J.C.S. Files

Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes3

The President and Prime Minister considered first certain telegrams4 which had been received which seemed to indicate that there were considerable odds in favor of the acquisition of the Italian Fleet.

The Prime Minister hoped that the Italian Fleet would be treated with respect by the Allies wherever it might arrive; this was very important for the future.

The President suggested that a new slogan should be adopted: “Save the Pope.”

The Prime Minister then proceeded to read out a minute5 (attached as an annex to the minutes), which he had submitted that day to the President containing certain proposals regarding the action which should be taken on the assumption that the present battle for Naples and Rome would be successful and that the Germans would retreat to the line of the Apennines or the Po.

[Page 1213]

When the Prime Minister came to that part of paragraph 6 of his minute, which referred to the possible opening of ports on the Dalmatian Coast, he paused to consider briefly forces that might be available. He mentioned the Polish Army, a fine army, now well equipped, consisting of 75,000 to 80,000 men, burning to engage the enemy. Then there was the New Zealand Division, really a corps. In North Africa there were other divisions some of which would need reequipping as they had been robbed of equipment to make complete other divisions taking part in the present operations.

The time would soon come, he said, when we would want only garrison forces with a few of our mobile columns. We would be settling down to action in a friendly area. He thought that we probably had adequate forces available for all that we might need to do in the Mediterranean.

When he had read out that part of the minute dealing with the efforts to organize the attack upon the Germans throughout the Balkan Peninsula, The Prime Minister summed up as regards the operations necessary in Italy, that what was wanted was to establish a fortified line to seal off the north of Italy; a line prepared in depth which Italian divisions should help us to man and so strong that it would make it very costly for the Germans to do anything effective against us.

The Prime Minister concluded reading the minute which he had prepared and The President stated that he wished to emphasize one or two points: With regard to the use of the British Navy The President wished the Chiefs of Staff to consider very carefully the important political implications of having British vessels in the Pacific. He said that in effect this tells Japan, “This is what is going to happen to you each time we can release additional means from the European Theater.” He suggested with the help of British naval vessels it might be possible to use all four routes to Japan: that from the Kuriles, the middle route by Hawaii, a third route by the Marshall Islands, and a fourth route northward from the Solomons. He appreciated, however, that logistical considerations might prevent full utilization of such vessels as the British Navy could make available.

Admiral King said that weather, as well as port facilities were limiting factors when adding to the naval strength in the Pacific. An additional complication was the lack of an adequate destroyer complement to give full protection to all the capital ships that would be involved. However, he said, the United States Navy was fully aware of the political value of having British vessels operating in the Pacific. In this connection he thought it was entirely feasible for that part of the British Navy released from the Mediterranean to proceed to its station in the Indian Ocean via the Panama Canal and the Pacific.

[Page 1214]

The Prime Minister thought that it would be possible to send out two 16 inch ships and three modernized Queen Elizabeth type, all fast vessels. With them, a destroyer escort-could be sent, but not full complement required.

The President said with regard to the utilization of Italian naval vessels he was not convinced that would be wise. He thought it would be better if they were manned by either the U.S. or the U.K.

Admiral King pointed out that the difficulty in this regard was the fact that Italian naval vessels were all made on the metric system. However, he indicated that this would not be an unsurmountable difficulty, and paid tribute to the excellent quality of the Littorio battleships.

The President expressed a hope that ample quantities of ammunition would be available in Taranto and other Italian ports.

The Prime Minister mentioned the difficulty of shortness of range regarding the employment of these Italian vessels in the Pacific.

Admiral King said that an additional threat to the Mediterranean was the possible use that the Germans might make of the French vessels now in Toulon. This danger would be decreased considerably when air bases became available in Italy from which Toulon might be bombed. He suggested that British submarines now in the Mediter-ranean could be profitably used in the Java Sea.

The President agreed and said that this would be helpful because British submarines could be based at Colombo and Ceylon and thus cover areas beyond the reach of United States submarines based on Australia.

Admiral King added that an additional advantage of utilizing British submarines in the East Indies area was because of their small size.

The Prime Minister suggested that all the questions raised this far be studied by the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

In reply Admiral King said that he had already sent word to all his Naval Commanders in the Pacific with regard to possible use that might be made of the British naval vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean. He expected their replies in the near future.

The Prime Minister remarked that we had come into a fortune and must use it to the best of our ability.

The President added that really we had come into two fortunes in a single day.

General Marshall asked if there was any practical possibility of Italian capital ships lightly armed, perhaps with only anti-aircraft protection, being used as transports in the Mediterranean.

[Page 1215]

Admiral King said that there were great possibilities in this suggestion and indicated that the Japanese are already using naval ships as troop transports to some extent.

General Marshall said his thought was that the ships could be completely denuded of their combat complements, thus making transport space available.

Admiral Leahy said that two to three thousand men could be transported on each ship without difficulty.

The President’s second comment on the Prime Minister’s minute was with regard to land operations in Italy.

He thought that we should proceed as far north as possible and then dig in in depth, using whatever Italians might be available for defensive operations.

He said that operations in the Balkans would be largely a matter of opportunity. However, he thought we should be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself.

The Prime Minister suggested that initially it might be possible to furnish supplies to Balkan guerillas across the Adriatic. He pointed out how much they had been able to accomplish with the small amount of supplies that we had been able to drop by air in the past. He said that clearly we would not have the shipping for a large expedition but we might be able to get a couple of ports in the Adriatic.

The Prime Minister then said that these propositions should be examined by the Combined Staffs the next day, who should submit their conclusions to him in the form of a codicil. This he could take to the President at Hyde Park on Saturday.

Admiral King suggested that the Combined Chiefs of Staff might prepare an outline as a basis for detailed study to be made by the Combined Planners.

The Prime Minister concluded with the remark that we must be worthy of good luck as we have been of bad in the past.

The Prime Minister then turned the discussion to the subject of Habbakuks and asked what new developments had taken place since his last meeting with the Naval Staffs.6

Admiral King said that it appeared to him at the present time that the most feasible plan was to use at least 8 or 10 escort carriers for air support in the initial stages of assault landings.

The Prime Minister thought if carriers were available floating airfields might not be needed. However, he was anxious to construct at least one and suggested that the subject be further discussed by the Naval Staffs the following day.

Admiral King said that by May the United States will have 50 escort carriers and Great Britain 30.

[Page 1216]

The President said that he would like to carry out at least two experiments in the construction of floating airfields with particular emphasis on their possible use in Overlord . He asked if the possibilities of using tank landing craft as a base for a floating airfield had been considered.

Admiral King said that there are actually 2 possibilities under consideration at the present time: one the construction of a floating air base on naval pontoons and the second the construction of an air base on floating drydocks. The President’s thought of utilizing landing craft as a base for an airfield would be considered as a third possibility. He suggested that the Prime Minister meet with the ad hoc committee who is studying this subject, on Friday afternoon.7

The Prime Minister agreed to this suggestion.

The President said that in cross-channel operations it was particularly important that aircraft have some place where they might land on the return journey in case of fuel shortage or accident.

Admiral King said that he understood that the purpose of exploring the possibilities of developing floating airfields was to provide air bases in the intial stages of assault landings before landing strips could be built on shore.

General Arnold said that the Air Corps is somewhat worried over the distances involved in providing fighter support for the Overlord operation. Some types of aircraft cannot be used at all and others can only be used by adding belly tanks or by being staged to a landing area such as a floating airfield.

  1. Corrections noted in an accompanying corrigendum have been made in the Minutes as printed here.
  2. The telegrams referred to have not been identified. One of them, however, was presumably Eisenhower’s telegram No. Naf 367 of September 9 to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, in which he reported: “… certain major portions of the Italian Fleet have at least left their harbors and appear to be moving toward destinations prescribed by the CinC Med. Movement from Spezia was prompt and heavy, from Taranto it was slightly delayed but has now taken place.” (Eisenhower Papers, p. 1405)
  3. Post, p. 1287.
  4. See ante, p. 1207.
  5. See post, p. 1226.