Defense Files

Minutes by Major Sexton


Subject: Current War Situation.

The President suggested that General Marshall give an estimate of the situation after three weeks of war.

General Marshall stated that, with respect to the Far East, General MacArthur apparently was not falling back as rapidly as was indicated in his first message; that General MacArthur was in a most difficult situation as far as air forces were concerned; that the heavy bombers had been evacuated from Luzon and that he estimated that the only planes left in Luzon were being used for observation purposes, although they may be of fighter types; that out of the original thirty-five B–17’s in the Philippines, eleven were at Surabaya; that General Brereton was with these planes and had established whatever fighter planes were now in Australia, they would be so disposed as to protect the fields where the B–17’s would be based; that a comparatively limited amount of information had been received from the Philippines; and that it would probably be two or three days before the situation would be clarified as to whether or not General MacArthur’s withdrawal would be rapid or would be prolonged.

The President asked if we had received any estimates of Japanese losses.

General Marshall replied that we had not; nor had we received an estimate of American losses; that, under the circumstances, he did not desire to harass General MacArthur with these details.

The President asked if there was a possibility of operating from Mindanao.

General Marshall replied that the Japanese had landed troops at Davao, but that General MacArthur hoped to hold fields in Mindanao, which could be used for operations against Luzon, and desired air and naval attacks on Japanese Davao preparations.

General Arnold stated that when we were able to get heavy bombers operating out of Borneo, we would be able to cover the Philippine Islands and Saigon; that eighteen B–17’s are leaving the United States for the Far Eastern area tomorrow night.

General Marshall added that another serious matter for consideration was the situation at Rangoon; that it was important to hold this point because it was on our line of communications to the Far East, and that Air Chief Marshal Portal had told General Arnold that the British were sending three squadrons of Hurricane fighters into that area.

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The President asked if we should establish a committee in China.1

General Marshall replied that he thought we should.

The President observed that it was primarily an air problem, and he wondered if General Magruder could handle it.

General Marshall replied that we have the 22d Pursuit Group there, which was out of the American voluntary group. General Marshall then added that the Ludington was back at Los Angeles.

The President asked if it was possible to send the Ludington to Australia.

General Marshall stated that it was too slow; that the Polk should get into Australia on the 8th; that another transport was leaving today; that the Navy had advised the Army that they could escort one convoy per month for Australia, but freight vessels would have to go unconvoyed; that with respect to the Hawaiian theater, the air force had been increased to two hundred pursuit ships and forty-three B–17’s; that General Emmons had asked for more troops as garrison for the Hawaiian Islands, and that these were being sent; that on our West Coast we have the antiaircraft defense set up as well as it is possible to do it. He added that when the Western Defense Command had been set up and placed under GHQ, there had been a tendency on the part of GHQ to move everything on the East Coast to the Western theater, and this condition had been remedied by setting up an Eastern Defense Command, which tended to balance this tendency on the part of GHQ; that every effort is being made to get winterized planes into Alaska, and that they will be there in a very short time; that General DeWitt believed that we should have stronger air forces in Alaska, but that it was simply a question of how to distribute our limited means; that at the beginning of the war we had established strong forces on the West Coast and guarding industry, and that it now became a question of gradually reducing them as far as practicable in order to prevent immobilization of large forces and serious interruptions of training.

The President asked what studies were being made with the Russians concerning operating bombers on the Kamchatka Peninsula, and operations in the Far East.

General Marshall replied that at the present time no studies were being made, because the Russians had no representatives here; that one Russian General here was primarily concerned with lend-lease; and that outside of settling with the Russians on the number of planes, tanks, etc., to be turned over to them, nothing more has been done.

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The President stated that he thought that in four or five days the Russians would agree to conversations on possible combined operations.2

Subject: Unity of Command.

The President stated that Mr. Churchill had agreed to the principle of unity of command in the Far East, and that he was about to send a radio to London to obtain approval of the Privy Council; that the general thought was that the Far Eastern theater would include Malaya, Burma, the Philippine Islands, Australia, and supply lines north of Australia; that Mr. Churchill had agreed, after a struggle, to include sea, land, and air in unity of command; that the supreme commander should have a small headquarters, and the headquarters would be mobile. Mr. Churchill had agreed that the commander (General Wavell) should not stay in Singapore; that the British and Dutch naval forces would be under an American Admiral; and that the British naval commander would be directed to conform with the plans and policies of the supreme commander.

General Marshall stated that this did not permit unity of command with regard to the naval forces, and urged that, as written, this not be accepted—that there should be no misunderstanding on this matter.

It was generally agreed that, as written, the telegram3 provided for cooperation with respect to naval forces.

Admiral Stark pointed out that a communication had been received from Australia urging unity of command.4

General Marshall strongly urged that the statement, “that the naval forces be directed to conform with the policies of the supreme commander,” be amended to read “will operate under the direction of the supreme commander.”

At the President’s suggestion, General Marshall and Mr. Harry Hopkins retired to another room and redrafted Mr. Churchill’s telegram in accordance with General Marshall’s recommendations.3

During their absence, the President directed that arrangements be made to go ahead with the proposition of establishing a committee at Chungking in order to help the morale of Chiang Kai-Shek.

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The Secretary of War observed that he had the idea that something of this nature had already been set up, but that he would set up a working committee.

The President asked who was to be designated as the American representative with Wavell.

General Arnold replied that it was contemplated having General Brett assigned as his air officer.

The President asked if Admiral Glassford would send someone also, and Admiral Stark replied that they planned to send Admiral Purnell.

Subject: Naval Operations.

The President stated that he had a report from the Dutch5 which quoted Admiral Hart as saying that he had instructions from Washington which precluded any joint action in the Far East. Also, the President asked, if it had been necessary to withdraw the task force which had been sent to Wake, why had this force ever been sent?

Admiral Stark replied that Admiral Pye had been sent to support Wake.

The President then asked again if it was felt necessary to send them at all, why should they have been withdrawn; and said that, except for the Midway task force, the operations had used a lot of oil and had accomplished nothing.

The President further stated that it had been his observation that a large number of the Japanese task forces scattered throughout the Far Eastern area were small; that they generally consisted of one or two cruisers, a few destroyers, and possibly two or three transports; that he thought a study should be made concerning the possibility of a sweep through the Pacific with the idea of catching some of these small forces; that the American forces should be slightly larger, possibly three or four cruisers and nine or ten destroyers; that the sweeping force should be fast enough to escape if it encountered superior strength; that he felt that it is necessary for the Navy to take some offensive action.

Admiral Stark replied that the Navy had forces operating on the line—Johnston, Christmas, Palmyra—and had hoped to meet some of the Japanese expeditions, but had failed.

The President remarked that the Japanese were getting awfully close to home.

It was pointed out that the United States had submarines operating in Midway and Wake area, and also three task forces in Japanese waters.

Admiral Stark stated that standing directions had been issued to raid Japanese forces whenever possible; that the area to the southwest had to be kept open; that, had the Japanese immediately followed [Page 130] up their Hawaiian raid, the defense of Hawaii would have been jeopardized. However, with the present air strength in Hawaii, it is believed possible to permit the naval forces to leave.

Admiral King stated that a list of priority missions with regard to the Pacific fleet had been drawn up—that first priority was holding the Hawaii-Midway line; second, that second priority was reinforcing and holding the line, Hawaii and Samoa; that all other projects must give way to this; and that in withdrawing the expedition from Wake, Admiral Pye was undoubtedly taking the broad viewpoint.

The President finally added that we need some kind of a contact with the Japanese navy, with our raiding forces having a slightly superior strength.

At this point General Marshall returned to the conference.

The President asked General Marshall if anything had been done with regard to moving small groups of men to England on current convoys.

General Marshall replied that the matter was being worked on; that it involved many difficulties; that he had a man en route to Halifax to see what could be done. He felt that something could certainly be worked out in the matter.

The President stated that he wanted to say something publicly this week about American troops in the British Isles.6

General Marshall replied that the Commanding Officers for the Ireland, African, and Brazilian task forces were in Washington at the present time, working out detailed plans.

The President stated that the African expedition is a guess operation; that he had received an interesting telegram from Mr. Bullitt mentioning that there were some French ships in the harbor at Alexandria, and that it might be possible for the Americans to take these ships over without opposition, where the British could not.7

General Marshall stated that, with regard to the African expedition, three alternatives were being studied—(1) the expedition to Casablanca; (2) to the Cape Verde Islands; and (3) to Dakar.

The President asked about the possibility of landing under fire at Casablanca.

General Marshall stated that this would be a very dangerous operation to attempt because of the hazards involved, especially in meeting an initial reverse, which would have a very detrimental effect on the morale of the American people.

Admiral Stark then stated that the Navy had stopped the conversion of four ships to airplane carriers in order to make these ships [Page 131] available for troop transports; in addition, there was available the Normandie, and one ship in Brazil; that seventy-one C–3’s were being built; that the building program was working at maximum capacity; and that if any more transports were built, something else would have to stop.

The President handed the Secretary of the Navy the radio he had received from Mr. Bullitt; and at 12:45 p.m. the conference adjourned.

W. T. S.
  1. In a memorandum of December 12 to Hull, Hamilton had proposed “that a political-strategic mission be sent from the United States immediately to Chungking”; see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iv, p. 745.
  2. Roosevelt’s optimism was apparently shared by Arnold (see ante, p. 66), but the reason for the President’s reference to “four or five days” is obscure. Litvinov had firmly stated to Hull on December 11, 1941, that the Soviet Union could not at that stage engage in any conversations about cooperation in the war against Japan. See Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iv, p. 742. Roosevelt may have been hopeful that conversations might be opened as a result of his decision to resume full-scale shipment of lend-lease items to the Soviet Union. See ibid., 1941, vol. i, p. 865; see also Matloff and Snell, p. 143, and ante, p. 87.
  3. The telegram under reference is Churchill’s draft of December 28, post, p. 277. The revisions made by Hopkins and Marshall are shown in the text.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. v, p. 390.
  5. The telegram under reference is Churchill’s draft of December 28, post, p. 277. The revisions made by Hopkins and Marshall are shown in the text.
  6. Not printed.
  7. In his annual message to Congress, delivered on January 6, 1942, Roosevelt said “American land, and air and sea forces will take stations in the British Isles—which constitute an essential fortress in this world struggle.” See Department of State Bulletin, vol. vi, January 10, 1942, p. 42.
  8. The telegram from Bullitt at Cairo is printed post, p. 244.