Reverting to the revised HUSKY plan, Admiral King said that he appreciated the arguments in its favor. He was anxious, however, as to the lack of ports available in the early stages through which our forces could be maintained. The revised plan, however, had the merit of simplicity and concentration. He did not believe that the Italian fleet would try to pass through the Sicilian narrows though it was possible that it might attempt a passage through the Straits of Messina. He felt it unwise to overlook enemy naval potentialities in the Mediterranean. He asked for information with regard to the rehabilitation of the French fleet.
Sir Dudley Pound agreed with Admiral King as to the advantages of the new plan in that only one end of the island required cover. He believed that two French 6-inch cruisers and a few contre-torpilleurs were being repaired.
Admiral King, referring to ROUNDUP, stated that the results of SICKLE might prove to be overwhelming. We must be ready to exploit this by cross-Channel operations. It appeared to him that our large air forces could be used for destruction of critical bridges such as those across the Seine, ammunition and supply dumps and lines of communication. We must therefore be very firm in our determination to mount ROUNDUP in April, 1944. He believed that the vast concentration of air forces available in the United Kingdom might prove the determining factor in the success of Continental operations.
Admiral Leahy said that it was generally agreed that the elimination of Italy would have extremely valuable results, but he agreed with Admiral King’s thought that it might be unwise to divert to or maintain in the Mediterranean forces which could be used in a cross-Channel assault or as a prelude to such an attack. If we weakened our potentialities for a cross-Channel assault by continuing to confine forces to the Mediterranean, it might preclude a major effort against Germany on the Western Front.
Sir Alan Brooke said that he believed that if we did not continue operations in the Mediterranean, then no possibility of an attack into France would arise. Even after a bridgehead had been established, we could get no further. The troops employed would for the most part be inexperienced. The force available, some 15 to 20 divisions, was small and could not be regarded in the same category as the vast Continental armies which were counted in 50’s and 100’s of divisions. Before undertaking operations across the Channel, it was essential that we should create the right situation to insure its success.
General Marshall stated that the discussion was now getting to the heart of the problem. Experience in HUSKY had shown that initial estimates of requirements were always exceeded. The only limit to TORCH had been the availability of shipping. The Tunisian campaign had sucked in more and more troops. Operations invariably created a vacuum in which it was essential to pour in more and more means. Once undertaken the operation must be backed to the limit. He felt deeply concerned that the landing of ground forces in Italy would establish a vacuum in the Mediterranean which would preclude the assembly of sufficient forces in the United Kingdom to execute a successful cross-Channel operation and Germany would not collapse unless this occurred from air bombardment alone. If further Mediterranean operations were undertaken, then in 1943 and virtually all of 1944 we should be committed, except for air attacks on Germany, to a Mediterranean policy. This would entail a very serious state of affairs in the Pacific. It would mean a prolongation of the war in Europe, and thus a delay in the ultimate defeat of Japan, which the people of the U.S. would not tolerate. We were now at the crossroads – if we were committed to the Mediterranean, except for air alone, it meant a prolonged struggle and one which was not acceptable to the United States.
Admiral Leahy said that the Pacific could not be neglected; it was too vital to the United States. Immediate action was necessary to maintain China in the war. The war in Europe must be brought to a rapid decisive close at the earliest possible date.
Sir Alan Brooke said that he agreed that the European war must be ended as fast as possible. He believed, however, that to cease Mediterranean operations on the conclusion of HUSKY would lengthen the war. The seizure of the Brest Peninsula, which was all we could now achieve, would merely lock up 20 divisions. Russia was the only Ally in possession of large ground forces, and our strategy must aim to help her to the maximum possible extent. Only by continuing in the Mediterranean could we achieve the maximum diversion of German forces from Russia. The transshipment of Allied divisions from the Mediterranean to England was a difficult shipping commitment. A lodgment in the Brest Peninsula would not be a decisive blow. There were only some ten to twelve British Divisions available in England.
General Marshall said that if a maximum effort was made, some eleven U.S. divisions could be made available in the United Kingdom by April, 1944.
Sir Alan Brooke pointed out that these combined forces would only be sufficient to hold a bridgehead and would not be large enough to debouch into the Continent. Now was the time when action was required to relieve the pressure on Russia. No major operations would be possible until 1945 or 1946, since it must be remembered that in previous wars there had always been some 80 French Divisions available on our side. Any advance towards the Ruhr would necessitate clearing up behind the advancing Army and would leave us with long lines of communications. Our air force in U.K. was at present largely on a static basis though it was being converted now for use with the expeditionary force. The British manpower position was weak, and to provide the necessary rearward services for continental warfare, two of our twelve divisions now in U.K. would probably have to be cannibalized.
General Marshall said that it appeared that ROUNDUP was still regarded as a vague conception. Did this mean that the British Chiefs of Staff regarded Mediterranean operations as the key to a successful termination of the European war?
Sir Charles Postal explained, that the British. Chiefs of Staff did not believe that a force of some 20 to 25 divisions could achieve important results across the Channel on the Continent of Europe unless almost the entire bulk of the German Army was in Russia or the Balkans. Our ability to operate across the Channel later was dependent on the extent to which we could help Russia now. This in turn was dependent on the possibilities of knocking out Italy this year. If this could be achieved, then in 1944 a successful re-entry into northwest Europe might well be possible, but a re-entry now with some 12 to 15 divisions against the German forces available could achieve nothing.
Sir Alan Brooke said that he did not visualize an increase in the existing ground forces in the Mediterranean. The only cost would be in shipping to mount subsequent operations.
General Marshall, referring again to the buildup for ROUNDUP, stated that if we were ever to get the forces in the United Kingdom, we must begin now. Further operations in the Mediterranean would, in his opinion, create a vacuum which would constitute a drain on our available resources.
Admiral Leahy asked if it was believed that the Russians would be satisfied with an attack on Italy if this meant postponement of ROUNDUP.
Sir Alan Brooke said that he was convinced that a Russian failure would prolong the war for many years. He believed it far better, from the Russian point of view, that Ave should attack Italy now rather than start preparing for cross-Channel operations which could not be of any real importance until 1944. What the Russians wished us to achieve was a withdrawal of German forces from their front. The problem was how this could best be done. He believed that only by attacking in the Mediterranean could we achieve immediate results and that this was more valuable than building up for a 1944 ROUNDUP which, might not even then be possible.
General Marshall said that he thought that Sir Alan Brooke forgot the fact that there would be continual air operations in the Mediterranean. Germany would not know when Ave were about to strike a blow, and her troops would be contained in the area. We had built great hopes of crippling Germany by air attack, and he felt, therefore, that this would be more successful against Italy where the resistance would be less. He believed that land operations in the Mediterranean Area would prolong the European war and hence the time when a decision could be achieved in the Pacific. The build-up of forces in Great Britain for BOLERO would constitute a threat which would demand a German reaction.
Sir Charles Portal said that he would be satisfied with this plan if he believed that Italy could be knocked out by air alone and that we could thus gain the Italian airfields on the plains of Lombardy and the occupation of Sardinia and Corsica. He was doubtful, however, if air alone would achieve the desired result. It had never been claimed that Germany could be knocked out by air alone, but rather that it would reduce her power to such an extent that her forces available against Russia and ourselves would be so weakened as to permit of her defeat. Our object was to assist Russia, and we must achieve this object as early as possible.
Sir Alan Brooke said that operations in the Mediterranean were important from the Turkish point of view. The Turkish attitude depended both on Russian successes and our operations against Italy. The additional shipping for operations in the Mediterranean could only be found at the expense of BOLERO. The reduction in BOLERO buildup resulting from the undertaking of operations in the Mediterranean would only be some three to four divisions in 1943 and none in 1944. Operations in the Mediterranean were not an unlimited commitment. We must take immediate advantage of the deterioration in Italian morale. Even if we occupied all Italy, a serious shipping commitment would not arise since the Italian ships would themselves be sufficient to bring nearly all the necessary food to Italy, and only some 10 ships a month would be required for coal.
Admiral King reminded the Chiefs of Staff of the danger of [to] the lines of communication to the Mediterranean passing through the Straits of Gibraltar. The Germans had not yet taken action in this area, but we might be faced with a difficult position if they concentrated submarines in the approaches.
Sir Dudley Pound said that on a previous occasion when the Germans had operated in the actual approaches to the Straits of Gibraltar, they had suffered serious losses.
In reply to a question by Admiral Leahy, Sir Alan Brooke said that the advantages of obtaining the Azores were obvious. An examination had been made of possible German reactions. A German advance into Spain and Portugal would require some 15 to 20 divisions and would be met with resistance, if only guerrilla. The Germans would then be faced with a difficult economic situation and the logistic problem of bad communications and different rail gauge. The British Chiefs of Staff did not believe that Germany would undertake this operation. A difficult situation, however, existed with regard to Portugal. If we ask the Portuguese to allow us the use of the Azores, she might well require a guarantee from us that she would be defended. This would be difficult to give since it would entail keeping forces and ships ready to meet this commitment. It would therefore be desirable, if possible, to give Portugal no guarantee and to assure her that the risk of a German reaction was very remote.
Admiral Leahy said that this seemed largely a political question. It was unwise to offer guarantees and better to take the islands without previous notice, at the same time giving assurance that they would be returned to Portugal at the end of the war.
Sir Hastings Ismay said that the British were in a difficult position since they had entered into negotiations with the Portuguese and had staff conversations with a view to assisting Portugal in defending the islands against attack. It might therefore be better for the United States to occupy these islands.
General Marshall suggested that a possible timing for the occupation of the Azores might be just after HUSKY had been launched in order to utilize the shipping returning from this operation. There were sufficient troops in Northwest Africa for use in Portugal.
Sir Hastings Ismay said that a telegram had just been received from the British Cabinet stating that the Foreign Secretary believed that the Portuguese might agree to an occupation of the islands. He offered to circulate to the Combined Chiefs of Staff a British study on the whole problem.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff:
That nothing be considered as an agreed decision during the TRIDENT Conferences which does not appear in the conclusions of the minutes.
That during the TRIDENT Conferences the conclusions of each meeting be read and approved as the first item of the succeeding meeting.
That when any Summaries of Conclusions are given to the President and the Prime Minister during the period of the Conference, it should be explained to them that these would only be tentative and that, at the end of the Conference, a final Agreed Summary of Conclusions would be submitted.
That in the preparation of the Final Summary of Conclusions, effort should be made to set out an order of priority of existing and projected strategic undertakings.
That at the end of the 84th Meeting the Combined Staff Planners should be directed to prepare a detailed agenda for the remaining Conferences.
b. Agreed that the possibilities of launching a decisive air attack on the Ploești Oil Fields from Russia should be explored by the Combined Staff Planners.
c. Took note that a paper that had been prepared by the British Chiefs of Staff on the subject of the use of Portuguese Islands in the Atlantic would be circulated to the Combined Chiefs of Staff as a basis of future discussion.