Meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, 10:30 a.m.
||Admiral of the Fleet Pound
||Air Chief Marshal Portal
|Lieutenant General McNarney
||Field Marshal Dill
||Lieutenant General Ismay
||Brigadier General Deane
||Lieutenant Colonel Vittrup
Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes
May 13, 1943, 10:30 a.m.
Admiral Leahy, on behalf of the United States Chiefs of Staff, expressed his pleasure at having the British Chiefs of Staff present for this series of meetings. He appreciated that they have come so far and left their duties for this purpose. He felt that it was important that by personal conferences the problems which had arisen since their last meeting should be resolved.
Admiral Leahy said he would like to outline brief proposals with regard to the conduct of the Conference. He suggested the meetings should take place daily, including Sundays, from 10:30 to 12:45, followed by a luncheon in the Map Room of the Public Health Building. If acceptable to the British Chiefs of Staff, the United States Chiefs of Staff would like to have with them at these meetings their three senior planning officers, together with one member of the Joint Strategic Survey Committee, and two officers responsible for supply problems. These officers would not take part in the discussion nor sit at the table. He felt that many of the problems could be more quickly resolved if those involved were present and could hear at first hand the views of the Chiefs of Staff.
Sir Alan Brooke said that he felt that the number should be kept down as much as possible but agreed with Admiral Leahy’s suggestions. He would like the British Directors of Plans also to be present.
Sir John Dill suggested that to assist the representatives of the British Chiefs of Staff in their duties after the Conference itself had ceased, it would be helpful if they also could attend.
Admiral Leahy agreed that this was an excellent suggestion.
Admiral Leahy further suggested that with regard to the recording of decisions, nothing in the minutes should be regarded as an agreed decision unless it were recorded as such in the conclusions. Agreed decisions should be taken as the first item at the subsequent meeting. With regard to the final report to the President and the Prime Minister, he suggested that any preliminary reports presented should be regarded as tentative only and that in the final report an effort should be made to arrange approved existing and projected strategic undertakings in their order of priority. He suggested the first two sessions should be given up to a general discussion and exchange of ideas on global strategy, both in Europe and the Pacific; after that, post-HUSKY operations in 1943 and beyond, both in the Mediterranean and Western Europe; and finally a review of the China situation, Operation ANAKIM and the Pacific. At the conclusion of these first two general discussions, the Combined Planners should be asked to prepare a detailed agenda. The war against Japan should perhaps be discussed first since the Commanders in Chief in the Far East might wish to return to their posts.
Admiral Leahy then read out a memorandum giving the views of the United States Chiefs of Staff on the global strategy of the war.
Sir Alan Brooke thanked Admiral Leahy for the warm welcome which he had given to the British Chiefs of Staff. He felt it was appropriate that the Combined Chiefs of Staff should meet at the conclusion of the successful operations in North Africa. It was also appropriate that he should choose this moment to express the admiration of the British Chiefs of Staff for General Eisenhower’s conduct of these operations, and above all, for his success in obtaining and maintaining the utmost cooperation and harmony throughout his command and complete absence of friction.
Sir Alan Brooke said he was in entire agreement with the proposals for the Conference suggested by Admiral Leahy. With regard to the memorandum on global strategy which Admiral Leahy had read, the British Chiefs of Staff would like time to consider this paper, since it embodied the foundations of our future strategy.
Sir Alan Brooke then read out a memorandum by the British Chiefs of Staff containing their views on the conduct of the war in 1943-1944 (attached as Annex “B” to these minutes). In reading this memorandum, he amplified in certain respects that part of paragraph 2 dealing with the directive to General Morgan. This directive included instructions to prepare for a feint designed to bring about an air battle on the western front, an operation (a reverse Dunkirk) in which all available forces should be put forth onto the Continent by any possible method to take advantage of a crack in German morale, and finally, instructions to prepare for a full-scale assault against opposition. Shipping remained the stranglehold on all our operations. It would be necessary to keep this factor in mind in all considerations. It was suggested, however, that the desirability of possible operations from a military viewpoint should first be assessed, and when agreement had been reached on this, the possibilities of carrying them out should be related to the shipping position. As regards the order of discussion, he suggested that since there was no immediate urgency for the return of the Commanders in Chief to India, the global strategy should first be discussed, then European strategy (since Germany was agreed to be the main enemy) and finally the Pacific.
In reply to a question by General Marshall, Sir Alan Brooke said that if HUSKY was launched on the 10th of July, it was estimated that the operation should be completed within one month.
General Marshall said that the United States Planners had estimated that the revised HUSKY might take until the middle of September.
Sir Alan Brooke said that he considered that the new plan with its stronger lodgments should not take much longer than the old one since our air superiority should be able to cut the enemy’s lines of reinforcement.
Sir John Dill suggested that the rapid collapse of the Axis forces in Tunisia might be taken as indicative of what the future held for us.
Sir Charles Portal said that the weakness of the new plan lay in its failure to seal the island to reinforcements. He agreed, however, that with our large air superiority, if sufficient pressure could be maintained, it would not be easy for the Axis to reinforce since they would find difficulty in keeping their ports open. The impression from General Eisenhower’s signal on the revised plan was that it inferred that he anticipated but little delay due to the changes made.
General Marshall asked the views of the British Chiefs of Staff on the results to be expected on Germany by the progressive and cumulative effect of the combined bomber offensive this summer up to the fall.
Sir Charles Portal said that he built great hope on these attacks if the buildup could be maintained. It was hoped to have between eight and nine hundred United States heavy bombers and four hundred United States medium bombers in the United Kingdom by the 30th of June.
General McNarney confirmed that this number of heavy bombers would be available, though there might be a slight diminution in the number of mediums.
Sir Charles Portal said that the effect of some thousand-day bombers and between 1,000 and 1,200 night bombers would be considerable. The results of day bombing had been most encouraging and must achieve the withdrawal of German fighters from other fronts since the Germans could not afford to ignore the material and morale effect of these attacks. The American day bombing plan aimed not only to shoot down enemy fighters but to destroy fighter factories.
General Marshall asked for the Chief of Air Staff’s views on the effect of concentrating all available air power in support of a land battle.
Sir Charles Portal said that this largely depended on the targets offered. Our air superiority would be overwhelming within a circle of 120 to 150 miles. The Germans could only provide some two to three hundred bombers and five to six hundred fighters, whereas the British had some 1,500 fighters and the United States would have about a thousand. If replacements were available, this superiority after a few days would defeat the German fighter defense and enable the bombers to attack their targets relatively unmolested. The essential problem was to insure that the German Air Force gave battle.
General Marshall then raised the question of the results of turning our air power in North Africa onto the Italian fleet once bases were available in Sicily.
Sir Charles Portal said that the present task of the Air in North Africa was to insure air superiority over Sicily. The northern Italian ports were out of range from the United Kingdom in the summer. The attack must be based either on Sicily or North Africa.
Sir Dudley Pound said that if they were bombed out of Spezia, the Italian fleet might make for Toulon. The modern Italian battleships of the Littorio class had left Spezia after the last bombing, but had then returned. The older battleships were at Taranto and were immobilized for the present since the necessary destroyers had been used for ferrying troops to Tunisia. There they had sustained considerable losses, but he believed that there were still enough destroyers available to escort the Italian fleet to sea.
Admiral King agreed with Sir Dudley Pound that it was desirable to drive the Italian fleet into the Adriatic but doubted if those in the northwestern Italian ports would run the gauntlet through the Straits.
In reply to a question by General Marshall, Sir Charles Portal said that the Italian fleet in the north was only vulnerable to day attack by U.S. bombers since the short nights did not permit of British night bombers being used. He did not believe that the Italian fighter defense was good but ships were difficult to sink, particularly since the vessels of the Littorio class had heavy deck armor.
General McNarney said that all Italian ports, including Toulon and Trieste, were in easy range of B-17 and B-24 aircraft based on North Africa. American bombers were developing a new technique for low-altitude attacks. Experience in the South Pacific went to show that good results could be achieved in spite of heavy anti-aircraft fire, though the question of defense against fighters was another matter and must be taken into account since the Italian ships would be in ports out of range of our escorting fighters.
General Marshall then asked for an estimate on a time basis of the vulnerability of the Ploești oil fields to attack by aircraft based either on Aleppo or Libya.
Sir Charles Portal said he did not believe that an adequate scale of attack could be brought to bear except from Turkey or the mainland of Italy or Greece. Only B-24s based on North Africa could reach the oil fields, and these were neither numerous enough nor were they as well able as the B-17s to beat off an attack. If Turkish, Italian or Greek bases could be used, an attack should produce a very serious effect on the refineries, and hence on Germany’s petroleum situation.
General McNarney said that a plan which had great possibilities had been worked out for attacking Ploești oil fields by low-level bombing attacks from bases in Bengasi, using 500-pound delay action bombs, the force to consist of 153 Heavy Bombers. He believed that such an attack would render any further operations against the refineries unnecessary for a period of some six months. This attack could be carried out without waiting for the Turkish or Italian airfields to be available, and the numbers required could easily be built up of B-24s with some additional B-17s temporarily diverted from the United Kingdom.
General Marshall said it was important in considering our future strategy to carefully assess the possibilities and destructive capacity of air attacks. We should take advantage of this strength in planning our future operations, particularly in the Mediterranean where it should be possible to use air power rather than additional ground forces. The enemy must not be allowed to relax, however. Damage to the Italian fleet might prove sufficient to release British surface vessels for employment in the Far East. The plan for Ploești outlined by General McNarney seemed well worth the gamble. The destructive power against fighters shown by the B-17s had been encouraging, as had also their accuracy in bombing which had forced enemy fighter reaction to their attacks. Attacks on the Italian fleet, and on the oil fields of Ploești could be undertaken. These would not be too heavy a logistical burden. All these possibilities had a bearing on what could be achieved to hasten the collapse of Italy by air action alone. An Italian collapse might have a political reaction on the Turks which would enable us to get the use of their air bases. The results of our air superiority in Tunisia had proved crippling to the enemy.
Operation HUSKY should provoke further air fights which would weaken the enemy and might leave us in a position to bomb Italy almost unmolested. Since correct application of air power was all important, the Chiefs of Staff would deeply regret any failure to exploit a favorable opportunity which might be presented to use its cumulative effect in the Mediterranean at this time. Effective use of air power might enable us to economize in the use of ground forces in the Mediterranean Area. They would also deeply regret not being ready to make the final blow against Germany, if the opportunity presented itself, by reason of having dissipated ground forces in the Mediterranean Area.
Admiral Leahy asked for an estimate as to how long it would require to establish ourselves in a position in Turkey or in the heel of Italy to undertake air attacks on Ploești.
Sir Charles Portal said he estimated that from seven to nine weeks would be required before we could operate from Turkish airfields or from three to four weeks if a Turkish acceptance could be taken for granted and the necessary concentrations in Syria made beforehand. Airfields in Turkey sufficient to operate 25 squadrons were now available and airfields for another 20 squadrons should be ready by October. It was difficult to estimate the time factor if the heel of Italy was used. A considerable amount of shipping would be required, and the timing would depend on the amount of land forces engaged and requirements for tactical air forces which would take up the airfields otherwise available for the strategic bombing force. Broadly, he felt that it was unlikely that an air attack on Ploești could take place from Italian bases sooner than from seven to nine weeks after the launching of the land operations against the heel. He feared that an initial ineffective attack on Ploești might lead to great strengthening of the defenses. It was unwise to underestimate the meteorological and geographical difficulties in attacking this target. A very high degree of training and good luck with regard to the weather were essential.
Admiral Leahy emphasized the importance of the time element in bombing of the Ploești fields.
Admiral King said that the Russians might undertake an attack on Ploești since they had large air forces and bases near the target.
Sir Charles Portal said this had been suggested to the Russians, but he believed their air forces were too closely committed to the ground battle.
General Marshall said that permission had been sought from the Russians, prior to the first Ploești raid, for the U.S. aircraft to land in Russia. This permission, however, had been received a week too late to be of any use, and the Russians had never agreed to permit U.S. aircraft to take off for the raid from Russian fields.
Sir Charles Portal said that the British Chiefs of Staff had brought with them their study on the possibility of bombing Ploești and the results which would be achieved. He suggested that the Combined Chiefs of Staff should instruct the Combined Staff Planners to prepare a report on this matter.
Admiral King suggested that the Russians should again be approached on the desirability of bombing Ploești or the use of their airfields by U.S. or British bombers for this purpose.
Sir Charles Portal concurred.
Sir Alan Brooke agreed that full use must be made of air power in the Mediterranean but considered that this must be examined in relation to the whole picture of the value of knocking Italy out of the war.
General Marshall felt that in looking at the whole picture we should direct our attention to knocking Germany out of the war.
Sir Alan Brooke said that the enemy were certain to resist to the best of their ability our plans for putting shipping through the Mediterranean, and this should produce heavy air attacks. The enemy’s one hope of victory lay in the success of his operations by submarine and air against our surface ships. The capture of Sicily would help us to open the Mediterranean route, but even then, Axis air based on Sardinia would endeavor to cut the line of communication.
Sir Alan Brooke said that the British Chiefs of Staff doubted if bombing by air alone would cause the collapse of Italy. If Italy collapsed, Germany would be faced with the necessity of taking over the garrisoning of the Balkans from the Italians. Some 43 Italian divisions were now employed on this task. The Germans might use fewer. If they used only 20, it would mean 20 less on the Russian Front. Further, unless Germany allowed us to occupy the whole of Italy, including her northern airports, Germany would have to send troops to resist our attacks. The Balkans were economically valuable to Germany. Troops could not be withdrawn from them altogether since Mihailovitch in Yugoslavia would rise and Greece and Albania would be inflamed. If we could knock out Italy and thus divert at least 20 divisions from the Russian Front, and if the Russians could keep up the pressure during 1943, the Germans might crack. It was essential, therefore, that we must use every means to insure a collapse of Italy.
Sir Alan Brooke said that if Italy should crumble as a result of HUSKY, we must consider what action should be taken. Troops for the occupation of Italy would be necessary. He did not believe that Germany would try to control an Italy which was not fighting. Continental communications were designed for an east and west flow of traffic. Communications north and south were bad, as were lateral communications along the southern outposts of German power in the Mediterranean. German resistance in Tunisia had crumbled more quickly than we had been led to expect from our previous knowledge of German troops. They had suffered a terrific defeat with loss of some 150,000 men. None of their North African troops were available to increase the defenses of Sicily. Operation HUSKY might be easier than we thought, and on the completion of a successful HUSKY, the Germans might be forced to divert troops to the various islands and threatened points in Southern Europe.
Sir Alan Brooke said that he believed that German strategy on the Eastern Front would be mainly an offensive-defensive. They now only had 185 divisions on this front. No Italian divisions were left there and far fewer Hungarians and Roumanians. Action of ours in the Mediterranean, which would force the collapse of Italy, would necessitate the Germans withdrawing additional troops from Russia to meet Italian commitments, including the 7 Italian divisions in southern France which would then be threatened by the Allies. An Anti-Fascist Government might request our support against the Germans or a state of anarchy might exist. The first alternative would be more difficult to deal with. In any event, German commitments resulting from the collapse of Italy would help our final re-entry into northern France, since only from there or from the Russian Front could the necessary additional troops be found.
The capture of Corsica and Sardinia would assist an attack on southern France, and since German forces would have to be diverted for the protection of this coast, the re-entry into north France would be assisted. He was entirely in agreement that air forces should be used to the maximum but linked with appropriate ground forces.
In reply to a question by General Marshall, Sir Dudley Pound said that the Germans now had a strong force including the Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, one pocket battleship, and one 8-inch cruiser concentrated in the north of Norway. An additional battlecruiser would not be fit for service for many months, and the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin, although completed, would probably not be operationally fit for several months. Admiral Doenitz, on assuming command, had stated that the whole German Navy would be used for an attack on shipping. This might mean that the crews of the surface ships might be used to reinforce the submarines or that the surface fleet itself would be used against our convoys. In this latter event the fleet could be more easily used to attack Russian convoys than to break out into the Atlantic. They were at present concentrated in the north in expectation of another convoy being run. The short nights of summer made it difficult for them to elude our very long-range aircraft if they tried to break out in the Atlantic. No German tankers were known to have gone to sea, and this was usually the prelude to a breakout. He did not believe that a breakout was likely until the autumn. The degree of cooperation between the German and Japanese fleets was not known, but it was possible that the Japanese had convinced the Germans that the most useful purpose which their fleet could serve was to remain in harbor thus containing a superior British force.