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Memorandum for the President
January 9, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]
Subject: North Africa
The accompanying report, proposing an operation against North Africa, by occupying the Madeira Islands and Tangier, and landing a large force at Casablanca, has been given careful consideration.1
This operation, if successful, would have important and far-reaching results. Control of North Africa would protect the South Atlantic sea lanes and air routes, and would prevent the extension of Axis influence to the West and South. However, the operations envisaged have important disadvantages.
A landing in the Madeiras will undoubtedly be opposed by the Spanish. Also it would sacrifice the important element of surprise in a landing on the mainland. If the Madeiras are occupied, the use of these islands as a base for operations against the mainland will be subject to interruption since they are within easy bombing range of Spanish and Axis aviation based on the Canaries and on the mainland.
Tangier is now occupied by the Spanish and a landing there would probably be opposed. For the defense of Tangier, in addition to the local Spanish garrison, Franco has about 150,000 troops in Spanish Morocco which can be used to reinforce the initial defensive troops.2 Furthermore, Tangier is highly vulnerable to air attack from bases on the Iberian Peninsula as well as in North Africa.
The occupation of Tangier would probably precipitate the embroiling of the large Spanish forces in this area. The delay caused the Allies by Spanish resistance would prevent surprise and would enable the Axis to support the Spanish.
The assistance to be expected from the natives of North Africa and the opportunist French mentioned in the attached paper is, of course, problematical. The dominating factor will be fear of the Germans. Self-preservation undoubtedly will be the controlling motive. For planning purposes, it must be assumed that both French and natives will adopt the line of action which involves the least danger to themselves.
The only plan for the occupation of North Africa which is considered feasible is one which contemplates a French invitation for a direct occupation of French Morocco, with a reasonable assurance that the troops in Spanish Morocco would not cooperate with the Axis powers in opposing our occupation of French Morocco. This plan, now being studied, is the only one within the joint capabilities of the United States and the British in the near future.3
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. The report referred to has not been identified. It was sent to the War Department for comment by President Roosevelt about January 5 and was returned with the document printed here. The Joint Planning Committee of the United States and British Chiefs of Staff had assigned to Britain the proposed occupation (by invitation) of the Atlantic islands belonging to Portugal and Spain. See Foreign Relations, Conferences at Washington and Casablanca, pp. 246-47.
2. Francisco Franco was Spain’s chief of state, prime minister, armed forces commander in chief, and head of its only political party, the Falange.
3. At the January 4 plenary session “it was agreed that the British plans for the occupation of Northwestern Africa would be known as GYMNAST; British plans with American participation would be known as SUPER-GYMNAST.” (Ibid., p. 163.) The terms continued to be used somewhat interchangeably. On January 14 it was agreed that the North African operation could not be initiated prior to May 25, and probably later, due to shipping shortages. (Ibid., pp. 262-63.) Troop movements to Iceland, Northern Ireland, and the South Pacific had higher priority.
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. 50-51.