Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes
November 29, 1943, 4 p.m. Secret
The President said he had no formal agenda for today’s meeting. He thought it would be a good idea if Marshal Stalin, the Prime Minister, and possibly Marshal Voroshilov, would give the meeting their ideas.
Marshal Stalin asked whether the military committee had completed its work.
General Brooke gave an outline of the proceedings of the conference this morning. (See Minutes of Military Conference, 29 November 1943 at 1030.)
General Marshall stated that he had little to add to the statement of General Brooke but that the problems concerning the United States are not those of troops nor equipment but rather problems of ships, landing craft and airfields in sufficient proximity to the scene of immediate operations under consideration. Furthermore, he said, in speaking of landing craft, he was speaking particularly of a special type which carries about 40 tanks or motor vehicles. He said he desired to make clear, as far as the United States forces for OVERLORD are concerned, that the buildup has proceeded according to schedule. Especially should it be noted that the supplies and equipment have now been assembled to the extent of one million tons in the United Kingdom, in advance of the arrival of the troops anticipated. All supplies and equipment have been set up according to schedule. The variable or questionable factor is the subject of landing craft. He said there was a schedule of landing craft construction which had been accelerated both in the United Kingdom and the United States. The purpose of this acceleration is involved with two considerations, (a) the matter of the initial assault for OVERLORD, and (b) operations in the Mediterranean, which could be done if additional landing craft could be made available. In brief, the OVERLORD buildup is going ahead according to schedule as regards ground troops, air forces and equipment. Discussions and problems regarding OVERLORD were related almost entirely to the employment and movement of available landing craft. Transfer of certain United States and British divisions from the Mediterranean to the United Kingdom for the OVERLORD buildup had virtually been completed at the present time.
Marshal Voroshilov said that the information given by General Brooke and General Marshall corresponded to the talks which had been held this morning on the questions concerning OVERLORD – specifically, technical questions. Continuing, Marshal Voroshilov said as far as the matters discussed by General Brooke concerning [concerned?] Italy, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Southern France, it was hoped that these matters would be the subject of the next meeting of the ad hoc committee. The committee also had under discussion the date of OVERLORD and the details of that operation, with the thought that they would be able to discuss these matters further at the next meeting.
Marshal Stalin asked who will be the commander in this Operation OVERLORD.
The President and Prime Minister interpolated this was not yet decided.
Marshal Stalin continued, “Then nothing will come out of these operations.” He further inquired as to who carries the moral and technical responsibility for this operation. He was informed by the President and Prime Minister that the British General Morgan, who is Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (Designate), is charged with the plans and preparations which have been and are continually being made and carried out by a Combined U.S.-British Staff.
In reply to a question from Marshal Stalin as to who has the executive responsibility for OVERLORD preparations, the President replied that we have already decided the names of all the commanders except that of the Supreme Commander.
Marshal Stalin said that it could happen that General Morgan might say that all matters were ready; however, when the Supreme Commander reports, he, the Supreme Commander, might not think that everything necessary had been accomplished by the Chief of Staff. He felt that there must be one person in charge.
The Prime Minister informed Marshal Stalin that General Morgan had been charged with the preparation and carrying out of plans in the preliminary stages for OVERLORD. His Majesty’s Government had expressed willingness to have Operation OVERLORD undertaken under the command of a United States commander. The United States will be concerned with the greatest part of the buildup, and this United States commander will have command in the field.
Mr. Churchill added that in the Mediterranean the British have large naval and air forces which are under direct British command under the Allied Commander in Chief. A decision had not yet been reached between the President and Prime Minister regarding the specific matter of high command. Decisions here at this conference will have a bearing on the choice. Therefore, the President can name the Supreme Allied Commander for OVERLORD if he desires to accept the British offers to serve under a United States commander. The Prime Minister further suggested that Marshal Stalin be given an answer in confidence between the three Chiefs of State regarding who the Supreme Allied Commander would be.
Marshal Stalin said he desired it to be understood that he did not presume to take part in the selection of a commander for OVERLORD but merely wanted to know who this officer would be and felt strongly that he should be appointed as soon as possible and be given the responsibility for preparations for OVERLORD as well as the executive command of the operation.
The Prime Minister agreed it was essential that a commander be appointed for the OVERLORD operation without delay and indicated that such an appointment would be made within a fortnight. He hoped that it might be accomplished during his current meeting with the President.
The Prime Minister then went on to say that he was concerned with the number and complexity of problems which presented themselves before the conference. He said that the meeting was unique in that the thoughts of more than 140,000,000 people were centered upon it. He felt that the principals should not separate until agreements on political, moral, and military problems had been reached. He said that he wished to present a few points which would require study by a subcommittee. Both he and the British Staff had given long study to the Mediterranean position, in which area Great Britain has a large army. He was anxious that the British Mediterranean army should fight throughout 1944 and not be quiescent. From that point of view, he asked the Soviets to survey the field and examine the different alternatives put before them and submit their recommendations.
The Prime Minister said that the first point which required study was what assistance could be given to the OVERLORD operation by the large force which will be in the Mediterranean. He asked in particular what the possibilities of this force might be and what should be the scale of an operation that might be launched from Northern Italy into Southern France. He did not feel that such an operation had been studied in sufficient detail but he welcomed the opportunity to give it close examination. He thought it might be well for the U.S. and U.K. staffs to consider this matter together in the light of their special knowledge concerning resources available. He pointed out that Marshal Stalin had stressed the value of pincer operations. He said that for such operations timing is of great importance. A weak attack several months in advance might result in its being defeated and permit the enemy to turn his whole strength to meet the main attack.
The Prime Minister said he wanted landing craft to carry at least two divisions. With such an amphibious force it would be possible to do operations seriatim, that is, first, up the leg of Italy by amphibious turning movements, thus offering the possibility of cutting off the enemy’s withdrawal and capturing the entire German force now in Central Italy; second, to take Rhodes in conjunction with Turkey’s entry into the war; and, third, to use the entire force for operations six months hence against the southern coast of France in order to assist OVERLORD. He said that none of these operations would be excluded but that the timing would require careful study. This force of two divisions cannot be supplied in the Mediterranean without either setting back the date of OVERLORD for six or eight weeks or without drawing back from the Indian Ocean landing craft which were now intended to be used against the Japanese. He said that this is one of the dilemmas which the Anglo-American staffs are balancing in their minds. In reaching their conclusions they would be greatly assisted by the views of Marshal Stalin and his officers. He welcomed these views because of his admiration for the military record of the Red Army. He therefore suggested that the military staffs continue to study these subjects.
The Prime Minister then said that the second matter which must be settled was political rather than military because of the small military forces involved. He referred to the question of Yugoslavia and the Dalmatian Coast. He said that in the Balkans there were 21 German divisions plus garrison troops, of which 54,000 troops are spread about among the Aegean Islands. There were also about 21 Bulgarian divisions or a total of 42 divisions in all.
The Prime Minister later corrected these figures to indicate that there were 42 divisions in all, 12 of which were Bulgarian divisions in Bulgaria.
He said that if Turkey came into the war the Bulgarian divisions would be used to face the Turks on the Thrace front. This withdrawal of Bulgarian divisions as garrison troops in the Balkans would endanger the remaining German divisions left on that duty by operations of the guerrillas. He said that he did not suggest that the Anglo-American forces put divisions into the Balkans, but he did propose that there be a continuous flow of supplies, frequent commando raids and air support furnished as and when needed. He felt it was shortsighted to let the Germans crush Yugoslavia without giving those brave people now fighting under Tito weapons for which they might ask. He emphasized that the Balkan operations would be a great factor in stretching the Germans and thus giving relief to the Russian front. He added that the British had no interests in the Balkans that were exceptional or ambitious in nature and all they wanted to do was to nail the 21 German divisions in that area and destroy them. He suggested that the Foreign Secretaries of the U.K. and the USSR and a representative of the United States whom the President might designate should hold discussions to see if the proposed activities in the Balkans presented any political difficulties.
The Prime Minister then came to his last point, which was in reference to Turkey. He said that the British are allies of Turkey and that the British have accepted the responsibility of endeavoring to persuade or force Turkey into the war before Christmas. He said that if the President would come in with the British or take the lead, it would be agreeable to him, but he should certainly want all possible help from the U.S. and USSR in accordance with the agreements made at the Moscow Conference.
The Prime Minister said that the British would go far in warning Turkey that her failure to enter the war would jeopardize her political and territorial aspirations, particularly with reference to the Dardanelles, when these matters were being discussed at the peace table.
The Prime Minister indicated that the military staffs had already discussed the military aspects of Turkey’s entry into the war. He said, however, that the question was largely political since only two or three divisions of soldiers were involved. He again posed the question as to how the USSR would feel about Bulgaria. Would they be inclined to tell Bulgaria that if Turkey did enter the war against Germany and Bulgaria helped Germany, the USSR would regard Bulgaria as a foe? He felt that such a statement might have a great influence on Bulgaria’s attitude because of her relationship with the Soviets. He suggested that the Foreign Secretaries study this matter, also particularly as to the methods to be used and the results which might be expected. He said that he personally felt that the results might well be decisive, particularly in their moral effect. He said that Turkey, being an ally of Germany in the last war and now turning against her, would have a profound effect on the remainder of the Balkans. He pointed to Rumania’s desire to present an unconditional surrender at this time and to other indications of unrest in the Balkans, as evidence of the fact that Turkey’s entry into the war would have a great effect.
The Prime Minister concluded by saying he felt that the whole Mediterranean situation should be carefully examined to see what could be done to take weight off the Soviet front.
Marshal Stalin said, as far as the question of the USSR versus Bulgaria is concerned, as soon as Turkey comes into the war we can consider that the matter is closed. The USSR will take care of Bulgaria. If Turkey declares war on Bulgaria, the USSR will declare war on Bulgaria. Even under these circumstances Turkey will not enter the war.
As far as military matters are concerned, Marshal Stalin said he understood that two or three divisions would be made available to help Turkey should she come into the war or to help in the Partisan movement in Yugoslavia. There is no difference of opinion on this point. We feel it desirable to help in Yugoslavia and to give two or three divisions if it would be necessary to do so. The Soviets do not think, however, that this is an important matter. Even the event of the entry of Turkey into the war or the occupation of Rhodes is not the most important thing. If we are here in order to discuss military questions, among all the military questions for discussion we, the USSR, find OVERLORD the most important and decisive. Marshal Stalin said he would like to call the attention of those present to the importance of not creating diversions from the most important operation in order to carry out secondary operations. He suggested that the ad hoc committee, which was created yesterday, should be given a definite task as to what they were to discuss. He said if a committee is created in the USSR, we always give that committee a specific directive or instructions. Marshal Stalin suggested that the military ad hoc committee be given a specific directive. He said it was, of course, true that the USSR needed help and that is why the representatives of the Soviet are here at this conference. He said the Soviets expect help from those who are willing to fulfill Operation OVERLORD. The question now was what shall be the directive to the ad hoc committee? What shall be the instructions that should be given to the committee under the guidance of General Brooke? First of all, this directive must be specific with regard to the fact that OVERLORD should not be postponed and must be carried out by the limiting date. Secondly, the directive to the committee should state that Operation OVERLORD must be reinforced by a landing in the South of France a month or two before undertaking the OVERLORD assault. If not possible two or three months earlier, then the landing in the South of France should be at the same time. If a landing cannot be effected in the South of France at the same time as OVERLORD, possibly this operation could be mounted a little later than OVERLORD.
Marshal Stalin thought this operation in the South of France would be an auxiliary or supporting operation and would help and be considerably effective in contributing toward OVERLORD. On the other hand, operations against Rhodes and other operations in the Mediterranean would be diversions. Operations in the South of France would influence and contribute directly to OVERLORD. He said that the directive to the ad hoc committee must also state that the appointment of the Supreme Commander for OVERLORD should be made forthwith. The decision regarding the OVERLORD commander should be made here in Tehran. If it cannot be done here, it should be done within a week at the latest. The Soviets believe that until such a commander has been appointed, no success from OVERLORD can be expected in the matter of organization for this operation. He added that it is the task of the British and the United States representatives to agree on the commander for OVERLORD. The USSR does not enter into the matter of this selection but the Soviets definitely want to know who he will be. The above are the points of the directive which should be given to the ad hoc committee, and the work of this committee should be completed immediately.
Marshal Stalin asked the conference to seriously consider the points which he had just outlined. He added that he felt if the three points he had made were carried out, they would result in the successful and rapid accomplishment of OVERLORD.
The President said he was tremendously interested in hearing all angles of the subject from OVERLORD to Turkey. He said that if we are all agreed on OVERLORD, the next question would be regarding the timing of OVERLORD. Therefore, if we come down to a matter of questions, the point is either to carry out OVERLORD at the appointed time or to agree to the postponement of that operation to sometime in June or July. There are only one or two other operations in the Mediterranean which might use landing craft and air forces from some other theater. The President said there are two dangers in creating a delay in OVERLORD. One of them is that the use of two or three divisions in the Eastern Mediterranean would cause a delay to OVERLORD and would necessitate the sending of certain landing craft for those operations which in turn could not be withdrawn from the Eastern Mediterranean in time to return for the OVERLORD date. He said it was believed that once we are committed to specific operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, we would have to make it a supreme operation and we probably could not then pull out of it.
Marshal Stalin observed that maybe it would be necessary to utilize some of the means for OVERLORD in order to carry out operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The President continued that in the Balkans and Yugoslavia he believed all aid should be given which could be possibly sent to Tito without making any particular commitment which would interfere with OVERLORD. He said he thought that we should consider the value of the 40 divisions the Germans have in the Balkans and if we can do certain operations with a minimum effort, these divisions might be placed in a position where they could no longer be of any value.
The President said he felt that commando raids should be undertaken in the Balkans and that we should send all possible supplies to Tito in order to require Germany to keep their [her?] divisions there.
Marshal Stalin said that in Yugoslavia the Germans have eight divisions; they have five divisions in Greece, and three or four divisions in Bulgaria. He stated that the figures given by the Prime Minister regarding German divisions in the Balkans were wrong.
In reply to a question, Marshal Stalin said there were 25 German divisions now in France.
The President said we should therefore work out plans to contain these German divisions. This should be done on such a scale as not to divert means from doing OVERLORD at the agreed time.
Marshal Stalin observed, regarding the President’s statement, “You are right – You are right.”
The President said we again come back to the problem of the timing for OVERLORD. It was believed that it would be good for OVERLORD to take place about 1 May, or certainly not later than 15 May or 20 May, if possible.
The Prime Minister said that he could not agree to that.
Marshal Stalin said he observed at yesterday’s conference that nothing will come out of these proposed diversions. In his opinion OVERLORD should be done in May. He added that there would be suitable weather in May.
The Prime Minister said he did not believe that the attitudes of those present on this matter were very far apart. He said he (the Prime Minister) was going to do everything in the power of His Majesty’s Government to begin OVERLORD at the earliest possible moment. However, he did not think that the many great possibilities in the Mediterranean should be ruthlessly cast aside as valueless merely on the question of a month’s delay in OVERLORD.
Marshal Stalin said all the Mediterranean operations are diversions, aside from that into Southern France, and that he had no interest in any other operations other than those into Southern France. He accepted the importance of these other operations but definitely considered that they are diversions.
The Prime Minister continued that in the British view their large armies in the Mediterranean should not be idle for some six months but should be, together with the United States Allies, working toward the defeat of Germany in Italy, and at the same time be active elsewhere. He said for the British to be inert for nearly six months would be a wrong use of forces, and in his opinion would lay the British open to reproach from the Soviets for having the Soviets bear nearly all the burden of land fighting.
Marshal Stalin said that he did not wish the British to think that the Soviets wished them to do nothing.
The Prime Minister said if all the landing craft were taken away from the Mediterranean, they will not affect the battle. Marshal Stalin must remember that at Moscow it was stated under what conditions OVERLORD could be mounted and that under those conditions alone could it be launched. Operation OVERLORD was predicated on the assumption that not more than 12 German mobile divisions would be located behind the coastal troops, and furthermore, that not more than 15 reinforcement divisions could enter the fray within 60 days. He said that that was the basis on which he (Mr. Churchill) had stated the British would do OVERLORD. On those conditions, the Allies will have to utilize as many divisions in the Balkans and so forth as are necessary to contain German troops. If Turkey comes into the war, this will be particularly necessary. The German divisions now in Italy have largely come from France. Consequently, if there should be a slackening off in Italy, it would mean that the German divisions would withdraw and appear in the South of France to meet us there. On the other hand, if we do the Eastern Mediterranean, we will contain more German divisions and will create conditions indispensable to the success of OVERLORD.
Marshal Stalin inquired, “What if there are 13 divisions, not 12?”
The Prime Minister replied, “Naturally.” He continued by saying there was one more word about Turkey. All are agreed here that she should enter the war. If Turkey does not enter the war, then that ends that. If she does enter, the only necessary thing to do would be to use an air attack from the Turkish bases in Anatolia and an operation to take the Island of Rhodes. For the purpose of the Rhodes operation, one assault division would be ready in the near future and that would be sufficient. Having gotten Rhodes and Turkish air bases, a course could be steered north and operations undertaken to drive and starve all German divisions out of the Aegean and then open the Dardanelles. Essentially, these specific operations were limited operations, and therefore they could not be considered as military commitments of an indefinite character. If Turkey comes into the war and we get the air bases, it would be a simple matter to open the Straits. If Turkey does not come in, we do not pay any further attention to the matter. If Turkey comes into the war and we hold Rhodes and the Aegean, we will be able to use the air squadrons now in Egypt. All could move forward and help the Soviets. They now play no part except in the defense of Egypt. We can use the same troops which are now guarding Egypt to drive the Germans back. This is a big matter and should not be lightly considered.
The Prime Minister said he felt that our future will suffer great misfortune if we do not get Turkey into the war, for in such case troops and planes will stand idle.
The Prime Minister added that he agreed with General Marshall in his statement that the chief problem is one of transportation across the water and that that matter is largely a question of landing craft. He said that the British were prepared to go into the matter in great detail, and a very small number of landing craft could make the subsidiary operations feasible. If these landing craft cannot be kept in the Mediterranean because of OVERLORD or cannot possibly be found from some other arrangement [area?] such as the Indian Ocean, then this matter should be resolved by the technical committee. A landing in Southern France will require a great number of landing craft. He begged that this important point should be carefully weighed.
The Prime Minister said in conclusion that he accepted the proposal that a directive should be drawn up for this technical committee. He further suggested that the Soviet Government draw up terms of reference, that the United States draw up terms of reference, that Great Britain draw up terms of reference and then he felt sure that all three nations would not be far apart.
The President inquired how long will the conference be in session until the staff comes to a conclusion on these matters.
The Prime Minister in this connection said he can give his own opinion on behalf of the British Government tonight.
In reply to a question from Marshal Stalin as to how many French divisions were in the Allied Armies and how many troops there were in French divisions, the President replied he understood there were now five combat divisions and four more will soon be ready, making a total of nine. Some of these divisions are now engaged in Sardinia and Corsica.
General Marshall said that the French Corps is to become a part of the U.S. 5th Army in Italy and will occupy the left flank. He said that one division was now en route to the Front and will get a trial of battle. As a result of this it would be possible to judge better regarding the employment of other French divisions. All equipment for the French divisions is now in North Africa. There was some delay in four or five divisions being brought up to strength and completing their training. He said the French divisions were training with United States equipment and under the instruction of United States officers and non-commissioned officers.
In reply to a question from Marshal Stalin as to how many men there were in these French divisions, General Marshall replied, French divisions have the same number of men as the United States – 15,000 men per division. The men are mostly native troops with French officers and some noncoms. In the armored command only one quarter are native troops.
Marshal Stalin said, with regard to the remarks of the Prime Minister, if Turkey does not enter the war, it cannot be helped.
The Prime Minister replied if Turkey does not come into the war, he had no intention of asking for any troops for operations in Rhodes or Asia Minor.
In reply to a question from Marshal Stalin as to how many more days this conference would continue, the President said that he was willing to stay here until the conference is finished.
The Prime Minister said he would stay here forever, if necessary.
The President suggested that if the three Chiefs of State were in agreement, the committee need not have any written directive because they have been confronted with every suggestion made at this afternoon’s meeting. He said if the Chiefs of State could agree on the proceedings of the afternoon conference as a directive, then the staff would definitely have only one directive.
Marshal Stalin said he considered that the ad hoc committee was unnecessary. It could not raise any new questions for the military conference. He believed that all that was necessary to be solved was the selection of the commander for OVERLORD, the date for OVERLORD and the matter of supporting operations to be undertaken in Southern France in connection with OVERLORD. He furthermore believed that the committee of Foreign Secretaries proposed by the Prime Minister was unnecessary. He considered that all matters could be solved here and that committees were unnecessary. He said he must leave on the first, anyway, but that he might stay over until the second of December if it had to be – then he must go away. He said that he must know when he can get away. There are two days remaining, the 30th of November and the first of December. He said the President would remember that he had said he could come to the conference for three or four days.