4-081 Editorial Note on the First Quebec Conference, August 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: August 14, 1943

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on the First Quebec Conference

August 14-17, 1943

QUADRANT Conference (Quebec, August 14-24, 1943) was the third crucial Anglo-American conference in seven months. As at Casablanca in January and Washington in May (TRIDENT), the chief difficulty was the strength of Allied commitment to the cross-Channel invasion and the consequent allocation of resources between the invasion of France and operations in the Mediterranean. Secondary bargaining concerned the Pacific theater, especially the need to strengthen Chinese resistance to and the preparation of bases for operations against Japan, which to United States military planners meant reopening the supply route through Burma.

A large support staff had already established themselves in the Château Frontenac by the time the Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived on August 13 to join the British chiefs.  The next day Marshall cabled Secretary Stimson, who was still in Washington with the president:  “From information following informal discussions last night and general discussion at meeting this morning it would appear that the differences are not to be insurmountable.  However it is too early to hazard any definite opinion.” (Marshall to Stimson, August 14, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

Marshall’s caution was well founded, because the discussions soon became quite vigorous and sometimes acrimonious to the point where the C.C.S. met in closed sessions without the inhibiting presence of several score of subordinates.  Marshall, the chief J.C.S. spokesman on European-Mediterranean issues, was determined to get a firm commitment from the British to launch the cross-Channel invasion.  He agreed that as much of the Italian peninsula as possible (plus Sardinia and Corsica) should be occupied, that as much German power as possible should be diverted into Italy, and that north Italian air bases should be used to launch attacks on the southern portion of Nazi territory, but he was determined that the Allied commitment to Italy specifically and the Mediterranean generally should not undermine in any way the accumulation of troops and materiel in Britain for the launching of OVERLORD.  Marshall reminded the British that previous operations in the Mediterranean always seemed to absorb more shipping, troops, and materiel than had been anticipated, thereby undermining or precluding operations elsewhere.  Consequently he insisted that henceforth whenever there was a shortage of resources OVERLORD would have an “overriding priority.”  Without this, the notes of the August 15 meeting state, “in his opinion the operation was doomed and our whole strategic concept would have to be recast” and the number of U.S. forces in Britain sharply reduced.  Marshall was determined that the decision made at TRIDENT to move seven experienced divisions from the Mediterranean to Britain would be carried out and that any future operations in the region would be conducted with the forces already in the theater. (Foreign Relations of the United States, Conferences at Washington and Quebec, 1943, pp. 866–67.)

The British chiefs of staff began the conference aware, as a result of Field Marshal Dill’s efforts and of a briefing paper prepared by their Joint Staff Mission in Washington, that: “There is apparent in all the U.S. Chiefs of Staff a feeling that the British are not standing firm enough to considered decision of ‘Trident’, and are tending too readily to depart from these decisions and to set aside the operations agreed upon.  They realise importance put Italy out of war, but are not prepared to see ‘Bullfrog’ [an attack on Akyab, Burma], the Pacific or ‘Overlord’ suffer unduly in consequence new commitments in the Mediterranean.” (Quoted in Michael Howard, Grand Strategy,volume 4, August 1942–September 1943,a volume in the History of the Second World War [London: HMSO, 1972], p. 563.)

When the Quebec meetings opened, the British military leaders asserted that they were indeed committed to OVERLORD, but that operation’s success was closely tied to the Allies’ capacity to reduce, through operations in north Italy, the number of German forces available to counter the invasion.  Thus they did not wish to rule out more vigorous efforts in Italy, and these might preclude removing to Britain for OVERLORD some or all of the seven designated Mediterranean divisions.

Following the August 15 C.C.S. meeting, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke—who had already that day received a “crushing blow” when Prime Minister Churchill told him that an American would command the invasion forces—noted in his diary that the Allies had “a most painful meeting and we settled nothing.  I entirely failed to get Marshall to realise the relation between cross-Channel and Italian operations and the repercussions which the one exercises on the other.  It is quite impossible to argue with him as he does not begin to understand a strategic problem.”  After the August 16 meeting, Brooke recorded: “Our talk was pretty frank.  I opened by telling them that the root of the matter was that we were not trusting each other.  They doubted our real intentions to put our full hearts into the cross-Channel operation next spring, and we had not full confidence that they would not in future insist on our carrying out previous agreements irrespective of changed strategic conditions. . . . In the end I think our arguments did have some effect on Marshall.” (Bryant, Turn of the Tide, pp. 577–80.)

Some compromise was clearly essential; neither group of military leaders wished the president and the prime minister to feel compelled to settle the issues themselves.  On August 17 the C.C.S. adopted and sent to Roosevelt and Churchill a document describing OVERLORD as “the primary U.S.-British ground and air effort against the Axis in Europe,” with a target date of May 1, 1944.  Compromise wording was adopted on the two major points of contention:  (1) in the event of a shortage of resources, support for OVERLORD would be the “main object” rather than the “overriding priority”; (2) Mediterranean operations would be carried out by forces allotted at TRIDENT (e.g., not including the seven divisions to be removed) “except insofar as these may be varied by decision of the Combined Chiefs of Staff” rather than without strings attached, as Marshall preferred. (Foreign Relations of the United States, Conferences at Washington and Quebec, 1943, pp. 1024–25.)

August 17 also witnessed the end of the Sicily campaign.  That morning Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., Seventh Army commanding general, had accepted the surrender of the port city of Messina, within artillery range of the Italian mainland.


Recommended Citation:  The Papers 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. 89–92.

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