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To Lieutenant General John L. De Witt
August 21, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]
Dear De Witt:
I read your radio (No. 235) this morning regarding Tanaga-Adak-Atka.1 I talked to the Navy about it but they have not yet heard from Theobald.
With reference to Theobald’s desires regarding Atka I have these comments to make, which I am embarrassed in giving you because one, of my lack of familiarity with the ground and availabilities, and two, because it might be construed as something in the way of a directive—which it is not. It seems to me that in carrying out FIREPLACE for Adak we should carry out “cover” demonstrations at Tanaga and at Atka and these demonstrations should be set up in such a manner as to involve future possibilities.2
What I have in mind is this—take Tanaga harbor for example—if we could land a small detachment, say 50 or 100 men, with a little tractor, a bulldozer, and a couple of medium antiaircraft guns, they might set up partially concealed tentage to indicate a considerable landing and so handle their antiaircraft guns also to indicate a permanent landing, and at the same time proceed with their tractor or bulldozer to make some progress in smoothing out a landing strip.
If such a detachment were composed of volunteers with a clever leader and if it were possible to obtain a suitable boat and conceal it on the eastern shore (which is not a lee shore) of Tanaga as an escape vehicle in the event of a Japanese landing, we not only would deceive the Japanese, disperse their bombing efforts and possibly delay their discovery of the landing at Adak but we would establish the possibility of the development of Tanaga.
Somewhat the same procedure might be followed at Atka particularly as to dummy camps and a couple of guns to provide the reaction. There however the conditions are different because of harbor facilities, the presence of a mother ship for the seaplanes, and so on.
If these diversions were considered on a large scale undoubtedly they might be found impracticable but I think the Japanese have used this method time after time while we have defeated ourselves by always going into too elaborate a set-up.
I pass the foregoing on to you merely as a suggestion as to what it appears to me I would do were I the leader on the ground.
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. De Witt was commanding general of the Western Defense Command. His radio message is not in the Marshall papers.
2. The army and navy had been working on plans for a joint offensive in the Aleutians. De Witt had planned to send troops to Tanaga during August if the navy’s forces were prepared to cover the landing. The navy, however, preferred a landing on Adak, sixty miles east of Tanaga, because it had a better harbor, but the army disagreed because it was less suitable for airfield construction. In early August the Joint Chiefs decided in favor of Tanaga, but on the fifteenth Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald (U.S.N.A., 1907), commander of Task Force 8 (i.e., all naval and air forces in Alaska), advised against occupation of Tanaga because it would present hazardous navigation problems for the navy. When Admiral Ernest J. King withdrew his approval of the occupation of Tanaga, De Witt agreed to occupy Adak. (Conn, Engelman, and Iairchild, Guarding the United States and Its Outposts, pp. 270-72.)
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. 310-311.