2-330 To Lieutenant General Daniel Van Voorhis, January 4, 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 4, 1941

To Lieutenant General Daniel Van Voorhis

January 4, 1941 Washington, D.C.


Dear Van Voorhis:

I am enclosing a tentative study on the question of command in the Caribbean area, which today is being sent to G-3 for further development.1 You will be communicated with through formal War Department channels, but meanwhile I wish to have a little informal interchange with you on the subject.

The question of a coordinated command in the Caribbean area is to me of great importance and of many complications. The Army command alone is a sufficiently complicated matter, but when we introduce the Navy into the problem, the entire affair becomes most difficult of solution. But we must arrive at a sound basis for action without delay.

The question of the coordination of the Air forces is exceedingly important, it seems to me, and will require very special treatment. It was for that reason that I sent Frank Andrews down to the Canal Zone, so that you would have a very competent man for this purpose.2 As soon as the new Air units begin to arrive in the Caribbean region, the matter of coordination of air affairs will demand immediate treatment.

I have felt, though the Staff here does not seem to agree with me, that our present plans involve the accumulation of too many air units on permanent station in the area, considering the rapidity with which air units can be deployed providing fields and facilities are available, and also considering the heavy expense of maintaining such units on a permanent status in that region. I suggested that we should determine the minimum garrisons, and then tag units located in the Southeastern United States for reenforcements, these units to make a circuit of the Caribbean region three or four times a year, spending several weeks in the locality designated for their emergency assignment.

I hesitate to enter into a formal discussion of the complications involved in a settlement of the matter of command throughout this region between the Army and Navy, but there can be no question but what all of the Air activities must be coordinated by a single head. A possible solution might be managed on the basis of Army control during the absence of the fleet from that region, and Navy control by the Commander of the fleet when in those waters. Certainly there must not be divided control, or adjustments at the time, dependent upon personalities.3

I am writing you very frankly and without Staff advice, so I must ask you to treat this as a confidential discussion between the two of us.

Faithfully yours,

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

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. In December 1940 the War Plans Division proposed the creation of a Caribbean Defense Command consisting of the Panama Canal Department (including Jamaica), the Puerto Rican Department (including the Bahamas, Antigua, and Santa Lucia), and the Trinidad Base Command (including British Guiana). The planners envisaged a theater of operations including the Caribbean and adjacent neutral areas. Peacetime preparations for such a theater of war should commence at once, according to the War Plans Division. (Watson, Chief of Staff, p. 462.) For Marshall’s previous comments regarding the extent of Van Voorhis’s command, see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-245 [2: 93-94].

2. Frank M. Andrews had been promoted to major general effective October 27 and took command of the newly formed Panama Canal Air Force in November 1940.

3. While Marshall’s letter was primarily concerned with ground-air and army-navy command coordination, Van Voorhis’s reply showed him to be more concerned with strategic doctrine. Cooperation with the navy should continue, he wrote, but settlement of command coordination issues should be made “when the emergency arises.” More important for him was the question of the relation of the Panama Canal Department to the new Caribbean bases. The department’s mission, in his opinion, “was that of a fortress defense” against the enemy’s intention of closing the canal. The Caribbean bases were outposts of that defense, not the main line, and the canal’s defenses should not be weakened in order to strengthen the bases; neither did he envision “this command as constituting an expeditionary force.” As for the commander of the Caribbean Defense Command, his primary responsibilities at present were training—particularly developing communications—and planning. If he was to assume new duties in a wider sphere, Van Voorhis said, he had to improve his staff, which was presently neither qualitatively nor quantitatively capable of handling the job. (Van Voorhis to Marshall, January 10, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers 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. 379-381.

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