1-338 To Major General Stuart Heintzelman, December 4, 1933

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 4, 1933

To Major General Stuart Heintzelman1

December 4, 1933 [Chicago, Illinois]

Dear General:

Since your arrival at Leavenworth I have written you three letters, none of which were mailed. I wrote the first on your assignment as Commandant; spent a great deal of time on it and finally decided I was simply borrowing trouble for myself. Later, the last month I was at Benning, I drafted, and redrafted many times, another letter of the same nature. I carried it to Fort Screven with me and finally came to the same decision and tore it up. Later my feelings again grew too strong and I painstakingly prepared another letter last spring on the eve of the Corps Area maneuvers, but again weakened and decided to let some one else pull the chestnuts out of the fire. But, since coming to Chicago and starting work here with this excellent National Guard Division, I have finally decided to let go and tell you, very confidentially I hope, what I have long wanted to say to you personally.

Briefly, my experience at Benning, especially my observation of two Corps Area maneuvers (about 7000 troops) most of which I was charged with staging, has lead me, not to the opinion, but to the firm conviction that our teaching and system has to be materially modified if we are to avoid a chaotic state of affairs in the first few months of a campaign with a major power. I think we have the best school system in the world, but I also think we are suffering acutely from a lack of practical experience in anything approximating warfare of movement at the outset of a campaign, with inexperienced officers and hastily recruited-up-to-war-strength organizations.

I might premise most of my observations on a preliminary statement of several personal beliefs, namely:

a. That the tactics and leadership of partially trained troops, is a much, much more difficult problem than for veteran organizations of full war strength. And that a different or much modified technique is required.

b. That handling troops with small scale and commercial maps—or no maps except the automobile type—is a much more difficult problem than doing the same thing with a Gettysburg map. And that a different technique is required.

c. That warfare of movement, except where the situation has temporarily stabilized for a day or more preliminary to a great assault, does not admit of orders one half or even one fourth as long as those turned out in our schools. And that, the shorter order, especially if oral, is a much more difficult problem than the elaborate, detailed order of the Gettysburg map variety. (We learnt that the modern German divisions are sometimes deployed on oral orders).

d. That the lack of troops, the infrequency of prolonged maneuvers, the tremendous number of desk jobs or non-command jobs now prevalent in the Regular Army, and the frequency of pure command post training, has led us into theoretical misconceptions that do not hold water in the actual business of handling large bodies of troops in protracted maneuvers.

I will briefly cite, in fragmentary fashion, a few of my experiences at Benning that led me to an almost complete revamping of the instruction and technique at that school. All of this I had to do quietly and gradually, because I felt so much opposition would be met on the outside that I would be thwarted in my purpose. General Collins and General Campbell King were in complete agreement with me, and both felt that general service publicity might bolt the business. Also, we had to educate our local constituency first, particularly the faculty, in order to have the necessary backing. In other words, we bored from within without cessation during my five years at Benning.

I found it next to impossible to convince instructors long absent from troops and steeped in school technique, of the urgent necessity for simplifying matters, no matter how great their war experience, and no matter how loyal they were. They had become unconscious creatures of technique, and lived in the experiences of the fourth year of a war. I made very little progress with these fellows until I stopped all rehearsed demonstrations of tactics, introduced a number of free maneuvers into the course and, finally, placed instructors in command in maneuvers, with all the Corps Area troops, and let them commit errors, some so gross as to be almost amusing, in their blind following of technique. I then endeavored to secure all replacements for the faculty from officers returning from foreign service where there were plenty of troops. This, even to the point of putting men in the tactical section who had not graduated from the Advanced Course or from Leavenworth. Incidentally, I found that the meticulous marking or grading methods caused instructors to draft problems from the view point of uniform and exact grading, rather than entirely with a view to getting across a certain lesson or example—tho they never would admit, or even seem to realize this.

I found that the technique and practices developed at Benning and Leavenworth would practically halt the development of an open warfare situation, apparently requiring an armistice or some understanding with a complacent enemy.

It was evident in many things that the real problem, the real difficulty, usually was not comprehended until too late. For instance, as a small example, all knew how to set up a command post but few understood the real problem, how to avoid a complete set up until the proper moment had arrived. The momentum of an operation was usually killed by the premature setting up of complete command posts. Or, prolonged thought would be given to reaching a tactical decision on purely tactical grounds, when the difficulties of execution or some entirely non-tactical matter, were the real dominant factors.

I found that the ordinary form of our tactical problems committed two deadly sins, relieving the student from the greatest difficulties of his tactical task in warfare of movement. The information of the enemy was about 80% too complete. And, the requirement called for his decision at a pictured moment, when the real problem is usually, when to make a decision, and not, what the decision should be.

I found no single officer in the entire Corps Area, including the school, ever found time or the map facilities to produce an order in the maneuvers one quarter of the length of a school order in similar situation—and all lacked the technique for preparing the briefer order, which requires much more skill than the voluminous, stereotyped variety.

I found the estimate of the situation had been so restricted to purely tactical questions and governed by so special a technique, suitable for such situations, that officers seldom properly estimated any situation or problem other than the tactical. They had been indoctrinated to the exclusion of orderly thinking habits regarding other matters (not involving the terrain, the enemy, etc.) where rapidity of thought was essential.

In the Corps Area maneuvers the mistakes were so numerous, and often so gross, that a critique was extremely difficult to handle with tact. Staff officers of brilliant reputation in the Army, graduates of Leavenworth and the War College, former instructors at those schools, committed errors so remarkable that it plainly indicated our school system had failed to make clear the real difficulties to be anticipated and surmounted in warfare of movement. The individual sank in a sea of paper, maps, tables and elaborate technique. Or, if he attempted to shorten the working method he confused everything because of lack of training in the more difficult—the simpler methods. Like women’s clothes, the simpler the dress the more expensive the garment.

Now, if this was the case with highly trained officers and exceptionally trained troops, what will be the case in the event of a major mobilization and an immediate campaign, with partially trained national guard and theoretically trained reserve officers? I insist we must get down to the essentials, make clear the real difficulties, and expunge the bunk, complications and ponderosities; we must concentrate on registering in men’s minds certain vital considerations, instead of a mass of less important details. We must develop a technique and methods so simple and so brief that the citizen officer of good common sense can readily grasp the idea.

The first “skin sheet” I checked at Benning had sixty-eight cuts. I limited it to twelve cuts, and later would not allow but two or three major cuts—the minor corrections being solely for the information of the student.2 One of the first problems I checked over started with a matter of Army Corps, and at the bottom of the third page I found it was a problem for a communication platoon. I limited this situation to six inches of typed space.

Witness the mass of documents and the months of work a Corp Area staff puts up for an Army Command Post Exercise, all of which could be cut 50% and the benefits of the exercise actually increased. But they are proud of the mimeographs!

I found the Infantry School mimeograph on supply was a prized document covering one hundred and twenty pages. After futile efforts to shorten and simplify it, I caused the entire thing to be thrown out and restricted the new pamphlet to ten pages. I required the supply procedure to be demonstrated completely on the ground. This took one and one-half days the first time and two and one-half hours when I left. The course became the most popular and effective in the school and worked a complete metamorphosis in the 29th Infantry in the field. Every cut or simplicity I imposed at Benning was opposed, often violently. And I think I am accurate in saying that all were enthusiastically approved once they were in effect.

I never got the G-2 business anywhere near what I thought it ought to be— generally, it was an elaborate, impracticable collection of data. I read a G-2 solution of a Leavenworth problem—before your time—in a situation depicting the second day of a war (on one of those damned river lines marking the boundary between Red and Blue states) in which fighting had occurred all day. The G-2 effort was four, small typed, printed pages! Imagine the tired distraught Division Commander the second day of a war, the first time under fire, trying to pore through such a report—if it ever could have been prepared—to find the meat of the matter.

I am dealing with this in a very fragmentary, disconnected fashion, but if I give you a general impression of any differences with the existing system I will have accomplished my purpose. I feel sure that if, say, every other year or every third year, your instructors could go through protracted divisional maneuvers, a few of them in command or top staff positions, the Leavenworth technique would automatically be simplified year after year until it was perfectly adapted to the practical business of open warfare, partially trained troops and citizen officers. At first I found my Instructors did not even want to go to Corps Area maneuvers at Camp Jackson near Columbia [South Carolina]. They preferred the even tenor of their theoretical ways. But, I must say now, that I think the faculty at Benning the last three years I was there was composed of the most brilliant, interesting and thoroughly competent collection of men I have ever been associated with. We all learned together, but we had a devil of a time getting started. We never got to the point of teaching tactics as General Morrison taught it3—most of our supposed tactical instruction fell into the domain of technique.

It appears to me that Leavenworth should specialize on the tactics and technique specifically adapted to—

Partially trained troops;

Partially trained officers;

Mixed strength of organizations and lack of special troops;

and the first six months of a major war.

If this be thoroughly understood, there would be no difficulty whatever about handling veterans, static situations, unlimited ammunition supply and equipment, detailed maps instead of Geological Survey maps or similar affairs of commercial production. Honest to goodness simplicity would be achieved.

Now, having expressed myself far too freely, injected myself into the business of a Major General, and laid myself open to all kinds of trouble, I will close by saying this: I do not believe there is another General officer in the Army I would have chanced this letter with, except yourself. I ask you to consider it for your eye only. I do not want you to trouble to acknowledge it, or commit yourself to any expression regarding it. But simply believe that only my intense interest in the field efficiency of the national army has caused me finally to put myself on paper to the Commandant of Leavenworth.

This is not the carefully prepared production that any of the three previous drafts were. It is a first run of my pencil, and must go as first written. I have too little time and clerical assistance to do otherwise.

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 (U.S.M.A., 1899) and Marshall had known one another since the World War, when the former served in the Operations Division at A.E.F. General Headquarters (July, 1917, to January, 1918); as assistant chief of staff for Operations at First Corps headquarters (January to June, 1918); and as chief of staff for the Fourth Corps (June to September, 1918) and Second Army (September, 1918, to April, 1919). During the period Marshall was in Washington as aide to General Pershing, Heintzelman served in the War Department as assistant chief of staff for Intelligence (September, 1921, to November, 1922) and as assistant chief of staff for Logistics (November, 1922, to November, 1923). He had been commandant of the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth since 1929.

2. The “skin sheet” or grade report sheet for students’ problems in military schools traditionally showed many minute “cuts” in grade for small errors. When Marshall was a student at Fort Leavenworth, grading was frequently carried out to hundredths of a point.

3. For Marshall’s views of Major General John F. Morrison, see Marshall to Lentz, October 2, 1935, (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #1-036 [1: 45-47]).

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. 409-413.

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