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Memorandum for the President
April 17, 1945 [Washington, D.C.]
Attached is one of the daily TOP SECRET summaries of extremely secret information. It is based on a purely British source, which incidentally involves some 30,000 people, and we have bound ourselves to confine its circulation to a specific and very limited number of people.1 Therefore I request that this be “For Your Eye Only”.
I am sending this particular sample to you because it contains authentic information regarding two very important matters.
First, Hitler’s instructions for the defense of the “Fortress Zone” of Holland. As the British Army approaches this Zone we are confronted with the probability, almost the certainty, that the Germans will flood with salt water a large area of occupied Holland.2 It would then be about 10 years before this land could be put again into cultivation. It is also probable that great destruction will be carried out not only in the port areas but in most of the communities as well. The situation of these people at the present time is tragic, as they have been starved to the point that some of them are going blind.3
The second item I wish to call to your attention is the report of the German commander in Italy, Von Vietinghoff, concerning the situation there.4 We have been in process for some days of the progressive launching of a general assault; the initial attacks were by the division on the west coast heading north towards Spezia and at the same time attacks eastward by the French divisions in the Alps on the western borderline of Italy. Next the British Eighth Army on the right of General [Mark W.] Clark’s front (he being in command of the whole) and now commencing yesterday the main attack by our troops in the center directly towards Bologna or to the west of that city.
With the Russians launching a general offensive along their central front, as well as continuing their thrust west and northwest from Vienna, with the attack of Clark’s two Armies along the Italian front, and considering the statements made by Von Vietinghoff in this secret document, you can see that we have the possibility of sudden and violent changes in the situation on the European continent.
The secret matter on the situation in the Ruhr pocket, reported on by General Model (former commander of the central group of western Armies) is interesting, but merely reflects the situation which we had anticipated.5
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. Cryptographers working at Bletchley Park deciphered German signals enciphered on the Enigma and other cipher machines. ULTRA denoted the highly secret intelligence derived from the decryption of intercepted German signal messages as well as the Japanese armed forces messages. For recollections of the intelligence work performed at Bletchley Park and the plan for its protection and dissemination, see F. W. Winterbotham, The Ultra Secret (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1974), pp. 17-25. According to Ronald Lewin, “The name Ultra, which came to cover loosely both the intelligence-system and the intelligence itself, was evolved by Winterbotham after discussion with the Directors of Intelligence of all three services. Beyond Secret, or Most Secret, or even Top Secret lay Ultra Secret. Ultra seemed simpler.” (Ronald Lewin, Ultra Goes to War: The First Account of World War II’s Greatest Secret Based on Official Documents [New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1978], pp. 63-64.)
2. The Allies decrypted a German message of April 13 that ordered “ruthless use of flooding for the defence of Fortress Holland.” (F. H. Hinsley et al., British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, volume 3, part 2, a volume in History of the Second World War [London: HMSO, 1988], pp. 725-27. The editors were unable to locate the attachment sent to President Truman.)
3. An Allied delegation met with the Germans on April 30 and worked out an arrangement by which relief would be provided to the Dutch citizens. Allied planes began dropping food on May 1. Arrangements were made to open one road into the occupied zone for Allied supply trucks and to allow food ships at Rotterdam. (Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1954], pp. 457-59.)
4. General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, commander of Army Group C, reported on April 14 that the Allies had “launched an all-out offensive with a superiority in material which was on a scale not hitherto experienced and which could not be counterbalanced” by his troops. (Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War, vol. 3, pt. 2, p. 704. SUNSET 899 [April 16, 1945] and SUNSET 900 [April 17, 1945], NA/RG 457, Entry 9026.)
5. Field Marshal Walther Model reported on April 13 that the situation was “extremely critical,” the “northern part of industrial zone had been lost” and the area south of the Ruhr “could be held only for limited time.” Short on arms, ammunition, and fuel, Army Group B would “fight to last cartridge in order to tie down as long as possible strong elements of American Army facing it.” (SUNSET 899, April 16, 1945, NA/RG 457, Entry 9026.)
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. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 147-149.