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Memorandum for the Deputy Chiefs of Staff
[Arnold, Bryden, Moore]
December 11, 1941 Washington, D.C.
Subject: Activation of Western Defense Command
and its designation as a Theatre of Operations.1
General McNair2 proposed the following language to accomplish the foregoing, which has been discussed with the Deputies and War Plans Division. I would like to have it issued this afternoon, but before doing so wish the wording to be carefully scrutinized:
“The activation of the Western Defense Command, including Alaska, is hereby confirmed. It is designated as a Theatre of Operations. The Fourth Army, Second Air Force, Fourth Air Force and Ninth Corps Area, including detached units, are assigned to this command. Lieutenant General John L. De Witt is designated as Commander.”
I wish a supplementary directive somewhat after the following form and covering the subjects indicated, as well as others that may be suggested, drafted this afternoon for the further instruction of General De Witt:
With reference to orders now issuing, activating the Western Defense Command, declaring it a theatre of operations and designating you the Commander, the following supplementary directions are transmitted for your guidance:
Air Forces: In order that the War Department may not be embarrassed in the air reenforcement of overseas garrisons, the heavy and medium bombardment groups now under your command will not be given permanent changes of station and will not be transferred to Alaska without the authority of the War Department.
It will be your policy to maintain the Air Corps Schools, depots and other similar installations in your area with as little disruption as possible as to personnel, materiel and other facilities.
You are advised that due to the critical emergency measures now being taken to create new Air units there will be frequent and embarrassing transfers of personnel and materiel directed from Washington. It is desired that you facilitate such transfers and endeavor to avoid time-consuming discussions with Washington as to their propriety. The Deputy Chief of Staff for Air and Chief of the Army Air Forces may find it necessary in some instances to communicate direct regarding the transfer of individuals and materiel. He in each instance will confirm this information with a formal notification to you as quickly as possible.
Ground Units and installations: Instructions similar to the foregoing will govern in the case of corps area ground installations. General depots, air schools and other establishments under War Department control will not be disturbed in their functions other than to meet a sudden critical emergency.
The War Department should be kept advised of contemplated or suddenly ordered movements of major troop units.
Administration: The foregoing arrangements involve the possibility of many complications in routine administration, and it is desired that you and your staff endeavor so far as possible to avoid such complications.
G. C. Marshall
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Office of the Chief of Staff (OCS), 14943-78, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
1. Marshall had told his deputies during a 10:00 A.M. meeting that he wished to be certain that there would be no confusion as to Lieutenant General De Witt’s authority to act in an emergency on the West Coast. (William T. Sexton Notes on Conference in the Records of the Office of the Chief of Staff (OCS), December 11, 1941, NA /RG 165 [OCS, Chief of Staff Conferences File].) A theater was a territorial area organized for combat purposes. Unity of command was easier to achieve in a theater than in the more decentralized defense commands, as its commander had greater authority. In addition, under army regulations the War Plans Division assumed specific supervisory duties in a theater. The Eastern Defense Command was similarly designated the Eastern Theater of Operations between December 24, 1941, and March 11, 1942, but the other two continental defense commands—Central and Southern—were never designated as theaters of operations. (Ray S. Cline, Washington Command Post: The Operations Division, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1951], p. 381.)
2. Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair was chief of the army’s General Headquarters.
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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 13-15.