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To the Commanding General, Port of Embarkation, San Francisco1
November 29, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]
Personal and Confidential
My dear General:
I learned two days ago that the shipment of a group of dive bombers, personnel, planes and other materiel had been made on a ten-knot boat. This involved a further delay of, I think, thirteen days in Hawaii until the convoy of slow-moving boats could be made up. The result of this is the delay in the arrival of this vital defensive unit until December 25th in the Philippines.2 General Gerow, in the War Plans Division, takes to himself the failure to follow through in this matter to make certain that a unit of such great importance did not go on the slowest of boats and did not suffer an unusual delay in Hawaii.
I am writing to you, for direct reply, to have you tell me just what happened in relation to the placing of this unit on a slow boat. Off-hand, it seems to me that any high ranking officer concerned with the embarkation of troops to the Philippines during the present emergency would have realized the vital importance of this particular group, and would have at least raised the question as to the advisability of its being placed on such a boat.
The harm has been done, but I am now concerned with the avoidance of repetitions of such incidents. I have never been satisfied with the War Department relationship with the Ports of Embarkation, because the Department can never be an efficient command post agency, considering direct operation of affairs.3
Please let me have a very frank statement in this matter, not only of what occurred, but as to the future.4
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, General Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed letter.
1. Colonel Frederick Gilbreath (U.S.M.A., 1911) had commanded the Port of Embarkation since November 14, 1941; he would be promoted to brigadier general on December 15.
2. The fifty-two unassembled A-24 dive bombers of the Twenty-seventh Bombardment Group (L) were aboard the transport Meigs, which was delayed in leaving Hawaii until November 24 when a convoy of seven vessels was formed to be escorted by the U.S.S. Pensacola. When word of the Japanese attack of December 7 reached the convoy, it was diverted to Australia. The group’s air and ground personnel had reached the Philippines on November 20; when the war began, the men became, for all practical purposes, a part of MacArthur’s infantry. (Craven and Cate, Plans and Early Operations, pp. 183, 192, 225-26.)
3. Similar command failures concerning supply handling had concerned the chief of staff recently. At a November 3 meeting Marshall said that a shipment of bombs sent in late September would not reach Singapore until December 18. But what particularly bothered him was that the War Department did not understand why such delays occurred. “We can have no more of this. This is the poorest command post in the Army and we must do something about it, although I do not yet know what we will do.” (Frank McCarthy Notes on Conference in General Marshall’s Office, November 3, 1941, NA/RG 165 [OCS, Chief of Staff Conferences File].)
4. Gilbreath’s reply is not in the Marshall papers.
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. 687-688.