4-109 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

August-September 1943

Unless the president specifically designated another person, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army was also commanding general of the army’s field forces. (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-001 [2: 3].) As such, Marshall had activated Army General Headquarters in July 1940 and later, after the reorganization of early 1942, had designated the Operations Division as his command post. The general assumption within the army was that when the new American expeditionary force took to the field in Europe, Marshall would be its commander—the John J. Pershing of World War II—and that a subordinate officer would be appointed acting chief of staff. Marshall’s designation of Eisenhower to command the headquarters for the North Africa, Sicily, and Italy invasions was not presumed to imply that Eisenhower would command U.S. forces in the great cross-Channel invasion.

As it had become clear by the spring of 1943 that the United States would contribute the majority of ground and air forces to the drive on Germany in the west, rumors began circulating that an American would become Supreme Allied Commander—although how far that command would extend was still unclear—and that Marshall would be that man. At the Quebec Conference in mid-August, Prime Minister Churchill had taken “the initiative of proposing to the President that an American commander should be appointed for the expedition to France.” (Churchill, Closing the Ring, p. 85.) The head of the invasion planning organization (COSSAC, Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander), Lieutenant General Frederick E. Morgan, has noted that “throughout the summer months there was continual hardening of unofficial opinion that the Supreme Commander would be General George C. Marshall.” Following the Quebec Conference, Marshall invited Morgan to come to Washington for a get-acquainted visit. (Frederick E. Morgan, Overture to Overlord [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1950], pp. 159, 181, 188.)

Secretary of War Stimson was a strong proponent of Marshall’s designation as supreme commander. On August 10, prior to the Quebec Conference, he had written to President Roosevelt:

the time has come when we must put our most commanding soldier in charge of this critical operation at this critical time. . . . General Marshall already has a towering eminence of reputation as a tried soldier and as a broad-minded and skillful administrator. . . . I believe that he is the man who most surely can now by his character and skill furnish the military leadership which is necessary. . . No one knows better than I the loss in the problems of organization and worldwide strategy centered in Washington which such a solution would cause, but I see no other alternative to which we can turn in the great effort which confronts us.

By early September, Secretary Stimson and President Roosevelt had “agreed that Eisenhower was probably the best selection” to take Marshall’s place in Washington. (Foreign Relations, Conferences at Washington and Quebec, 1943, pp. 497-98; September 7, 1943, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 44: 104].)

In mid-September, leaks to the press that there was to be a Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and that Marshall was to get the job soon began to inspire domestic opposition to the appointment, primarily on the grounds either that Marshall was too important in his current job to be “demoted” to theater commander, or that some kind of conspiracy was afoot to get Marshall out of the way for President Roosevelt’s political benefit. The rumors frequently insisted that Brehon Somervell was to take over as chief of staff, and this was related to Somervell’s plans to reorganize the Army Service Forces. (On the reorganization plans, see Marshall Memorandum for the Secretary of War, September 3, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-100 [4: 114-16].) For a detailed history of the Supreme Allied Commander appointment controversy, see Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Organizer of Victory, 1943-1945 [New York: Viking Press, 1973], pp. 263-78.)

These rumors prompted the three ranking Republicans on the Senate Military Affairs Committee (Warren R. Austin of Vermont, Styles Bridges of New Hampshire, and Chan Gurney of South Dakota) to visit Stimson on September 15 to express their opposition to Marshall’s being sent to the field, particularly if his replacement was to be Somervell. Stimson recorded:

They told me how much they relied on him not only individually but how they were able to carry controversial matters through with their colleagues if they could say that the measure in question had the approval of Marshall. They had even had the fear that the proposed movement was aided and abetted by enemies who wanted to get Marshall out of his present position where his influence was so great in the Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff. . . . I told them that the proposal didn’t come from Marshall’s enemies but his close friends and that, while the matter had not yet been settled whether he should go or not, he would not go unless his command was necessary to make successful the most important campaign of the war. I told them most confidentially that I happened to know that instead of the assignment being repugnant to Marshall, it would fill one of the deepest hopes of his heart.

The senators seemed greatly relieved by the secretary’s comments. (September 15, 1943, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 44: 119-20].)

But the senators’ concern was merely the beginning of the controversy over Marshall’s future role. The next day, in a move Marshall believed had been inspired by Army and Navy Journal publisher John C. O’Laughlin (see George C. Marshall Interviews and Reminiscences for Forrest C. Pogue, 3rd ed. [Lexington, Va.: George C. Marshall Research Foundation, 1991], p. 592), General Pershing sent the following letter to President Roosevelt.

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. 126-128.

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