3-227 Draft Memorandum for Admiral King, June 19, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: June 19, 1942

Draft Memorandum for Admiral King

June 19, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]


Subject: Submarine Sinkings.

The losses by submarines off our Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean now threaten our entire war effort.1 The following statistics bearing on the subject have been brought to my attention:

Of the 74 ships allocated to the Army for July by the WSA, 17 have already been sunk.

22% of the Bauxite fleet have already been destroyed.

20% of the Puerto Rican fleet has been lost.

Tanker losses have been 3.5% per month of tonnage in use.

We are all aware of the limited number of escort craft available, but as every conceivable improvised means has been brought to bear on this situation,2 I am fearful that another month or two of this will so cripple our means of transport that we will be unable to bring sufficient men and planes to bear against the enemy in critical theatres to exercise a determining influence on the war.3

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. The German U-boat fleet had enjoyed striking success since shifting the center of its operations to United States home waters in January 1942 and to the Caribbean during the late spring. May 1942 was the high point of the German campaign with five vessels sunk off the Atlantic Coast and forty-one in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. (Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., Plans and Early Operations: January 1939 to August 1942, a volume in The Army Air Forces in World War II [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948], p. 530.) In his memoirs, Admiral King put much of the blame for this situation on Marshall, Stimson, and especially the Army Air Forces for failing to accept the navy’s conclusion that only the navy, using long-range, land-based bombers in conjunction with surface craft, could effectively deal with the U-boat threat. King contended that despite navy requests for bombers as early as mid-January 1942, months were lost because of the army’s insistence that it control all operations of land-based bombers, and that Marshall finally “realized with a shock just what a failure in the antisubmarine war might mean” only when he wrote this memorandum. (Ernest J. King and Walter Muir Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record [New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1952], pp. 452-56. See Samuel Eliot Morison, The Battle of the Atlantic, September 1939-May 1943, a volume in the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1947], pp. 303-8; Craven and Cate, eds., Plans and Early Operations, pp. 526-56.)

2. In the version that Admiral King received, this phrase read: “but has every conceivable improvised means been brought to bear on this situation?” (King and Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King, pp. 455-56.)

3. King’s lengthy response is printed ibid., pp. 456-59. He noted that navy convoying along the East Coast, begun on May 15, and patrols by the First Bomber Command had significantly reduced the submarine threat in that area, and at least temporarily the U-boats had moved to safer hunting grounds in the Caribbean. But he insisted that “the submarines can be stopped only by wiping out the German building yards and bases—a matter which I have been pressing with the British, so far with only moderate success.” Escorted convoys were “the only way that gives any promise of success.” To protect these convoys, King asserted, it was necessary for the army and navy to commit at least 1,350 radar-equipped, long-range aircraft. He noted in his memoirs that “this exchange of letters broke the theoretical log jam. Marshall agreed to the allocation of a fair proportion of land-based planes to the Navy for antisubmarine work, but many valuable months had been lost.” (Ibid., p. 459.) The navy began taking delivery of B-24s in August, and within a year it had received over two hundred. Between October 1942 and June 1943, the U.S. Eighth Air Force’s highest priority objective was bombing of German submarine shore facilities. (Craven and Cate, eds., Plans and Early Operations, pp. 548, 551.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 241-242.

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