Defense Files

United States Minutes

1. Priorities for United States and United Kingdom Overseas Expeditions in the Atlantic Ocean

The Conference approved a final draft of the Joint Planning Committee’s Report on Priorities for United States and United Kingdom Overseas Expeditions in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Serial ABC–4/1, British Serial WW (J.P.C.)l). (See Annex l)1

2. American-British Strategy (WW–1)2

At the request of Rear Admiral Turner, action on this paper was deferred.

3. Northwest Africa Project, U.S. ABC–4/2, British WW(J.P.C.)2.3

Action on this paper was deferred at the request of the British.

4. Supporting Measures for the Southwest Pacific

Action on U.S. ABC–4/3, British WW (J.P.C.)3,4 was deferred by common consent.

[Page 138]

At this time, the following officers withdrew from the Conference: Rear Admiral W. R. Sexton, U. S. N.; Rear Admiral R. K. Turner, U. S. N.; Rear Admiral J. H. Towers, U. S. N.; Major General Thomas Holcomb, U. S. M. C.; Captain J. L. McCrea, U. S. N.; Brigadier General Raymond Lee, U. S. A.; and Commander R. D. Coleridge, R. N.

5. Unity of Command in the Southwestern Pacific Theater

a. Method of handling questions concerning that theater.

Admiral Pound said that the proposal for the establishment of unity of command in the Southwestern Pacific Theater had been referred by the Prime Minister to London, for consideration by the War Cabinet. In his telegram he had included the following sentence, “He (General Wavell) would receive his orders from an appropriate joint body, who will be responsible to him as Minister of Defense, and to the President of the United States, who is also Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. forces.”5

The Prime Minister had received an immediate reply,6 asking for information as to the nature of this joint body. He had been asked to defer giving his views to London on this point until the Chiefs of Staff had had an opportunity of putting forward their views.

One of the main objects in setting up a Supreme Commander was to achieve rapidity of decision on important matters. It would be difficult to attain this object if a cumbersome machine were erected to deal with important matters arising from the Southwestern Pacific Theater. The right course would be to utilize existing machinery, and the British Chiefs of Staff had formulated certain proposals which they hoped would prove acceptable to the United States Chiefs of Staff.

Admiral Pound then read his proposals to the Conference. (See Annex 2).7

Admiral King said that he had been asked to consider this matter, and advise the President at very short notice. He had set down on paper an outline of a solution which he thought would achieve the object in view, namely, rapid decision through the use of existing machinery. His proposal was that the Prime Minister should appoint a deputy in Washington, who would act with the President on recommendations to be made by a Southwestern Pacific Council, which would be a military body composed of one representative from each of the following: U.S. Joint Board, the British Joint Staff Mission, the Dutch military representatives in Washington, together with one Anzac representative. The members of this Council would be instructed as necessary by the military bodies which they represented.

[Page 139]

General Marshall suggested that it might be better not to introduce at this stage the complicated question of machinery into the business of setting up unity of command. He thought that an amendment might be made to the documents establishing the unified command, which would include a phrase to the effect that “matters would be dealt with by such joint machinery as the Associated Powers may hereafter set up”.

Admiral King thought that the establishment of machinery was an indispensable part of the establishment of unity of command, if the latter were to start operating at once.

General Marshall said that if such were the case, he was prepared to accept the proposals put forward by the British Chiefs of Staff.

Admiral King and Admiral Stark signified their agreement to these proposals.

Admiral Horne suggested that in order to achieve unity of command without delay, it should be agreed upon and established by the British and United States Governments forthwith—the other Governments concerned being presented with a fait accompli, and being asked to notify their acceptance.

Admiral Pound said that the Prime Minister had already sent off telegrams to the New Zealand and Australian Governments, so that there was unlikely to be much delay.8 The British Chiefs of Staff proposed to telegraph their proposals to the Prime Minister forthwith for his approval.9

Admiral Stark said that he would also submit them forthwith to the President.

The United States and British Chiefs of Staff approved the proposals for handling matters concerning the Southwestern Pacific Theater, as set out in the Memorandum as Annex 2, and agreed to submit them forthwith to the President and the Prime Minister, for approval.

b. Letter of instructions to the Supreme Commander.

The Conference was informed that a draft Letter of Instructions, prepared by the Joint Planning Committee, would be circulated to them that evening.10 The British Chiefs of Staff proposed to telegraph its contents to London for comment.

The Conference took note of this, and agreed to meet at 11:30 the following morning to consider the Draft Letter.11

[Page 140]

6. Proposed Communication to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek

General Marshall said that the President was very anxious to send a message to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, so as to reach him before the public announcement of the setting up of unified command in Southwestern Pacific Theater. General Magruder had reported that the Generalissimo was considerably upset by events in Burma, and particularly by the diversion to the British there of Lend-Lease material destined for China. It would therefore be desirable to send him an encouraging message, which would make clear that the other Associated Powers considered that he had an important part to play on the world’s stage. This would obviate any danger which might exist of his resenting the fact that he had not been consulted about the setting up of the Southwestern Pacific Command. He (General Marshall) had accordingly drafted a message, which he read to the Conference.12

In the course of discussion, two minor amendments were agreed to, to meet the following points:

That it would be unwise to define at this stage the Southwestern Pacific Theater.
That in view of the controversial problem presented by Burma, it would be inadvisable to include any part of Burma in the Chinese theater. It would be best, in defining the latter theater, to make clear that it was an initial definition only.

The United States and British Chiefs of Staff approved the draft message to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, as amended in discussion, and agreed to submit it to the President and to the Prime Minister, for their approval. (See Annex 3),13

The Conference adjourned at 5:30 P.M. to meet at 11:30 A.M., December 30, 1941.14

  1. Post, p. 246.
  2. Post, p. 210.
  3. Post, p. 240.
  4. Post, p. 280.
  5. The draft of Churchill’s telegram of December 28 is printed post, p. 277.
  6. Not found in American files.
  7. Post, p. 282.
  8. Not found in American files.
  9. Churchill was in Ottawa on December 29–30 and the morning of December 31, returning to Washington late that evening.
  10. The paper under reference is ABC–4/5, post, p. 289.
  11. The Chiefs of Staff did not meet at 11:30 the following morning but convened at 3 p.m.
  12. The paper as presented by Marshall is the text as typed in the draft memorandum reproduced in facsimile, post, p. 283.
  13. The text approved by the United States and British Chiefs of Staff is the text of the draft memorandum (post, p. 283) as amended in longhand by Marshall. For the text as sent on December 29, see post, p. 284.
  14. See footnote 11, p. 139.