Meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, 9:30 a.m.
||Admiral of the Fleet Cunningham
||Air Chief Marshal Portal
||Field Marshal Dill
||Lieutenant General Ismay
Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes
November 30, 1943, 9:30 a.m.
Sir Alan Brooke began by saying that the problem was to arrive at an agreed basis for discussion with the Soviets at this afternoon’s Plenary Meeting. He then went on to consider operations in the Mediterranean from west to east. It had always been agreed that some operation should take place against the South of France. In Italy he felt that it was agreed we should not stay in the position now reached and must advance farther. For political and other reasons, it was important to get Rome, and he thought it was probably generally accepted that we should advance as far as the Pisa-Rimini line. For operations in Italy, it was clear that landing craft would be wanted. General Eisenhower had asked for the retention of the landing craft due to return to OVERLORD until 15 January. This would have a repercussion on the OVERLORD date.
In Yugoslavia it was important to give all possible help to the Partisans and there was general agreement regarding this. As regards Turkey and operations in the Aegean, agreement was much more in question. If Turkey were to be brought into the war, it would be desirable to open the Dardanelles and operations in the Aegean would be necessary. If Turkey were not to come into the war, the operations in the Aegean would not be called for.
If examination showed the operation against the South of France to be feasible, sufficient landing craft might be provided for the purpose. The sequence would then be Italian campaign, Rhodes (only if Turkey comes into the war), South of France, landing craft from Rhodes returning in time for the South of France. The date for the South of France operation would therefore be affected by the undertaking of the Rhodes operation.
Admiral Leahy said that the problem seemed to be a straightforward one of the date of OVERLORD. The Russians wanted OVERLORD on a fixed date in May. They also wanted an expedition against the South of France at the same time, or perhaps a little earlier or a little later. As far as he could see, the date of OVERLORD was the only point confusing the issue. If this matter was settled, everything would be settled. If OVERLORD was to be done by the date originally fixed, other operations could not be carried out. It was entirely agreed, he felt, that the operations in Italy must be carried on. On the U.S. side, it was felt that this could be done without interfering with OVERLORD and, indeed, the U.S. Planners were of the opinion that the operation against the South of France could be undertaken as well, without interfering with OVERLORD. If the landing craft were to be kept in Italy until 15 January, the U.S. calculation was that they could still be back in time for OVERLORD.
Sir Alan Brooke said that this was not thought by the British to be the case. Landing craft would need repair and there were also training demands. According to British calculations, even the date of 15 December for returning landing craft to OVERLORD was rather tight and it would be a great help if U.S. repair facilities could be made available for the British landing craft returning.
General Marshall then said that the paper submitted the day before by the United States Chiefs of Staff on the operation against the South of France had been produced at Cairo but was based on logistic and other data prepared in detail before SEXTANT. He said that four questions had been put to the U.S. Planners. Firstly, assuming that the operations against the South of France, set out in the paper in question, were undertaken, could OVERLORD take place on 15 May? In this connection the answer had been that, with the possible exception of transport aircraft, this date would still be possible for OVERLORD. There was reasonable expectation that the transport aircraft would be available from elsewhere. It was possible, moreover, that an airborne division might be brought from the U.S. by cargo ship infiltration, thus making it unnecessary to bring an airborne division from the United Kingdom.
As regards the timing of the operation against the South of France, he considered that it should not be carried out more than two to three weeks before OVERLORD.
The second question asked the U.S. Planners was how long the 68 LSTs could remain in the Mediterranean and still arrive in time for an OVERLORD date of 15 May. The U.S. calculation was that the landing craft must be released 2½ months before OVERLORD in order both that the necessary repair of craft could be effected and that the craft might be available for training purposes. This gave a date of 1 March. The time for training might be reduced by using more fully the craft already in the United Kingdom. It was clear that all U.S. resources must be used to assist in the repair of the landing craft returning late from the Mediterranean.
The U.S. calculation was that, after allowing for losses, the landing craft remaining in the Mediterranean after the departure of the 68 LSTs for OVERLORD would be sufficient to lift 27,000 troops and 1,500 vehicles.
Sir Andrew Cunningham said that the British felt that 100 days were necessary instead of the 2½ months calculated by the U.S. This put 15 February as the latest date to which the landing craft could be retained.
Admiral King agreed and said that therefore it should be safe to leave the landing craft in the Mediterranean until 1 February.
Sir Andrew Cunningham said that this also might allow for some small refits to be carried out in the Mediterranean before returning to the United Kingdom.
General Marshall then went on to the third question which had been asked the U.S. Planners, which was that if the Rhodes operation had to be undertaken as well as the operation against the South of France, how would OVERLORD be affected? It was difficult to get an answer to this question. In the first place, the dates were quite uncertain. Rome had not yet been taken and the date of the amphibious operation in Italy must be dependent on land operations. Moreover, in an amphibious operation such as might be carried out in the Italian campaign maintenance across the beaches might be necessary, which would delay accordingly the availability of landing craft. It was understood, however, that the amphibious operation contemplated was such that the main forces would join up quickly with it. Assuming that the Rome operation would have been completed by the end of January, the landing craft required for Rhodes could be in the Middle East by 15 February; the Rhodes operation could take place then on 21 March. Allowing a month for the operation, the landing craft could return to Corsica on 21 April, arriving 30 April. A month would probably be necessary for the repair of landing craft before the operation against the South of France which could, therefore, be undertaken at an earlier stage [at the earliest, say?] – 15 July. Moreover, the total landing craft available would be barely sufficient for operations against the South of France, and this was not allowing for any losses that might occur.
The Planners were also asked how long OVERLORD would be delayed if the 68 LSTs were never returned to the United Kingdom for OVERLORD. The answer to this was that these craft represented a three months’ production and, in consequence, three months’ delay to OVERLORD. As the landing craft could be made available alternatively only by withdrawing them from allocations to the Pacific, operations there would also be put back by three months.
Sir Alan Brooke said that the only landing craft that had not been mentioned were those allocated to Operation BUCCANEER, in which 20 LSTs and 12 LSI(L)s were involved. He then read certain extracts from Naf 492, giving General Eisenhower’s views on operations against the South of France.
General Marshall expressed himself as being opposed to an early date for the attack against the South of France in advance of the OVERLORD date. He was more inclined to a simultaneous operation.
Admiral King considered that D-Day should be the same for both operations and that this would provide a much better basis for planning. This met with general agreement.
Sir Alan Brooke then referred to the U.S. paper on the operation against the South of France and said that the paper would need careful examination as to the number of divisions that were available from Italy for such an operation, and the number that would need to be retained for the operations in Italy.
General Marshall explained that the figure of four British divisions represented garrison requirements in Italy outside the immediate zone of operations.
Sir Alan Brooke thought the figure of 10 divisions and an amphibious lift of 2 divisions, available from Italy for the South of France operation, to be too high.
Admiral King stressed the importance of insuring that landing craft were employed for the purposes for which they were designed and not diverted to other uses for convenience. This had happened in the Pacific and no doubt also in the Mediterranean and it was necessary to be firm in view of the importance of the landing craft factor.
Sir Andrew Cunningham agreed and said that once the assault was over and ports were open, all landing craft should be withdrawn for refit for the next operation. It was true that although in the Mediterranean the Commanders were alive to the situation and had tightened up matters considerably, there was still some misuse of landing craft.
In this connection, Sir Charles Portal referred to the tendency to be too conservative in the buildup. He referred particularly to the large stocks that had been accumulated in Sicily as an insurance. Probably there was a tendency to over-insure.
There was general agreement on the above considerations and some discussion ensued in which two extremes were quoted, one, in which the 8th Army landing in Sicily had taken a bare minimum of transport and in consequence had been delayed in their subsequent advance; and the other, in the planning for OVERLORD in which so many vehicles had been put down to accompany the leading formations, that the whole operation would tend to be hampered thereby.
As regards relief work, Admiral King considered that it was necessary to be hard-hearted and to cut out anything that was being taken across beaches which was not absolutely necessary. There was general agreement regarding this.
Sir Charles Portal then referred to the aspect of fighter cover for the operation against the South of France. He said he was not satisfied that the range from the available air bases would allow of adequate air support and thought the matter would need to be examined carefully. In AVALANCHE two alternative plans had been considered and one of these had had to be turned down because fighter cover could not be insured. Salerno had been 180 miles from available fighter strips in North Sicily. Marseilles was 190 miles from the nearest part of Corsica and 225 miles from the eastern side on which the best air bases were sited. We might want to go farther than Marseilles.
Admiral Leahy questioned as to why we should need to go as far west as Marseilles. There were good beaches at various places along the coast.
General Arnold agreed that the whole question would have to be studied very carefully. He stated that the estimates in the U.S. draft paper on operations against Southern France had been based on the use of long-range fighter aircraft.
Admiral King then asked whether he was correct in understanding that, should all other operations be dropped, the landing craft would not be available for OVERLORD to take place on 1 May.
Sir Alan Brooke replied that this was the case and that if the landing craft due to return to OVERLORD did not leave the Mediterranean until 15 January, 1 June would be the earliest date possible for Overlord because of the need for repairing the landing craft and using them for training purposes.
Admiral Leahy pointed out that the U.S. figures did not agree with this and that if the landing craft were retained until 15 February, OVERLORD would still be possible by 15 May.
Admiral King said that any U.S. facilities available for the repair of landing craft would be placed at the disposal of the Commander of OVERLORD for this urgent task.
Sir Charles Portal then made the suggestion that [if?] an amphibious lift of one division were left in Italy until the capture of Rome and one division with its amphibious lift were kept mounted in the Middle East until the middle of February, by then it would be known whether Turkey would come in. If Turkey did not come in, the division could be dismounted and the landing craft made available for OVERLORD.
Sir Alan Brooke said, in reply to this, that he felt that the landing craft that would be required for this division for the Aegean were already being used for the Italian campaign.
Admiral Leahy said that if the proposed operation were to take place after 15 February, this would surely delay OVERLORD.
Sir Charles Portal agreed but suggested that we might have two alternative dates for OVERLORD – the one if Turkey were to come into the war, and the other if Turkey were not to come in.
Admiral King made it clear that whereas the operations against Rhodes and the Dodecanese were contingent upon Turkey entering the war and were not concerned with OVERLORD, the operations against the South of France and in Italy were completely interlocked with OVERLORD. It should be possible for the Combined Chiefs of Staff to work out roughly on these bases two alternative dates for OVERLORD, as suggested by Sir Charles Portal.
Sir Charles Portal remarked that while he agreed with Admiral King, he could not accept that the entry of Turkey into the war would have no effect on OVERLORD.
General Marshall then said that disregarding the question of postponing the date for OVERLORD and considering the matter of landing craft only, it seemed to him that the suggestion of Sir Charles Portal would involve the dividing of the resources of landing craft available in the Mediterranean so that no real strength would be left anywhere. This, he thought, was serious as it would be splitting the most potent means of influencing the war. It would reduce correspondingly the effort in Italy and might have serious consequences. General Eisenhower’s views were different from those expressed formerly, and he now talked of a two-division amphibious lift whereas formerly he had only asked for one.
General Marshall felt, moreover, that there was the chance that the landing craft so withdrawn to the Aegean, to which Sir Charles Portal referred, might never be used. He said that he agreed completely with the Prime Minister as to the importance of keeping a tighter hold on supply. There was general agreement in this connection.
Sir Alan Brooke said that the OVERLORD plan should be coordinated with the plans for a Russian offensive. No Russian offensive had ever started before the end of May. Marshal Stalin clearly, and quite reasonably, would like us to draw the German strength away from the Russian front before the Russian offensive started.
A general discussion then ensued as to the answer that could be given to the Russians regarding the date on which it would be possible to undertake OVERLORD.
Sir Alan Brooke said that unless we could give the Russians a firm date for OVERLORD, there would be no point in proceeding with the Conference. As far as he could see, we could do OVERLORD in May if we did not undertake other operations. Sir Alan Brooke said that he did not think that 1 May would be possible although 1 June might be. This brought us back to the BUCCANEER operation to which, of course, there was a political background. He still thought that it would be better to use the landing craft allocated to BUCCANEER for this main effort against the Germans. In response to a question of Admiral Leahy as to whether the BUCCANEER landing craft would help OVERLORD at all, Sir Alan Brooke replied that it would, as it could be used both in the Aegean and against the South of France. Moreover, the amphibious lift for OVERLORD was itself all too small. It was even smaller than it had been at Salerno.
Admiral Leahy said that this affected the validity of the whole of the OVERLORD plan.
Sir Alan Brooke pointed out that if OVERLORD were delayed it would make more landing craft available.
Sir Charles Portal remarked that whatever operations were undertaken in the European theater, the OVERLORD operation would undoubtedly be helped indirectly.
Sir Andrew Cunningham said that unless BUCCANEER landing craft were to be used, it would not be possible, except at the expense of OVERLORD, to have more than a one-division lift for the South of France operation, a lift which, in his opinion, was not sufficient.
Admiral King said that the Prime Minister had laid great stress on the importance of keeping actively employed all forces now in the Mediterranean. He agreed with this in principle but drew attention to the 2½ months’ inactivity that would ensue for 35 divisions in the United Kingdom if the OVERLORD date was postponed from 1 May to 15 July. He had always felt that the OVERLORD operation was the way to break the back of Germany.
Sir Andrew Cunningham questioned the 2½ months referred to by Admiral King, saying that the earliest date possible for OVERLORD would be 1 June. Both Admiral King and Admiral Leahy then said that this came to them as a complete surprise as 1 May was the date agreed upon.
Admiral Leahy asked Sir Alan Brooke whether he believed that the conditions laid down for OVERLORD would ever arise unless the Germans had collapsed beforehand.
Sir Alan Brooke said that he firmly believed that they would and that he foresaw the conditions arising in 1944, provided the enemy were engaged on other fronts as well.
Sir Charles Portal said that it was still in the balance as to whether we would overcome the German increase in fighter production. The success of the combined bomber offensive had not been as complete as had been hoped for. The Germans were making tremendous efforts and were aiming at a production of 1,600 to 1,700 fighters per month. If they succeeded, the OVERLORD operation might be faced by a very strong fighter force acting against it.
General Arnold then said how important it was to examine carefully the whole question of air strengths throughout the world in order to ensure that our great air superiority could be applied to best advantage.
Sir Charles Portal expressed his opinion that from the air point of view a June or July date for OVERLORD would seem to be better, as regards weather, than one in May.
Admiral Leahy suggested that the Russians would not refuse a 1 June date for OVERLORD but that we would have to be firm about it.
Sir Alan Brooke said that the date would have to be fixed earlier than 1 June because of the need to retain landing craft for Italy until 15 January. It would be possible to fix a RANKIN date for 1 May when probably an attack could be made across the Channel with about two-thirds the strength now envisaged for OVERLORD. It was generally felt that the Russians would not understand the RANKIN operation if it were put to them. He reminded the Combined Chiefs of Staff that 1 May had been settled at TRIDENT as the date for OVERLORD by splitting the difference between the U.S. suggestion of 1 April and the British suggestion of 1 June. It had not been based on any particular strategic consideration.
General Ismay said that at Moscow the Russians had been told that the operation was scheduled for some time in May. They had not been told 1 May.
Sir Alan Brooke said that we might tell the Russians that OVERLORD could be undertaken not later than 1 June but that we would expect, in that case, the Russian offensive to take place also not later than 1 June.
Sir Andrew Cunningham agreed that 1 June could be adhered to.
Sir Charles Portal said that Marshal Stalin’s statement that the Russians would enter the war against Japan when Germany had been defeated, seemed to alter the whole relative importance of the war in Europe and the Pacific, and to shift the emphasis rather towards Europe for the time being.
There was some further discussion in which the dependence of the attack upon moon and tide and weather conditions was considered, and also the desirability of giving a bracket of dates instead of a fixed target date for the operation.
a. That we should continue to advance in Italy to the Pisa-Rimini line.
This means that the 68 LSTs which are due to be sent from the Mediterranean to the United Kingdom for OVERLORD must be kept in the Mediterranean until 15 January.
b. That an operation shall be mounted against the South of France on as big a scale as landing craft permit. For planning purposes D-Day to be the same as OVERLORD D-Day.
c. To recommend to the President and Prime Minister respectively that we should inform Marshal Stalin that we will launch OVERLORD during May, in conjunction with a supporting operation against the South of France on the largest scale that is permitted by the landing craft available at that time.
NOTE: The United States and British Chiefs of Staff agreed to inform each other before the Plenary Meeting this afternoon of the decisions of the President and Prime Minister respectively on the above point.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff were unable to reach agreement on the question of operations in the Aegean until they had received further instructions from the President and Prime Minister respectively.