Canadians Under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War

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Canadians Under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War

Michael Peters
Michael Peters

November 30th, 2009, 12:58 am #1

Canadians Under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War

Robert Engen

http://mqup.mcgill.ca/book.php?bookid=2385 below synopsis from the posted link

In Canadians Under Fire Robert Engen explores the dynamics of what combat looked like to Canada's infantrymen during the Second World War. Analyzing unexamined battle experience questionnaires from over 150 Canadian infantry officers, Engen argues for a reassessment of the tactical behavior of Canadian soldiers in the Second World War. The evidence also shows that Marshall's theory of non-participation in combat by Allied forces is demonstrably false: Canadian soldiers took a continued and aggressive part in the fighting.

Has anyone read this work? Just ordered it from Amazon.ca $22.05 Cdn.(hey I am a big fan of xmas pressies for ones self ha ha) and I am interested in any reviews, opinions etc. I recall Michael had posted some of the reports on his Calgary Highlanders website.
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Gord Bennett
Gord Bennett

November 30th, 2009, 3:12 am #2

Here's a blurb about SLA Marshall's book 'Men Against Fire'.

Gotta love those self-proclaimed 'experts', eh?


"During WWII Only 25% fired their weapons in combat - Made Up Stat by Author?"

"It is one of the most remarkableand enduringstatistics about the way men fight war: in combat no more than a quarter of fighting men, even disciplined and well-trained soldiers, will fire their weapons. The claim, first made by military historian S.L.A. Marshall in his 1947 book, "Men Against Fire," has become accepted wisdom. John Keegan, the popular historian of war, repeats it in his landmark 1976 study, "The Face of Battle." So does historian Max Hastings in his widely read 1984 book on the D-Day invasion, "Overlord." The reason soldiers don't shoot, explained Marshall, who claimed to have interviewed thousands of American GIs in World War II, is not that they are afraid, exactlyalthough inertia, he wrote, is "fear's twin." Rather, they are restrained by a civilizing impulse not to kill and a faith that a few heroes will emerge to carry the actionwhich, Marshall wrote, is generally what happens.

Over the years hundreds of journalists have quoted Marshall's famous studyincluding me, in the pages of NEWSWEEK. But last month a reader sent me a copy of a March 1989 article from American Heritage magazine that set me straight. In fact, there is no real evidence that so few soldiers open fire, writes Frederick Smoler in "The Secret of the Soldiers Who Don't Shoot." "It just may be," concludes Smoler, "that Samuel Lyman Marshall made the whole thing up." Smoler reports on the digging of Harold P. (Bud) Leinbaugh, an Army infantryman who saw a lot of combat in Europe during the war, and a military historian named Roger Spiller. Both men were skeptical about Marshall's claim, and they decided to look into his research. They discovered that among the soldiers Marshall interviewed at Makin Island, a battle in the Pacific, there was a tendency to fire too much, not too littleto blaze away for no good reason. Marshall seems to have just invented his interviews in the European theater.

Why would Marshall make up such a thing? Marshall was "by professional upbringing and temperament a journalist above all," wrote Spiller. Like many journalists then (and now), he was in love with the heroic ideal, that one man among many might stand up to carry the day. "Marshall may have come to war wanting it to be the place where single heroes counted," says Leinbaugh. Marshall himself apparently loved to play soldier, and he wanted to demonstrate that he knew more about combat than anyone else. His books seemed so detailed and persuasive, and he appeared to have interviewed so many soldiers, that readers believed him. Why did professional historians swallow Marshall's claim? "Intellectual sloth," wrote Spiller. Marshall's theory seemed to "promise entree into the hidden world of combat." (A 1994 New York Times review of "Reconciliation Road," a memoir by Marshall's grandson John Douglas Marshall that's mostly about his grandfather's assertion, concludes, "the most that the author can show is that his grandfather had tried to quantify what should have remained conjecture ")

Marshall claimed to have led men in combat in World War I. Apparently, that too was fiction. Marshall's regiment in World War I was behind the lines, involved in road work and building delousing stations. Leinbaugh discovered records of Marshall's unit, which include such stirring reports as "1 mule killed by kick from mule. Drop from rolls." By the time Marshall was writing his World War II histories, he was claiming to have fought with three infantry regiments in two different divisions and in three separate countries. The U.S. Army embraced Marshall as its quasi-official historian. The only real skeptics at the time were a few of the soldiers whom Marshall profiled in his histories, like "The Men of Company K." Asked one old Company K sergeant, "Did the SOB think we clubbed the Germans to death?"
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Joined: March 27th, 2002, 7:42 pm

November 30th, 2009, 12:31 pm #3

One of the main things to remember about SLA Marshall's "Men Against Fire" is that he was writing about the problems inherent in American Army during the Second World War. Though it often has been, his study can not really be superimposed on other nations armies or other conflicts. In his work Marshall does not really comment on the other allied armies. As far as I remember, he never mentions Canada, and most of his references to the British pretain to the Great War. Therefore it is no suprise that his framework or conclusions do not transfer to the Canadians.

Marshall has attracted a lot of negative attention in recent decades. The article above, to me seems to suggest that Marshall was out right decietful in his work. I think that takes things a bit to far. Much has been made about his statement of the percentage of men fiering their weapons in combat, yet that is not the sole focus of his work. In fact the full title of his book is "Men Against Fire The Problem of Battle Command." The bulk of his study deals with just that. Marshall tried to situate the man in field and explore the influences of him, from understanding command, to looking at why men fought, and much more, "Ratio of fire" and "Fire ans the cure" are just two of his 13 chapters. That they attracted most of the attention stems from the fact that they were the most contraversial.

As for Marshall being a quasi-official historian, my understanding was that he was an official historian given that he was attached to the Historical Division of the War Department.

Much of what Marshall wrote in "Men Against Fire" has been challanged in recent decades, and rightfuly so. History is fuled by discourse if we accept with out questioning whats the point of writing anything new. Marshall has been proven wrong on some accounts but that doesn't mean his was intentionally trying to decive. Alen Clark's "Donkys" formed the basis of how many viewed the British Staff during the Great War for decades. Then in the 90's John Teraine and Tim Travers secussfully challanged this notion, it does not mean Clark was intentionaly falsifying the facts for his own puropses.

"Men Against Fire" dispite the criticizm it has recived is a good book. In the light of recent historiography it has many problems, but what Marshall attempted tends to get lost in discussions of ratio of fire. Wether I agree with what he said or not, he had some interesting things to say such as:

"War is always an equation of men and machines. Efficiency comes of a proper balancing of the equation. Because of the great wealth and productive power of our nation, we can afford a system of war which is based on the conserving of men... Even so, the deaths of a quarter million men and the wounding of thrice that number are a reminder that there are limits to the uses of the machine in war and that its efficiency as a saver of human life is according to the efficiency, intelligence, and courage of the relatively few men who must take the final risks of battle."
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 30th, 2009, 2:26 pm #4

Here's a blurb about SLA Marshall's book 'Men Against Fire'.

Gotta love those self-proclaimed 'experts', eh?


"During WWII Only 25% fired their weapons in combat - Made Up Stat by Author?"

"It is one of the most remarkableand enduringstatistics about the way men fight war: in combat no more than a quarter of fighting men, even disciplined and well-trained soldiers, will fire their weapons. The claim, first made by military historian S.L.A. Marshall in his 1947 book, "Men Against Fire," has become accepted wisdom. John Keegan, the popular historian of war, repeats it in his landmark 1976 study, "The Face of Battle." So does historian Max Hastings in his widely read 1984 book on the D-Day invasion, "Overlord." The reason soldiers don't shoot, explained Marshall, who claimed to have interviewed thousands of American GIs in World War II, is not that they are afraid, exactlyalthough inertia, he wrote, is "fear's twin." Rather, they are restrained by a civilizing impulse not to kill and a faith that a few heroes will emerge to carry the actionwhich, Marshall wrote, is generally what happens.

Over the years hundreds of journalists have quoted Marshall's famous studyincluding me, in the pages of NEWSWEEK. But last month a reader sent me a copy of a March 1989 article from American Heritage magazine that set me straight. In fact, there is no real evidence that so few soldiers open fire, writes Frederick Smoler in "The Secret of the Soldiers Who Don't Shoot." "It just may be," concludes Smoler, "that Samuel Lyman Marshall made the whole thing up." Smoler reports on the digging of Harold P. (Bud) Leinbaugh, an Army infantryman who saw a lot of combat in Europe during the war, and a military historian named Roger Spiller. Both men were skeptical about Marshall's claim, and they decided to look into his research. They discovered that among the soldiers Marshall interviewed at Makin Island, a battle in the Pacific, there was a tendency to fire too much, not too littleto blaze away for no good reason. Marshall seems to have just invented his interviews in the European theater.

Why would Marshall make up such a thing? Marshall was "by professional upbringing and temperament a journalist above all," wrote Spiller. Like many journalists then (and now), he was in love with the heroic ideal, that one man among many might stand up to carry the day. "Marshall may have come to war wanting it to be the place where single heroes counted," says Leinbaugh. Marshall himself apparently loved to play soldier, and he wanted to demonstrate that he knew more about combat than anyone else. His books seemed so detailed and persuasive, and he appeared to have interviewed so many soldiers, that readers believed him. Why did professional historians swallow Marshall's claim? "Intellectual sloth," wrote Spiller. Marshall's theory seemed to "promise entree into the hidden world of combat." (A 1994 New York Times review of "Reconciliation Road," a memoir by Marshall's grandson John Douglas Marshall that's mostly about his grandfather's assertion, concludes, "the most that the author can show is that his grandfather had tried to quantify what should have remained conjecture ")

Marshall claimed to have led men in combat in World War I. Apparently, that too was fiction. Marshall's regiment in World War I was behind the lines, involved in road work and building delousing stations. Leinbaugh discovered records of Marshall's unit, which include such stirring reports as "1 mule killed by kick from mule. Drop from rolls." By the time Marshall was writing his World War II histories, he was claiming to have fought with three infantry regiments in two different divisions and in three separate countries. The U.S. Army embraced Marshall as its quasi-official historian. The only real skeptics at the time were a few of the soldiers whom Marshall profiled in his histories, like "The Men of Company K." Asked one old Company K sergeant, "Did the SOB think we clubbed the Germans to death?"
Gord, it is generally a good idea when quoting directly from someone else to indicate whom you are quoting. If you could provide the author's name of the 'blurb' in your post, it would be appreciated.
Michael Dorosh
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 30th, 2009, 2:29 pm #5

Canadians Under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War

Robert Engen

http://mqup.mcgill.ca/book.php?bookid=2385 below synopsis from the posted link

In Canadians Under Fire Robert Engen explores the dynamics of what combat looked like to Canada's infantrymen during the Second World War. Analyzing unexamined battle experience questionnaires from over 150 Canadian infantry officers, Engen argues for a reassessment of the tactical behavior of Canadian soldiers in the Second World War. The evidence also shows that Marshall's theory of non-participation in combat by Allied forces is demonstrably false: Canadian soldiers took a continued and aggressive part in the fighting.

Has anyone read this work? Just ordered it from Amazon.ca $22.05 Cdn.(hey I am a big fan of xmas pressies for ones self ha ha) and I am interested in any reviews, opinions etc. I recall Michael had posted some of the reports on his Calgary Highlanders website.
Personally, I found the writing of Strome Galloway very convincing, and he seems to back up what Marshall said about the willingness of U.S. infantry to use their weapons in combat. Galloway was one of the Canadians who went to the British Army for "combat experience" in North Africa, then served in Sicily, Italy and NW Europe with the Royal Canadian Regiment as a company-level officer, battalion 2 i/c and acting C.O. He used his own pistol exactly once, to kill a barking dog, and insisted that "the majority" of riflemen could have been equipped with pitchforks for all the difference it would have made in action.

I have not read the book in question, but on a gut level, I would tend to trust an infantry officer like Galloway more than I would an academic reading those questionnaires. I've only been exposed to a handful of them, but it is interesting to see how even in a small sampling, the questions were sometimes misinterpreted. For example, one officer, when asked about "wastage", thought that the question was talking about leftovers at dinner and not battle wastage so he described what they did with all the food that was left over at meal time.
Michael Dorosh
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Joined: March 27th, 2002, 7:42 pm

December 1st, 2009, 7:12 pm #6

Here's a blurb about SLA Marshall's book 'Men Against Fire'.

Gotta love those self-proclaimed 'experts', eh?


"During WWII Only 25% fired their weapons in combat - Made Up Stat by Author?"

"It is one of the most remarkableand enduringstatistics about the way men fight war: in combat no more than a quarter of fighting men, even disciplined and well-trained soldiers, will fire their weapons. The claim, first made by military historian S.L.A. Marshall in his 1947 book, "Men Against Fire," has become accepted wisdom. John Keegan, the popular historian of war, repeats it in his landmark 1976 study, "The Face of Battle." So does historian Max Hastings in his widely read 1984 book on the D-Day invasion, "Overlord." The reason soldiers don't shoot, explained Marshall, who claimed to have interviewed thousands of American GIs in World War II, is not that they are afraid, exactlyalthough inertia, he wrote, is "fear's twin." Rather, they are restrained by a civilizing impulse not to kill and a faith that a few heroes will emerge to carry the actionwhich, Marshall wrote, is generally what happens.

Over the years hundreds of journalists have quoted Marshall's famous studyincluding me, in the pages of NEWSWEEK. But last month a reader sent me a copy of a March 1989 article from American Heritage magazine that set me straight. In fact, there is no real evidence that so few soldiers open fire, writes Frederick Smoler in "The Secret of the Soldiers Who Don't Shoot." "It just may be," concludes Smoler, "that Samuel Lyman Marshall made the whole thing up." Smoler reports on the digging of Harold P. (Bud) Leinbaugh, an Army infantryman who saw a lot of combat in Europe during the war, and a military historian named Roger Spiller. Both men were skeptical about Marshall's claim, and they decided to look into his research. They discovered that among the soldiers Marshall interviewed at Makin Island, a battle in the Pacific, there was a tendency to fire too much, not too littleto blaze away for no good reason. Marshall seems to have just invented his interviews in the European theater.

Why would Marshall make up such a thing? Marshall was "by professional upbringing and temperament a journalist above all," wrote Spiller. Like many journalists then (and now), he was in love with the heroic ideal, that one man among many might stand up to carry the day. "Marshall may have come to war wanting it to be the place where single heroes counted," says Leinbaugh. Marshall himself apparently loved to play soldier, and he wanted to demonstrate that he knew more about combat than anyone else. His books seemed so detailed and persuasive, and he appeared to have interviewed so many soldiers, that readers believed him. Why did professional historians swallow Marshall's claim? "Intellectual sloth," wrote Spiller. Marshall's theory seemed to "promise entree into the hidden world of combat." (A 1994 New York Times review of "Reconciliation Road," a memoir by Marshall's grandson John Douglas Marshall that's mostly about his grandfather's assertion, concludes, "the most that the author can show is that his grandfather had tried to quantify what should have remained conjecture ")

Marshall claimed to have led men in combat in World War I. Apparently, that too was fiction. Marshall's regiment in World War I was behind the lines, involved in road work and building delousing stations. Leinbaugh discovered records of Marshall's unit, which include such stirring reports as "1 mule killed by kick from mule. Drop from rolls." By the time Marshall was writing his World War II histories, he was claiming to have fought with three infantry regiments in two different divisions and in three separate countries. The U.S. Army embraced Marshall as its quasi-official historian. The only real skeptics at the time were a few of the soldiers whom Marshall profiled in his histories, like "The Men of Company K." Asked one old Company K sergeant, "Did the SOB think we clubbed the Germans to death?"
I just had a re-read of the a/n article and the author really seems to be out to get Marshal. He seems to be openly criticizing Marshall and the book without having read the work in question. One gets the impression from this article that Marshall believed there was a determined quarter of the infantry who had the willingness to combat and regularly fired their wepons, while the other thre quarters sat back and waited for these few "heros" to do their job. That is not at all what Marshall said. Marshall did not believe that it was the same men over and over again fireing their weapons, rather that at any given point in combat only a certain percentage of men fired their weapons. This changed from engagement to engagement and some times hour to hour. A man may not engage ine day, but be at the forfront engaging the enemy the next.

This statistic has, since the moment Marshall published it, been taken out of context, the author of the article stated he has done so in the past, but still cobtinues to do so. The author criticizes Keegan and others of blindly accepting info through intelectual apathy while doing the same thing, he gives the impression he read one article contradicting Marshall's findings and his credibility and accepts that as the truth, the same way he admits to accepting Marshall's statistic in the first place.

Like I have said before, Marshall's work has been shown to have problems in light of recent historiography but it can't be dismissed out of hand as being intentionally falsified.
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Gord Bennett
Gord Bennett

December 2nd, 2009, 5:10 am #7

Gord, it is generally a good idea when quoting directly from someone else to indicate whom you are quoting. If you could provide the author's name of the 'blurb' in your post, it would be appreciated.
My appologies.. here's the link to the actual article.


http://www.democraticunderground.com/di ... 89x2462789
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

December 2nd, 2009, 1:12 pm #8

Thanks for that. Here's the original link that was pasted to the message forum:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/76997

It's been an ongoing debate; when I was studying military history at the U of C in the late 1980s, the "Marshall controversy" was very much alive.
Michael Dorosh
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

December 4th, 2009, 10:58 pm #9

Canadians Under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War

Robert Engen

http://mqup.mcgill.ca/book.php?bookid=2385 below synopsis from the posted link

In Canadians Under Fire Robert Engen explores the dynamics of what combat looked like to Canada's infantrymen during the Second World War. Analyzing unexamined battle experience questionnaires from over 150 Canadian infantry officers, Engen argues for a reassessment of the tactical behavior of Canadian soldiers in the Second World War. The evidence also shows that Marshall's theory of non-participation in combat by Allied forces is demonstrably false: Canadian soldiers took a continued and aggressive part in the fighting.

Has anyone read this work? Just ordered it from Amazon.ca $22.05 Cdn.(hey I am a big fan of xmas pressies for ones self ha ha) and I am interested in any reviews, opinions etc. I recall Michael had posted some of the reports on his Calgary Highlanders website.
In related "news" I just picked this one up as it is back on book shelves here:

http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Tactics-We ... 332&sr=8-1



Any thoughts on the book would be interesting. I've read Technology and the Canadian Corps and a couple of others such as TOMMY but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot on tactics in the First World War, relatively speaking.
Michael Dorosh
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Joined: March 27th, 2002, 7:42 pm

December 5th, 2009, 4:57 am #10

Based on the reviews, it looks like it has potential. It appears to another non-Marxist study of the war, by that I mean it is in tune with a number of recent works that reject the notion that the other ranks were lied to, mislead and abused by those of the upper class, which has dominated the historiography since the 1950s.

Tactics are an area, it seems, that either get taken for granted in many studies, or are often over shadowed by other themes. One of the better books on the subject is Tim Travers The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front and Emergence of Modern Warfare 1900-1918. If you havent read this already and get the chance to do so, I highly recomend it.
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