4-571 To Lieutenant General Joseph T. McNarney, November 9, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 9, 1944

Subject: World War II

To Lieutenant General Joseph T. McNarney

November 9, 1944 Radio Washington, D.C.

Top Secret

For McNarney’s eyes only from Marshall.

Only one copy of this message, when decoded, should be made to be taken personally to General McNarney. With reference to Wilson’s MEDCOS 205 concerning operations into Dalmatia,1 the U.S. planners propose a reply to Wilson substantially that: Major operations in the Balkans are not favorably considered. The objective should be to take Bologna, followed by securing the RavennaBologna-Spezia line and then continuing operations with a view to containing and destroying the enemy army. Withdrawals of forces for rest and rotation should be consistent with this objective. MEDCOS 205 air plan is approved on the understanding that Balkan air operations will not divert air support necessary for Italy. Commandos and light units should be introduced through Dalmatian ports to exert pressure and attrite the enemy. Forces available as a result of withdrawals from the line should be transferred to Eisenhower or used as a strategic reserve. Eisenhower and Wilson should confer and make recommendations on transfer of forces and resources. This ends proposed message to Wilson.

The U.S. planners in their proposed memorandum to the British give both logistical and strategic reasons for the proposed directive to Wilson. They point out that for some time Italian operations have been designed to break the mountain barrier of the Appenines. Now that this has practically been accomplished, Wilson proposes to embark on another mountain campaign in winter weather in Balkan terrain worse than Italy. The primary objective of the Italian operation is to support Eisenhower by keeping German forces away from his front. It is not apparent how a course of action which splits our resources on two sides of the Adriatic and lessens pressure in Italy will help to hold down or destroy the enemy army. On the logistical side there is the problem of ports and communications in Dalmatia, service troops, the world wide critical shipping situation which will extend through early 1945, and our experience that major operations in new areas always mean demands for forces and resources in excess of original estimates. The planners specifically recognize the need to withdraw divisions for rest and rehabilitation.

Our impression is that when MEDCOS 205 was prepared you had not yet had time to estimate the situation completely.2 Now that you have had time to look over the situation can you give me, without embarrassment, your personal views on the foregoing, and any additional thoughts you have to offer on our course of action in the Mediterranean. Will you consider this problem under two separate assumptions:

a. that we try now to end the war in the near future by an immediate all out effort, and

b. that the war will extend into and perhaps through next spring.

If you feel comment by you would embarrass you or compromise in any way your relations with Wilson, please say so very frankly.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. In mid-October 1944, it appeared that the German position in the Balkans was about to collapse. Yugoslavian Partisans were steadily enlarging their territorial control, Red Army and Bulgarian forces had entered Yugoslavia from the east and had captured Belgrade, and the Germans had withdrawn from much of Greece and the Dalmatian coast. On the other hand, Allied advances in Italy appeared increasingly likely to halt soon. On October 21, Churchill met with Wilson and Alexander in Naples. As a result of this meeting, Wilson was directed to report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff calling attention to the favorable developments in the Balkans and suggesting a plan for a British landing on the Dalmatian coast with the objective of capturing Fiume and then cutting German communications between Austria and the Balkans. Once the Spezia-Bologna-Ravenna line in Italy had been secured, the plan called for Italian operations to pass to “an offensive defensive” while divisions were withdrawn for rest and reorganization. In February 1945, two to four divisions would land in Dalmatia and attack overland to secure Fiume. After Fiume’s fall, the force would be increased to six divisions and would advance north toward Trieste and Ljubljana. Allied air forces in Italy would concentrate on disrupting German communications and escape routes. This was the plan outlined in MEDCOS 205 of October 26, 1944.

But while Wilson proposed that the operation begin in February 1945, Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff believed that this was too late to accomplish anything important and proposed that the operation occur much earlier. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were informed of this on October 31, but as of the time Marshall sent the message printed here, the J.C.S. had not formally replied to the British. (Ehrman, Grand Strategy, 6:44-52.)

2. Marshall deleted what had been the beginning of the first sentence in this paragraph: “There is a desire to avoid embarrassing you in any way whatsoever but.” McNarney, who had just arrived in the Mediterranean theater, told Marshall that as regards MEDCOS 205: “I was asked to concur in that plan about thirty minutes after I arrived. I concurred in principal but reserved the right to comment after seeing Alexander’s basic plan. I discussed the operation with Alexander and believe it offers the best prospect of getting somewhere next spring.” (McNarney to Marshall, October 27, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

3. McNarney’s reply is not in the Marshall papers, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff replied to the British on November 17 substantially along the lines Marshall outlined in the document printed here. By this time, the Germans had managed to stabilize their positions in central Yugoslavia. See Ehrman, Grand Strategy, 6: 52-53.

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 654-656.

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