4-296 To General Dwight D. Eisenhower, March 16, 1944

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

Subject: World War II

To General Dwight D. Eisenhower

March 16, 1944 Radio No. 314 Washington, D.C.

Top Secret

Personal and EYES ONLY from Marshall to Eisenhower.

The news from the Italian Front indicates that there is no probability of a decisive tactical change in the situation from that which existed at the time you met with the British Chiefs of Staff to represent the US Chiefs of Staff in the OVERLORD-ANVIL matter. The operation at Cassino which started yesterday may bring about within a reasonably short time the amalgamation of the beachhead with the main line but there is nothing to indicate a sufficient break in the German resistance to permit a further advance on Rome during March.1

Our concern here is over the possibility, if not the probability, that the Germans in taking desperate measures which they will certainly do to crush OVERLORD, will endeavor to hold up our troops in Italy and recall from southern France, from Italy, and from the Balkans, and by withdrawal on the Russian Front to the Riga Line obtain from that Army, a large reserve of divisions available for the operations in western France. Both Dill and I have had this fear and it was accentuated by General Hull’s conversations with General Alexander in Italy, the latter stating, in reply to Hull’s query that 6 or 8 divisions could materially delay his, Alexander’s, advance to the Pisa Rimini Line. Alexander now has 21 divisions in Italy and is proceeding with movements to increase this number to 28. The Germans have 24 divisions in Italy of which 19 are in the south. So it would appear that if Alexander can be materially delayed, the Germans in a series of planned withdrawals to, and maybe through, the Apennines, could free 10 to 15 divisions for France not to mention those from southern France and elsewhere that I previously mentioned. In connection with Alexander’s statement, Dill’s people worked up an estimate in which they conclude that 19 German divisions would be required to hold US [us] in check in Italy.

We know from MAGIC that the Germans are fearful of a landing in the northern Adriatic or on the coast of southern France. However, if they once become aware of the fact that the facilities for such a landing are not available they could re-arrange their forces to your great disadvantage.

We must of course connect up the Anzio Beachhead with the main front of the Army in Italy. Under present conditions, however, I see no great purpose to be achieved in Italy aside from maintaining pressure on the enemy to prevent the transfer of his forces to your front.

During the month since Cooke and Hull visited London your examination and detailed development of plans should have made clear whether or not you have a critical shortage in landing ships and craft.2 Estimates here would indicate that all presently allocated LST’s should close in to the UK under the present plans prior to the 30th of April except perhaps 7 from US production which may not arrive until about May 15.

We are about to open discussions with the British Chiefs of Staff concerning ANVIL and they have requested Wilson to let them have his estimate on the Mediterranean situation on March 18. The basis for a final decision appears no better than a month ago. The only clear-cut decision would be to cancel the ANVIL operation.

I should greatly appreciate your personal views concerning this whole situation including your present appraisal of the landing craft situation and the latest dates that you can accept craft for use in OVERLORD.

It is my intention with which Arnold agrees that we will support your desire regarding the ANVIL decision, whatever it may be. So the foregoing statement of my views is not to be accepted by you as a pressure from me to have matters arranged other than the way you would wish to see them set up.3

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Operations Division (OPD), Top Secret Message File CM-OUT-6709, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed radio message.

1. On March 15, 1944, an Allied air bombardment of Cassino had begun, followed by an artillery barrage. Despite the immense destruction in Cassino, the New Zealand and Indian troops made little progress and were repulsed. Heavy rain impeded the assault elements, and the too few Allied forces met stubborn enemy resistance. On March 23 the Allied divisions halted the attack. (The Allied attempt to take Cassino in March 1944 is discussed in Blumenson, Salerno to Cassino, pp. 433-48.)

2. Rear Admiral Charles M. Cooke, Jr., and Major General John E. Hull visited London in mid-February to discuss landing craft issues. See Marshall Memorandum for Admiral Leahy and Admiral King, February 9, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-234 [4: 273-75].

3. Eisenhower replied on March 18 that the prospect of small numbers of German divisions containing larger numbers of Allied divisions in Italy was likewise a matter of concern to him and his staff. (Papers of DDE, 3: 1772-73.) Two days later he wrote to Marshall that “ANVIL as we originally visualized it is no longer a possibility either from the standpoint of time in which to make all the necessary preparations or in probable availability of fresh and effective troops at the appointed date.” Eisenhower added that “present abandonment of formal ANVIL must not repeat not lessen our intention of operating offensively in the Mediterranean, initially in Italy and extending from there toward France as rapidly as we can.” He pointed out the continued problem of assembling enough landing craft to mount simultaneous operations, and he saw the need to retain a one-division lift capability in the Mediterranean to threaten an amphibious assault and to maintain the offensive. (Ibid., p. 1775.)

On March 21 Eisenhower notified General Marshall concerning the position he intended to take in a meeting the next day with the British Chiefs of Staff regarding ANVIL. He stated again that in his opinion ANVIL was no longer a possibility as originally intended, and that available landing craft were “barely sufficient” for the needs of OVERLORD. With cancellation of a simultaneous ANVIL, he “consider[ed] it essential to strengthen OVERLORD and also to increase the flexibility of the buildup during the early critical days.” Eisenhower recommended, therefore, that ANV1L be abandoned as a two-division invasion of southern France with an eventual buildup of ten divisions, and that landing craft above a one-division lift capability be withdrawn from the Mediterranean and assigned to the OVERLORD operation. (Ibid., pp. 1776-79.) The Joint Chiefs of Staff insisted that ANVIL be only delayed, not canceled. (See Marshall to Eisenhower, March 25, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-321 [4: 374-76].)

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. 348-350.

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