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3-603 To General Dwight D. Eisenhower Radio No. 5940, April 14, 1943

1943
   
Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: April 14, 1943

Subject: World War II


To General Dwight D. Eisenhower

April 14, 1943 Radio No. 5940 Washington, D.C.

Secret

From General Marshall for General Eisenhower’s eyes only.

Press report cleared from your headquarters indicates that failure of 34th Division to cooperate successfully with corresponding British force wrecked opportunity to intercept Rommel. Other minor items from Algerian press reports have been played up by columnists here to disadvantage of American part in recent actions. Reference to American units remaining behind cleaning up battlefields has created further unfortunate impression to our national disadvantage.

In letter from Patton dated March 29th he gave me an inspiring account of a 1st Division action against 100 tanks.1 Little of this sort comes through in the press releases other than splashy statements by individual soldiers.

The problem of censorship is a delicate one and frankness has its eventual reward and in this particular matter the harm has already been done. I am giving you this to interpret for you American reactions.

Your letter of March 29th referring to employment of American units and inclosing your letter to Alexander on the subject of March 23rd aroused a fear in my mind that in this vital matter you might give way too much to logistical reasons with unfortunate results as to national prestige.2 Please watch this very closely. General Surles reports marked fall in prestige of American troops in minds of pressmen and in reaction of public.3

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Operations Division (OPD), Executive File 10, Item 36a, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed radio message.

1. Lieutenant General George S. Patton had written to General Marshall on March 29 to thank Marshall for his promotion and to send details of the actions along the Second Corps front in Tunisia. On March 23 the First Infantry Division had been attacked near El Guettar by the German Tenth Panzer Division, which initially penetrated the line but “in spite of being passed through, not a single American battalion gave up any ground.” The Germans had thirty tanks put out of action. The First Division suffered large losses in the Tank Destroyer units, reported Patton, because of the “open nature of the ground” and because “tactics taught at the Tank Destroyer School are not applicable to this theater.” Patton, however, gave Marshall the encouraging news that the First and Ninth Infantry divisions were attacking through difficult mountain terrain in order to open a corridor through which the First Armored Division could advance. (Patton to Marshall, March 29, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected]; the El Guettar action is examined in Howe, Northwest Africa, pp. 560-63.)

2. Eisenhower had written to Marshall on March 29, enclosing a letter he had written to General Harold Alexander suggesting that the latter’s plan for the campaign in Tunisia was “a bit on the slow, methodical side” and “appeared to contemplate the eventual pinching out of the U.S. II Corps.” General Eisenhower stated that the First Infantry and First Armored divisions were performing well, although the latter had not been employed as “aggressively as it might have been on several occasions.” Part of the problem, he thought, was Alexander’s reluctance to commit himself to a major engagement in the Maknassy-Gafsa area, where Alexander “directed the employment of threat coupled with caution rather than actual seeking of heavy fighting.” (Papers of DDE, 2: 1059.)

Alexander’s staff questioned the suitability of the U.S. Second Corps in the final phase of the Tunisian campaign, suggesting that a large portion of the corps be sent to Constantine for additional training. Eisenhower, confident that the entire Second Corps was ready to work as a unit, persuaded Alexander to use the Second Corps as a unit. “The bulk of the ground forces required by the Allies to defeat Germany would have to come from the United States,” reasoned Eisenhower. Previously the Second Corps had fought in small packets, never as a unit, and Eisenhower insisted that the morale of the corps had improved since early March and “it had a right to prove its own effectiveness as well as the quality of American arms.” The Second Corps was transferred to northern Tunisia, where it was given the task of capturing Bizerte. (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1948], pp. 151-56; quotes on p. 152. For Bradley’s view of the initial proposal to pinch out the Second Corps, see Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier’s Story [New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1951], pp. 56-59.)

3. General Eisenhower responded on April 15 that senior British officers agreed with Marshall that the maintenance of American prestige was most important. He blamed the censors for allowing publication of unflattering comments on American performance, for although “several incidents” in the recent actions of the Thirty-fourth Division had not been such as to “reflect credit upon our arms,” Eisenhower suggested that extenuating circumstances, such as difficult terrain and excessive frontages, would have justified censors in “killing stories that did not present a better picture.” He had requested more able censorship personnel “who might have some common sense and tact.” Eisenhower intended to hold a press conference to emphasize the importance played by the Second Corps and to detail the casualties inflicted upon the Germans by American forces. (Papers of DDE, 2: 1089.) Eisenhower again wrote to Marshall on April 16 informing the chief of staff that he had issued an order that press reports criticizing his actions or his personality were not to be censored. “The fool censor,” stated Eisenhower, “extended this to include troop units, although how he reasoned that one out is beyond me.” Eisenhower told Marshall that the First and Ninth Infantry divisions had done a “workmanlike job” and that he was satisfied with their performance. He believed that the performance of the Thirty-fourth Infantry Division was understandable since it had been scattered in detachments along the lines of communication, had never been together as a division in more than a defensive role, and was given the difficult mission of attacking the southern part of the Fondouk pass. (Ibid., pp. 1090-92. For information regarding the Thirty-fourth Infantry Division’s attacks at Fondouk gap and British criticism of its efforts, see Howe, Northwest Africa, pp. 578-92; Bradley, A Soldier’s Story. pp. 67-68.)

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. 643-645.

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