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Memorandum for Admiral Leahy
October 8, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]
The following is a suggested draft for the preparation of a reply by the President to the Prime Minister’s message of October 8th in reply to the President’s Number 379:1
I have received your Number 441 and given most careful personal consideration to the points you make. Your views have received most earnest consideration both by me and by my advisors. What you now in effect propose is another meeting of the Chiefs of Staff, hastily prepared and necessarily involving only partial representation, and in which I cannot personally participate. Frankly I am not in sympathy with this procedure which seems to me can only result in the heaviest form of personal pressure on General Eisenhower to weaken his position against his already expressed judgment.
We have almost all the facts now at our disposal on which to judge the commitments probably involved in the Rhodes operation. As I see it, it is not merely the capture of Rhodes but it must mean of necessity and it must be apparent to the Germans, that we intend to go further. Otherwise Rhodes will be under the guns of both Cos and Crete.
I was in accord with obtaining whatever hold we could in the Dodecanese without heavy commitments, but the present picture involves not only a well-organized, determined operation, but a necessary follow-through. This in turn involves the necessity of drawing for the means, largely shipping and air, not ground troops, from some other source which inevitably must be Italy, Overlord, or possibly Mountbatten’s amphibious operation. The problem then is are we now to enter into a Balkan campaign starting with the southern tip or is there more to be gained and with security, by pushing rapidly to the agreed upon position north of Rome. Is not a greater Allied threat against the Balkans implied in this than by a necessarily precarious amphibious operation against Rhodes with a lack evident to the enemy of the necessary means for the follow-through.
It seems to me these matters can be judged by us in better perspective from long range rather than by the exertion of a heavy pressure on a commander in the middle of a campaign to weaken his resources.2
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 anticipation of Italy’s surrender, Churchill had directed the British Middle East Command during the summer of 1943 to plan and prepare for the capture of Rhodes and other strategically important Aegean islands. On September 9, the day following the public announcement of the surrender, a small British force landed on Rhodes, but the strength of the German garrison quickly forced them to withdraw; several other Aegean islands were occupied, however. The British needed strong air support to return successfully to Rhodes, but Allied air forces were heavily engaged in Italy and under Eisenhower’s command. On October 3, German forces retook the island of Cos, the only island besides Rhodes which had an airfield sufficient for fighter aircraft. (Churchill, Closing the Ring, pp. 204-10.)
On October 7 Churchill asked Roosevelt for a temporary diversion of some forces and materiel to the Aegean. He noted that it was not the time for the Allies to be “shortsighted” or to “easily throw away an immense but fleeting opportunity” to create a favorable situation in the Balkans—which he believed was militarily and politically part of a single theater which included Italy—that would deal the Germans a serious strategic blow. Roosevelt replied the same day (message number 379) that he was opposed to any diversions that might jeopardize the Italian campaign or the buildup to the cross-Channel invasion. (Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, 2: 498-99,501.)
Churchill thought that the president’s assertion that borrowing a few landing craft for a few weeks might jeopardize OVERLORD rejected “all sense of proportion.” (Churchill, Closing the Ring, p. 212.) Therefore, he again appealed for aid (message number 441), asserting that “ignoring of the whole position in the Eastern Mediterranean would constitute a cardinal error in strategy.” There were already more British and American divisions in Italy than had been thought possible at the Quebec Conference. Moreover, he insisted, the Germans were withdrawing northward and Rome would be occupied in a few weeks; “it is certain that we shall not come in contact with the main German forces at the top of the leg of Italy till December, or even later, and we certainly have control of the rate of advance.” There was plenty of time to withdraw a division from Italy for the Rhodes operation and then restore it to the Italian campaign before Allied forces reached the main German fortified line. He proposed that he and the British Chiefs of Staff meet at Eisenhower’s headquarters with Marshall on October 10. (Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, 2:502-3.)
2. Nearly all of Marshall’s draft was used, albeit rearranged, in the final, longer version sent on October 8. (Ibid., pp. 505-6.) Churchill later wrote that “Mr. Roosevelt’s reply quenched my last hopes.” On October 9, the Allies learned that Hitler had decided to reinforce his army in Italy and to make a stand south of Rome. Consequently, any significant force reductions in Italy were out of the question. In his memoirs of the war, Churchill observed that he “remained—and remain—in my heart unconvinced that the capture of Rhodes could not have been fitted in. Nevertheless, with one of the sharpest pangs I suffered in the war I submitted.” (Churchill, Closing the Ring, pp. 215, 217, 218.)
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. 147-149.