U.S. State Department (November 29, 1943)
||Air Chief Marshal Portal
||Mr. Pavlov, Interpreter
|Colonel McFarland, Secretary
||Brigadier Redman, Secretary
|Captain Ware, Interpreter
||Captain Lunghi, Interpreter
Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes
November 29, 1943, 10:30 a.m.
General Sir Alan Brooke expressed his pleasure at being able to sit down at a table around which were gathered the military representatives of the U.S., the U.K., and the USSR. He said that he would run through a brief account of the war as seen by the British representatives at the present moment and then examine the relation of the OVERLORD operation to the other parts of the war effort.
He thought that one of the most important things at the present time was to keep the German divisions actively engaged. For this reason, the British were interested in stopping the movement to the Russian front of all the German divisions which it was possible to hold. OVERLORD would engage a large number of German divisions, but it could not possibly be mounted until 1 May at the very earliest date. Therefore, there would ensue, between the present time and the launching of OVERLORD, a period of some five or six months during which something must be done to keep the German divisions engaged. It was therefore desired to take full advantage of the forces now established in the Mediterranean area.
At this point General Brooke expressed the hope that General Marshall would interrupt his statement if anything was said with which General Marshall did not agree or on which he wished to offer any comment.
Continuing his account of the war, General Brooke said that for the reasons already stated, all the plans on which we have been working have been designed to deploy the maximum forces on all fronts. Pointing out on a map the present location of the Italian Front, he said that on that line we are assembling the forces in Italy necessary to drive the Germans to the north. There are some 23 German divisions now in Italy, part of them in the south and a part of them in the north. The present conception is to assemble sufficient forces to drive the Germans from their present line to a line north of Rome. To do this it would be necessary to employ amphibious forces around the German flanks (pointing to the west flank), and by these operations it was hoped to engage the 11 or 12 German divisions in the south, render them inoperative, and force the Germans to relieve them. By these means we should be able to contain the German divisions now present in Italy and to reduce their efficiency.
Turning to Yugoslavia, General Brooke said that since the withdrawal of Italian forces there, the Germans have found it difficult to maintain their communications in that country. Therefore, full advantage must be taken of all opportunities to increase the German difficulties in Yugoslavia by assisting the Partisans. It is desired to organize a system by which arms can be supplied to them and air assistance rendered as well.
General Brooke said that there were now some 21 German divisions deployed in Yugoslavia as far down as the Grecian border. Replying to an indication from Marshal Voroshilov that he did not quite agree with these figures, he stated that this was his information and that he would ask the British Intelligence to check the accuracy of his figures. He said that there were also 8 Bulgarian divisions in addition to the German divisions in the Yugoslav area.
With reference to Turkey, General Brooke said that, looking at Turkey from a military point of view and omitting all political considerations, we see a great military advantage in getting Turkey into the war. By this we shall have an opportunity of opening the sea communications through the Dardanelles. By doing this, the position of Bulgaria and Rumania will become more difficult and the chances of getting them out of the war will be greatly increased. There will also be opened up the possibility of establishing a supply line to Russia through the Dardanelles.
By establishing airdromes in Turkey, it will be possible to launch bombing attacks on German oil establishments in eastern Europe. The shortening of the sea route to Russia will save shipping and thereby assist greatly in the general shipping shortage. In order to open sea communications through the Dardanelles, it is considered that it will be necessary to capture some of the Dodecanese Islands, beginning with Rhodes. With airdromes established in Turkey and with Turkish help, it was not believed that this would be a difficult task nor that it would detract from other operations.
General Brooke said that we have in the Mediterranean now a certain number of landing craft for special operations. These landing craft would be required for the operations he had outlined, and their retention for these operations would require the retarding of the date set for OVERLORD. The landing craft are being used to maintain and build up the forces now in Italy. By the operations he had outlined we should be able to hold and destroy the German forces now in the Mediterranean area while awaiting the date for OVERLORD.
He considered it also of great importance to establish airdromes to the north of Rome in order to bring bombing to bear on German installations. He said that this air operation in conjunction with the operations now being carried on from England would play a great part in the conduct of the whole war.
He pointed out that air attacks were now containing about a million men now held in Germany solely by reason of the bomber offensive. He said that if we adopt defensive operations in Italy now, as had been suggested at yesterday’s conference, we should still have to maintain strong forces in Italy in order to contain the German forces there. Therefore, there would be left over only very limited forces for the operation against the coast of Southern France. In addition, the landing craft available for that operation would be limited to a very small assault force.
General Brooke said that he agreed with Marshal Stalin’s pincer strategy of two cooperating forces whenever such a strategy was possible but he thought that this strategy was better when based on land instead of on long sea communications. In the latter case, the two forces are not sufficiently self-supporting. It is not easy to reinforce one from the other or to keep a reserve from which to reinforce either from a central point. The building up of land forces by sea is a lengthy business.
General Brooke said that if the attack against Southern France were launched two months prior to OVERLORD, that it was certain to be defeated before OVERLORD starts. He said that a more nearly simultaneous execution of these operations would be required and also that large numbers of landing craft would be necessary. However, it had been considered that during OVERLORD a small landing might be made in Southern France to draw German forces away from the larger operation.
He said that the difficulties and dangers for OVERLORD would develop during the building up of the forces. It was possible to assault the French coast only with some three or four divisions and the process of building up to 35 divisions would be long and difficult. During this period, it was imperative that the Germans should not be able to concentrate large forces against the operation.
General Brooke said that this concluded a rough outline of the projected land operations and that Air Marshal Sir Charles Portal would explain the air aspects of the operations.
Air Marshal Portal inquired as to whether he should, in his comments, cover the U.S. air operations or whether General Marshall would do this.
In reply, General Marshall requested Air Marshal Portal to cover the entire operations and said that he would elaborate as necessary.
In response to Marshal Voroshilov’s request that the U.S. representatives give their comments on the land operations before the taking up of the air aspects, Admiral Leahy requested General Marshall to state the U.S. views.
General Marshall said that he should first explain the purely American point of view of this stage of the war. He pointed out that the U.S. now has a going war on two fronts, the Pacific and the Atlantic, and this fact of two major operations at one time presents a dilemma. In contrast to the usual difficulties of war, there is no lack of troops and no lack of supplies. There are now more than fifty divisions in the United States which we wish to deploy as soon as possible in addition to those already overseas. The military problem, therefore, resolves itself almost entirely into a question of shipping and landing craft. While this is, of course, an exaggeration, it might almost be said that we have reached the point of having to ignore strategy in order to advance communications. Our great desire is to bring these troops into action as soon as possible.
When we speak of landing craft we mean, most of all, special craft for the transport of motor vehicles and tanks. As the Chief of the Imperial General Staff has already stated, our problem in the Mediterranean is largely one of landing craft, and of those landing crafty we are particularly concerned with the special craft for transporting motor vehicles.
General Marshall said that he wished to repeat and emphasize that there was no lack of troops or of supplies. He said we are deeply interested in the length of voyages, the length of time required in ports, and the overall time for the turnaround. Our air forces had been sent overseas just as soon as they had been trained and hence, the air battle was far more advanced than the situation on land. One of the delays in the buildup of land forces in Italy had been the getting in of air support and the necessary ground troops to maintain it.
General Marshall said that one reason for favoring OVERLORD from the start is that it is the shortest oversea transport route. After the initial success, transports will be sent directly from the United States to the French ports because there are about sixty divisions in the United States to be put into OVERLORD.
As to the Mediterranean factors in the situation, General Marshall said that no definite conclusions have been reached up to the present as to further operations, pending the results of this conference. The question now before us is: What do we do in the next three months, and then in the next six months? He pointed out that what was done in the second period would necessarily depend on the decisions made in the first period.
General Marshall said he would like to repeat the statement made by General Brooke that it is considered dangerous to launch an operation against the coast of Southern France a long time (that is, what we consider a long time) prior to OVERLORD. On the other hand, action in Southern France has been considered and planned on as very important for the support of the operation in Northwestern France. He said that at the present moment he and his U.S. colleagues feel that from two to three weeks should be the maximum limit for launching this operation in advance of OVERLORD.
General Marshall said he wished to point out, in addition to what General Brooke had said, that the destruction of ports imposes an initial and serious delay in getting heavy equipment and ammunition ashore, and it is necessary that we assume in our planning that the ports will be destroyed. Our engineers have accomplished marvels in restoring the damaged ports but despite this, a considerable period of dangerous delay inevitably follows the initial assault. He illustrated this by reference to the U.S. experience in Salerno, a comparatively small landing. In the first 18 days there had been landed over the beaches a total of 108,000 tons of supplies, 30,000 motor vehicles and 189,000 troops. He wished to emphasize that all of this had to be done over the beaches and that none of it came through a port. The U.S. was fortunate, of course, to have had during this period a very slight enemy air reaction.
General Marshall said that the difficulty in such an operation is to get sufficient fighter air cover. In almost every case it had been found, therefore, that an additional operation was necessary in order to get the airfields for this fighter cover.
In answer to a question from Marshal Voroshilov as to how long it had taken to land the men and material just enumerated, General Marshall said it had required 18 days; thereafter a port had been secured. Then, beginning with an initial entry of 2,000 tons of supplies, the intake through the port was increased more and more as the demolished equipment was rehabilitated until it was possible to take care of all requirements in this manner.
In summarizing, General Marshall said that he wished to emphasize that shipping and landing craft, with the provision of fighter air cover, are the problems for which we have to find solutions in order to decide the question of Mediterranean operations. He added that over Salerno fighter aircraft had had only 15 or 20 minutes of actual combat flying time.
Marshal Voroshilov remarked that for OVERLORD this would be a very short time.
General Marshall replied that a total combat time of 30 minutes had been planned for OVERLORD.
In reply to Marshal Voroshilov’s statement that he did not think this was sufficient time, Air Marshal Portal explained that the 30 minutes was not measured from takeoff to landing but was the actual time in which the fighter planes were actually engaged over the battle area.
In reply to Marshal Voroshilov’s question as to what fighters were envisaged as being in this area, Air Marshal Portal said that these would be the high-performance fighters, like the British Spitfires and American P-51s and P-38s. He explained that the long-range fighters were not so suitable against the German defenses as the short-range.
General Marshall said that in the Mediterranean we face the problem of where to employ our available landing craft. If we undertake certain operations, OVERLORD will inevitably be delayed. If we confine ourselves to reduced operations in the Mediterranean for the next three or four months, this course entails the least interference with OVERLORD. He repeated that the problem is not a lack of troops or of equipment. He would like Marshal Voroshilov to understand that at the present time the U.S. has landing operations going on at five different places in the Pacific, all of which involve landing craft, and that four more similar operations were due to be launched in January.
Admiral Leahy said that he thought the best procedure now would fee to have Air Marshal Portal discuss the air aspects of operations and then to ask Marshal Voroshilov to present any comments or advice he may have.
Air Marshal Portal said that he would speak only of the air war in Europe other than on the battle fronts. He said that the air offensive against Germany was being waged on an ever-increasing scale from the U.K.; from the Mediterranean it was just beginning. As to the scale of attack, the British and Americans together were launching from 15,000 to 20,000 tons of bombs per month on German communications, installations, and battle industry. Our immediate objective is the destruction of the plants and factories on which German battle industry depends. If we can do this and inflict heavy casualties on German fighters, we hope to be able to range over all Germany and destroy one by one every important installation on which the German war effort depends.
The battle is heavy, with heavy losses on both sides. The Germans clearly realize their danger if our plans succeed. This is assured by the disposition of their forces in order to counter our attacks. For instance, for the defense of central and southern Germany the Germans now have deployed between 1,650 and 1,700 fighters. On all other fronts together they have only 750 fighters. These figures cover fighters only; bombers are not included. German sensitiveness to the bombing of their industrial area was recently illustrated when, in response to the comparatively light attacks made from the Mediterranean on this area, the Germans immediately transferred 200 fighters to the area.
Air Marshal Portal said that it was recognized that the bulk of the Soviet planes were now employed in support of the land battle, but when it became possible to spare air forces from the land battle, this would help enormously on all other fronts by causing the Germans to withdraw forces to protect the area threatened by the Soviets.
In response to a suggestion from Admiral Leahy, it was now agreed that it would be helpful if Marshal Voroshilov would express his opinion on the matters under discussion.
Marshal Voroshilov said that before making a statement, he would like to ask some questions. He said that he knew from the statements made by the British and American military representatives in Moscow that Overlord is being prepared for next spring, with a target date about 1 May. He had just heard that morning that fifty or sixty divisions would be available from the U.S. for this operation and that the only problem was one of shipping and landing craft. He hoped that it might be possible to have a report on what is being done now to solve the problem of shipping and landing craft and to launch Operation OVERLORD on time. This constituted his first question.
As to his second question, he said that he had attached great importance to the remarks made by General Marshall from which he understood that the U.S. considers Operation OVERLORD of the first importance. He wished to know if General Brooke also considered the operation of the first importance. He wished to ask both Allies whether they think that OVERLORD must be carried out or whether they consider that it may be possible to replace it by some other suitable operation when Turkey has entered the war.
General Marshall said that in answer to Marshal Voroshilov’s question as to progress from the U.S. side on the buildup for OVERLORD, all preparations are now under way and have been for some time, for a target date of 1 May 1944, and that the troops are now in motion. As an example, he pointed out that we now have in England, well ahead of the troops, a million tons of supplies and equipment, including munitions and heavy supplies of all kinds. It remains now only to bring the troops up to the supplies.
He pointed out that the U.S. had only one division in England in August. There are nine divisions there now with a constant flow of additional troops. There had been a tremendous flow of air personnel for the bomber offensive.
He said that in speaking of divisions, he was including the necessary corps and army troops as well as service troops. He reiterated that the problem is landing craft for OVERLORD. The question now is: Shall we take any landing craft from OVERLORD for other operations and thereby delay OVERLORD? The troops are in motion for OVERLORD. The air forces are already there and proceeding with their expansion. The problem is landing craft.
Marshal Voroshilov said that he had an additional question. He said that General Deane and General Ismay, in explaining the OVERLORD buildup at the Moscow Conference, had said that both in the U.S. and U.K. there were now being built special landing craft and special vessels for the construction of temporary harbors. He would like to know the present status of these construction programs.
General Marshall said that he would leave the answer as to the special port construction and as to part of the landing craft construction to General Brooke. He said that in the struggle with the landing craft problem, the object of the U.S. is to get more craft in order to be able to undertake some operations in the Mediterranean that could easily be done if more landing craft were available. He wished to make clear that the landing craft program for OVERLORD is well in hand. General Marshall repeated and emphasized this statement.
Marshal Voroshilov said that he understood that some shipbuilding yards both in England and America had been taken over for the building of landing craft. He wished to know whether the construction was actually under way or whether it was still only a program.
General Marshall said that General Brooke could answer for the U.K. There was no secret about the matter. He feared that he himself had misled Marshal Voroshilov in view of the fact that he was answering the Marshal’s question wholly with respect to landing craft for OVERLORD. For example, it had recently been decided to delay the movement from the Mediterranean to OVERLORD of sixty landing craft, capable of carrying 40 tanks each, in order to permit General Eisenhower not only to advance more rapidly in Italy but to force the Germans to reinforce their line from the Po Valley. In other words, the object was to absorb more German divisions in view of the fact that General Eisenhower was unable to conduct a turning movement through the mountains during the winter. For this reason, it had been decided to delay the movement of these landing craft from the Mediterranean to the U.K. but it was hoped that it would be possible to complete the operations for which they were being retained in the Mediterranean and still get them through on time for OVERLORD. In the meantime, a tremendous effort was being made both in the U.S. and U.K. to increase the output of landing craft so that OVERLORD might be made more powerful and more certain of success, and so that it might be possible to undertake the operations in the Mediterranean that additional landing craft would permit. He pointed out that the problem in the Mediterranean involves at present more troops than can be put into action.
Marshal Voroshilov said that this answered his question.
General Brooke said, in answer to Marshal Voroshilov’s first question as to the importance in British eyes of operation OVERLORD, that the British had always considered the operation as an essential part of this war. However, they had stipulated that the operation must be mounted at a time when it would have the best chances of success. He pointed out that the fortifications in Northern France are of a very serious character, that the communications are excellent, and therefore the Germans would have an excellent opportunity of holding up the landings until they could bring their reserves into play. This is the reason for the British stipulations as to the conditions prerequisite for launching the operation. They consider that in 1944 these conditions will exist. They have reorganized all their forces for this purpose. These forces were originally organized for the defense of the U.K. but they are now organized as an expeditionary force for employment on the Continent. Amphibious divisions are now undergoing training for Operation OVERLORD. Four battle-tried divisions have been brought back from Italy to the U.K. for the operation and, in addition, there have been brought back some of the landing craft which will be required. All details and plans for the operation have been made as far as it has been possible to do so up to the present moment.
It followed, therefore, that the British attach the greatest importance to the execution of this operation in 1944 but, as General Marshall had said and as he (General Brooke) wished to say again, landing craft constituted our tactical necessity. In order to maintain the 1 May 1944 date for OVERLORD it will be necessary to withdraw landing craft from the Mediterranean now. If this were done, it would bring the Italian operations almost to a standstill. The British wished, during the preparations for OVERLORD, to keep fighting the Germans in the Mediterranean to the maximum degree possible. In their view, such operations are necessary not only to hold the Germans in Italy but to create the situation in Northern France which will make OVERLORD possible.
General Brooke said that Marshal Voroshilov had heard correctly as to the construction of landing craft in England at the present time. The Prime Minister has stopped certain ordinary construction in order to make additional landing craft possible. By, these means it was hoped to make sixty or seventy more craft available in time for OVERLORD. These are being built now and are in addition to the original program.
With reference to the provision for temporary harbors, he said that the necessary gear was being built for this purpose now. In this connection many experiments have been made, and while some of them had not been as successful as it had been hoped, others had offered considerable promise and it was hoped would give fruitful results. This was a matter of the greatest importance as the success or failure of the operation may depend on these ports. He hoped that these statements would provide a satisfactory answer to Marshal Voroshilov’s question.
Marshal Voroshilov said he wished to apologize for his failure to understand clearly but he was interested to know whether General Brooke, as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, considered OVERLORD as important an operation as General Marshall had indicated that he did. He would like General Brooke’s personal opinion.
General Brooke replied that as Chief of the Imperial General Staff he considered Operation OVERLORD as of vital importance, but there was one stipulation that he should like to make. He knew the defenses of Northern France and did not wish to see the operation fail. In his opinion, under certain circumstances it was bound to fail.
Marshal Voroshilov said that Marshal Stalin and the Soviet General Staff attach great importance to OVERLORD and felt that the other operations in the Mediterranean can be regarded only as auxiliary operations.
General Brooke said that that was exactly the way he looked at the matter but, unless the auxiliary operations are carried out, in his opinion OVERLORD cannot be successful.
Marshal Voroshilov said that he would now express his own point of view. He recalled that Marshal Stalin had said yesterday that he and the Soviet General Staff considered that OVERLORD was a very serious operation and would prove a difficult one. He said that the accomplishments of the U.S. and U.K. in the war to date, especially the brilliant operations of their air forces over Germany, served to indicate the might of these two nations and the superiority of the Allies in the Mediterranean area. If there is added to this the firm will and desire of the U.S. and British staffs, he (Marshal Voroshilov) felt sure that OVERLORD would be successful and that it would go down in history as one of our greatest victories. He repeated that this view was supported by what all have seen in the fighting in North Africa and the operations of the Allied air forces over Germany.
Marshal Voroshilov said that he had absolutely no doubt that the necessary shipping and landing craft for OVERLORD can be found either by construction of new craft or conversion from merchant craft. He was sure these problems can be solved successfully. He understood from the statements made by General Marshall that the U.S. now has nine divisions in the U.K. He pointed out that there are yet six months to 1 May 1944, the target date for OVERLORD. This will permit the U.S. forces in the U.K. to be doubled or tripled and, in addition, make possible the bringing over of tanks and other supplies.
General Marshall said that the nine divisions now in the U.K. consisted of seven infantry divisions and two armored divisions.
Marshal Voroshilov said that in his opinion this force can be doubled in the next six months, to which General Marshall replied that this is already scheduled.
Marshal Voroshilov said that he would now discuss the operation itself. He entirely agreed with General Brooke that some small operations in the Mediterranean are necessary as diversions in order to draw German troops away from the Eastern Front and from Northwestern France, but he thought as a military man, and as probably all other military men would think also, that OVERLORD is the most important operation and that all the other auxiliary operations, such as Rome, Rhodes and what not, must be planned to assist OVERLORD and certainly not to hinder it. He pointed out that it was possible now to plan additional operations that may hurt OVERLORD and emphasized that this must not be so. These operations must be planned so as to secure OVERLORD, which is the most important operation, and not to hurt it. The suggestion made yesterday by Marshal Stalin that simultaneous operations should be undertaken from Northern France and Southern France is based on the idea that the Mediterranean operations are secondary to OVERLORD. Germany cannot be attacked directly from Italy because of the Alps. However, Italy does offer the possibility of successful defense with a small number of troops. The troops saved by defensive operations in Italy would be available for launching an amphibious operation against Southern France. Marshal Stalin does not insist on this but does insist on the execution of OVERLORD on the date already planned.
Marshal Voroshilov said, with respect to the action of the air forces and Air Marshal Portal’s suggestion of the bombing of eastern Germany by the Russian Air Force, that it must be known to the U.S. and the U.K. staffs that the Germans are still strong on the Russian front. He wished to repeat that, as Marshal Stalin had said yesterday, there are now 210 German divisions on this front and 50 satellite divisions, making a total of 260 in all. The Soviets will, of course, utilize every opportunity of attacking eastern Germany by air, but these opportunities are not very frequent. No such possibility exists at present because all air forces are employed in support of the land battle.