5-049 Speech to the Overseas Press Club, March 1, 1945

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 1, 1945

Subject: World War II

Speech to the Overseas Press Club

March 1, 1945 New York, New York

Suggested Topics for Overseas Press Club Dinner1

(12 to 15 Minute Talk)

1. This is good point in the progress of world affairs to review the general strategy of the war from purely military point of view and take inventory of where we stand after three years and three months of war.

a. At outbreak of war our first steps were dictated entirely by necessity of preventing any juncture of the German and the Japanese through a Mediterranean-Indian corridor.

b. Having taken measures calculated to prevent any such junction of the Axis, the basic decision confronting the Chiefs of Staff was the selection of the opponent against which we would first concentrate, the resources available to the Allies not being sufficient to permit an aggressive all-out war against both simultaneously. Germany, being nearest and most dangerous and powerful of Axis and threatening the very existence of British Empire, was selected. Taken into consideration were, the time involved before our Naval building program would approach completion and, the tremendous delay if the English and French fleet fell into German hands. However, the directing of the initial offensive effort towards Germany had at all times to be integrated with the necessity of not allowing Japan to intrench in her newly acquired and greatly expanded empire and to utilize to the fullest the rapidly growing power of the Navy.

c. The public is now in a position to judge both the wisdom and the effectiveness of this strategy and to evaluate the efficiency of the organization, training and tactical employment of the United States forces in all of the theaters.

2. Now for a brief glimpse of the current situation on the war fronts in Europe. (Time will not permit comment on the Pacific and the Far East.)

a. Beginning with the Western Front—it is self-evident that the December drive of the Germans in the Ardennes disrupted our lines of supply and somewhat delayed our plans. However, we have now regained the offensive along the entire Western Front and a terrific battle is now aflame all along the line from Haguenau and Saarbrucken in the Vosges to Cleve in Holland. This represents a resumption of the offensive that carried us to the Siegfried line last fall where we were halted by inflexible demands of supply.

(1) The one great element in continuing the success of an offensive is maintaining the momentum. This was lost last fall when shortages caused by the limitation of port facilities made it impossible for us to get sufficient supplies to the armies to continue their sweep into Germany when they approached the German border. Once additional ports had been captured and reopened there was a shortage of rail and transportation facilities with which to get supplies forward. Now the port facilities and the interior supply lines are adequate. Subject to the worldwide shortage of both cargo and personnel shipping, there is no foreseeable shortage which will be imposed by physical events in the field. Nevertheless it is impossible to tell from day to day what unavoidable limitations will come up. That is not the case here at home and that is why we have been urging so strenuously that every measure possible be taken to see that no shortages occur here. Extension of military momentum is the greatest single factor in shortening this war. Nothing should be permitted to interfere with it. To do so is the greatest form of extravagance and waste in men and material.

b. In Italy the Allied Forces have made a great and often overlooked contribution to the overall strategy in containing large numbers of German troops thus preventing their deployment to other more active battle areas. The situation in Italy magnifies one important phase of global warfare that is often missed—the realization that everything that happens in one theater has its material affect on every other theater. No action or decision concerning one theater can be wisely made without consideration of the various implications on all of the fronts.

c. There is little that might be said concerning the great offensive of the Russians which came at such a welcome time in January except that which has already appeared in the press.2 While it is beyond my sphere of responsibility to speak of the political discussions at the Crimea Conference or to reveal future plans of the Allies to you, I can say that a series of very frank and helpful conferences were held between ourselves and the British and Russian General Staff leaders concerning the conduct of the war against Germany. There was a complete understanding and mutual exchange of information between us and closer cooperation will be evident as the war progresses. That from the strictly military point of view is one of the most valuable outgrowths of these recent meetings. Also in the large aspect—the evident solidarity coming out of the Crimean meeting is a blow of tremendous magnitude to the Germans. They have always planned on a split of the Allies. They never for one moment calculated that the Allies could continue to conduct combined operations with complete understanding and good faith. They thought this impossible—now they know the truth and it adds greatly to their precarious position.

d. The word shipping continues to come up in these remarks. In this connection, there is one point which requires some explanation. There is much public clamor to increase shipment of food for people of liberated areas. One of the most difficult problems continually facing the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the question of the allocation of shipping. We are faced with constant pressure to increase the shipment of food and relief supplies to liberated areas. This pressure is quite understandable and I am in complete sympathy with its objectives. The idea is naturally a popular one for it appeals to the humanitarian instincts which are so typical of American people. However, the allocation of shipping must be done on a business-like basis, taking into consideration every aspect of the problem and realizing always that the solution of any one problem must be translated into the loss of American lives before a decision can be taken.3 It has been our policy to first provide the minimum shipping required for military operations and then to allocate the remainder to civilian use, including relief shipments. There is only one alternative—either continue our present policy of giving all of the relief we can short of lengthening the war or increase the volume of relief efforts at the cost of increasing the length of the war. It comes down to that simple decision. We are doing all we can without lengthening the war. When you realize that increasing the length of the war means increasing the loss of American lives, involving additional expenditure of millions of dollars, and the inevitable loss of momentum about which I have already spoken, I can only ask what would your decision be?

e. Because of the increasing public concern over the adequacy of the present Army training program, with special reference to the 18-year-olds who are going into the Infantry—some clarification from the Army point of view seems in order. (The concern hinges quite naturally on the normal and easily understood feelings of the families of 18-year-old soldiers, but it is twisted by the popular misconception of what is involved in the period of training required to prepare an individual soldier for combat as an Infantry replacement.)

(1) Necessity for youth, drive, steady flow of replacements to maintain momentum and end war earlier. Our successes so far in this war have proved beyond any question the soundness of the plan to create the minimum number of divisions, thereby economizing greatly in manpower, and keeping these divisions up to strength while in combat. In this connection, there is no comparison between the drive and the effectiveness of divisions that receive replacements of young, alert, aggressive soldiers, as against those divisions whose replacements are older men who find it much more difficult to adapt themselves to field conditions and to the rigorous ways of a combat soldier’s life. Not only is the 18 and 19-year-old soldier the most effective and the easiest trained, but the manpower situation in the Army has reached the pressing point where we can either utilize these men after adequately training them or we can let our emotional reasons govern and give our enemies the breathing time they so desperately need. I have spoken earlier of momentum. To maintain our momentum during the decisive battles now in progress, we must continue to provide the best possible replacements promptly. In the end this is the most economic, humane thing to do because it, more than almost anything else, will bring the war to an earlier conclusion, thereby saving countless lives, many wounds and many dollars. After a certain percentage of loss occurs to the rifle strength of a division, it immediately changes from an offensive weapon to a defensive one, or else it must be withdrawn from the line. Prompt replacement of these losses has proved of telling effect in all of our campaigns. It has been an important thing that the enemy did not plan on, and the one thing he finds hardest to match in kind.

(2) Adequacy of training. I have inspected a great number of our training centers in this country, and I have seen our soldiers fighting on practically all the fronts, and there need be no alarm that these men are being insufficiently trained. Under our present procedures, no soldier can leave this country unless he is prepared to perform his contemplated duties, and we stage his entry into combat along with seasoned soldiers and veteran units to give him the maximum possible protection and opportunity to become “battle wise.” Experience has taught us that replacements for our divisions can be trained in a period of 13 to 17 weeks, and that they can be effectively integrated into the seasoned units and perform their duties satisfactorily.

(3) Distinction between time required to train Infantry Replacements and time required for Universal Military Training in Post-War Period. This period of training must not be confused with the time required to train an entire division from its activation until its entry into combat, nor the time required to give specialist training, or to prepare a man in peace-time to be an all-around Army Reservist to include training in units up to the size of a division, with the usual delays, leaves, and other unavoidable losses of time incident to a peace-time program. This explains the position of the War Department which on one hand is sending men into combat after 17 weeks’ training, and on the other, is advocating in the post-war period a full year of instruction for each individual. What we must not overlook is that in the post-war period we will be training an all-around Army, not just individual Infantry replacements. Only a part of that year will be devoted to training equivalent to what our combat replacements now receive. The remainder will include the specialist training and the unit training and maneuvers of larger units.

3. Of all the questions the members of the Overseas Press Club would like to have answered, the date of the ending of the war, particularly in Europe, is probably the most compelling. While you know as well as anyone that there is no specific answer to this question, there is one element in this war that has not been present in past wars that makes any such prognostication more difficult than ever. This is the character of the enemy we face—it differs from that of any other war. Our enemies today are imbued with a fanaticism and a complete dictatorial control that waives all rules that have applied to the termination of wars between great powers down through the annals of history. Thus all yardsticks are off in estimating the collapse of the enemy in this war. And with this goes the compelling necessity to plan and make provisions for the waging of war not only until the armies of the enemy are strategically defeated but until these forces are actually annihilated. To plan for anything short of this would be sheer folly in view of this great imponderable factor in the character of our adversaries.

4. Close by saying that in all of the discussions with the Russians and the British, much time of which was involved in plans extending beyond the conclusion of hostilities, it became evident that, in order to have both a voice in shaping the peace and have an influence in maintaining the peace each nation must maintain a healthy military posture. At the same time this military posture must be practical from the economical and psychological point of view of this nation. I make no public advocacy at this time of any particular means of producing this military posture, but it is my duty in my official position to point out the urgent necessity for considered thought and early action along definite lines now while the American people are best able to judge its necessity with the evidence all about them of the terrible price we have been forced to pay in this war for our lack of preparedness in the past.4

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

Document Format: Typed notes.

1. General Marshall used these notes for his off-the-record speech at the annual banquet of the Overseas Press Club held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. “It was quite an ordeal,” Marshall wrote to his stepson of the event. “I did not come on until 11:15 and the speaking had started at 9:30. I flew back the same night.” (Marshall to Clifton S. Brown, March 5, 1945, GCMRL/Research File [Family].)

2. The Soviet winter offensive had begun on January 12, and by the end of January the Soviet army had reached the Oder River north of Kuestrin. (Earl F. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East, a volume in the Army Historical Series [Washington: GPO, 1968], pp. 415, 421-28. For a detailed account of the Vistula-Oder operation, see Christopher Duffy, Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany, 1945 [New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991].)

3. See Memorandum for the President, February 28, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-045 [5: 61-62], regarding food relief for Belgium and Holland.

4. Since Marshall’s remarks were entirely off the record, he was able to speak with a degree of frankness that would not otherwise be possible. “What particularly impressed me last night, apart from the great knowledge and skill displayed so unostentatiously, was the generosity you showed in paying tribute to your colleagues, as well as to the simplest soldier under your command,” wrote Irene Kuhn, assistant director of information at National Broadcasting Company. Ward M. Canaday, chairman of the board of Willys-Overland Motors, wrote that Marshall’s talk “created a deep conviction of sincerity and frankness and gave increasing confidence to everyone in your audience.” (Irene Kuhn to Marshall, March 2, 1945; Ward M. Canaday to Marshall, March 9, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)

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. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 66-71.

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