4-154 Editorial Note on Debate over Supreme Allied Commander in Europe

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Debate over Supreme Allied Commander in Europe

September-November 1943

Rumors in the press that Marshall would become supreme commander of all Allied forces in the West—that is, the Mediterranean as well as the cross-Channel invasion—prompted Prime Minister Churchill to warn Harry Hopkins on September 26 that the British considered the Mediterranean outside the OVERLORD commander’s responsibilities. (Churchill, Closing the Ring, pp. 301-2.) On the twenty-eighth, Marshall and Hopkins met with the president, but Roosevelt continued to be unwilling to commit himself publicly on command arrangements for Europe. The following day (September 29), Operations Division chief Thomas Handy later recorded, Marshall told General Arnold and him

that no agreement had been reached as to announcement of command in the European Theater. There had been much discussion of it in both the British and U.S. press and in Congress, and the entire business was getting into more and more of a mess. He directed General Arnold and me to work out a solution. He definitely and specifically ordered that the solution be based on our own ideas of what we considered sound and that we were not to be influenced in any way whatsoever by the fact that he was involved personally in the matter. (Handy Memorandum for Record, [ca. mid-October 1943], NA/RG 165 [OPD, 384, Case 20].)

A key difficulty in delineating Marshall’s role lay in the reluctance of the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and many high-ranking War Department officials to lose Marshall’s services in Washington. Arnold told Handy:

Leaving all personalities out of the problem, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army has been a tower of strength to the President of the United States. He, more than any other one man, has been able to give the President of the United States advice and counsel in strict accordance with military conditions as they exist, and requirements for the future. The President could always count on this advice, knowing that it would be the best obtainable. . . . It is quite apparent to most of us in the War Department that for the Chief of Staff to be appointed as Commanding General of OVERLORD makes him just another Theatre Commander. He loses the value of his long years of experience in over-all planning for global operations and the Secretary of War, the General Staff and other federal officials lose his counsel and advice. (Draft memorandum enclosed in Arnold Memorandum for General Handy, September 29, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OPD, 384, Case 15].)

On October 1, 17, and 30, Churchill asked Roosevelt for a decision, but the president refused to act until the War Department had proposed a solution acceptable to the J.C.S. (Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, 2: 481-82, 489, 541, 571.) During October the unified command issue was debated, but as Marshall’s authorized biographer has observed:

The proposals constituted wishful thinking in the extreme. To a considerable degree they amounted mainly to a blueprint of the conditions that must be met if Marshall were to be spared from Washington. Like Roosevelt and Stimson, the planners were pinning the final selection of the Supreme Commander on British acceptance of the complete command package. (Pogue, George C. Marshall, 3: 275.)

On November 3, the British Chiefs of Staff representatives in Washington presented to the Combined Chiefs of Staff a memorandum (C.C.S. 387) recommending that all operational control of units in the Mediterranean area (except for certain administrative and political details in the Middle East) be vested in a single commander. (Foreign Relations, Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, pp. 150-51.) The following day, Marshall asked Eisenhower for his reaction to the British proposal (see the following document, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-155 [4: 179-80]). The Joint War Plans Committee prepared recommendations for a reply (J.C.S. 558) on November 5, but that paper was withdrawn from the J.C.S. agenda as a result of Marshall’s memorandum “Command of British and U.S. Forces Operating against Germany” (see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-156 [4: 180-81]). (George A. Lincoln Memorandum for Record, November 10, 1943, NA /RG 165 [OPD, 384, Case 16].)

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 178-179.

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