4-273 To Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell, March 1, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 1, 1944

Subject: World War II

To Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell

March 1, 1944 Radio Washington, D.C.


For Stilwell’s eyes only from Marshall.

An exceedingly critical situation has developed in connection with your relations with Mountbatten. It is not now confined to military officials but has leaked badly into the press, notably in two articles in Time magazine. The last mentioned, most confidentially, I found had been planted here from Naval sources for the purpose of producing pressure on British for action helpful to the Pacific. Unfortunately these articles have exercised a very direct influence on the British position.1

The issue brought up by the British Chiefs of Staff and finally by the Prime Minister is whether or not you have been loyal to Mountbatten. The doubt in the matter is based on the fact that you sent your staff officers to Washington without any reference to him and that they have represented the divergent point of view regarding operations in Burma. The agitation was promoted or inspired by the fact that the U.S. Chiefs of Staff sent a message to the British Chiefs of Staff urging immediate aggressive action in North Burma. This was prepared before your staff officers arrived here and therefore before we had seen your memorandum to Mountbatten expressing a divergent view regarding his plans. Unfortunately however the U.S. Chiefs of Staff paper was not acted upon until after receipt of the foregoing information though this did not change any portion of the paper but it did leave the implication that your memorandum and your staff officers had inspired action by the U.S. Chiefs of Staff. Just at this moment an article in Time magazine of February 14th appeared, followed up by numerous writeups by columnists, all calculated to stir up anti-British feeling. Also the President on his own initiative sent a message to the Prime Minister pressing him for immediate aggressive action in Burma. This quite probably was attributed incorrectly to the representations of your staff officers.

As nearly as I can ascertain without asking too many embarrassing questions, you do not appear to have made an effort to establish a smooth-working relation with Mountbatten and his staff regardless of whether or not you agree with the final decisions. I am expressing myself frankly and very much to the same point as our conversations took at Cairo. The matter of disagreement, of which we have a proper written record, is something for the Chiefs of Staff to decide rather than to create a tragic break in relationships on the ground where the situation is at best exceedingly complicated.

I should like you to seek an immediate personal interview with Admiral Mountbatten, talk over the whole matter frankly and at length repeat at length, and see if you can reach a working accord which is essential between two officials in the positions he and you occupy. This is a matter of great importance not merely to your theater but in its effect on combined operations all over the world which depend on our relationship with the British high officials. I am not considering whether he and you agree or disagree on a certain course of action. All of us disagree with each other from time to time and there are few decisions which are in complete accord with the various high officials’ opinions. I am referring to a working basis that is not complicated by suspicions and a stiffness that makes Allied procedure unworkable.

The situation in the press in this country can have tragic repercussions to our serious disadvantage in other theaters. This must be avoided.2

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. The February 14, 1944, issue of Time magazine contained an article entitled “Battle of Asia: A Difference of Opinion,” which discussed the difficulties between Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell. Time stated that Stilwell considered continued construction of the Ledo Road necessary to maintain a flow of supplies to China and that current operations in Burma were vital to the maintenance of offensive pressure on the Japanese army. Mountbatten, the Southeast Asia theater commander, wanted to switch Allied resources to a series of future campaigns designed to open up a Chinese coastal city, occupy Sumatra, retake Malaya, including the prestigious target of Singapore, and perhaps even continue the Allied advance into Thailand and Indochina. According to Time, “The U.S. commander admitted that a southern China port must be opened before the armies of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek can be rearmed. But `Vinegar Joe,’ who probably knows China better than any brasshat in New Delhi, stoutly held that the ‘Hump’ air route and the Ledo Road can fill the immediate gap in China’s desperate needs, thus fit into the general Asia strategy.” (Time 43 [February 14, 1944]: 33.)

On February 28, Time quoted Admiral Chester W. Nimitz: “I believe the Japs can be defeated only from bases in China.” That required regaining the Philippines. “Dour, realistic” Stilwell “promised to support Nimitz by ‘an aggressive Allied land and air offensive projected from the interior.’ But Infantryman Stilwell barbed his statement with caution that ‘vital China-based air operations cannot wait for penetration of the blockade by land or sea.’” (Time 43 [February 28, 1944]: 25.) See Marshall Memorandum for Field Marshal Sir John Dill, February 28, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-271 [4: 318-19].

2. Stilwell met with Mountbatten on March 6, 1944; and he reported on March 7, “We are good personal friends and our relations have never been stiff.” Stilwell told Marshall that he had apologized to Mountbatten for sending a military mission to Washington for the purpose of expressing his strategic views on Burma without informing the area commander. “I have eaten crow,” wrote Stilwell, “for my bungle in not informing him of our mission to Washington.” Stilwell suggested that he would obey Mountbatten’s directives, but he implied that until strategic decisions were reached at the highest levels he would continue to represent forcibly what he considered to be American interests in the Southeast Asia theater. “Mountbatten’s orders I am carrying out to the best of my ability,” wrote Stilwell. “Any other orders he has I will of course carry out as soon as the final decision is made.” (Stilwell to Marshall, Radio No. MS-89, March 7, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

Mountbatten reported to Field Marshal Sir John Dill that the meeting with Stilwell had been satisfactory; but he noted that Stilwell “really is a grand old warrior but only the Trinity could carry out his duties which require him to be in Delhi, Chungking and the Ledo Front simultaneously, and I still think Al. Wedemeyer or Sultan should be appointed as Commanding General for the American SEA theater and that Stilwell’s command should be confined to china though he could certainly continue with the title of deputy SAC, SEA since he had never really done anything about those duties during the whole time I have been out here.” (Quoted in Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, p. 170.) Stilwell noted in his diary for March 6 that Mountbatten “made a dumb speech.” Then the two talked. “Usual attempt to get me to commit myself.” (The Stilwell Papers, ed. Theodore H. White [New York: William Sloane Associates, 1948], p. 282.) See Marshall Memorandum for Field Marshal Sir John Dill, March 2, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-277 [4: 327-28].

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. 321-323.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 4-273

Rights: Public Information