2-050 To Brigadier General Ralph M. Immell, September 14, 1939

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: September 14, 1939

To Brigadier General Ralph M. Immell

September 14, 1939 [Washington, D.C.]


Dear General Immell:

I have just this moment read your letter of September 11th, with suggestions regarding the increase of the Guard and its possible mobilization.1 I am much impressed by your ideas and will have them carefully considered by G-1 and G-3 in consultation with the National Guard Bureau.2

Confidentially, I might tell you that I have had on the cards, from the start, the proposal to increase the number of drill nights, and to add a ration or two per month, to facilitate field training on week-ends and target practice. In this connection your suggestion regarding additional drills for certain units appears to be a sound one.

We have no intention of changing the minimum maintenance strength requirements, knowing that some companies are so located that they cannot draw sufficient people from their districts, but I rather like your idea of permitting over-strength in other units.

Also confidentially, I think I am free to tell you that our desire, and it probably will be approved, is to go ahead with the series of increments as soon as the first increment is recruited. I think in this way we can stride along without biting off more than we can chew, with consequent indigestion. Of course, in a great emergency the Guard would have to be concentrated for field training, but it appeals to me as being very much better if we can make steady rapid progress in normal surroundings rather than to indulge in the customary American-emergency violent lunge toward the ultimate goal.

You speak of the “probable mobilization of Army, Corps, Division, and Staffs of the lower echelons, together with their auxiliary services for their necessary training.” The matter of Army Corps direction and leadership, and of corps staffs is one of great concern to me at the moment. Under the conditions of open warfare, and especially with the proposed smaller division, which assumes a greatly increased service by the corps, expert leader ship, and skilled staff work with a high degree of team work, are essential. At present we have not the skeleton of such a set-up.

I made some progress in this direction after my return from Brazil, by getting Army command dignified above that of a decidedly secondary and casual business. The details of Army staff and direction have yet to be crystallized, but we are on our way. Now my concern, as stated above, is directed toward the Corps. Of course, should we mobilize, we could go ahead and create Army Corps, but that means preliminary confusion, with delays, misdirection, and possibly ill-feeling. Therefore, it is to be avoided.

At present I have no Staff solution, but only a few private ideas of my own. A Staff solution is a tricky business, because the peacetime set-up (that is, pre-mobilization conditions) is abnormal. The Guard is a State institution and the Regular forces are badly scattered, as well as almost completely lacking Corps troops. I consider it essential that in the peacetime development of division staffs and command (which includes their direct influence on brigade and lower echelon training), there should be guidance, occasional direction and instruction, and semiannual inspections by a Corps commander with a skeleton staff, all well known to the division staffs and Corps troop commanders. This same outfit would exercise direct control over the Regular troops allotted to that Corps, and would exert a guiding influence over the Reserve developments concerned with that Corps. In other words, team work would be stimulated and intimate contacts within the Corps would be developed.

I wanted to experiment with this idea when I was in Chicago by having General Herron, (then largely without a job there) act as Corps Commander and with his skeleton staff, try out the idea. My thought at the time was that Division Commanders might place one drill night a month, for their staff meeting or training, at the disposal of General Herron; also, instead of my making the mid-winter inspection of the Division Headquarters as senior instructor, General Herron should do it with his staff, and so on. Unfortunately, General McCoy left about this time and General Kilbourne was there too short a period during my brief remaining service in Chicago, to permit me to go ahead with the idea.3

If my thought is sound, the limiting factors seem to be these: The general acceptance by the Guard of the principle; the selection of the necessary Corps Commanders. The second factor presents more complications than the first, I believe Corps Commanders should be outstanding vigorous men. They should have temporary rank suitable to the position. Authority for this would be difficult to secure from Congress. What I would like to have is authority, similar to that recently secured for Army Commanders, which would give temporary rank of Major General to young Brigadier Generals designated for Corps commands. This would make duty with the National Guard the most sought-for detail in the Army. There would be the same relationship with the Reserve echelons, and for the same reason, an amalgamation of the Regular, National Guard, and Reserve units within the Corps, a highly desirable state of affairs.

I am really thinking out loud at the moment, and most confidentially, but I would like to get your reaction.4

Hastily yours,

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

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. Immell, the adjutant general of Wisconsin and a friend from Marshall’s days with the Illinois National Guard, had discussed Guard issues with Marshall during the latter’s July 21-23 visit to Chicago. He wrote to offer some further “grass roots” observations in light of the possibility that the Guard might be mobilized to its full enlisted peace strength of 424,800. Immell’s suggestions were: First, greater flexibility in recruiting than the traditional geographically based unit permitted. In order to broaden and improve training of new men, some units might be recruited to greater than authorized strength while some remained below; the leveling would occur upon mobilization. Second, “the number of armory drills might well be increased, and particularly for those units that comprise the group that might well be called the “nervous system” of an army; specialists, staffs, communications, coordinating groups, and in short, the type of unit that requires long and tedious hours to bring efficiency.” Third, units might be staggered for drill purposes so that all men might train with serviceable equipment. Fourth, over-age or uncommitted officers should be removed, “I think the present time offers a good opportunity to quietly clear the decks.” Finally, the Guard’s Infantry brigades should be reorganized completely in a single stroke; “under the present arrangement we are to do it peacemeal—a most vexatious arrangement.” (Immell to Marshall, September 11, 1939, NA/ RG 407 [Classified, 320.2 (9-11-39)].)

2. The assistant chiefs of staff for G-1 (Brigadier General William E. Shedd) and G-3 (Brigadier General Frank M. Andrews) recommended no immediate action on Immell’s suggestions since “the ideas suggested by General Immell are either already being applied in the National Guard or have been considered in the War Department and are still under study.” (Shedd to Marshall, October 25, 1939; Andrews to Shedd, October 31, 1939; and Shedd to Marshall, November 13, 1939, ibid.)

3. The Sixth Corps Area commanders Marshall mentioned were Major Generals Frank R. McCoy (February 1935 to May 1936) and Charles E. Kilbourne (June to December 1936). Brigadier General Charles D. Herron commanded the Sixth Field Artillery Brigade in Chicago from September 1935 to December 1936. Marshall was relieved from duty as senior instructor with the Illinois National Guard on October 5, 1936.

4. The editors have found no reply from Immell.

Recommended Citation: ThePapers 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. 55-58.

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