3-154 Editorial Note on Plans for an Allied Invasion of Western Europe, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Plans for an Allied Invasion of Western Europe

March-April 1942

Previous strategic and diplomatic understandings between the United Kingdom and the United States had failed to produce a coherent strategy for global war. Continued Axis successes in the winter and spring of 1942 confronted Marshall with intensifying pressures to disperse troops and materiel as the Australian and New Zealand governments, United States Navy, and General MacArthur all pressed for a larger commitment to the Pacific; this was complemented by the British desire for the means to defend their empire in India and the Middle East. The Combined Planning Staff ruled out any invasion of Europe in 1942 but argued that an invasion was possible in 1943 if the Soviet Union remained in the war. Urged by Eisenhower to reach a joint agreement on operations in Western Europe, Marshall directed the Operations Division to draft a plan for a cross-Channel attack. By March 27 the planners presented a draft—which Marshall edited—that consolidated United States strategic thinking. The planners reasoned that Western Europe was “the only place in which a powerful offensive can be prepared and executed by the United Powers in the near future. In any other locality the building up of the required forces would be much more slowly accomplished due to sea distances. Moreover, in other localities the enemy is protected against invasion by natural obstacles and poor communications leading toward the seat of the hostile power, or by elaborately organized and distant outposts. Time would be required to reduce these and to make the attack effective.” Operations Division planners observed that northwestern Europe was the only theater where vital air superiority could readily be achieved, where the bulk of British and United States offensive power could be employed, and where both allies could concentrate on the principal enemy. Such a decision would determine training, manpower allocation, and materiel production and allocation, as well as interim defensive measures.

The planners envisioned a year-long buildup in the United Kingdom (BOLERO), culminating in a spring 1943 invasion of the Continent (ROUNDUP) between Le Havre and Boulogne-sur-Mer. With Pacific Ocean commitments held to three hundred thousand men and no new commitments, the United States could supply an expeditionary force of thirty divisions or one million men and 3,250 combat aircraft to supplement Britain’s eighteen divisions. The Allies would land, according to Eisenhower, on a six-division front with airborne support and quickly reinforce the beachhead with armored forces to break German resistance. A “Modified Plan” was prepared for a smaller emergency landing in mid-September 1942 (SLEDGEHAMMER) in the event that the Red Army was near collapse or that the complete absorption of German troops on that front afforded an exploitable opportunity. Shipping and landing craft shortages limited the September assault to five divisions, with a total United States force of only three divisions and 700 combat aircraft in the United Kingdom by September 15. (O.P.D. draft Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, n.d., NA/ RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 1, Item 5a, Tab A].)

Armed with this outline for coalition warfare, Marshall sought approval from Roosevelt and the British. On April 1, Hopkins, Stimson, and the chief of staff presented the plan to the president, who immediately approved it. To sidestep the time-consuming revisions likely if the paper was submitted to the Combined Planning Staff, Roosevelt sent Marshall and Hopkins to obtain the approval of Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff. Accompanied by members of the Joint Planning Staff, the two envoys arrived in the British Isles on April 8. On the morning of April 9, following an inconclusive session with Churchill the previous evening, Marshall presented the document to the British chiefs, who designated it the “Marshall Memorandum.” Opening the discussions, which focused on grand strategy rather than on the details of logistics, Marshall explained that he sought a “decision in principle” on “what the main British-American effort was to be, and when and where it should be made.” He then summarized the buildup and invasion plan, emphasizing that the United States desired to obtain battle experience for its troops and to keep the Soviet Union in the war. Marshall admitted that he “could not press for an ’emergency operation’ before September” because no large-scale United States commitment would be forthcoming prior to then. (War Cabinet, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Meeting with General Marshall, April 9, 1942, NA/ RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 1, Item 5d]. On the “Marshall Memorandum” and the London trip, see Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942, pp. 183-87, 383. See also Albert C. Wedemeyer, Wedemeyer Reports! [New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958], pp. 97-130.)

In their initial response to Marshall, the British chiefs, who had already considered a cross-Channel attack, focused their reply on the emergency 1942 invasion. In contrast to Marshall, General Sir Alan Brooke, chief of the Imperial General Staff, doubted that any 1942 operation could save a collapsing Red Army and believed that the Germans could push the invaders back into the sea. According to Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, chief of Combined Operations, French ports on the Channel lacked the necessary size to support a large, swift infusion of troops, and supplying troops over open beaches was difficult. But the major restraint on operations in 1942, he declared, was the shortage of landing craft. What most troubled Brooke and the other British chiefs was the defense of the Middle East and India, especially the possibility that the Germans would divert troops from the Russian front to the Middle East, cutting off India. American planners, convinced that Germany intended to concentrate on the Soviet Union, discounted British fears. Japanese naval operations in the Indian Ocean, initiated on April 5, posed a more imminent and less calculable threat. According to Brooke, these operations might set the stage for an invasion of four to five divisions, covered by shore-based aircraft, along the Burma coast—a move that “would be most difficult to counter.” (War Cabinet, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Meeting with General Marshall, April 9, 1942, NA/ RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 1, Item 5d].)

On April 10 Colonels Albert C. Wedemeyer and Howard A. Craig met with their opposites on the British planning staff for a detailed discussion of the strategic and logistical problems involved in the buildup and European invasion. Much of the day was given over to an assessment of the damage done by Japanese raids in the Indian Ocean. The following day, Marshall and Hopkins departed for Chequers, the prime minister’s country estate.

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. 157-159.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 3-154

Rights: Public Information