4-001 Editorial Note on the Algiers Conference, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on the Algiers Conference

May 28-June 4, 1943

At the May TRIDENT Conference in Washington, British and American leaders had, on numerous issues, reiterated the general arguments they had made at the Casablanca Conference in January—the main Europe-Mediterranean theater issue being the relative proportion of Allied resources committed to the buildup for a cross-Channel invasion of France and to opportunities in the Mediterranean. As the conference was ending on May 25, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to direct U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall to accompany him to visit General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Allied Force Headquarters in Algiers to discuss operations subsequent to the invasion and conquest of Sicily (Operation HUSKY). (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-669 [3: 705-8].)

Marshall reluctantly accepted the assignment, but until he had had a chance to discuss Mediterranean operations with Eisenhower, they were the last subject he desired to discuss in the confines of a small, noisy airplane with the persuasive and determined prime minister. By various stratagems, Marshall contrived to avoid sensitive subjects during the lengthy trip to Algiers, May 26-28, 1943. (George C Marshall Interviews and Reminiscences for Forrest C. Pogue, ed. Larry I. Bland, 3rd ed. [Lexington, Va.: George C. Marshall Research Foundation, 1996], pp. 552-54.) Churchill was not secretive about the purpose of his mission, which was to convince Eisenhower to invade the Italian peninsula immediately following HUSKY; the evening he reached Algiers the prime minister began to press his case on Eisenhower. Commander Harry C. Butcher commented in his diary: “The PM recited his story three different times in three different ways last night [May 28]. He talks persistently until he has worn down the last shred of opposition. Ike is glad to have General Marshall on hand.” (My Three Years with Eisenhower: The Personal Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher, USNR, Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945 [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946], p. 316.)

In addition to participating in numerous informal conversations, Marshall attended three formal meetings at Eisenhower’s villa in Algiers—May 29, May 31, and June 3; between meetings he inspected various units and visited Carthage and Tunis. The prime minister and his advisers—including Churchill’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Sir Hastings Ismay, and chief of the Imperial General Staff General Sir Alan Brooke, who had made the trip over with Churchill and Marshall, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, General Sir Harold Alexander, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Mediterranean commanders of Allied naval, ground, and air forces respectively—insisted that: (1) Italy must be knocked out of the war as soon as possible, and thus the Allies should invade the Italian peninsula immediately after securing Sicily; (2) the Germans would be forced to shift troops into Italy and the Balkans to replace Italian forces, and this was the only effective method available to the Allies for drawing off German forces from the Russian front; and (3) the Allies could not, for morale and political reasons, keep their ground forces largely idle during the months between the end of HUSKY in mid-summer of 1943 and the cross-Channel invasion in the spring of 1944. (The minutes of these meetings are published in Papers and Minutes of Meetings of Principal World War II Allied Military Conferences, 1941-1945, National Archives and Records Service Microfilm Publication M995, Roll 2, Trident Conference book, pp. 467-503. Churchill’s account is largely based upon these minutes; see The Hinge of Fate, a volume in The Second World War [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1950], pp. 817-30. See also Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, War Diaries, 1938-1945, ed. Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001), pp. 412-18.

Churchill asserted that there were plenty of troops available in the Mediterranean, but that he was willing to send eight additional divisions, if they were needed, to capture Rome and to force Italy to capitulate. Eisenhower was willing to concede that if the Sicilian campaign were quick and easy, he would be willing to land troops in Italy immediately. Marshall, however, refused to commit himself to support such landings until he had an idea of how long and costly the HUSKY campaign would be—i.e., until about the end of July.

Shipping, including landing craft, was a key limiting factor, and during the May 31 meeting, Marshall asked Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, how many additional antiaircraft, service, and signal troops would be needed to support an attack on the mainland. Smith estimated that thirty thousand United States and thirty-three thousand British troops would have to be landed for those purposes and that they would have to come from outside the North African Theater. Marshall observed that this involved a significant new shipping commitment that might upset the careful planning and the decisions made at the TRIDENT Conference regarding the cross-Channel invasion. The prime minister asserted that he would remove troops from Britain and cut civilian rations again if necessary to gain the extra shipping. Marshall continued to insist that he was not opposed to the broad aim of eliminating Italy from the war, but only that the Allies needed to exercise great discretion in deciding what to do after HUSKY. The minutes of the final meeting on June 3 record that the prime minister—ignoring Marshall’s reluctance—”expressed his satisfaction at the great measure of agreement which he had found in these meetings.” (Trident Conference book, p. 502.)

The chief of staff left Algiers at 5:45 P.M. on June 4. Flying home by way of Accra (Gold Coast), Ascension Island, Recife and Belem (Brazil), Antigua, and Bermuda, Marshall arrived in Washington at 6:00 P.M. on June 7, having traveled more than fourteen thousand miles since May 26.

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. 3-4.

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