1-131 To Colonel William M. Fassett, July 6, 1918

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: July 6, 1918

To Colonel William M. Fassett1

July 6, 1918 [Tartigny], France

My dear Colonel Fassett:

I am enclosing herewith a copy of the various orders issued for the relief of this Division by two French divisions, which is now taking place. I believe this will be interesting to you at LANGRES in view of the fact that it is a rather normal relief, arranged hurriedly and in a battle sector.

I am also enclosing copies of a portion of the Plan of Defense, and a map which will give you an idea of our dispositions.

Since seeing you the other day I have had more experience with the employment of the Division arranged with regiments in line each in column of battalions.2 It has proved a pronounced success for a number of reasons:

—the staff work is much simpler; responsibility for work, tactical dispositions and combat resting with the brigade and regimental commanders;

—reliefs within the Division were carried out without anybody being bothered except the regimental commander concerned, and for him the matter was very simple, involving a minimum of marching;

—raids and similar matters were handled entirely and directly by regimental commanders, who made their own arrangements with the artillery, thus learning to employ artillery as they would have to in a rapid and deep advance, etc.,

—the supply and equipment of each regiment was much simplified. The 3rd line battalions were located at the same place as the supply companies and rear echelons of the headquarters companies. When a battalion came out of the line, it could be cleaned up, reclothed, its records straightened out and everything gotten in shape in the minimum of time. This is a very important factor;

—supply of the troops of the 1st line battalions was much simplified because the regiments occupied narrow fronts and the supply companies were not taxed to the extent they are on a wide front. The salvage question improved tremendously because each battalion had the opportunity of seeing personally the tremendous accumulation of stuff that was brought back to the supply company every day;

—the instruction of troops out of the line was much simplified. A regular course for machine gunners, automatic riflemen, etc., was established at the location of the 3rd line battalions and each unit passed thru these schools during its tour in the 3rd line. The schools were continuous, which is more effective, and could be directly watched by regimental commanders. Also the Division M.G. Officer and Division Staff Officers could keep track of the progress more effectively;

—the Y.M.C.A. and Red Cross were able to concentrate their efforts on the 3rd line battalions and thus contribute more effectively to the rapid refreshing and rejuvenating of the men;

—so far as fighting the division goes I am convinced that this is the best way to handle our large divisions effectively. I believe that had we been arranged in this fashion the entire time we were in the sector, the troops would be in 30 per cent better shape than they now are.

I have not sent other papers down to the school because I did not consider our work as furnishing a sufficiently good model or guide for our people. We were usually required to take up dispositions and carry out movements after a fashion which involved many complications; therefore I have waited until now, when I think I can send you something which is really worth while.

Sincerely yours,

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I) (RG 120), Records of the First Division, Historical File, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. Fassett (U.S.M.A., 1897) had attended Leavenworth a year behind Marshall, who was one of his instructors in1908-9. He was head of the A.E.F. Staff College at Langres, France.

2. Benjamin F. Caffey, Jr., who assisted Marshall during much of the war—Marshall praised his knowledge and efficiency (Memoirs, p. 116)—observed: “The Marshall plan was for the division to attack with four infantry regiments abreast, with each regiment in column of battalions with two companies in assault and two companies in reserve with each company with two platoons in assault and two in support. The third line battalions of the exterior regiments were in division reserve. A regiment of light field artillery (75 mm gun) supported each brigade and the 155 mm howitzer regiment was in general support. In order to keep this formation simple in the minds of the division, it was called the ‘normal’ attack formation. Colonel Marshall, of course, was aware that there are no normal tactical formations, but he had a difficult problem to solve and he did it. The proof, of course, was the success of the 1st Division at Soissons, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne." (Brigadier General Caffey to Forrest C. Pogue, January 14, 1961, GCMRL/Research File [World War l].)

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. 150-151.

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