2-512 Memorandum for the Assistant Secretary for Air, July 18, 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: July 18, 1941

Memorandum for the Assistant Secretary for Air1

July 18, 1941 Washington, D.C.


My dear Mr. Lovett:

Last night Mr. Sumner Welles telephoned me that he had learned that the OPM and other related officials had turned down the proposition of furnishing planes to Russia. I believe he was referring to the effort made to have the British release certain planes from United States production. He stated that the President was deeply concerned over this and had “ordered” that we make a token release to Russia of P-40s and light bombers, and that we make an effort to have the British do likewise.

You are familiar with the situation regarding both of these types of planes so far as pertains to our Army. At the present time I am under four serious pressures regarding their allocation.

The great and increasing importance of several squadrons of pursuit planes and of light bombers in the Philippines to protect that Fleet base and to threaten the Japanese line of communications.

The urgent necessity of having efficient squadrons of pursuit planes and light bombers working with the ground troops in the current maneuvers. This is vitally important so far as the development of ground air team work is concerned, but it is possibly of even more pressing importance to meet the growing public pressure and criticism on this subject.

The necessity of having immediately available squadrons of pursuit and light bombers for station in Natal. Concerned with the foregoing and reflecting the State Department’s urgent demands, the allocation of twelve light bombers to Brazil.

The urgings of Mr. Lauchlin Currie for us to release planes of these types to the Chinese.2

Now we have this directive from the Commander-in-Chief to make a token release, which means at least a squadron in each case to Russia. I feel that this should be discussed with the President personally in order that he may have a complete picture of our present dilemma in this matter. Are we to risk the Philippine situation or the Brazilian situation, or the clamor of the press in this country or the purely military requirements of training our field forces in this country?3

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Office of the Secretary of War (RG 107), Secretary of War Safe, Russia, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. Robert A. Lovett, a pilot in the Naval Air Service from 1917 to 1918, had been assistant secretary of war for air since April 1941. He had served as special assistant to the secretary of war from December 1940 to April 1941.

2. On July 23, 1941, President Roosevelt approved a Joint Board recommendation to “equip, man, and maintain” a five hundred-plane Chinese Air Force. (Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, Stilwell’s Mission to China, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1953], p. 23.) Currie, administrative assistant to the president, had submitted the aircraft program for China in late May. In a letter to Roosevelt, Acting Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox stated: “The accomplishment of the Joint Board’s proposals to furnish aircraft equipment to China in accordance with Mr. Currie’s Short Term Requirements for China, requires the collaboration of Great Britain in diversions of allocations already made to them; however, it is our belief that the suggested diversions present no insurmountable difficulty nor occasion any great handicap.” (Patterson and Knox to The President, July 18, 1941, NA/RG 319 [OPD, Joint Board 355, Serial 691].)

3. Lovett met with Sumner Welles on July 18 and explained that a token delivery of planes, particularly P-40s, would be “dangerous and undesirable” because the P-40s required expert service and maintenance, could not readily be flown to Russia via Alaska, and required guns and ammunition which were in an acute shortage. “It is our feeling that a `token force’ of equipment of this character might be of very doubtful benefit to the Russians since, if flight delivered, it would undoubtedly arrive in bad condition and in quantities so small as to have an effect exactly the reverse of what would be hoped for. We suggest that the Russians might reasonably wonder why the greatest industrial country in the world could only deliver a mere handful of planes.” He reminded Welles that British demands accounted for over 50 percent of July aircraft production and that China had also requested aircraft. (Lovett Memorandum for the Secretary of War, July 21, 1941, NA/RG 107 [SW Safe, Russia].) See Memorandum for General Arnold, July 16, 1941, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-510 [2: 567-68].

Recommended Citation: ThePapers 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. 569-570.

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