1-514 Speech to the Air Corps Tactical School, September 19, 1938

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: September 19, 1938

Speech to the Air Corps Tactical School

September 19, 1938 Maxwell Field, Alabama

My first duty is to express General Craig’s keen regret that he could not fill his engagement to be here this morning. He really wanted to have the opportunity to talk to you and had completed his preparations for that purpose. However, duties in Washington made it impossible for him to come and he sends you his very genuine regrets by me.

Though but a poor substitute for the Chief of Staff, I am glad to be here for several reasons. In the first place, I was in immediate charge of the school at Fort Benning for five years but unfortunately had to leave there just as the Air Corps Tactical School was transferred to Maxwell Field.1 I had visited the school at Langley Field and had gone over the course taught at that time. Also later we had received at Fort Benning a visit from the faculty and students of the school, which proved highly informative for us at Benning and, I believe, for the Air Corps personnel as well. What I wished for was the opportunity to go along for a year or two at Benning in close contact with the school here at Maxwell Field, because I believe that the proximity of the two schools presented a grand opportunity for the development of an understanding of our air requirements in relation to the ground forces. In other words, to reach, through the close contact possible here, a genuine appreciation of the Army problem—a problem which includes all the arms and services.

Then there is another, rather non-professional, reason for my keen interest in the Air establishment in general, and this school in particular. Years ago I was present at a lecture delivered by the Head of the Signal School at Fort Leavenworth. During his talk he made the startling statement, that two brothers, named Wright, were actually reaching the solution of flight by heavier-than-air machines. I knew nothing of this at the time, having seen no reference to it in the press, and I have never forgotten the profound impression it made on my mind.

Only a little later, I happened to be staying for the night in Washington with a young lieutenant who had made, that very afternoon at Fort Myer, the historic test flight of the Wright plane for its acceptance by the Government. Members of the cabinet, ambassadors and diplomats were present to see the miracle—an effort to fly twenty miles, with two passengers, at a speed of at least forty miles per hour, with a bonus for each additional mile per hour. At the apartment that evening a group of reporters appeared to secure some newsworthy comments. The lieutenant was your recent chief, General Foulois.2

And then a little later, during the first concentration of our troops on the Mexican Border in 1911, I was detailed as Assistant to the Chief Signal Officer of the field division. Under that officer were the activities of the two Army planes which then composed our air force, the historic Wright machine and a highly modernized Curtiss production. I turned out every morning at 5:30 in the cold of a Texas winter to avoid a possible calamity, as the planes in taking off barely cleared my tent. I saw the Curtiss crash, and I saw the Wright run through a horse and buggy, or rather I saw the horse run over the machine.

In 1918, while G-3 of the First Army in the Meuse-Argonne operations, two squadrons of planes were placed at my disposal for emergency missions. Then shortly before the Armistice, I watched a group of 164 American planes pass over the German lines. On the morning following the Armistice, I looked over the ground in No-Man’s-Land to see the effect of the bombing by that great air armada.

So, by the mere accident of position, I attended the birth and was present during much of the childhood of your Air Corps. More recently, in a flight around the United States with General Andrews, I inspected most of the air installations in this country, and the splendid GHQ Air Force. Professionally, as head of the War Plans Division, I am intimately concerned with the development of the Air Corps, and personally I am deeply interested in everything pertaining to it. Therefore it is a special pleasure to have this opportunity to visit the Air Corps Tactical School and to meet the faculty and the students.

Yesterday afternoon the senior members of your faculty gave me an outline of your course. I was much impressed by what they are doing to carry out the principal purpose of the school—the education of Air officers in a knowledge of the combined arms.

Young Air officers probably consider their future as irrevocably tied to air activities, and do not visualize service not intimately connected with the Air Corps. These are quite logical reasons why their approach to the national military problem may sometimes lack consideration of the multitude of other factors involved. Military victories are not gained by a single arm—though the failures of an arm or service might well be disastrous—but are achieved through the efforts of all arms and services welded into an Army team.

There is still another point of view for the younger officers. Many will be called upon to fill positions as principal staff officers or as high commanders with mixed forces; positions which require an intimate knowledge of the combined arms, and a breadth of vision impossible to the man who devotes his entire interest to a single arm. General Pratt, the former Commandant of the Air Corps Tactical School, is an example of an officer trained and experienced in the Air Corps who is on his way to high command. Now en route to the Philippine Islands, he will serve with the ground forces of that command.3

The most difficult problem for the War Department is the determination of the best organization for the Army, within the limits of the funds available. Fortunately, in some respects, we are not like European nations who clearly recognize potential enemies and therefore can plan for national defense along definite lines. The size and character of the military organizations that will best meet their special situations can be accurately determined.

With us, geographical location and the international situation make it literally impossible to find definite answers for such questions as: who will be our enemy in the next war; in what theater of operations will that war be fought; and, what will be our national objective at the time? These uncertainties lead inevitably to the conclusion that the only sensible policy for us to follow is to maintain a conservatively balanced force for the protection of our territory against any probable threat during the period the vast but latent resources of the United States, in men and materiel, are being mobilized.

To illustrate the complete uncertainty as to future wars, take, for example, the situation at Fort Leavenworth thirty years ago. Our principal, in fact our only, text on Applied Tactics was a German production by Colonel Griepenkerl, who presented his tactical problems on a map of the terrain in the vicinity of Metz.4 There was much derision in the Army, along with active hostility towards Leavenworth, at the idea of teaching of American officers in Kansas the tactics outlined by a German officer on a map of terrain 5000 miles away. Yet, but a few years later, the principal operations of our Army in the World War were located on that very terrain, and the names of the villages, the hills, the streams, and even the larger woods were familiar to our staff officers.

Now, it is a very simple matter to say that we need a balanced force, but the headache develops when we work out the detailed composition of such a force, that is within the financial means available. There are no series of facts that will lead to the one perfect solution, and short of war, there is no method for testing a solution. The decision must be based largely on opinions, and opinions will necessarily vary.

It is no exaggeration to state that the War Department is devoting more study to the size and composition of the Air Corps component of the Army team than to any other single subject, because aviation is a new arm and there is only a meager background of major war experience to guide us in its use. Also, in its rapid development, the theories of today are often in the discard tomorrow, and the question of dollars and cents absolutely dominates the field. That there is no neglect of aviation is evidenced by the fact that almost one-third of the total funds appropriated for the Army are expended on the Air Corps.

Sit down sometime and try to balance all the factors concerned with the national defense—including limited appropriations—and then attempt to outline the organization for a balanced Army. Divorce yourself for the moment from the Air Corps and assume that the responsibility for the decisions regarding national defense rests solely on your shoulders. Conscientiously consider the limitations imposed by annual appropriations-and weigh carefully the necessity and requirements for each arm, including the present problem of archaic equipment for which there are no replacement funds. Having reached a general conclusion, which checks with probable appropriations and the basic law, then set up, within those limits, the air force that you feel will best meet our requirements. Be conservative as to the powers of aviation and honest as to its limitations.

Your first decision will probably be to equip your air organizations with modern materiel. That is a sound decision, but how are you going to carry it out? Aviation materiel is extremely costly; it takes a long time to produce; and, remember this, is rapidly outmoded. Can you afford to discard the expensive materiel you have on hand for yet more modern types? Another consideration: the more costly the plane, the fewer of them you can have, and for each plane, guns, instruments, bombs, ammunition, and maintenance must be provided. Study the emergency situations you think we may be required to meet, and then decide on the proportion of plane types to meet those situations. Is it more desirable to have a large number of small planes or a small number of large planes? Consider the major emergency problem of training of pilots rapidly; that you will have to use rapidly trained pilots; and that your air force may be required to operate in theaters where airdromes are limited in number and size. In view of these factors, are combat planes—simple to operate and rugged in construction—indicated? Is it wise to sacrifice desirable technical features in order to obtain planes with special characteristics? There are almost unlimited permutations and combinations to resolve into a solution.

You must set aside funds for research and development, and for the maintenance and training of personnel, year in and year out. We have a very fine commercial aviation system and splendid Naval aviation. What effect will these have on the solution of your problem? The questions I have outlined are not academic—far from it, they are before the War Department for consideration every day.

Saturday morning, before leaving for Maxwell Field, it was necessary for me to pass on the proposition of a further allocation of funds for bombs. A great bombing plane without bombs—and it requires a year to make a bomb—would be a most expensive futility in the scheme of national defense. The project before me was to increase the number of missions of bombs to be procured. It was favorably acted upon. But—and this is the point I wish to make—at the same time that I was considering the dollars and cents involved in aviation munitions, I had in mind the fact that the rifle for the troops of our first war Army is of a type thirty-four years old, yet we have developed a semi-automatic shoulder rifle which is at least the equal of any similar weapon in the world. You gentlemen in the Air Corps would have no hesitation about the matter of bombs. But what about the thirty-four-year-old type rifle?

I leave this problem with you. Please give it serious thought and contribute towards its solution, for it is my firm conviction that aerial supremacy in the next war will not be merely a matter of technical excellence and tactical skill, but will depend fundamentally on the soundness of our peacetime planning and preparations.

We have the finest pilots in the world and planes that are at least equal in efficiency to those of any other nation. You can be justly proud of your contribution to these achievements. But you are now about to enter into a broader field of study where consideration is given to the role the Air Corps plays as a component part of the Army. Seek to obtain a clear picture of every aspect of national defense, so that you may think straight and advise wisely. The more outstanding you become as an officer of the Air Corps, the more important it is that you thoroughly understand the requirements and operation of the combined arms. The War Department needs Air experts who understand the Army, for we must have a team.

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

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. In 1931, the school moved from Langley Field, near Hampton, Virginia, to Maxwell Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.

2. Major General Benjamin D. Foulois was chief of the Air Corps from December 22, 1931, until December 21, 1935, when he retired.

3. Brigadier General Henry C. Pratt (U.S.M.A., 1904) was commandant from March 15, 1937, to August 6, 1938. After leaving the Tactical School, he commanded the Twenty-third Brigade at Fort William McKinley, Philippine Islands.

4. In 1906, the Fort Leavenworth schools adopted as a textbook, Otto F. W. T. Griepenkerl, Letters on Applied Tactics, sixth edition (Kansas City, Missouri: Franklin Hudson, 1906).

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. 631-635.

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