September 27, 2021

“I Don’t Believe It!!”

On November 5, 1943, about a dozen British and American military officers gathered around a large table for a meeting about the progress in and plans for the war. The men are cordial but serious as they discuss topics like the preliminary plans for the invasion of Europe.

Meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, comprised of military leaders from Great Britain and the United States.

You’d think it was not a suitable place for shenanigans such as passing notes like schoolboys.

Think again.

This document is written in pencil by three parties – Gen. George Marshall, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, and British Field Marshal John Dill.

The three authors, from R to L: Gen. Arnold, Gen. Marshall, Field Marshal Dill. (Gen. George Patton is shown, but wasn’t part of the note.)

It’s begun by Arnold, who writes to Dill. It says: Sir John, This morning left Valparaiso 8:12; arrived Washington, D.C. 11:06. Dist. 812 mi; groundspeed 280 miles per hour. He signs with his initials, HHA.

Dill responds, “I don’t believe it!!” and signs it with his initials, JGD.

Marshall chimes in, “I don’t believe you went to Miami. Where is your sunburn?” and signs with his initials, GCM.

All while the meeting was in progress.

The recently discovered document was folded several times to about card deck size and addressed on the outside “Sir John Dill.”

The B-29 “Superfortress.” Photo courtesy National Museum of the Air Force.


The plane that flew Arnold from the Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Base, now Eglin Air Force Base, in the Florida Panhandle to Washington, D.C. in less than four hours (Valparaiso is Central Time) was undoubtedly the B-29. The plane was needed in the Pacific, with its greater range than the B-17 – 3,700 miles vs. 2,000 miles – but the rollout of the new, bigger, and pressurized bomber was not proceeding smoothly. It could be that by visiting the test range, flying in the airplane, and then bragging about it, Arnold was attempting to soothe fears that the B-29 would not be dependable or available to fight in the Pacific Theater.

Although Arnold read the comments, Marshall noted at the top when the note was passed “Nov. 5 – at meeting of C.C.S. Remarks by Arnold, Dill, and Marshall” and kept the note.

We’re glad that he did.

Melissa has been at GCMF since fall 2019, and previously was an academic librarian specializing in history. She and her husband, John, have three grown children, and live in Rockbridge County with three large rescue dogs. Keep up with her @MelissasLibrary.