3-429 Editorial Note on State of Allied Operations, December 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 1, 1942

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on State of Allied Operations

December 1942

During 1942 the army George C. Marshall commanded grew from 1,686,403 to 5,397,674 persons, the number of active divisions from thirty-seven to seventy-three, and the number of air combat groups from 67 to 167; army personnel deployed overseas passed the one million mark in December. The Joint Staff Planners had projected still more growth: ten million by 1944 and over thirteen million by the end of 1948. But limited shipping and the needs of industry and agriculture clearly precluded continuation of 1942’s rapid expansion, and at the December 1 Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting, Marshall asserted that the military manpower proposals had to be reevaluated. Further action on the proposals was postponed. (Maurice Matloff and Edwin M. Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1953], pp. 350, 353; Minutes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, December 1, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, JCS Minutes].)

The distribution of United States Army forces at year’s end diverged considerably from the plans that had been approved early in 1942. Far more troops had been sent to Alaskan, Atlantic, and Caribbean bases than anticipated. The buildup of U.S. forces in Great Britain, on the other hand, had been far less than planned, thanks partly to the North African landings and to greater than expected deployment to the Pacific. At the beginning of December 1942 there were slightly more army troops in the Pacific than in Britain and North Africa combined. (Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942, pp. 354-55, 359-60.)

From the Allies’ standpoint, by the last month of 1942 the war had taken a decidedly better direction since summer. The strategic initiative was rapidly slipping away from the Axis powers; but if the Allies had ceased to lose the war, neither had they begun to win it. The U.S. Army had 346,000 troops deployed in the Pacific by the beginning of December 1942, but they were still primarily guarding supply lines or en route to the combat zones. Australian and U.S. forces had driven the Japanese back to the northern shore of New Guinea, reducing the threat to Port Moresby, but the Japanese had dug in and were holding on tenaciously to their Buna-Gona beachhead; the effort to eject them was not progressing well.

On Guadalcanal the United States beachhead was not significantly larger than it had been after the initial landings in August, but naval defeats had made it extremely difficult for the Japanese to reinforce or to supply their garrison, while the U.S. buildup continued. As the First Marine Division was relieved during December and units of the army’s Americal and Twenty-fifth divisions landed, the battle there was increasingly becoming an army responsibility. By the end of December 1942 army troops constituted 60 percent of the United States forces on Guadalcanal. (Samuel Milner, Victory in Papua, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1957], pp. 202-12; John Miller, Jr., Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1949], pp. 210-19, 222-24.)

In the Atlantic, German submarines continued their aggressive and effective operations, but on land German forces were having less success. They and their allies had become bogged down at Stalingrad; meanwhile, the Red Army was accumulating its strength for a winter offensive—to be launched December 19—that was to have disastrous consequences for the Axis. In Libya the British continued to shove Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s forces westward. From the west a rapidly growing Allied army was moving into Tunisia, having secured Morocco and Algeria. By the end of November the U.S. Army had 128,576 ground and air personnel in North Africa, and it would land an additional 98,523 during December. But the Germans and Italians were also bolstering their position for a stand in Tunisia, and on November 30 they launched a four-day counterattack that halted the Allied drive on Bizerte and Tunis, then drove it slightly back. A stalemate would soon develop there, although this was not clear as the last month of the year began. (George F. Howe, Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1957], pp. 312-30, 680.)

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. 461-462.

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