1-339 To Major General Stuart Heintzelman, December 18, 1933

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 18, 1933

To Major General Stuart Heintzelman

December 18, 1933 [Chicago, Illinois]

Dear General:

I appreciate the generous manner in which you received my comments. I do not mind your showing the letter to Burtt, but please ask him to protect my interests by not quoting my free handed criticisms and general statements.1 A single sentence could be used against me with deadly effect, as depreciating the splendid work of Leavenworth, or trying to tear down the wonderful system which has been built up. That, of course, is far from my purpose, but ardent supporters of the present methods will never take kindly to my criticisms.

I would like to talk this matter over personally, and possibly I can arrange to fly over some time and see you.

Meanwhile, I am taking the liberty of commenting on a point mentioned in your letter, referring to the use of detailed maps when “we cannot look at the ground.”2 I think this aspect should be considered:

In warfare of movement division or corps staffs will seldom have time or opportunity to see the ground except from a plane. They will usually have to work from small scale maps. They may secure a mosaic in time, but they will be under the necessity of drafting instructions to be used by the lower echelons with reference to the small scale map, or no map at all. The assertion that the Air Service can quickly give us prints in large quantities needs to be taken with a large dose of salt. There are too many “ifs”—if the weather permits, if the enemy aviation permits, if the photographic planes are available, if the printing can be managed on the field on that day at the speed claimed,—and if the distribution can be managed. If you get your mosaics, fine! But the hard thing to learn is how to manage without them. If that is understood, then there is little necessity to teach officers how to utilize the mosaic—or detailed maps—for that is an easy technique.

It always appears to me that we stress the easy and infrequent things to do, and give little attention to the hard things to learn, which will be the normal requirement at the outset of operations.

I talk a great deal of maps, because they have played a tremendous part in the development of our technique.

Early in my stay at Benning I accompanied two Instructors out with the class for a terrain exercise in a battalion engagement during the development phase of an action, where the hostile dispositions and intentions were not clear. A large scale map was used. After the students had dispersed to work on their solutions, I asked the Instructors to put away their maps and solve the problem for me on the basis of no maps available. They were at a complete loss for a workable method (or technique) to handle the affair, and were two hours preparing a solution—a very poor one. Fifteen minutes should have sufficed.

I saw this sort of thing times without number, and these were Leavenworth men. Finally, I required the use of the Geological Survey Map—except in a few special cases. A wail went up, and remained up until the faculty developed a suitable technique for such scant means of reference. The point I am trying to make is, they had no positive method for the line along which they should have been most skillful. On the contrary, they were skillful in meeting the exceptional situation—which happens to be the easiest to manage.

A letter yesterday brought to mind another good illustration. A member of your present second year class wants my help towards the War College. He writes that he stood near the top last year and thinks he will be the “top” this year. Also, he states that he stood first at Benning. I knew this last, because the week after I reached Tientsin I took the regiment out into the country on a maneuver. This fellow commanded a company, and to him fell the task of enveloping the hostile flank. Nothing happened. Time passed, and the situation finally died. I found this officer on the bank of a canal trying to draft a written order for seventy men, and completely stuck because he could not tie the order to the limited data on the blue print of General Van Deman’s sketch of the terrain. I learnt that he had stood first at Benning, and I then and there formed an intense desire to get my hands on Benning. The man was no fool, but he had been taught an absurd system, which proved futile the moment a normal situation of warfare of movement arose.

Take the intimate details of the Battle of Ethe, or of Lodtz, and what do you find.

The original British Expeditionary Force was furnished detailed maps of Belgium and Northern France. But the mass of the maps was so great and the movements of the forces so sudden and covered so much terrain, that the maps were never distributed and the famous retreat was carried through on automobile maps procured locally. A single sentence sometimes sufficed for the order of the day. The real problem was to get the order to the units in time. The German Offensive of March 21, 1918, ran the French off their customary maps, and when the 1st Division arrived there weeks later, only the small scale hachured map was available. And this was in the fourth year of a war.

My contention is, that our methods and technique below the Army Corps, should be specifically adapted to partially trained officers and men, incomplete divisional units, and to the conditions common to warfare of movement in the first phases of a campaign. Master that, and the rest is simple.

I think I could anticipate every argument your faculty would present to meet my proposals. I’ve heard them stated, recited and sung by the Leavenworth men at Benning. I went to Leavenworth and talked to General Brees and Colonel Byroade.3 We did not agree. But I’m certain that if they had seen what I had had the opportunity of seeing, they would have disagreed with themselves.

One more point. I found that the splendid, fighting battalion commanders of the old First Division, who were largely represented at Benning, seemed to have completely forgotten—if they ever realized—the crude, stumbling performances and countless errors of our first year in France. They only recalled, in putting their experiences into the development of school technique, the skillful performances at St. Mihiel or in the Argonne. This presented the most difficult and embarrassing obstacle to my efforts.

Benning has yet a long way to go in the improvement of its methods to meet our National Defense problem. I think the Mailing List marks its greatest improvement.4 It now has readers where formerly it only had subscribers. Its small problems make the real picture of a battle. It is being used throughout the country by National Guard and Reservists, and not filed or dumped into the waste basket.

Forgive me for my persistent repetition of a single theme. It’s so hard to put on paper the hundred angles of this subject.

Faithfully yours,

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Illinois National Guard, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. Heintzelman had asked Marshall to allow him to show the December 4 letter to Colonel Wilson B. Burtt (U.S.M.A., 1899), the assistant commandant. (Heintzelman to Marshall, December 4, 1933, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Illinois National Guard].)

2. Heintzelman had written: “In general, I may say, I thoroughly agree with the fundamental ideas you present. As to some of them, we have been struggling to carry them out. As to others, there are difficulties as to details. And, in some cases, the mechanics of instruction here make it impossible, or at least seem to us inadvisable. For example, when we cannot look at the ground we must use the best maps we can get. In some of the work about here where the classes can be taken to the ground we forbid the use of any maps except those furnished and limit the data thereon as, for example, one or two use Air Corps photographic mosaics and maps that only give roads and stream lines." (Ibid.)

3. Brigadier General Herbert J. Brees—an honor graduate of the Infantry and Cavalry School (1903), and a graduate of the Staff College (1905) and the Army War College (1907)— had been an instructor at Fort Leavenworth (1919-20, 1925-29). Colonel George L. Byroade— an honor graduate of the School of the Line (1922) and graduate of the General Staff School (1923)—had also been an instructor at Fort Leavenworth (1925-31).

4. The Infantry School’s Mailing List, published semiannually, consisted of a compilation of instructional matter on infantry tactics.

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. 414-416.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 1-339

Rights: Public Information