Defending S.L.A. Marshall
Robert L. Bateman’s “Personality” article on S.L.A. Marshall in the January/February issue is dismaying for a number of reasons. The author’s over-the-top vitriol toward Marshall is disturbing and mars the intent of the article. As an introductory statement, Mr. Bateman says that it is “unfortunate” that officers and historians have read and applied the lessons of combat described in Marshall’s various works. Yet nowhere in the article does he indicate why the application of Marshall’s precepts is so detrimental, nor does he counter Marshall’s conclusions with any intelligent counterargument. Instead, Bateman spends the bulk of the article vilifying Marshall’s character and his research techniques.
Bateman refers to Marshall’s work in general as “lies” and “fraud” and describes his body of work as a “cloak thrown over” the eyes of a generation of military leaders. The only fabrications the author alleges, however, have to do with Marshall’s personal anecdotes. Bateman might have spent more effort explaining why Marshall’s conclusions about combat were incorrect and how those conclusions have harmed the development of military doctrine, tactics and training.
A list of the significant developments in U.S. military culture due all or in part to Marshall’s conclusions would include but not be limited to the following: institutionalization of the after-action review, establishment of a center for combat lessons learned, the emphasis in Army organization and doctrine on “teams” versus individual action, the two- or three-man fighting position in lieu of the one-man foxhole, the understanding and harnessing of the power of referent leadership, the training of junior leaders to mitigate the effects of fear in first combat, emphasis on marksmanship training (Trainfire), the efforts and emphasis organizationally and doctrinally to reduce the weight carried by an individual rifleman, etc. It would be interesting to read a well-crafted argument on the fallaciousness and dangers in any of the foregoing contributions.
Lt. Col. David J. Lemelin (ret.)
Robert Bateman responds: I partially cede two of the “benefits” you cite, Trainfire and the after action reports (AARs). As to the latter, the AARs certainly seem to be derived in part from Marshall’s methods. But I personally think too much credit is given him on that. The Army was doing de facto AARs in the 1920s and ’30s during training exercises, but they were almost exclusively among the officers. Marshall’s approach opened the door, first with historians, but then later with the Army at large, to NCOlevel AARs.
For the former, the Trainfire marksmanship program (cited in the small monograph “The Influence of SLA Marshall Upon the Army”) is credited to the alarm that trainers felt due to Marshall’s accounts. But I found that the citations for linkage are sloppy: It seems the source for the claim that Marshall influenced our training methods was usually…Marshall himself.
Which comes back to the central issue of his self-promotion. My experience in combat, in Iraq, is rather moot. Marshall was talking about WWII infantrymen. Thus the observations, accusations and vitriol of fellows like Leinbaugh (a WWII European theater infantry company commander who is quoted extensively in the Smoler article) toward Marshall’s 15 percent is relevant.
I am also not certain about the “one man foxhole” doctrine change. Again, Marshall is the source for that. But the fact is that in World War I we would not send men out into individual positions in operations forward of the trenches. It was always in two-man teams or more, so how could Marshall have invented that?
What I concede that I have not done is closely examine the 1939-1943–era tactical infantry doctrine to double-check the credibility of Marshall’s claim that the Army changed to multipleman fighting positions because of him. But then, since I hadn’t written about it, it didn’t strike me as critical.
In reading the January/ February issue, I noticed some errors in the “Weaponry” article by Jonathan J. Jordan on Britain’s Dreadnought. I knew an older man, Kenneth Lanphear, who had served aboard the battleship USS Kansas. He told me that anytime the 12-inch main battery fired, either singly or salvo, the ship was violently jarred. This makes sense. Even a 12-inch gun generates several tens of thousands of foot-tons of muzzle energy.
The statement in the British press about sailors’ experience belowdecks on Dreadnought was British propaganda in answer to concern about whether the violent recoil might damage the ship.
The Queen Elizabeth– class battleships, 27,500 tons with 15-inch guns, were completed in 1912 and 1913. At least some of them were ready in 1914. Although Iron Duke (25,000 tons with 13.5- inch guns) was the fleet flagship, that vessel and its sister ships were not the biggest in the British fleet.
Other than that, I found the article accurate and highly interesting. I have read Military History magazine for years. It is so enjoyable and informative that I usually read it cover to cover in one sitting, followed by a second time.
John L. Miller IV
I very much enjoyed Janine Peterson’s article “Pistols at Ten Paces” in the January/February issue about Commodore Stephen Decatur’s death in the course of dueling with a naval rival. However, your article contains one glaring error. It states, “While captaining United States, Decatur took the larger HMS Macedonian.” In fact United States, one of the 44-gun doublebanked frigates launched in 1797, was larger and more heavily armed than Macedonian.
According to William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford’s Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, “Decatur’s ship was larger, heavier, carried more guns and had a larger complement. Howard Chapelle’s History of American Sailing Ships says United States was 173 feet long by 44 feet wide. Ships of the Royal Navy, by J. Colledge and Ben Warlow, states Macedonian was 154 feet long by 391⁄2 feet wide.
While the fact that Decatur captained the larger and more powerful ship in no way detracts from his overwhelming victory, his ship was actually more powerful.
David MacRae Wagner
I read with a flood of remembrance your story in the December 2006 issue regarding the French Foreign Legion at Bir Hacheim (“Blood, Sand and Snow,” by John W. Osborne Jr.). I was a sergeant commanding a Bofors gun detachment in Knightsbridge Box from its inception until its final evacuation. I was detailed on one occasion to take a Bofors gun to Bir Hacheim and train the French troops in its drill and usage.
The Guards Bridge opened a path through the minefield and led me out of Knightsbridge and down south, as I recall, several miles to Bir Hacheim. After I found several chaps who spoke English, I detailed the gun drill and they put a number of men on the gun in the required positions. At one point several of those men were at the end of the barrel looking into the flash eliminator— trying to see the rifling, I suppose. What was scary was that I had a #4 on the firing platform stomping on the foot pedal. Happily I had not yet detailed the position of the firing lever, and it was still safe.
They were a wild bunch, and I was happy to go back to Knightsbridge after that. Things were pretty hot there, with constant Stuka raids.
Malcolm L. Fox
John Osborne’s tribute to the 13th Demi-Brigade of the French Foreign Legion is well deserved, constituting as it does welcome recognition of the fact that, as early as 1940, a combatant unit of the Free French forces was actively engaged in the Allied effort to defeat their Axis foes. At a time when it seems to be popular in some circles to sneer at the modern military record of France, the story of this legendary brigade’s contribution to the final Allied victory is well worth the telling, even in this abridged form. Although the men of the Foreign Legion came from scores of different countries, they were all sworn to fight—and die, if need be— for France, and were led by French officers.
Osborne’s account of the history of the 13th DBLE strikes a personal chord with me. In his paragraph dealing with the DBLE’s Syrian campaign, June-July 1941, Osborne says the casualties “were slight— 21 killed, 47 wounded.” True enough, but what he does not mention, presumably because he is not aware of it, is the fact that among those 47 wounded was an American, John F. Hasey, at that time an infantry second lieutenant in the Legion. Already cited twice for courageous actions during the campaign, while leading his platoon in the attack on Damascus Hasey was struck by fire from a Vichy French machine gun position. One bullet passed entirely though his body, close to his heart. Other bullets shattered his jaw, destroying his larynx, and still others wounded both his hands.
Although the Last Rites were said over Hasey that day, he survived. After receiving medical care at various way stations, he was sent back to the States for reconstructive surgery. In the fall of 1942, after he was rejected by the U.S. Army as “unfit for duty,” Hasey returned to England to rejoin the Free French.
In April 1942, General Charles de Gaulle personally awarded Hasey France’s highest award, that of Compagnon de l’Ordre de la Libération. He was the first American to be so honored. (In May 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower became the second, and the only other American, to be made a compagnon.)
Originally published in the April 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.