2-312 Editorial Note on the Rainbow Plans, November 1940

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 1, 1940

Editorial Note on the Rainbow Plans

November 1940

OF the five joint army-navy war plans proposed in 1939 (see editorial note #2-073, Papers of George Catlett Marshall [2: 100-101]), only work on Rainbow 1 had been completed. Rainbow 2 and Rainbow 3 had been laid aside during the military crisis in the spring of 1940, while work was speeded on Rainbow 4 (the defense of the Western Hemisphere). In the autumn of 1940, anticipating that the United States might become involved in the war at an early date, the navy resumed serious work on Rainbow 3. Admiral Stark sent General Marshall a copy of his November 12 memorandum for the secretary of the navy (itself a revision of a November 4 memorandum) outlining the world situation and considering four possible responses by the United States. Stark favored the last—plan “D”, hence the designation “Plan Dog” memorandum—which proposed conducting a vigorous offensive in the Atlantic against Germany and Italy while pursuing a limited, defensive war against Japan in the Pacific. This was “the first attempt to deal with American military strategy as a whole, comprehending the dispositions and missions of Army as well as Navy forces, on the assumption of concerted British and American operations.” (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. 12-13, 25.)

Having read Stark’s November 12 memorandum, President Roosevelt told the chief of naval operations that he wanted “War, State, and Navy to draw up a joint estimate.” In the navy, Stark told Marshall, “we are much concerned with the possibility of having a war on our hands due to precipitate Japanese action, regardless of the wishes of the President or anybody else. That is why Navy has been concentrating on RAINBOW THREE.” (Stark Memorandum for General Marshall, November 22, 1940, NA/RG 165 [WPD, 4175-15].)

Marshall and the army’s planners, while generally agreeing with the navy’s “Atlantic first” strategy, feared that the navy’s version of Rainbow 3 still left the United States overextended in the Far East and its naval strength “dispersed from Singapore to the Mediterranean. . . . We stand to lose everywhere and win nowhere.” (Gerow Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, November 27, 1940, ibid.)

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), p. 360.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 2-312

Rights: Public Information