2-072 Speech to the National Guard Association of the United States, October 27, 1939

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 27, 1939

Speech to the National Guard Association

of the United States1

October 27, 1939 Baltimore, Maryland

I trust that what may be said will be considered as off the record. To be perfectly honest, there has actually been no time to prepare for this talk today. We have been busy up to the last moment before coming here, and all the hours counted on for preparation proved not to be available when they actually arrived. I was unwilling, however, to farm out to somebody else the preparation of these remarks, so I am talking without notes with due apology if the remarks are disjointed.

. . . In the first place, the situation today, insofar as concerns the development of the Army, and particularly the National Guard, resolves itself into a matter of timing. We have the consideration of plans leading on into the future which must be developed with a view toward continuity of policy. We have the affairs of the moment, where, as we all know, in this present world situation the element of time is the great and dominant factor which influences everything we do. This fact has particular application, not only to the recently authorized increase in strength—and further contemplated increases which we hope will be authorized—but to the actual training of the new men that we are bringing in at this time.

To illustrate—under the old scheme of training, which we have followed for years, new men taken into service at this time might go until next summer, and certainly as long as next May, without ever having fired a rifle. Think of it, 45,000 new men and possibly 126,000 new men, in uniform and being trained, but having to wait at least six months before having the experience of firing a weapon.

Now, however, in the opinion of the War Department, the time and the temper of the world does not permit a continuation of the old training policy. We have to move more rapidly. Just how we can carry out more rapid and effective training is, of course, another problem. It might be said in that connection that we recognize the fact that training conditions vary throughout the United States. There is a vast difference in the training problem of a National Guard regiment concentrated in a city like New York and a regiment scattered by units over a great part of a state like Texas.

The way units are trained and the way training plans can be carried out are bound to vary in different localities, especially in reference to the seven days now authorized for field training. For some units it might be convenient to have the concentration for a continuous week. For others such a concentration may be utterly impossible, and such units may have to utilize the additional training time on a day by day or week-end basis, or by some other means that are adaptable to local conditions.

Consequently, the War Department intends to leave decisions in the management of training affairs to the judgment of the several states so that training can be conducted in the way best suited to any particular locality, in the manner best adapted to the employment conditions which obtain, and with due regard to the climatic factor, the latter being a most serious consideration in the northern states, especially so for troops located in large cities, like New York City and Chicago.

So the major factor, as far as the National Guard particularly is concerned, is the time element which involves two distinct problems. The first is that of rapidly raising companies above their past small maintenance strength in order that they may be more workable and complete; and have an immediate availability greater than has been the case in the past; and finally to have a strength reserve to protect against personnel losses which will always be very heavy among troops that are not well seasoned. The second problem is that of training these new men—and the old ones too—above and beyond that which is possible on an armory floor.

Let me digress for a moment to talk about training in general. I have served and helped with the training of the National Guard in a great many parts of the United States—in the old days in Pennsylvania, later in New York and in Massachusetts, down in Florida, in Virginia, out in the West and in the Far West, in the Northwest, and more recently in Illinois, which also brought me in contact with the troops from Michigan and Wisconsin.

The methods, the procedure and the ingenuity displayed vary in each locality. Those who have travelled throughout the country during the training year, like General Leach here, and the present Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Blanding, are thoroughly familiar with that condition.2 I am, however, too often impressed with the fact that the officers of a particular locality know very little about what is done in other places, except as they may pick up details by hearsay at a convention like this. I am also impressed at each new experience with the different methods of training that are employed and with the variations in efficiency that result from the methods.

It is possible that in our training plans we haven’t displayed nearly enough ingenuity either from the viewpoint of providing interest to the man, or from that of taking full advantage of training opportunities.

I am coming to the question of equipment a little later, but I would like to make one reference to it in connection with training. We are hopeful to receive funds that will permit us to procure for the National Guard a certain percentage of their peace strength requirement for transportation. We have just placed an order which will provide most of the peace-time authorization of four-wheel drive vehicles for the divisions of the Regular Army that are now concentrating and for the corps troops that are to be a part of that concentration.

It takes a long time to obtain motor transportation. Until we have it in hand we naturally can’t proceed with full maneuvers. When you consider the 18 National Guard divisions of Infantry alone, disregarding for a moment the special troops and also the antiaircraft units that are absolutely dependent on motors for transportation of their equipment, you can see it is very important that a percentage of transportation considerably above the present allotment be available in case of mobilization. Otherwise, judging from our experience in dealing with even the fast-moving industrial process in America, a long period of months would elapse before, to use one of the typical Washingtonian expressions, we could implement these divisions so that they could do business.

The public may think that as long as a soldier can walk, he can still get through to his objective, but it overlooks the fact that he can’t carry a cannon, a field range, ammunition, or all of the rest of the impedimenta that goes with the division. We feel that there should be an adequate percentage of transportation provided in peace so as to be immediately available in event of mobilization.

That same transportation, I believe, plays quite an important part in facilitating training during the period of the year other than during summer field training concentrations. In those places where I have served with the Guard, I have noticed the desire of the organization commanders—the efforts they make without funds, without equipment—to get off on week ends for various forms of training. Apparently, where the terrain is available for the smaller units to work, given the transportation, given a decent allowance of gasoline for the vehicles, given some small additional pay arrangement, tremendous progress can be made toward the development of a high state of field efficiency in time of peace.

It appears that in the armories there is much to be done. Recently, in talking to a convention of the Illinois National Guard, where it was possible to speak very frankly because I was one of them, I said something which I believe now just as strongly or even more so than I did then—that if we might develop in the Guard, in the armories, a custom, a tradition, a habit that when the drill hour comes, everything from the attic to the cellar should be conducted on a military basis comparable almost to that of West Point.

I always remember an incident, in connection with my experiences in Illinois, where we developed a system of division inspections of regiments, an hour and fifty-five minutes being the outside allowance for doing every thing that was humanly possible to be done in the armory at that time—from the stores, the supplies, to the exhibition of the troops on the floor. Colonel Nelson,3 who was G-3 of the division staff, met a janitor who had been in his battery in France. The man complained very bitterly over the fact that he had cleaned up the whole furnace and then the division commander and staff had failed to inspect his work. I think the general idea of the janitor was right. The same thought also carries through to produce more effective methods of training and develop ingenuity in the doing of it.

In the Regular Army at times we do not make sufficient use of our opportunities. As a matter of fact, we very often struggle too much with comparatively minor difficulties and forget the main objectives. The training of the civilian components is of such vast importance that we must develop our plans for training in a more efficient manner. We must accomplish more within the time available because it is too short to permit us to worry about minor difficulties. We need all the cleverness at our disposal to concentrate properly on the major objective.

Leaving the matter of the training for a moment and going into the general proposition of the recent concentrations that have already been announced in the papers, we believe that here again the time factor was dominant. The knowledge that has been common in the Army for generations, that the only way to learn how to do things properly is to get out on the ground and actually do them—an opportunity that we had been denied in the past through lack of appropriations which would permit tactical concentrations or maneuvers. In view of present world conditions, it was mandatory that something be done at once to increase the effectiveness of the Army. We proceeded first to reorganize the divisions, not because we wanted particularly to reorganize anything at the present moment, but because the then existing divisions were in such a state of incompleteness and the period of development of the new triangular division organization had already been stretched over such a period of time that it seemed the only wise course was to decide immediately to go ahead and accept an organization which would enable us at once to put complete divisions in the field.

After that decision, it still remained for us to find the means of carrying out the desired concentrations with the funds which were legally available. That was quite a problem. And it still remains quite a problem. But we have had wonderful cooperation from all sides which has made the problem easier of solution. I might at this time pay tribute to the President of your Association, who has cooperated with us in the most satisfactory manner.4

. . . Now, to go ahead a little bit further in what has been planned. As I have said, we will probably have corps concentrations with the necessary corps troops as soon as enough transportation has been delivered to make such concentrations possible. From that, we lead on to a general concentration involving somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 or 75,000 troops. Just where that will be held has not been determined as there is the big question of availability of terrain. We will also have in concentration the mechanized force and the cavalry division with some of the extra unattached cavalry regiments. We will eventually have in concentration the major portion of the mobile troops of the Regular establishment in the continental United States. In Army areas these various troops will be under the command of the Army Commander, although they may be divided so as to have opposing forces to fight each other. We see no great difficulty of allowing one Army commander to command two opposing forces as long as he doesn’t get his G-3 information complicated, as it will probably facilitate keeping the two sides within reason as to terrain availability without having to adopt abnormal statements in the assumed situations.

There will not be one maneuver this winter but a series of maneuvers with varying strengths and arrangements of troops. Once we have reached the point where these divisions have enough transportation and have progressed sufficiently with their divisional training, we hope to have attached to them for a short period, key officers of the National Guard—division commanders with selected division staff officers and brigade commanders with at least one of their staff. It is planned to call these officers toward weekends to save time and to avoid causing them undue absence from their business. The plan is for them to follow the Regular officers through a few days of the maneuver to see how the machine runs and then to step in and function in their proper command or staff position so they can see exactly how it works when you have a trained animal with all his equipment and the necessary terrain.

This plan will be carried on in sequence in order to accommodate the various people involved. At the same time we will have to bring in officers of various grades of the Reserve Corps to give them training opportunities in the same manner.

In other words, as far as we can arrange it, that will be really our War College, certainly our Combat College for troop leading. It will be the first time, to use a naval term, that the Army fleet has been able to go to sea, and we are going to make the most of it in every way that we can.

There is a considerable discussion in the War Department as to the future organizational arrangements, and that, of course, becomes involved in what we have to do at the moment. As mentioned earlier, we have two factors to consider. One is the immediacy of things in the present world situation; and the other is fitting what we have, so far as we can, into an evenly-devised development towards the future of the Army in the United States.

As soon as military affairs are considered by Congress, I suppose there will be a great many discussions; there will be a great many views quite natural to any meeting of a legislative nature and equally common, I find, to any meeting of Army officers and very common to any group in the War Department staff.

The great problem we have in going before Congress is one of being able to present simply and understandably the general requirements and respective priorities. We know that there will be those who are intensely enthusiastic about mechanized troops because of what has been read as occurring in Poland. (Incidentally, we know quite a bit about the Poland campaign now, although our information still seems very superficial.) We also know there will be proponents of air power and its various methods.

. . . The Air program has not been discussed because fortunately for us it is in a well-rounded state of development—the mechanics, the young pilots and the planes; the whole thing is balancing up in a very satisfactory manner. So we haven’t had that burden at the present time.

The most important question at the present moment is the types of planes that should be ordered in the future. We are naturally very deeply interested in knowing what has actually happened abroad and what may happen in the next few months before we commit ourselves to any fundamental changes or to any large orders. In the same way, we are deeply interested in regard to the mechanized forces, in regard to the corps troops, in regard to all the basic factors in the Army. . . .

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

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. Approximately 80 percent of the speech transcript is printed here. Omitted portions include some introductory comments, a discussion of the concentration at Camp Jackson, transportation problems, and Marshall’s experiences at the 1936 and 1937 maneuvers, and a brief closing remark. The transcript noted at two places that portions of the speech had been off the record at General Marshall’s request.

2. Brigadier General George E. Leach had been chief of the National Guard Bureau from December 1931 to November 1935. Major General Albert H. Blanding had been chief of the National Guard Bureau since January 1936.

3. Lieutenant Colonel Leroy E. Nelson had been G-3 at Thirty-third Division headquarters in Chicago when Marshall was senior instructor with the Illinois National Guard.

4. Brigadier General James C. Dozier, the adjutant general of South Carolina, was president of the National Guard Association of the United States. The next day Brigadier General Walter A. DeLamater, commander of the Eighty-seventh Brigade in New York City, was elected president of the association.

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 94-99.

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