1-230 To Lieutenant Colonel Hjalmer Erickson, January 29, 1925

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 29, 1925

To Lieutenant Colonel Hjalmer Erickson1

January 29, 1925 Tientsin, China

. . . I was very lucky in arriving here just one week before the Civil War broke out in North China. Before I had learned my way about town and around the military compound, we were involved in meeting constantly changing situations growing out of the Chinese factional war. My daily morning ride for exercise I had always taken in Washington, was here converted to the inspection of a four mile outpost line which we established three miles south of the compound, also in patrolling a little for my own information.

Detachments of the regiment along the railroad had some very exciting moments during the “pursuit-retreat-route” stage or phase of the campaign. We disarmed and collected hundreds of the defeated soldiers on our outpost line.

In all, more than 100,000 soldiers passed through Tientsin north or south, by rail, marching and on the Pei Ho in 3,000 ton steamers. Most of these paused here for from a day to a week. The retreating Wu P’ei-fu forces largely disintegrated in this immediate vicinity and for a time constituted our most serious problem.

You ask me some questions about equipment, marching, etc. Almost all your questions are answered in detail in the reports of the several American officers, language students, attaches or detached officers from this regiment, who were observers, which should be on file in the War Department G-2 office. Nevertheless, I will try and give you some rough details.

Discipline and tactical knowledge—estimated by one of our regimental officers who saw fighting two years ago and recently, as 100% improvement over two years ago in Wu P’ei-fu troops. Manchurian forces much higher discipline and better instruction than China proper forces.

Equipment (i.e. arms and ordnance materiel)—Most modern, including signal equipment. Hospitalization and field surgery, etc., considerably behind other matters.

Fighting power—Seems to depend mostly on leadership and ability to secure pay for troops. Men at times seem quite indifferent to fire, even shell fire. Leadership is evidently improving a great deal each year. Several divisions, picked troops, have given such unmistakable evidences of their superiority that all leaders, consciously or unconsciously strive for same standard. A strong man combining the qualities of statesman, politician and military chief, can build up an army in China that would make foreign influence an extremely difficult, if not perilous affair inland. (I am considering only the “fighting power” element.)

Marching is apparently a strong point of these troops—they are reported to have covered long distances, about 35 miles in one case, I believe, as a division in one day. If so, that’s most unusual.

Transportation—Chinese carts of two to three mules or ponies—about three or four to a company of 150 men—mostly carrying ammunition. As they seize any carts they desire, it is impossible to give exact figures. Some had many, some had but few.

Railroads—they misuse terribly. Here is apparently their greatest technical weakness. They overload trains with men, pony cars and supplies. They will sometimes put double the normal number of cars in one train and add one or two engines. Once troops get a train, they will seldom release it if they can avoid it—apparently to have it handy for the return trip.

Like our generals with motor cars, each Chinese general endeavors to rank for a special train of heavy pullmans and a diner. He will object to switching his train of cars off the main line track, even tho he intends to remain for hours or even a day at a point. All troop commanders terrorize the railroad employees and therefore disorganize traffic, usually completely blocking it. In one serious situation we had to deal with near Tientsin, about 15 or 20 long, overloaded trains were blocked on a double track main line, all headed the same way, water and coal exhausted in locomotives and many fire boxes burned out.

Organization—The following is the approximate organization of some of Wu P’ei-fu’s divisions:

4 Infantry regts. (2 brigades) of three bns. each.

Bns. of four rifle companies of about 150 men.

1 or 2 M. G. companies.

Arty.—1 btry. of howitzers

2 btrys. of 75’s }

1 btry. of Mountain guns } or the reverse

1 co. trench mortars, sometimes with 1 pdrs.

Signal detachment, fairly well equipped.

1 squadron of 4 troops of cavalry—ponies.

These details of organization you can get accurately from formal reports.

Impedimenta—They have a decided advantage over us in simplicity and lightness. Canvas watering troughs; folding fire can with two nested bowls for entire company cooking outfit. Ration, the ideal so far as economy of space, simplicity of preparation, cheapness, etc., are concerned. A Chinese soldier will go farther on a dough ball than an American soldier on a full ration and his Y.M.C.A. or Red Cross “hot chocolate” et ceteras.

Trench mortars—The Manchurian troops had specialized in use of these, due to the influence of an Englishman named Sutton—now a general in Chang Tso-lin’s army. (Incidentally the day Sutton arrived in Tientsin with Chang Tso-lin and his victorious army, he, Sutton, received word that he had won the Shanghai Race Meet Grand Sweep $240,000 net—all for a $10.00 ticket.) . . .

Document Copy Text Source: Library, United States Army Military History Institute, Calisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. Erickson had retired in October, 1923, as a result of disability in the line of duty. This version of Marshall’s letter is from the United States Army Military History Institute Library where it is catalogued as “Notes on Chinese Troops and Equipment. Extracts from letter, Colonel George Marshall to Colonel Erickson, dates Tientsin, China, January 29, 1925.”

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. 271-272.

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