1-565 To Brigadier General Lesley J. McNair, March 4, 1939

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 4, 1939

To Brigadier General Lesley J. McNair

March 4, 1939 [Washington, D.C.]

Dear McNair:

A radio has come in from Gruber stating your desire to stop and see the Mechanized Force at Knox. This will be arranged.

He also inquired, I think, as to how long you are to be here. I should imagine three days would suffice in Washington, but we can determine that once you have arrived. I am assuming that many factors concerned with schedules at Leavenworth, lack of provision in the course for instruction relative to the GHQ Air Force, etc., would have been discussed in considerable detail by you and Gruber before you reach Washington, and so should require very little time here towards reaching a solution.1

In this whole business, I think the main thing is to give you great freedom of action, after you have learned what the consensus of opinion seems to be as to the state of affairs at Leavenworth—and I do not mean the consensus of opinion in the faculty at Leavenworth—they are too close to the trees to see the woods, and too many of them are only theoretically familiar with the air component and the National Guard.

With relation to the last named force, I think our instruction is the most defective, and for these reasons: We must be prepared the next time we are involved in war, to fight immediately, that is within a few weeks, somewhere and somehow. Now that means we will have to employ the National Guard for that purpose, because it will constitute the large majority of the war army of the first six months.

This being so, it seems fundamental to me that the training of our officers, our staff procedure, and our manuals, should primarily be based for use in connection with such force. Regular officers should be experts regarding every consideration involved in the training and the leadership of partially trained troops; they should be intimately familiar with the employment of organizations below war strength and lacking in artillery and similar components, as well as supply echelons. They should be most familiar with the technique involved in working on poor maps of the Geological small scale variety—rather than the Leavenworth fourth-year-of-a-war type.

Our text should present in the simplest possible manner the absolute essentials necessary to the National Guard on M[obilization]-day, along with the most expeditious methods for giving that instruction or training. We can never take more time from the business men and the workers in the National Guard for military training, therefore we must develop more expeditious methods of giving the training we think necessary, and we should eliminate everything that is not absolutely essential. What we do today at Leavenworth, as I understand it, is to consider complete organizations of trained troops, and usually on special maps, when none of these conditions exist during the first six months or even the first year of war.

The tactics appropriate in open warfare to a highly trained experienced unit, are not usually at all appropriate in open warfare to a partially trained inexperienced unit, and the latter form of tactics for leadership should be the first consideration of every Regular officer on the outbreak of war.

After an intimate experience with the National Guard in large numbers during three years, and participation in two Army Maneuvers, in which I commanded the smaller Red side, and a look as observer at the procedure in the GHQ Command Post Exercise in New Jersey some years back—I have been horrified by the methods taken by Regular officers in handling these partially trained troops, and also I have been depressed by the laborious stabilizing command post technique and procedure displayed. In frequency and length of orders, and in the detail of orders, in the continuous and voluminous reports required, and the absurd amount of G-2 information supplied, one could not help but be impressed with the idea that stabilized or semi-siege warfare conditions were influencing everything that was done.

Now, we know what kind of an army we are going to have on M-day, and we must presume that open warfare will be the rule rather than the exception; therefore, it seems to me that should govern the basic policy for the training of our people, because if we can successfully survive the first three or four months, we will have plenty of time to absorb the technique of leadership adapted to full war strength organizations, with completely equipped ranks of seasoned, disciplined men.

I did not intend when I started this letter to elaborate on this Leavenworth question, but having started I thought it best to go ahead and get this off my chest. However, please treat these frank statements as confidential, between the two of us.

I hope you are having a fine trip.

Faithfully yours,

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

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. In a letter to McNair on February 27 (not printed), Marshall sent copies of Colonel Edmund L. Gruber’s views to General Embick on the Fort Leavenworth situation and on how best to correct it, as well as his own response to Gruber’s memorandum. See Memorandum for the Deputy Chief of Staff [Embick], April 13, 1937 (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #1-438 [1: 531-3]). Marshall arranged to have Gruber meet McNair in San Antonio, Texas, and to accompany him back to Washington. “This will give us some one in the G-3 Section who will have had ample opportunity to talk to you, and who will have seen the new air installations and equipment." (Marshall to McNair, February 27, 1939, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

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. 707-708.

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