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To Major General James W. McAndrew1
July 9, 1920 Washington, D.C.
My dear General McAndrew:-
Your very nice and much appreciated note of July 7th brought to my mind a matter in which I am much interested, and which seems to me pertains to the General Staff College course.2 I do not want to bother you with any half baked suggestions, but I have decided that you might be interested in the thought I have in mind.
My observation of the General Staff work in France, particularly at G.H.Q. and in the First Army, and my recent experience at the War Department in connection with Army reorganization, has caused me to feel that one of the most serious troubles in our General Staff has been the failure to follow the proper procedure in determining a policy or a plan, and in stating that policy or plan in such fashion that the various services, boards, or combat staffs could effectively carry out their portion of the plan or policy, or formulate their recommendations.
For example, take the recent problem of the War Plans Division in preparing the plan of reorganization of the Army. The special committee, of which I was a member,3 found that the recommendations from Leavenworth and from the Infantry and Cavalry Boards were, in a large measure, without value to us because they had not been based on a definite policy of either a large or a small division. Eventually we had to secure what amounted to snap judgment proposals on the interior details of organization.
Another example might be taken from the problem of the First Army, in the middle of August 1918, when it was necessary to call on all the services to submit proposals concerning their phase of the operation against the St. Mihiel Salient. The same thing occurred again in preparation for the Meuse-Argonne attack on September 26th, and again for the attack on November 1st. General Harbord must of had many such situations in the early days of the A.E.F.
My observation has been that in most instances we had no settled method of procedure, and were particularly weak in our method of drafting the instructions which were to serve as a general guide. On the one hand the instructions were frequently too indefinite along certain lines, and on the other hand, were too detailed regarding other matters.
To go back to the first example referred to above, and without my having given the matter any real study, I should think the War Plans Division should have followed some such procedure as this:
First: Have decided what were the basic questions in Army Reorganization. Among these would have been the organization of the Infantry Division. The War Plans Division should then have considered that phase of the problem in abroad manner, securing the best thought from the heads of the Supply Services in the War Department, Chiefs of Arms, and the General Staff College. Having arrived at a tentative conclusion this should have been furnished the Service Schools and the Infantry and other boards, to secure their opinion on the general merits of the proposition. With this data, the War Plans Division should have reconsidered its tentative decision and submitted a definite proposition for final approval of the Chief of Staff.
Second: The policy as to the approximate strength of the division having been definitely settled, the War Plans Division should then have repeated practically the same procedure in working out the details of the divisional organization.4
In carrying out the above the most difficult phase of the problem would lie in drafting the guiding instructions in each case. I believe that a great deal of the dissatisfaction with the General Staff has grown out of our weakness in this respect. The services in particular seldom feel that they have been given a fair show, and I am inclined to believe that they seldom have received a properly drafted proposal. You know far better than I do how difficult it is to state abroad general proposition so that the minor participants can properly work into the scheme. We usually oscillate between a too general or too detailed statement.
I do not know whether or not any such course as this is included in your General Staff College training, but I believe that it is highly important, and that we would do well if we could obtain examples of this character of General Staff work from the operations of the German Great General Staff and the French, though I imagine it would be very difficult to secure the exact papers I have in mind.
I hope I have not bored you with this long dissertation, but the matter has so frequently appealed to me as being of major importance that I thought it would be a good thing to bring to your direct attention.5
NOTE: On reading this over I find that my remarks about the War Plans Division seem hardly fair to those officers, though they served my purpose for an illustration. They did assume the division proposed by the Superior Board until General Pershing’s indorsement rather upset things.
Document Copy Text Source: Army War College Papers, United States Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.
Document Format: Typed letter.
1. McAndrew (U.S.M.A., 1888) was commandant of the General Staff College at Washington Barracks, Washington, D.C. As a captain he had been an honor student at the School of the Line in 1909-10, when Marshall was an instructor. He traveled to France in 1917 as a colonel assigned to the First Division’s Eighteenth Infantry. Later he was promoted to major general; and he established and was made commandant of the A.E.F.’s General Staff School at Langres, France. In May, 1918, he replaced James G. Harbord as Pershing’s chief of staff. In 1919 he returned to the United States and to the General Staff College.
2. McAndrew’s letter is not in the Marshall papers.
3. Postwar army reorganization was based on a bill, signed by President Woodrow Wilson on June 4, 1920, amending the National Defense Act of 1916. To implement the new policies, the War Department appointed special boards to prepare plans. In the War Plans Division, a Special Committee of ten officers, including Marshall and Fox Conner, worked to outline new policies for the Regular Army officer corps. (See Special Committee Report, July 8, 1920,NA/RG PRSHG [J. J. Pershing Papers].)
4. Many A.E.F. officers regarded the huge World War American division of some twenty-eight thousand men—approximately twice the size of European divisions—as clumsy to maneuver and difficult to administer. Beginning during World War I and lasting until the early days of American participation in World War II, army opinion was divided over the relative merits of the large or "square" (four regiment) versus the small or "triangular" (three regiment) division. For a contemporary view on the debate, see Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. Spaulding, Jr., "Organization Under the New Law," Field Artillery Journal 10 (May-June 1920): 273-78.
5. At a July 12 conference with the General Staff College’s directors, General McAndrew distributed copies of Marshall’s letter. The original Marshall letter has not been found. This version is from one of the copies made for distribution.
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. 195-197.