United States Minutes 1
Subject: General Plans.
The President stated that there were one or two matters on which he desired clarification because certain Army-Navy action depended on political considerations.
The first matter was that it was problematical what would happen to the French, both in France and in West and North Africa, and that plans must be prepared for any situation which might arise.
The second consideration was the situation in Brazil—that at the present time we can do no more than guess, but that it was of great importance that we keep our lines of communication with Europe open.
Third, that we must be prepared to take Army-Navy action if no additional developments occur in either of these areas and the situation appears to be working in our direction. We must work on the basis that the Ireland and Iceland expeditions are in shape to proceed without delay in such a manner that these operations could be halted if other considerations intervened. We cannot, at this time, make a decision with reference to Africa and Brazil, but we must be ready to take proper action if both of these situations blow up in our face, and also we must be ready if nothing happens in either of these places; that the Secretary of War is correct when he says that we can take no chances on the possibility of our first major expedition being a failure; that if the risk looks great, we must think twice before we go ahead.2
Subject: Relief of Troops in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of War stated that the expedition to Northern Ireland has been agreed upon, and the sailing date has been set. The question is, are the British ready for us?
Field Marshal Dill stated that he would see that all arrangements were made to receive the American troops.
The Secretary of War stated that he wanted to be certain that when the American troops arrive in Ireland they will not have to “roost on the rocks.”
Mr. Churchill stated that the British would take full responsibility for accommodating the American troops when they arrive; [Page 163] that the three divisions which were being relieved could be moved to England; that he felt it was of tremendous importance to begin this movement at once.
The President asked how many American planes were being sent to Northern Ireland.
General Arnold replied, “Two pursuit groups, about 160 planes.”
The President asked if the British were going to withdraw their planes from Northern Ireland.
Air Marshal Portal replied that at present they have none in Northern Ireland; however, that the presence of American planes in Ireland would be of great assistance to the British because it would obviate the necessity of the British dispatching planes to that area in case Ireland were invaded, and that accommodations would be provided for the air units also.
Subject: Gymnast Plan.
It was agreed that the British plans for the occupation of Northwestern Africa would be known as Gymnast ; British plans with American participation would be known as Super-Gymnast .
The Secretary of War stated that the Army representatives had just completed a meeting with the Navy, and that in his opinion, the situation depended on political considerations—(1) an invitation; (2) would the Spanish be able to delay a German invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in sufficient time to permit the occupation to be completed?
The President observed that we should discount any idea that the Spanish would offer opposition to the Germans.
The Secretary of War then stated that the crucial matter in the occupation depended as to whether the American-British forces could establish a canopy of air protection until the landing could be completed; that this meant the employment of considerable carrier forces, and that the matter was still under discussion; that he was troubled by the possibility that the Germans could quickly establish themselves in the Iberian Peninsula and employ a dangerous force against this operation; that the Germans are already on the ground; that they have a considerable knowledge of the situation in Africa and that what we need is a fifth column in the North African area; that our chances of success in this plan will fade as time goes on.
The President observed that, on the supposition that the Germans would move in immediately, it would take them as long to complete the occupation as it would us; that they would have the same problem as we have; that in this event he did not think that we could stand idly by and permit them to become established.[Page 164]
With reference to the time required to complete Super-Gymnast, Mr. Churchill observed that it had not required the Japs four months to get ashore in Luzon.
Admiral Turner stated that Casablanca was the only suitable port and it was small; that it will take each convoy two weeks to unload; that there are other small ports along the coast, but we could only furnish air protection for one of these.
Mr. Churchill observed that if we could complete the movement in one month, the opposition (from the Germans) would undoubtedly be small, but that if it takes four months we would probably be blasted out.
The Secretary of War stated that only one port is thoroughly available; that in other possible landing places, the force would have to land from an open roadstead, and he admitted that he could not understand why it would still take four months even if the British are not landing there but at Algiers.
The President asked if any investigation of the possibilities at Rio[de] Oro had been made.
Admiral Turner replied that the communications were very bad there and it would involve a movement over a desert road of 700 or 800 miles.
Mr. Churchill observed that if carriers are going to be involved in this movement, the time factor for unloading would have to be reduced because the Germans could assemble a strong U-boat concentration, and that the loss of carriers could not be afforded at this time.
The Secretary of War observed that, under the plans, the carriers would be moving out without delay; that there were two possibilities being studied—one to carry assembled Army planes on the carriers, and the other to use Navy planes.
Admiral Turner stated that carriers could not remain in the Casablanca area more than ten days; that two plans were possible—one to carry Army planes and have them fly off the carrier and immediately establish themselves in landing fields adjacent to Casablanca. This plan would not appear as feasible as the possibility of having Navy planes furnish the initial air canopy while fields were being established. These Navy planes could then return to the carriers, a matter which would be impossible for Army planes. Then after the fields were established the Army planes could be flown to them and landed. (Note: The point of this is that Army pursuit planes cannot land on the decks of a carrier).
The Secretary of War stated that from our experience in the Philippines it was of vital importance to have several dispersed fields, and that the basic necessity was to establish this canopy of air protection immediately following the beginning of the operation.[Page 165]
Mr. Churchill observed that the first wave should be accommodated in two or three days, and that even if the Germans hear about the movement, it would take them some time, at least ten days, to move supplies and get ready for an attack from Spain.
The Secretary of War asked how many ships could unload at Casablanca at once.
Admiral Turner replied that not more than ten or twelve could unload at once; that the first convoy would have twenty-two or twenty-three ships; that it would take two weeks for each convoy to unload; that the Americans had thought it could be done in ten days but the British believed two weeks.
The President asked that if the Commander was ordered to unload in one week instead of two, could he do it?
Admiral Turner replied that two weeks was the best estimate that they could make.
The Secretary of the Navy quoted General Arnold as saying that German fighters could not operate at Casablanca from bases in Spain; that Colonel Donovan’s organization was attempting to get detailed information concerning the Casablanca area.
The President observed that he and Mr. Churchill and the two staffs appeared to know very little about the region, and that a matter of outstanding consideration was the possibility that the Germans might move into the area first.
The Secretary of War observed that he couldn’t understand the lack of military intelligence concerning this area.
Admiral Turner stated that the Joint Planning Committee had a mass of information available, but there were still certain factors which could be obtained only by detailed inspection of the ground.
The Secretary of War stated that essential points should be boiled down to the matter as to whether it would be possible to get and keep air control, and whether it would be possible to land and disperse in fields around Casablanca.
The President asked concerning the sea conditions in the area.
Admiral Turner stated there was a large surf with a heavy roll at this time of the year.
Admiral King proposed a solution of using three carriers—one to carry Navy fighters, the other Army fighters, and the third, heavy Army bombers. While the Navy fighters were furnishing the canopy, the Army heavy bombers would carry supplies such as gasoline, bombs, etc., and land them on the fields at which it was desired to base the Army fighters. This would avoid the delay necessary to move the supplies to these fields. He thought that this could be done in three weeks and then the carriers could move out.[Page 166]
The President observed that the two-weeks period to completely unload one convoy seemed awfully slow for people who were in a hurry.
Mr. Churchill suggested that the landing be practiced at some place which would be similar to actual anticipated conditions, and the determination made as to how long it would actually take. While this was being done, the general plans for the operation would go forward.
General Marshall pointed out that an operation similar to this is being undertaken at the present time.
The President asked, in the amphibious exercises which had been held lately, how long had been taken to unload.
Admiral King replied that it had taken 48 hours to unload 12,000 men, but that this had not included heavy equipment.
The President then stated that the matter of the invitation is in the lap of the gods, but that we must be ready to have the transports sail within one week after the time it was received (if it is received).
Marshal Dill observed that if we did this, it would hold up other transportation which was needed for other purposes.
Admiral King stated that we could hold the ships in readiness.
General Marshall pointed out that present plans contemplate the sailing of the Ireland relief expedition on January 15; that if this convoy had already sailed, and it was desired to initiate Super-Gymnast , it would require three or four weeks to get it back; that meanwhile, effort would be made to figure out every possible way in which this expedition could be put across; that everyone agreed as to the strategic importance of the expedition; that we would push for information and explore all possibilities.
Mr. Churchill stated that he attached tremendous importance to the January 15 movement; that it was of great importance to the morale of the British to have American troops move into Ireland at this time. He suggested that planners push ahead with their plans for Super-Gymnast but make no diversion of shipping on the Ireland relief; that we should take no real ships from real jobs; and that we could talk about the matter again in a few days.
Admiral Pound observed that if the Ireland relief ( Magnet ) is undertaken, there would not be sufficient ships immediately available for Super-Gymnast .
Mr. Churchill inquired as to the possibility of using some of the fast, large ships for Magnet to move unescorted.
Admiral Pound agreed that the risks of using an unescorted fast ship are not too heavy, but that the price is frightful if the ship would be sunk.[Page 167]
Admiral King observed that he believed that a fast ship moving unescorted had a better chance of reaching its destination than slow-moving convoys.
The Secretary of War made the following summary: Assuming that the Magnet force now goes ahead as planned, we should try to get, in addition, twenty-two or twenty-three ships for the first convoy of Super-Gymnast so that if it becomes feasible to put Super-Gymnast into operation, the Magnet force will not interfere; that the first expedition on Super-Gymnast would consist of certain marines and Air Corps units but would not contain armored forces; that even if the British would make a landing at Algiers, some armored forces should be provided for the first convoy in Super-Gymnast .
Admiral Turner thought that we could get enough ships (exclusive of Magnet ) for the first U. S. convoy on Super-Gymnast ; however, we could not dispatch the second convoy on Super-Gymnast until the Magnet ships get back.
Mr. Churchill said that under no circumstances should we delay Magnet going ahead.
Admiral Pound observed that the Queen Mary would be ready in a week, and that the Queen Elizabeth, the Aquitania and Normandie would also be available.
Admiral King suggested that we might send a token force ( Magnet ) on the Queen Mary and leave the other ships to rest on events.
Admiral Turner stated that we are all set for 21,000 men ( Magnet ) to sail on the fifteenth of January.
General Marshall stated that we will have troops ready to go as fast as the ships are ready to carry them.
The President stated that we might transport 6,000 men on the Queen Mary for Magnet and use the rest of the available space for cargo; that the matter should be given further study; and that we should get more information regarding Northwest Africa.
Mr. Churchill then asked “Then you rule that the Queen Mary can be used for this transportation?”
The President nodded apparent agreement.
Admiral Pound asked if an additional use could be made of American ships which had been turned over to the British for convoy from the Middle East to the Far East.3
Admiral King stated that he would be willing to permit the British to make any emergency use of these ships that was desirable.
Admiral Stark stated that he would talk to Admiral Pound concerning the matter.
At 6:30 P.M. the Conference adjourned.
- The minutes are typed on War Department stationery and were prepared presumably by Major Sexton.↩
- Stimson, in his diary for January 4, makes the following statement: “To my surprise the President called on me to lead the discussion and in doing so he used some of the cautionary statements that I had emphasized to him last evening in my talk over the telephone.”↩
- See the memorandum of January 3, 1942, by Hollis, post, p. 304.↩