4-505 Editorial Note on the Second Quebec Conference, September 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: September 12, 1944

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on the Second Quebec Conference

September 12-16, 1944

While the Combined Chiefs of Staff had held five formal meetings in mid-June 1944 (see editorial notes #4-407, #4-409, #4-411, Papers of George Catlett Marshall [4:  477, 479, 480–81]), there had been no full-blown conference of Anglo-American heads of government plus military chiefs since Cairo in December 1943.  Churchill had been trying to arrange such a meeting with Roosevelt for months, but the president continually put him off.  Finally, in mid-July, a conference was scheduled for mid-September (code name OCTAGON) at the Château Frontenac in Quebec, the site of the August 1943 QUADRANT meetings. (Documents concerning the arrangements for this conference are published in Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States:  The Conference at Quebec, 1944 [Washington:  GPO, 1972], pp. 3–40.)

The official histories of the U.S. Army and of British participation in the war agree that the second Quebec Conference (September 12–16) marked a turning point in the war.  At this time, there were no crucial strategic decisions that needed to be made and no important materiel shortages to disrupt planning. (Maurice Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943–1944, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington:  GPO, 1959], pp. 508–9; Ehrman, Grand Strategy, 5:  505–6.)  Allied arms were victorious in every theater but China.  Indeed, a report by the Combined Intelligence Committee on September 9 stated that organized German resistance in Europe “is unlikely to continue beyond 1 December 1944, and that it may end even sooner.”  Joint Chiefs of Staff planners calculated that Japanese resistance would outlast German by only one year.  As the minutes have Churchill observing at the first plenary session on September 13, “everything we had touched had turned to gold, and during the last seven weeks there had been an unbroken run of military successes.” (Foreign Relations, Conference at Quebec, 1944, pp. 238, 313.)

Between mid-1942 and mid-1944, General Marshall had served as “counsel for the American case.  By OCTAGON his midwar role as advocate was over.  At that conference he appeared rather as a principal architect of victory, advising and checking on the almost-complete structure against the blueprints he had done so much to fashion.” (Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943–1944, p. 518.)

The two most important military issues the British desired to discuss with the Americans at Quebec were the future of the Italian campaign and the British role in the Pacific.  In regard to Italy, at the Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting on September 12, Marshall assured the British chiefs that he would not weaken Fifth Army in Italy by withdrawing important units to reinforce Seventh Army in southern France.  Moreover, the American chiefs agreed to hold in readiness until October 15 landing craft for a possible British landing in Istria.  The Americans did not comment when Field Marshal Alan Brooke mentioned that there might be “great advantages” to a drive from Trieste through the Ljubljana Gap to Vienna, a strategy the Joint Chiefs of Staff had long opposed. (Foreign Relations, Conference at Quebec, 1944, pp. 302–5, quote on p. 303.)

Also at the September 12 C.C.S. meeting, the conferees approved Eisenhower’s proposal to consider the Holland-Ruhr (or northern flank) as the key route of advance into Germany and encouraged him to secure the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam.  They discussed the British proposal to remove the strategic bombers in northern Europe from control by Eisenhower’s headquarters.  The service chiefs agreed that no decision on occupation zones in Germany could be effected until the heads of government had further considered the issue. (Ibid., pp. 302, 308–11.)

Not considered at this first C.C.S. session was British determination to send major naval and strategic bomber forces to the Central Pacific.  The next morning (September 13), however, the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered this issue and approved for submission to the British chiefs a memorandum (C.C.S. 452/27) stating that the J.C.S. “would welcome a British naval task force in the Pacific to participate in the main operations against Japan.  They consider that the initial use of such a force should be on the western flank of the advance in the Southwest Pacific.  They assume that such a force would be balanced and self-supporting.”  The J.C.S. also accepted “the British proposal to form a British Empire task force in the Southwest Pacific” to operate under MacArthur’s command. (Ibid., p. 447.)

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. 579–581.




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