3-324 To Lieutenant General John L. De Witt, September 11, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: September 11, 1942

Subject: World War II

To Lieutenant General John L. De Witt

September 11, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]


My dear De Witt:

With reference to Alaska and the visit of Senator Chandler and other Senators to that theater,1 the following has just been brought to my attention.

That you discussed with them the FIREPLACE operation, including the difference of opinion between the Army and Navy as to the Adak and Tanaga objectives; that you informed them of the fact that the original directive for Tanaga had been changed to Adak over your protests, in accordance with the view of Admiral Theobald; that you gave them the details of the difference in time required for the construction of the airfields at Tanaga and Adak; and that in general you gave them your confidence in regard to the most confidential matters relating to command and operations in Alaska and the Aleutians.2

Already this knowledge, however obtained, has provoked a most serious situation for the War Department and the Navy Department in Congress.

I wish you would write me immediately and directly your statement in the matter.3

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. For previous developments connected with this Senate subcommittee, see Marshall Memorandum for General Arnold, September 8, 1942, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-321 [3: 350-51]. The subcommittee reported to the president in early September and on the seventh to the full Senate Military Affairs Committee in secret session. Following his War Council meeting on September 9, Secretary of War Stimson noted in his diary: “The action of the members of the Senate Military Committee who have been to Alaska, have investigated and made a report on our most secret installations there and then through the hands of its chairman handed out copies of this to the United Press, came up for discussion. This is about the rawest breach of common sense and decency that I have ever seen and the Council was up in arms on it.” (September 9, 1942, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 40: 63].)

2. Operation FIREPLACE involved the seizure of Adak Island by army troops and the construction there of an airfield. The army-navy dispute over the operation is discussed in Marshall to De Witt, September 3, 1942, pp. 339-41.

3. De Witt replied that he had talked with the senators before and after their Alaska trip and, having no instructions from the War Department to the contrary, discussed the situation there in detail (since they could see for themselves that a major operation was under way), warned them against the tendency of local commanders—himself included—to have a limited view of the war as a whole, and spoke “in the highest terms of all the Army and Navy commanders,” including Rear Admiral Theobald. He denied giving them specific operational data, access to secret documents, or rehashing the Tanaga-Adak dispute, and warned them that they would learn “information of a confidential nature that would, if divulged, lead to great embarrassment for both the War and Navy Departments and myself if publicized.” De Witt noted that he had told Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy before the committee left Washington that it was “unfortunate that they were going at the time they did.” He concluded: “I had an extremely difficult situation imposed upon me and I met it, I thought, as you would have expected me to—honestly and frankly, without criticism of higher authority, and divulging only such information as I felt they would get in talking with others, because I wanted them accurately and factually informed.” (De Witt to Marshall, September 13, 1942, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers (Pentagon Office, Selected].)

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. 353-354.

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