S. L. A. Marshall

S. L. A. Marshall books and biography

S.L.A. Marshall

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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 movie of the same name.


Early life

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 implied 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. During WWII he became an official Army historian, and was a proponent of oral history techniques. Marshall favored the group interview. He would gather survivors of a unit together and question them about the previous battle's details.

Body of Work

Marshall's work on infantry combat effectiveness in World War II, titled Men Against Fire, is his most well-known and controversial work. In the book, Marshall claimed that the majority of U.S. combat troops never fired their personal weapons, even when 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.

He 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.

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, Lieutenant Colonel David H. Hackworth, collected his own observations from the trip and published them as The Vietnam Primer, giving Marshall credit as co-author.

S. L. A. Marshall died in 1977 in El Paso, Texas.

Controversy after death

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" (The 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' that made Marshall's ratio of fire so authoritative appears to have been an invention." [1] 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.

In Hackworth's 1989 memoir, About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior (Chap. 16, "Box Seat"), he 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," which would provide at least some degree of support for Professor Spiller's assertions. Hackworth's position was that Marshall's opinions, given the political favor and access they enjoyed thanks to his penchant for self-aggrandizement and his resulting outsized, unearned reputation, played a significant role in America's eventual failure in the Vietnam War.

In January 2007, in Military History Magazine, Robert Bateman destroyed the myth of Marshall in the popular press. Drawing upon both the work of Spiller, as well as personal interviews with Hackworth and other historical sources, Bateman demonstrated that his effect on the modern army has been the product of a consistently overblown reputation.

Among the units victimized by Marshall's writing were the C-47 pilots of IX Troop Carrier Command in Normandy. From his aspersions on them in Night Drop, numerous books that followed, among them Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose (whose own integrity has since been called into question), continued to repeat the allegations of cowardice and incompetence.


A partial list of books (by title):

  • Blitzkrieg: Armies on Wheels 1940
  • Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command 1947
  • The River and the Gauntlet 1951
  • Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action, Korea, Spring, 1953 1956
  • Night Drop: The American Airborne Invasion of Normandy 1962
  • The Vietnam Primer 1967 (with David H. Hackworth)
  • Bringing Up the Rear: A Memoir 1979

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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