5-006 Draft Statement for the Secretary of War, January 3, 1945

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 3, 1945

Subject: World War II

Draft Statement for the Secretary of War1

January 3, 1945 [Washington, D.C.]

The situation on the Western Front at the present time has developed to the stage where comments at the moment are very difficult to make with any sound basis for what is said. I mean by this that a general battle is in progress with both sides deployed, each on guard against a thrust by the other, the Germans still holding the power to launch new but minor actions either to the north or south of the Ardennes. They are engaged in such an action at the present time on the south side of the Saar front. Whether or not this is a demonstration, a probe of inquiry, or a sizeable attack remains to be seen, but it is quite evidently and naturally the German purpose to hold our attention at as many points on the front as possible, other than the Ardennes, in order either to discourage the movement of divisions to the principal action or to exploit a weakness in the line created by such movements.

I might say that the situation on that front is in a state of balance, excepting of course the uncertainties of war, where the German forces are utilizing every device or diversion to cling to the offensive in order to prevent General Eisenhower from seizing the initiative again. The weather continues to be the critical factor, the troops in general having been deployed, though each side possesses uncommitted reserves.

Under these circumstances it is quite evident that I cannot engage in a critical discussion of the situation other than to make these general observations.

There is another point of view relating to this present battle that should not be lost sight of and that is its close relationship to what is going on in Italy and to the prospects on the Russian front. There are also included the considerations of the German withdrawals from Norway, the weakening of his garrisons in Denmark, and the northward trek of his troops in the Balkan salient. From that point of view Europe is a single theater, very much so for the Germans.

We have not yet received an accurate statement of materiel losses or of casualties and it will be some time before such data can be obtained from troop headquarters while the fighting is in progress. We do know that our losses in tanks were 6% greater than the monthly attrition rate which is 14%. We also know that in communications wire and in communications equipment the losses were heaviest because of the difficulty in evacuating such materiel. From the limited data available it would appear that materiel losses are far lower than we anticipated. Just what the casualties are has not yet been released by SHAEF. As a considerable retrograde movement occurred it will be some time before an accurate record can be made. When casualties remain within your own lines the problem is not too difficult except during landing operations in the dark where there may be great confusion as to the whereabouts of the individual, but in a retrograde movement the problem is exceedingly difficult.2

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

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. General Marshall prepared this draft which Secretary Henry L. Stimson used during the first part of his press conference on January 4. (Transcript of Press Conference of Secretary of War Held at 10:30 A.M., Thursday, January 4, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) Stimson wrote that his press conference “went off as usual—rather satisfactorily. During these critical days Surles or I talk with Marshall before we go into the press conference and get usually a statement from him as to what he considers the situation from a military standpoint so far as we can let it out.” (January 4, 1945, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 50: 12].) Major General Alexander D. Surles served as director of the Bureau of Public Relations.

2. After the press conference, Secretary Stimson and General Marshall talked for forty-five minutes on the subject of the adequacy of ground forces. “I have an uneasy feeling that we ought to make some more divisions and begin to do it now and have them ready by next summer or next autumn,” wrote Stimson. “Marshall is very strong against it. He feels confident that the effort to do it will so interfere with the present organization that we have got that it will stall our attack on the Germans. . . . This is an old difference between us.” (Ibid.)

Stimson had broached the subject in May 1944, and Marshall had taken the same position then as now: “that our present setup gives us a chance to keep the Germans going and to keep our troops fresh at the same time by pouring individual replacements into the divisions that we have.” (Ibid., pp. 12-13.) On May 16, 1944, Marshall had responded to Stimson’s suggestion to reconsider commitment to the ninety-division concept and begin activation of additional divisions. The chief of staff maintained that the Allies held overwhelming air superiority, and he was confident that the strength and efficiency of the Russian attack and the U.S. Army’s replacement system—which yielded a finer quality, rather than quantity, of ground combat units—would be sufficient for victory. (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-382 [4: 447-50].)

The secretary himself was aware that the battle over the size of the Army was “a subject upon which Stimson was more vehement than most of his military advisers; it seemed to him to involve very urgent questions as to the strength of America’s wartime resolution.” (Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948], pp. 475-76.)

“This morning I had it out with Marshall in a perfectly friendly but very firm way,” wrote Stimson. “I feel a very great responsibility in running any risk of jobbling his elbow, so to speak, when he is under such great strain and we had none of that in our talk and I think that a good deal of good may come out of it. But on the main issue at present of more divisions he remained firm.” (January 4, 1945, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 50: 13-14].)

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. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 7-9.

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