering just how we should go about dignifying the infantry rifleman (note that I am not talking about the heavy machine-gunner, though he has a hard role too but not of the same order as the rifleman). It might well be charged that we have made the mistake of having too much of air and tank and other special weapons and units and too little of the rifleman for whom all these other combat arms must concentrate to get him forward with the least punishment and losses. I don’t want to discourage the rifleman and yet I want his role made clear and exalted. I don’t want to unduly alarm the families of riflemen and yet it is important that some action be taken.

Think this over, talk it over with General McNair’s people and see me about it without undue delay.

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 the previous document (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-228 [4: 266]).

2. Marshall notified Paul V. McNutt, chairman of the War Manpower Commission, that Infantry riflemen were suffering more casualties than any other category of troops, air or ground. He quoted from a radio message received from Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers in the Mediterranean theater, who had sent estimated replacement needs. “Branch breakdown should be planned for 85% infantry, 7% field artillery, and 3% each of engineers and medical. Ratio of officers to men in infantry, 1 to 17, in field artillery 1 to 10, engineers 1 to 16, and in medical 1 to 20.” (Marshall [G-1] Memorandum for Honorable Paul V. McNutt, January 26, 1944, 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. 266-268.

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