4-163 Editorial Note on Preparations for Conferences in Cairo and Teheran, November 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Preparations for Conferences in Cairo and Teheran

November 1943

President Roosevelt had been negotiating since mid-summer to arrange diplomatic meetings with Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek. By early October, Roosevelt and Churchill had decided to meet at Cairo with Chiang; final arrangements for the meeting with Stalin somewhere in the Middle East continued into mid-November, although Stalin seemed determined to meet only in Teheran.

Serious military discussions by the Combined Chiefs of Staff with either the Chinese or the Russians, while not ruled out, seemed unlikely from the start. Anglo-American military meetings, however, were definitely required to discuss strategy and command in Europe and the Mediterranean. The Mena House Hotel, beside the pyramids near Cairo, was chosen as the location for the talks. (The Cairo phase of the meetings was code-named SEXTANT; the Teheran phase, EUREKA.)

Heavily armed with detailed planning books and memorandums, sixty-six U.S. planning officers—including numerous representatives of the air, service, and logistics forces, from the various joint committees, and from the operating theaters—and scores of support staff were to attend the conferences. “In the view of Army planners,” a U.S. Army historian has written, “there was only one major military question to be settled by SEXTANT, and that was whether the Prime Minister and the British Chiefs of Staff would abide by the QUADRANT [Quebec Conference] commitment to OVERLORD, which was nearly irrevocable—in short, whether they were at last going `to fish or cut bait.’” (Ray S. Cline, Washington Command Post: The Operations Division, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1951], pp. 227-28.) But another army historian has written that far more was at stake than the fate or date of the cross-Channel invasion. “The whole strategy of the global war; the ‘beat Germany first’ concept; the roles of the United States, Great Britain, the USSR, and China in the coalition effort—all were in the balance. A final showdown over basic European strategy was in the offing—one with profound implications for the conduct of the war against Japan as well.” (Maurice Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1959], p. 335.)

The British Chiefs of Staff had been warned by COSSAC Frederick Morgan that, as Morgan’s American deputy wrote, given the “temper of the American representation”—their “indignation at certain trends in Allied strategy in the Mediterranean Area”—the British had to “be prepared for a stiff fight, in comparison with which QUADRANT might be `child’s play.’ (Major General Ray W. Barker to Major General Thomas T. Handy, November 17, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 5, Item 15]. The British official history of the strategic debate is John Ehrman, Grand Strategy, volume 5, August 1943-September 1944, a volume in the History of the Second World War [London: HMSO, 1956], pp. 105-21.)

Marshall left his office on the morning of November 11. He, the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their closest advisers, and a small support staff sailed with the president’s party on the new battleship Iowa, which left Chesapeake Bay shortly after midnight on the thirteenth. (A log of the president’s trip is printed in Foreign Relations, Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, pp. 270-90.)

Aboard the Iowa, Marshall attended six formal meetings—four of the J.C.S. and two of the J.C.S. with the president—on November 15, 17, 18, and 19. (Minutes for these meetings are in NA/RG 165 [OPD, CCS 334, JCS Minutes].) As usual in their meetings, the service chiefs discussed a broad range of issues and staff papers. The chiefs still lacked an agreed long-range strategy for the defeat of Japan. The Joint Staff Planners proposed invading Hokkaido, the northernmost of the home islands, but both Marshall and King objected, and the paper (J.C.S. 564) was returned to the staff for revision. Marshall was opposed to seeking a hard and fast long-range plan, urging instead a policy of opportunism designed to capitalize on Japanese mistakes and weaknesses (e.g., oil supply) and Allied advantages (e.g., the imminent appearance of the B-29). He expressed doubts about the need to seize the heavily defended fortress of Truk. The chiefs agreed to proceed with the Burma campaign and to expedite air base construction in India and China to accommodate the B-29s. In their discussions with the president, however, the service chiefs concentrated on European affairs.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that unity of command over all strategic bombing forces operating against the Germans was needed immediately. Similarly, unity of command in the Mediterranean was essential, but they preferred—and the president agreed—that that region should be a subcommand of the Supreme Allied Commander (who was to be Marshall, Roosevelt reiterated on November 15); all recognized, however, that the British were certain to oppose this, preferring an independent theater command under a British leader (probably Sir Harold Alexander), given the growing ratio of British to American forces in the area. The service chiefs and the president were also unified in their determination that the United States not become involved in new operations in the Balkans or the eastern Mediterranean, the demands of which might weaken or postpone the cross-Channel thrust tentatively planned for May 1, 1944, that was at the heart of American strategy.

The shipboard meetings considered the possibility that Germany might collapse prior to or shortly after OVERLORD, necessitating the implementation of Plan RANKIN—an emergency Allied return to the Continent first discussed at the Quebec Conference in August. The Joint Staff Planners believed that Germany could be defeated by October 1944, but the Joint Strategic Survey Committee was more optimistic, suggesting the spring of 1944. Roosevelt told the service chiefs on November 19 that “he envisaged a railroad invasion of Germany with little or no fighting.” Marshall noted that destruction of the railroads meant that the land advance would be made by truck. (Ibid., p. 255.)

The president believed that post-surrender Germany would be divided into three zones of occupation and that the United States would need to maintain a million troops in Europe for one or two years. Roosevelt did not like the COSSAC plan that provided for United States control in France and south Germany; he wished to avoid complications with a new Gaullist government and did not want the United States committed to “reconstituting France,” which was “a British `baby.’” He preferred a northwest Germany-Scandinavia zone. Marshall pointed out that once the Allies had landed in France, logistics dictated that United States forces be on the right wing, and crossing over to the left or north would be difficult. Nevertheless, the commander in chief believed that this problem could be overcome. At the end of the final conference on November 19, he marked in pencil on a National Geographic Society map his conception of postwar occupation zones for Germany and gave the map to Marshall. (Ibid., pp. 254, 261. This map is reproduced in Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, facing p. 341.)

President Roosevelt discussed more than narrowly military problems with his service chiefs. “Never since the United States had entered the war,” Maurice Matloff has observed, “had he given them such a glimpse of his reflections on the political problems that were bound up with the war and its outcome.” At the end of the Iowa meetings, the president and his military advisers were firmly united on the stand they would take at the forthcoming conferences. (Ibid., pp. 344-45.)

The Iowa arrived in the harbor at Oran, Algeria, at daybreak on November 20. At mid-morning, Marshall and the others departed by air for Tunis, where they stayed the night. The next day, Marshall and his party flew to Cairo, Egypt, where he was assigned to Villa 4 (along with Arnold, Somervell, Handy, and four others) in the Mena House compound.

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. 187-190.

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