1-536 Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, December 9, 1938

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 9, 1938

Memorandum for the Chief of Staff

December 9, 1938 Washington, D.C.

Field Training.

You commented the other morning to the General Officers of the Eligible List Board on the necessity for larger and more economical maneuvers. A satisfactory solution to the problem involves many ramifications, which I would like to discuss in writing and then orally, with a view, at some later and less crowded date, of having a study made on the subject.


In the first place, practically no military reservation today is sufficiently large to permit of the type of maneuvers which I believe are essential to the development of tactics, technique, and leadership. Motorization, mechanization, and planes have spread military problems all over the map, as it were.


Next in order, the law and regulations governing the leasing of ground have been drawn up, I believe,—though I have not investigated this in the War Department—from the viewpoint of the convenience and certainty of administrative procedure at Corps Area and War Department headquarters, rather than with the primary object of facilitating field maneuvers. If I am correct, this would mean that we are limiting the development of training and tactics, for the convenience of distant staffs and for the too secure protection of higher officials from possible reclaims.

The complications involved in this are numerous. I can elaborate on them orally.


Next, there is the cost of concentrations, and the time consumed. I do not know what can be done about this, but it should be studied. Offhand, I am inclined to the idea that for short hauls box cars are sufficient for the purpose of moving troops. What the legal involvements are I do not know, but I do not imagine they are beyond cure. Anyway, too much money is tied up in this phase of the business.

Along with this goes the cost of assembling officers for a variety of special jobs, the creation of temporary staffs, etc. I think we must turn to the air for economies in this direction. The flying is done as a matter of practice, so in one sense the passenger costs nothing.


The necessary terrain should be acquired on some form of lease permitting the right to trespass, including a simple method for determining damages and making immediate settlement on the ground for those under certain amounts, and not involving disputes. Leases in quintuplicate and other time-consuming and irritating procedures should be studied with a view to their simplification. The law, I think, should be changed to accomplish some of these purposes, certainly to give an Army Commander more authority than he now possesses, and to remove from the War Department the restriction on the settlement of damages, except in extraordinary cases. In other words, everything should be done to make it a simple matter to acquire the right of trespass from the property owners. I have done this personally on a large scale, and therefore I know it can be done satisfactorily.

The timing of large maneuvers should be made to fit in with other activities, which should be included. For example, the ROTC would receive tremendous impetus if the Advanced Students in the region where Army maneuvers are being conducted, serve their last two weeks of field training attached to various Headquarters units as orderlies, couriers, and scouts, and to combat organizations with the Headquarters group.

Large maneuvers should be so arranged that the strategical and tactical approaches can be considered in the winter instruction of the National Guard and the Reserve. Temporary commands and staffs should be completed in skeleton form months before the maneuvers in order that a team will take the field, rather than a disturbing group of hastily assembled officers. The more brilliant the officer the more dangerous he becomes in an improvised headquarters.

Again, this subject has too many involvements to burden you on paper. I can cover it orally.


The business of umpiring needs re-doing to put it on a more practical basis. It is entirely too ponderous, requires too many people, is therefore too expensive, and ignores too largely the importance of flash decisions. The procedure has been reduced to a mathematical formula. That may be all right for calculating ship gun firing, but it completely ignores the surprise element, the uncertainty factors of military contacts in open warfare. This has particular application to mechanized forces, bombing, artillery and machine gun concentrations in rear areas. It is important that we develop a device for conveying information of distant machine gun fire, and for portraying artillery fire in the rear areas other than by impractical telephonic or radio procedure. The life in the rear of the front line is going to be a devastating business, as to nerves and judgment. We cannot afford to have our training regulations ignore this factor.

To sum up, I think we are too ponderous and too infrequent in our maneuver efforts; that we are too limited as to terrain and play too much on the home grounds; that we do not obtain sufficient appropriations for this vitally important business; that a determined effort must be made to amend laws, change regulations, and evolve systems which will enable us to offset the present theoretical training (due to too many desks and details, mostly unavoidable) in order that the Army may properly train for its real purpose, as a matter of annual routine.1

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office 1917- (RG 407), 353 [12-9-38], National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. Marshall’s idea was “100% sound and a change is vitally needed,” Malin Craig wrote on a note attached to the original document. “Let’s go to it.”

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. 671-673.

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