Overview of Marshall’s Early Military Life

General George Marshall, considered by many to be one of the top US Generals of World War II, began his military career in the United States Army in 1902 after graduating from Virginia Military Institute.  During WWI, Marshall was involved in the planning of

Marshall as First Captain at Virginia Military Institute

Marshall as First Captain at Virginia Military Institute

both training and operations, including his role as director of training and planning for the 1st Infantry Division.  He would eventually receive a promotion to the American Expeditionary Forces in 1918 and work closely with General Pershing, a major planner of the US operations.

Between the wars Marshall found himself assigned as aide-de-camp to Pershing.  He was also considered a key planner in the War Department.  In addition, Marshal was commander of the 15th Infantry Regiment stationed in China and also taught at the Army War College.  In 1927, Marshall became a Lieutenant Colonel and was assigned to Ft. Benning, GA as an assistant commander.  While at Ft. Benning, Marshall was responsible for initiating some major changes.

In 1936, George Marshall received a promotion to Brigadier General and in 1938 he was assigned to the War Plans Division in Washington DC.  Many thought any hopes of a military career would have ended when he was the only individual to voice disapproval to a plan President Roosevelt revealed which would provide aircraft to England to assist in supporting the war efforts.  Instead, the resulting action was his being nominated by President Roosevelt to become the Army Chief of Staff, a post he would maintain until the end of WWII.  He was promoted to General in September of 1939.

General Marshall and World War II

While serving as Chief of Staff, Marshall managed to organize the largest military expansion in the history of the United States.  What began as an outdated, poorly equipped army of only 189,000 men was soon transformed into a modern, large-scale expansion for the US Army.  Though Marshall never led any troops into combat, he was organized and possessed a talent when it came to inspiring other officers.  Marshall recommended and/or picked many of the US generals who received top commands during World War II including Eisenhower, McNair and Bradley.

 

Military Forces Expand Exponentially

Marshall in ItalyIn 1942, Marshall was looking at the need to increase US military forces three fold (a total of over 8 million soldiers).  He directed General McNair to begin focusing on efforts which would result in the rapid production of large numbers of soldiers.  When McNair presented his concept, Marshall was in full agreement to abbreviating the men’s training schedule when they entered the Army, but was not supportive of the ideas presented to him by McNair regarding airborne forces.  The training for incoming soldiers would focus on land force training including basic infantry skills, weapons ability and combat strategies.  The lack of combat experience of US commanders at the lower level initially resulted in serious setbacks in the African Campaigns.  Well into the war, the US soldiers were still not receiving adequate training to optimally prepare them for deployment against the German forces and the modern tactics being used.

 

Marshall’s System Is Criticized 

Marshall originally intended for the Army to consist of a 200 divisions which would rotate – a practice used by the British and other Allies.  By the middle of 1943, Marshall was getting pressure from the government and business leaders to conserve manpower which was in great demand for both industry and agriculture.  As a result, Marshall changed the plans to include a 90-division Army with those already in combat  - being replaced with new recruits as they finish their initial training – known as the Individual Replacement System (IRS).  Once implemented, problems with unit cohesion developed.

By late 1944, the system broke down completely in areas of Europe where there were few breaks in combat with the German forces.  As a result, replacements were quickly trained and re-assigned as infantry.  They, along with service personnel who also were used as replacements, received a six-week training refresher course and transferred into front-line combats where Army divisions were locked in.   This resulted in many of the men lacking proper knowledge for using even their own rifles or weapons.  Once they found themselves in combat, they were unable to receive any further practical instructions from the veterans in the field.  The lack of proper training often resulted in their being killed or wounded generally within the first four days of combat.   Morale became low, battle fatigue set in and physical illness was prevalent.  Incidences of AWOL and self-inflicted wounds rose dramatically in the final eight months of the war.

Emotions were also mixed during this time about Marshall’s choices for field commanders.  Choices such as Dwight D. Eisenhower were lauded, but his decision to recommend Lloyd Fredendall to Eisenhower for a North African major command position during Operation Torch was later regretted by both.

 

Plans for Invading Europe 

Marshall was instrumental in preparing the US Army and Army Air Forces during World War II for invading Europe.  A document he wrote became the central strategy not only for the US, but for all Allied operations in Europe as well.  His initial plan to execute

Operation Overlord on April 1, 1943 was strongly opposed by Winton Churchill.  Instead, Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to use the troops for the invasion of Italy in Operation Husky.  Some speculate the war may have ended a year earlier had Marshall had his way.  Others, however, felt it would have resulted in complete failure.

Many assumed Marshall would be assigned Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord.  However, Roosevelt chose Eisenhower instead.  Despite his successful endeavors with both Congress and the President, Marshall refused to lobby for the position.  Roosevelt later state he was uneasy about losing Marshall’s presence in the states.

In December of 1944, George Marshall became the first US General to be promoted to the five-star rank.  Throughout the balance of the war, he continued to coordinate Allied operations for Europe and the Pacific.  Marshall was named as Man of the Year by Time Magazine in 1943 and lauded by Churchill as the organizer of Allied victory.   In 1945, he resigned as Chief of Staff.