Hopkins Papers

The Presidents Personal Representative (Harriman) to Prime Minister Churchill

most secret

Personal Memorandum for the Prime Minister:

In accordance with your request of last night11 am listing below the salient reasons why I urge that you increase your tank demands on us, reducing proportionally United Kingdom production. I realize that you are fully familiar with the subject and therefore I am not setting forth the details.

The United States faces a substantial overproduction of Sherman tanks, even after a deep cut in the program made last autumn in order partially to meet the prior demands of the shipbuilding and [Page 315] escort vessel building program. Splendid production facilities have been created which have been highly advertised as a great war achievement of the Administration and of American industry. Should this production be now further substantially cut thousands of men will be thrown out of work and these facilities if only partially used will be a target for criticism instead of a monument of achievement. Politically it will be difficult for the President to explain and it will give ammunition to the ever vigilant critics of the conduct of the war.
You personally and members of your Government share the responsibility for the establishment of the very high tank production objective. The President, against the advice of some of his advisors, set the target at the figure recommended by Lord Beaverbrook in January of last year.2 As late as last November Lyttelton presented requests for about 17,000 Sherman tanks and when we said that these could not be met by some 4,000 he urged that tank production be expanded to take care of this additional requirement.3 Fortunately, as things have turned out, this request was resisted by our army.
As the Russians are now no longer requesting shipment of tanks, we find ourselves with surplus production which is sufficient to meet your demands made in November. These 4,000 Shermans were therefore offered to you. In the meantime, however, your army estimates have been reduced and we have been advised that you cannot now use the additional tanks offered.
The present U. K. production program has also been reduced—to 7,000 tanks per year of the medium and heavy type. For certain tactical reasons your army consider that they would like to have this production of Churchill and Cromwell type tanks. In addition, as a matter of high policy, the substantial abandonment of the art of producing tanks is not considered in the British national interest.
I accept without qualification the national need for the continuance of the art of producing tanks in the United Kingdom. What is the proper minimum is of course a matter of opinion. After weighing all of the factors, however, I strongly urge that your tank production in the U. K. be reduced by 2,000 to 4,000 tanks, and that you increase your requests on us by a similar number for the following reasons: [Page 316]
You have made from time to time important requests on the United States for your war requirements. These have been accepted in many cases at great inconvenience to our own program. In the friendly and intimate spirit in which our relationships have developed in the conduct of the war it seems only appropriate for you to consider sympathetically an earnest request made by us even at some inconvenience or sacrifice. Your decision in this matter will be accepted in good faith but if it is adverse it cannot help but have some influence in dealing with future requests.
Labor required for the production of tanks in England is urgently needed in other directions, notably locomotive construction, locomotive maintenance, construction equipment, etc. We have urgently asked that you increase your allocations of labor for these purposes as we are not equipped to deal with our combined demands for these items.
I do not pretend to be able to judge the tactical advantages of the tanks that you propose building. We do know, however, that the Sherman is a good tank, thoroughly tried in battle, whereas the Cromwell series is still to be blooded. A fact not known in England when I left is that the production of our T–20 series has been agreed upon to start early next year and be in full swing by the early spring. The design of this tank was undertaken about a year after the Cromwell was conceived and gives promise of tactical advantages in advance of any other machine with which we are familiar, including those produced in Germany.
I have consulted Lord Leathers and Mr. Douglas on the shipping aspect and they agree that this additional number of tanks can be lifted.

I have discussed this matter at great length with Weeks and Lyttelton before coming to America. I believe that unless you take a strong position Lyttelton’s attitude will continue to be negative. May I suggest if you cable that you emphasize the political situation you have found to exist here and our plans to commence production of the T–20 series early next year.4

  1. Harriman had attended the meeting’ between Roosevelt and Churchill on the evening of May 24; see the editorial note, ante, p. 197.
  2. For documentation regarding the discussions during the First Washington Conference ( Arcadia ), December 1941–January 1942, of the problems of tank production and allocation, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Washington, 1941–1942, and Casablanca, 1943, pp. 328 ff., and the editorial note on the meeting between Roosevelt and Beaverbrook on the afternoon of December 26, 1941, ibid., p. 99.
  3. For an account of the discussions regarding tank production during Lyttelton’s visit to Washington in November 1942, see Leighton and Coakley, p. 290.
  4. In telegram 4920, July 27, 1943, from London (not printed), Harriman reported to Hopkins as follows:

    “British tank production program for 1944 has been given exhaustive study since the Prime Minister’s return and is now finally settled by the War Cabinet.

    “The Prime Minister advises me that British production has been further reduced which will make possible requisitions on United States in 1944 for [one] thousand medium tanks additional to the two thousand agreed to while the Prime Minister was in Washington. This means total requests on United States production in 1944 of 8500 medium tanks.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    “I believe the President will be interested particularly as the Prime Minister has personally been the motivating force in the reaching of the decision in the desire to cooperate with our production problems.” (841.24/1965)