1-477 To Lieutenant Colonel Terry de la M. Allen, March 26, 1938

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 26, 1938

To Lieutenant Colonel Terry de la M. Allen1

March 26, 1938 [Vancouver Barracks, Washington]

Dear Allen:

I found your letter of March 1st on my return from Washington and Tucson—also the pamphlet of “Methods of Combat for Cavalry.”2

I was much interested in glancing over what you had produced for the cavalry along this line. The procedure of the presentation impresses me very favorably, because I have come to believe that one of the most important considerations in all military training is brevity in the manuals, coupled with expeditious methods for accomplishing the training. My two years with the National Guard of Illinois was the final and convincing argument for me against our time consuming procedure and our wordy manuals. And when I finally rejoined the Regular Army I was even more impressed with the waste of time, in the midst of hard work, that is involved in the training of regular troops. So, from that viewpoint alone I was much interested in your manual.

As far as I can tell your text follows in general the teachings I was familiar with at the Infantry School. Your methods for combat correspond more or less to the “Offensive and Defensive Combat” of the Infantry School. In organization and equipment your horse cavalry squadron, with attached supporting weapons, in employment is much the same as our infantry battalion.

Off hand, I can think of no one better suited than you, temperamentally and by experience to be the guiding hand in preparing such a pamphlet, and I think you have done a fine job.

Reverting again to my earlier comments, I had an unusual group of instructors in Illinois—they would have made a splendid army corps staff, and more or less as a faculty they developed the most surprising technique for training that I have ever seen. The time element was the dominant factor, and next in importance was the interest factor. Hence, two-sided map problems, terrain exercises, command post exercises; maneuvers first handled as map problems, studied on the ground as terrain exercises and finally carried out as maneuvers—but always with a surprise factor, which usually upset the apple cart.

Utilizing available terrain and maps entered largely into our procedure. For example, within 45 minutes by motor car of the Loop district in Chicago we would carry out a terrain exercise—following an indoor winter CPX and picking it up at a certain hour in the CPX development—over a hundred square miles of country, with three or four hundred officers. They would deploy simultaneously at the point they had reached at a certain hour in the two-sided CPX, a month or two earlier, and go ahead over the actual ground. Organized Reserve units always provided the enemy. The right gun of every battery would be marked with a stake, the successive locations and movements of every special weapon would be traced, the OPs would be checked and the wire calculated, the command posts would be sketched in exact detail, the exact location of every kitchen, cart, dump and what not, would be actually determined. And all this between 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. of a Sunday, without the expenditure of a penny or leasing of an acre. I have seen the cavalry officers go over the ground involved in all the attacks and counter attacks of the CPX, with almost as much excitement as in a maneuver.

Now, given a regular command, and there was such a command within 15 minutes drive of this spot, and you would have had studies, estimates, funds to be secured, days to be allotted, and all the other time consuming training procedures of our laborious methods.

The School of Small Arms we developed, first for all the officers from brigadier generals down, including artillery and engineer officers, and division staff officers, lasted from 8:00 p.m. one Thursday until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. Some of my instructors had been Benning instructors and they told me that several of our courses, automatic rifle for example, proceeded more smoothly than at Benning. In one year we progressed from 38 regular instructors down to not a single regular acting as instructor at the second camp. The artillery and engineer field officers, the infantry plans and training and regimental staff officers, have all taken the machine gun course or the howitzer course or both. The division staff officers have also taken most of the courses. And when I say “taken” I mean turned out like West Point cadets at 5:45 for reveille and worked with absolute precision under careful direction, all day in blue denims, and fired a record course. And all of this in three days’ time. Selected noncommissioned officers now go every year and all the newly commissioned officers.

The point I am trying to make is we found expeditious methods for doing what previously had been operations so time consuming that the National Guard simply would not attempt them or merely made a pretense.

I was very glad to hear from you, as I am always much interested in your military progress. Give my warmest regards to Mrs. Allen, in which Mrs. Marshall would join me if she were present at this dictation.

Faithfully yours,

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

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. A graduate of the Infantry Schools Advanced Course in 1932, Allen had been stationed at the Cavalry School, Fort Riley, Kansas, since 1935, and had been chief of the Department of Weapons and Materiel since 1936.

2. Allen had sent Marshall a copy of the Cavalry School’s text—Methods of Combat for Cavalry (Fort Riley, Kansas: Academic Division, The Cavalry School, 1938)—that included instructional matter on the execution of combat missions. “It has always seemed to me that service schools neglect instruction in methods of execution. It seems that instruction in methods of execution is equally as important as instruction in making tactical decisions. . . . By debunking the mystery connected with combat, by avoiding generalities and by stressing the needs of simplicity I believe we have evolved a text, the intelligent study of which will enable any smart corporal to lead a squadron in battle. As a matter of fact, this same text is now being used for N.C.O. Classes, Regular Classes, National Guard and Reserve Classes, Extension Courses and as a reference text by cavalry units. . . . I trust I may not seem troublesome in asking for your opinion on our innovation in school instruction. As a matter of fact I was actuated largely by what I learned at Benning in evolving the changes that we introduced here." (Allen to Marshall, March 1, 1938, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Vancouver Barracks].)

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. 586-588.

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