J. C. S. Files

Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes

Combined Strategy

Sir Allen Brooke said that he would like to hear the views of the United States Chiefs of Staff regarding the situation in the Pacific.

Admiral King stated that of the nine fronts on which the United Nations are now engaged, four are in the Pacific. These include the Alaska-Aleutian area, the Hawaiian-Midway area, the South and Southwest Pacific areas, and the Burma-China area.

He said that when he took office as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet on December 30, 1941, he immediately sent a dispatch to the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet stating that his mission was, first, to hold the Hawaiian-Midway line and the communications with the Pacific coast; and, secondly, to hold the remainder of the line of communications to Australia and New Zealand.2

The Navy had already established a refueling point at Bora Bora3 which was sufficiently far to the rear to insure its being held. Marines had been sent to Samoa and there were also troops in the Fiji Islands. Steps had been taken to establish three strong points on the line of communications: Samoa, the Fiji Islands, and New Caledonia. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had then established a base for the Navy in Auckland with an advanced base at Tongatabu. As time went on, the United States forces went into the New Hebrides to Efate and Esperitu Santos.

[Page 548]

Meanwhile, there had been engagements with the Japanese near the Marshall Islands, the Island of Wake, and in the Coral Sea.

The Japanese had advanced as far south as Tulagi with the apparent intent of using it as a base from which to operate against our line of communications.

Admiral King said that had we been set at the time of Midway,4 we could have made great progress in an attack on the Solomon Islands. The operation was in preparation in July and took place on August 7th but we did not have sufficient force even at that time to exploit our success beyond the occupation of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The Japanese reaction there was more violent and sustained than had been anticipated. Another reason why we could not proceed further with the Solomon operations was that Operation Torch had been decided upon and much of our available means had to be diverted to it.

Admiral King stated, however, that we have attempted to go on with the Solomon operations. The Japanese reaction was, at first, probably designed to “save face” but eventually that became a minor consideration. The Japanese have a long line of communications, and it soon became apparent that they were fighting a delaying action to cover the Netherlands East Indies and the Philippines where the “treasures” are to be found.

He pointed out that we have had some success in the attrition of the Japanese forces but not as much as has been claimed. At present, the Tulagi area is pretty well stabilized and General Mac Arthur has driven the Japanese out of the Papuan Peninsula on New Guinea. The enemy is reinforcing Lae and Salamaua.

The main object of the operations has been the safety of the approaches to northeastern Australia, and the key to the situation is Rabaul.

The campaign in the Solomons was to be divided into three parts: (1) the capture of Tulagi, (2) securing the northeast coast of New Guinea, and (3) the capture of Rabaul. The process has been slow but the United States forces are going on with it. The immediate question is where to go when this campaign has been completed.

Admiral King stated that he felt the Philippines should be our objective rather than the Netherlands East Indies. The Philippines could be captured by a flank action whereas the capture of the Netherlands East Indies must of necessity be the result of a frontal attack. The most likely intermediate objective, once Rabaul is captured, is Truk and thence to the Marianas.

Prior to the war, every class at the Naval War College was required to play the game of the Pacific Islands involving the recapture of [Page 549] the Philippines. There are three ways in which the Philippines may be taken: first, the direct route which would constitute a frontal attack; second, the southern route which is outflanked by the enemy along much of its course; and third, the northern route through the Aleutians to the northern tip of the Island of Luzon. The northern route would include establishing a base in the northwestern Marshall Islands and then proceeding to Truk and the Marianas. The Marianas are the key of the situation because of their location on the Japanese line of communications. Any line of action decided upon requires considerable force, especially air strength. All of the necessary operations are amphibious.

Admiral King said that Mr. Stalin had been good enough to say that the Solomons operations have been of considerable assistance to Russia.5

He pointed out the importance to the Japanese of occupying the Maritime Provinces in order to secure the Japanese Islands. He felt that such action would be necessary and that the Japanese should attach more importance to them than holding the Netherlands East Indies.

Admiral King stated that the Japanese are now replenishing Japan with raw materials and also fortifying an inner defense ring along the line of the Netherlands East Indies and the Philippines. For these reasons, he believed that it was necessary for the United Nations to prevent the Japanese having time to consolidate their gains. He compared this situation with the present desire of the United Nations to avoid giving Germany a respite during the winter months.

Admiral King then said that the idea of utilizing 30 percent of the United Nations war effort against Japan was a concept rather than an arithmetical computation. He had caused studies to be made of how much of the total war effort is now being applied to Japan and found it to be approximately 15 percent. He said that this is not sufficient to do more than hold; it is not enough to permit maintaining pressure on the Japanese.

Admiral King stated that we are continuously exploring possibilities of an attack against Japan by the northern route and called attention to the fact that the United States forces had just captured Amchitka. All operations in the Pacific are limited by the amount of available shipping.

Admiral King pointed out that the Japanese route for a naval effort against Siberia is secure. He said that he had recently had a survey made of Paramushir Island, the northernmost of the Kurile Islands. This revealed that it would be unsatisfactory as a base for operating against Japan.

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It would be desirable to have the cooperation of the Russians in this respect but there has been difficulty in obtaining any information from them. The best means of obtaining information so far has been by direct correspondence between the President and Mr. Stalin.

General Marshall then reviewed the deployment of the United States troops in all of the islands of the Pacific, giving the strength of each in ground and air troops and in aircraft. He pointed out the logistical difficulties of supplying these forces.

Admiral King then gave the disposition of the Marine forces which amount to approximately 60,000 men in the area from Midway to the South Pacific Islands.

General Marshall said that in the light of the logistical requirements in the Pacific, the United States’ interest in undertaking an operation to open the Burma Road could be well understood. General Stilwell and Field Marshal Wavell would have to determine the logistical requirements of such an operation but, in any event, they would be minor in comparison to the requirements in the Operation Torch. Any success in the Operation Ravenous would have a tremendous effect in the Pacific chiefly by making it necessary for the Japanese to divert forces to the Burma operations, thus lessening the pressure in the South Pacific and the consequent demands on our available shipping.

General Marshall stated that the peace of mind of the United States Chiefs of Staff was greater now than it had been a year ago. The Japanese are now on the defensive and must be careful of a surprise move from us. However, he pointed out that we must still worry about the locations of the Japanese aircraft carriers because they constitute a constant threat against our line of communications and for raiding purposes against our west coast.

We must not allow the Japanese any pause. They fight with no idea of surrendering and they will continue to be aggressive until attrition has defeated them. To accomplish this, we must maintain the initiative and force them to meet us.

General Arnold then discussed the United States efforts to obtain information concerning Russia. He stated that when the Germans threatened to capture the Caucasus, the Russians began to be fearful that the supply of airplanes from the United States via the southern route would be eliminated. They, therefore, requested the United States to start delivery of airplanes from Alaska at once. The United States agreed to this, providing the Russians would demonstrate that there were sufficient facilities available to make possible the delivery of one hundred and fifty planes a month. The Russians did not have these facilities at the time but built them rapidly. At the present time, both the southern route and the Alaskan route are in use. In the coming year, the delivery to Russia amounts to four hundred [Page 551] airplanes a month. These will be divided over the two routes. Bombers are flown to Basra but the flight is so long that the Russians refuse to accept the engines and this necessitates replacing them. The northern route will be used for this purpose as much as possible inasmuch as it eliminates fifty hours of flying time on the journey.

General Arnold then stated that the U. S. Chiefs of Staff were desirous of knowing what facilities were available in southern Siberia and Vladivostok in order to see if they could be of assistance to Russia in case Russia was attacked by the Japanese.

General Marshall stated that Mr. Stalin had finally given General Bradley permission to make a survey.6 General Bradley, however, considered that it would be better to present the Russians with a specific proposal. He returned to the United States, and it was decided to offer Russia one hundred heavy bombers seventy-two days after the outbreak of war between Russia and Japan.7 Mr. Stalin had rejected this offer and said he would like 100 aircraft at once for use against Germany.8

General Marshall also stated that the Russians object to the presence of “gossipy” people from the United Nations and that they were afraid that the United Nations personnel could not put up with the conditions which are imposed on Russian troops.

Sir Charles Portal stated that the British had operated successfully with the Russian navy in the Murmansk area but that they had the same experiences with the Russian army as the U. S. had.

General Marshall then described the difficulties which the United States Chiefs of Staff had had concerning sending air units to the Caucasus. The Russians had stated definitely that they did not desire units but airplanes only.9 There had been some sentiment among the United States authorities to furnish sufficient airplanes for the purpose of placating Mr. Stalin. However, to do so, especially in the case of heavy bombers, would necessitate immobilizing these airplanes for as much as six months while the Russians were learning to operate them and establishing ground crews for their maintenance. [Page 552] General Marshall stated that in his opinion it was unwise to withhold this striking power against the enemy for so long a period.

Admiral King then asked the British Chiefs of Staff if they had the impression that the Russians were unwilling to help themselves. The Germans were successfully operating air forces out of the northern part of Norway and the Russians had apparently made no effort to stop them although they were well within range.

Sir Dudley Pound stated that the Russians do send destroyers out to meet convoys. They invariably state, however, that they have run out of fuel before completing their task and then leave the convoy for home at a rate of 28 knots, which is hardly consistent with a shortage of fuel. Their Air Force has not furnished much protection.

Sir Charles Portal stated that he felt the reason for this was that their air personnel is not properly trained. The Russians had made some attempts to strike at the German forces but had been unsuccessful.

General Marshall asked why the Russians were willing to risk whole divisions but not their naval forces.

Sir Dudley Pound replied that they are continental people who do not understand naval action. Their submarines have been the only effective units of their navy.

Sir Alan Brooke agreed with this statement and added that while they do not know what dangers are involved in escorting convoys, they are very free to offer silly advice as to how security should be attained.

General Marshall then described the development of troops of the United States, which was proceeding very well. He added that United States troops, both in this and the last war, appeared to “veteranize” quickly in the field. The young officers and non-commissioned officers had exhibited a remarkable facility for eliminating errors rapidly. We may expect their effectiveness to increase enormously in a short time.

He thought we were particularly fortunate in the deadly character of the Pacific fight, since our forces which have been engaged in the Pacific have become imbued with the idea that it is “kill or be killed”; and this attitude gives promise of tremendous power for future operations. The staffs are sound and the engineers are particularly effective. He recalled a remark that had been made in the War Department, when Field Marshal Wavell questioned the possibility of building a road which could support the Burma operations, to the effect that “Wavell does not know General Wheeler,” the United States engineer in this theater.

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Sir Alan Brooke inquired how far forward the U. S. Chiefs of Staff envisaged it would be necessary to go in order to prevent the Japanese from digging themselves in. He feared that if operations were too extended it would inevitably lead to an all-out war against Japan and it was certain that we had not sufficient resources to undertake this at the same time as a major effort against Germany. Would it be possible for the forces at present in the Pacific to hold the Japanese without incurring the additional drain on our resources which would result from pushing forward our present defensive positions?

General Marshall explained that it had been essential to act offensively in order to stop the Japanese advancing. For example, in New Guinea it had been necessary to push the Japanese back to prevent them capturing Port Moresby. In order to do this, every device for reinforcing the troops on the island had had to be employed. The same considerations applied in Guadalcanal. It had been essential to take offensive action to seize the island. Short of offensive action of this nature, the only way of stopping the Japanese was by complete exhaustion through attrition. It was very difficult to pause: the process of whittling away Japan had to be continuous.

Sir Charles Portal asked whether it was not possible to stand on a line and inflict heavy losses on the Japanese when they tried to break through it. From the very fact that the Japanese continued to attack, it was clear that they had already been pushed back further than they cared to go. We [He?] also inquired whether the U. S. Chiefs of Staff thought it would be possible to gain a decision by air bombardment of Japan alone.

General Arnold pointed out that the Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific were now operating from the tips of two narrow salients. The Japanese had greater width in their line and could therefore operate on a larger scale than the forces which we could bring to bear.

General Marshall said that in Papua it would be possible to gain additional airfields alongside our present position, but this was not the case in Guadalcanal where only a small strip of suitable territory was available. To broaden our base there, we should have to have New Britain and New Ireland. As regards air bombardment of Japan, the U. S. view was that Japanese industries were so vulnerable to the air that heavy attack would ultimately destroy her capacity to maintain her war effort.

Sir Charles Portal suggested that it should be possible to determine what it was that we had to prevent the Japanese from doing, and what forces we should require for the purpose. We should then see what forces remained for use elsewhere in the world.

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Admiral King observed that unless some effort was made to assist Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese might pull out of the war.10 The 30 percent effort to which he had referred would, of course, include operations in Burma.

Sir Alan Brooke agreed that operation Ravenous might be successful but when we had reached the objective we should still have to defend our line of communication against Japanese attack from the flank. It was calculated that the route would only suffice to maintain two Divisions, and this would leave little if any capacity for the supply air forces operating in China.

Admiral King pointed out that in addition to opening the supply route to China, Ravenous would gain the territory necessary to secure the air supply route from India to China.

Sir Alan Brooke agreed that it would be well worth while taking a risk on Ravenous since it would not cut across the main effort against Germany, whereas Anakim would.

General Marshall pointed out that the Chinese only required about half the maintenance tonnage required by white troops. In any event, even a small residual tonnage for supplies to China would probably be far greater than could be transported by air. Twelve bombers in China under General Chennault had done wonderful work; and if he had even 50, the results they might achieve would be very great. For this reason the U.S. Chiefs of Staff thought that Ravenous was a gamble well worth while. It should also be remembered that any help given to China which would threaten Japan might have a most favorable effect on Stalin.

General Arnold said that General Chennault claimed he could drive the Japanese Air Force out of China if he had 175 aircraft. This might be an exaggerated claim, but there was no doubt additional air forces in China would have a very great effect. By December it was hoped to have 150 transports working from India to China, with a maximum delivery estimated at 10,000 tons per month.

Admiral King asked on whom would fall the principal burden of beating Japan once Germany had been knocked out.

Sir Alan Brooke said that once Germany was defeated, practically all the British naval forces would be released for the war against Japan. Forces destined for the recapture of Burma and Malaya were [Page 555] already forming in India. He did not think it wise, however, to embark on Operation Anakim unless we were quite prepared for a full-scale campaign.

Sir Charles Portal said that India had already been asked to provide airfields for double the number of air forces we were ever likely to have available before the defeat of Germany. These were intended for the campaign against Japan. He had no doubt that as soon as Germany was defeated the British Government would turn the whole of their resources against Japan.

General Marshall pointed out that to depend on sea operations alone against Japan was hazardous, owing to the rapidity with which the balance of sea power could change in the event of a reverse. For example, in the Midway battle the U. S. Forces had been able to get all their aircraft into the air before the Japanese attack developed. In consequence, the Japanese had lost four carriers as against one American. With a little ill-fortune the reverse might have taken place; and in that case, the whole of the west coast of America would have been open to Japanese carrier-borne attack. The Japanese territories were not nearly so vulnerable in this respect.

Admiral King said that the Japanese might well strike again at Midway. They were on interior lines, and it was easier for them to take the initiative against us. At the present time it looked as if their carriers were being prepared for another attack somewhere, perhaps on Midway or Samoa. It was essential, therefore, to maintain the initiative against the Japanese and not wait for them to come against us.

General Marshall explained the difficulties with which he had been faced in finding even the small forces required by General Stil-well to support Ravenous. Shipping could not be spared for them in the absence of some definite assurance from Chiang Kai-shek and agreement with Field Marshal Wavell on the operations to be undertaken. By the time these had been obtained much time had been lost and shipping had to be found by drawing it away from other commitments in the Pacific such as Alaska and Hawaii. General MacArthur was some 20,000 men short of his requirements, and provision of these reinforcements had had to be deferred. By the most rigid economy sufficient shipping had at last been found to move 6,000 men to General Stilwell. In order to cut down numbers to the minimum, units had been stripped to the bone of all personnel which were not absolutely essential. It was certainly fortunate that losses sustained in the Pacific from submarines had been so small.

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Admiral King said he was puzzled to know why these losses had been so small and what the Japanese were keeping their submarines for.

Sir Dudley Pound said that, in British experience, Japanese submarines were much less of a menace than the German. They were less efficiently operated, and quite small escorts were sufficient to drive them away. He pointed out that it was in a way to our advantage to allow the Japanese to dig in well in places which we did not mean to attack as this dispersed their forces. To recapture the Philippines before the defeat of Germany was impossible; and it was, therefore, all to the good if the Japanese locked up troops in these Islands. The quickest way of recapturing the Philippines would be to defeat Germany. It seemed to him that the correct strategy was to establish a line where we had better air facilities than the Japanese and then to allow them to wear out their air forces by attacking us on that line. Would it be of any advantage to go as far forward as Truk in the immediate future rather than just before the main attack on the Philippines? Even if we had Truk he questioned whether we could operate surface forces against the Japanese lines of communication at the present time.

Admiral King agreed that the recapture of the Philippines must probably await the defeat of Germany. On the other hand, he would be in favor of seizing Truk and going forward to the Marianas in order to dominate the Japanese sea routes to the eastward thus freeing our submarines for the more covered Japanese supply route to the westward. He felt it was necessary to soften up the Japanese before making our main effort and not simply to allow them to do what they wanted, while we held a static position. The 30 percent allocation of resources which he had suggested would certainly suffice for the recapture of Rabaul.

After some further discussion,

The Committee:

Agreed to direct the Combined Staff Planners to report, on the basis that Germany is the primary enemy, what situation do we wish to establish in the Eastern Theater (i.e., the Pacific and Burma) in 1943, and what forces will be necessary to establish that situation.11

  1. This despatch is quoted in Ernest J. King and Walter Muir Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1952), pp. 353–354.
  2. Use of the island of Bora Bora in the French Society Island group as a U. S. Navy refueling point had been granted at the end of 1941 by the Free French forces which controlled the islands.
  3. The Battle of Midway Island between American and Japanese air and sea forces, June 3–6, 1942, in which the Americans scored a decisive victory.
  4. For text of the message of November 28, 1942, from Stalin to Roosevelt cited here, see Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iii, p. 664.
  5. Regarding the Bradley Mission, see footnote 5, ante, p. 508.
  6. The offer of one hundred bombers to the Soviet Union in event of an attack by Japan on the Soviet Far East was contained in a message from Roosevelt to Stalin, dated December 30, 1942, delivered to the Soviet Foreign Commissariat in note L–26, January 1, 1943, Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iii, p. 683.
  7. Stalin’s message to Roosevelt, dated January 5, 1943, is printed in Stalin’s Correspondence, vol. ii, p. 48. In a message dated January 8, 1943, Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iii, p. 616, Roosevelt restated his proposal and offered to send General Marshall to Moscow to help formulate plans. Stalin’s reply of January 13, 1943, ibid., p. 620, in effect rejected the President’s proposals.
  8. Presumably the reference is to Stalin’s message of December 18, 1942, to the President, Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iii, p. 677. For the President’s messages of October 9 and 12 and December 17, 1942, to Stalin regarding the assignment of Anglo-American air squadrons in the Caucasus under Soviet command, see ibid., pp. 731, 733, and 677, respectively.
  9. In a message to the President dated January 9, 1943, Chiang Kai-shek had stated that serious consideration was being given to the abandonment of Chinese participation in the proposed Allied operations in Burma; for text of Chiang’s message, see Romanus and Sunderland, pp. 259–260. For text of the President’s reply, see ante, p. 516.
  10. In pursuance of this decision, the United States Joint Staff Planners prepared a partial report, C.C.S. 153, January 17, 1943, post, p. 755. In a memorandum designated C.C.S. 153/1, January 17, 1943, post, p. 757, the British Joint Planning Staff commented upon the American report.