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To Major General Charles H. Bonesteel
September 23, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]
During an interview with the President yesterday he talked quite a bit about the situation in Iceland. He was concerned over the divided command status—between the British and ourselves. He was desirous of continuing to send troops to Iceland during the winter—in small groups—in order to permit a continued return to England of small groups and the return to the United States of the misfits. He was concerned by someone’s comment to him that there was too much of a concentration of troops around Reykjavik, presenting a vulnerable target to heavy bombing.
With regard to the command status he asked me how many U.S. troops we should have in Iceland before we could press for the command of the ground and air forces to be turned over to you. I told him 20,000 but he seemed to feel 15,000 would be sufficient to justify our requesting the transfer of command. I told him that the British might concede the point in order to oblige him personally, but that they would be very loathe to do so; that in any event they must continue to exercise command over the naval base, which is an integral part of their Northwest Passage convoy service. I believe the present agreement is that the transfer should be made when we have two-thirds of the force. Let me have your comments on this.1
Regarding his desire to continue the movement of our troops to Iceland during the winter, the understanding was that I would look into the question of the Navy’s reactions as to the matter of tonnage and convoy service; that if we found it possible to send small increments we would do so. But I told him that the limiting factor at the moment would be the reorganization necessary legally to qualify troops to go to Iceland, that we had almost destroyed the 5th Division, and were engaged in diverting 3-year enlistments to the division to prepare the reinforcements for next Spring. Also I told him that to bring back groups of one or two hundred misfits might well induce men who were not charmed with the prospects of an Iceland winter to compete for the misfit class. Give me your reactions to this.2
As to over-concentration in the vicinity of Reykjavik, you will have to advise me on the subject. I imagine the principal difficulty is the development of adequate shelter in other localities and the lack of road communications and diversional facilities.3
Please treat all of the foregoing as confidential to yourself and to General Homer.4
If there is anything we can do to help you meet winter conditions, don’t hesitate to advise us officially, and if you think the matter is very urgent send a copy of your official request direct to me by name.
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. Bonesteel replied that the command situation was not a problem between his forces and the British. “To date we have had the finest relations with them, due in a great measure to the personality and common sense of Major General H. O. Curtis, the G.O.C. [general officer commanding]. I mention this at length, because you know that under present conditions, i.e., the United States not at war, we operate with the British under the principle of mutual cooperation and the question of `command’ does not apply. . . . He commands his forces and I command mine, but with very close cooperation not only in purely military matters but also in the many complex problems of relations with the Icelanders, etc., that the occupation engenders. . . . The number of troops of either army present does not in my opinion, affect the situation.” (Bonesteel to Marshall, October 10, 1941, NA/RG 165 [WPD, 4493-165].)
2. Reykjavik harbor was seriously congested, and Bonesteel warned against increasing the number of shipments to Iceland. “If the schedule of United States ships is maintained during the next three months and also that of the British, there will be more cargo arriving than can be unloaded.” He also emphasized the need to cull the “misfits” prior to sending units to Iceland and agreed with Marshall’s assessment of the probable effects on his troops’ morale of a “misfit convoy.” (Ibid.)
3. The majority of the troops in and around Reykjavik were British, Bonesteel replied. “I have made every effort to keep our combat troop installations out of the city and will continue to do so, however this will become an acute problem when the relief of the British is effected.”
There was a decided shortage of available land suitable for camps in the Reykjavik area, according to Bonesteel, and the Icelanders resented encroachment on their cultivated lands. (Ibid.)
4. Brigadier General John L. Homer was chief of staff of the Iceland Base Command.
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. 614-616.