Meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff with Roosevelt and Churchill, 11 a.m.
|United States||United Kingdom|
|President Roosevelt (in the Chair)||Prime Minister Churchill|
|Mr. Hopkins||General Brooke|
|Admiral Leahy||Air Chief Marshal Portal|
|General Marshall||Admiral of the Fleet Cunningham|
|Admiral King||Field Marshall Dill|
|General Arnold||Lieutenant General Ismay|
|Lieutenant General Somervell||Major General Laycock|
Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes
November 24, 1943, 11 a.m. Secret
Operations in Europe and the Mediterranean
The President said that at this meeting he hoped there would be a preliminary survey of operations in the European Theater, including the Mediterranean. Final decisions would depend on the way things went at the conference shortly to be held with Premier Stalin. There were some reports that Premier Stalin had no thoughts beyond OVERLORD, to which he attached the highest importance as being the only operation worth considering. In other quarters it was held that Premier Stalin was anxious that in addition to OVERLORD in 1944, the Germans should be given no respite throughout the winter, and that there should be no idle hands between now and OVERLORD. The logistic problem was whether we could retain OVERLORD in all its integrity and, at the same time, keep the Mediterranean ablaze. In his view, Premier Stalin would be almost certain to demand both the continuation of action in the Mediterranean, and OVERLORD. As regards the Eastern Mediterranean, the question arose “where will the Germans go from the Dodecanese.” The answer seemed to be “nowhere.” If the same question was applied to ourselves, the answer seemed to depend on the action of Turkey. The entry of Turkey into the war would put quite a different complexion on the matter. This would be another question for discussion at the meeting with Premier Stalin.
The Prime Minister said he was in accord with the President’s views. We had had a year of unbroken success in North Africa and the Mediterranean, in Russia, and in the Pacific. Alamein and TORCH had paved the way for the extermination of large German forces in Tunisia. This was followed by the highly successful Sicily operation, and subsequently by the daring amphibious landing at Salerno and the capture of Naples. Then came Mussolini’s fall, the collapse of Italy and the capitulation of the Italian Fleet. In the whole history of warfare there had never been such a long period of joint Allied success, nor such a high degree of cooperation and comradeship extending from the High Command down to the troops in the field between two Allies. We should, however, be unworthy of these accomplishments and of the tasks lying ahead if we did not test our organization to see whether improvements could be made. That was the purpose of these periodical meetings.
As a contrast to the almost unbroken successes of the past year, the last two months had produced a series of disappointments. In Italy the campaign had flagged. We did not have a sufficient margin of superiority to give us the power to force the enemy back. The weather had been bad. The departure from the Mediterranean of certain units and landing craft had had, it seemed, a rather depressing effect on the soldiers remaining to fight the battle. The buildup of strategic air forces may also have contributed to the slow progress. The main objective was Rome, for “whoever holds Rome holds the title deeds of Italy.” With Rome in our possession, the Italian Government would hold up its head. Moreover, we should then be in a position to seize the landing grounds to the northward.
He, the Prime Minister, had agreed, but with a heavy heart, to the return of seven divisions from the Mediterranean Theater. The 50th and 51st British Divisions, which were first-class troops, had had their equipment removed in preparation for embarkation. In the meanwhile, the 3rd U.S. Division had been no less than 49 days in constant contact with the enemy, and other U.S. and British units had been fighting without rest for long periods.
Passing across the Adriatic to Yugoslavia, more trouble had brewed up. It was a lamentable fact that virtually no supplies had been conveyed by sea to the 222,000 followers of Tito. These stalwarts were holding as many Germans in Yugoslavia as the combined Anglo-American forces were holding in Italy south of Rome. The Germans had been thrown into some confusion after the collapse of Italy and the Patriots had gained control of large stretches of the coast. We had not, however, seized our opportunity. The Germans had recovered and were driving the Partisans out bit by bit. The main reason for this was the artificial line of responsibility which ran through the Balkans. On the one hand, the responsibility for operations here lay with the Middle East Command but they had not the forces. On the other hand, General Eisenhower had the forces but not the responsibility. Considering that the Partisans and Patriots had given us such a generous measure of assistance at almost no cost to ourselves, it was of high importance to insure that their resistance was maintained and not allowed to flag.
Moving further east to the Aegean, the picture was equally black. When Italy fell, cheap prizes were open to us, and General Wilson had been ordered to “improvise and dare.” Although we had not been able to seize Rhodes we had occupied Kos, Leros, Samos and others of the smaller islands. It had been hoped to capture Rhodes in October, but when the time came only one Indian division was available for the task, and this was considered an insufficient force to eject the 8,000 Germans in the island. The enemy had reacted strongly to our initial moves. He had ejected us one by one from the islands, ending up with the recapture of Leros where we had lost 5,000 first-class troops, with four cruisers and seven destroyers either sunk or damaged. Nevertheless, taking into account the German soldiers drowned and those killed by air attack and in the battle, neither side could claim any large superiority in battle casualties. The Germans, however, were now reestablished in the Aegean.
As stated by the President, the attitude of Turkey would have a profound effect on future events in this area. With Rhodes once more in our possession and the Turkish airfields at our disposal, the other islands would become untenable for the enemy.
It was to be hoped that the Russians would share our view of the importance of bringing Turkey into the war. They should see that great possibilities would accrue and a chance to join hands with them by means of sending supplies through the Dardanelles. The effect on Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria would be profound. All this might be done at quite a small cost, say, two divisions and a few landing craft. It might well be that a meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister could be arranged on the way back from meeting Premier Stalin.
Passing now to the Southeast Asia Theater, it was now clear that FIRST CULVERIN would require many more ships and craft than the British alone could supply. If it was thought by the United States Chiefs of Staff that CULVERIN was the best contribution to the Pacific war, then our resources would have to be made up by help from America. If, on the other hand, CULVERIN was thought to be too costly, it might be better to bring back from the Southeast Asia Theater to the Mediterranean sufficient landing craft for an attack on Rhodes. Thus the sequence would be, first Rome then Rhodes. He, the Prime Minister, wished to make it clear that the British had no idea of advancing into the Valley of the Po. Their idea was that the campaign in Italy should have the strictly limited objective of the Pisa-Rimini line. No regular formations were to be sent to Yugoslavia. All that was needed there was a generous packet of supplies, air support and, possibly, a few Commandos. This stepping-up of our help to the Patriots would not involve us in a large additional commitment. Finally, when we had reached our objectives in Italy, the time would come to take the decision whether we should move to the left or to the right.
Turning now to the knockout blow, OVERLORD, the Prime Minister emphasized that he had in no way relaxed his zeal for this operation. We had profited very considerably in our experiences of amphibious operations and our landing appliances had improved out of all knowledge. There would be an anxious period during the buildup, when the Germans might be able to concentrate more quickly than we could. Nevertheless, the 16 British divisions would be ready when called upon. It seemed to him that the timing of the operation depended more on the state of the enemy than on the set perfection of our preparations. He agreed with the view that if the Germans did not throw in the sponge by February, we should have to expect heavy fighting throughout the summer. In this event, it would have to be realized that the 16 British divisions were the limit of our contribution. The British could not meet any further calls on our manpower, which was now fully deployed on war service.
After reviewing all the various theaters of operations, the relationships seemed to work out as follows.
OVERLORD remained top of the bill, but this operation should not be such a tyrant as to rule out every other activity in the Mediterranean; for example, a little flexibility in the employment of landing craft ought to be conceded. Seventy additional LCTs had been ordered to be built in British shipyards. We must see if we can do even better than this.
General Alexander had asked that the date of the return of the landing craft for OVERLORD should be deferred from mid-December to mid-January. The resources which were at issue between the American and British Staffs would probably be found to amount to no more than 10 percent of the whole, excluding those in the Pacific Surely some degree of elasticity could be arranged. Nevertheless, he wished to remove any idea that we had weakened, cooled, or were trying to get out of OVERLORD. We were in it up to the hilt.
To sum up, the program he advocated was Rome in January, Rhodes in February, supplies to the Yugoslavs, a settlement of the Command arrangements and the opening of the Aegean, subject to the outcome of an approach to Turkey; all preparations for OVERLORD to go ahead full steam within the framework of the foregoing policy for the Mediterranean.
The President said that we could not tell what the state of German military capabilities would be from month to month. The Russian advance, if it continued at its present rate, would bring our ally in a few weeks to the boundaries of Rumania. At the forthcoming conference, the Russians might ask what we intended to do in this event. They might suggest a junction of our right with their left. We should be ready to answer this question.
The Russians might suggest that we stage an operation at the top of the Adriatic with a view to assisting Tito.
Turning to manpower, the President read out the figures for the U.S. and British air and land forces at present disposed overseas and in the respective home countries.
The Prime Minister said that the staffs had been giving much thought to how we should beat Japan when Hitler was finished. He was determined to solve this problem and the British Fleet would be disposed wherever it could make the best contribution towards this end. The air force buildup would also be studied.
The President said that he shared the views expressed by Mr. Molotov that the defeat of Japan would follow that of Germany and more rapidly than at present was generally thought possible. It seemed that the Generalissimo had been well satisfied with the discussion held the previous day. There was no doubt that China had wide aspirations which included the reoccupation of Manchuria and Korea.
The President then referred to the question of Command, remarking that he still received requests for the transfer of shipping and of air forces from one theater to another for a limited period of operations. In his view our strategic air forces from London to Ankara should be under one command. He cited the example of the command which Marshal Foch exercised in 1918.
The Prime Minister said that once we were across the Channel a united command would be established in the area of operations. He considered that the Combined Chiefs of Staff system had worked reasonably satisfactorily in taking the decision referred to by the President.
The Prime Minister paid a tribute to the accuracy and effectiveness of the U.S. daylight bombers operating from the United Kingdom.
The President and Prime Minister invited the staffs to study the problems as to the scope and dates of the operations to be carried out in the European and Mediterranean Theaters in 1944, with a view to arriving at an agreed view, if possible, before the coming meeting with the Russians.