2-602 Robert L. Sherrod Memorandum for David W. Hulburd, Jr., November 15, 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 15, 1941

Robert L. Sherrod Memorandum for

David W. Hulburd, Jr.1

November 15, 1941 Washington, D.C.

Subject: General Marshall’s conference today2


Seven Washington correspondents, representing the three press associations, the New York Times, the Herald Tribune, TIME and Newsweek, were called by the War Department early this morning, asked if they could appear at 10:15 for a secret conference with General Marshall.3 Because General Marshall’s comments are of a highly confidential nature, only one copy of this report is being sent to New York and one copy being kept here.

General Marshall explained his embarrassment in calling the conference and said anyone who did not care to share secrets was at liberty to leave before he started talking. But there were some things he had to tell to key press correspondents in order that their interpretations of current and forthcoming events did not upset key military strategy of the United States.

The U.S. is on the brink of war with the Japanese, said the General. Our position is highly favorable in this respect: We have access to a leak in all the information they are receiving concerning our military preparations, especially in the Phillipines. In other words, we know what they know about us and they dont know that we know it.4

Under great secrecy the U.S. is building up its strength in the Phillipines to a level far higher than the Japanese imagine. General MacArthur is unloading ships at night, is building air fields in the carefully guarded interior, is allowing no one within miles of military reservations.

Most important point to remember is this: We are preparing for an offensive war against Japan, whereas the Japs believe we are preparing only to defend the Phillipines. All their information indicates that. For instance, the Japanese reports show that we have 18 old B-18 bombers in the Phillipines. As a matter of fact, we have 35 Flying Fortresses already there—the largest concentration anywhere in the world. Twenty more will be added next month, and 60 more in January. We are piling a large proportion of our new materiel into the Phillipines, several shiploads a week of it. Our new 75 mm. guns are being sent there. So are our 105’s. There are already 100 tanks in the Phillipines and another shipload in arriving next week. New equipment for making beachhead landings is already there. On Sept. 30 the dive bombing outfits which were participating in the Louisiana maneuvers departed for an unknown destination. They are arriving in the Phillipines Tuesday.5

This information will be allowed to leak to the Japanese (it is miraculous that they haven’t learned about the Flying Fortresses, but the two attempts that have been made to publish the fact have been thwarted). But it must be allowed to leak privately, from the White House or the State Department directly to Japanese officials—presumably Kurusu.6 If it got out publicly, the Army fanatics in Japan would be in a position to demand war immediately, before we were better fortified. But if the leak is confined to Japanese officials, these officials can say to the cabinet: “Look here. These people really mean to bomb our cities, and they have the equipment with which to do it. We’d better go slow.” In that way, no public face-saving would be necessary, and war might be averted. The last thing the U. S. wants is a war with Japanese which would divide our strength. The Germans are pushing the Japanese from 19 directions to get them into war with the U.S., as everyone knows.

If war with the Japanese does come, we’ll fight mercilessly. Flying fortresses will be dispatched immediately to set the paper cities of Japan on fire. There wont be any hesitation about bombing civilians—it will be all-out. Arrangements are being made to provide landing fields for flying fortresses in Vladivostok, and it’s likely that landing fields can be provided with safety in China. The B-17 Flying Fortresses cannot make the round trip to Japan from the Phillipines—not quite. But they can fly over the Phillipines to Vladivostok.7 And the new B-24’s, which will be dispatched to the Phillipines as soon as they start coming off the line, can make the round trip.

The U.S. is preparing to fight throughout the Pacific. Gasoline and bombs are already at landing fields in Australia, New Zealand, Borneo, and half a dozen other spots, and they are being sent to India, where the British are not prepared to protect shipping in the Indian Ocean. General Marshall has a map which is a series of connected semi-circles and quarter-circles forming a loop around the entire Western Pacific. The semi-circles extend from Australia to Alaska, though the Alaskan portion is thus far drawn in dotted lines. The Japanese-mandated-island naval bases are highly vulnerable in this map showing the ranges of our bombers from various bases. Flying weather over Japan is propitious now. The rainy season is ended, and high-flying big bombers could wreak havoc. The Japanese have no pursuit planes that can reach the B-24’s, which could bomb the islands at will.

The Grand Strategy does not include the use of much naval force. Marshall indicates that he believes U.S. bombers can do the trick against Japanese Naval strength and against Japanese cities “without the use of our shipping.” Evidently, the U.S. Naval strength has been drained into the Atlantic until there is not enough left to pit against the Japanese Navy.8

But the important point is, Marshall re-stated, that none of this preparing for an offensive war be allowed to leak to the Japanese public. “Nothing that I am telling you today is publishable, even in hinted form,” he said.

Marshall’s second point relates to the first. The National Guard is to be sent home. It will be replaced gradually by new divisions of selectees—four new triangular divisions of Regular Army are being formed now. The selectees who are being discharged will become the new National Guard, in that they will be formed into reserve divisions. It is expected that about half the selectees will go into this new National Guard. Old National Guard camps will be transformed into new Replacement Training Centers. It is impossible to build new $30,000,000 cantonments, which require six or eight months, so the old ones will be used—and there’s no point in building new ones.

Marshall wants to keep the period of service under Selective Service down to 13 or 14 months—rush them through as fast as possible, then stick them in the reserves. As a matter of fact, eventually he expects to have about 18 Regular Divisions and 14 Reserve (new National Guard) divisions. He expects to get the pay of these new reserves raised from a dollar to two dollars per day of training. Chief aim is to let each man who has had a year of training know where he is supposed to go—to what outfit he belongs—in case it is necessary to call him up again. A discharged selectee will leave the Army saying to hell with everything, but within six weeks or so he’ll be edging toward the Armory to join the boys. He must rejoin within six months to be of much service. Old-style drill in the Armory is out.

What Marshall fears most is that this news, when it is broken, will come out in headlines: “National Guard Sent Home,” indicating that the strength of the Army is being depleted. The effect of that might be disastrous in the delicate Japanese situation. We want to put up a big front to the Japanese, without forcing them into face-saving war measures.

As a matter of fact, the strength of the Army is not being depleted with this virtual dissolution of the National Guard. The strength of the Army is over 1,800,000 now, and it won’t be allowed to go down. It will soon reach 2,000,000. There will be a small depletion in Infantry divisions, of which there are 34 now, most of them old, large square divisions. And there will be only 32, more of which will be smaller and triangularized (Marshall wants to keep an adequate complement of the old square divisions, but the trend is the other way). But the added strength will come in the Air Corps and the Armored Force, of course.

Marshall is having trouble with enlistments. They are far too slow. And the Navy is having trouble with the same thing.


Again: NONE OF THIS IS FOR PUBLICATION. Neither is the fact that those 54 planes pulled out of maneuvers yesterday are going to Iceland.

Document Copy Text Source: Hanson W. Baldwin Papers, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Author-typed memorandum.

1. Sherrod, a Washington correspondent for Time magazine since 1935, had covered military affairs since June 1941. An associate editor of Time, Hulburd supervised the magazine’s news bureaus from New York City.

2. Using the memorandum printed here as a basis, Sherrod published a description of Marshall’s press conference in Overseas Press Club, I Can Tell It Now, ed. David Brown and W. Richard Bruner [New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1964], pp. 39-45. Brief notes on the conference are also available by Ernest K. Lindley (“Excerpts from a highly confidential interview with General Marshall,” GCMRL/H. W. Baldwin Papers) and Edward E. Bomar (Oklahoma State/Paul Miller Papers).

3. In addition to Sherrod, the six correspondents present were: Edward E. Bomar (Associated Press); Harold Slater (International News Service); Lyle C. Wilson (United Press Associations); Charles W. B. Hurd (New York Times); Bert Andrews (New York Herald Tribune), and Ernest K. Lindley (Newsweek magazine). Brigadier General Alexander D. Surles (U.S.M.A., 1911), director of the War Department’s Bureau of Public Relations, was also present.

4. Certain Japanese coded messages regarding the reinforcement of the Philippines, which were intercepted and translated by United States Army and Navy cryptanalysts, are printed in Department of Defense, TheMagicBackground of Pearl Harbor, 8 pts. (Washington: GPO, 1977), vol. IV appendix, A155-61. A report by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, dated November 27, 1941, showed that the Japanese underestimated the number of heavy bombers stationed in the Philippines but grossly overestimated the number of other aircraft. (Ibid., vol. IV, 118; vol. IV appendix, A168-69.) On November 15 Japanese commanders engaged in planning the seizure of the Philippine Islands held their final meeting. “The Japanese plan was based on a detailed knowledge of the Philippine Islands and a fairly accurate estimate of American and Philippine forces.” Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma was allotted approximately fifty days to complete the seizure of Luzon. (Morton, Fall of the Philippines, p. 57.)

5. The personnel of the dive-bomber unit arrived in the Philippines on November 20, but their aircraft were delayed and consequently never reached their destination. (See Marshall to Commanding General, Port of Embarkation, San Francisco, November 29, 1941, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-608 [2: 687-88].) Bomber reinforcements were likewise delayed unexpectedly. (Craven and Cate, Plans and Early Operations, p. 183.)

6. Saburo Kurusu, formerly Japanese ambassador to Belgium and later to Germany, was scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., on November 15 to assist Ambassador Nomura in his discussions with Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

7. Ernest K. Lindley’s notes on Marshall’s comments on this point read: “At present we have no arrangement with the Russians, but if we get into war out there, we would expect to have an arrangement.” (Lindley, “Excerpts,” GCMRL/H. W. Baldwin Papers.)

8. Beside this paragraph Sherrod added a handwritten comment dated August 29, 1945: “The danger period is the first ten days of December, Marshall said. If we get by that, we’re OK until February. By then MacArthur will have plenty in the Philippines.” Lindley’s notes read: “Japanese cities are very vulnerable—and so are their naval bases. When we get the B-24s out there they will be able to fly higher than any pursuit plane the Japanese have, and if the weather were suitable for precision bombing, would be able to play havoc with Japanese naval bases. We expect the Japanese navy to appreciate this factor, when they learn about it. . . . Our aim is to blanket the whole area with air power. Our own fleet, meanwhile, will remain out of range of Japanese air power, at Hawaii. . . . We believe we have in the Philippines sufficient troops to make an attack by the Japanese extremely hazardous, and by December 15, we will feel secure there.” (Ibid.) On November 3, Marshall had told the members of the Joint Board that the main involvement in the Far East would be naval, but he believed that by mid-December the army’s forces in the Philippines would be of such strength as to “have a deterrent effect on Japanese operations.” (William P. Scobey Minutes of Meeting, NA/RG 319 [OPD, Joint Board Minutes].)

Hanson W. Baldwin obtained a copy of Sherrod’s memorandum for use in his Great Mistakes of the War (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950). He wrote to ask Marshall if he had been correctly quoted; Marshall replied that “the gist of the interview . . . is apparently correct.” The prospects he had indicated on that occasion were defeated, however, by the failure of the air reinforcements to arrive on schedule, the inadequacies of the Philippine air fields, the Air Force’s overestimation of the big bombers’ effective combat range, and their underestimate of the difficulty of bombing moving ships. (Marshall to Baldwin, September 21, 1949, GCMRL/H. W. Baldwin Papers.)

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. 676-681.

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