4-123 To Lieutenant Colonel Matthew F. Steele, October 6, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 6, 1943

Subject: World War II

To Lieutenant Colonel Matthew F. Steele1

October 6, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]

Dear Colonel Steele,

I got a great deal of pleasure out of your unexpected letter of September thirtieth not only from the pleasant things you had to say regarding me personally, but more particularly regarding the campaign in Italy.2

Most confidentially, that is, for your private ear, there were considerations in the Italian campaign which were not common to those on the mainland of Europe or to Lee’s operations in the Civil War. The airplane has introduced a factor relating to amphibious warfare that greatly complicates all of our operations until we are firmly established in Europe with large seaports in full operation entirely protected from aerial hazards. This means that General Clark’s operations were limited by the speed with which troops, and more particularly equipment and supplies, could be landed over the beaches.3 Modern warfare requires a tremendous outfit of equipment and supplies and the manhandling of 155 guns and howitzers, medium tanks, heavy ammunition and such like over the beaches, is a prodigious job. It was not a question of diverting troops from him to some other place, but rather of an heroic effort to expedite the build-up of his Army.4

We knew a week before the landing that his troops would be outnumbered at the start and heavily outnumbered up to the sixth day; that he would have no armored division and would be engaged with three to four Panzer divisions, plus one and a half motorized divisions. We had to depend on our air superiority and naval guns to make up the difference. This, however, was exceedingly difficult to do because the enemy could mount his guns, especially his 88’s in the foothills and higher hills dominating all the beaches and could cover those gun positions comparatively easily because of the defiled approaches and his possession of a great superiority in tanks. However, we put it across as was anticipated. Fortunately for us the Germans committed themselves to an extravagant claim by way of propaganda directed at the vassal states which quickly boomeranged in a most destructive manner, with lasting effect.

The landings at Taranto, Brindisi, and otherwise were rushed almost entirely by improvised means, that is, the decks of cruisers and destroyers, to prevent the Germans from destroying the harbors by seizing them before the Italians had submitted to German pressure. It was then highly important that we remove the German air from the expansive airfields between Taranto and Foggia to prevent their operating against Clark’s Army and over the Adriatic to hinder our somewhat indirect efforts to build up the resistance in Yugoslavia and the Ionian Islands. Air facilities and air power were the predominating factors, and as I have indicated above these troops could not have joined Clark’s Army because it would have been impossible to have supported them over the beaches if we could have gotten them ashore with their equipment. Incidentally, it was not until the sixth or seventh day that important echelons of the single armored division could be gotten ashore, and throughout this period our fighter protection had to be based so far south, largely in Sicily, that the planes could only be in the air fifteen minutes over the battle area.

I am giving you a rather expansive statement regarding the campaign but you must consider me as an applicant for a Ph.D. from my old Professor of Strategy. I very much fear that the cold winter weather of North Dakota may have a depressing effect on my chances.

With affectionate regards,

Faithfully yours,

P.S. I am taking the liberty of sending you a photograph.

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. Steele (U.S.M.A., 1883) had been one of the instructors Marshall had admired at the Fort Leavenworth schools, 1906-8. He was the author of American Campaigns, 2 vols. (Washington: B. S. Adams, 1909), which as late as 1959 The West Point Atlas of American Wars (vol. 1) said was “probably the best study yet written of major American military operations, from the Colonial Wars through the Spanish-American War.” Steele had retired in 1912 and was living in Fargo, North Dakota.

2. Steele expressed apprehension about Marshall’s leaving Washington to become supreme commander in Europe (see editorial note #4-109, Papers of George Catlett Marshall [4: 126-28]): “I shall hate to know that you are out of telephone reach of the White House.” He also suggested that it was a mistake for Eisenhower to have invaded the Italian mainland with two columns too far apart to support each other. “Neither Napoleon nor Lee would have done that, and I don’t believe Eisenhower will do it again.” (Steele to Marshall, September 30, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

3. Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark was commanding general of the Fifth Army, which had carried out the Salerno landings.

4. Marshall later sent Steele an additional note: “Some data came to me this morning that bears on my confidential letter to you the other day, which I pass on, most confidentially, as an item of possible interest to you. During the first eighteen days of the operations of the Fifth Army in Italy the following were handled over the beaches: 107,000 tons of supplies; 30,000 vehicles; 175,000 troops.” (Marshall to Steele, October 9, 1943, ibid.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers 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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 144-146.

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