THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
General George Marshall assumed the office of Chief of Staff of the US Army on 1 September 1939, the same day Germany invaded Poland. On that day the American Army consisted of fewer than 200,000 soldiers. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the US Army had grown to almost 1.5 million troops. When World War II ended 46 months later, more than 8 million American soldiers were serving their country in history’s largest war. Marshall was both the driving and the steering force of that explosive expansion, which involved far more than just putting numbers of troops into uniform. It included training, organizing, equipping, deploying, and sustaining that massive force across the globe. Marshall has been remembered ever since as "America’s Organizer of Victory."
It is a well-deserved title; but almost 80 years after Marshall took over as Chief of Staff, there is a popular misconception that the army Marshall inherited was a total basket-case, and he had to re-build from ground-zero. That is not exactly the case, however. During the mid-to-late 1930s, other senior Army officers saw what was coming, and knew what had to be done. They built the foundations upon which Marshall so brilliantly expanded. Foremost among those officers was General Malin Craig, Marshall’s immediate predecessor as Chief of Staff. There was a very specific reason that Marshall was appointed over the heads of 34 more senior general officers. Knowing what would be needed to lead the US Army through the global war that was sure to come, Craig hand-picked and groomed Marshall as his successor. More than anyone else, Craig was responsible for having the right man in the right place when the time came.
Craig was a career cavalry officer who graduated from West Point in 1898. He encountered his future protégé for the first time in July 1905, while in command of a cavalry outpost at Fort Clark, Texas. Twenty-five year old Lieutenant Marshall had been out in the Texas wastelands for a long period leading a mapping expedition. When he came in to Ft. Clark to requisition a replacement horse for his party, he was dressed in a ragged and dusty uniform and wearing an old straw hat with a large mule bite out of the brim. Not even sure he was looking at an officer, Craig spoke only with the sergeant who had accompanied Marshall. It was a rather unpromising start for what 30 years later would be one of the most important working partnerships in the history of the modern US Army.
Thirteen years later, Craig and Marshall worked together very closely during the final year of World War I. As a brigadier general, Craig was the chief of staff of US I Corps; and Marshal as a colonel was the operations officer G-3 of US First Army. Colonel George S. Patton’s 1st Tank Brigade was part of I Corps. Five days before the start of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on 26 September, Craig approved Patton’s innovative “Memorandum on the Use of Tanks,” and had the memo reproduced and distributed to I Corps’ divisional commanders. Patton was one of the officers who Craig never lost sight of over the years.
On 13 November, two days after the Armistice went into effect, Craig was appointed chief of staff of the newly formed US Third Army, which was designated as the post-war Army of Occupation for the American sector of the German Rhineland. Craig had only four days to organize a headquarters from scratch, coordinate the reassignment of the necessary forces from the US First and Second Armies, and get everything in position for the scheduled 17 November start of the large-scale and long-distance march from the Meuse River to the Rhine. That evening Craig went to see Marshall at First Army headquarters, asking for help in getting the divisions moving, while Craig pulled together the new Third Army Staff. Marshall immediately committed all the resources of First Army to supporting the Third Army. Marshall even went to far as to re-assign officers, NCOs, and clerks from his own First Army Operations Section to Craig’s new Third Army staff. Four days later, the Third Army moved out on schedule. Craig never forgot Marshall as both a master of military staff work and a consummate team player.
For his services in the Great War the United Kingdom made Craig a Companion of the Order of the Bath. During the inter-war years, Craig kept track of Marshall. In 1924 Craig was appointed Chief of Cavalry, and in 1935 he succeeded Douglas MacArthur as Chief of Staff of the Army. Craig then lost no time in pulling into his immediate circle the Army’s leading forward thinkers: including Lesley McNair, who revolutionized American artillery procedures; Adna Chaffee, the “father of the armored force”; and especially Fox Conner, one of the most influential officers in the history of the US Army. As the American Expeditionary Forces chief of operations during World War I, Conner had been a mentor to both Marshall and Patton; and during the 1920s he took on Dwight Eisenhower as a protégé. Conner has been known ever since as “the man who made Eisenhower.”
Although many career cavalry officers of the era fought long and hard against mechanization, it was Craig, the former Chief of Cavalry, who championed the process of expanding mechanization and the establishment of an armored force separate from the cavalry and infantry. Craig also started the review process that led to the conversion of the massive and unwieldly World War I “square” (four infantry regiments) division into the far more flexible and manageable “triangular” (three regiments) division with which the Army fought World War II.
One of Craig’s most important contributions to American preparedness was the “Protective Mobilization Plan of 1939.” Completed at Craig’s direction by the War Plans Division in December 1938, it was based on a two-stage expansion of the Army: 1. An Initial Protective Force of about 400,000 troops, consisting of most of the Regular Army and the National Guard, to be operational by 30 days after mobilization; 2. An expansion to 1,150,000 active troops by 240 days after mobilization. The plan was supported by a $575 million arms program. It was only a very small effort compared with the later reality of World War II; but for the US Army of 1939 it was a bold step forward in the face of political and bureaucratic gridlock. It became the Army’s basic pre-war expansion plan, upon which Marshall built.
Facing mandatory retirement in 1939, Craig knew who the Army needed as its next chief. In July 1938 Craig brought Marshall to Washington as head of the War Plans Division. Within months he moved Marshall up to Assistant Chief of Staff, and along with Secretary of War Harry Woodring, lobbied forcefully with President Roosevelt to appoint Marshall as his successor. Within two weeks of assuming office, Marshall approved the new triangular division organization, and immediately started the conversion process.
One of the most difficult tasks Marshall took on immediately was the elimination of the deadwood among the Army’s senior officers — those who were too old or physically and mentally unfit to lead troops in combat. Marshall brough Craig back on active duty as the president of the Removal Board, established to accomplish the process. It is an indicator of the high degree of respect and trust that Marshall had for his mentor and predecessor. It was a difficult and even gut-wrenching job that could not be entrusted to just any old retired general of the old school. It had to be done by someone who shared Marshall’s ideas about the qualifications needed for senior combat command, and the critical need to clean out the “good ole boys”, including long-standing personal friends.
Nothing can diminish George Marshall’s reputation as America’s “Organizer of Victory.” But likewise, the foundations established for him by Malin Craig deserve to be better remembered. Craig was still serving on active duty as a re-called four-star general when he died in July 1945.
David T. Ząbecki is a retired US Army major general. He started his military career as an infantry rifleman in Vietnam in 1967. He holds a PhD in Military Science, Management, and Technology from the Royal Military College of Science, Cranfield University, where his supervisor was the late Professor Richard Holmes. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming Osprey book, Pershing’s Lieutenants: American Military Leadership in World War I. He lives in Freiburg, Germany.