J. C. S. Files
Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes
General Marshall outlined the broad problem facing the Combined Chiefs of Staff as the allocation of resources between the two major theaters of war—the Atlantic (which included for this purpose the Mediterranean) and the Pacific. He suggested as a concept on which to work that this broad allocation should consist of 70 percent in the Atlantic theater and 30 percent in the Pacific theater.
Admiral King said that according to his estimates we were at present engaging only 15 percent of our total resources against the Japanese in the Pacific theater, which for this purpose included the Indian Ocean and Burma. In his view this was not sufficient to prevent Japan consolidating herself and thereby presenting ultimately too difficult a problem. The Japanese were fighting a delaying action in the Solomon Islands and digging in along the whole line of the Netherlands East Indies and the Philippines. They were shipping back raw material into Japan as fast as they could. He felt that before the Combined Chiefs of Staff turned to the discussion of particular operations [Page 537] they should first fix the general proportion of effort to be applied in the two main theaters.
Sir Alan Brooke suggested that in fixing this balance of effort between the two theaters, it would be wise first to try and weigh up the enemy situation as both the U. S. and British Chiefs of Staff saw it. The U. S. Chiefs of Staff would naturally know more of the situation in Japan than the British. He expressed the admiration of the British Chiefs of Staff on the magnificent work of the U. S. Forces during the last twelve months after the early disasters of the war against Japan. At one time it seemed as if nothing would stem the tide of the Japanese, but the position was now very different. The Japanese were definitely on a defensive basis and from intelligence received it appeared as if they were taking quite a different outlook on the war now from what they had been some months ago. They were worried about the situation of their European allies.
The security of the United States and the United Kingdom had always been basic factors in our strategy. The threat to the United Kingdom had been at one time serious, but as a result of our latest review of this danger it was felt that the forces in the United Kingdom could be reorientated from a defensive to an offensive basis. The greatest danger at the present time was to our communications. The shortage of shipping was a stranglehold on all offensive operations and unless we could effectively combat the U–boat menace, we might not be able to win the war.
Germany’s situation was undoubtedly developing favorably from our point of view. She was staggering under the failure of her second offensive against Russia, and feeling must be growing in that country that it was impossible for her to defeat Russia. Her successes in 1942 against Russia had been very much smaller in scale than in 1941. She had failed in her main object of the 1942 campaign, the capture of the Caucasus oil. By failing to capture even the port of Tuapse, she had failed in securing the facilities to export such oil as she had captured at Grozny. Her northern flank was in danger as also were the troops in the Caucasus salient.
The Russian offensive had been well carried out and had now reached within fifty miles of Rostov. Germany had only two courses open to her, either to push back the Russians into Stalingrad, which would be almost impossible during the winter, or to shorten her line. The latter, therefore, was the more probable course; and that would involve reverting to the 1941 line. The psychological effect of this withdrawal would be very serious in Germany.
Germany was thus on the defensive both in Russia and in North Africa. In the operations which had led to the defeat of the Germans in North Africa after the British defeat at Tobruk very great assistance [Page 538] had been given by the timely arrival of American Sherman tanks and S.P. guns.
Germany was already having trouble among her allies. The Rumanians had suffered severely in the Crimea but had been forced to carry on, although greatly weakened in strength. The Italian troops on the Russian front had also suffered heavy losses and the Hungarian forces, which had never had much stomach for the fight, were also in bad shape. Italy was becoming more and more shaky; and if she collapsed, Germany would not only have to bolster up Italy by sending troops into the country but would also have to replace the numerous German [Italian?] divisions in Yugoslavia and in Greece. Alternatively she would have to withdraw altogether from the Balkans and Italy, and leave it open to the Allies.
All indications showed that Germany’s manpower was failing and that some cannibalization of her divisions would have to be carried out. The latest estimate was that she would lose ten divisions in this way during the first quarter of 1943. Lack of oil was another of Germany’s major difficulties which would hit her particularly hard during the next six months.
Taking all these factors into account, it seemed at least possible that the precarious internal situation of Germany might make it possible to achieve a final victory in the European theater before the end of 1943. The immediate problem was how best to apply our available resources in order to take advantage of Germany’s present situation.
The means we had at our disposal were broadly three in number. First there was Russia, which constituted the largest land power; her efficiency was rising and the work of moving Russian manufacturing plants to the eastward away from the German invasion had been very well carried out. Russia’s oil situation was now more satisfactory than had seemed likely earlier in the year, but she was short of grain. In order to get the best value out of Russia, we must support her in every way we could. Our second main weapon was air bombardment, by U. S. and British forces. This we must exploit to the maximum. Our third means of striking at Germany was by amphibious operations which included invasion of the Continent. The possession of sea power enabled us to threaten the enemy at several points and thereby compel him to disperse his forces. Once commited to a point of entry, however, the enemy would be able to concentrate his forces against us, and it was therefore necessary to choose this point of entry with the greatest care at the place where the enemy was least able to concentrate large forces.
As a point of reentry to the Continent, France had great advantages. In the first place the sea-crossing was short, and we had better facilities for giving air support to our invasion. On the other hand the German defenses in this area were most strong and Germany’s [Page 539] power of concentrating against us was greatest. A recent study had shown that the East-West communications across the Continent enabled Germany to move seven divisions simultaneously from the Russian front to the West in about twelve to fourteen days. The North-South communications on the Continent were not nearly so good. Not more than one division at a time could be moved from the North to the Mediterranean front. The Italian railways were close to the coast and vulnerable to interruption from the sea, and in the Balkans there was only a single line of railway passing through Nish. From this point of view, therefore, the Southern front seemed to offer better prospects for amphibious operations.
Torch operations in North Africa had been an outstanding example of successful cooperation between U. S. and British forces, and the British Chiefs of Staff wished to express their admiration of the very able manner in which General Eisenhower had overcome the extremely difficult problems with which he had been faced. North Africa would provide a valuable base from which either to threaten Southern Europe or to undertake offensive operations. By this use we could compel the Germans to disperse their forces in order to reinforce threatened points. In this way we could probably give greater assistance to Russia than if we committed ourselves definitely to Northern France. Once we had captured Bizerte, we could pass merchant ship convoys through the Mediterranean. Their very passage would compel the Germans to fight in the air, since if they let them pass through unmolested the effect of their U–boat operations against our shipping would be largely nullified. These air battles against the German Air Force would be of the greatest importance. Already more than half the German Air Force was deployed on fronts other than the Russian.
In all Mediterranean operations Spain, of course, was a most important factor. There must be always some anxiety that Spain would close the door behind us, but all recent opinion tended to show that Spain was turning away from Germany and that it was at least highly improbable that she would ever grant free access to German forces. The more successes we had in the Mediterranean the more likely it was that this favorable tendency in Spain would continue. Spain knew that from the economic point of view she must depend primarily on the Allies. Against this there was, of course, the fear of Communism in Spain if the Allies were victorious and Russia overran Germany. Generally speaking, however, the feeling of the British Chiefs of Staff was that we had no cause for anxiety about Spain at the present time.
Another important factor in the Mediterranean was Turkey. That country no doubt would either try and keep out of the war altogether or at least join in on the side of the Allies only at the eleventh hour. [Page 540] There were, however, reasons to hope that if well handled, Turkey might be brought in earlier. As an inducement we should have to give her equipment, technical personnel and instructors. It did not seem wise to press Turkey to undertake an advance into the Balkans but rather to hold her position and afford us bases from which to attack Germany, in particular the Rumanian oil. We might also obtain a free passage to the Black Sea as another means of striking at Germany.
Summing up prospects in the European Theater, Sir Alan Brooke said that the British Chiefs of Staff felt that we should first expand the bomber offensive against the Axis to the maximum and that operations in the Mediterranean offered the best chance of compelling Germany to disperse her resources. With this end in view we should take as our immediate objective the knocking out of Italy. At the same time, we should try and bring in Turkey on our side. By this means we should give Germany no respite at all in 1943 and we should give the best aid to Russia, whom we must continue to supply with all the equipment which we could send. The difficulty, of course, was that many of these operations were mutually exclusive. For example, to send large supplies to Russia used up great quantities of available escort vessels. This naturally cut down our capacity to undertake amphibious operations. A balance would have to be struck between these various commitments, and we should have to face the necessity for accepting considerable losses in shipping, providing these paid a good dividend.
We must be in a position to take advantage of a crack in Germany in the late summer. There were already indications of considerable German withdrawals from France to the eastward. If Germany were compelled to withdraw considerable numbers of troops from France, the possibilities of an invasion across the Channel would be much greater. The estimate of the British Chiefs of Staff was that by August 1943 there would be available for cross-channel operations some 13 British and 9 U. S. divisions whether or not we undertook limited operations in the Mediterranean. Mediterranean operations, however, would produce other shortages, notably in Assault Shipping; and it might be difficult, if not impossible, to transfer landing craft from the Mediterranean to the United Kingdom or to the Burma front in time.
In all amphibious operations the provision of landing craft was the critical factor. Not only had the crews to be provided but the naval crews to man them had to be trained and the land forces had to be trained to work from them. This training was a slow process.
The British landing craft resources were being formed into two main forces, one earmarked for operations on the Continent and one for operations further afield, such as Burma. As regards operations [Page 541] in Burma, a limited offensive was now being undertaken with the object of capturing Akyab, on which the 14th Indian Division was now closing. Operations in the North of Burma presented very difficult logistical problems owing to the absence of roads.
The complete conquest of Burma was a much bigger problem, and naval supremacy in the Bay of Bengal would be required for it. It would be necessary to undertake simultaneous offensives against Rangoon and Moulmein since Rangoon could not be taken if the Moulmein airfields were in the hands of the Japs. Rail communications between Thailand and Burma were being improved and it might be necessary to extend the occupation of Burma by going some distance into Thailand as well. For this major operation seven divisions were being prepared in India; and two African divisions, one from the East and one from the West, could be found, both composed of seasoned native troops well adapted to jungle fighting. If the Germans were compelled to abandon their Caucasus offensive, troops could also be found from Iraq and Persia. There appeared, therefore, no particular difficulty in finding the land divisions; the difficulty lay rather in the provision of the necessary naval forces. It must be realized, however, that once started operations for the recapture of Burma would develop into a full-scale campaign.
Sir Dudley Pound stated that in the Atlantic the greatest concerns to the Home Fleet were: first, to prevent a break-out of the German naval forces; and, second, to provide protection for convoys to North Russia.
At first, the Russian convoys did not present any great difficulty. Their early success gave everyone a false sense of security. German interference, however, has been increasing constantly, culminating with the concentration of their surface vessels on the coast of Norway; namely, the Tirpitz, Lutzow, Hipper, Scharnhorst, and Prinz Eugen, all of which have now been completely repaired. A force of 20 U–boats was maintained in northern waters, as well as considerable air force. The security of Russian convoys is affected chiefly by the hours of darkness and the ice limit. For the next three months, the ice limit will only permit utilizing a channel about 220 miles in width which can be kept under close air reconnaissance by the Germans. The passage occupies about twelve days, and vessels are under attack all but two of them.
For the last convoy of 16 ships there were 12 escort vessels of the corvette type and 4 destroyers. Two six-inch cruisers were employed to give cover against surface attack; the Commander of the convoy had placed the cruisers between the vessels being escorted and the operational base of the German surface vessels. However, the Hipper and Lutzow attacked from the other side and came into contact with the 4 British destroyers. Until joined by the two cruisers, [Page 542] the destroyers prevented an attack on the convoy for some forty minutes and drove the enemy ships out of gun range of the convoy, although one of our destroyers and a minesweeper were sunk. As soon as the cruisers appeared, the Hipper and Lutzow withdrew. The Germans thus sacrificed a splendid opportunity to effect some serious damage on an inferior force.
It was first thought that the German Admiral commanding had made an error in judgment, but it was later learned that he had received orders from the German authorities ashore to expedite his withdrawal. This would seem to indicate that the Germans are following a policy of preventing their ships from receiving any damage. It can possibly be explained by their desire to keep them intact preliminary to a break-out into the Atlantic.
Sir Dudley Pound stated that before such a break-out into the Atlantic could be effected, the Germans must send out oilers which will enable them to refuel at sea, since he doubted if the Germans would again attempt to retire to Brest in view of their previous experience there.
During the months of long daylight, the danger of air attack precluded the use of cruisers with the Russian convoys; and their escorts consisted only of a powerful destroyer force. Convoys can then only be run every thirty-six to forty-two days. Twelve days are required for the journey, three days for refueling, twelve days for the return journey, and the remainder for boiler cleaning, etc. The Royal Navy does not have sufficient destroyers to operate two convoys simultaneously. If, therefore, it is necessary to send more than thirty ships to Russia every forty days, it will be necessary for the United States to furnish some assistance in escort vessels.
Sir Dudley Pound then stated that there was considerable traffic between Japan and Germany, Japan sending to Germany rubber and other raw materials obtained in the Far East in return for machinery and machine parts. It was important to stop this traffic at once. There are two places from which this can be best accomplished: first, in the Bay of Biscay by air and submarine action, and second, in the Atlantic narrows. For the latter a British task force was being built up on the east side and a U.S. task force was operating from the United States on the west side.
Sir Dudley Pound then discussed the situation in the Indian Ocean. It had at first been hoped to create a considerable Eastern Fleet, but this has been seriously reduced in size by Torch and other operations; and it now appears that its remaining carrier, the Illustrious, may be needed for future operations in the Mediterranean. If this is so, now would be an opportune time to withdraw it from the Indian Ocean for repairs and the installation of the most modern fighter direction devices. Without the protection of carrier aircraft, the Eastern Fleet [Page 543] is unable to operate in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean against Japanese naval forces accompanied by aircraft carriers.
In the Mediterrnean area, Admiral Cunningham has a force of three battleships and two aircraft carriers. One of the duties of this Task Force consists in containing three modern Italian battleships which are at present unlocated. In the Eastern Mediterranean, British naval forces had been heavily engaged in the supply of the 8th Army in the Eastern North African ports. What the future redistribution of the Mediterranean naval forces will be must be based on the future strategy to be adopted.
Sir Dudley Pound then discussed the German U–boat situation. At the present time the Germans have one hundred and ten submarines in the Atlantic in addition to those in the Mediterranean and off the coast of Norway. It is anticipated that new production will go to the Atlantic.
The Germans are apparently concentrating their submarines into large groups, each of which is responsible for a certain area. One of these has been located off the coast of Newfoundland, one in the Central Atlantic, and one off Southwest Ireland. It is possible that a convoy may at any time blunder into a pack of German submarines if our intelligence is at fault.
Recently there were two convoys from the United States, each attacked by a considerable number of German submarines, one convoy losing two vessels and the other losing none. This was accomplished by providing air coverage for the convoys with Liberator airplanes which resulted in keeping the U–boats down during the day. While they were down, the convoys were able to alter their course and, by nightfall, leave the submarines behind.
Sir Dudley Pound then described an experiment which had been made owing to shortage of escorts due to Torch, in sending cargo vessels bound for Freetown out with a trans-Atlantic convoy, the vessels bound for Freetown breaking off from the convoy at a suitable moment and proceeding to their destination independently. The experiment was unsuccessful and the loss amounted to ten percent. Seventeen out of forty-four ships were lost in one convoy. The British have, therefore, found it necessary to résumé the Freetown convoys.
Sir Dudley Pound stated that escorts to convoys must be sufficiently large to deal with a heavy attack. He said our aim must be to get a long-range air protection and additional escort vessels. He added that it would be desirable to obtain more long-range aircraft protection to escorts from the United States.
Sir Dudley Pound indicated that we must make special efforts to provide adequate protection in the early part of 1943 in order that [Page 544] we may be able to meet the great demands in the build-up of Bolero in the latter part of the year.
Sir Charles Portal then discussed the air situation. He stated that our experience so far has been that the German operations are definitely tied up with the adequacy of their air power. He felt that this will be as true with regard to the German defensive operations as it has been in their offensive operations.
The present state of the German air force is critical. The stamina of the airplane crews is decreasing; the crews lack interest and are less determined, and their training is deteriorating. One explanation for this is that training units and personnel are being used for combat purposes because of a shortage of aircraft. He felt that there is no depth behind the German front line of aircraft. The British Intelligence Service is of the opinion that if the United Nations can keep Germany fighting with aircraft, they will suffer losses from which they cannot recover.
He felt certain that they are incapable of conducting large scale operations on two fronts and that if they are kept fighting through the winter and spring they will have in the summer a shortage of from seven hundred to two thousand first-line aircraft below what will be necessary for all fronts.
He stated that German production for next year will be about twenty-three thousand aircraft; Italy will produce three or four thousand; and Japan will produce about seven thousand. On the other hand, the lowest estimates for the United Nations’ aircraft production will be one hundred thousand combat airplanes or about four times that of the Axis powers.
Sir Charles Portal said that our greatest need is to force the Germans to extend the use of their aircraft to as many areas as possible and thus destroy and bleed them. The best ways to accomplish this are: (1) to engage them while they are in support of land operations (However this is only possible at present on the Russian front.); (2) to meet them while they are attempting to stop our amphibian operations; and (3) by directing operations directly at Germany.
He stated that one of the most pressing questions was how we should accomplish our air attack against Germany. The United Kingdom is the most advantageous base for such operations and one of the most important questions before the present conference is to decide on where the United States bombers are to be used.
He indicated that daylight attacks by United States bombers should be continued, as this has a serious effect on the German Air Force, on their industries, and on their morale. The question of whether to strike Italy from the United Kingdom or from North Africa is still [Page 545] an open question; but before deciding to build up a strong bomber force in North Africa, it is desirable to be certain that this action is more advantageous than concentrating them in the United Kingdom.
General Marshall stated that insofar as the estimates presented by the British Chiefs of Staff concerning Germany, Russia, and the occupied countries are concerned, the United States Chiefs of Staff are in full accord.
He also expressed concurrence in the idea that the U–boat menace is the paramount issue and that everything must be done to combat it by directing our attacks against it from the place of manufacture of submarines to the places where they are used.
He stated that the Japs are digging in, in an effort to build up a defensive front from the Solomons, through New Guinea and Timor, particularly with their air forces.
He pointed out that the United States Chiefs of Staff are anxious to find some method whereby they can strike in the rear and against the flank of the Japanese defenses. In this connection, they feel that operations in Burma will serve to weaken the Japs’ defensive front and that therefore, they are most anxious to undertake Operation Ravenous.
They feel that a reverse in this operation would not be a calamity but that a success would bring advantages all out of proportion to the risks involved. It would have an effect not only in the South Pacific area but would enable us to furnish strong support to China. A successful Operation Ravenous would result in an eventual economy of tonnage by relieving the Japanese pressure in the Southwest Pacific.
General Marshall then stated that the United States Chiefs of Staff are concerned as to whether operations in the Mediterranean area would bring advantages commensurate with the risks involved. He said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are inclined to look favorably on an operation from the United Kingdom because of the strong air support that can be furnished from that base as well as the relative ease with which it can be supplied from the United States.
He repeated that our first concern must be the defeat of Germany’s submarine warfare.
Sir Charles Portal then said that the British Chiefs of Staff also felt that the defeat of the submarine menace must be given first priority in the use of air power, particularly in the protection of our line of communications.
For long range antisubmarine operations not only the provision of suitable aircraft had to be considered but also the bases from which they are to be used. The British are considering the advisability of [Page 546] establishing an air base in Greenland for this purpose. They were most grateful for the 21 Liberators provided by the U.S.A. for the Bay of Biscay. There are three possible methods of attack on submarines: (1) along the sea lanes; (2) against bases in the Bay of Biscay; and (3) against factories in which submarines are built. The British now propose making air attacks in sufficient force to destroy the entire port in which the submarines are based rather than confining their attacks to the submarine pens and surrounding installations. He pointed out that no one can be certain as to how much damage can be done in the port towns themselves and that the method proposed will be in the nature of an experiment, the results of which will not be known for five or six months.
Admiral King then asked whether the possibility of concentrating all air attacks on the building yards had been considered.
Sir Charles Portal replied that the building yards are not sufficiently large to be certain of hitting them at night.
Admiral King said that he felt the most favorable targets against the submarine menace were the yards at which they are assembled and at their bases. He said that he had the personal impression that there has not been a program undertaken there that has been consistently followed. He felt that the attacks had been sporadic. He thought that attacks should be aimed: first, against factories where component parts are made; secondly, at yards where the submarines are assembled; thirdly, at bases; and fourthly, at sea.
General Arnold said he felt we should attempt to find what component part or parts of submarines constitute a bottleneck and then strike at factories where they are made.
Sir Charles Portal stated that the greatest bottleneck was the ball bearings, but pointed out that it would be tactically impossible to destroy the factories.
General Arnold drew attention to the necessity for a decision as to where airplanes are to be utilized before they left the factory. This is so because different theaters require different equipment on aircraft.
General Marshall stated that the United States is now in the process of recasting its troop deployments. As an example, he indicated that it had become possible to reduce the size of the Caribbean garrison considerably. He stated that the United States is also considering reducing the size of the Iceland garrison and in that connection he thought it would be desirable to have opinions of the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the hazards that now face Iceland. The purpose of this scaling down of forces wherever it can be accomplished is for saving shipping.