COMMENTS ON GENERAL MARSHALL'S MEMORANDUM” BY THE BRITISH CHIEFS OF STAFF, 13 APRIL 1942

Source: Was found reprinted in “CROSS-CHANNEL ATTACK, 1942: THE BRITISH REJECTION OF OPERATION SLEDGEHAMMER AND THE CHERBOURG ALTERNATIVE”, a Thesis by Joseph L. Strange at the University of Maryland in 1984. It references C.O.S. (42) 97(0)., 13 April, 1942, War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee, "Comments on General Marshall's Memorandum," CCS 381 (3-23-42) part 3, RG 218, MM, NA; which may be the original source.

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PART I

We have read with great interest and are in general agreement with your outline plan for operations in Western Europe. It fits in with the way we had been thinking and the opportunity afforded by your visit for examination of the plan by your and our Staffs, in close and frank consultation has, we think, been invaluable. We should like this close consultation to continue in London.

2. We agree with the paramount importance of keeping Russia in the field, and that Western Europe is the most suitable theatre for a major offensive against Germany by the combined forces of the United States of America and Great Britain. There is, therefore, identity of outlook between us both on the short and long term view.

3. As regards the long term view, we entirely agree that plans should be prepared for major operations on the Continent by American and British forces in 1943 on the lines proposed in your paper. It is important that no time should be lost in concerting the necessary plans, and your paper provides a most valuable basis for their preparation. We also agree that, subject to the necessary measures being taken to hold Japan (See Paragraphs 13 - 15 below), everything should be concentrated on the main object, i.e. the defeat of Germany.

4. As regards the short term view, we feel that we may have an opportunity, indeed that we may be compelled (for the reasons given in Paragraph 5) to take some action on the Continent this year ( 1942). Since the weather breaks before the end of September, any such Operation must take place sufficiently early to ensure the capture of a port on the Continent by the third week in September at latest. In other words, the Operation must be launched in August at latest. We recognise that substantial American land forces cannot reach the United Kingdom in time to take part in operations on the Continent until September, and therefore that the bulk of any land forces which are engaged in any Operation before that date will have to be British. Nevertheless, any American forces, particularly air forces, which can arrive in time to co-operate would be of the greatest value, and might make the difference between success and failure. The reasons are as follows.

5. Our action in 1942 will be governed by the situation in Russia. This may develop in any of the three following ways:-

(a) Russia is being defeated;

(b) Russia is holding Germany;

(c) Russia is winning.

These alternatives are discussed seriatim in the paragraphs that follow.

6. If Russia is being defeated, we may be compelled to make a supreme effort to draw off German forces from the Eastern Front. This situation might arise any time after June. It therefore follows that the sooner American air forces, and particularly heavy bombers, arrive in this country the greater will be our chance of successful action. The subsequent arrival of American land forces would enable us to reinforce the expeditionary force on the Continent, if we had succeeded in establishing a bridgehead. But even if the Russians were to collapse before the American forces had crossed over, they would be invaluable to strengthen the defences of this country against the invasion which we believe would inevitably follow.

7. If Russia is holding Germany, it is difficult to see in advance precisely what we should do. On the one hand successful action by us on the Continent might turn the scale in favour of Russia and expedite ultimate victory. On the other hand, there might be much to be said for delaying such action until 1943. In the first place, the German army and people would by then be much weaker as a result of enduring another winter; secondly, the danger of a premature and possibly abortive uprising by the patriot armies would be avoided. Since, however, we must be prepared to take action in 1942, the early arrival of American forces is just as necessary as in the previous case.

8. If Russia is winning, much the same arguments apply as in the last case, with this qualification that if at any time it became clear that Germany was on the point of collapse, we should not hesitate to get on the Continent at once. American participation in such an enterprise, whenever it might occur, would clearly be of the greatest value.

9. Thus, in all three cases, American forces would be of the greatest value, although at this stage it is not possible to foresee the precise circumstances or the precise manner in which they would be employed .

10. If you agree with our general conception, we should be glad of early information as to the character and extent of the contribution which you could make available before September, and the earliest dates by which the various air and land contingents could arrive. The most important requirements for this country are transport aircraft and crews and parachute battalions, while equally important is an additional supply of American fighters for the Middle East to enable us to assemble the necessary reserve of British fighters in the United Kingdom.

11. We cordially agree with your view that considerable training in combined operations is necessary before any forces are launched upon operations on the Continent. This can best be done in this country.

12. As an annex to this paper, we have set out the steps which we have in hand to prepare ourselves for the various contingencies which may arise in the near future.

PART II

Measures which must be taken concurrently with our preparation to go on the Continent.

13. We wish to point out that the action against Germany as outlined in the previous paragraphs may be entirely vitiated unless we take the necessary steps to hold Japan in the meantime.

14. The extent and rapidity of the Japanese advance has placed us in a perilous position in India, the Indian Ocean and Ceylon. But despite the enormous British interests involved, we should not on the long view feel so concerned at the Japanese advance, were it not for the results it might have on our ability to defeat Germany. We cannot afford that Japan should obtain control of the waters in the Western part of the Indian Ocean as it would have the following results:-

(a) We should be unable to sustain our forces in the Middle East. Germany would then be able to get access to the oil of Iraq and Iran and to the raw materials of the East, and so be greatly fortified for a very long struggle.

(b) We should lose our oil supplies from Abadan. This would be a major disaster since the oil which we and Australia obtain from the Persian and Iraq oilfields cannot be replaced from elsewhere owing to shortage of tankers.

(c) The Southern supply route to Russia would be cut. This route is likely to be of increasing importance as enemy attacks on the Northern route increase. We have plenty of evidence that the Germans have every intention of bringing a heavy scale of surface, U-boat, and air attack against the Northern route this summer.

(d) Turkey would unquestionably fall an easy prey to the Axis enabling enemy naval forces to enter the Black Sea and so turn the Russian position in the Caucasus. This might lead directly and quickly to the downfall of our Russian ally.

15. We do not possess enough naval forces, even leaving the barest minimum for our vital commitments in Home Waters to meet the Japanese forces already operating in the Indian Ocean, not to mention those which may be added to them. We are also very short of aircraft in this theatre.

16. Accordingly we most urgently require American naval assistance unless the action by the United States Pacific Fleet can be such as to ensure that the Japanese cannot operate strong forces in the Indian Ocean; the only alternative is for the U.S.A. to send us capital ship and aircraft carrier reinforcements, together with their complement of cruisers and destroyers, so that our Eastern Fleet may be reinforced to such an extent that the Japanese will not dare challenge it in these waters.

17. Similarly we urgently require American Air Forces, particularly air striking forces, in the Indian theatre, in order that we may ensure the control of sea communications in the waters around Ceylon and on the East Coast of India. These are required both to secure our naval base at Ceylon and to prevent the enemy acquiring positions in Southern India from which they could threaten this base. Aircraft rather than personnel are our primary immediate requirement.

Great George Street, S.W. 1, 13th April, 1942.