5-031 Editorial Note on Combined Chiefs of Staff Meeting at Malta

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 29, 1945

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Combined Chiefs of Staff Meeting at Malta

January 29-February 2, 1945

On January 29 General Marshall departed Marseilles and arrived in Malta for British-American military staff discussions scheduled for January 30 to February 2 (C.C.S. 182d to 185th meetings), preliminary to the Big Three meetings of President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Premier Stalin at Yalta beginning on February 4.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff held daily meetings beginning on January 30 at Montgomery House in Floriana, a suburb of Valletta, Malta. General Marshall supported the strategic concept of a main Allied effort north of the Ruhr by General Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group and a secondary effort by General Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group between Frankfurt and Kassel. Marshall “considered it essential that there should be more than one possible line of advance. The strategic reserve should be fed into either advance in the light of how well that advance was succeeding.” (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945 [Washington: GPO, 1955], p. 473.) The British chiefs were concerned that shifting the Fifteenth Air Force from the Mediterranean to General Eisenhower’s command would weaken the Allied troops’ ability to hold their current positions in Italy. Marshall replied that “the agreement with regard to the movement of the Fifteenth Air Force was designed to permit the commander of the strategic air forces the freedom of movement and flexibility to employ his forces temporarily in whichever theater provided the best weather at that time. There was in his mind no question of a permanent move of forces.” (Ibid., p. 475.)

While no minutes were recorded, the senior officials met in a closed session on February 1 to discuss strategy in the European theater. Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith reported to Deputy Chief of Staff Thomas T. Handy regarding the Malta meetings: “The first three days were spent, in part at least, in a bitter argument with Field Marshal Brooke who wished to revise Ike’s directive in such a way that he could hardly move a division except north of the Ruhr. I had a couple of long talks with him after we got back to our rooms, and I give him credit for complete honesty in this matter, a tribute I have never paid him before; but he is stubborn as Hell, and stood out until finally G.C.M. called a closed conference at the end of one of the sessions, spoke his mind as only he can do, for about 15 minutes, and, as a result, the matter was dropped, and our general plan which includes a secondary effort, as you know, was accepted. I think it would be criminal if we staked everything on one narrow thrust north of the Ruhr.” (Smith to Handy, February 9, 1945, GCMRL/T. T. Handy Papers.)

“At Malta we had a very acid meeting,” Marshall recalled. “[Brooke] said the British chiefs of staff were very much worried by the influence on General Eisenhower of General Bradley, and I think he mentioned General Patton. And I said, `Well, Brooke, they are not nearly as much worried as the American chiefs of staff are worried about the immediate pressures and influence of Mr. Churchill on General Eisenhower. The president practically never sees Eisenhower, never writes to him—that is at my advice because he is an Allied commander—and we are deeply concerned by the pressures of the prime minister and the fact of the proximity of the British chiefs of staff, so I think your worries are on the wrong foot.’ We had a terrible meeting.” (Marshall Interviews, pp. 540-41.)

President Roosevelt arrived on February 2 aboard the U.S.S. Quincy, which anchored in Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta. At 4:30 P.M. the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff conferred with the president on board the Quincy. At 6:00 P.M. Prime Minister Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff came on board, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff discussed with Roosevelt and Churchill their interim report regarding their military discussions thus far. (Foreign Relations, Conferences at Malta and Yalta, pp. 461-62, 540-46.)

On February 3 General Marshall arrived at Saki airfield in the Crimea and was greeted by General of the Army Alexey I. Antonov, first deputy chief of staff of the Red Army, who hosted a breakfast banquet in a large tent prior to the eighty-five-mile automobile drive to Yalta. Major General Laurence S. Kuter recalled that General Marshall “was invariably dignified, controlled, and composed in public,” but even the chief of staff “looked surprised at a big breakfast on February 3, 1945, when a tumbler which appeared to contain fruit juice proved to be full of Crimean brandy. That was neither the first nor the last surprise for General Marshall or the other members of the United States party participating in the Crimean conference at Yalta. That first surprise, however, alerted the American military party to characteristics, philosophies and ways of life which were far different from those at home and from those encountered while dealing with their other allies and wartime friends.” (Kuter, Airman at Yalta, p. 3.)

Livadia Palace, which had been occupied by the Germans until April 1944, served as headquarters for the American delegation and meeting place for the Crimean conference. General Marshall occupied the imperial bedroom on the second floor of the palace. The British and Russian delegations were housed at two nearby estates.

On February 4 General Marshall attended a morning meeting at which President Roosevelt conferred with his military and diplomatic advisers preliminary to the opening tripartite plenary session scheduled for later that day. Admiral Leahy said that the chiefs of staff thought it important that Marshal Stalin instruct his military staff to participate in full and frank discussions with the American and British staffs. They also desired to “get agreement to effect the needed coordination and exchange of information” between Eisenhower, Alexander, and the Red Army general staff. According to the official minutes, “General Marshall said that the establishment of direct liaison for day to day communication between the Allied commanders and the Russians was highly desirable. In his opinion the important thing was to obtain agreement to the general idea as early as possible and leave the detailed procedure to be worked out later. The difficulty had been, not with the Russians but with the British who wish to effect the liaison through the Combined Chiefs of Staff. General Marshall pointed out that with the Russians within 40 miles of Berlin there was not time enough to go through the Combined Chiefs of Staff.” (Foreign Relations, Conferences at Malta and Yalta, pp. 564-65.) General Marshall summarized the war situation on all fronts to President Roosevelt.

Secretary of State Stettinius then enumerated seven major political topics that the president should discuss with Churchill and Stalin: (1) creation of a postwar international organization, (2) creation of an emergency European high commission to serve during the interim between the end of war and the permanent organization, (3) political and economic treatment of Germany, (4) Poland, (5) Allied control commissions in Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, (6) Iranian relations, and (7) China. At this point W. Averell Harriman, ambassador to the Soviet Union, “stated that Marshal Stalin would very likely wish to raise the question of what the Russians would get out of the Pacific war. He stated they would want the southern half of Sakhalin, and the Kuriles. They would wish to maintain the status quo in Outer Mongolia and to obtain control over the railroad running to Dairen. The President said he wished to have the views of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek before discussing the status quo in Mongolia but was ready to go ahead on the other questions.” Neither General Marshall nor other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed any opinions regarding these political issues. (Ibid., pp. 566-67.) “I did not talk to the president about the need of making concessions to Russia in order to get help against Japan,” Marshall recalled. “Stalin had been very specific as to what he could do if we gave him the time in which to do it. He discussed with me how long it would take to move the troops they would have to move through Siberia to get ready for the attack in cooperation with us.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 404.)

General Marshall attended the First Plenary Meeting of the Big Three leaders held at 5:00 P.M. on February 4, at which he summarized the war situation on the Western Front. The German bulge in the Ardennes had been eliminated and in some areas the Allied forces had advanced beyond the line originally held. The Rhine River could be crossed, weather permitting, after the first of March. Opening the port at Antwerp had relieved the supply shortage by bringing in seventy-five to eighty thousand tons of dry cargo daily. Allied bombers employed against German oil supplies had reduced German oil production to 20 percent of former capacity, and heavy bombers were striking German rail communications, tank factories, and submarine assembly points. (Foreign Relations, Conferences at Malta and Yalta, pp. 573-88.) Marshall did not attend the following second through eighth plenary meetings held on February 5 to 11; Admiral Leahy represented the American military at those plenary meetings.

Other than the first plenary session, Marshall was not present at the Crimean meetings between the heads of state. The president’s log at Yalta records that General Marshall was present at an event the same time as Roosevelt on February 5 (among the dinner guests) and on February 9 when Roosevelt and Churchill met with the Combined Chiefs of Staff and again that day when all the delegates gathered for group pictures in the Lavadia Palace courtyard. (Ibid., pp. 549-61.) Marshall was otherwise attending meetings between the American, British, and Soviet military leaders.

The First Tripartite Military Meeting was held on February 5 at Yusupov Palace, headquarters for the Russian delegation. General Marshall and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, chief of the British Imperial General Staff, stressed the need for continued Soviet operations in the East to aid the offensive in the West. General Antonov replied that “as Marshal Stalin had pointed out, the Russians would continue the offensive in the East as long as the weather permitted.” (Ibid., pp. 595-97.)

The American, British, and Soviet military chiefs held a second session the next day. The Anglo-American chiefs stressed the need for day-to-day liaison (on a lower level than Moscow) with the Soviets as a means to better coordinate action between land and air forces, a topic that they had discussed the previous day. General Antonov replied that “Stalin had pointed out that there had so far been no close contact between Soviet and Allied land forces and therefore wished that liaison should take place through the Staff of the Red Army and the Military Missions in Moscow.” The conferees agreed that the three Air staffs should meet to work out the details of Antonov’s proposed line beyond which the U.S.-U.K. air forces would not bomb. (Ibid., pp. 640-45.)

In view of the Allied proximity to the Rhine, Admiral Leahy asked General Antonov if Soviet experts on the technique and equipment employed in major river crossings could share their expertise with General Eisenhower’s headquarters. Antonov replied that “the Soviet Army was always ready to share its battle experience with its allies. However, at the moment there were no specialists in this technique available and he would like therefore time to look into this matter.” When General Marshall said that it was desirable for U.S. strategic bomber forces to operate from bases in the Vienna-Budapest area, Antonov replied that the matter “would probably be decided between Marshal Stalin and the President.” (Ibid., pp. 646-47.)

After Admiral King summarized operations in the Pacific, General Marshall said that the deployment of forces from Europe to the Pacific would begin one week after the termination of the European war, but that the total transfer would take a long time. General Antonov then said “it would be more convenient to discuss questions concerning the Far East after this matter had been considered by the Heads of State.” Sir Alan Brooke summarized operations in Burma, and General Marshall commented on the difficulties overcome in providing supply routes and lines of communication between Burma and China. “In the face of unparalleled difficulties 44,000 tons had been flown over the Himalayas last month,” reported Marshall in the official minutes. Marshall “mentioned this because to him it meant the accomplishment of the greatest feat in all history. In the face of such achievements cooperation by the staffs now seated around the table should be relatively easy.” (Ibid., pp. 650-53.)

On February 6 Admiral Leahy delivered to President Roosevelt a request from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff that the president obtain Marshal Stalin’s approval for the J.C.S. to meet with the Soviet military chiefs. The American and Soviet chiefs of staff held sessions on February 8 and 9. (See Marshall to Deane, Radio No. WAR-58794, March 26, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-071 [5: 101-2].)

Meanwhile the Combined Chiefs of Staff had resumed their meetings on February 6 (C.C.S. 186th Meeting), and the American and British military chiefs held sessions on February 8 and 9 (C.C.S. 187th and 188th meetings). On February 9 Roosevelt and Churchill held a session with the Combined Chiefs of Staff in order that the C.C.S. present a draft of their final report of the results of their ARGONAUT discussions. (Foreign Relations, Conferences at Malta and Yalta, pp. 825-26; Report of the Combined Chiefs of Staff to President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill [C.C.S. 776/3] is printed on pp. 827-33.)

On February 11 General Marshall departed Saki airfield for a flight to Italy to visit the Fifth Army before his return trip to the United States. (See Marshall Memorandum for the Press, February 15, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-036 [5: 50-52].) When the chief of staff arrived in Washington on February 16, he had traveled nearly fourteen thousand miles by air since his departure for ARGONAUT on the afternoon of January 25.

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. 41-46.

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