3-537 To Major General Withers A. Burress, February 27, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 27, 1943

Subject: World War II

To Major General Withers A. Burress1

February 27, 1943 Washington, D.C.


My dear Burress:

When I talked to you and the senior officers assembled for the preliminaries to the organization of your division2 you will remember that most of my comments were directed to the problem of preparing divisions for battle in which they would have to meet in their first encounter highly accomplished veterans. I probably elaborated on the difficulty of giving the veteran touch to the units without the experience of the battlefield, and the seeming impossibility of conveying by training methods the vital lessons of the battlefield.

I have just received a radio from General Eisenhower following his inspection of two of our best divisions on the night following the loss of Kasserine Pass to Rommel’s first attack. I am quoting a portion of it because it makes the point I was struggling to put across far better than my effort. I should like you to have in mind when reading this that these troops had already had one battle experience under fire and some of them had had very heavy losses. Following this they had had minor experiences on the Tunisian front, and yet General Eisenhower found conditions as he describes them below.

“I have just returned from a visit to _________and _________. After our troops recovered from the initial shock of open battle they began giving a steadily improving account of themselves throughout the fighting, and the last phases of the enemy advance encountered stout defensive action and some sharp counterattacks on our part.

“There are two things of outstanding importance to the American forces at the moment. The first of these is that a very considerable quantity of equipment must be made good as rapidly as possible. The second is that all our people from the very highest to the very lowest have learned that this is not a child’s game, and are ready and eager to get down to the fundamental business of profiting by the lessons they have learned, and are seeking from every possible source methods and means of perfecting their own battlefield efficiency.

“I am going to make it a fixed rule that no unit from the time it reaches this theater until this war is won will ever stop training. This will include units in the front line. ________ and ________ thoroughly agree with this, as did also ________ when I visited him the night before the attack. I shall have the G-3 Division attempt to collect and place in succinct form some of the more outstanding and possibly the most bitter lessons we have learned in the recent fray.

“In spite of very heavy losses the troops are in good heart and a change in temper is particularly noticeable. They are now mad and ready to fight. A certain softness or complacent attitude that was characteristic of all units only a few days ago has disappeared.”3

This message was sent as “For General Marshall’s eye only”. However, it carries such an important lesson that I am most confidentially passing it on to you in the hope that your division will profit by your better understanding of the difficulties. I hesitate to circulate this message because of the possibility of stirring up idle and unfavorable gossip. The organizations he refers to stand at the top of our list in efficiency so far as we have been able to determine. Therefore it is most important that no rumor detracting from their reputation or prejudicing General Eisenhower’s leadership should result from this confidential note.

I have chosen this method to put the lesson across because experience has shown me that the ordinary mimeographed training order makes a very limited impression except as to the program and general character of the training requirements.

Faithfully yours,

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Collection, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed letter signed.

1. Burress had been commanding general of the One Hundredth Infantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, since its activation on November 15, 1942. This letter was also sent to other division, corps, and army commanders in the United States.

2. Marshall had the senior officers of divisions to be activated come to the War Department for meetings. For example, on December 17, 1942, he talked with the leaders of the divisions to be activated in February and March 1943 (i.e., the Eleventh Airborne, Twentieth Armored, Ninety-seventh Infantry, and 106th Infantry).

3. These extracts are from Eisenhower to Marshall, February 24, 1943, Papers of DDE, 2: 984-85. The omissions are Marshall’s.

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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 568-570.

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