3-306 Editorial Note on the State of Allied Operations, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on the State of Allied Operations

Summer-Fall 1942

For United States forces, the late summer and autumn of 1942 was a crucial period of shifting to the offensive in the South Pacific and North Africa. As September began, the nation had been at war nearly nine months, and only its navy was heavily engaged against the enemy. The Allies were still on the defensive, even in the Pacific, where there had been such successes as the battle of Midway and the landings in the southern Solomon Islands. In the latter operation the issue was still in doubt, and furious naval battles were being fought as the Japanese continued their determined efforts to eject United States troops from Guadalcanal. Japanese forces had occupied key portions of New Guinea’s north coast and were threatening strategic Port Moresby. In the Soviet Union, German panzer armies were blasting their way into Stalingrad and thrusting into the Caucasus. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel launched his long-expected drive toward Cairo on August 30, and a linkup of Axis North African and eastern front forces somewhere in the Middle East seemed possible. In the Atlantic, Allied plans were constantly threatened by German submarines, which enjoyed increasing success against merchant shipping.

The political-military debates among British and United States leaders over the safest and most profitable place and time to seize the initiative against Germany had been settled in July in favor of British plans to land in French North Africa in the autumn in order to threaten Rommel’s forces from the rear and to help clear the Allies’ Mediterranean supply lines. Specific plans for landings were another matter, however, and disagreements arose among military leaders over the location of landing sites, the quantity of naval protection, the strengths of forces to be employed, and the roles the two nations’ troops would initially play. By the end of August the Combined Chiefs of Staff seemed to be at an impasse on these issues, and President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill had been forced to step in to break the deadlock. (George F. Howe, Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1957], pp. 27-28.)

On the Asian mainland the approaching end of summer found no improvement in the political-military situation. China’s relations with the United States had deteriorated following its defeats in the Burma campaign in the spring of 1942, when Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell was commander of the Chinese Expeditionary Force in Burma. This had been followed by the British crisis in June in Libya and Egypt, which prompted the United States to shift air units and lend-lease supplies away from China to support the Middle East theater. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek provoked a crisis in China-United States relations during the summer of 1942 by vigorously criticizing U.S. lend-lease policy and by challenging Stilwell’s control of available lend-lease materiel.

Stilwell’s problems were exacerbated by the overlapping and frequently conflicting roles he had to play. He had control of what little United States lend-lease was getting into China because he was head of the United States Military Mission there. Second, he was chief of staff to Chiang, and as such he was producing plans for reforming the Chinese Army and for retaking Burma—plans that were frequently at variance with what Chiang perceived as political realities in China. Third, Stilwell was head of what was increasingly being called the China-Burma-India Theater (more formally designated U.S. Army Forces, China, Burma and India), but he commanded few United States soldiers and his requests for ground reinforcements were repeatedly denied. (Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, Stilwell’s Mission to China, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1953], pp. 157-75. Stilwell recorded his own views on these incidents. See The Stilwell Papers, ed. Theodore H. White [New York: William Sloan Associates, 1948], pp. 58-134.)

In response to Chinese requests that a personal representative of President Roosevelt visit China and review Sino-American relations, Lauchlin Currie, an economist in charge of lend-lease to China, visited that country between July 20 and August 6, 1942. In his written report to President Roosevelt of August 24, Currie recommended that both nations’ ambassadors and Lieutenant General Stilwell be replaced, and in talking with Marshall, Currie had suggested Stilwell’s recall. (Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Mission to China, pp. 180-86.) As a result, the chief of staff sent the message that follows (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-307 [3: 334-36].)

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. 333-334.

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