2-174 Editorial Note on Impact of French Collapse, May 13-17, 1940

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on Impact of French Collapse

May 13-17, 1940

Until the night of May 13, German successes in the land battle in Western Europe did not appear particularly alarming to the Allies, according to an official British history. But thereafter the tide ran strongly in Germany’s favor. On May 14 the Germans crossed the Meuse River at Dinant and broke through French defenses around Sedan. In the air Allied losses were heavy. Overwhelmed, the Dutch Army ceased fighting on the fifteenth. By the following day the chief of the British Imperial General Staff reported that the situation was most critical. (J. R. M. Butler, Grand Strategy, September 1938-June 1941, a volume in the History of the Second World War [London: HMSO, 1957], pp. 182-83.)

Implementing the decisions arrived at with Marshall on May 13, President Roosevelt personally delivered a message to Congress on May 16 requesting a supplemental military appropriation of $1,184,000,000, including $732,000,000 for the army. This new money was to cover the cost of increasing the Regular Army from 227,000 to 255,000 enlisted men and of providing the critical and essential items necessary to field a Protective Mobilization Plan force of 750,000 plus replacements.

The morning following the president’s address, Marshall appeared before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee to explain the implications of the new request. Repeatedly he told the committee members that added troops and funds were for the defense of the Western Hemisphere, that strengthening the army should be done in a series of carefully planned steps, and that further spending and manpower increases might be required, depending upon the changing international situation. He did not favor the immediate mobilization of the National Guard at this time, but he emphasized the need to begin at once to increase the Regular Army. Pressed by Subcommittee Chairman Elbert D. Thomas to tell the senators what he, as chief of staff, wanted in addition to the president’s proposals, Marshall replied, “it is my personal opinion that we should immediately proceed with the further increase of the Army up to its authorized peacetime limit of 280,000 men, and, as we approach that limit, in the light of the situation at that time, we must then decide to what extent we should go beyond that strength. I anticipate the necessity of 400,000 men before we finish with this business of preparing for emergencies short of full mobilization.” He would also need more money, and if further steps toward full mobilization were required, that sum would become quite large. (Senate Appropriations Committee, Military Establishment Appropriation Bill for 1941, pp. 403-33; the quotations are from pp. 422-23.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 217-218.

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