3-179 Memorandum for the President, May 6, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: May 6, 1942

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the President

May 6, 1942 Washington, D.C.


Subject: The Pacific Theatre versus “Bolero.”1

1. The following issues have arisen involving conflicts between the requirements for the “Bolero” operation on the one hand and the Pacific theatre on the other:

a. Your directive of May 1st regarding the increase of combat planes to Australia to a total of 1,000 and the ground troops to a total of 100,000.2

b. A memorandum from Cominch, Admiral King, on May 4th stating a requirement of the following additional aircraft for the South Pacific theatre: 35 heavy and 83 medium bombers and 55 pursuit planes (i.e. a heavy group, a medium group plus 2 squadrons and one pursuit group (less 1 squadron). A 25 per cent increase in these figures is necessarily involved as a reserve.)

Another issue has been raised by a British request of May 4th for additional pursuit planes for the Middle East to enable them to retain an equivalent number of British planes in the United Kingdom.

2. With reference to your directive referred to in sub-paragraph a. above, I submitted a preliminary memorandum to you on May 4th, (copy attached) recommending against a further diversion of planes and shipping (for ground troops) to the Australian theatre. Admiral King, I believe, is in agreement with this view.

3. With reference to your directive referred to in sub-paragraph a. above Admiral King’s memorandum is attached hereto. (See also the attached chart.) In brief, he states that the Pacific theatre is an area for which the United States bears full strategic responsibility; that the Japanese are free to choose any new line of action they see fit, including an attack in force on Australia, on the Australia-Hawaii line of communication, on Hawaii, or on Alaska; and that the Japanese are now massing strong land, sea, and air forces in the Mandate Area. Admiral King further states: “The basic strategic plan on which we are now operating is to hold in the Pacific.” He is not convinced that the forces now there or allocated to that theatre are sufficient to hold against a determined attack by the Japanese. He states: “The mounting of BOLERO must not be permitted to interfere with our vital needs in the Pacific.” Admiral King calls attention to the disastrous consequences which would result if we are unable to hold the present position in the Pacific; to the results of being “spread out too thin” in the Far East and Burma; and states that we must not commit the same error in the Pacific Ocean Areas. He further states: “Important as the mounting of BOLERO may be, the Pacific problem is no less so, and is certainly the more urgent—it must be faced now. * * * “We must not permit diversion of our forces to any proposed operation in any other theatre to the extent that we find ourselves unable to fulfill our obligation to implement our basic strategic plan in the Pacific theatre, which is to hold what we have against any attack that the Japanese are capable of launching against us.”

4. The Army view follows. While I agree that we must hold in the Pacific, I do not concur that this is our “basic strategic plan.” My view, and I understood it to be your decision prior to my visit to England, was that our major effort would be to concentrate immediately for offensive action against Germany from the British Islands. The most pressing need, in the opinion of the Army General Staff, is to sustain Russia as an active, effective participant in the war. That issue will probably be decided this summer or fall. Every possible effort, we think, must be made to draw off German forces from the Russian front. We believe that this may be done by combined British and American operations in Western Europe. Hence, the urgency of “Bolero.” Only by a complete and whole-hearted acceptance by all concerned, British and American, and by the exertion of every practicable effort on the part of all, can “Bolero” have any chance of success. The increases in U.S. Army Air Force suggested for Australia and the South Pacific Islands, if executed this summer, would have the effect of postponing, by more than two months, the initiation of an American air offensive in Western Europe. The increase of U.S. ground forces to Australia would, in effect, eliminate the U.S. from participation in the most difficult and vital phase of “Bolero,” the landing operation.

5. If the “Bolero” project is not to be our primary consideration, I would recommend its complete abandonment. We must remember that this operation for 1942 depends primarily upon British forces and not our own. They have far more at stake than do we and are accepting very grave hazards to which our own risks are not comparable. They have accepted the “Bolero” project with a firm understanding that it would be the primary objective of the United States. If such is not to be the case, the British should be formally notified that the recent London agreement must be canceled.

6. As far as Australia and the South Pacific area are concerned, it is impossible to make every point in the island chain impregnable to “any attack the Japanese are capable of launching.” The enemy still retains the initiative and, because of his freedom of movement, is able to concentrate the bulk of his strength at any point of his own choosing. Moreover, our forces in the island garrisons throughout that region have no positive effect on the enemy, unless he chooses to attack them, except for heavy and medium bombers. Additional forces allotted there must come from those set up for “Bolero.” All over the world we are striving now to meet our firm commitments in air equipment. Beyond this, new and urgent requests are constantly received for our air forces for the Middle East, India and Burma, and for additional strength in the British Isles. There is no reserve to draw on. The initial air forces set up for “Bolero” are still undergoing organization and training.

7. The specific point at issue between the Army and Navy is the allocation of approximately 215 Army combat planes to the South Pacific. Equally critical is the increase required to raise our forces in Australia to a strength in the air of 1,000 planes and on the ground to a total of 100,000 men. Both these questions are really only included parts of the broader one of whether or not we are now to decide that no further commitments will be made in U.S. air and ground forces where such commitments will reduce the strength of our concentration in England or postpone the time when we can undertake active operations there. I have not mentioned the hazard we are accepting in the Alaskan-Aleutian theatre now under threat.

8. I present this question to you as Commander-in-Chief, and request that you discuss the matter with Admiral King, General Arnold and me, and give us a formal directive for our future guidance.3

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers, President’s Secretary’s File, Sage, Marshall, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. On April 2 Roosevelt had requested an evaluation of South Pacific island defenses, an action that generated a month-long debate over the proper division of limited resources between the Pacific Ocean Area and the buildup in Britain for a cross-Chanel invasion of Europe. The navy wanted to secure—not just defend—the Hawaii-Australia line with bombers based across the Pacific; in contrast the army was willing to accept the risk of defending that line with fewer bombers at key bases in order to proceed with BOLERO planning. Simultaneously, the Australians and MacArthur pressed Roosevelt for a larger commitment to the Pacific; in late April MacArthur advised Prime Minister Curtin to request that two British divisions be diverted from India to Australia. Churchill, who believed that India was in greater danger than Australia, rejected the request. After a month of disagreement, the strategic debate deadlocked with King’s May 4 objection to War Department views. While he accepted the primacy of BOLERO, King—anticipating a new Japanese offensive—believed that the Pacific theater had to be secured first by an effective reinforcement of Allied defenses. (King Memorandum to Joint U.S. Chiefs of Staff, May 4, 1942, FDRL/F. D. Roosevelt Papers [PSF, Safe, Marshall].)

2. In an April 29 meeting of the Pacific War Council, Roosevelt directed his naval aide to inform the United States chiefs of staff that the president wanted to reinforce Australia to those force levels. Eisenhower wrote a response, signed by Marshall, warning the president that any reinforcement of Australia would divert troops and materiel from a possible September invasion of Europe. Such a reduction would effectively cancel any 1942 ground operations in Europe. (Papers of DDE, 1: 280-81; Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942, p. 217.)

3. Roosevelt replied that he had only requested—not directed—the chiefs of staff to consider the reinforcement of Australia. In words that temporarily clarified the strategic defensive concept, the president instructed Marshall to send aircraft to the Pacific “to maintain the present objective there.” Most significantly for army planners, the commander in chief declared that “I do not want ‘Bolero’ slowed down.” (Roosevelt Memorandum for General George Marshall, May 6, 1942, FDRL/ F. D. Roosevelt Papers [PSF, Departmental (War)].)

On May 6 Roosevelt sent to MacArthur a justification of BOLERO and a request for the general’s assessment of the situation. In reply on May 8, MacArthur objected to the European strategy, estimated that the Japanese would push southward to secure their Pacific perimeter, and presented Marshall with a list of needed reinforcements. (Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942, pp. 211-16.)

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. 183-186.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 3-179

Rights: Public Information