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Speech on the State of the Army1
[1935?] [Chicago, Illinois]
. . . For the first time in our history we have an organized nucleus for a formidable National Army. Its mobilization is planned to the last detail; it is decentralized out of Washington; all its officers are being trained under the guidance of the Regular army; a few telegrams can set the machine in motion; war reserves are strategically located in great depots; plans for the rapid procurement of war supplies have been formulated, down to individual factory layouts in private enterprises for turning their production in a minimum of time to the supply of special equipment not of a standard commercial pattern—the production of these war supplies has been allocated among the industries and factories in accordance with agreements and joint studies by the Army and Navy and the business men themselves. There should be no hodge-podge of half-baked ideas, struggling against the fatal time factor as in 1917 and 18.
But, and here are the points I would like to draw to your special attention—we are up against certain factors that seriously limit our defensive powers and cannot be overcome in the first year of a war. In these we labor under a dreadful disadvantage, compared to other great powers, especially when you consider that it is the humble war recruit—your son or mine—who must pay the price of the present dilemma.
In quality and number we are fabulously rich in man-power. But in this scientific and machine age mere men, in war, are often impotent if the enemy has been progressive. Here are a few examples of what I mean: Certain war materiel requires a long time to manufacture and much of it is vital to success in battle. Tanks, for example. Without tanks and opposing tanks, infantry is almost helpless.
We have the best tank in the world. It was made at Rock Island—but its development required fifteen years of experimentation—the time consumed being largely due to the small amount of money available from year to year.2 The automobile industry thinks little of spending a million or more on the development of a new type of car, not differing greatly from the standard type. We have had less than a million over fifteen years, for the development of a light- and a medium-weight tank. We now have the model—about thirty have been built—ninety or more are building. But we need hundreds, and if we were thrown into war tomorrow it would be almost a year before our infantry could be protected in its advances by an adequate tank force against machine gun holocausts—not to mention the fact that the British, French, and Italians have developed large tank forces.
The Thirty-third Division here in Illinois has one tank company—in Maywood—a company of unusually high morale and training. It has not a single tank, it may get one lone tank before the year is out—its complement is twenty.
Today I have been talking about the possibilities of the first weeks, the first six months of a war. We started the business of having tanks manufactured in 1917—the man in immediate charge was my intimate friend—my mess mate in France—he was once head of the American Legion. But in spite of all he or others could do—a year and a half after war was declared, there was not an American-made tank in France, and on November 1, 1918, I personally arranged for the entirely available American tank force with our Army, to assist in the great assault of that date—and we had eighteen tanks instead of the 650 deemed necessary—a year and a half after we went to war.
Take our infantry weapons, for example:
Our rifle is a thirty-two-year-old model. Can you picture a 1903 model of an automobile, an airplane or a radio? But that’s what our boys are to carry. Why?
We have developed the finest semi-automatic shoulder rifle in the world (that’s a typical American boast), approaching the equivalent of a light machine gun, yet weighing no more than our old Springfield rifle. It would be a menace to the lordly swooping airplane, a terror to advancing infantry—and it would take almost a year to put it into quantity production. We need a hundred thousand for the peace strength regular army and National Guard—Congress has appropriated funds for manufacturing 1,500—we need 500,000 for a first issue on mobilization and as many more within six months. Every infantry weapon—rifle, machine gun, automatic small cannon and howitzer or trench mortar, is a World War or earlier model. We need a light machine gun, we need a 50 calibre machine gun for use against tanks and airplanes, we need a long range Stokes mortar. We have the models but not the money for these weapons which would be worth more than their weight in gold on the battle-field to the plodding, sweating, suffering doughboy. For whatever the sensational magazines or press may say—while the next war will undoubtedly start in the air, it will inevitably end in the mud—as usual.
Our air service is far better developed or equipped than any other portion of the army. But our air resisting weapons, anti-aircraft machine guns and cannon equipment is sadly deficient.
Again we have the models, and a few in service. And, again, I hazard the statement that they are the best in the world. But it would require a year or more to produce them after the declaration of war. Meanwhile, ignoring the tribulations and suffering of the men in the field, what would happen in Chicago? An overwhelming demand for antiaircraft protection. But with what? The pitifully few guns, directors, detectors and synchronized searchlights now available, would be insufficient for the Chicago and New York Metropolitan districts, even if we stripped the fighting army of every piece of such equipment. And it takes a year to make it. The development of our anti-air materiel is very interesting but has been given little publicity. The problem was one of multiple complexities. Some method for the instant and simultaneous determination of how high—how far off—in what direction—and flying at what speed, of a plane, and from this the calculation of a direction and new altitude for the plane at a given later moment so that the projectile would meet the speeding plane at a predetermined point and at a split second moment, at which the fuse of the shell was set to burst. All this had to be the calculation and adjustment of approximately a single instant. We have the machines and instruments that do it, with guns automatically aimed and fired with heavy shells, at ranges of eleven miles and up to altitudes of eight miles. Your Illinois Coast Artillery Regiment on Broadway has this equipment. How do they locate the plane at night—more magic, sound detectors automatically influence searchlights, focusing them on the target. The Sperry Gyroscopic Company has played a large part in these matters and we have them in small numbers.
Our Coast defenses have guns up to sixteen inches, firing a 2,340 lb. projectile twenty-eight miles. But again our numbers are limited and production requires long fatal months.
I could go on citing instances of special war materiel which we lack and which probably could not be produced before the end of the first year of a war. A special effort was recently made to secure the necessary funds for complete modernization of our war materiel or equipment—some of the famous four billions was to be spent for the purpose, and for two reasons: It would render our volunteer army so formidable that we would be spared the threat of war, and it would start the heavy industries to work—as almost all of this materiel would come from the steel and iron trades.
This allocation was barred, in the Senate, by a resolution forbidding any of the money to be spent for war-making supplies. So, we continue in the predicament of the past ten years, which grows more serious with each succeeding year.
I am not here to talk about possibilities of war, or about peaceful adjustments. That is not my business. I am discussing an existing condition, with its implications.
The decision rests entirely in the hands of citizens like yourselves—and the penalty, if any, will be paid by citizen-soldiers.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
1. Charles G. Dawes arranged for Marshall to meet Chicago’s leading business and professional men and to speak before various civic organizations. (K. T. Marshall, Together, pp. 18-19.) This speech was probably delivered to such a group. Approximately sixty percent of the speech is printed here. In the omitted portion Marshall detailed the number and distribution of Regular Army and National Guard troops.
2. Rock Island Arsenal, located on an island in the Mississippi River near Rock Island, Illinois, was a United States Army research, development, and production facility.
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. 462-465.