Malin Craig was the chief of staff of U.S. I Corps, under Major General Hunter Liggett, and then under Major General Joseph Dickman. Immediately following the war, he was the chief of staff of the U.S. Army of Occupation in Germany. He later served as the chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1935 to 1939. His efforts to prepare the U.S. Army for the next world war were significant, but are largely forgotten today.
The son of an Army officer and West Point graduate, Malin Craig was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on 5 August 1875. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1898 with his classmate Fox Conner. Initially assigned to the 4th Infantry upon commissioning, he transferred to the 6th Cavalry. During the Spanish–American War he served in Cuba during the Santiago campaign, and then he served with the 4th Cavalry in Oklahoma and Wyoming. He was posted to the Philippines during the Philippine–American War, and from there he took part in the 1901–02 China Relief Expedition to rescue the foreign legations in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion.
When Craig returned to the United States, he attended the Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the following year he attended the second-year course at the Staff School. Promoted to captain in May 1904, he was assigned to the 10th Cavalry Regiment and then to the 1st Cavalry Regiment in 1905. After further cavalry assignments in the American West and the Philippines, Craig graduated in 1910 from the Army War College in Washington, where one of his instructors was Fox Conner. Another graduate of the Class of 1910 was Lieutenant Colonel Hunter Liggett, who was senior to both Conner and Craig in rank and experience. While working on one particularly complex tactical exercise, Conner assigned Craig to work with Liggett as his assistant. It was the beginning of a professional working relationship that would bear great fruit just a few years later.
Craig remained at the War College as an instructor the following year, working under Conner. Craig simultaneously was assigned to the Army General Staff as the chief of staff of the Maneuver Division. From 1912 to 1916 he served in various cavalry assignments in the west, including on the Mexican border where he served under John Pershing. In 1916–17 Craig was assigned as an instructor at the Army Service Schools at Fort Leavenworth. In 1917 he was detailed to the General Staff Corps.
When America entered the war in April 1917, Craig was one of the Army’s few trained and experienced staff officers. Promoted to major in the Regular Army in May, the following August he was promoted to the temporary wartime rank of lieutenant colonel in the National Army and assigned as the chief of staff of the 41st Division, composed of National Guard units from the western states. The commander of the division, Liggett, had not specifically requested Craig, but he was more than happy to get his War College classmate. As Liggett noted in his memoirs: “I gave [Craig] a free hand and charged him with the responsibility in selecting his section chiefs and otherwise building the machine.” Craig’s immediate tasks included organizing and training the divisional staff, and reorganizing and training the various and disparate National Guard units assigned to the division.
The 41st Division deployed to Europe in late November 1917 as part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Upon arriving in France, however, the 41st Division was designated as a replacement division, and it never saw combat. On 20 January 1918, Liggett was assigned to command the newly established U.S. I Corps and Craig went with him as the corps chief of staff. In his memoirs, Liggett later said of Craig that through his diligent study and native ability, he had made himself one of the most accomplished officers in the Army, regardless of rank. Liggett also wrote, “In two years in Europe he never had a day’s rest, and he never saw Paris except the one night we slept at a hotel there on our way to the British front.” Craig was promoted to colonel in the National Army in February 1918.
In January 1918, U.S. I Corps consisted of the 1st, 2nd, 26th, 32nd, 41st, and 42nd Divisions. The line divisions were attached for training to various French corps in the Champagne and Alsace sectors. I Corps, with its newly established headquarters at Neufchâteau in the Vosges Mountains sector, exercised administrative command over the divisions. The total size of the corps, including its support units, was some 200,000 troops. As with the 41st Division, Liggett gave Craig a free hand in organizing the corps headquarters and staff. Liggett and Craig also made some significant changes to the way an American corps was organized. As Liggett described it in his memoirs:
But almost immediately we adopted the French system of corps command under which an army corps consists of its staff, certain technical troops, the corps artillery and such divisions as happen to be on the lines at the point to which the corps is assigned – a more mobile and adaptable organization than our own.
Relations were not especially good between the corps headquarters and the commander of the 26th Division, Major General Clarence R. Edwards. As early as 27 January, Liggett’s aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Colonel Pierpont L. Stackpole, recorded in his diary a conversation he had with Craig following Liggett’s visit that day to the division: “I detailed to Colonel Craig the experiences of the day, including General Liggett’s remarks about General Edwards being always late, his fondness for wind-pudding, good dinners, etc., and the bad management in wasting the time of 1,500 men at a futile show.” (“Wind pudding” was a euphemism of the day for “nothing,” dating back to the Civil War.)
In February the 26th Division was attached to the French XI Corps on the Chemin des Dames ridge in the Champagne sector. Edwards continued to clash with the I Corps staff, especially with Craig and the corps G-3, Colonel Stuart Heintzelman. Craig and Heintzelman were critical of Edwards for not being fully engaged with his subordinate units and failing to visit even his brigade command posts in the field. When the 26th Division was deployed to Seicheprey in the Toul region at the start of April to relieve the 1st Division in the line, the transition did not go smoothly. Edwards blamed 1st Division commander Major General Robert Bullard for the problems. When the clash between the two elevated to Liggett’s level, Craig and Heintzelman supported Bullard. Criticism continued to build within the AEF chain of command over Edwards’ leadership of the 26th Division. In mid-October 1918 Pershing finally relieved Edwards of his command. Curiously, Liggett in his memoirs never mentioned the running conflict between Craig and Edwards; for that matter, he never mentioned Edwards at all.
The Germans, meanwhile, conducted five major offensives on the Western Front between 21 March and 18 July. Although they managed to capture a great amount of ground, all five attacks ultimately failed operationally and strategically. Redeploying from Alsace, I Corps units began fighting at the divisional level against the Germans in May. The following month Craig was promoted to brigadier general in the National Army. On 4 July U.S. I Corps assumed tactical command from the French III Corps of the La Ferté-sous-Jouarre sector, between Paris and Château-Thierry. The divisions under the corps’ operational control were the U.S. 2nd Division and the French 167th Division. It was the start of the first American corps-level operation since the Civil War, and the first time French troops served under American tactical command since the American Revolution.
When the Allies launched the Aisne–Marne counteroffensive on 18 July, I Corps’ 1st and 2nd Divisions attacked toward Soissons under the operational control of French XX Corps. On 21 July, Craig established a corps advanced headquarters at Montreuil aux Lions, and I Corps assumed an operational role in the battle. Commanding the French 167th Division and the U.S. 26th, 4th, and 42nd Divisions, I Corps helped push the Germans back north to the Vesle River by 6 August. As Liggett later commented, “In the fighting just ended, the staff had functioned without a hitch in its first test, mainly due to the ability and energy of the Chief of Staff, Malin Craig.”
Following the end of the Aisne–Marne offensive, I Corps assumed defensive positions in the Champagne sector for the remainder of August. In early September, I Corps deployed to the Lorraine sector, just south of Verdun, to prepare for the first major American-led operation of the war. The mission was to reduce the Saint-Mihiel salient. The attacking forces included Liggett’s I Corps, the French II Colonial Corps, and the newly formed U.S. IV and V Corps. Attacking on 12 September, I Corps had the mission of reducing the eastern flank of the salient. As the corps chief of staff, Craig’s job was to develop the operations plan and oversee the day-to-day operations of the corps during the battle itself. Craig coordinated the operations and logistics staffs, and supervised the distribution of orders to the subordinate divisions, to give Liggett a free hand to focus on fighting the Germans. The attack was an overwhelming success, and the Americans pushed the Germans back to the base of the salient by 15 September.
Immediately after Saint-Mihiel, I Corps headquarters on 18 September was ordered to redeploy rapidly 60 miles northwest, to the west of Verdun, to assume its jump-off position for the Meuse–Argonne offensive, scheduled to start on 26 September. With three corps attacking, I Corps was on the left of the line, with V Corps in the center and III Corps on the right. Thus, I Corps had the farthest distance to travel to get into position, and much of that movement had to be made at night. In preparation for the massive movement, Craig worked closely with Colonel George Marshall, the U.S. First Army’s chief of operations, G-3. The corps headquarters could do it in the time allotted, but it would take the divisions that had fought at Saint-Mihiel considerably more time. Thus, none of those experienced divisions would be available for the start of the offensive. Instead, I Corps had to put the 77th, 28th, and 35th Divisions in the first line, with the 92nd Division in corps reserve. The 77th and 28th Divisions were experienced, but they had sustained heavy casualties during the fighting that summer, and both had been refilled with thousands of green replacements. The 35th and 92nd Divisions had little experience. Furthermore, I Corps had the most difficult terrain to attack through. The Argonne Forest and the Aire River Valley comprised classic defenders’ geography, full of deep ravines, artesian wells, steep cliffs and thick clusters of trees, and the Germans had been dug in there for more than four years.
The relative ease of the Saint-Mihiel operation had created misleading expectations among the Americans. The Meuse–Argonne was a far more difficult problem. The first several days of the operation fell far short of what AEF commander General John J. Pershing wanted. On 28 September, Pershing arrived at I Corps headquarters while Liggett was out with the units. Pershing ordered Craig to call the division commanders and order them to push on, regardless of men or guns, night and day.
When the 77th Division’s “Lost Battalion” was cut off and isolated deep in the Argonne Forest, Liggett and Craig on 7 and 8 October planned a bold flank attack with one brigade of the 82nd Division that would force the Germans to fall back all along the fronts of the 77th and 28th Divisions. It was a risky maneuver, with the flank of the attacking brigade exposed to converging German fire from the steep and rugged cliffs dominating the Aire River Valley. The attack, during which the 82nd Division’s Corporal Alvin York earned the Medal of Honor, broke the ring around the Lost Battalion, allowing it to be relieved. All of the French liaison officers attached to I Corps headquarters had opposed the plan, as did every member of Liggett’s corps staff. As Liggett later wrote, “only the chief, Malin Craig, supported me.” By 10 October the attack forced the Germans completely out of the of the Argonne Forest.
When Liggett assumed command of U.S. First Army on 16 October, Craig remained as chief of staff to the new I Corps commander, Major General Joseph Dickman. During the final days of the war the incident known as the “Race to Sedan” (see Introduction, here) resulted in some tension between Liggett and his old I Corps staff. The directive for the Americans to take Sedan had been issued by Pershing, without Liggett’s knowledge. As an outcome, U.S. V Corps’ 1st Division crossed the boundary into the I Corps sector without coordination, and the result was chaos on the ground. When Liggett reached the I Corps command post on 8 November to restore order, “First Corps headquarters was buzzing like a hornet’s nest when I arrived, and as the first victim to hand, I was the sufferer. Although this was my own old corps, they were inclined to hold me personally responsible for the 1st Division’s ‘atrocity,’ as they termed it.”
In the aftermath, Dickman and Craig largely blamed V Corps’ commander, Major General Charles P. Summerall, for the debacle. The result was lifelong animosity between the two corps commanders. When Summerall, who could hold a grudge forever, became chief of staff in the U.S. Army in November 1926, he still bore lasting enmity toward the now-retired Dickman, along with his former I Corps chief of staff. Fortunately for Craig, he already had been promoted to major general in the Regular Army eight months before Summerall was appointed chief of staff. (In the 1920s major general was the highest rank in the U.S. Army, with the exception of the chief of staff, who was a four-star.)
After the war ended in November 1918, Dickman and Craig took over the newly formed U.S. Third Army, the major element of the U.S. Army of Occupation in Germany. Another large-scale and long-distance transfer of forces was required to get the American occupation troops into position for the beginning of the movement to the Rhine, scheduled to start on the morning on 17 November. But the order establishing the Third Army was not issued until 13 November, which left Craig with little time to get his new field army headquarters organized, let alone plan, coordinate, and direct the divisions marked for occupation duty in Germany. On the evening of the 13th Craig visited Marshall at First Army headquarters, requesting his help in getting the divisions moving, while Craig pulled together the new Third Army staff. Marshall also helped Craig by detailing officers and clerks from his own First Army Operations Section to Craig’s new Third Army, which now had the AEF’s primary mission. During the subsequent interwar years, Craig would remember George Marshall as the consummate team player.
In May 1919 Craig was reunited with Liggett, when the latter assumed command of Third Army from Dickman. For his service as a divisional, corps, and army-level chief of staff, Craig was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He also was decorated with the Companion of the Order of the Bath by the United Kingdom; the Commander of the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre with Palm by France; and the Commander of the Order of the Crown by Belgium.
In August 1919, Craig reverted to his Regular Army permanent rank of major, and was assigned as the director of the Army War College. In January 1920 Craig joined the tour already in progress that Pershing – at the direction of Secretary of War Newton Baker – was making of army camps throughout the United States. George Marshall at the time was Pershing’s aide-de-camp, and Craig and Marshall during the tour cemented a close relationship that would continue for the next 25 years.
In July 1920 Craig was promoted to the permanent rank of colonel in the Regular Army, and assigned command of the District of Arizona. The following year he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned as the commandant of the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kansas, where in 1923 one of his students was Major George S. Patton. Later in 1923 Craig assumed command of the Coast Artillery District of Manila, and in 1924 he was promoted to major general and assigned as the U.S. Army’s chief of cavalry. In October 1923, when Pershing was still chief of staff of the Army, George Patton had taken the liberty of writing a personal “cavalryman-to-cavalryman” letter to Pershing strongly supporting Craig for the chief of cavalry position.
In 1924–26, Craig was the Army’s assistant chief of staff for operations and training, G-3. In 1926 he added his support to deputy chief of staff of the Army Fox Conner’s unsuccessful effort to get George Patton assigned as commandant of cadets at West Point. After another officer was given the appointment, Craig wrote to Patton: “I regret very much that circumstances existed as they did, as you are the one fellow for whom I am always ready to go to the bat.”
Craig assumed command of the IV Corps Area in 1926; the Panama Canal Division in 1927; the Panama Canal Department in 1928; and the IX Corps Area in 1930. While he was the commander of IX Corps, Craig in 1934 was a member of a promotion board that nominated George Marshall for brigadier general. Marshall, however was not selected for promotion. Craig later complained to Secretary of War George Dern that the Army’s flawed promotion system resulted in too many deadwood senior colonels being promoted, while officers of Marshall’s caliber were passed over. Craig said that Marshall should have become the Army’s next brigadier general that year.
In 1935 Craig returned briefly to the U.S. Army War College as the school’s commandant. Promoted directly from major general to general, Craig succeeded General Douglas MacArthur as chief of staff of the U.S. Army on 2 October 1935. George Marshall was promoted to brigadier general 11 months later, and in July 1938 Craig brought Marshall to Washington as chief of the War Department’s War Plans Division. Only three months later, Craig made Marshall the deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Army. (The deputy chief of staff at the time was the equivalent of today’s vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army.)
As chief of staff, Craig sought to convince Congress of the Army’s great weaknesses in manpower and materiel, and he fought to reform the Army against the severe budgetary and other constraints. His efforts, although largely unheralded at the time, were extremely important in preparing the army for World War II. Craig modernized army equipment and he introduced realistic training maneuvers that involved large numbers of troops. In November 1937, Craig told the Army and Navy Joint Board that the current JB325 version of the 1928 Basic War Plan Orange for war with Japan was obsolete and should be completely revised. The result was an updated War Plan Orange adopted in May 1938. The following October, that version, along with all the other “color” war plans, was superseded by the five Rainbow Plans, developed to meet the threat of a two-ocean war against multiple enemies.
In December 1937, Craig established a board to make the final recommendation on the reorganization of the U.S. Army’s future divisions. The main decision was over retaining the huge “square” division structure of the World War I era, or adopting a smaller and more flexible “triangular” division structure. The three members of the board were Fox Conner, George Marshall, and Lesley McNair. Marshall later referred to it as a “stacked deck” for the triangular division. In December 1938 the War Plans Division issued the results of a study directed by Craig that called for increases in army manpower, and the formal establishment of five infantry divisions, which at that point only existed on paper.
Perhaps Craig’s greatest contribution to the coming World War II was the Protective Mobilization Plan of 1939, which the War Plans Division completed at Craig’s direction in December 1938. It provided for a two-stage expansion: 1. an Initial Protective Force of about 400,000, consisting of most of the active Army and the National Guard, to be operational by 30 days after mobilization; and 2. an expansion to 1,150,000 active troops by 240 days after mobilization. Supported by a $575 million arms program, it was only a very small effort compared with the later reality of World War II. But compared to the state of the U.S. Army in 1939, it was a bold step forward in the face of political and bureaucratic gridlock. It became the Army’s basic prewar expansion plan. In February 1939 Craig sent Marshall to Congress to argue for an increase of Army end strength by 40,000, and the pressing need to equip the Regular Army and National Guard with modern equipment, especially new artillery and a semi-automatic rifle. The authorized increase, however, was only 17,000.
Near the end of Craig’s tenure as chief of staff, he frequently found himself caught in the middle of a power struggle between Secretary of War Harry Woodring and Assistant Secretary of War Louis Johnson. Woodring was very cautious about risking involvement in Europe, to the point of being a borderline isolationist. Johnson, on the other hand, was a staunch advocate of rapidly expanding American military capabilities, and he had the strong political backing of the American Legion. This political crossfire between the two ultimately compromised Craig’s effectiveness in dealing with Congress and thereby limited his ability to secure what was needed to better prepare the U.S. Army for war.
As Craig’s mandatory retirement date approached, he and Secretary of War Woodring lobbied hard with President Franklin Roosevelt to appoint Marshall as the next chief of staff, although Marshall was junior to 32 other general officers. Marshall succeeded Craig when he retired on 31 August 1939, the day before Germany invaded Poland to start World War II in Europe. In his final “Annual Report of the Chief of Staff” in June 1939, Craig urged the United States to strengthen its military forces by reorganizing its five geographically scattered standing divisions to defend the Western Hemisphere; establish a war reserve with equipment for 1 million men; and establish an outpost line from Alaska to Hawaii to Panama to Puerto Rico. Craig also accurately warned that because of the time lag in industrial production, the modest appropriations that had already been approved for increased military equipment would not “be fully transformed into military power for two years.”
In September 1941 Craig was recalled to active duty in the retired rank of general to head Secretary of War Henry L. Stimpson’s War Department Personnel Board, which was responsible for selecting senior-level civilian specialists for direct commissions in the Army. The most senior of those direct commissions went to William “Big Bill” Knudsen, a native of Denmark who in 1940 was the president of General Motors. In January 1942, Knudsen was directly commissioned as a lieutenant general, and appointed director of production, Office of the Under Secretary of War. Under Knudsen’s direction, American production of machine tools for the manufacture of war materiel tripled.
During his tenure as chief of staff of the Army, Malin Craig established much of the critical foundation from which the U.S. Army expanded from 174,000 troops in 1939 to more than 11 million in 1945. Today, General George C. Marshall is rightly remembered as America’s “Architect of Victory.” But thanks to Craig, Marshall did not have to start from ground zero, a lesson hard learned by the United States Army and Craig in 1916. And it was also thanks to Craig that the relatively obscure Colonel Marshall of September 1936 replaced him as chief of staff of the U.S. Army just three years later. Although Craig and Marshall had once met briefly as company grade officers in the American West in 1905, it was their close working relationship in France during World War I that paid great dividends for the United States in World War II.
During World War II, Craig’s younger brother, Major General Louis A. Craig, Jr., commanded the U.S. 9th Infantry Division in 1944–45. Malin Craig died at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. on 25 July 1945. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.