Prime Minister Churchill to President Roosevelt 1
[ Washington , September 9, 1943.]
Mr. President. 1. It would surely be convenient before we separate to have a plenary meeting of the Combined Chiefs of the Staff in order to take stock of the new world situation which will arise on the assumption that the present battle for Naples and Rome is successful and that the Germans retreat to the line of the Apennines or the Po.
- Assuming we get the Italian Fleet, we gain not only that Fleet but the British Fleet which has hitherto contained it. This very heavy addition to our naval power should be used at the earliest possible moment to intensify the war against Japan. I have asked the First Sea Lord to discuss with Admiral King the movement of a powerful British Battle Squadron, with cruisers and ancillaries, to the Indian Ocean via the Panama Canal and the Pacific. We need a strong Eastern Fleet based on Colombo during the amphibious operations next year. I should be very glad if it were found possible for this Fleet to serve under the American Pacific Command and put in at least four months of useful fighting in the Pacific before taking up its Indian Ocean station. We cannot afford to have idle ships. I do not know, however, how the arrival of such reinforcements would enable the various tasks assigned to United States forces in the Pacific to be augmented. Apart from strategy, from the standpoint of high policy His Majesty’s Government would desire to participate in the Pacific war in order to give such measure of assistance as is in their power not only to their American Allies but on account of the obligations to Australia and New Zealand. Such a movement of our ships to and through the Pacific would undoubtedly exercise a demoralizing effect upon Japan who must now be conscious of the very great addition of naval weight thrust against her, and besides this it would surely give satisfaction in the United States as being a proof positive of British resolve to take an active and vigorous part to the end in the war against Japan.
- The public must be gradually led to realize what we and our Combined Staffs have so fully in mind, namely, the conversion of [Page 1288] Italy into an active agent against Germany. Although we could not recognize Italy as an Ally in the full sense, we have agreed she is to be allowed to work her passage and that useful service against the enemy will not only be aided but recompensed. Should fighting break out between Italians and Germans, the public prejudices will very rapidly depart and in a fortnight or so matters may be ripe, if we can so direct events, for an Italian declaration of war against Germany. The question of the Italian flag flying from Italian ships, and even some arrangement of Italians manning those vessels under British or American control, requires consideration. The whole problem of handling and getting the utmost use out of the Italian Navy requires review now on a high level.
- On the over-all assumption of a decisive victory in the Naples area, we are I presume agreed to march northwards up the Italian Peninsula until we come up against the main German positions. If the Italians are everywhere favourable and their Army comes over to help, the deployment of at least a dozen Italian Divisions will be of great advantage in holding the front across Italy and in permitting relief of Allied forces. If, after the battle of Naples is over, we are not seriously resisted south of the main German line, we ought not to be long getting up against it with light forces, and I should hope that by the end of the year at latest we should be confronting it in full strength. If sooner, then better. There can be no question of whittling down Overlord . We must not forget at this juncture our agreement to begin moving the seven Divisions away in succession from the beginning of November. All the more important is it to bring Italian Divisions into the line, and our State policy should be adapted to procure this end.
- I have been contemplating the 1944 campaign in the light of these new possibilities and I remain strongly convinced that we should be very chary of advancing Northward beyond the narrow part of the Italian Peninsula. Of course, if the Germans retreat to the Alps, another situation is presented, but failing that, it would seem beyond our strength, having regard to the requirements of Overlord , to broaden out into the Plains of Lombardy. We have also to consider that the Germans, working on interior lines, may perhaps bring a heavier force to bear upon our front in Italy than we shall have there at the end of the year. The possibility of a strong German counterattack cannot be excluded. I should like it to be considered whether we should not, when we come up against the main German position, construct a strong fortified line of our own, properly sited in depth. Italian military labour could be used on a large scale for this purpose. Italian troops could naturally take part in defending the line. Thus, [Page 1289] by the Spring, we should be able in this theater either to make an offensive if the enemy were weak, and anyhow to threaten one, or on the other hand stand on the defensive, using our Air power which will in the meanwhile have been built up, from behind our fortified line and divert a portion of our troops for action elsewhere either to the West or to the East. I hope this may be studied.
- We are both of us acutely conscious of the great importance of the Balkan situation. We should make sure that the Mediterranean High Command, absorbed in its present battle, does not overlook the needs of the patriot forces there. The problem of the Italian forces requires immediate study. The orders of the C.-in-C. Middle East, General Wilson, published today, are well conceived for the moment, but we require to see more clearly exactly what is intended. On the assumption that the Italians can be drawn into the war against Germany, far-reaching possibilities seem to be open. There is surely no need for us to work from the bottom of the Balkans upwards. If Ave can get an agreement between the patriots and the Italian troops, it should be possible to open quite soon one or more good ports on the Dalmatian coast, enabling munitions and supplies to be sent in by ship, and all forces that will obey our orders raised to good fighting condition. The German situation in all this theater will become most precarious, especially from the point of view of supplies. When the defensive line across Northern Italy has been completed, it may be possible to spare some of our own forces assigned to the Mediterranean theater to emphasize a movement North and North-Eastward from the Dalmatian ports. For the moment the utmost efforts should be put forth to organize the attack upon the Germans throughout the Balkan Peninsula and to supply agents, arms and good direction.
- Lastly, the question of Islands is now ripe for consideration. Sardinia, I imagine, will come over immediately, though we may have to send some help to the Italians in procuring the disarmament of any German units there. In Corsica the Germans have perhaps already been overcome, but surely here is the place for a French expedition. Even if only one Division could be sent by the French National Committee, the Island could probably be quickly liberated and there is little doubt that its manhood would enable at least another Division or two to be raised locally. General Wilson’s telegram about the operations against Rhodes and other Islands in the Dodecanese is all right so far as it goes, but I am not satisfied that sufficient use is being made under the present conditions of the forces in the Middle East, I am making an immediate enquiry into the exact location of all troops above Battalion strength, hoping that improvised expeditionary forces and garrisons may be provided for various minor ventures.
- We must expect far-reaching reactions in Bulgaria, Rumania, and Hungary, and these again may produce a movement from the Turk without our having to make any request or incur any obligation to him. All this again requires military and political consideration on the high[est] level and I feel that we should do well to take a preliminary survey this afternoon if you are agreeable.
W[inston] S. C[hurchill]
9. 9. 43.
- Churchill gave Marshall a copy of this minute on September 9 (see ante, p. 1211) and the text was circulated the same day by the Secretaries of the Combined Chiefs of Staff as the enclosure to C.C.S. 341 (see post, p. 1290). The latter text is the source text used here. Another copy was annexed to C.C.S. 341/2 (see post, p. 1290). Still another copy was filed as an enclosure to the minutes of the meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff with Roosevelt and Churchill on September 9, 1943 (see ante, p. 1212).↩