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Editorial Note on Strategy Negotiations in London
July 17-July 22, 1942
On July 15 the president gave to Marshall a two-page handwritten preliminary statement to govern the negotiations in London. A revised, formal set of instructions was issued to Hopkins, Marshall, and King on July 16. “It is of the highest importance that U. S. ground troops be brought into action against the enemy in 1942,” the president instructed. “In regard to 1942, you will carefully investigate the possibility of executing SLEDGEHAMMER. Such an operation would definitely sustain Russia this year. It might be the turning point which would save Russia this year. SLEDGEHAMMER is of such grave importance that every reason calls for accomplishment of it. You should strongly urge immediate all-out preparations for it, that it be pushed with utmost vigor, and that it be executed whether or not Russian collapse becomes imminent. . . . If SLEDGEHAMMER is finally and definitely out of the picture, I want you to consider the world situation as it exists at that time, and determine upon another place for U. S. Troops to fight in 1942.” Concluding, Roosevelt instructed his representatives to “please remember three cardinal principles—speed of decision on plans, unity of plans, attack combined with defense but not defense alone. This affects the immediate objective of U.S. ground forces fighting against Germans in 1942.” (Roosevelt Memorandum for Hopkins, Marshall, and King, July 16,1942, FDRL/ F. D. Roosevelt Papers [PSF, Safe]; this document is printed in Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, pp. 603-5. See Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942, pp. 272-78.)
The president’s advisers left Washington on July 16, arriving at Prestwick, Scotland, the next day. The prime minister’s train met them in order to take them to Chequers, Churchill’s country estate, but he vented his wrath on Hopkins when he discovered that Marshall and King had insisted upon going directly to London to confer with Eisenhower and his staff on the eighteenth and nineteenth. During the next three days of meetings with the British (July 20-22), the Americans urged the British Chiefs of Staff to accept a revised version of SLEDGEHAMMER prepared by Eisenhower’s staff which called for a beachhead on France’s Cotentin Peninsula. The British chiefs continued their argument that the operation would not aid the Russians or secure a permanent foothold on the Continent. On July 22 Marshall conceded that a successful SLEDGEHAMMER operation was unlikely in 1942 but fought to save ROUNDUP and forestall GYMNAST. On the same day the British War Cabinet voted against a cross-Channel attack for 1942. (Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, pp. 606-7; Marshall to Eisenhower, July 16, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 10, Item 36a]; Marshall and King Memorandum for the President, July 28, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 319.1]; Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942, p. 278.)
“The British staff and cabinet were unalterable in refusal to touch SLEDGEHAMMER,” Marshall recalled. “Looked like the Russians were going to be destroyed. The successful defense of Moscow had not yet occurred. . . . So we were at a complete stalemate. Churchill was rabid for Africa. Roosevelt for Africa. Positive reaction by both. Both were aware of political necessities. It is something we fail to take into consideration. I told the National War College students that officers lack knowledge of political factors which political leaders must keep in mind.” Marshall continued: “One morning before breakfast I sat down at Claridge’s in my room and began to write. I recognized we couldn’t do SLEDGEHAMMER and that there was no immediate prospect of ROUNDUP. What was the least harmful diversion? Always bearing in mind that we didn’t have much. Much of what we had was in an amateurish stage, particularly air. . . . I started into writing a proposal which we might propose. It called for an expedition into North Africa with operations, limits, nature. Just as I was finishing, King came in. It is remarkable now, but King accepted without a quibble.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 580-81.) Marshall and King presented the proposal, printed below, to the British Chiefs of Staff at the July 24 meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
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. 277-278.