1-492 To Colonel Charles L. Sampson, June 13, 1938

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: June 13, 1938

To Colonel Charles L. Sampson1

June 13, 1938 [Vancouver Barracks, Washington]

Dear Sampson:

I am sending you direct, copies of my reports on tactical inspections of the troops of the 5th Brigade and the 15th Infantry. I am submitting the reports through 3rd Division, but I am attaching to these copies sent to you some additional papers which may be of interest, but did not seem necessary to the formal report.

There are two things that impressed me during these inspections, and I think we should do something about them:

The infantry combat firing is a little bit of a mess, and not in my opinion comparable to the artillery firing—which of course is much more easy to conduct. We go through so much of formality and time consuming preparation in our rifle and machine gun firing for the individual, that it is too bad that the ultimate test should be so unsatisfactory in the manner of its conduct. On most ranges it seems almost impossible to carry out ordinary tactical movements, leading up to combat firing, under the safety conditions imposed. Therefore I am of the opinion that we must frankly abandon our present method and find some new method of conduct which will not leave so many erroneous impressions and irritations. Also, much more time must be allowed for these affairs. Each of the observers should be involved in a solution. I did this, in a small measure, with all the observers at Fort Lewis. But it was only a makeshift.

Frankly and confidentially, I was shocked at Fort George Wright with the effect on young officers of trying to show intimate familiarity with Benning and Leavenworth technique which had little application to the minute affairs of the moment. If you check the orders of some of these young officers you would find that they were apparently in strict accord with the established technique of forms for orders. But, in dealing with such things as successive defensive lines, schemes of maneuver, and other matters of the same general nature, for the omission of which you get your heart cut out at the schools, they sometimes produced ridiculous solutions. The trouble invariably was that they had so few men to deal with. For example, in one outpost situation, after the advance detachments and the listening post had been provided for, there were about eleven men left. Now, when you involve yourself in formal expressions about a main line of resistance of about a half a mile and you only have eleven riflemen, it is very easy to produce an absurdity in orders. The trouble was, in their effort to show that they understood modern practice, they lost the fundamentals of tactics—which largely concerned direction, control, dispersion, and a few simple considerations of this sort. Their problem really was largely one of economy of force, which involved the careful selection of points which would serve to cover their mission, without undue dispersion or loss of control—which are much the same thing.

If these well educated regular officers have so much difficulty in applying fundamental tactical principles to driblets of troops, and largely because they have become involved in the elaborations of technique which are only easy of application to more or less normal units, what are temporary officers going to do?

Another thing, when we have problems for these anemic commands, I think we should either frankly skeletonize the command to represent larger units, or deal with it on a much simpler basis. The combination of embarrassingly limited terrain, little commands, absence of supporting weapons in fact, etc., etc., present too many confusions to the mind to permit of smooth running performance by the young officers concerned. I think we should try them out with a combination of Command Post-Terrain exercise, regarding the more elaborate combinations, which their actual command does not admit of.

I am discussing all this informally with you, because I do not want to involve my reports too much in the way of seeming criticism.

Faithfully yours,

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Vancouver Barracks, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. Sampson was assistant chief of staff for Operations and Training at Ninth corps Area headquarters at the Presidio of San Francisco.

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. 602-603.

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