4-137 Proposed Message for General Stilwell’s Eyes Only, October 19, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 19, 1943

Subject: World War II

Proposed Message for General Stilwell’s Eyes Only1

October 19, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]


It has been decided that in view of the attitude of the Generalissimo it will be necessary to replace you in your present position in the Far East.2

I had proposed to the U.S. Chiefs of Staff giving you the option on this two months ago when there was no pressure being exerted, but dropped the matter due to the strong opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly Admiral King. I felt that you had been placed in an almost impossible position and that it was not fair to you to suffer any longer from the extreme difficulties under which you labored on both sides of the fence. Now the issue has been decided for us and I am particularly sorry that it has occurred just as Mountbatten enters the area because I fear the rather natural implication that he is responsible for the action. We must do our best to avert the propaganda effect of such a reaction.

Now as to your successor: the Joint Chiefs of Staff can think of no one who has any chance of putting over positive action by Chinese ground troops except possibly Somervell, who is now in your area. What is your reaction to this? Discuss it with Somervell and notify me immediately.3

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. This document was stamped “not used.”

2. During his August-September stay in Washington, Chinese Foreign Minister T. V. Soong had made no secret of his belief that Stilwell should be replaced. (For example, see Foreign Relations, 1943, China, pp. 135-37.) Soong expressed his opinion of Stilwell to Brehon Somervell and Lord Louis Mountbatten in Delhi in early October. Mountbatten was surprised and concerned, as he had just had an amicable meeting with Stilwell, and asked Albert Wedemeyer, who was also then in Delhi, to notify the War Department of Chiang Kai-shek’s apparent determination to have Stilwell relieved. (Wedemeyer to Marshall, October 21, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 17, Item 9].) Mountbatten discussed the matter with Stilwell several times. (The Stilwell Papers, ed. Theodore H. White [New York: William Sloane Associates, 1948], pp. 230-34.)

On October 15, President Roosevelt indicated to Secretary Stimson that Stilwell was to be relieved. On October 18, Stimson called Marshall to his office and explained the president’s attitude. He and Marshall agreed that Stilwell was the best man in the army for the job but that he and the Chinese leadership were incompatible. Stimson noted that Marshall was still troubled by Stilwell’s “very poor show of himself” during his Washington visit in late April and early May (see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-636 [3: 674-75]). “Marshall was very troubled over it, being tired and worried himself, and I could see that it was a blow to him. He regrets that he didn’t make the decision [to relieve Stilwell] some months ago when we could have given an appearance of protection to Stilwell and not let it appear like a dismissal.” (October 18, 1943, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 44: 203].)

3. On October 19, Marshall took this draft telegram to Stimson, who recorded that while he was reading the draft a telegram from Stilwell came in indicating that Chiang Kai-shek had been persuaded to reverse his decision to have Stilwell relieved. Stimson and Marshall again conferred. Marshall believed that the draft telegram should still be sent, otherwise Stilwell would not have sufficient time to recover from the change and to make good in another assignment. Stimson disagreed and went to the White House to discuss the issue with Roosevelt. The president was “in a much more amenable frame of mind than I had expected,” and he was not pleased with the prospect of sending Somervell to China. He agreed to delay making a decision. (October 19, 1943, ibid., pp. 207-8.) By the next day, the War Department had received further information that “apparently the Generalissimo has suddenly flopped over to Stilwell and apparently T. V. Soong is now in disgrace.” (Ibid., p. 211.) The draft message printed here was thus not sent. For Stilwell’s view of his changing status, see Stilwell Papers, pp. 234-36. See also Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, Stilwell’s Mission to China, a volume in the United States Army in World War II (Washington: GPO, 1953), pp. 374-79.

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. 158-159.

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