4-538 Memorandum for the President, October 4, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 4, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the President1

October 4, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]

Top Secret

Subject: Situation in China.

The situation in China has deteriorated to such an extent that it is extremely doubtful if any except the most drastic measures can even partially save the situation. The lack of adequate leadership, organization and direction of supply for the Chinese ground forces, has resulted in a failure to prevent the Japanese from over-running eastern China, and rapidly eliminating the airfields of the 14th Air Force.

It is our considered and unanimous view that only one individual at this time, General Stilwell, could possibly retrieve this situation, and that only to a limited degree. Any other American officer designated would require a period of months in which to make the necessary contacts and build up the power to act; meanwhile the situation would be deteriorating with increasing rapidity, and quite possibly to a complete collapse.

We have made great and positive sacrifices to increase the flow of supplies to China and to assist the Chinese forces, air and ground, in their war against the Japanese. This has been done at a heavy cost to our effort in other theaters, particularly in air transport planes. We have never been able to meet General MacArthur’s urgent requirements for air transport. General Wilson in Italy has not had the transport planes he needed. The situation in Holland has hung in the balance, the outcome dependent largely upon adequate support by air for the forces flown in to secure the Rhine crossings. In spite of these vital requirements in our most critical battle areas and which involve the lives of American soldiers, we have built up a line of communications to China by air from Burma which handles a larger tonnage than the old Burma Road.

The United States effort exerted in the China-Burma-India theater in support of China, if placed in other areas, would undoubtedly have expedited and shortened operations in those areas. General Stilwell has been literally the sole proponent in high command in the Far East, of aggressive ground action both in China and Burma. Should he be relieved, he must be returned to the United States. The loss of prestige, if we accede to the Generalissimo’s views, would destroy General Stilwell’s usefulness in Asia, not only in China, but in India where our dealings with the British are always extremely difficult, and his determination to force aggressive action in that theater has been bitterly resented.

As the sorties for the B-29 bombers are stepped up this month and next month, as is now planned, the injury to the Japanese will in all probability determine them to continue their drive to neutralize the Chengtu fields. The loss of airfields during the past month in eastern China has already been so serious, that the transport planes at the Kunming terminal of the Hump flight will undoubtedly soon be under frequent attack, to which they will be highly vulnerable. It was General Chennault’s original contention that with 7,000 tons over the Hump, he could successfully operate against the Japanese ground forces and protect his airfields. He has been receiving in excess of 13,000 tons per month during the past 3 months, but he has not been able to check the advance of the Japanese ground forces.

We therefore strongly recommend that you send the attached message to the Generalissimo in a final effort to save the situation.2

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

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. This document was to be signed by Admiral Leahy as chief of staff to the commander in chief. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were to meet with Roosevelt at 3:30 P.M., October 4.

2. The draft message was similar to the one attached to the previous document (see note 1, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-537 [4: 618]), but rather than relieving Stilwell, it suggested that he be relieved as Chiang’s chief of staff and from “connection with Lend-Lease matters,” but that he “be placed in direct command under you of the Chinese forces in Burma and of all Chinese ground forces in Yunnan Province, it being understood that adequate support in replacements and supplies be furnished these armies by you.” Removing Stilwell from the Burma campaign would bring results “far more serious than you apparently realize.” Chennault’s role would remain unchanged, but “at an early date” the president would designate some other officer “to assume supply responsibilities for the U.S. forces in China and who can serve as an advisor to you in similar matters for Chinese forces.” The president approved this draft on October 5. It is published in Foreign Relations, 1944, 6: 165-66. For further developments, see Draft of Message from the President to the Generalissimo, October 16, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-544 [4: 627-28].

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 619-620.

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