3-047 Memorandum for the Secretary of War, January 12, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 12, 1942

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the Secretary of War

January 12, 1942 Washington, D.C.


Subject: Assignment of General Drum to Chinese Theater.1

Before his departure for New York on Thursday, General Drum discussed with me his mission. In effect, he made the following statement of the case:

He felt that the question of the development of strength in the Chinese theater was not being approached in a sufficiently broad manner; that the U. S. effort should be organized on a larger basis involving the development of a U. S. Service of Supply from India, through Burma, sufficient to deliver a greatly increased tonnage into the Chinese theater and sufficient to provide for sizable U. S. ground as well as air troops.2 He stated that the proposal drafted by the War Plans Division in harmony with the Naval War Plans Division for presentation to the Joint Planning Committees of the Chiefs of Staff conference, would not provide him with sufficient authority in relation to matters in Burma. He took specific exception to paragraph 3 a 2 of that document, stating that he should not be put in a position, in the event of operations in Burma, of being subordinate to General Wavell.3

In a more personal way General Drum stated, that he felt that this assignment virtually closed his career so far as opportunity was concerned; that he was greatly surprised by the assignment as he had had no intimation of it, and that he had felt that he was possibly being shelved.4 He stated that he felt as one of only three officers on active duty who were familiar with large operations in the first World War (Drum, De Witt, and I, considering MacArthur as being isolated), the future service he could render was of too great importance to make it advisable to send him out of the country in the matter proposed.

I discussed the vital importance of the action proposed for the Chinese theater, the difficulties of adjustment with the British regarding matters in Burma—having in mind our recent agreements for unity of command in that region—the limitations of tonnage as applied to the various major projects now under way, and the fact that the principal issues he raised regarding Burma, the Port of Rangoon and the Burma Road, were the very matters we hoped could be satisfactorily adjusted by him personally on the ground.

I explained to General Drum what had led to the proposal of his name by you to me. I stated that there has been no thought whatsoever of “shelving” him; that we regarded the task being given him as of great importance and urgency. I commented on the fact that in this great crisis the services of everyone would have to be given without regard to personal ambitions; that the situation was too grave to introduce such factors. I told him I proposed recommending to the Secretary of War that he be not sent to China. I now submit that recommendation for your consideration.5

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. Lieutenant General Hugh A. Drum was commanding general of the First Army. He had been a serious contender for the post of army chief of staff in 1939, and in World War I he had been Marshall’s superior during the final three months. He arrived in Washington at Marshall’s behest on January 2 assuming that as the army’s senior line officer he was to be given an important command. (Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Mission to China, p. 63.)

2. When Drum began interviewing War Department officials concerning his China mission, he discovered that Secretary Stimson and Assistant Secretary John J. McCloy presumed that China would constitute an important theater of operations for United States forces, but the military leaders—Marshall, Arnold, and Eisenhower—believed that U.S. involvement would be limited to a higher-powered military mission, some air support, and lend-lease materiel. On January 5 Drum submitted a memorandum to Stimson and Marshall outlining his own position regarding China, proposing that that theater become a major focus of U.S. military efforts. (Ibid., pp. 64-66. See Papers of DDE, 1: 37-38.)

3. On January 5 Drum returned to his New York headquarters to prepare for his China assignment, but he hurriedly returned to Washington the next day when he discovered that his mission instructions, which he believed he should at least help to prepare, were to be discussed with the British. In Washington he dictated memorandums clarifying and expanding his ideas, and he met with Stimson and twice with Marshall. Meanwhile, Eisenhower gave him a copy of the War Plans Division’s paper “Immediate Assistance to China,” which reiterated the limited role the United States expected to play in the China theater. (Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Mission to China, pp. 67-70; Papers of DDE, 1: 42-44.)

This document was approved by the meeting of the United States and British chiefs of staff on January 10. Paragraph 3.a.(2), to which Drum specifically objected, stated that the “officer of high rank” was, “under the Generalissimo, to command all United States forces in China, and such Chinese forces as may be assigned. Should it be necessary for any of these forces to engage in joint operations in Burma, they will come under the command of the Supreme Commander of the ABDA Area, who will issue the necessary directions for the cooperation of the United States Representative’s forces with the forces under the British Commanders in Burma.” The officer would also control all U.S. military aid affairs for China, represent the U.S. government on any international war councils in China, and control and maintain the China portion of the Burma Road. (Foreign Relations, Conferences at Washington and Casablanca, p. 320.)

4. Following a January 9 interview with Marshall in which they discussed what the chief of staff termed Drum’s “lack of enthusiasm” for the China mission, Drum summarized his position in a memorandum. After restating his views, he concluded: “With my experience I could be more valuable to the country and better fulfill my trust, in connection with a mission involving larger responsibilities than those contemplated by the Memorandum of the General Staff. These might well result in my being shut off in central China with relatively unimportant duties to perform. Once located and involved in China in accordance with the General Staff’s conception, I would not be available to our nation for its real major effort in this war. I would be lost by being involved in the heart of China in a minor effort of little decisive consequence as conceived by the General Staff. My conscience, loyalty and a recognition of the crisis ahead of our nation make it difficult for me to acquiesce in any step which fails to utilize my experience in the best interest of the nation which I believe should relate to a more decisive undertaking than that planned by the General Staff for China.” (Drum Memorandum for the Secretary of War and Chief of Staff, January 10, 1942, NA/RG 165 [WPD, 4389-711.)

5. Drum continued to command the First Army and the Eastern Defense Command until his retirement on September 30, 1943.

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. 57-59.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 3-047

Rights: Public Information