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Editorial Note on Allied Strategic Debates
The British Joint Staff Mission in Washington was notified on July 8, 1942, by the War Cabinet that the prime minister and British Chiefs of Staff “considered that conditions which would make Sledgehammer a practicable operation in 1942 were most unlikely to occur.” The War Cabinet expressed hope that the United States would proceed with operation GYMNAST. Meanwhile the British would study further the prospect of undertaking JUPITER—operations in Norway. (War Cabinet Offices to Joint Staff Mission, Washington, July 8, 1942, COS [W] No. 217, NA/ RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 1, Item 4].) On the same day Prime Minister Churchill sent a cable to President Roosevelt declaring that “no responsible British General, Admiral or Air Marshal is prepared to recommend SLEDGEHAMMER.” Churchill was confident that “GYMNAST is by far the best chance for effective relief to the Russian front in 1942. This has all along been in harmony with your ideas. In fact it is your commanding idea. Here is the true second front of 1942. I have consulted cabinet and defence committee and we all agree. Here is the safest and most fruitful stroke that can be delivered this autumn.” (Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, 1: 520-21.)
During the July 10 Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting, General Marshall read the July 8 War Cabinet dispatch and voiced his objections to GYMNAST as being “expensive and ineffectual” but noted that “it was impossible to carry out SLEDGEHAMMER or ROUNDUP without full aggressive British support.
If the British position must be accepted, he proposed that the U. S. should turn to the Pacific for decisive action against Japan.” Presenting the advantages to this course, Marshall “added that this would tend to concentrate rather than to scatter U. S. forces; that it would be highly popular throughout the U. S., particularly on the West Coast; that the Pacific War Council, the Chinese, and the personnel of the Pacific Fleet would all be in hearty accord; and that, second only to BOLERO, it would be the operation which would have the greatest effect towards relieving the pressure on Russia.” (Minutes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, July 10, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, JCS Minutes].)
At the meeting Admiral King concurred. “In his opinion, the British had never been in wholehearted accord with operations on the continent as proposed by the U. S. He said that, in the European theater, we must fight the Germans effectively to win, and that any departure from full BOLERO plans would result in failure to accomplish this purpose.” Referring to GYMNAST, King agreed that “it was impossible to fulfill naval commitments in other theaters and at the same time to provide the shipping and escorts which would be essential should that operation be undertaken.” (Ibid.)
Marshall then presented a draft memorandum for President Roosevelt which set forth his views, and which Admiral King agreed to sign after minor changes. “Our view is that the execution of Gymnast, even if found practicable, means definitely no Bolero-Sledgehammer in 1942 and that it will definitely curtail if not make impossible the execution of Bolero-Roundup in the Spring of 1943. We are strongly of the opinion that Gymnast would be both indecisive and a heavy drain on our resources, and that if we undertake it, we would nowhere be acting decisively against the enemy and would definitely jeopardize our naval position in the Pacific.” The memorandum next recommended that Roosevelt urge Churchill that “we go through with full Bolero plans and that we attempt no other operation which would detract from this major effort. . . . Neither Sledgehammer nor Roundup can be carried out without full and whole-hearted British support. They must of necessity furnish a large part of the forces. Giving up all possibility of Sledgehammer in 1942 not only voids our commitments to Russia, but either of the proposed diversions, namely Jupiter and Gymnast, will definitely operate to delay and weaken readiness for Roundup in 1943. If the United States is to engage in any other operation than forceful, unswerving adherence to full Bolero plans, we are definitely of the opinion that we should turn to the Pacific and strike decisively against Japan; in other words assume a defensive attitude against Germany, except for air operations; and use all available means in the Pacific. Such action would not only be definite and decisive against one of our principal enemies, but would bring concrete aid to the Russians in case Japan attacks them.” (Marshall and King Memorandum for the President, July 10, 1942, NA/ RG 165 [OCS, Exec. 8, Book 6]. See Marshall Memorandum for Admiral King, July 15, 1942, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-255 [3: 276-77].)
Meanwhile the chief of staff independently sent to the president the following memorandum (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-251 [3: 271-72].)
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. 269-270.