4-357 Memorandum for Admiral King, April 17, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: April 17, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for Admiral King

April 17, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]

Top Secret

I have your memorandum of 13 April on the subject of reorganization of the national defense. I also have in mind Admiral Leahy’s memorandum of 5 April and my own of 2 April. From these it appears that we are in general agreement on this subject, except that Admiral Leahy in agreeing to a committee to make the study does not mention the Joint Deputy Chiefs of Staff.1

I now concur in your proposal of the 13th of April. However, the procedure to be set up does not appear sound.

In my opinion, no useful purpose will be served by further committee study of the broad question of whether we are to have one, two or three defense departments. This has been under study for years by committees and boards, both civilian and military. Another committee can add little, if anything, to the knowledge the Chiefs of Staff already have on the broad question. The latest study on this subject is the one under current consideration. In this case the Joint Strategic Survey Committee, which is the agency of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to consider such broad questions of policy, studied the question for a period of months and came out with a definite recommendation that the Joint Chiefs of Staff approve for purposes of planning and study the principle of three services within one military organization. I favor the acceptance of this basic principle. Unless the general principle is accepted, I do not see how we can make any useful progress towards a solution of the details.

Various related but subordinate questions in our national defense set-up, such as duplication of facilities, functions, missions, roles of the Army and Navy, air organization, all have for years been the subject of study by committees and joint agencies and, in my opinion, little of importance has resulted. The solution of these related questions depends upon a sound organization at the top. In the Army we experienced the same difficulties over a period of years which we are now experiencing in the over-all military organization. We never achieved a satisfactory solution to many questions of organization, functions, etc., until we settled upon a military head to the Army in the Chief of Staff, supported by a General Staff.

Once we settle upon a sound organization at the top, committees under the Joint Deputy Chiefs of Staff can proceed without great difficulty to solve most of our detailed problems. However, these committees will get nowhere without the acceptance of the principle, but will almost instantly run into blind alleys and come back with split reports, generating harmful suspicions or hard feelings. The time has come, in my opinion, when the basic decision is no longer a matter for committees.

I do not intend to go into a discussion of a single military department, but I do want to mention the following considerations which appear extremely pertinent at the present time.

1. The Woodrum Committee has started its work. I am told that this committee will explore the possibility of creating a single department of national defense, avoiding the universal military service question for the moment because of its political implications. If we cannot solve the question it is going to be solved for us, and probably in a manner which neither the War nor the Navy Departments would desire. It is therefore desirable that, if possible, we present a united view on this matter. Above all, I do not want to be forced into a position where my statements or attitude might in any way interfere with the smooth working of our present joint organization.2

2. The War Department Special Planning people, who have been working on questions of post-war organization, demobilization, etc., for over a year, agree that a decision as to whether we are to have one department or two or three is necessary as a basis for sound post-war planning. Some of the problems which are affected are: size, organization, and distribution of Air Forces; organization of Service Forces; retention and disposition of government-owned manufacturing and other facilities.

3. As to timing, I am in agreement that we must do nothing to interfere in any way with the prosecution of the war. But I am convinced that, from a practical viewpoint, no efficient major reorganization can be successfully accomplished in time of peace. But unless we have developed an approved basis for the reorganization before the close of hostilities we will be in a very unfortunate position, as concerns the National Defense.

I repeat that I concur in your proposal of 13 April though I feel that the procedure will probably be ineffective and time consuming.

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. In J.C.S. 749, “Reorganization of National Defense,” the Joint Strategic Survey Committee had proposed that a special committee study the matter of organization and coordination of military services in order to “eliminate unwarranted duplication and to most effectively fight the war,” as well as to obtain ultimately the most efficient organization of national defense. (Report by the Joint Strategic Survey Committee, March 8, 1944, J.C.S. 749, NA/RG 218 [JCS, CCS 040].) In J.C.S. 749/1, Admiral King recommended that the Joint Deputy Chiefs of Staff be ex-officio members of the special committee “in order to furnish guidance without undue calls upon the time of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” He also recommended that the special committee not be restricted in its directive to a single military department organized with three services, but that it examine the “relative advantages, disadvantages and practicability of the following basic systems of organization: (1) Two departments—War and Navy. (2) Three departments—War, Navy, Air. (3) One Department of War (or of Defense).” (Memorandum by the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, March 29, 1944, J.C.S. 749/1 [March 31, 1944], ibid.) On April 2, General Marshall responded by proposing that the Joint Deputy Chiefs of Staff be given the entire responsibility to study the matter, and he recommended substituting the words “Joint Deputy Chiefs of Staff” for the word “Committee” in the proposal. (Memorandum by the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, April 2, 1944, J.C.S. 749/2, ibid.) On April 5, Admiral Leahy recommended that the special committee have a free hand to study the issue on the basis of a one-, two-, or three-department organization, rather than assuming that a single organization be approved for planning purposes. “I cannot yet agree,” wrote Leahy, “that the principle of three services in one military organization should be recognized by a Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.” He omitted any reference to the Joint Deputy Chiefs of Staff but instead agreed to the original proposal that a special committee consisting of two officers of the U.S. Army, one of whom would be from the U.S. Army Air Forces, and two officers of the U.S. Navy be appointed to make a detailed study and recommendations to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Memorandum by the Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, April 5, 1944, J.C.S. 749/3, ibid.)

Then on April 13 Admiral King wrote to General Marshall that the navy member of the Joint Deputy Chiefs of Staff was “already overwhelmed with work” and was “not in a position to carry on this special work, except in the way of guidance of the committee’s activities.” King therefore recommended that the special committee work under the direct supervision of the deputies, and that the committee submit recommendations to the J.D.C.S. for subsequent transmission to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (King Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, April 13, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 370.01, Case 13].)

2. For more information on the Woodrum Committee hearings, see the following document and Marshall Memorandum for Mr. Bundy, April 23, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-358 [4: 419-21] and #4-367 [4: 431-33].

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 416-419.

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