Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of War (Stimson) and the Secretary of the Navy (Forrestal)3

Subject: Swedish proposal to alleviate Norwegian distress caused by the Germans.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy advise the Secretary of State in the sense of the letter attached. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that in the present instance military considerations are of greatest importance and the attached reply has been written from this standpoint.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
R. S. Edwards

Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy, Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations

Draft Reply to the Secretary of State From the Secretaries of War and the Navy

In the light of the complete review contained in your letter of 22 December 1944,5 the Joint Chiefs of Staff have at our request not only reexamined the proposals in connection with your memorandum of 22 November 19446 for the introduction of relief supplies behind German lines in Norway, but have also reexamined the entire question [Page 27] of movement of relief supplies behind and through the blockade in the light of the changes in the strategic and logistic situation which have come about since the first proposals of nearly a year ago. It is understood from your letter, dated 22 December 1944, that neither this Government nor the British Government is committed to the relief program recommended by the Joint Anglo-American Relief Committee, but that the conversations that have taken place have been exploratory rather than definitive.

As you are aware, the feeding of civil populations behind our own lines is an increasingly heavy burden on our logistical and administrative facilities. The shortages of shipping, transport of all kinds, and port facilities during the past year have served to increase this burden. In certain critical categories of the basic items such as food and clothing, not only are we unable to discharge completely our obligations to civilians behind our lines but we are experiencing great difficulty in supplying the needs of our own combat forces. There is possibility that the enemy may withdraw from certain areas that they now occupy (e.g. northern Italy) in which case we are committed to shoulder an even greater burden. In defending War Department requests for appropriations for the purpose of civil relief before the Congress, the following statement was made:

“One of these objectives is to secure the civilian populations to the maximum extent possible, which is an obligation under international law; and second, to see that the civilian populations do not interfere with military operations in any important particular; and that they are so treated that they will be able to assist the forward movement of our troops to the greatest extent possible. That is the beginning and the end of our involvement in this business.”

It has been recognized that these civilian relief operations in many cases must extend beyond immediate combat areas and direct lines of communication.

On the German side, we have no reason to believe that this burden is less onerous or that the objectives of civil relief are for them militarily any less desirable. Present indications are that food is becoming a critical item in Germany. If we discharge this obligation of our enemies the net effect will be to relieve their economy and thus aid their war production. If the premise is accepted that relief feeding on our side is a matter of operational necessity then relief feeding by us on the German side is counter-operational, and to that extent may prolong an already bitter campaign of unknown duration. With regard to this phase of the question, little distinction can be made between relief shipments behind the blockade and shipments through the blockade.

The Germans have in the last year suffered the loss of several food [Page 28] producing areas and there is other evidence of food shortages. This critical period in German food supply makes suspect the worth of German promises coming from a nation wherein every resource is dedicated to the purposes of war.

Even if only ships now in the Baltic were used with “fuel from Western Hemisphere sources” to be furnished at “designated points of origin,” and even if our own already strained supply and manpower situation would permit, Allied port and transport facilities would be interfered with in any plan of relief offered.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have advised us that, for the above reasons, they consider that there is a military interest in relief shipments behind or through the blockade and that they are constrained, in the light of the present strategic and logistic situation, to reaffirm the statements in their letter of 2 December 19447 both as to the proposal to forward relief supplies to northern Norway and any similar proposals which may follow. With reference to the understanding set forth in the last paragraph of your letter, dated 22 December 1944, they are of the opinion that the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the details of any relief plans of this nature, should be considered before committing the Government.

We are in agreement with the Joint Chiefs of Staff that any stop-gap or interim measures for temporary relief which may prolong the war and increase loss of life and property in battle cannot be supported on military considerations. In our opinion the greatest aid that can be given to distressed countries is to liberate them at the earliest possible moment.

  1. State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee.
  2. This memorandum, together with its attachment, circulated in the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee as document SWNCC 24, dated 10 February 1945.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. ii, p. 296.
  4. Not found in Department files.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. ii, p. 293.