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On Dec. 31, 1880, George Marshall, one of my heroes, was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
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12:45 PM ET
December 31, 2009
The greatest Brother Rat of them all
Happy Birthday, General Marshall, VMI Class of 1901.
Your successors from the Post continue to do your legacy proud.
1:01 PM ET
Marshall: The consumate logistics man
I wish you'd say more about why you like him, Tom.
Here are some of my reasons: integrity, deep patriotism, zero showboating.
From the meuse-Argonne in 1918 to the reconstruction of Europe in the late 40's, Marshall worked to build success.
Question for you and other readers: a great deal went wrong after D-day, Montgomery's crazed egotism, the flat-footed "broad front" push on Germany, the failure to capitalize on the german debacle at Falise (sp?) in France -- all of which likely delayed victory by 7-8 months, as the holocaust and other horrors raged in the east.
Where was Marshall? Obviously part of his strength was building and playing teams, accepting mistakes. But what do you (or others) know of his actions behind the scenes?
Any reading recommendations?
1:57 PM ET
Much more than logistics
Marshall is my sense of what a general should be, in almost every respect.
I actually think Marshall was underestimated as a strategist. I think he understood that the key to winning was holding together the British and the Americans. That is why he held his temper over Montgomery's antics until 1945, when he finally unloaded to the British chiefs (at the Malta meeting). If Montgomery had been an American, he would have been relieved by late '44 or early '45 and sent to run a training base in Witchita Falls.
That said, I think Marshall was wrong, both strategiccally and operationally, to oppose the TORCH landings, and Roosevelt was right.
The best thing to read on Marshall is the multi-volume Pogue biography. But that is kind of daunting. The Joseph Hobbs collection of Eisenhower's letters to Marshall, "Dear General," is probably a better place to start. You get a good sense of the two men in just 200 pages.
4:09 PM ET
Personally, I have read the
Personally, I have read the Ed Cray’s biography of Marshall twice. After reading Carlo D’Este’s “Eisenhower’, ‘Lord Alan Brook’s War Diaries 1939-45’ and Roy Jenkins ‘Churchill’ (the best written biography I have ever read) I thought a second reading of Cray’s work would be illuminating and it was. Often a second reading of good biography after reading other related works gives one a greater feel for the underlying context.
Additionally, two books that I would suggest are ‘Commander-in-Chief’ by Eric Larrabee (FDR relationship with his key Admirals and Generals) and ‘Master & Commanders’ by Andrew Roberts, a relatively new study of the relationship between Churchill, FDR, Marshall and Alan Brooke.
I think Tom is spot on with his view of Marshall. By and large I have come to the conclusion that he was as close to being indispensible to the war effort as any man could be. His strengths vastly out weighed his weaknesses (he had a few) and he actually was not intimidated by MacArthur and managed him with skill which means much more than many people think.
On the other side of the coin I don’t think strategy was Marshall greatest strength. His opposition to the campaign in North Africa in favor of a premature landing in France demonstrated in my view some questionable judgment. The unfortunate blackmail operation with co-conspirator Adm. King to threaten the British with a shift to the Pacific unless the Americans got their way with ‘Roundup/Sledgehammer’ was immediately challenged by an not very amused FDR as a violation of the Germany first principle and an unworthy way of beginning an alliance. This was the low point in Marshall’s relationship with FDR and did not last very long nor do any damage to their relationship.
Additionally, Marshall’s objection to a Mediterranean strategy in early 1943 was also shortsighted since UK-US forces were not prepared to take on the Wehrmacht in NW Europe and no other field of employment was available for those forces. In fact the Marshall opposed invasion of Italy on July 10, 1943 caused Hitler to order a termination of the massive Kursk offensive and the withdrawal of troops to reinforce Italian front. In my view, the three reasons why Marshall was wrong were: 1 – the allies had as yet to collect the mass of divisions necessary, 2 – the bulk of those divisions were raw and without combat experience and tested doctrine and most importantly, 3 - the allies had yet to acquire air superiority over the battle NW Europe space, a prerequisite in fighting a veteran and more tactically and operationally proficient Wehrmacht.
However, from the autumn of 1943 until the end of the war Marshall’s views on strategy were essentially correct and the British wrong. FDR, sensing this inflection point pretty much left military strategy to Marshall in this period while he focused on post-war political strategy with Churchill and Stalin.
One more thing, I think in 1942 Marshall (and the British) made a mistake in allocating so much in the way of resources and to the airborne divisions. They stripped high caliber cadre from the regular divisions and yet when all was said and done their overall contribution to the war effort was probably not worth the expense of building them. Knowing what we know now I would imagine that maybe one British and three American large airborne brigades might have found a role but no more. This probably offends ‘Band of Brothers’ fans but the historical record speaks for itself.
Happy New Year !
8:33 PM ET
I apologize for the typos and screwed up sentences in my above remarks. Quick typing is the reason and I suppose I should proof before I submit.
Here are a few lines of Macaulay I thought appropriate for our American, British, and other allies of the ISAF who fight with us in Afghanistan as we enter another year of war.
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:?"
To every man upon this earth?
Death cometh soon or late.?
And how can man die better?
Than facing fearful odds, ?
For the ashes of his fathers,
?And the temples of his Gods?"
-Macaulay ‘The Lays of Ancient Rome’
11:30 AM ET
January 1, 2010
Full title: ‘Commander in Chief - Franklin Delano Roosevelt - His Lieutenants & Their War'
This is surely one of the best books on grand strategy, command relationships at the top level, the role of commander in chief, and the personalities who led the various parts of the US military in WW-II. Deserves a much wider reading than it has had.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
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