4-510 Proposed Message from the President to the Generalissimo, September 16, 1944

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

Subject: World War II

Proposed Message from the President to the Generalissimo1

September 16, 1944 [Quebec, Canada]

Top Secret

After reading the last reports on the situation in China my Chiefs of Staff and I are convinced that you are faced in the near future with the disaster I have feared.2 The men of your Y forces crossing the Salween have fought with great courage and rendered invaluable assistance to the campaign in North Burma. But we feel that unless they are reinforced and supported with your every capacity you cannot expect to reap any fruits from their sacrifices, which will be valueless unless they go on to assist in opening the Burma Road. Furthermore any pause in your attack across the Salween or suggestion of withdrawal is exactly what the Jap has been striving to cause you to do by his operations in Eastern China. He knows that if you continue to attack, cooperating with Mountbatten’s coming offensive,3 the land line to China will be opened in early 1945 and the continued resistance of China and maintenance of your control will be assured. On the other hand, if you do not provide manpower for your divisions in North Burma and, if you fail to send reinforcements to the Salween forces and withdraw these armies, we will lose all chance of opening land communications with China and immediately jeopardize the air route over the hump. For this you must yourself be prepared to accept the consequences and assume the personal responsibility.

I have urged time and again in recent months that you take drastic action to resist the disaster which has been moving closer to China and to you. Now, when you have not yet placed General Stilwell in command of all forces in China, we are faced with the loss of a critical area in East China with possible catastrophic consequences. The Japanese capture of Kweilin will place the Kunming air terminal under the menace of constant air attack, reducing the hump tonnage and possibly severing the air route.

Even though we are rolling the enemy back in defeat all over the world this will not help the situation in China for a considerable time. The advance of our forces across the Pacific is swift. But this advance will be too late for China unless you act now and vigorously. Only drastic and immediate action on your part alone can be in time to preserve the fruits of your long years of struggle and the efforts we have been able to make to support you. Otherwise political and military considerations alike are going to be swallowed in military disaster.

The Prime Minister and I have just decided at Quebec to press vigorously the operations to open the land line to China on the assumption that you would continue an unremitting attack from the Salween side. I am certain that the only things you can now do in an attempt to prevent the Jap from achieving his objectives in China is to reinforce your Salween armies immediately and press their offensive, while at once placing General Stilwell in unrestricted command of all your forces. The action I am asking you to take will fortify us in our decision and in the continued efforts the United States proposes to take to maintain and increase our aid to you. This we are doing when we are fighting two other great campaigns in Europe and across the Pacific. I trust that your far-sighted vision, which has guided and inspired your people in this war, will realize the necessity for immediate action. In this message I have expressed my thoughts with complete frankness because it appears plainly evident to all of us here that all your and our efforts to save China are to be lost by further delays.4

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

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. This message was drafted by Marshall, with Handy’s assistance, read by Marshall at both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combined Chiefs of Staff meetings the morning of September 16, approved without change by President Roosevelt, and sent the same day. (Foreign Relations, Conference at Quebec, 1944, pp. 374, 380-81, 464-66.)

2. This document was in response to Stilwell’s message CFB-22638 of September 15 regarding the imminent loss of the air bases at Kweilin and Liuchow, approximately 450 miles east of the Hump terminal at Kunming. This meant that all of Chennault’s air bases in south China were now lost. “The jig is up in South China. . . . The disaster south of the Yangtze is largely due to lack of proper command and the usual back-seat driving from Chungking. The trouble continues to be at the top. The Gmo [Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek] called me in today and proposed a withdrawal from Lungling to the east side of the Salween. I was appalled and protested strongly, pointing out that we are fighting for a road to China, and that with Lungling in our possession we control the entire trace of that road. It made no impression on him. He is afraid the Japs will advance to Kunming if we are beaten at Lungling, but he has failed utterly in keeping the Y-Force supplied with fillers. . . . The Gmo says that if I do not attack from Myitkyina towards Bhamo within a week, he will withdraw the Y-Force, thus throwing away the results of all our labors.” (Quoted in Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, p. 435.)

3. The Combined Chiefs of Staff had agreed on September 14 at Quebec that Mountbatten was to launch operations CAP1TAL (a continuation of the North Burma battle) and DRACULA (the capture of Rangoon by an airborne and amphibious assault—target date March 15, 1945). (Ehrman, Grand Strategy, 5:517; Foreign Relations, Conference at Quebec, 1944, pp. 335-39.)

4. This message was received in Chungking on September 19, in the midst of Patrick Hurley’s discussions with Chiang Kai-shek. Stilwell noted his reaction to the document in his diary: “Mark this day in red on the calendar of life. At long, at very long last, F.D.R. has finally spoken plain words, and plenty of them, with a firecracker in every sentence. ‘Get busy or else.’ A hot firecracker. I handed this bundle of paprika to the Peanut and then sank back with a sigh. The harpoon hit the little bugger right in the solar plexus, and went right through him. It was a clean hit, but beyond turning green and losing the power of speech, he did not bat an eye. He just said to me, ‘I understand.’ And sat in silence, jiggling one foot.” (The Stilwell Papers, ed. Theodore H. White [New York: William Sloane Associates, 1948], p. 333.) The effect on Chiang of this note and its manner of delivery and Chiang’s reply are described in Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, pp. 443-53. For further developments, see Marshall Memorandum for Admiral Leahy, October 4, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-537 [4: 618-19].

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. 584-586.

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