Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command

S.L.A. Marshall
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Chapter 10 Why Men Fight. Chapter 11 The Aggressive Will. Chapter 12 Men Under Fire. Chapter 13 Footnote to History. Notes to the Introduction. Chapter 7 The Multiples of Information. For until this end is reached, military resistance will be continued and victory will be denied. T o say that full surrender of the mass will is requisite in future wars between great states is only another way of stating that unconditional surrender will be a normal requirement for the peace.

The victor will determine at his own peace table whether he wills the survival of the vanquished state. What then is unconditional surrender by a state?

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That orders are not given furthers the demoralization and immobility of the line. General James M. Every instance of combat involving the American fighting man since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has validated his insight. We see here, already in process, a curious transposition whereby the civil mass becomes the shield covering the body of the military, and wherein the prospect for final military success lies in the chance that the shield will be able to sustain the shock, and sufficient of the will and productiveness of the civil population can be maintained until the military body can make decisive use of its weapons. RUSI Journal. Sure, this one's scary, but it's just scary. Fear is uppermost.

It is the surrender of every last bargaining right by the people and their representatives. We saw this happen in the case of Germany. That it did not happen with either Italy or Japan was because it suited the political purposes of the victors to will otherwise. However, with the totality of the state endangered and unconditional surrender of the society being the object in war, all power within the state will be mobilized for war immediately after its outbreak. Once the emergency arises, the society will demand nothing less, even though it be a society which now imagines that the new weapons provide a short cut to victory and which wishfully believes, or fatalistically fears, that the future has no place for the masses which fight O N FUTURE WAR 33 on foot.

All of the available man power within the state, meaning all men and women of possible military use beyond those required for war production, civil defense, and' the maintenance of the interior economy, will be formed into armies and into other forces for the common defense. If i t be correct that the nature of weapons prefixes the conditions of total war and unconditional surrender, there can be no alternative to the mobilization of maximum forces. They must stand ready to protect the frontier if the air weapons of the enemy gain early ascendancy and his forces prepare to invade, and they must be equally ready to invade, seize, and occupy ground if one's own weapons have made the enemy vulnerable.

In fact, since full advantage must be taken of the dislocation and destruction worked by these weapons, all ground forces must be ready to exploit their use by moving into enemy country with much greater celerity than ever before. The only logical strategic corollary of decisive strength in the air arm is the movement by air of all forces which fight on ground-infantry, tanks and artillery-and of the supply necessary to sustain them.

This logic breaks down only at the point where the question arises whether it is economically possible to develop and maintain an air transport of such capacity. That it would be decisively advantageous is incontestable. For it should be well noted that out of total attack and defense must come total conquest of the enemy ground and total occupation of his lands and cities. What we now see in Germany and Japan is the pattern for the aftermath of any great war of the future. There is only one other possible outcome and it is not less fearsome-that such a war may be fought to a stalemate in which both sides are defeated because of mutual destruction of the means which would permit of military decision.

I t makes the whole idea of air war as banal as a suicide pact. Thus if we are to attain to such balance in our planning for the national defense as to assure that our military undertakings can proceed toward their proper end, which is political action, it must be reckoned that the battlefield continues as one of the realities of war.

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Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command Paperback – September 15, "Slam" Marshall was a veteran of World War I and a combat historian during World War II. His contention was based on interviews he conducted immediately after combat in both the European and Pacific. Start by marking “Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War” as Want to Read: "Slam" Marshall was a veteran of World War I and a combat historian during World War II. This book is a classic in military history — one of the most popular analyses of morale in.

By their nature the new weapons make all areas, however remote from the frontiers, a possible scene of waste and of death. Our newest bomber can travel 10, miles with a pay load; the range of rockets is expected to reach miles in the not distant future. One effect of these developments is to make the battlefield relatively less dangerous while the menace of war to the life of ports, communications centers, and industrial cities rises steadily. But it is not the fact of death and of killing which is the prime characteristic of the battlefield. Its essential is that it is the meeting place of opposing military forces where they engage in decisive struggle for the possession of ground.

The forces of the battlefield possess the means of attack and of defense and the balancing of these two forms of warfare is their whole preoccupation. It is when these forces move to within killing range of each other with the flat trajectory weapons, and when they put these weapons to use for the purpose of killing, that the battlefield becomes defined. There is no battlefield until two forces close, each with the object of overriding the body of the enemy while avoiding being overridden. It is my belief that the field, as I have defined it here, has not lost its decisive character, and that in the nature of things i t cannot do so.

I t is conceivable, also, that the nature of the preponderant weapons may so change the shape of wars to come that decision will appear almost as an event of anticlimax. But decision in war is a clinching act. It is the action which finally delivers the victory surely into one's hands. That which is decisive cannot be measured simply in terms of how the preponderance of force is weighted within the victorious side.

Nor does it come simply of counting the opposing rows of the dead. Decision implies a final determination of the issue. I t is obtained by those who survive and not by those who die in striving for it. I t is an act which brings about a final submission by the enemy and the restoration of political action. I t is an advance on Richmond, not a Gettysburg, a bold stroke across the bridge at Remagen, not a landing on the coast of Normandy.

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In total war, decision recedes further and further into the distance until one final act brings about quick collapse and submission of the force protecting the enemy interior. Be the chaos of the defending civilization ever so great, as long as there remains an organized will to resist, defeat is not insured. The final act will always be an act of the battlefield, whether the ground forces which achieve it move by overland transport or by sea or by air.

Air power is essential to national survival. But air power unsupported by the forces of the battlefield is a military means without an end. All means of union of power demand union of knowledge. IS of the battlefield, as I have defined it earlier, that I speak in saying that the mind of the infantry soldier should be conditioned to an understanding of its reality through all stages of his training. He needs to be taught the nature of that field as it is in war and as he may experience it some day.

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For if he does not acquire a soldier's view of the field, his image of it will be formed from the reading of novels or the romance written by war correspondents, or from viewing the battlefield as it is imagined to be by Hollywood. One of the purposes of training should be to remove these false ideas of battle from his mind.

T o give the soldier a correct concept of battle is a far different thing from encouraging him to think about war. The latter is too vast a canvas; it includes too much detail which is confusing to his mind and immaterial to his personal problem. He is counseled about war's causes, which is a good thing on those rare occasions when the instruction is in qualified hands.

He is told about how the soldiers and sailors of other nations observe courtesy and foster tradition. He is even bored by lectures on the strategy and logistics of high command. But he does not get what he most requires-the simple details of common human experience on the field of battle. As a result, he goes to the supremely testing experience of his lifetime almost as a total stranger. Those facts which are denied him should be made his not only for the sake of personal survival but in the interests of unit efficiency. The price for failure is paid all up and down the line; men go into action the first time haltingly and gropingly, as if they were lost at night in the deep woods.

Lives are wasted unnecessarily. Time is lost. Ground that might be taken is overlooked. I t is not necessary that these misfortunes befall organizations simply because they are new to battle. It is possible that the infantry soldier can be trained to anticipate fully the true conditions of the battlefield; it is possible that units can be schooled to take full and prompt action against the disunifying effect of these conditions.

Fear is ever present, but it is uncontrolled fear that is the enemy of successful operation, and the control of fear depends upon the extent to which all dangers and distractions may be correctly anticipated and therefore understood. I feel sure that a majority of my professional readers will agree that these things are so, but will protest that the protective measures have always been taken.

There are certain of the facts of life, we have long said to one another, which can only be learned the hard way. Let me therefore anticipate the direction in which these protests will be leading. He has been schooled to maneuver with his weapons in such a way that his employment of the ground will give his weapons maximum effectiveness and himself a degree of protection.

That is the desirable physical equation for each man going into combat with the purpose of firing against the enemy-to find an efficient site for the weapon which is at the same time a relatively secure site for the firer. The heart of the matter is to relate the man to his fellow soldier as he will find him on the field of combat, to condition him to human nature as he will learn to depend on it when the ground offers him no comfort and weapons fail.

Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command

Only when the human, rather than the material, aspects of operation are put uppermost can tactical bodies be conditioned to make the most of their potential unity. In the course of this book, I propose to show in detail wherein our tactics are unnecessarily weakened because we do not consider human nature in our fire training, and I propose to show also that the required adjustments are as definable as the adjustments of a machine gun or any other mechanism. I t is beyond question that the most serious and repeated breakdowns on the field of combat are caused by failure of the controls over human nature.

I n the greater number of instances this shrinkage is the result of men failing to carry out tasks which are well within their power. That is what I mean by failure of control. But it is to be noted that the responsibility for this failure is shared by all alike. It does not imply a weakness simply in command.

T h e additional control which is needed is that kind which is requisite when any one or two or more individuals must undertake a difficult and dangerous task together and it is necessary that they proceed with an economy of effort. Toward that end it is essential that the will of one give direction to the mission even though there be not more than two in the working unit. I t is my belief that a system of man-to-man control on the battlefield is our great need in tactics and that it is fully attainable. This is not a metaphysical problem. I t can be attacked by rather simple methods, once the factors of the problem are understood.

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We all grant that the soldier must be trained for initiative and encouraged to think about his personal problem while in combat. Too, we are at the opening of a new age in warfare when it appears certain that all operation will be accelerated greatly, that all ground formations must have greater dispersion for their own protection, and that therefore thought must be transmitted more swiftly and surely than ever. These things being true, it is an anachronism to place the emphasis in training and command primarily on weapons and ground rather than on the nature of man.

A careful study of past military history and particularly of the "little picture" of our own infantry operations in the past war leads to the conclusion that weapons when correctly handled in battle seldom fail to gain victory. However, in modem infantry warfare the correct use of weapons by a formation in battle comes of the perfecting of controls over men who are physically beyond reach.

While we all recognize this in principle, it is my belief that we have not applied its lessons sufficiently to our training system and that we are still under the spell of ancient training doctrines even though we disclaim their objectives. Our training methods are conditioned by the ideal of automatic response. At the same time, our observation of the battlefield's reality makes clear to us that we need men who can think through their situation and steel themselves for action according to the situation. Under the conditions of national service, there is not time to instill in the infantry soldier that kind of discipline which would have him move and fire as if by habit; but even if there were time for such training, it would be unsuited for an age of warfare which throws him upon his own responsibility immediately combat starts.

There are two roads open and they lead in opposite directions. Our difficulty is that we try to move both ways at one time. The thinking soldier-the man who is trained for selfstarting-cannot be matured in a school which holds to the vestiges of the belief that automatic action is the ideal thing in the soldier. Discipline, long and assiduously applied, may inculcate such a degree of automatic response in a soldiery that the majority will do as told when ordered.

But these are mutually exclusive ends of a training system; i t is the responsibility of training to make a clean choice and then hew to the line. T h e soldier can be conditioned, to make full use in combat of his fellow man. This psychological objective is by no means beyond the possibility of attainment, if the problem is approached simply and with courage.

During training, the soldier, and certainly the officer, can be given enough knowledge about human nature under the stresses of the battlefield that when it comes his time to go forward, he can make tactical use of what he knows in the same way that he applies what he has learned about his equipment. T o point him toward this new field of understanding would not make him less amenable to instruction in the employment of weapons and the use of ground. Rather, every line would be underscored.

H e would begin to understand the importance of weapons in the light of their combat limitations as well as their uses, and fresh warmth would be added to matters which he now regards as coldly mechanical. What I advocate, in brief, is the substitution of reality for romance in all discussion of the battlefield, and the introduction into training in the maximum measure possible of the same element which steadies a command during its trial by fire.

On the field of fire it is the touch of human nature which gives men courage and enables them to make proper use of their weapons. One file, patting another on the back, may turn a mouse into a lion; an unexpected G1 can of chocolate, brought forward in a decisive moment, may rally a stricken battalion. By the same token, it is the loss of this touch which freezes men and impairs all action. Deprive it of this vitalizing spark and no man would go forward against the enemy. The warmth which derives from human companionship is as essential to his employment of the arms with which he fights as is the finger with which he pulls a trigger or the eye with which he aligns his sights.

The other man may be almost beyond hailing or seeing distance, but he must be there somewhere within a man's consciousness or the onset of demoralization is almost immediate and very quickly the mind begins to despair or turns to thoughts of escape. In this condition he is no longer a fighting individual, and though he holds to his weapon, it is little better than a club. It has happened too frequently in our Army that a line company was careless about the manner in which it received a new replacement.

The stranger was not introduced to his superiors nor was there time for him to feel the friendly interest of his immediate associates before he was ordered forward with the attack. The result was the man's total failure in battle and his return to the rear as a mental case. So it is far more than a question of the soldier's need of physical support from other men. He must have at least some feeling of spiritual unity with them if he is to do an efficient job of moving and fighting.

Should he lack this feeling for any reason, whether it be because he is congenitally a social misfit or because he has lost physical contact or because he has been denied the chance to establish himself with them, he will become a castaway in the middle of a battle and as incapable of effective offensive action as if he were stranded somewhere without weapons.

This is a basic principle in the elementary psychology of the infantry soldier. Though I have personally investigated several hundred of the heroic exploits by single individuals in the past war and have read many stories of the hair-raising 43 feats of long-handed guerrillas, I have yet to find the episode which is at odds with it.

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In the fiction of warfare, C. Forester's RiflemanDodd is a splendid and almost monolithic figure. But let us read the story again. The initiative of Dodd did not flow from the unhelped spirit of one man. Finally, he was as dependent upon his Spanish companions as were they upon him. I t is that way with any fighting man.

He is sustained by his fellows primarily and by his weapons secondarily. Having to make a choice in the face of the enemy, he would rather be unarmed and with comrades around him than altogether alone, though possessing the most perfect of quick-firing weapons. Complex systems fall by the wayside. Parade ground formations disappear. Our splendidly trained leaders vanish. The good men which we had at the beginning are gone. Then raw truth is before us. Else, much that is said here will not make sense. The battlefield is cold. It is the lonesomest place which men may share together. T o the infantry soldier new to combat, its most unnerving characteristic is not that it invites him to a death he does not seek.

T o the extent necessary, a normal man may steel himself against the chance of death. The harshest thing about the field is that it is empty. No people stir about. There are little or no signs of action. Over all there is a great quiet which seems more ominous than the occasional tempest of fire. I t is the emptiness which chills a man's blood and makes the apple harden in his throat.

The small dangers which he had faced in his earlier life had always paid their dividend of excitement. Now there is great danger, but there is no excitement with it. That is what makes the going tough. A man builds himself up to the realization that danger will come on him suddenly. He thinks a lot about how he will react to the shock of knowing that he is under fire. In his mind's eye he imagines a situation with himself as center.

H e will be afraid but he will be stimulated. It will be like participating in a tough team game. While it lasts he will at least get some warmth from it and he will be supported by the strength that he feels all around him. But it doesn't work out that way. Instead, he finds himself suddenly almost alone in his hour of greatest danger.

And he can feel the danger, but there is nothing ou there, nothing to contend against. I t is from the mixture of mysification and fear that there comes the feeling of helplessness which in turn produces greater fear. That is what green troops are up against. Time and again I have heard them say after their first try at combat: "By God, there was never a situation like it.

We saw no one. We were fighting phantoms. We got no support on either flank. I n training the soldier grows accustomed to the presence of great numbers of men and of massive mechanical strength close around him. He sees this strength on parade. The more he sees of the strength of the army, the greater grows his confidence, though he is scarcely aware that it has become a factor in his morale. Even the forces of the enemy are virtually materialized for him. He watches their formations maneuver in the training movies. Pictures of their squads adorn the day room walls.

From captured films, the sequences of which have been arranged so as to convey the idea of mass and of strength, he gathers an impression of how they look when they engage in battle. This is the target! This is what he will meet some day! They are rugged, but they are flesh-and-blood, fully mortal, and therefore vulnerable. There is nothing mysterious about it.

If the target is hit by a bullet, it will go down. There are other impressions but these are the main ones. He thinks of battle as the shock impact of large and seeable forces, a kind of head-on collision between visible lines of men and machines extending as far as the eye can see. I t is quite vain to say that he should have known better and that he should have realized that the need of guarding while hitting sharply limits the spectacle of engagement.

The fact is that he does not know and that all the vicarious impressions of battle which he has gained since childhood fix the other picture in his mind. During the advance of his company toward the zone of fire, nothing happens to modify his original impressions. Troops in great number and matkriel in almost inexhaustible quantity are among the common aspects of the rear area. One feels the power of an army even more strongly there than elsewhere.

They produce no dispersion in the force right around him and he is given no cause to reflect on the dwindling of the appearance of strength close at hand. True, he can see now mainly the strength which is in his own column and he has no idea what friendly forces may be moving up on right and left along parallel routes. That his own outfit is grouped around him is enough; every man close at hand is an aid in helping him choke down the fear which might otherwise have stopped him.

The unit enters upon the battlefield and moves across ground within range of the enemy's small arms weapons. The enemy fires. The transition of that moment is wholly abnormal. He had expected to see action. He sees nothing. There is nothing to be seen. The fire comes out of nowhere. He knows that it is fire because the sounds are unmistakable. But that is all that he knows for certain. He is less sure now of what he had expected would steady him in just such a crisis-the fire power and unity of his own outfit.

The men scatter as the fire breaks around. When they go to ground, most of them are lost to sight of each other. Those who can still be seen are for the most part strangely silent. They are shocked by the mystery of their situation. Here is surprise of a kind which no one had taught them to guard against. The design of the enemy has little to do with it; it is the nature of battle which catches them unaware. Where are the targets? How does one engage an enemy who does not seem to be present? How long will it be until the forces opposite begin to expose themselves and one's own forces will rally around the tactical ideas which training had taught them would prove useful?

How long until engagement begins to assume its normal aspect? He may go on and on through repeated engagements and never know a situation that is more tangible. In essence, it is against this very situation that his unit must find the means to rally if it is to succeed in battle. There may come days when the field is alive with action and visible targets are plentiful and the supporting strength of one's own side is plainly visible on flanks and rear. But these are the characteristics of movement and of breakthrough.

They will become salient only after fire has won the decision or has assured the winning of it. The enemy fire builds up. Its aim becomes truer. The men spread farther from each other, moving individually to whatever cover is nearest or affords the best protection. A few of them fire their pieces. At first they do so almost timidly, as if fearing a rebuke for wasting ammunition when they do not see the enemy. Others do nothing. Some fail to act mainly because they are puzzled what to do and their leaders do not tell them; others are wholly unnerved and can neither think nor move in sensible relation to the situation.

Such response as the men make to the enemy fire tends mainly to produce greater separation in the elements of the company, thereby intensifying the feeling of isolation and insecurity in its individuals. T h e junior leaders are affected as much as the rifle files. T h e unexpectedness of the experience has made them less confident, and the more confidence slips, the more they hesitate to give orders which might stimulate action by the more aggressive men.

That orders are not given furthers the demoralization and immobility of the line. Knowing that the leaders are afraid makes the men more fearful.

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Could one clear commanding voice be raised-even though it be the voice of an individual without titular authoritythey would obey, or at least the stronger characters would do COMBAT ISOLATION 49 so and the weaker would begin to take heart because something is being done. But clear, commanding voices are all too rare on the field of battle.

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So they wait, doing nothing, and inaction takes further toll of their resolve. More grievous losses will no doubt come to this band of men in time, but as a company this is the worst hour that they will ever know. Their losses will become their great teacher. The weaker ones will be shaken out of the company by this first numbing experience, adding fresh numbers to the statistics which show that more battle fatigue cases come from initial engagements than from all subsequent experience in the line.

Some who might have been saved, had great wisdom been given those who were responsible for their training, will go to this scrap heap. A majority of the strong will survive. In the next round with the enemy they will begin to accustom themselves to the nature of the field and they will learn by trial and error those things which need doing to make the most of their united strength. I t would serve no purpose to dwell on the discouraging detail of this ordeal if it were not for the belief that much of it is unnecessary and that the infantry soldier can find a better way.

One must not come to rest on Clausewitz's gloomy warning that: "In war the novice is only met by pitch black night. We have the word of the nineteenth century's great military thinker that it can be done. It remains a hope for those of us who weigh the military problem of the new age. OW I do not think I have seen it stated in the military manuals of this age, or in any of the writings meant for the instruction of those who lead troops, that a commander of infantry will be well advised to believe that when he engages the enemy not more than one quarter of his men will ever strike a real blow unless they are compelled by almost overpowering circumstance or unless all junior leaders constantly "ride herd" on troops with the specific mission of increasing their fire.

The 25 per cent estimate stands even for well-trained and campaign-seasoned troops. I mean that 75 per cent will not fire or will not persist in firing against the enemy and his works. These men may face the danger but they will not fight. But as I said in the beginning, it is an aspect of infantry combat which goes unheeded. So far as the records show, the question has never been raised by anyone: "During engagement, what ratio of fire can be expected from a normal body RATIO O F F I R E 5l of well-trained infantry under average conditions of combat?

In fact, it is tactics in a nutshell, and the other elements of tactics are simply shaped around it. Commanders in all ages have dealt with this central problem according to the weapons of their day and their imaginative employment of formations which would bring the maximum strength of these weapons to bear at the decisive point. Surely that is the heart of the matter so far as the mechanics of battle are concerned-to arrange men, to move them, to counter-move them, so that their own ranks will have a lesser exposure while their weapons are exploiting a greater vulnerability in the ranks of the enemy.

Great Cyrus of Persia was thinking on these things when his scouts warned him that the Egyptian phalanx was one hundred men deep. For he answered them: "If they are too deep to reach their enemies with their weapons, what good are they? They were all optimists, these distinguished captains, and they appear to have taken it for granted that if they could devise a superior pattern and plan of maneuver, the willing response of well-trained troops would correspond very closely to the number of spear points which could get at the body of the enemy or the number of muskets which were in position to fire.

We see an occasional slight doubt expressed on the subject. There was the time when Marshal Maurice de Saxe computed the rate of fire in light infantry. Each man will consequently fire thirty shots during the advance. As there are seventy men, two thousand shots will altogether be fired. De Saxe was far off base. He would not get that rate of fire today doing the same movement with seventy soldiers armed with the M-l and carbine.

On the range, certainly, but advancing against an enemy who was defending with small arms fire, never! Surely it is a curious oversight that the questions of how much fire can be brought to bear and how fire ratios may be increased have been treated throughout history as if the solutions were to be found only in terms of mechanics and geometry.

One who reads these tactical doctrines would be justified in concluding that it is a point of honor with professional soldiers to hold dogmatically to the belief that training conquers all, and that when perfectly drilled and disciplined, all men will fight. But what of human nature?

In the workshop or office, or elsewhere in the society, a minority of men and women carry the load of work and accept the risks and responsibilities which attach to progress; the majority in any group seek lives of minimum risk and expenditure of effort, plagued by doubts of themselves and by fears for their personal security. When the deeper currents of life run counter to the proposition that a majority of men wlll engage willingly, i t would not appear reasonable to believe that military training will succeed where other disciplines fail.

Richardson has commented, "is to train his younger subordinates to close the circuit. Why the subject of fire ratios under combat conditions has not been long and searchingly explored, I don't know, but I doubt that it is because of any professional taboo, and I suspect that it is because in earlier wars there had never existed the opportunity for systematic collection of the data. I t is the human nature of the commander to believe that the majority of his troops are willing, for unless he so believes, he is aware of his personal failure.

But it is not less true that to his mind willingness and loyalty are virtually synonymous with initiative and voluntary risk at the point of danger. During battle it is physically impossible for him to make a check of the action of all of his men without neglecting other and more decisive responsibilities. Nor can his immediate subordinates do this for him without taking undue risks. Analysis of this pattern lead to a number of specific recommendations but also to a more general and fundamental analysis of the modern battlefield: it's emptiness and loneliness.

Marshall argued that the fire ineffectiveness of infantry stemmed from their general misperception of what to expect on the battlefield. Their training, reinforced by movies and books, led them to expect a battlefield crowded with men and m All Rights Reserved. DMCA All papers are for research and reference purposes only! Create a new account It's simple, and free.

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