Roosevelt Papers

The Secretary of War ( Stimson ) to the President

personal and secret

[Editorial Note. Stimson began the drafting of this letter on June 18. The completion of the letter and its despatch to Hyde Park are recorded in Stimson’s Diary for June 19, 1942, as follows:

“Immediately after breakfast this morning I began at Woodley a second draft of my letter to the President and finished it by about ten o’clock. When I reached the office I found awaiting me the draft prepared by the General Staff on the same subject. As soon as my proposed letter was written out, I took it in to Marshall who was sitting in conference with the General Staff officers who had undertaken this job and left it with him to read and comment on it before I sent it to the President. Arnold, McNarney, Eisenhower, Clark, [General] Hull and one or two others were present. I then went back in my room and resumed my reading of the Staff memorandum which seemed to me very good. In a few moments Marshall came into my room rather solemnly, followed by the other officers who had been with him. He said to me, ‘Mr. Secretary, I want to tell you that I have read your proposed letter to the President to these officers and they unanimously think that it is a masterpiece and should go to the President at once.’ He then told me that there would be a necessary delay in getting signed by King the General Staff memorandum because King is at Annapolis today at the graduation exercises of the Naval Academy and cannot be reached until the afternoon. He thought therefore that there should be no delay in getting off my letter. I told him that was all right except that I should like to have a message from him given with my letter showing that I was not intruding myself into their deliberations with something that they didn’t agree with. He thereupon sat down and wrote out a memorandum to the President which was enclosed with my letter, saying that my letter represented the views of himself and the other generals whose names he enumerated. The letter was thereupon sent to the President at Hyde Park.”

Marshall’s handwritten memorandum to the President, referred to above by Stimson, is included among the Roosevelt Papers. It reads as follows: “Mr. President: The enclosed paper has been read by me [Page 458] and by Generals Arnold, McNarney, Eisenhower and Handy. We all are in complete agreement with the Secretary of War.”

In his Diary for June 21, Stimson records that his letter, a copy of which is included in the Stimson Papers, was shown to Churchill by Roosevelt during their White House meeting on June 21; see the editorial note, ante, p. 433.]

Dear Mr. President: While your military advisers are working out the logistics of the problem which you presented to us on Wednesday,1 may I very briefly recall to your memory the sequence of events which led to and the background which surrounds this problem. I hope it may be helpful to you.

Up to the time when America entered the war, the British Empire had, by force of circumstances, been fighting a series of uphill defensive campaigns with insufficient resources and almost hopeless logistics. The entry of Japan into the war and the naval disasters at Pearl Harbor and the Malay Peninsula imposed new defensive campaigns in the theatres of the Far East.
After the discussions with Mr. Churchill’s party here last December2 the need for a carefully planned offensive became very evident. Russia had successfully fought off the entire German Army for six months. Winter had begun and the shaken and battered German Army would be helpless to renew its offensive for nearly six months more. The one thing Hitler rightly dreaded was a second front. In establishing such a front lay the best hope of keeping the Russian Army in the war and thus ultimately defeating Hitler. To apply the rapidly developing manpower and industrial strength of America promptly to the opening of such a front was manifestly the only way it could be accomplished.
But the effective application of America’s strength required prompt, rapid and safe transportation overseas. The allied naval power controlled the seas by only a narrow margin. There was a dangerous and increasing shortage of commercial shipping. With one exception the Axis Powers controlled every feasible landing spot in Europe. By fortunate coincidence one of the shortest routes to Europe from America led through the only safe base not yet controlled by our enemies, the British Isles.
Out of these factors originated the Bolero plan. The British Isles constituted the one spot
where we could safely and easily land our ground forces without the aid of carrier-based air cover.
through which we could without the aid of ships fly both bomber and fighting planes from America to Europe.
where we could safely and without interruption develop an adequate base for invading armies of great strength. Any other base in western Europe or Northwest Africa could be obtained only by a risky attack and the long delay of development and fortification.
where we could safely develop air superiority over our chief enemy in northern France and force him either to fight us on equal terms or leave a bridgehead to France undefended.
The psychological advantages of Bolero also were manifest. The menace of the establishment of American military power in the British Isles would be immediately evident to Hitler. It at once tended to remove the possibility of a successful invasion of Britain, Hitler’s chief and last weapon. It awoke in every German mind the recollections of 1917 and 1918.
A steady, rapid, and unrelenting prosecution of the Bolero plan was thus manifestly the surest road, first to the shaking of Hitler’s anti-Russian campaign of ’42, and second, to the ultimate defeat of his armies and the victorious termination of the war. Geographically and historically Bolero was the easiest road to the center of our chief enemy’s heart. The base was sure. The water barrier of the Channel under the support of Britain-based air power is far easier than either the Mediterranean or the Atlantic. The subsequent over-land route into Germany is easier than any alternate. Over the Low Countries has run the historic path of armies between Germany and France.
Since the Bolero plan was adopted, subsequent events have tended to facilitiate our position and justify its wisdom.
The greatest danger to America’s prosecution of the Bolero plan lay in the Pacific from Japan where our then inferiority in aircraft carriers subjected us to the dangers of enemy raids which might seriously cripple the vital airplane production upon which a prompt Bolero offensive primarily rests. The recent victory in the mid-Pacific has greatly alleviated that danger. Our rear in the west is now at least temporarily safe.
The psychological pressure of our preparation for Bolero is already becoming manifest. There are unmistakable signs of uneasiness in Germany as well as increasing unrest in the subject populations of France, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Norway. This restlessness patently is encouraged by the growing American threat to Germany.
Under these circumstances an immense burden of proof rests upon any proposition which may impose the slightest risk of weakening Bolero . Every day brings us further evidence of the great importance of unremittingly pressing forward that plan. When one is engaged in a tug of war, it is highly risky to spit on one’s hands even [Page 460] for the purpose of getting a better grip. No new plan should even be whispered to friend or enemy unless it was so sure of immediate success and so manifestly helpful to Bolero that it could not possibly be taken as evidence of doubt or vacillation in the prosecution of Bolero . Enemies would be prompt to jump at one or the other of these conclusions.
While I have no intention of intruding on any discussion of logistics by the staff, one or two possible contingencies have occurred to me which would bear upon the wisdom of now embarking upon another trans-Atlantic expedition such as Gymnast .
Assume the worst contingency possible: Assume a prompt victory over Russia which left a large German force free for other enterprises. It is conceivable that Germany might then make a surprise attempt at the invasion of Britain. She would have the force to attempt it. She may well have available the equipment for both an airborne and water-borne invasion. One of our most reliable military attaches believes emphatically that this is her plan—a surprise airborne invasion from beyond the German boundaries producing a confusion in Britain which would be immediately followed up by an invasion by sea. Our observers in Britain have frequently advised us of their concern as to the inadequacy of British defenses against such an attempt.
Obviously in case of such an attempt it would be imperative for us to push our forces into Britain at top speed and by means of shipping additional to that already allocated to the project. In case a large percentage of allied commercial shipping had been tied up with an expedition to Gymnast , such additional reenforcement of Britain would be impossible.
On the other hand, if German invasion of Russia is prolonged, even if it is slowly successful, the increasing involvement of Germany in the east tends to make increasingly easy an allied invasion into France and the acquisition of safe bases therein against Germany.
Thus German success against Russia, whether fast or slow, would seem to make requisite not a diversion from Bolero but an increase in Bolero as rapidly as possible.
Furthermore, Bolero is the one overseas project which brings no further strain upon our aircraft carrier forces. Gymnast would necessarily bring such a strain and risk. It could not fail to diminish the superiority over Japan which we now precariously hold in the Pacific.
To my mind Bolero in inception and in its present development is an essentially American project, brought into this war as the vitalizing contribution of our fresh and unwearied leaders and forces. My own view is that it would be a mistake to hazard it by any additional expeditionary proposal as yet brought to my attention.

Faithfully yours,

Henry L. Stimson

Secretary of War
  1. Regarding the White House meeting of June 17, 1942, see the editorial note, ante, p. 421.
  2. The reference is to the First Washington Conference ( Arcadia ), December 1941–January 1942. For documentation on this Conference, see ante, pp. 1 ff.