4-026 Transcript of Off-the-Record Remarks to Governor’s Conference, June 21, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: June 21, 1943

Subject: World War II

Transcript of Off-the-Record Remarks to the Governor’s Conference1


June 21, 1943 Columbus, Ohio

With your permission, I would like to talk for a few minutes “off the record” as they say.

And while it is difficult to talk to so many people even semi-confidentially, I would like to depart from a written script and say a little bit of what is in my mind and on my heart. In the first place I discussed with my two associates here at the table, the Governor of Texas and the Governor of Maryland, what they were particularly interested in and didn’t understand. Of course we barred the question of a second front, whatever that is. But I wanted to know what was troubling them; what seemed beyond their understanding. I am surprised—frequently—continuously surprised among our own officers when I visit various parts of the United States, and particularly other theaters, how much alone they feel and how much in a single street, and how little they know of what is going on elsewhere. We bring them in to Washington as frequently as we can from the Pacific and from Africa and from England and other places, from China and India and we keep a continuous stream of officers from the Operations Section of the War Department, as well as other sections of the General Staff, traveling all the time to the four corners of the world, and I am speaking accurately. Incidentally, we’ve had quite heavy losses among the members of the War Department, General Staff, who’ve been lost in bombing expeditions and in ordinary air travel. But we’re always surprised at how restricted the view is of the various operating centers and the same in the United States and I assume of course, among the members of the civil community who can only learn what they read in the paper and what, maybe, they hear from their young men, or husbands, in the various training or operative commands of the Army and Navy. I would like to say this, that in the first place, so far as the War and Navy Departments are concerned, and I hope the State Department, we must be factual and never emotional. That must go to the Administration, to the Congress and to the people. But we have no right to emotions. We want it among the soldiers. You have to have it in the leaderships down in the ranks and in the divisions, but you have no right to it in the War Department. Ours has to be factual. We have to view these things with all the data we can possibly secure. Accurate regarding our own affairs and as nearly as we can determine it, accurate regarding the enemy situations. And then we have to make a decision and we have to bring in to relation to that all the other affairs that bear on it the interest of all the other nations that are involved with us and they are many and frequently diverse, as is quite natural they should be. Then we have to calculate the hazards and decide whether we will accept this hazard, or that hazard and I might say that war consists in trying to do with a few here, successfully, so that a large number here can carry through and make the crash that brings down the entire building.

When I was a young officer, when I was being educated in the military profession, along in my early career and up through middle age, we thought of strategy more or less as a diagramatic proposition. We figured it out in relation to logistics, as to rivers and railroads. In the main, and when we got down to the tactics of it, as you might say, which side of the hill you went up—and matters of that kind—as sometimes you read in connection with the battles in the Civil War. Gettysburg, for example—operations of that kind.

My education was sadly neglected. I find now I am more—far more—deeply concerned over matters of ship-building, over matters of landing craft, over matters of engines for them, over matters of octane gas and the means of producing—over all those thousands and one details that are necessary in order that we may bring out great forces to bear. We have been in the past in a situation feeling very secure behind oceans. We are now in a position that we have to cross those oceans, to carry the war to the enemy lest he carry the war to us. That involves all the great factors of logistics until we have reached the ultimate. I assume, unless it is that sooner or later we get to the North and the South Pole, because otherwise we circle the earth not once but almost many times in the number of lanes and traffic lanes of air transport of ships and otherwise. So that each thing we do has to be calculated far in advance. The allocations have to be made with great exactitude. You’re committed to this thing. You must carry it through and what is most difficult of all in this country, you must keep it secret—if we do not want our young men to die on some beach or be sunk at sea by a concentration of submarines. All of that has to be calculated. It isn’t inspirational, it isn’t the spur of the moment. It’s a carefully thought out thing months and months and months in advance. Goes back to production in certain things sometimes a year in advance, and all of that must be brought to a head in due course and due time having all of these various interests of various countries and sovereign powers we’re dealing with, brought into accord and agreement. Now we have succeeded in this war starting with our entry of the war in December of 1941, in organizing a basis for securing unity of action. We don’t talk about it, ladies and gentlemen we do it.

And I think the greatest thing we’ve done, the greatest thing we’ve accomplished, the most potent factor in this war today is the fact that we have secured a method of arriving at unity, of operations among the Allies. That is extraordinarily difficult as you know in your own affairs and in your own political organizations. (Laughter.) I don’t know whether I mean what you mean or not. (Laughter.)

I might give you some idea of the intricacies of these problems if I tell you how one of these conferences that you read about, like Casablanca, or the recent one in Washington, or some of the earlier ones, go about it we’ve gradually, of course, evoluted into pretty well determined procedure. It generally takes us about a week, sometimes a day or two less, to arrive at a tentative idea of what we think we might do, which we all agree about. But that’s only a tentative affair and it takes about a week to arrive at that because it covers the entire world. Then it takes us almost a week longer, having arrived at a tentative agreement on that, to calculate whether that can be done. You are now involved in ships, cargo, dry cargo, wet cargo, troop lift. You’re involved in escort vessels because for every movement you require so many escorts. They’re just so many and no more. The security of these convoys depend on that. You’re involved in most operations in landing affairs, that means landing crafts, special landing crafts, that means so many engines, so many this, so many that. That means the transportation of these awkward crafts to this place or that place. You can’t ship them around, change your mind at any minute—that thing all has to be calculated far in advance. You get all the compromises, you figure the turn around in the boats. They’re so long to this place, and they’re so long in that.

I’ll give you one idea of how complicated that is, when we were in the middle of the great crises of the Eighth Army—when it was driven almost to Egypt—did get up to the Alamein line and the question was we might send troops there—or would we send equipment there—which was the quickest. There were certain troops there without any equipment. Should we try to get the equipment in or should we send the troops in. We then arrived at the tonnage proposition which involved a great many delays. We had to calculate which was the quickest thing. We decided to send the equipment and we ripped into our own organizations, took it away from the troops—could give them no explanations. I know in some cases they’d only had the equipment two days and it had been developed personally by the commander of those troops going right down to industry to get it done. Just as he got it all, we took it all away from him. I am referring to the self-propelled mounts, 105 cannon. The new tanks had just gotten to the Division. We took that away. No explanation whatever. But in the Army we say “do it” and he does it. We don’t hear as a rule anything about it. (Laughter.) Which is a great convenience. (Laughter.)

In those calculations it developed that in sending troops to the Middle East where we sent—we’ll say—18,000 to be exact—there, we could send 85,000 east [i.e., across the Atlantic rather than south around Africa]—there was that great a difference in the turn around of freighters. So you can see how much of a calculation. Now when you get into the far Pacific, to the Far East, and those things, you can see to what extent your calculation leads you. And you can’t multiply it out by the distance because some places you can unload rapidly, the next place you can’t unload rapidly. You have to figure how long it lies in port. How much time is going to be absorbed there. Have you got to send the engineers there first to set up all of your unloading facilities. It’s extremely complicated. You can settle it sometimes in the paper in the morning but we can’t settle it in 3 or 4 months. (Laughter.)

I am reciting some of these intimate details of behind the scenes so that you’ll be helpful supporters of some of our troubled times when we come to them. Because in a war of this nature which literally covers the globe the complications are beyond description. But we’ve developed an orderly precision, orderly method for doing this thing. We know each other well, know each other intimately. One of the most surprising things of all, if you go out there to Africa and find this combined staff, you can hardly tell, unless you look at the uniform closely which service, which nation, the officer represents. You will find in General Eisenhower’s home a British Planning Officer living there with him. You will find next door to him Admiral Cunningham living there. All these people close together—this staff all combined—with just one single idea, with one purpose; the whole thing integrated and developed to the point where they can get by the vicissitudes which always occur in a campaign and I might say in any fight, we have a fixed—we have a—not a fixed rule—but there’s an axiom almost, that no division ever admitted that the division on its right or left were abreast of it and if it happens to be from another country why that makes it very much worse. They’re always still further behind. And that produces a reaction which troubles morale and which you have to defeat. So we’ve succeeded in bringing about a great unity of purpose. And I can’t emphasize too much of what vast importance that is. I’d like to say something else about the development of our military power. We’ve gotten to the present time in the training to what you might call the normal phase. We’ve struggled through the great departures and they were very difficult. Some of our outfits, like the air, for instance, were increased by over 4,000%, the engineers by 4600%—you can visualize what that means in new officers, new non-corns, new units—everything new—to what extent you have to spur out to manage that. We found the Ground Services for the Air, which have all the mechanics, the field guards and the multitude of people that go along to keep the plane in the air—had that be expanded by 14,500%. Other things in like measure.

Now in spite of that tremendous expansion—in spite of that—we’ve gotten a well-ordered, a highly organized, a splendidly equipped and a disciplined—and a disciplined—force. They are beautifully trained. It was very difficult in the early days to get the training because we had to develop the instructors and until we had a large number that had had at least a year—we didn’t have the seasoning that goes with it—although even that was a remarkably short time. But now the training in this country was immeasurably better than it was a year ago and on top of that we are bringing back in an orderly way the men from the fighting fronts in certain percentages and putting them all through our units, all over the country so they give them that invaluable veteran touch.

The pilots came back. I met one tonight from New Guinea. We bring them back from long experience. After certain number of missions they come in and carry the exactitude of how you really do it—into these training units. We’ve carried the difficulties, the firing, the customs and the excitement which expose them to battle, to a point where the men, I think, will not suffer from the first shock of battle.

We have the most wonderful materiel and personnel in the world. The most splendid looking men in these new units that are going out now. We have no complaints of any kind to find with our equipment. It really, on the average, is superb. We have tried in every conceivable way to produce leaders. We have been perfectly ruthless about it. Quiet so far as we could, but the man has to have it or he doesn’t stay. And we listen to no excuses of any kind. Because, as I put it, a division being 15,000 men my vote is all for the 15,000 and not for the individual. We must have the very best leadership we can possibly give these men and we’ve stopped at nothing to produce that leadership. So it remains but to get them in contact with the enemy. They have the confidence. We have no disciplinary troubles, virtually, at all. It’s almost, to a large extent, self-imposed. We’ve got, I think, a perfectly wonderful army. It’s a great problem to bring it to bear against the enemy. We are in the process of doing that. Things are developing as you know from the papers as you read every day. We’ve had great good fortune recently. I hope we’ll have greater good fortune in the near future. We will have our troubles, we will have our tribulations, but we have the means, the men, and the materiel. And with the people with necessary determination behind them, nothing in the world can stop them.

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. This is a relatively unedited stenographic report of Marshall’s actual remarks. The previous document was the text that was released to the press (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-025 [4: 25-28].)

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 29-33.

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