J.C.S. Files: Telegram
The Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theater (Wilson) to the British and United States Chiefs of Staff1
FX 91375, Medcos 181. Following is a review of the situation in the Mediterranean Theatre.
I. Operation “Dragoon”
- Thanks to the skill with which it was mounted and carried through by all three services Operation Dragoon has been an outstanding success. Once ashore the skill of the commanders combined with the determination and speed of manoeuvre of all forces coupled [Page 225] with effective assistance from the French Forces of the Interior have produced a situation in which the whole of southeastern France east of the Rhone and south of Lyons as far east as Nice is under the control of the Allied armies. Some 50,000 prisoners have been captured and very heavy losses have been inflicted on the enemy though some 1½ divisions have escaped to the north after having suffered heavy losses in men and material. The capture ahead of schedule of the ports of Toulon and Marseilles coupled with our unexpected success in securing control of the Port de Bouc practically undamaged have resulted in a situation in which by the middle of September the ports of Southern France will be able to handle any foreseeable demands which may be placed upon them. Subsequently the logistical bottle neck will be the capacity of the railway leading north through the Rhone Valley, but thanks to the speed of our advance and the con sequent reduction in the expected scale of demolitions, Seventh Army expect to be able to maintain a force of one armoured division and four infantry divisions north of Lyons by 15th September at earliest. By 1st October it is estimated that a double line of railway will be working as far as Lyons which will by that date place the supply facilities for Allied armies operating in southeastern France on a satisfactory basis. A preliminary estimate, taking into account facilities offered by the use of the Rhone Canal, some 10,000 tons per day might be delivered in the Lyons area from that date. The general tactical plan of Commander Seventh Army2 which I have approved is that after the capture of Lyons the general grouping of his forces will be that the French Armée “B” will undertake the protection of the right flank facing the Franco-Italian frontier and will operate east of the Rhone with an axis of advance Bourg–Besangon. In the execution of its security mission along the Franco-Italian frontier it will be assisted by the United States Divisional Airborne Division, and First Special Service Force. At the same time the VI American Corps will be regrouped so as to operate west of the Rhone on the line Autun–Dijon–Langres with the object of making contact with the American Third Army. I would propose that at this stage of the operations the command of the forces in France should be transferred to General Eisenhower. While the forces at present employed under the command of the Seventh Army might not appear to be of sufficient magnitude to warrant the formation of 6th Army Group, I consider that in view of the length of communications, the very heavy responsibilities for port maintenance and civil affairs and matters connected with the French resistance movement together with the possibility that forces from the right wing of American armies already in France might either be placed under its command or maintained [Page 226] from Mediterranean ports, it is desirable that the 6th Army Group should take over command of southern France, Anticipating that this will be approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff I am sending General Devers to consider plans with General Eisenhower. As regards administration, I have sent a planning representative to SHAEF to discuss the time when SHAEF should assume administrative responsibility. I would suggest that this matter be left for final settlement between SHAEF and my Headquarters. As regards the large areas in France west of the Rhone, I consider that no military action is required to deal with such small German forces as are still in this area and which are being rapidly rounded up by the French Forces of the Interior, and I feel that any divergence of regular troops would be a waste of effort.
- Air. I have recently discussed with General Eaker and General Spaatz proposals for the disposition of United States tactical air forces between Italy and southern France which have my full approval and which are now being discussed with General Eisenhower. Their general effect would be that continued offensive operations in the autumn and winter by the Allied armies in Italy would continue to receive very powerful air support from United States Army Air Force fighter-bombers as well as by medium bombers. The detailed deployment and distribution of the tactical air forces cannot and need not be decided until we see the outcome of the present offensive in the Po Valley. Meanwhile I am satisfied that that offensive as well as the operations in the Dragoon area are receiving most adequate and effective support. At the same time certain administrative measures such as holding up the shipping to France of aviation engineers and steel planking have been taken to facilitate any redeployment of the tactical air forces that may be decided upon.
In the Italian Theatre the enemy now has a total of some 26 divisions which are estimated to be the equivalent of some 16 to 17. As a result of the deterioration in the situation in northern France the Germans have withdrawn two Panzer Grenadier Divisions from this theatre which have now been identified in central France. On the other hand the success of our cover plans which have been designed to make the enemy think that one of our objects was to secure Genoa and the Ligurian Coast together with the enemy’s fear that the landings in southern France might be the prelude to an invasion of Italy from the west, have resulted in the enemy disposing some five divisions, including three Italian divisions to meet this threat. As a result his forces holding the Gothic Line have been considerably weakened, and until the last few days the enemy did not apparently appreciate the threat [Page 227] to his left flank. He has, however, now realised to some extent the seriousness of this threat and has moved two divisions into the line north west of Pesaro and further movements to this flank may well be expected. With the reduction in the number of divisions available to him consequent upon the decision to launch Operation Dragoon, General Alexander changed the plan for the major offensive in Italy, which was to be launched at the end of August. Whereas in the original plan the main blow was to be launched on the general, axis Florence-Bologna with the object of breaking the enemy’s centre and pinning the eastern portion of his forces back against the sea, the new plan is to launch the main blow along the Adriatic Coast north of Ancona where the Apennines present the least obstacle to movement. This main offensive was started on 26th August and is being conducted by the Eighth Army with a force of nine divisions. Good progress is being made and considerable penetration[s] of the Gothic Line have been made on a front extending some 20 miles westwards from Pesaro. As soon as the enemy starts to move reserves to this area, General Alexander plans to start a second offensive to be launched by the Fifth U.S. Army which now commands the XIII British Corps northeast of Florence in the direction of Bologna. I have every hope that as a result of these two offensives the Allied armies will secure control of the line Padua–Verona–Brescia within a few weeks and thus secure the destruction of Kesselring’s Army by preventing its withdrawal through the Alpine passes. To complete this task it will be necessary to have available the full resources now at General Alexander’s disposal. Further the limited communication facilities which are available to the enemy in northern Italy point to the fact that the use of the air will be a major factor in completing his destruction and facilitating our advance. There will therefore be ample scope for the employment of medium bomber forces throughout the whole operation and it is also to be noted that if medium bombers are established in the Florence–Ancona area, heavy and sustained attacks can be delivered by such air forces well into Austria. In view of the developments which are daily occurring in the general war situation it does not appear to me possible to undertake any further definite commitments. Should, however, the war be further prolonged and the enemy endeavour to withdraw from Greece and the Balkans with the object of holding a line from Trieste through Zagreb and Belgrade to Turnu Severin and the Transylvanian Mountains, the best course would be to regroup our forces and to move northeastwards with the object of securing control of the Ljubljana Gap. Such an operation would require the maximum co-operation with Tito’s forces and the occupation of the port of Trieste. Amphibious resources in this theatre are not available to mount a seaborne attack on Trieste this [Page 228] year and consequently unless German resistance collapses it is unlikely that another major offensive could be mounted until the spring of 1945. Concurrently with an advance northeastwards it will be well to clear the enemy completely from northwestern Italy and this should be completed as rapidly as possible with the minimum forces required to establish control and law and order. Provided that demolitions through the Maritime Alps are not too severe it might well be possible to establish land communication with the forces in France.
- All information goes to show that the enemy is faced with an increasingly difficult situation throughout the Balkans and the Islands of the Aegean. This situation is likely to be further accentuated by the situation in Roumania and the probable defection of Bulgaria. Though it is estimated that a proportion of the troops are suitable from the training and equipment point of view for use elsewhere, there is little evidence at the moment that any substantial withdrawal is taking place. However, I anticipate that the Germans now faced with the necessity of finding some reserves in the Balkan area will be forced to regroup and make available four or five divisions if they are to hold either the Bulgarian frontier or the Zagreb–Belgrade line later.
- Balkan Air Force. Since its formation, the Balkan Air Force has been successful in maintaining pressure against the enemy forces in Yugoslavia and Albania and inflicting continuing losses upon him. On 1st September as a result of consultations with Marshal Tito a concentrated attack on enemy communications in the Balkans began with the object of further embarrassing him and preventing the re grouping of forces. This operation has the code name Ratweek and appears suitably timed. Stimulation of Partisan activity in Greece and Albania is also in hand.
- Greece. Arrangements are in hand in the event of German withdrawal or surrender for the rapid occupation of Athens with its ports and airfields with a view of ensuring order and stability and the commencement of relief measures.
- Rankin “C.” I wish to draw the attention of the Combined Chiefs of Staff to the unsatisfactory situation in which I am placed with regard to the policy to be pursued in the event of a German collapse. If prompt and effective action is to be taken it is essential that I should receive immediate direction as to the extent of my commitments in regard to occupational forces and as to the formation which I am permitted to employ to carry out the tasks assigned to me.
- This message was sent separately to the British Chiefs of Staff, to the British Joint Staff Mission at Washington for the United States Chiefs of Staff, and to Eisenhower’s headquarters. For the discussion of this report by the Combined Chiefs of Staff at their 172d Meeting, September 12, 1944, see post, p. 302.↩
- Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch.↩