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Editorial Note on Relations with the Navy
Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark sought, despite the traditional rivalries and the differences in outlook between their respective services, to foster army-navy cooperation. Recalling his association with Marshall, Admiral Stark later said that they worked “very closely, almost intimately. I don’t see how we could have worked more closely than we did or more happily as far as our pulling together and solving our own problems.” (Harold R. Stark, interviewed by Forrest C. Pogue, March 13, 1959, GCMRL.)
The January 1940 landing exercise on the California coast had been an important manifestation of Marshall and Stark’s efforts at cooperation. The service chiefs’ ideas, however, were frequently slow to influence behavior at lower levels. In an April 2, 1940, letter to Major General Daniel Van Voorhis, commanding general of the Panama Canal Department, Marshall directed him to convey, “in a tactful way,” to the local Air Corps commander the need for greater cooperation with the navy. (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-150 [2: 187].) But solutions to the problems of jurisdiction and of the advisability of unified command over the three critical areas in the nation’s western defense perimeter (the Canal Zone, Hawaii, and Alaska) were difficult to achieve.
“We were having constant difficulties over the command question which I was endeavoring to settle,” Marshall recalled in 1957. “I wanted the navy to have overall command in the Alaskan district. I proposed that, thinking that if we could get that settled we could move down to Hawaii and settle that in time and then go down to the Panama Canal and settle that. But the navy was very loathe to accept my proposals about the Alaskan Theater, and I suppose for the reason that they thought that would obligate them to accept my views as to Hawaii. My view as to Hawaii—although I had not expressed it, as I recall, at that time—was that the navy should have the overall command. But when it came down to Panama, I thought the army should have the command. But it never got around to my expression of that fact.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 296)
By executive order, Van Voorhis had “exclusive authority” over the Panama Canal (see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-059 [2: 70-71]) and instructions to defend it. His relations with the two local naval commanders had been “most friendly,” he told Marshall. “I have not assumed that the Navy elements were under my command and have dealt with them on the basis of request, my position being somewhat embarrassed as both Admirals rank me. This procedure operated very well until we began to tighten up on preventative measures.” At this point, the navy commanders objected to the tone of certain memorandums they had received from Van Voorhis’s headquarters and pointedly reminded him that they were not in his chain of command. Believing strongly that “the means available to the Navy and the very hazy situation as far as jurisdiction over those means are concerned are not conducive to well coordinated operations of the two services in the defense of the Canal,” Van Voorhis appealed to the chief of staff. (Van Voorhis to Marshall, June 24, 1940, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
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. 257-258.