What Was George Marshall’s Main Contribution To World War II?

What Was George Marshall’s Main Contribution To World War II?

World War 2
Cover to the book Infantry in Battle. The World War II officer’s guide to infantry combat operations. Marshall directed production of the book, which is still used as a reference today.

General George C. Marshall

George Catlett Marshall Jr. was a five-star general and the Chief of Staff of the United States Army during World War II. In this position, he was General Dwight Eisenhower’s boss. Marshall is considered one of the most important military leaders of the 20th century, and his leadership during World War II was instrumental in the Allied victory.

1900 VMI Keydets football team. Marshall circled

George C. Marshall was born on December 31, 1880, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. His father was a businessman and his mother was a homemaker. He had two sisters, Rebecca Marshall and Mary Marshall. He attended the Virginia Military Institute where he played tackle on the football team. Marshall was commissioned as an infantry lieutenant in 1902. Also in 1902, he married Elizabeth Carter Coles. They had no children together. Unfortunately, Elizabeth died in 1927. In 1930, Marshall married Katherine Tupper Brown, a widow with one daughter named Alice Tupper Brown. Katherine outlived her husband, dying in 1977.

During World War I, Marshall was one of the first officers to deploy to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Force.
1919, France – Col George C. Marshall

He served as the Chief of Operations for the 1st Division (later known as the 1st Infantry Division) from its landing in France until the end of the war. He received a Silver Star for his actions during the Battle of Cantigny. During the war he became a trusted confidant of General John J. Pershing; after the war he served as Pershing’s aide-de-camp. Between the wars, he served in various leadership and staff positions, including executive officer of the 15th Infantry Regiment in China, commander of the 8th Infantry Regiment, as the Assistant Commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, and as the Commandant of the Army War College.

In 1939, Marshall was appointed the Chief of Staff of the United States Army (CSA), a position he held until the end of World War II. As Chief of Staff, Marshall was responsible for overseeing the expansion, modernization, and training of the U.S. Army into a 8 million soldier force, the development of an independent Air Force, achieving unity of command between the services and the allies, and the adoption of a unified strategy amongst the services and the allies. He was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) and attended each of their weekly meetings.

Marshall was a difficult and demanding boss to work for. Stoic, blunt, intolerant of the slightest failure, displeased at anything less than perfection, unwilling to praise, and impatient; subordinates either thrived under him or were reassigned. He often told his staff “Gentlemen, don’t fight the problem. Solve it!” One staff officer described the routine of an office call with General Marshall: Enter, sit down without invitation or greeting. When he looks up from his papers, start talking. Be brief and concise. When Marshall puts his head back down, get up and leave.

To manage the stress of being the Chief of Staff of the US Army, Marshall kept a rigid schedule:
  • 6:30 AM Wake-Up
  • 7:30 AM – 8:00 AM Office
  • 8:00 AM – 8:30 AM Global Briefing
  • 8:30 AM – 11:59 AM Office
  • 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Lunch with Mrs Marshall and power nap
  • 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM Office
  • 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Horse Back Ride or Swim
  • 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM Dinner with Mrs. Marshall
  • 9:00 PM Bed
Marshall disliked the DC social scene and tried to avoid it at all costs.

It did not provide him the relaxation he needed to be at his best at work: at one White House dinner he was forced to attend he received 8 personal requests for favors that needed 32 letters and a half-dozen telegrams to resolve.

Army Chief of Staff Marshall with Secretary of War Henry Stimson
Compressed by jpeg-recompress

Marshall’s relationship with other members of the JCS and President Franklin Roosevelt was professional. Marshall was all business; Marshall later observed: “I remember he (FDR) called me George once… I wasn’t very enthusiastic over his misrepresentation of our intimacy… I don’t think he ever did it again.” He later told the President in a private meeting, “Mr. President, don’t call me George.”

After World War II, Marshall went on to serve as the U.S. Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, where he played a key role in the development of the Marshall Plan, which was a program designed to rebuild Europe after the war. He also helped to establish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Marshall died after a series of strokes in 1959; he was 79.

How Marshall Empowered Eisenhower

General Marshall and then-Brigadier General Dwight Eisenhower worked together in the War Department from December 1941 to June 1942. Marshall was the Chief of Staff of the Army (the highest military position in the Army); Ike worked as one of the senior planner in the War Plans Division of the War Department. Ike’s first task was to develop a strategy for the United States in the Pacific immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In February 1942 Eisenhower became the Chief of the War Plans Division. In that position he oversaw the creation of the plans for the build-up of troops in the United Kingdom. As well as the eventual invasions of North Africa and Sicily. He left the War Department in June 1942 to take command of the invasion of North Africa, code-name Operation Torch.

Eisenhower worked hard in the War Plans Department. Marshall once told Eisenhower, “the department is filled with able men who analyze their problems well but feel compelled always to bring them to me for final solution. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they have done.”
Ike thrived in this type of environment. He was confident in his abilities and later said, “I resolved then and there to do my work to the best of my ability and report to the General only situations of obvious necessity or when he personally sent for me.”

Marshall continued to empower Eisenhower to make decisions, as Ike first commanded Torch, then Operation Husky (Sicily), Operation Avalanche (Italy), and Operation Overlord (Normandy).
President Truman, Marshall, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, and General Arnold at the White House, August 1945

According to General John Hull, who served in the War Department’s Plans Division, their communications reflected a mutual respect. Marshall never tried to influence Eisenhower’s decisions but rather, as Hull stated, “he would discuss future operations with General Eisenhower. And the attitude that he always expressed was, “I’m sure that you’ve considered so and so, and so, and so.” He didn’t say, “Don’t forget to do this.” He just said, “I’m sure you’ve considered it. And I’m sure you will consider these things before you make your decision. But whatever your decision is, it is your decision and I’ll back it.” The relationship between them was superb throughout the war.


Like General George C. Marshall, you can empower your direct reports like he did with General Eisenhower. Here are four ways to empower your team:

  1. “Give your direct reports generous boundaries.” Give your direct reports the freedom to make key decisions as well as the accountability for the results of the decisions both good and bad. Marshall’s instructions to Eisenhower for the cross-channel invasion demonstrate this concept: “You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.”
  2. “Listen intently.” Like Marshall during office calls as the Chief of Staff of the Army, pay complete attention to the person talking to you, be nonjudgmental, and ask questions to develop your understanding.
  3. “Trust.” Trust flows both ways — you have to earn the trust of your direct reports, as well as develop trust in them.
  4. “Time.” A great technique to use when delegating tasks is the SMART mnemonic device. Make sure when you assign task that both you and the direct report have a clear understanding of that the task is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and of course Time-bound (due date).

Interested in having a Leadership Experience that uses history and its leadership examples, like General Marshall, to enhance your team’s leadership today? TFCG offers the D-Day, Market-Garden, and Battle of the Bulge Leadership Experiences in Europe and the War in the Pacific Museum and Pearl Harbor Leadership Experiences in the United States. Send me an email and we can start the discussion today about building better leaders in your organization using a historic Leadership Experience.

In the meantime, go on the offensive and empower your direct reports like Marshall did with Eisenhower.

What Was George Marshall’s Main Contribution To World War II?