J. C. S. Files
Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes (Revised)
Offensive Plans for 1942–1943
General Marshall welcomed General Brooke and General Ismay and suggested that General Brooke should give an outline of the present situation as seen by the British Chiefs of Staff.
General Brooke explained that the Prime Minister’s visit was the outcome of conversations with Vice Admiral Mountbatten who had given an account of his talks with the President.3 The Prime Minister had felt that it was desirable to discuss with the President and his Staff the coordination and possible reorientation of our combined policy. As he understood it, the President had been considering the following problems:
- The importance of employing in an active theatre the United States forces which were being sent to England, and in this connection the fact that no operation in France might be possible in the event of a Russian collapse permitting large German reinforcements to return to Western Europe.
- The difficulties which would arise, in the event of the Russians being hard pressed, in establishing a second front in Western Europe in 1942 in accordance with our promises.
- In view of the difficulties, in the event of a Russian collapse, of a successful landing in 1943, the possible establishment in late 1942 or the winter of 1942/43 of a bridgehead in the neighborhood of Cherbourg or the Brest salient as a base for 1943 operations.
- The possibility of economizing shipping by dispatching substantial U.S. forces direct to the Middle East rather than by reinforcing the Middle East by British forces from the United Kingdom. 4
- The possibility of carrying out some form of Gymnast operation in 1942; and
- The undertaking of offensive operations based on Australia against the Japanese.
In considering the possibilities outlined above the crux of the matter was the degree of reliance we could place on the Russian front holding. [Page 424] The position was hard to assess and, while General Anders felt that if the Germans could exert on the Russian front this summer three-quarters of the effort they had achieved in 1941 the Russians would crack, he doubted if the Germans could produce this degree of effort. No preparations for any large attack had been reported and the Russians’ showing, both at Sevastopol and in the Kharkov area, was encouraging.
If the Russians held, (a) our chances of a successful offensive on the Continent in 1943 were good, and (b) the Middle East situation would be relieved, as there would be no German threat to the oil fields and the Persian Gulf and therefore our scale of reinforcements could be cut down. If, on the other hand, Russia collapsed, the establishment of a front in France would at best be difficult and further reinforcements, necessitating a strain on our shipping, would have to be sent to the Middle East.
The present British reinforcement program envisaged the arrival of the 8th Armored Division in the Middle East almost at once, followed by the 44th Division two weeks later and the 51st Division a month after that. Two further divisions would be prepared for the Middle East if the situation deteriorated, but the shipping implications of this move had not been fully investigated and it would reduce the forces available for a continental offensive.
If the establishment of a Western Front was impossible then some form of “Gymnast” should be considered and forces now set up for Bolero might be used. If an operation in West Africa was to be undertaken this year we should have to consider the availability of trained forces and shipping, whether the operation was to be undertaken entirely by the United States forces or on a combined basis, and the implications of possible French resistance which had not been planned for in the original Gymnast . The strategic difficulties of supplying a large force through Casablanca would have to be borne in mind though the threat of the rapid arrival of German forces through Spain was considerably less than when the operation had first been envisaged.
The British Chiefs of Staff had been considering various operations in 1942 aimed at relieving pressure on the Russians. These operations were:
(a) A landing in the Pas de Calais Area.
A maximum of about six divisions could be employed but it was not thought that this force would be sufficient to divert appreciable German land forces from the Eastern Front. Subsequent maintenance of the force through the ports of Calais and Boulogne would be difficult. Purely air operations over the Continent had not achieved the hoped for air battles and a six divisional landing within range of fighter air cover seemed unlikely to achieve important results.[Page 425]
(b) Establishment of a bridgehead at Cherbourg or the Brest salient.
A bridgehead on the Brest salient had advantages in that it possessed food ports and a sufficiency of space. Sir Alan Brooke said he had studied this terrain after Dunkirk and had found the front through Rennes to be approximately 150 kilometers and would require a force of some 15 divisions. It was, however, a possibility worth further careful study.
(c) Large Raids.
Further raids on a large scale had been planned, including a raid to last two or three days, by one armored division and one infantry division, but the difficulties of landing in the Pas de Calais Area would necessitate this raid taking place further to the westward on the outskirts of the area covered by fighter protection. In general, the policy of raids was proving successful in holding down considerable German forces in France.
(d) Operations in Northern Norway.
Consideration had been given to the possibility of a landing in northern Norway aimed at freeing the northern convoy route from attack by German aircraft. It had been thought that this might be undertaken by sailing a convoy containing troops and diverting it at a suitable moment to the northern Norwegian coast. Maintenance of the force, however, would be difficult north of Narvik and this front would require three divisions with an additional division and a half in reserve, which was more than could be put in the normal 35 ships of a Russian convoy. Operations in conjunction with the Russians from Murmansk had also been considered but the Germans themselves appeared to be launching an attack against this front. Any operation aimed at relieving the threat to the northern convoy route should take place almost at once as the dangerous period was during the short nights of summer.
With regard to offensive operations in the Far East the main examination was concerned with the reopening of the Burma Road. Any land operation through Assam was difficult owing to the poor communications and a sea borne attack on Rangoon offered a better chance of success though the latter would necessitate several subsidiary attacks on the coastal aerodromes to the north. Forces for an operation of this size were not yet available though the 5th and 2nd Divisions were now on their way to India and Indian formations were being trained. Five or six Japanese divisions were available within easy reach of Rangoon and could be reinforced. It was unlikely, therefore, that this operation could be undertaken except simultaneously with some other offensive against the Japanese.
In Madagascar it was hoped to arrive at a modus vivendi with the civil authorities to obviate the necessity for further operations. The 29th Brigade Group, a Commando and two Infantry Brigades of the 5th Division had been used for the initial assault. The 5th Division was proceeding to India upon relief by troops from South and [Page 426] East Africa and the 29th Brigade Group would follow as soon as possible. This specially trained Brigade would almost certainly be required for amphibious operations from India. 5
In conclusion Sir Alan Brooke said that in addition to the points upon which he had already touched, it would be necessary during the present visit to give urgent consideration to the question of command arrangements for a continental offensive. 6
- Mountbatten had held a conversation with Roosevelt in Washington, apparently on June 9, 1942. The account which he gave to Churchill of this conversation was summarized by Mountbatten in a letter of June 15, 1942, to Roosevelt, which is printed in full in Sherwood, pp. 582–583.↩
- This paragraph is underscored in the source text to show that it had been revised. The paragraph originally read as follows: “Economy in shipping from setting up substantial U.S. forces in the Middle East rather than by reinforcing the Middle East by British forces from the United Kingdom.”↩
- Underscoring in the source text indicates a revision in this paragraph. The last two sentences of the paragraph originally read as follows: “The 5th Division was proceeding to India upon relief by troops from South and East Africa but the 29th Brigade Group might be available as a reinforcement for General MacArthur’s forces operating offensively from Australia. If such an operation from Australia were undertaken it should be timed to coincide with the British attack in Burma.” (J.C.S. Files)↩
- Underscoring in the source text indicates a revision in
this paragraph. The final portion of these minutes
originally read as follows:
“In summing up, Sir Alan Brooke suggested that the main points for consideration during the present visit were:
- The command arrangements for a continental offensive.
- Planning for a continental offensive, i.e., whether it should be undertaken in the Pas de Calais Area, from Brest or even from an Atlantic port such as Bordeaux, in which case more help might be hoped for from Vichy France.
- If a continental offensive proved impossible, should a West African operation be undertaken instead?
- The possibilities of undertaking a West African operation during 1942 in addition to the Bolero commitment; and
- Policy with regard to an offensive in the Far East.” (J.C.S. Files)