2-378 Memorandum for General Gerow, February 26, 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 26, 1941

Memorandum for General Gerow

February 26, 1941 Washington, D.C.


At 10:15 this morning the President held a meeting at which were present the Secretaries of State, War and Navy (Mr. Forrestal) Admiral Stark and myself.

The President reviewed the points covered in the previous meeting with relation to our attitude in the Far East. He referred to the various moves to be made in the game, first to the direction for the withdrawal of American citizens from China and Japan, and commented on the impression that had been made on the Japanese. He referred to the excellent results which had followed from the attitude he and Mr. Hull had taken in their meeting with Nomura. He then interpolated the comment that Mr. Churchill, I believe he said, had informed him that the tension in the Far East had been somewhat removed and there appeared to be no immediate prospect of Japanese overt action in Malaysia. Also that Mr. Churchill felt we should nevertheless continue, both Great Britain and the United States, in our pressures on the situation in the Far East in order to maintain the present Japanese attitude.1

At this point Mr. Hull discussed a possible lack of a clear understanding between what had occurred in conversations between the British Foreign Office and the Japanese. He felt it was essential that we learn from the British just what the present understanding of their relations with the Japanese Government were, in order that we avoid a confusion in planning.2

The President then re-opened the question of a “Training Cruise” by several cruisers, with some destroyers, by one of three routes to Davao in the southern Philippines. He discussed the relative advantages of the several routes, and mentioned with relation to the southernmost route the advantages of making a call at Port Darwin in northern Australia. Mr. Hull thought it might be inadvisable in [to] make such a call because it would be, in effect, a challenge to the Japanese.

The President discussed the question of this cruise with Admiral Stark, who reiterated his belief that it was not advisable to disperse the Fleet, and also that he did not think it would have an appreciable effect on the Japanese staff.3 The President replied that this was not a Naval or Military matter now, but a question of state policy. He remarked that he might be agreeable to the number of cruisers being reduced from four to two and the number of destroyers from six to four. Finally he directed that the Secretaries of War and Navy and Admiral Stark and myself look into the matter and propose to him just exactly what should be done.

The President next discussed the report he had received from Mr. Hopkins relative to British and German Air strength. He said the British data showed a ratio of about four to three in favor of Germany instead of the four to one rating from our G-2. He added that Mr. Hopkins had stated that the British considered there had been a loss by the Germans in the air or in accidents in landings, etc. of 6,000 planes, whereas the British had similarly lost only about 3,000. He discussed the possibility that the Germans might build up air and some land power in Tripoli, and questioned me as to the whereabouts of the Army of the Nile.

The President commented on a letter he had received from Ambassador Phillips in Italy to the effect that there was a decided change in the Italian state of mind;4 that Mussolini was openly referred to with disapproval and that his actions had not been those of a normal man, particularly in dispersing his Cabinet officers to troop commands, even where an individual was ill and awaiting an operation. Mr. Hull confirmed this from letters he had received, adding that Mr. Phillips had reported that the Germans had skillfully sifted in to most of the control positions in the Italian Government.

After the meeting, Mr. Stimson, Admiral Stark and I met in the Secretary of War’s office and discussed the question of a “Training Cruise”. Mr. Stimson felt that the principal advantage, possibly the only advantage, would be the pause at Port Darwin in Australia, which was opposed by Mr. Hull. He thought it possible that the stop at Davao, which is a Japanese Colony, might stir up some excitement.5 Incidentally, the President stated that he thought the squadron probably should not call at Manila. Mr. Stimson said he would talk to Mr. Hull over the `phone and see if he could get a withdrawal of his opposition to an Australian stop, in case such a cruise is made.6

One more matter was taken up at the conference with the President, which I omitted to refer to in its proper place. During the discussion of the possible Japanese reaction to the “training cruise” I suggested the possible desirability of our following a more active course in the Philippines in the way of military preparation which would be impressive to the Japanese military authorities. I suggested as possible moves the transfer of a few antiaircraft guns from Corregidor for the protection of the Cavite anchorage, the work being started immediately on the expansion of air fields—assuming the money would be made available without waiting for Congressional action, and the immediate creation (something we were already considering) of some squadrons of planes with Filipino pilots, the planes would be those released from the squadrons due to the arrival of the Swedish and Siamese planes.7 The President thought this would be taken merely as a gesture to protect the City, and I commented on the fact that it related purely to the protection of an anchorage. Mr. Stimson suggested that if we started work on some fields in the southern Philippines near Davao, for example, it might be more impressive. When we were leaving the President suggested the possible desirability of going ahead with the air field phase of the program.

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Army Staff (RG 319), Records of the Operations Division (OPD), Executive File 4, Item 11, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. The president informed Ambassador Nomura that United States public opinion overwhelmingly opposed Japanese expansion in the Far East. In a dramatic warning, Roosevelt claimed that he could not restrain popular indignation much longer. Japan, he emphasized, had to realize that their actions brought civilization to the brink of war. (Adolf A. Berle recounts Roosevelt’s description of the meeting in Navigating the Rapids, 1918-1971: From the Papers of Adolf A. Berle, ed. Beatrice Bishop Berle and Travis Beal Jacobs [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973], pp. 359-60.) On February 20, 1941, Churchill had written to Roosevelt: “If Japanese attack which seemed imminent is now postponed, this is largely due to fear of United States. The more these fears can be played upon the better.(Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, ed. Warren F. Kimball, 3 vols. [Princeton: Prince ton University Press, 1984], 1: 137.)

2. British Ambassador Lord Halifax had noted the latest Japanese diplomatic initiatives in a letter to Secretary of State Hull on February 24, 1941. He wrote that after the British had expressed their concern over Japanese expansion, the Japanese quickly disavowed any military moves into Indochina. (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1941, 7 vols. [Washington: GPO, 1956-63], 4: 48.)

3. On Stark’s opposition to naval cruises as instruments of deterrence policy, see Stark to Kimmel, April 19, 1941, in Hearings before the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, (Washington: GPO, 1946), pt. 16, p. 2163.

4. William Phillips, a career diplomat, had been ambassador to Italy since 1936.

5. Davao was the chief port of Mindanao, second largest island in the Philippine archipelago. In 1941 two-thirds of the nearly thirty thousand Japanese nationals in the islands lived in or near Davao. (Louis Morton, The Fall of the Philippines, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1953], p. 6.)

6. In mid-March Roosevelt sent a naval division of four cruisers and a squadron of destroyers to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Tahiti as a demonstration of United States British Commonwealth solidarity. (New York Times, March 17, 1941, p. 3; see also the editorial on March 20, 1941, p. 20.)

7. In October 1940 Major General Arnold diverted aircraft scheduled for delivery to Thailand and Sweden to the Philippines. Two squadrons of P-35s arrived in the Philippines in late November, but these planes were no match for the latest Japanese models. Marshall told officials attending a February 25 meeting called to discuss aircraft reinforcements for the Pacific bases that even a single squadron of modern planes in the Philippine Department would give the Japanese some pause. Reinforcements for the Philippines were third in priority behind Hawaii and the Panama Canal, but Marshall approved the sending of a squadron each of P-40Bs and B-18s. (Notes on a conference in the Office of the Chief of Staff, February 25, 1941, NA/RG 165 [OCS, Chief of Staff Conferences File]; Arnold Memorandum for Assistant Chief of Staff, WPD, February 27, 1941, NA/RG 165 [OCS, Notes on Conferences- Decisions File]. See also Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, Plans and Early Operations: January 1939 to August 1942, a volume in The Army Air Forces in World War II [Chicago: University Press, 1948], pp. 176-77.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 430-433,

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