4-220 Memorandum for Field Marshal Sir John Dill, January 29, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 29, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for Field Marshal Sir John Dill

January 29, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]


I am sending you a copy of a memorandum I have just sent to the President which is self-explanatory.1

I am also attaching a message that has just come in from General Covell, an exceptionally able Engineer officer, who took Wheeler’s place in North Burma. For your information Covell is a man of proven record as an Engineer in civil projects and as a military Engineer. He served under me personally in the Meuse-Argonne where he later commanded an Engineer Regiment in our Second Division which forced a crossing of the Meuse on the night of November 11, 1918. I mention the foregoing to give you some idea of the importance I attach to his message.2

Your people will explain to you the dilemma we have reached in our operations over the Hump which were just beginning to give Chennault a chance to wreck Japanese shipping in the China Sea and the ports of Hongkong, Hanoi, Canton, etc. As the Japanese First Air Force is shown to be moving into China it is all the more important that Chennault be able to function his planes.3

I am having a message prepared for the President which I hope he will send to the Prime Minister in order that everything possible may be done to vitalize the effort to build up communications out of Calcutta. Action has already been taken by the Combined Chiefs of Staff to obtain from Mountbatten his reaction to the proposition to take military control of portions of the railroad.4

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. Marshall’s memorandum quoted his January 17 radio message to Stilwell asking for a brief combat history of the Chinese Ledo Road operations and for Stilwell’s “considered opinion of the combat value of these Chinese troops.” Marshall then quoted Stilwell’s January 28 reply praising the troops’ actions in dense jungle against the well-entrenched Japanese Eighteenth Division. “The men are keen and fearless. Command officers lead when in and they attack with dash. Numerous instances of men who deserve DSC [Distinguished Service Cross]. They now know they can lick the Japs and have their tails up.” (Marshall Memorandum for the President, January 29, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

2. Major General William E. R. Covell (U.S.M.A., 1915) had been commanding general of Services of Supply in the China-Burma-India theater since November 1943. On January 28 Covell informed Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell of his concern at the failure of British personnel to move the necessary materiel, especially gasoline, from the port of Calcutta over the Assam line of communications to the airfields, for eventual transport of supplies over the Hump into China. “Receipt, storage and transportation of oil in India up to airfields is solely a British responsibility,” wrote Covell. “Present situation due entirely to operational deficiencies amounting to almost complete breakdown of British civilian operated Assam line of communications.” Covell urged the complete militarization of the Indian railway and river transport systems by Allied military authorities. (Covell to Somervell, Radio No. GW-121, January 28, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

3. Major General Claire L. Chennault was commanding general of the Fourteenth U.S. Air Force in China. Chennault reported that “despite increasingly bad weather we struck 78,000 tons of enemy shipping in January of 1944 and certainly sank 56,900 tons.”(Way of a Fighter: The Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault, ed. Robert Hotz [New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1949], p. 266.)

4. On January 28 the Combined Chiefs of Staff had discussed the serious effect of the gasoline shortage in Assam on the air lift to China. General Henry H. Arnold emphasized the need for drastic action and noted that the bottleneck was between Calcutta and Assam. (Supplementary Minutes of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Meeting, January 28, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, CCS Minutes].) On January 29 Marshall submitted to President Roosevelt a proposed message for Prime Minister Churchill—a draft proposed message written by Somervell which Marshall had edited. “Operations of the Air Transport line from India into China and operations in Burma have, from the outset, been embarrassed by a lack of vigorous management of the lines of communication. Efforts on the part of the civilian management for improvement have produced disappointing results which are now directly and adversely affecting the support of U.S. air forces in China at a critical moment. . . I feel that only your personal intervention will secure the prompt adoption of those forceful measures which are essential to success in handling the port of Calcutta, railway and barge lines leading from that port into Assam. I urge that all of the lines of communication, from Calcutta inclusive, into Assam be placed at once under full military control. . . . The United States stands ready to assist in furnishing expert personnel should you desire this.” The president sent Marshall’s version, adding the final sentence: “I am sure Mountbatten would agree that the situation is serious.” Churchill replied on January 30 that he was giving the problem his “immediate personal attention.” (Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, ed. Warren F. Kimball, 3 vols. [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984], 2:690, 694. Proposed message attached to Marshall [OPD] Memorandum for the President, January 29, 1944, and Colonel Charles K. Gailey Memorandum for General Handy, January 31, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

British and American military authorities in India agreed that military control of Calcutta’s port facilities and the Indian railway system would result in more efficient delivery of supplies to Allied efforts in China and Burma. The British viceroy in India, Field Marshal Lord Archibald Wavell, supported military control of these transportation systems and forced the compliance of civilian authorities on February 6, 1944. American army personnel eventually operated the port of Calcutta, and American railway troops took over the operation of India’s railway system along the Assam line of communications on March 1, 1944. (Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, pp. 259-73.)

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. 256-258.

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