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Memorandum for the Secretary of War1
April 16, 1941 Washington, D.C.
The discussion with the President was of a general nature. Convoys were not referred to.2
He had us analyze the Eastern Mediterranean situation, the possible re-locations of the British ground forces from that area, and the probable field of operation for the Eastern Mediterranean fleet after withdrawal. He discussed the importance of the West Coast of Africa—Dakar in particular, at considerable length.
He directed that we re-examine the cargoes now about to be shipped for Greece and Yugoslavia to see what portion might be withheld and what portion might be of service to General Wavell.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. This memorandum was dictated but not read or signed by the chief of staff. A member of the staff carried it to Stimson’s house on the afternoon of April 16.
2. Lieutenant General Stanley D. Embick accompanied Marshall to the White House on the afternoon of April 16, 1941. According to the chief of staff, Harry Hopkins had arranged the meeting in the hope that the president could grasp the fundamental strategic problems facing the nation after conversing with senior military advisers. Therefore Embick was ordered to come to Washington, D.C., by airplane that morning. Hopkins, unaware of the progress made by the American-British Conversations in defining strategic goals (see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-363 [2: 409-10]), had thought a decision regarding immediate military action might have to be made soon. The meeting, which included senior naval strategists, had been prompted by the navy’s desire to establish a neutrality patrol in the western Atlantic. On the morning of April 16, Secretary of War Stimson, thinking along the same lines, requested the War Plans Division to prepare detailed plans for an expeditionary force—possibly to Greenland or Dakar. (Paul M. Robinett Notes of a Conference in the Office of the Chief of Staff, 11:25 A.M., April 16, 1941, NA/RG 165 [OCS, Chief of Staff Conferences File]; Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 33: 162-64, 166].)
Before meeting with the president, Marshall, Embick, and several staff officers discussed a W.P.D. memorandum, drafted by Colonel Jonathan W. Anderson (U.S.N.A., 1911), recommending immediate war status for the United States. The planners believed a declaration of war would invigorate the nation’s mobilization effort, support the Churchill government, and secure the Western Hemisphere. They suggested the occupation of Iceland and other Atlantic islands. Embick rejected the notion that the situation was critical; he also did not regard the Churchill government as essential to Britain’s survival. (Robinett conference notes, 11:25 A.M., April 16, 1941, NA/RG 165, [OCS, Chief of Staff Conferences File]; Anderson’s Memorandum for Chief of Staff, April 16, 1941, is discussed in Mark S. Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1950], pp. 387-91.)
3. Germany had attacked Yugoslavia and Greece on April 6, 1941. A small British expeditionary force aided the Greeks until its evacuation to the island of Crete on April 24. On March 11, the president had authorized lend-lease aid to Greece, which requested pursuit aircraft and munitions for mountain fighting. Yugoslavia had requested similar aid on April 6. With the occupation of both nations, the United States diverted this assistance to General Archibald P. Wavell, British commander in the Middle East, who faced a German encirclement of British-held Tobruk, a Libyan port city, and a German advance into Egypt. (Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Lend-Lease: Weapon for Victory [New York: Macmillan Company, 1944], pp. 89-93.)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 477-478.