Roosevelt Papers

Memorandum by Prime Minister Churchill


Brigadier Hollis.

C.O.S. Committee.

Part I—The Atlantic Front

1. The procedure outlined in your Minute to me of yesterday2 is most desirable. There should be two or three meetings on successive days of the three or four principal persons on each side, presided over by the President. At these meetings the whole scope of the war can be discussed, and particular points as they arise can be referred to sub-Committees for implementing in detail. It is, however, necessary that while we are on board here we should make up our minds on the policy we wish to pursue and the chief proposals we should make to the United States’ representatives. I do not attempt to deal with [Page 22] the question of allocation of supplies in these notes, but only with the war policy of 1942 and 1943.

2. Hitler’s failure and losses in Russia are the prime fact in the war at this time. We cannot tell how great the disaster to the German Army and Nazi regime will be. This regime has hitherto lived upon easily and cheaply won successes. Instead of what was imagined to be a swift and easy victory, it has now to face the shock of a Winter of slaughter and expenditure of fuel and equipment on the largest scale.

Neither Great Britain nor the United States have any part to play in this event except to make sure that we send, without fail and punctually, the supplies we have promised. In this way alone shall we hold our influence over Stalin and be able to weave the mighty Russian effort into the general texture of the war.

3. In a lesser degree the impending victory of General Auchinleck in Cyrenaica is an injury to the German Powers. We may expect the total destruction of the enemy force in Libya to be apparent before the end of the year. This not only inflicts a heavy blow upon the Germans and Italians, but it frees our forces in the Nile Valley from the major threat of invasion from the west under which they have long dwelt. Naturally, General Auchinleck will press on as fast as possible with the operation called Acrobat, which should give him possession of Tripoli and if so bring his armoured vanguard to the French frontier of Tunis. He may be able to supply a forecast before we separate at Washington.

4. The German losses and defeat in Russia and their extirpation from Libya may, of course, impel them to a supreme effort in the Spring to break the ring that is closing on them by a south-eastward thrust either through the Caucasus or through Anatolia, or both. However, we should not assume that necessarily they will have the war energy for this task. The Russian armies recuperated by the Winter will lie heavy upon them from Leningrad to the Crimea. They may easily be forced to evacuate the Crimea. There is no reason at this time to suppose that the Russian Navy will not command the Black Sea. Nor should it be assumed that the present life-strength of Germany is such as to make an attack upon Turkey and march through Anatolia a business to be undertaken in present circumstances by the Nazi regime. The Turks have 50 Divisions; their fighting quality and the physical obstacles of their country are well-known. Although Turkey has played for safety throughout, the Russian command of the Black Sea and the British successes in the Levant and along the North Africa shore, together with the proved weakness of the Italian Fleet, would justify every effort on our part to bring Turkey into line, and are certainly sufficient to encourage her to resist [Page 23] a German inroad. While it would be imprudent to regard the danger of a German south-west thrust against the Persian, Iraq, Syrian front as removed, it certainly now seems much less likely and imminent than heretofore.

5. We ought, therefore, to try hard to win over French North Africa and now is the moment to use every inducement and form of pressure at our disposal upon the Government of Vichy and the French authorities in North Africa. The German set-back in Russia, the British successes in Libya, the moral and military collapse of Italy; above all, the Declarations of War exchanged between Germany and the United States, must strongly affect the mind of France and the French Empire. Now is the time to offer to Vichy and to French North Africa a blessing or cursing. A blessing will consist in a promise by the United States and Great Britain to re-establish France as a Great Power with her territories undiminished (except for the changes in Syria and certain adjustments which may be necessary on the frontier of Spanish Morocco.) It should carry with it an offer of active aid by British and United States Expeditionary Forces, both from the Atlantic seaboard of Morocco and at convenient landing points in Algeria and Tunis as well as from General Auchinleck’s forces advancing from the East. Ample supplies for the French and the loyal Moors should be made available. Vichy should be asked to send their fleet from Toulon to Oran and Bizerta, and to bring France into the war again as a principal.

This would mean that the Germans would take over the whole of France and rule it as occupied territory. It does not seem that the conditions in the occupied and the hitherto unoccupied zones are widely different. Whatever happens European France will inevitably be subjected to a complete blockade. There is, of course, always the chance that the Germans, tied up in Russia, may not care to take over occupied France even though French North Africa is at war with them.

6. If we can obtain even the connivance of Vichy to French North Africa coming over to our side we must be ready to send considerable forces as soon as possible. Apart from anything which General Auchinleck can bring in from the East, should he be successful in Tripolitania, we hold ready in Britain (Operation Gymnast) about 55,000 men comprising two Divisions and an armoured unit, together with the shipping. These forces could enter French North Africa by invitation on the twenty-third day after the order to embark them was given. Leading elements and air forces from Malta could reach Bizerta at very short notice. It is desired that the United States should at the same time promise to bring in, via Casablanca and other African Atlantic ports, not less than 150,000 men during the next six [Page 24] months. It is essential that some American elements, say 25,000 men, should go at the earliest moment after French agreement, either Vichy or North African, had been obtained.

7. It is also asked that the United States will send the equivalent of three Divisions and one Armoured Division into Northern Ireland. These Divisions could, if necessary, complete their training in Northern Ireland. The presence of American forces there would become known to the enemy, and they could be led to magnify their actual numbers. The presence of United States’ troops in the British Isles would be a powerful additional deterrent against an attempt at invasion by Germany. It would enable us to nourish the campaign in French North Africa by two more Divisions and one complete Armoured Division. If forces of this order could be added to the French Army already in North Africa with proper air support, the Germans would have to make a very difficult and costly campaign across uncommanded waters to subdue North Africa. The North-west African theatre is one most favourable for Anglo-American operations, our approaches being direct and convenient across the Atlantic, while the enemy’s passage of the Mediterranean would be severely obstructed as is happening in their Libyan enterprise.

8. It may be mentioned here that we greatly desire American Bomber Squadrons to come into action from the British Isles against Germany. Our own bomber programme has fallen short of our hopes. It is formidable and is increasing, but its full development has been delayed. It must be remembered that we place great hopes of affecting German production and German morale by ever more severe and more accurate bombing of their cities and harbours and that this, combined with their Russian defeats, may produce important effects upon the will-to-fight of the German people, and with consequential internal reactions upon the German Government. The arrival in the United Kingdom of, say, 20 American Bomber Squadrons or a token force of 6 for a start would emphasise and accelerate this process, and would be the most direct and effective reply to the Declaration of War by Germany upon the United States. Arrangements will be made in Great Britain to increase this process and develop the Anglo-American bombing of Germany without any top limit from now on till the end of the war.

9. We must, however, reckon with a refusal by Vichy to act as we desire, and on the contrary they may rouse French North Africa to active resistance. They may help German troops to enter North Africa; the Germans may force their way or be granted passage through Spain; the French Fleet at Toulon may pass under German control, and France and the French Empire may be made by Vichy to collaborate actively with Germany against us, although it is not [Page 25] likely that this would go through effectively. The overwhelming majority of the French are ranged with Great Britain and now still more with the United States. It is by no means certain that Admiral Darlan can deliver the Toulon Fleet over intact to Germany. It is most improbable that French soldiers and sailors would fight effectively against the United States and Great Britain. Nevertheless, we must not exclude the possibility of a half-hearted association of the defeatist elements in France and North Africa with Germany. In this case our task in North Africa will become much harder.

A Campaign must be fought in 1942 to gain possession of, or conquer, the whole of the North African shore including the Atlantic ports of Morocco. Dakar and other French West African Ports must be captured before the end of the year. Whereas, however, entry into French North Africa is urgent to prevent German penetration, a period of 8 or 9 months’ preparation may well be afforded for the mastering of Dakar and the West African establishments. Plans should be set on foot forthwith. If sufficient time and preparation are allowed and the proper apparatus provided, these latter operations present no insuperable difficulty.

10. Our relationship with General de Gaulle and the Free French Movement will require to be reviewed. Hitherto the United States have entered into no undertakings similar to those comprised in my correspondence with him.3 Through no particular fault of his own he has not been of any important help to us. Indeed, his Movement has created new antagonisms in French minds. Any action which the United States may now feel able to take in regard to him should have the effect inter alia of re-defining our obligations to him and France so as to make those obligations more closely dependent upon the effective effort by him and the French nation to rehabilitate themselves. If Vichy were to act as we desire about French North Africa, the United States and Great Britain must labour to bring about a reconciliation between the Free French (de Gaullists) and those other Frenchmen who will have taken up arms once more against Germany. If, on the other hand, Vichy assists in collaboration with Germany and we have to fight our way into French North and West Africa, then the de Gaullists’ Movement will be of value and must be aided and used to the full.

11. We cannot tell what will happen in Spain. It seems probable that the Spaniards will not give the Germans a free passage through Spain to attack Gibraltar and invade North Africa. There may be infiltration, but the formal demand for the passage of an Army would be resisted. If so, the Winter would be the worst time for the Germans to attempt to force their way through Spain. Moreover, Hitler with [Page 26] nearly all Europe to hold down by armed force in the face of defeat and semi-starvation, may well be chary of taking over unoccupied France and involving himself in bitter guerilla warfare with the morose, fierce, hungry people of the Iberian Peninsula. Everything possible must be done by Britain and the United States to strengthen their will to resist. The present policy of limited supplies should be pursued. Hope should be held out of an improvement of the Spanish/Moroccan frontier at the expense of France, who must be made to understand that her rehabilitation following an Anglo-American victory will be an overwhelming reward which she has yet to deserve.

The value of Gibraltar Harbour and base to us is so great that no attempts should be made upon the Atlantic Islands until either the Peninsula is invaded or the Spaniards give passage to the Germans.

12. To sum up, the war in the West in 1942 comprises, as its main offensive effort, the occupation and control by Great Britain and the United States of the whole of the North and West African Possessions of France, and the further control by Britain of the whole North African shore from Tunis to Egypt, thus giving, if the Naval situation allows, free passage through the Mediterranean to the Levant and the Suez Canal. These great objectives can only be achieved if British and American naval and air superiority in the Atlantic is maintained, if supply lines continue uninterrupted, and if the British Isles are effectively safeguarded against invasion.

Part II—The Pacific Front

1. The heavy losses inflicted by Japan upon the United States and British Forces in the Pacific theatre have given the Japanese, for the time being, superiority in these vast waters. There are at present few points in the East Indies to which they cannot transport a superior land force. By insulting the western seaboard of Canada and the United States, or the shores of Australia, with attacks of individual cruisers or seaborne aircraft they may seek to cause alarm and the dispersion of our forces. However, on account of the great number of objectives open to them—far more than they can possibly devour simultaneously—they must be expected, if they act wisely, to concentrate upon securing their military position in the East Indies. On this principle they would do their utmost to capture Manila while making their longer advance overland towards Singapore. At the same time they would strike at Burma and the Burma Road, thus isolating China. No relief is possible for Hong Kong. The Japanese must be expected to establish themselves on both sides of the Straits of Malacca and in the Straits of Sunda, to take a number of islands in the Malaysian Archipelago, and to endeavour to occupy various parts of the Dutch East Indies.

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The above, if stubbornly resisted, will involve the employment of very large numbers of Japanese troops, and their supply and maintenance will strain Japanese sea transport.

We should ask the United States’ authorities what is their view about a Japanese attempt to take and occupy Hawaii by an expedition. With the knowledge at present available to us it seems it would be an ill-judged and therefore unlikely enterprise.

2. We do not know what estimate of time the United States authorities place upon the resistance of Manila and other key points in the Philippines. We expect, however, that Singapore island and fortress will stand an attack for at least six months, although meanwhile the naval base will not be useable by either side. A large Japanese army with its siege train and ample supplies of ammunition and engineering stores will be required for their attack upon Singapore. Considerable Japanese forces also will be needed for the attack on Burma and the Burma Road. The line of communications between the Malay Archipelago and Japan is nearly 2,000 miles in length and dangerously vulnerable. The Japanese armies landed in the Malay Peninsula, or in Indo-China, Siam and Burma, will soon constitute immense commitments which would be immediately imperilled by the recovery by the United States of major sea-control in the Pacific. This process should be aided by Great Britain. In the meanwhile an attack upon Japanese sea communications by United States and Dutch submarines and other vessels constitutes a grievous danger to the enemy.

3. How then is the superiority of Anglo-American sea-power to be regained? The two new 45,000 ton Japanese battleships are dominating factors, and it is not seen how a superior line of battle can be drawn out against Japan in the Pacific theatre for some time. It may well be that this will not be achieved until the two new American 16" gun battleships join the Pacific Fleet. The date of May has been mentioned, but it is not known to us whether this is the date of commissioning of these ships or of their being fully worked up. It would seem unjustifiably hazardous to fight a general fleet action until these two ships at least have joined the United States’ Pacific Fleet. Diversions and enterprises by United States aircraft carriers escorted by fast cruisers against the exposed cities of Japan constitute a form of interim offensive action which will presumably be earnestly studied.

4. The British naval contribution to the war against Japan has been crippled by the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. We have to base on Scapa Flow the five Capital ships, viz: King George V; Duke of York; Rodney; Nelson (ready at the end of March) and Renown, together with one modern aircraft carrier Victorious. We contemplate basing on Gibraltar (while it is available) the Malaya [Page 28] and a second modern aircraft carrier, probably Formidable. These forces should be sufficient to assure the ultimate control of the Atlantic in the event of a sortie by the Tirpitz (probably the most powerful vessel afloat) supported by Scheer and also by the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prim Eugen if at any time they can be repaired at Brest. We hope by frequent air-bombing to keep these last three ships out of action. We therefore concur with the United States’ Naval Authorities in their transference of all American Capital ships from the Atlantic to Hawaii or elsewhere in the Pacific. We ask, however, that as many U.S. destroyers as possible shall be left to guard the vital supply line between America and the British Isles.

5. In the meanwhile we propose to organize in the Indian Ocean a force of three armoured carriers, viz: Indomitable, Illustrious and Hermes, together with suitable cruiser escort. At a later stage Furious will be available. This force, based on Trincomalee and ranging as far as Port Darwin, should be formed and in action from the end of February. The four “R” Class battleships, Ramillies, Revenge, Royal Sovereign and Resolution will be available as they arrive upon the scene for convoy or other duties between the Cape, Australia and Egypt. It is thought by the Admiralty that the three aircraft carriers working in combination may exercise a very powerful deterrent effect upon the movement of Japanese heavy ships into the Indian Ocean or in the waters between Australia and South Africa, and may to some extent repair the loss of battleship strength. We presume the United States will make their numerous and powerful aircraft carriers play a similar part in the northern Pacific. We are ready to concert action with the United States’ fleet, and we should welcome the study of the combined use of all important units in the Pacific for any major offensive operation which may be deemed practicable. It would be only in the last resort that we should withdraw the Queen Elizabeth and Valiant from the Mediterranean. If adequate air forces were available on the Egyptian and Libyan shores this would not necessarily expose North East Africa to German overseas invasion. The withdrawal of these two battleships from the Eastern Mediterranean would, however, make the victualling of Malta far more difficult, and would exercise a disastrous effect upon Turkey, whose confidence it is so important to maintain. Only if Australia were to be threatened with imminent invasion on a large scale could we contemplate such a step. We therefore propose that Warspite, when repaired in February, should join Admiral Cunningham’s fleet at Alexandria. It may, however, be observed that in supreme emergency, or for a great occasion, these three fast modernized ships united to the three aircraft carriers aforesaid, and with the “R,” Class battleships, constitute a respectable force.

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6. This is the best we can do until the completion and working-up of the Anson and the Howe. The original dates for these were May and September 1942, plus two months working-up in each case. Since the Japanese Declaration of War extreme priority has been given to these vessels and 24-hour shifts are being worked upon them. It is hoped that the Howe may be advanced from September, perhaps to July. Unless some serious losses have been suffered in the interval, as is always possible, or unless the two Italian “Littorio” battleships have been taken over effectively and manned by the Germans, these two ships or alternatively the 16″ gun Rodney & Nelson might be considered available to reinforce the Allied fleets in the Pacific either themselves or by setting free their two consorts. If they were added to the two new United States 16″-gun battleships they should give a good margin of superiority even if in the judgment of the United States Naval Authorities that has not been achieved earlier. We may therefore look to the Autumn of 1942 as the period when we shall have recovered superior naval control of the Pacific. From that moment all the Japanese overseas expeditions will be in jeopardy, and offensive operations on the largest scale may be set on foot either against their country, their Possessions or their new conquests. These again should be the subject of immediate planning.

The questions which remain open are how much injury we shall have to suffer in the interval; how strongly the Japanese will fortify themselves in their new positions, and whether the Philippines and Singapore can hold out so long. It is of first importance for us to abridge this waiting period by every conceivable means.

Part III—1943

If the operations outlined in Parts I and II should prosper during 1942 the situation at the beginning of 1943 might be as follows:

United States and Great Britain would have recovered effective naval superiority in the Pacific, and all Japanese overseas commitments would be endangered both from the assailing of their communications and from British and American expeditions sent to recover places lost;
The British Isles would remain intact and more strongly prepared against invasion than ever before;
The whole West and North African shores from Dakar to the Suez Canal, and the Levant to the Turkish frontier, would be in Anglo-American hands.

Turkey, though not necessarily at war, would be definitely incorporated in the American-British-Russian front. The Russian position would be strongly established and the supplies of British and American material as promised would have in part compensated for the loss of Russian munition-making capacity. It might be that a [Page 30] footing would already have been established in Sicily and Italy, with reactions inside Italy which might be highly favourable.

But all this would fall short of bringing the war to an end. The war cannot be ended by driving Japan back to her own bounds and defeating her overseas forces. The war can only be ended through the defeat in Europe of the German Armies, or through internal convulsions in Germany produced by the unfavourable course of the war, economic privations and the Allied bombing offensive. As the strength of the United States, Great Britain and Russia develops and begins to be realised by the Germans an internal collapse is always possible, but we must not count upon this. Our plans must proceed upon the assumption that the resistance of the German Army and Air Force will continue at its present level and that their U-boat warfare will be conducted by increasingly numerous flotillas.
We have, therefore, to prepare for the liberation of the captive countries of Western and Southern Europe by the landing at suitable points, successively or simultaneously, of British and American armies strong enough to enable the conquered populations to revolt. By themselves they will never be able to revolt owing to the ruthless counter-measures that will be employed: but if adequate and suitably equipped forces were landed in several of the following countries, namely, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, the French Channel coasts and the French Atlantic coasts, as well as Italy and possibly the Balkans, the German garrisons would prove insufficient to cope both with the strength of the liberating forces and the fury of the revolting peoples. It is impossible for the Germans while we retain the sea-power necessary to choose the place or places of attack, to have sufficient troops in each of these countries for effective resistance. In particular, they cannot move their armour about laterally from North to South or West to East: either they must divide it between the various conquered countries—in which case it will become hopelessly dispersed—or they must hold it back in a central position in Germany, in which case it will not arrive until large and important lodgments have been made by us from overseas.
We must face here the usual clash between short-term and longterm projects. War is a constant struggle and must be waged from day to day. It is only with some difficulty and within limits that provisions can be made for the future. Experience shows that forecasts are usually falsified and preparations always in arrear. Nevertheless, there must be a design and theme for bringing the war to a victorious end in a reasonable period. All the more is this necessary when under modern conditions no large-scale offensive operation can be launched without the preparation of elaborate technical apparatus.
We should therefore face now the problems not only of driving Japan back to her homelands and regaining undisputed mastery in the Pacific, but also of liberating conquered Europe by the landing during the Summer of 1943 of United States and British armies on their shores. Plans should be prepared for the landing in all of the countries mentioned above. The actual choice of which three or four to pick should be deferred as long as possible so as to profit by the turn of events and make sure of secrecy.
In principle, the landings should be made by armoured and mechanized forces capable of disembarking not at ports but on beaches, either by landing-craft or from ocean-going ships specially adapted. The potential front of attack is thus made so wide that the German forces holding down these different countries cannot be strong enough at all points. An amphibious outfit must be prepared to enable these large-scale disembarkations to be made swiftly and surely. The vanguards of the various British and American expeditions should be marshalled by the Spring of 1943 in Iceland, the British Isles and, if possible, in French Morocco and Egypt. The main body would come direct across the ocean.
It need not be assumed that great numbers of men are required. If the incursion of the armoured formations is successful, the uprising of the local population for whom weapons must be brought will supply the corpus of the liberating offensive. Forty Armoured Divisions, or their equivalent in tank Brigades, at 15,000 men apiece, of which Great Britain would try to produce nearly half, would amount to 600,000 men. Behind this armour, another million men of all arms would suffice to wrest enormous territories from Hitler’s domination; but these campaigns once started will require nourishing on a lavish scale. Our industries and trading establishments should, by the end of 1942, be running on a sufficient scale.
Apart from the command of the sea, without which nothing is possible, the essential to all these operations is superior air, power, and for landing purposes a large development of carrier-borne aircraft will be necessary. This, however, is needed anyhow for the war in 1942. In order to wear down the enemy and hamper his counter preparations, the bombing offensive of Germany from England and of Italy from Malta and, if possible, from Tripoli and Tunis, must reach the highest possible scale of intensity. Considering that the British first-line air strength is already slightly superior to that of Germany; that the Russian Air Force has already established a superiority on a large part of the Russian front and may be considered to be three-fifths the first-line strength of Germany, and that the United States’ resources and future developments are additional, there is no reason why a decisive mastery of the air should not be [Page 32] established even before the Summer of 1943, and meanwhile heavy and continuous punishment inflicted upon Germany. Having regard to the fact that the bombing offensive is necessarily a matter of degree and that the targets cannot be moved away, it would be right to assign priority to the fighter and torpedo-carrying aircraft required for the numerous carriers and improvised carriers which are available or must be brought into existence.
If we set these tasks before us now, being careful that they do not trench too much upon current necessities, we might hope, even if no German collapse occurs beforehand, to win the war at the end of 1943 or 1944. There might be advantage in declaring now our intention of sending armies of liberation into Europe in 1943. This would give hope to the subjugated peoples and prevent any truck between them and the German invaders. The setting and keeping in movement along our courses of the minds of so many scores of millions of men is in itself a potent atmospheric influence.

[Part] IV—Notes on the Pacific

The Japanese have Naval superiority which enables them to transport troops to almost any desired point, possess themselves of it and establish it for an air naval fuelling base. The Allies will not have for some time the power to fight a general fleet engagement. Their power of convoying troops depends upon the size of the seas, which reduces the chance of interception. We can arrive by surprise from out of the wide seas at some place which we hold. Even without superior sea-power we may descend by surprise here and there. But we could not carry on a sustained operation across the seas. We must expect, therefore, to be deprived one by one of our Possessions and strong-points in the Pacific, and that the enemy will establish himself fairly easily in one after the other, mopping up the local garrisons.
In this interim period our duty is one of stubborn resistance at each point attacked, and to slip supplies and reinforcements through as opportunity offers, taking all necessary risks. If our forces resist stubbornly and we reinforce them as much as possible, the enemy will be forced to make ever larger overseas commitments far from home: his shipping resources will be strained and his communications will provide vulnerable targets upon which all available naval and air forces, United States, British and Dutch—especially submarines—should concentrate their effort. It is of the utmost importance that the enemy should not acquire large gains cheaply; that he should be compelled to nourish all his conquests and kept extended, and kept burning up his resources.
The resources of Japan are a wasting factor. The country has been long overstrained by its wasteful war in China. They were at their maximum strength on the day of the Pearl Harbour attack. If it is true, as Stalin asserts, that they have, in addition to their own Air Force, 1,500 German airplanes (and he would have opportunities of knowing how they got there), they have now no means of replacing wastage other than by their small home production of 200/400 per month. Our policy should be to make them maintain the largest possible number of troops in their conquests overseas and to keep them as busy as possible so as to enforce well-filled lines of communications and a high rate of aircraft consumption. If we idle and leave them at ease they will be able to extend their conquests cheaply and easily; work with a minimum of overseas forces; make the largest gains and the smallest commitments and thus inflict upon us an enormous amount of damage. It is therefore right and necessary to fight them at every point where we have a fair chance so as to keep them burning and extended.
But we must steadily aim at regaining superiority at sea at the earliest moment. This can be gained in two ways: first, by the strengthening of our Capital ships. The two new Japanese battleships built free from Treaty limitations must be considered a formidable factor, influencing the whole Pacific theatre. It is understood that two new American battleships will be fit for action by May. Of course, all undertakings in war must be subject to the action of the enemy, accidents and misfortune, but if our battleship strength should not be further reduced, nor any new unforeseen stress arise, we should hope to place the Nelson and the Rodney at the side of these two new American battleships, making four 16″-gun modern vessels of major strength. Behind such a squadron the older reconstructed battleships of the United States should be available in numbers sufficient to enable a fleet action, under favourable circumstances, to be contemplated at any time after the month of May. The recovery of our Naval superiority in the Pacific, even if not brought to a trial of strength, would reassure the whole western seaboard of the American Continent and thus prevent a needless dissipation on a gigantic defensive effort of forces which have offensive parts to play. We must therefore set before ourselves, as a main strategic object, the forming of a definitely superior battle-fleet in the Pacific and we must aim at May as the date when this will be achieved.
Not only then, but in the interval, the warfare of sea-plane carriers should be developed to the greatest possible extent. We are ourselves forming a squadron of three aircraft carriers, suitably attended, to act in the waters between South Africa, India and Australia. The United States have already seven regular carriers compared [Page 34] to Japan’s ten, but those of the United States are larger. To this force of regular warship aircraft carriers we must add a very large development of improvised carriers, both large and small. In this way alone can we increase our seapower rapidly. Even if the carriers can only fly a dozen machines they may play their part in combination with other carriers. We ought to develop a floating air establishment sufficient to enable us to acquire and maintain for considerable periods local air superiority over shore-based aircraft, and sufficient to cover the landing of troops in order to attack the enemy’s new conquests. Unless or until this local air superiority is definitely acquired even a somewhat superior fleet on our side would fight at a serious disadvantage. We cannot get more battleships than those now in sight for the year 1942, but we can and must get more aircraft carriers. It takes five years to build a battleship, but it is possible to improvise a carrier in six months. Here then is a field for invention and ingenuity similar to that which called forth the extraordinary fleets & flotillas which fought on the Mississippi in the Civil War. It must be accepted that the priority given to sea-borne aircraft of a suitable type will involve a retardation in the full-scale bombing offensive against Germany which we have contemplated as a major method of waging war. This, however, is a matter of time and of degree. We cannot in 1942 hope to reach the levels of bomb discharge in Germany which we had prescribed for that year, but we shall surpass them in 1943. Our joint programme may be late, but it will all come along. And meanwhile, the German cities and other targets will not disappear. While every effort must be made to speed up the rate of bomb discharge upon Germany until the great scales prescribed for 1943 and 1944 are reached, nevertheless we may be forced by other needs to face a retardation in our schedules. The more important will it be therefore that in this interval a force, be it only symbolic, of United States’ bombing squadrons should operate from the British Isles against the German cities and seaports.
Once the Allies have regained battle-fleet superiority in the Pacific and have created a seaborne air-power sufficient to secure local supremacy for certain periods, it will be possible either to attack the Japanese in their overseas conquest by military expeditions or to attack them in their homeland. It may well be the latter will be found the better. We must imagine the Japanese Air Force as being steadily and rapidly reduced and having no adequate power of replenishment. The approach to the shores of Japan near enough for our sea-borne air power to ravage their cities should be freed from its present prohibitive cost and danger. Nothing will more rapidly relieve the Japanese attacks in the East Indian theatre. Under the protection of the superior battle-fleet and the sea-borne air power aforesaid, it should [Page 35] be possible to acquire or regain various island bases enabling a definite approach to be made to the homeland of Japan. The burning of Japanese cities by incendiary bombs will bring home in a most effective way to the people of Japan the dangers of the course to which they have committed themselves, and nothing is more likely to cramp the reinforcing of their overseas adventures.
The establishment of air bases in China or Russia from which attacks can be made upon the Japanese cities is in everyone’s mind. It is most desirable that Russia should enter the war against Japan, thus enabling her own and Allied aircraft to bomb all the main cities in Japan from a convenient distance. This would also make available a force of about seventy Russian submarines to harass the Japanese lines of communications with their overseas commitments, especially at the point of departure from Japan. However, this is not a point upon which we can press the Russians unduly at the present time. They have withstood and are withstanding the giant assault of the German Army. They have achieved undreamed of success. If their resistance to the German Armies were to break down, or even if their pressure upon them were to be relaxed, all the problems of the Caucasus, Syria, Palestine and Persia would resume the menacing shape they have only lately lost, entailing immense diversions of force upon Great Britain, and offering no satisfactory assurance of success. The influence of the German losses and defeats against Russia upon the German people must be very depressing, and if this is prolonged it may provoke stresses within the German regime of the utmost hopeful consequence. M. Stalin has indicated that perhaps in the Spring he may be able to act against Japan.4 If he does not feel able or willing to do so now, it would be a mistake to press him unduly. Russia has more than rowed her weight in the boat, and she alone must judge when to take on more burden. The question of whether air bases in Russia could be acquired without entailing war between Japan and Russia is worth-while studying. It would certainly not be in Japan’s interest any more than that of Russia to open up this new front of war. It might mean that an attitude of non-belligerency might be adopted by Russia at a period before she would be willing to come into the war. Such an attitude of non-belligerency might permit aircraft, based on China, to re-fuel in Siberia before and after bombing Japan.
The danger of the Japanese using their numerous cruisers to raid all shipping between Australia and the Middle East, and even to assail our convoys round the Cape, will require to be met by the [Page 36] provision of battleship escort. We propose to use the four “R” Class battleships for this purpose if we need to. It is to be hoped that United States will also be ready to help in convoying work against cruiser attacks in the Pacific.
Lastly, there is the question of whether we should ask the United States to base her battle-fleet on Singapore, or perhaps make such a movement conditional on our adding our two battleships from the Atlantic. I am very doubtful about this. When we see what happened to the Prince of Wales and the Repulse in these narrow waters, soon to be infested with aircraft based at many points, we cannot feel that they would offer an inviting prospect to the United States. It would be represented as a purely British conception. One is not sure of the work they could do when they got there, and whether they would not suffer unduly heavy losses. It would redouble the anxieties and waste of force upon the defences of the Pacific seaboard of America. It would put out of the way all chances of a seaborne offensive against the homelands of Japan. It is inconceivable that the United States’ authorities would agree to it at any time which can at present be foreseen.
We cannot tell what will happen in the Philippines, and whether or for how long United States troops will be able to defend themselves. The defence or recapture of the Philippines cannot be judged upon theoretical principles. Wars of the present scale are largely wars of attrition and a wise choice of a particular battlefield is not necessarily the only criterion. The Philippines will undoubtedly appear to the United States as an American battle-ground which they are in honour bound to fight for. The Japanese will have to expend war-power and aircraft in this conflict, and even if it does not proceed in the best chosen theatre the process of exhaustion and wearing down of the weaker country by the stronger is of very great advantage and relief to us in the Pacific sphere.
For these reasons it would not be wise to press the Americans to move their main fleet to Singapore.
Nor need we fear that this war in the Pacific will, after the first shock is over, absorb an unduly large proportion of United States’ forces. The numbers of troops that we should wish them to use in Europe in 1942 will not be so large as to be prevented by their Pacific operations, limited as these must be. What will harm us is for a vast United States’ Army of ten millions to be created which, for at least two years while it was training would absorb all the available supplies and stand idle defending the American Continent. The best way of preventing the creation of such a situation and obtaining the proper use of the large forces and ample supplies of munitions which will [Page 37] presently be forthcoming, is to enable the Americans to regain their Naval power in the Pacific and not to discourage them from the precise secondary overseas operations which they may perhaps contemplate.
  1. The four parts of this memorandum are dated respectively December 16, 17, 18, and 20. Part IV is a revision of Part II and is printed in Churchill, The Grand Alliance (pp. 652–655), as Part II. Churchill (ibid., pp. 645–646) explains the genesis of the memorandum and indicates (ibid., p. 664) that he gave a copy of it to Roosevelt on December 23.
  2. Not found in American files.
  3. See Churchill, Their Finest Hour, p. 508.
  4. A similar indication was given by Litvinov to Hopkins on January 6, 1942; see the memorandum of conversation, post, p. 171. See also Stalin’s letter to Chiang of December 12, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iv, p. 747.