4-382 Memorandum for the Secretary of War, May 16, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: May 16, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the Secretary of War

May 16, 1944 Washington, D.C.

Top Secret

Subject: Increase in the strength of the Army.

I have given much thought to your memorandum, “Our Military Reserves”,1 and in response to your suggestion submit my comments.

The desirability of bringing such overwhelming strength against the Germans that they will recognize the futility of fighting for a stalemate is evident. My hope is that this can be accomplished, and that Germany can be defeated this year by exploiting the following advantages which the Allied Nations now possess:

a. Our overwhelming air superiority. Decisive military, economic, and psychological results are within reach, and the air arm should be our most effective weapon in bringing home to the German people and the German army the futility of continued resistance.

b. The strength and efficiency of the Soviet armies. The ability of the U.S.S.R. to assemble great masses and to throw them ruthlessly against the enemy has been the principal cause of the Russian victories. Elimination of the Crimean front and the disaffection of Germany’s satellite neighbors will accentuate the Soviet numerical superiority. Additional experience and success will make the Russian armies more and more formidable. Recent conversations between [W. Averell] Harriman and Stalin confirm the belief that the Soviets will continue their present efforts until Germany is completely defeated.

c. The quality, rather than the quantity, of our ground force units. Our equipment, high standard of training, and freshness should give us a superiority which the enemy cannot meet and which we could not achieve by resorting to a matching of numerical strength. The maintenance of these divisions at full strength with thoroughly trained replacements is the factor of major importance in measuring our ground fighting capacity. The increased combat effectiveness of our divisions due to our preponderance of artillery and the employment of our vast air superiority in close tactical support, are other important considerations. On the basis of these qualitative factors the Allied Nations will have in France, in my opinion, a decided advantage. On the other hand, to create new divisions and supporting troops would mean emasculating drafts on existing divisions with a consequent lowering in their efficiency.

Actually, indications are that even on a strictly numerical basis, our ground forces will compare very favorably with the German forces. Shipping and other logistical factors will permit a build-up in Europe of about four divisions a month and at this rate by April, 1945 there can be employed the fifty-nine divisions which are available to the United States. Some twenty-one British divisions can be utilized and by shifting units from the Mediterranean an additional ten to fifteen United States and French divisions can be made available for employment in France if a defensive position is taken in Italy. Thus we will have some ninety-five divisions to employ against fifty-six German divisions and we will have a decided numerical advantage unless the Germans can strip the eastern front and remove the great bulk of their forces from Norway, Denmark and Holland. Our most troublesome factor will probably be our comparatively slow rate of build-up which is, of course, restricted by purely logistical limitations. This factor, more than any other, might bring about a slowing down of operations because the enemy can deploy his available forces much more rapidly than we can build up ours, providing he feels free to transfer divisions from other fronts.

Your concern is that a stalemate may develop in the fall of 1944 and that all possible steps are not being taken now to provide the additional ground combat units that would be needed then. Everything possible must be done to prevent such a stalemate. At this point, however, I differ from your analysis and with your conclusion that we must activate additional divisions now and increase the strength of the Army.

We are about to invade the Continent and have staked our success on our air superiority, on Soviet numerical preponderance, and on the high quality of our ground combat units. We must continue to give our all-out support to the strategical development to which we are committed. To deviate will cause diversion of effort and will require things to be done which can only be done at the expense of what we are now trying to do.

If our present plans fail and a stalemate does occur, then it is very doubtful if the few additional divisions which could be activated would be sufficient to break the impasse. Let me illustrate this point. Assume a situation where the U.S.S.R. decides to stop at expanded national boundaries along natural frontiers, where our air supremacy fails to achieve decisive results, and where our qualitative superiority in ground units is unable to prevent a stalemate. If such a situation comes to pass, then heroic measures and a complete revamping of our strategical plans would be in order. Undoubtedly a material conversion of air groups to ground combat units would be necessary. The time required to effect such a reorientation of effort would preclude decisive action prior to the summer of 1945.

In effect, my position is that, in the event of a stalemate, major decisions will be required and a material change in the timing of operations will result. We are in no position to make any far-reaching changes in our Troop Basis until we see what occurs in the initial stages of the invasion. Adjustments within the units of the Troop Basis will continue to be made as required, but additional changes beyond this are likely to handicap our present planned efforts without producing sufficient additional means to break a stalemate if the conditions you assume materialize. Considering the matter from all angles and with the realization of the hazards involved, I believe that at the present time no increase should be made in the over-all strength of the Army, except as may prove to be necessary to provide replacements.

It is appropriate, however, to make at this time all the preparations which are possible to enable an increase to be made with minimum delay. The War Department General Staff has been directed to study this question and to work out in consultation with the Selective Service a plan for the procuring of an increased strength and to prepare the most expeditious and effective program of training for an increased number of divisions. At this time I do not advocate any action beyond this prudent staff planning.2

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. On May 10 Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson expressed his concern over the evident failure to provide an appearance of overwhelming strength in the coming Allied invasion of France. “I have always felt that our contribution to the war should include so far as possible an overwhelming appearance of national strength when we actually get into the critical battle,” wrote Stimson. “By this I mean not merely strength on the battle front but in reserve. It has been our fate in the two World Wars to come in as the final force after the other combatant nations had been long engaged. Our men have thus come to the field untested, even when well trained, to fight against veteran enemies. Such conditions make the appearance and possession of overwhelming strength on our part important both tactically and psychologically.” The secretary of war questioned the desirability of adhering to the American decision of maintaining its ground forces at the ninety-division level, given German strength (estimated fifty-six divisions to defend France), possible replacement shortages, and the fact that German morale seemed to remain high despite the Allied bombing campaign. “Our Army calculations both in ETO and here have seemed to me to shave the line of sufficiency rather narrowly instead of aiming at massive abundance.” He suggested that while aggressive pressure on the Germans by the Red Army and evident Allied air superiority perhaps lessened the danger, still the current American strategic reserve of fourteen divisions might prove insufficient in a crisis. The result was that the secretary of war suggested asking the U.S. Congress for additional manpower legislation and urged General Marshall to reconsider commitment to the ninety-division concept and begin the activation of new divisions. (Stimson Memorandum for General Marshall, May 10, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

2. Stimson wrote in his diary for May 16 that regarding the manpower situation General Marshall “takes quite a different view—a more optimistic view on some things that I think are rather dangerous.” He added, however, that he would not raise the issue with President Roosevelt, “for the last thing I want to do is to make an appearance of an issue with Marshall which really does not exist. We differ a little on the shading of things but not on essence.” (May 16, 1944, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 47: 39].) The chief of staff’s opinion on American troop levels would remain American policy. For previous discussion of personnel shortages, see editorial note #4-240, Papers of George Catlett Marshall [4: 285-86] and Marshall Memorandum for the Secretary of War, February 10, 1944, #4-241 [4: 286-89].

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. 447-450.

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