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To General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower
January 7, 1945 [Radio No. W-88421.] Washington, D.C.
From Marshall for Eisenhower’s eyes only.
I suppose you have seen so much of the text of the President’s report on the State of the Union to Congress yesterday as refers to you and your battle. Lest you may not have seen this I am having it sent to you by teletype. Might it not be a good thing to get the sense of the President’s message down to your U. S. Armies, at least to the leaders.1 Maybe they already have this.
I received your statement regarding the situation in Alsace and de Gaulle’s message to the President.2 For your confidential information the President declined to see the French ambassador and notified our State Department that this was none of their business. He regarded the matter as purely strategical and tactical and had the ambassador informed that de Gaulle should take these questions up with you and not with him.3
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed radio message.
1. President Roosevelt praised the Allied fighting during the Battle of the Bulge. “Our men have fought with indescribable and unforgettable gallantry under most difficult conditions and our German enemies have sustained considerable losses while failing to obtain their objectives,” reported the president. “We have reassumed the offensive, rescued the isolated garrison at Bastogne and forced a German withdrawal along the whole line of the salient. The speed with which we recovered from this savage attack was largely possible because we have one Supreme Commander in complete control of all the Allied Armies in France. General Eisenhower has faced this period of trial with admirable calm and resolution and with steadily increasing success. He has my complete confidence,” said President Roosevelt.
General Eisenhower asked his staff to make copies of the extracts from the State of the Union message for distribution, and he marked a paragraph of the president’s address that warned against “the poisonous effects” of enemy propaganda for distribution to Stars and Stripes. “The wedge that the Germans attempted to drive in Western Europe was less dangerous in actual terms of winning the war than the wedges which they are continually attempting to drive between ourselves and our Allies. Every little rumor which is intended to weaken our faith in our Allies is like an actual enemy agent in our midst—seeking to sabotage our war effort, there are here and there evil and baseless rumors against the Russians—rumors against the British—rumors against our own American Commanders in the field,” warned Roosevelt. (President’s State of the Union attachment, Marshall to Eisenhower, January 7, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Collection [Eisenhower].) Eisenhower replied on January 8, requesting Marshall to convey to President Roosevelt “my very deep appreciation of the personal confidence he expressed in me but more particularly for his excoriation of all efforts to drive wedges among the Allies. The frequency with which minor or extraneous subjects are seized upon by persons who are, to say the least, most thoughtless, and handled in such a way as to create mutual distrust and suspicion is one of the puzzling things of this stage of the war,” replied Eisenhower. (Papers of DDE, 4: 2410-11.)
2. In December 1944 General Eisenhower had ordered Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers to move Seventh U.S. Army and First French Army forces from northern Alsace back to the Vosges Mountains, which would provide a S.H.A.E.F. reserve force for the Ardennes campaign but would leave Strasbourg exposed to the enemy. Devers delayed moving his forces back as signs of a German attack toward northern Alsace grew. On January 1, 1945, German forces began Operation NORDWIND by attacking Seventh U.S. Army positions south of Bitche. Eisenhower ordered Devers to shorten his line in northeastern Alsace and to hold the Alsace plain with reconnaissance forces. French General Charles de Gaulle met with Eisenhower on January 3 to protest withdrawal of American troops from Strasbourg and threatened to close French transportation routes to the Allies if they withdrew. De Gaulle ordered French forces to defend Strasbourg if U.S. troops withdrew. Ambassador to France Jefferson Caffery transmitted de Gaulle’s January 3 message to President Roosevelt (and sent a copy to Winston Churchill): “General Eisenhower has taken the decision to pull back the Devers Army group to the Vosges. This decision is equivalent to the evacuation of Alsace and a part of Lorraine without fighting,” protested de Gaulle. “The French Government cannot accept in so far as it is concerned such a retreat which does not seem to be justified strategically and which would be deplorable from the general point of view of the conduct of the war as well as from a French national point of view. I confidentially request you to intervene in this affair which risks having grave consequences in every respect.” (Caffery to President and Secretary of State, January 3, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
On January 6, General Eisenhower informed General Marshall of why he decided to call off the withdrawal of forces from the Strasbourg area. “I originally looked at the matter merely as a conflict between military and political considerations and felt completely justified in handling the matter on a purely military basis,” wrote Eisenhower. “However, when I found that execution of the original plan would have such grave consequences in France that all my lines of communication and my vast rear areas might become badly involved through loss of service troops and through unrest, it was clearly a military necessity to prevent this.” (Papers of DDE, 4: 2399-2401.) For further information, see Pogue, Supreme Command, pp. 397-402.
3. “My first task was to make certain Strasbourg was protected,” Charles de Gaulle recalled. “The evacuation of Alsace, and particularly of its capital, might appear logical from the point of view of Allied strategy, but to France it was not acceptable. That the French Army should abandon one of our provinces, and this province in particular, without even engaging in a battle to defend it; that the German troops . . . should return in triumph to Strasbourg . . . would be a terrible wound inflicted on the honor of our country and its soldiers.” Retreat in Alsace “would be a national disaster” for France, de Gaulle declared to General Eisenhower. “For Alsace is sacred ground. Since, furthermore, the Germans claim that this province belongs to them, they will not hesitate to seek revenge, should they retake it, for the patriotism its inhabitants have so tirelessly revealed.” (The Complete War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964], pp. 830-39.)
General Eisenhower recalled that at first glance, de Gaulle’s insistence on defending Strasbourg was based on “political considerations, founded more on emotion than on logic and common sense. However, to me it became a military matter because of the possible effect on our lines of communication and supply, which stretched completely across France, from two directions. Unrest, trouble, or revolt along these lines of communication would defeat us on the front.” Moreover, by the January 3 conference with de Gaulle “the crisis in the Ardennes was well past. . . . While I wanted to send to Bradley’s front all the troops we could spare elsewhere, the motive was now to increase the decisiveness of victory, not to stave off defeat. I decided to modify my orders to Devers,” wrote Eisenhower. (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1948], pp. 362-63.)
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. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 18-20.