(Modified from a posting in a similar thread on the SJ Games forums)
I got interested enough to buy and read SLA Marshal’s Men Against Fire, which is where this whole line of argument started. It’s a horrible book to base any planning on because it is so muddled . It presents itself as being based on extensive research with clear results, yet it does not describe those results with any clarity. It has patches of what seem like good sense, sometimes on the same page as utter nonsense. I suspect that many of the people who were supposed to have read it gave up after a couple of chapters, and just acted on generalisations of that.
In those first few chapters, Marshall describes one scenario clearly. I think this is the only time he does so. It’s worth summarising:
A green infantry company is making an unsupported frontal attack on an opponent who is well dug in and concealed. The company advances some distance, then comes under effective fire. The men go to ground, as they must. And then nobody takes charge. Nobody starts calling orders or asking questions; the troops are not given orders, reminders or any encouragement. About 25% use their weapons.
Actually, that seems a fairly good performance under the circumstances, by the men, but a terrible one by the NCOs and officers. I seem to be working across a cultural familiarity gap here, because Marshall explicitly says it is not the job of squad leaders to get their men organised.
Since they should be near their men, and know them well, it seems to me (and it’s traditional British doctrine) that the NCOs, who have some experience, have the primary job under these circumstances of getting the men organised, encouraging the ones who are new to this and scared, and telling the ones who haven’t figured it out where to shoot. With that done, the squad leader needs to shout to his platoon commander, with word of losses and what’s being done.
But Marshall reckons the squad NCO should not be doing any of this, but should be concentrating on using his personal weapon. If that’s the case, why has he been given his leadership position?
Marshall stresses the job of the company commander in getting all of these things to happen, while also worrying about his flanks and rear communications. He’s not a superman. He can’t control all of his men individually. He needs to use the chain of command. Yet Marshall seems to ignore this.
There is a reason why Marshal’s thinking might have been very attractive to US Army leadership around the end of WWII. The Army had been massively expanded, and had a horrible shortage of NCOs. If every enlisted man in the pre-WWI army had been made an NCO, they’d still have been way short of their requirements. So they created lots of instant sergeants and corporals, from men who had no more combat experience than the privates they were leading. Yet the US Army leadership insisted that their freshly-raised troops would be superior to German units with lots of experience. They learned better in North Africa, but needed a reason why their units did badly in their first exposure to combat. Marshal provided that.