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December 23, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]
NOTES OF MEETING AT THE WHITE HOUSE WITH THE PRESIDENT
AND THE BRITISH PRIME MINISTER PRESIDING
The President opened the conference with the statement that last night he had discussed general questions with the Prime Minister covering the initial situation, the present status, and relations with the Vichy Government and with Portugal; that no Army and Navy details were considered.
He stated that the draft of a declaration had been prepared covering our joint “intentions”, and covering the point that no one power would make peace without an agreement with the associate powers.2
I have a note regarding his statement as to the North Atlantic ferrying problem and the protection of the British Isles.
(1) That they jointly felt, he and Mr. Churchill, that the presence of a small number of American bombers in England would have an important affect on the French people and on Germany.3
(2) That they agreed that the next thing is to have three American divisions take over the defenses of the North Atlantic.
(3) That a mixed command in Iceland was a disadvantage, and that he thought they should be regulated.4
He stated that he and the Prime Minister discussed the relative importance of the Azores versus the Verde Islands.
He stated that they were agreed that it would be a mistake to send American troops into the Near East at this time.
He stated that they thought it was important to keep a flying route open across Africa, referring to the Brazilian situation and to the threat from Dakar.
He stated that England would hold Singapore; the United States would build up in Australia towards operations to the north including, of course, the Philippines.
He stated that we were endeavoring to effect arrangements to utilize Chinese territory for air operations against Japan.
He felt that no attack on Japan was now indicated, and would not be probable before March or April unless Japan would attack Russia.
West and North Africa.
Diplomatic representatives in Switzerland reported that Germans were planning attack December 27, through Spain. Other sources of information did not indicate this.
He discussed the importance of Dakar, with reference to the deficiencies in shipping, the lack of antiaircraft ammunition and planes.
He stated that the transports now being used by British troops (approaching Bombay) were to be used for whatever purpose was most important at the time, British or American. He stated that he is not in favor of converting these transports into airplane carriers.5
He mentioned several questions that had been raised: (1) Are we to put PBY naval planes in Ireland? (2) Can we induce South Ireland to make naval bases available? (3) How soon can the commercial airlines take over the transportation to Foynes?6
He stated that there appeared no reason for transferring to the British flag, North American flag ships for Atlantic runs under the Lend-Lease. Admiral Stark requested more opportunity to consider this in relation to the scarcity of trained crews.
He stated that the general question of supply and additions to munition production were to be considered in one or two days by Lord Beaverbrook, Mr. Knudsen, and others. (General Moore was not mentioned but I will request that he be included in this conference).7 As an example of increases, he mentioned the doubling of plane production. He specifically mentioned planes, tanks, antiaircraft materiel and ammunition. He thought the overall estimate should carry up into 1944.
THE BRITISH PRIME MINISTER, MR. CHURCHILL,
MADE THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS
He voiced his appreciation of Mr. Stimson’s statement and he said the summation of that statement is that the preservation of the North Atlantic communications with the British Isles, etc. fully justified their trip over here, if nothing else.8 He referred to their appreciation of our present situation and their desire to help us in the Pacific. He said that he expected his staff people to be informed on the situation. He was much impressed by our attitude in this immediate crisis, of planning ahead in years instead of weeks.
He stated that they were short of manpower.
He expressed complete agreement with the proposition to replace the three British Divisions in Ireland with American divisions; he thought we should hold our more highly-trained divisions for other tasks as there was not immediate likelihood of these divisions in Ireland being actively employed, and they could continue training. He thought their presence would have an excellent affect in many directions, and he was highly pleased with our willingness at this particular time to go ahead with that relief. (He was told that the limitation was tonnage and antiaircraft). He and Lord Beaverbrook stated that they could furnish us the antiaircraft. The tonnage issue was not elaborated on.
He desires us to take over Iceland, merely leaving available the use of airfields and shipping facilities sufficient for them to protect the northwest approaches.
He stated that he had the feeling that matters in that region were coming to a head quickly. There was a ferment in the French minds over the United States entry into the war, and the reverse in Russia. Supposing the British push beyond Cirenaica to the frontier of Tunis in a month or six weeks—the situation would be pregnant. How will the Germans get into North Africa? Maybe that is the moment when the French home or African people will not accede to the German demands. That is then the moment for us, the British and the American.
He stated that the British have 55,000 men with transports ready for shipment for such a purpose and that they could be in Africa in twenty-three days; that two or three air squadrons from Malta could proceed to Bizerte. He offered for consideration the proposition that at the same time United States forces, assuming French agreement, should proceed to land on the Moroccan coast by invitation. He referred to possible terms of approach to the French, the promise of supplies, and the assurance that future France would be protected at the peace table, and conversely, a statement that she be ignored entirely in the peace settlement.
The President interjected at this time, commenting on an expedition against Agadir and Casa Blanca. Mr. Churchill commented that Spain should not be irritated if possible to avoid. Mr. Churchill continued—for such a purpose, assuming the invitation from the French, possibly the American expedition should move first, but the British are ready to go into it abreast, or to follow as might be deemed advisable in relation to French reaction. He repeated that their expedition was ready.
He asked that the foregoing be studied, to which the President agreed. The President commented at this time on the use of colonial troops against Dakar.
The President stated that he considered it very important to morale, to give this country a feeling that they are in the war, to give the Germans the reverse affect, to have American troops somewhere in active fighting across the Atlantic.
Mr. Churchill stated his agreement that it was not wise to send our troops into the Middle East, and it was better for the Indian Army and Australian troops. He made no reference to possible use of air units.
He desired that we consider the question of landing troops in Norway in 1943.9
The President spoke of the dangers of Brazil.
The Secretary of War spoke of the importance of timing in relation to movements into Ireland and those projected for the Mediterranean, with relation to its affect on the French people. He thought that our movement into Ireland would have a very definite affect on the French mind, which would facilitate arrangements for a movement into Tunis and Morocco by the British and French.
Mr. Churchill stated that the issue in the Mediterranean might arise at any moment.
There was a brief discussion in regard to the time for putting an expedition in Ireland.
Mr. Churchill desired that his staff officers be given the full view of the situation as to the Philippines, Hawaii, and the West Coast.
The President interjected to comment about the decentralization of aircraft plants.
Mr. Churchill offered the services of Lord Beaverbrook to indicate a method for moving them without interfering seriously with production.
Mr. Churchill then continued: He stated their feeling that Hawaii need not be a fleet base; that it could be approached from so many directions that it should be supplied.10 It appears that it could be defended.
He stated that he felt in this emergency that we have the greatest needs. We should have the supplies at the moment. This had references to later statements regarding British naval assistance in the Pacific.
He stated that he understood two new battleships would be ready in May. Admiral King said sometime in March. Admiral Stark commented there would be three and possibly four more battleships this year.11
Mr. Churchill continued: “We will do our best to look out for the Atlantic so far as battleships are concerned.” He commented on the conditions of certain of their battleships—the King George [V]—and another one which I missed; the Renown, very good; the Nelson recently had been torpedoed but would be ready for action in February; and the Rodney. He spoke of the Anson being ready for service in May and another one later.
He referred again that they might be able to aid us in some way in restoring superiority in the Pacific. He stated that they would particularly like our destroyers in the Atlantic for convoy duty, that the distribution of battleships was open.
Syria and Persia.
Mr. Churchill stated that he thought possibly in the spring Hitler might feint at Russia and then thrust out in the Southeast. He felt that probably we would be able to hold the Nile Valley; that they now felt more secure because of improved conditions. Storms may come again. He felt it would be a tremendous disaster to give up the Canal—Turkey would go, Africa would be overrun. He was not asking us to do anything in that region except furnish supplies and build up bases. They were making no request for us in the Near East. They hope to have four armored divisions, the first, second, seventh and one other available there.
To sum up, he stated the question of Iceland, and of Ireland and French North Africa, the holding of forces available for operations against small islands; he spoke of an expedition against Dakar on the basis of in and out, leaving other troops to hold the place. (I assume this was on a basis of some agreement with the French.)
In referring to the Far East, he spoke of possible retirement toward Johore, fighting there. Singapore to hold out. It ought to be a matter of six months before Japanese can close in. The Burma Province has been reinforced since a fortnight ago. The 17th Indian Division, a very good division, is en route to Burma. Wavell in command, having released Iran and Iraq to Auchinleck.12 The 18th Division now in convoy on American ships is routed for Bombay and Ceylon. It might be possible for the Australians to move their troops closer to that theater than Australia and by transfers from the Near East. There was comment by the staff that this would take considerable tonnage. They would do their best to keep the Burma Road open. The Indian Army now has twelve divisions.
Mr. Churchill, with Lord Beaverbrook, brought up the question in relation to Ireland, that they had 25-pounders13 available with ammunition that we might use, and other guns that we might use. They could not help us with rifles.
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the War Plans Division (WPD), 4402-136, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. This document is printed in Foreign Relations, Conferences at Washington and Casablanca, pp. 69-74. General Arnold’s notes on this meeting are printed on pp. 74-80.
2. The Declaration by United Nations was signed by the United States, Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union on January 1, 1942; others signed later. Each signatory government pledged itself to keep fighting until the enemy was defeated, to cooperate fully with the other United Nations in the military effort, and to conclude no separate armistice with any common enemy. (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1942, 7 vols. [Washington: GPO, 1956-63], 1: 25-27.)
3. On January 2, 1942, Arnold ordered the formation of the task force that would become the Eighth Air Force. Its headquarters in England was opened and the first group of combat planes arrived in June. (Craven and Cate, eds., Plans and Early Operations, pp. 612, 631.)
4. Concerning the shipment of United States troops to Iceland and Northern Ireland, see Marshall Memorandum for the Assistant Chief of Staff, War Plans Division, G-3, G-4, January 13, 1942, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-048 [59-60].
5. The United States transports West Point, Wakefield, and Mount Vernon were carrying the British Eighteenth Division, intended to reinforce the Middle East until Pearl Harbor, but at this time headed for Bombay, Ceylon, and Singapore.
6. The U.S. Navy’s designation for its amphibian flying boat was PBY. Arnold’s notes on this point read: “The Navy are to start airlines at once to Foynes [a small city in southwestern Ireland] using commercial aircraft.” Foreign Relations, Conferences at Washington and Casablanca, p. 77.
7. William S. Knudsen was director general of the Office of Production Management. Major General Richard C. Moore was deputy chief of staff for supply and construction.
8. On December 20 Secretary Stimson wrote a memorandum for the president: “A Suggested Analysis of the Basic Topics and Their Attendant Problems.” Marshall and his deputies then made minor changes and approved the document, which is printed in Foreign Relations, Conferences at Washington and Casablanca, pp. 44-47. Stimson noted in his diary: “The President led off with a statement as to the talks which he already had during the day with Churchill. To my utter surprise he fished out my memorandum drawn up last Saturday and made it the basis of the entire conference. He went over it point by point, telling the conference of their views on each point and then asked Churchill to follow and comment on it, which he did. There was then a little general discussion participated in by the American military and naval members and the British military and naval members, and it became very evident that there was a pretty general agreement upon the views of the grand strategy which we had held in the War Department and which were outlined in my paper.” (December 23, 1941, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 36: 140-41].)
9. Churchill’s interest, between the autumn of 1941 and the autumn of 1943, in an expeditionary force to northern Norway (eventually given the code name JUPITER) is discussed in J. R. M. Butler, Grand Strategy, volume 3, part 2, June 1941-August 1942, a volume in the History of the Second World War (London: HMSO, 1964), pp. 646-50.
10. Arnold’s notes on this point read: “Churchill made the statement in connection with Hawaii that he could not see why there should be any trouble in supplying Hawaii. We would not need a battle fleet to keep the sea lanes open to Hawaii, but the battle fleet should be clear to move in any part of the Pacific.” (Foreign Relations, Conferences at Washington and Casablanca, p. 79.)
11. The following United States battleships were completed in 1942: Washington (March), South Dakota (August), Massachusetts (September), and Alabama (November).
12. The British garrison at Singapore capitulated on February 15, 1942. General Sir Archibald Wavell was commander in chief in India. As part of the reshuffling of forces to meet the Japanese attack, the British Chiefs of Staff transferred Iran and Iraq from the Indian command to the Middle East command of General Sir Claude Auchinleck.
13. This British gun had a caliber of 3.45 inches (about 88-mm) and fired a shell weighing twenty-five pounds.
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. 31-37.