July 18, 1900|
Catskill, New York
|Died||17 December 1977
El Paso, Texas
|Place of burial||Fort Bliss National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1917–1953 (non-consecutive)|
|Unit||90th Infantry Division (WWI)
Eighth Army (Korean War)
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
|Awards||Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal (2)
S.L.A. Marshall (full name, Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall) (July 18, 1900 – December 17, 1977) was a chief U.S. Army combat historian during World War II and the Korean War. He authored some 30 books about warfare, including Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action, which was made into a film of the same name.
Marshall was born in Catskill, New York and first served in the Army as an enlisted man in World War I with the U.S. 90th Infantry Division. While his writings stated that he was an officer who led troops in combat, Marshall did not fight and was commissioned an officer in April 1919 to assist in demobilization. After that he worked as a newspaper reporter.
World War II combat historian
During World War II Marshall became an official Army combat historian, and came to know many of the war's most well known Allied commanders, including George S. Patton and Omar N. Bradley. He conducted hundreds of interviews of both enlisted men and officers regarding their combat experiences, and was an early proponent of oral history techniques. In particular, Marshall favored the group interview, where he would gather surviving members of a frontline unit together and debrief them on their combat experiences of a day or two before.
Marshall's work on infantry combat effectiveness in World War II, titled Men Against Fire, is his best-known and most controversial work. In the book, Marshall claimed that of the World War II U.S. troops in actual combat, 75% never fired their personal weapons at the enemy for the purpose of killing, even though they were engaged in combat and under direct threat. Marshall argued that the United States Army should devote significant training resources to increase the percentage of soldiers willing to engage the enemy with direct fire.
Less well known, but perhaps more significant was Marshall's effort to assemble German officers after the war to write histories and analyses of battles in all theatres of the European war. At the height of the project over 200 German officers participated, including Heinz Guderian and Franz Halder. Hundreds of monographs came out of the project, of which three are available in commercial print (see Anvil of War: German Generalship in Defense of the Eastern Front, edited by Peter G. Tsouras, 1994.)
Marshall was recalled from the Reserves in late 1950 for three months' duty as a Historian/Operations Analyst for the Eighth Army during the Korean War. He collected his numerous Korean combat interviews into a treatise analyzing U.S. infantry and weapons effectiveness, Commentary on Infantry and Weapons in Korea 1950–51. The U.S. Army decided to classify some of Marshall's findings as restricted information, later incorporating them as part of a plan to improve combat training, weapons, equipment, and tactics.
Retirement, Vietnam tour and death
Following his retirement from the Army Reserve in 1960, with the rank of brigadier general, Marshall continued to serve as an unofficial adviser to the Army. As a private citizen, he spent late 1966 and early 1967 in Vietnam on an Army-sponsored tour for the official purpose of teaching his after-action interview techniques to field commanders, in order to improve data collection for both the chain of command and the future official history of the Vietnam War.
The Army Chief of Military History's representative on the tour, Colonel David H. Hackworth, collected his own observations from the trip and published them as The Vietnam Primer, giving Marshall credit as co-author.
Marshall is used as a character in Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood, a video game released in 2005.
Medals and decorations
|Combat Infantryman Badge|
Controversy after death
Certain professional soldiers have publicly cast doubt on Marshall's research methodology.
Professor Roger J. Spiller (Deputy Director of the Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College) demonstrated in his 1988 article "S.L.A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire" (RUSI Journal, Winter 1988, pages 63–71) that Marshall had not actually conducted the research upon which he based his ratio of fire theory. "The 'systematic collection of data' appears to have been an invention." This revelation called into question the authenticity of some of Marshall's other books, and lent academic weight to doubts about his integrity that had been raised in military circles even decades earlier.
The controversial figure Col. David Hackworth, writing in his 1989 memoir About Face, described at length his initial elation at an assignment with a man he idolized, and how that elation turned to bitter disillusionment after seeing Marshall's character and methods firsthand. Hackworth described Marshall as a "voyeur warrior" for whom "the truth never got in the way of a good story," and went so far as to say "Veterans of many of the actions he 'documented' in his books have complained bitterly over the years of his inaccuracy or blatant bias".
Marshall's grandson, journalist John Douglas Marshall, has explored his grandfather's posthumous reputation in a series of articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and later in a book, Reconciliation Road: A Family Odyssey of War and Honor. After a review of the general's archives and other memorabilia, as well as interviews with many of his contemporaries and associates, the younger Marshall concludes that the body of his grandfather's work still has value.
Partial list of books (by title)
- Blitzkrieg: Armies on Wheels (1940)
- Bastogne: The Story of the First Eight Days... (1946)
- Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command (1947)
- The Soldier's Load and The Mobility of a Nation (1950)
- The River and the Gauntlet (1951)
- Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action, Korea, Spring, 1953 (1956)
- Sinai Victory: Command Decisions in History's Shortest War, Israel's Hundred-Hour Conquest of Egypt East of Suez, Autumn, 1956 (1958)
- Night Drop: The American Airborne Invasion of Normandy (1962)
- Battle at Best (1963)
- Battles of the Monsoon (1965)
- The Vietnam Primer (1967) (with David H. Hackworth)
- Ambush (1968) (The battle of Dau Tieng)
- Crimsoned Prairie (1972)
- Bringing Up the Rear: A Memoir (1979) (posthumous autobiography)
- S.L.A. Marshall, Commentary on Infantry and Weapons in Korea 1950–51, 1st Report ORO-R-13 of 27 October 1951, Project Doughboy [Restricted], Operations Research Office (ORO), U.S. Army (1951)
- Robert Engen. "Killing for Their Country: A New Look At "Killology" (Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2)". Retrieved 2011-05-08. "As a military historian, I am instinctively skeptical of any work or theory that claims to overturn all existing scholarship – indeed, overturn an entire academic discipline – in one fell swoop...[however] Lieutenant Colonel Grossman’s appeals to biology and psychology are flawed, and that the bulwark of his historical evidence – S.L.A. Marshall’s assertion that soldiers do not fire their weapons – can be verifiably disproven."
- Spiller, Roger J. (Winter 1988). "S.L.A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire". RUSI Journal. pp. 63–71.
(Extracts are available on-line in an article criticizing Marshall)
- Hunter, Evan (December 12, 2007). "Fire Away". Newsweek.
- Hackworth, David (1989). About Face. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-52692-8. (See chapter 16.)
- The short film The Big Picture: Wars End (1955) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- The short film WAR'S END (1959) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- S. L. A. Marshall Photograph Collection US Army Heritage and Education Center