America's Retreat from Victory - Joseph McCarthy

Marshall and the Second Front

I begin my review of George Catlett Marshall's history with the winter of 1941 and 1942, when the comprehensive outlines of Anglo-American strategy were drawn. During the Christmas holidays of 1941 Winston Churchill, attended by his military advisers, came to Washington and held a series of conferences at the White House with President Roosevelt and his military advisers. Japan had struck at Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December. Our fortunes were then joined with those of the British and the lesser powers engaged against Japan and Germany. We faced, for the first time in our history, global responsibilities. We were everywhere on the defensive. The British occupied a precarious foothold in Egypt. We still held Corregidor and Bataan, although the end there was in sight. Singapore had not yet fallen, but the Japanese were well advanced in their southward drive. Germany, master of the continent as far as the Pyrenees and the North Cape, was still marching toward the east into Russia.

The President and the Prime Minister, with their military counselors, agreed then upon a strategic plan embracing the globe. Included in this plan was a provision for the invasion of the mainland of Europe at some time during 1943. It was rightly considered that we would lack the men and the equipment to cross the Channel before 1943. What came to be known as the second front was allotted its appropriate place in the world-wide scale as this conference came to a close in the middle of January. It was at this time that the enormously destructive battle of the Atlantic began—the ruthless submarine warfare aimed at our shipping—which was to hamper our war effort far more than the conferees at the White House had expected.

The Soviet Union, its armies reeling back, had been beseeching the British since the preceding summer to attack Germany across the Channel as a means of relieving their dire pressure. After the White House conference known as Arcadia ended, the efforts of the Russians to promote a diversion in Western Europe were redoubled. The pressure was not alone maintained against our government; it took the form of public propaganda, in which the Communists both of England and America, and their friends and well-wishers, took a leading part.

Sometime between the end of the Arcadia Conference and the 1st of April, General Marshall, who was then, as we remember, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, had prepared in the War Department Planning Section a plan for the invasion of Western Europe in 1942. This planning section was under the command of Col. Dwight D, Eisenhower. I might say, parenthetically, that at Arcadia in a closed session among the President, the Prime Minister and Ambassador Litvinoff, the President had, with characteristic impulsiveness, given Litvinoff some cause to hope that the western allies might find it possible to mount this invasion in 1942. At Arcadia the President had proposed an intermediate attack in North Africa for the purpose of gaining command of the Mediterranean and threatening the Nazis from the south. It was over these two projects that the violent disputes of the next three months were to wage, disputes largely hidden from the public at the time, but in which General Marshall and the Prime Minister played the leading roles.

The plan for a "second front now" has been described by the late Secretary Stimson as "the brain child of the American Army." There can be no doubt that it was General Marshall's plan. He fought for it with the utmost vigor, a vigor going far beyond the call of duty of a purely military adviser. As Mr. Churchill once put it in a cable to Mr. Roosevelt, the matter was "a political, more than a military, issue." The text of this cable may be found on page 43 of Mr. Churchill's book, The Hinge of Fate. By March 9, 1942, we are told by Mr. Robert Sherwood, the President had fallen in to some extent with the Marshall plan, enabling Churchill on that date:

"I am becoming more and more interested in the establishment of a new front (on the European continent) this summer."

By the first of April, Mr. Roosevelt had been induced, as Sherwood explains on page 521 of his book Roosevelt and Hopkins, by Stimson, Marshall and Hopkins to supersede the North African venture known as Gymnast in favor of the transchannel operation. By then, as Sherwood puts it, "Roosevelt was attaching great importance to the political importance of this in relation to Russia." Hopkins and Marshall were sent to London to persuade Churchill. The Americans found Churchill reluctant. With his customary eloquence, the Prime Minister explored the difficulties of the operation. They lacked the landing craft necessary, they lacked the air cover and naval support. The venture would be costly, the Prime Minister believed, and he foresaw the channel turned into a "river of Allied blood," Should it fail, said Churchill, it would not only expose our friends on the Continent to great disappointment, it would hearten the Nazis and prejudice subsequent attempts to invade the Continent. However, the British agreed to give the matter careful study, which they did.

The American strategists continued hurriedly and confidently to plan for a "second front now" until early in June, when disquieting news reached Washington with the arrival of Lord Louis Mountbatten. He reported to the President that the British military experts could find no feasible method by which the invasion could be mounted. By this time the invasion bore the name Sledgehammer. Churchill followed Mountbatten to Washington, and under his representations of the difficulties, the President weakened, returning to his preference for Gymnast. When the President sought to moderate Marshall's views, "he met with," as Mr. Stimson put it, on page 424 of his book On Active Service in Peace and War, "a rather robust opposition." The general quickly submitted a new paper in support of the "second front now" and against Gymnast.

On July 10, as Stimson reports it, Marshall returned from a White House conference "very stirred up and emphatic over a British War Cabinet paper vetoing Sledgehammer and calling for Gymnast." Still following Mr. Stimson's version of the occasion,

"Marshall proposed a showdown which I cordially endorsed. As the British will not go through with what they agreed to, we will turn our back on them and take up the war with Japan."

Stimson in retrospect was "not entirely pleased with his part in this venture," it should be noted. The Army Chief of Staff acquired the support of his colleagues, Admiral Ernest J. King and General H. H. (Hap) Arnold. This is the appropriate time to point out that during the war Admiral King's preoccupations were almost wholly with the Pacific theater. He had little or no interest in the strategy of the war in Europe and Asia and only exercised himself there when the claims of those theaters infringed on his own supply of ships and men. I find no evidence in the sources I have consulted that General Arnold ever took a leading part in these strategical questions. To all intents and purposes it is quite clear that General Marshall spoke the voice of the Joint Chiefs in matters of overall strategy. Returning to the Sledgehammer quarrel, Marshall submitted to the President a paper, signed by all three chiefs, proposing that we withdraw from the war in Europe unless the British acceded to his plan. Here I quote Mr. Stimson, page 425:

"The President asserted that he himself was absolutely sound on Bolero (Sledgehammer), which must go ahead unremittingly, but he did not like the manner of the memorandum in regard to the Pacific, saying that it was a little like 'taking up your dishes and going away.'"

What Stimson came to describe as a "bluff" by Marshall was never tried. Furthermore, Stimson knew that the President had a "lingering predilection for the Mediterranean," and the Prime Minister had shown on his last visit that he, too, knew the President's feeling; on June 21 he "had taken up Gymnast, knowing full well I am sure that it was the President's great secret baby." The quotation is from Stimson.

Mr. Sherwood, in commenting on these events (page 594) recalls that Roosevelt described the Marshall showdown as "a red herring," a phrase that has a familiar ring. Sherwood does not agree with Stimson that it was a tactical maneuver in the struggle between Marshall and Churchill, saying, "It is my impression that the plan was far more than a bluff in General Marshall's mind and certainly in Admiral King's. Indeed, the first step in it—the assault of Guadalcanal—was approved on June 25, the last day of Churchill's stay in Washington."

The President resolved the crisis by dispatching Marshall, Hopkins, and King to London to have it finally out with the Prime Minister and his advisers. They arrived in Scotland on a Saturday, finding the Prime Minister's train and an invitation to Chequers, the Prime Minister's country place, awaiting them. Rather mystifyingly Marshall, who was so obviously the guest of the Prime Minister, bluntly declined his invitation to stop at Chequers and insisted on proceeding directly to London. Churchill protested this "rudeness" in talks with Hopkins. Marshall, it was clear, did not want to put himself under the persuasive fire of Churchill. Sherwood testifies that those were tense days for the Anglo-American Alliance. Marshall found heavy going in London. Before long Admiral King had been alienated by representations of the Royal Navy that the French coast would become a lee shore in September and hence difficult to invade.

What was perhaps the most crushing argument against Sledgehammer was dealt by a general who was taking no sides in the political question, Mark Clark. Clark was then in command of all American Army forces in the British Isles. Rather belatedly, it seems, he was called before the Combined Chiefs of Staff and asked by Marshall what American forces could be contributed to a "second front now." I quote from page 34 of Clark's book Calculated Risk his version of that occasion:

"I pointed out that all we could count on using would be the Thirty-fourth Division then in Worth Ireland. . . . The Thirty-fourth, however, had little amphibious training, it lacked anti-aircraft support and it had no tanks. The First Armored Division, also in Ireland, was not yet fully equipped, nor would any other units scheduled to arrive before September 15 be prepared for battle. . . . There would be a difficult problem getting the men and equipment together and . . . there seemed to be no possibility that invasion boats would be ready . . . to say nothing of bad weather conditions prevailing at that time of year . . . the American forces will be ready to contribute comparatively little until spring of 1943."

With Clark's report it at once becomes evident that Marshall had virtually nothing to contribute in support of his plan. What he was, in effect, doing was calling upon the British to execute an operation in which they firmly disbelieved with scarcely any support from his own forces.

I leave it to the reader to characterize the general's zeal. We were to learn later that as far along as the spring of 1943, the Nazis had 1,300,000 troops in France and the Low Countries.

It should here be noted that the first troops that we sent abroad in 1942 were, as we discovered in North Africa, insufficiently trained for combat. It is no reflection upon them to say that in the first weeks of the American Corps' venture into battle they did not behave as hardened veterans. Indeed, General McNair, who unhappily lost his life by misdirected American air fire in the Normandy invasion, observed to General Clark after a visit to the North African front, "The American soldiers are not fighting in Tunisia." This may be found on page 168 of General Clark's Memoirs. He qualified that in favor of the First Division. McNair attributed their lack of battle stability to the failure to inculcate discipline in their training here at home.

We have been assured times without number that General Marshall's greatest achievement in World War II was the organization and training of our armies. When our forces in North Africa had become battle-hardened and General Clark and General Patton had put them under advanced training, they behaved in the best tradition of the American Army. But what would have happened had we thrown the green troops of Kasserine Pass against Hitler's Panzers in the fall of 1942? We find a curious retrospective glance at that incident in Sherwood's recollections, where on page 807, he quotes Hopkins to this effect:

"In trying to figure out whether we could have gotten across the channel successfully in 1942 or 1943, you have got to answer the unanswerable question as to whether Eisenhower, Bradley, Spaarz, Parton, Bedell Smith, and also Montgomery and Tedder and a lot of others could have handled the big show as they would if they hadn't had the experience fighting Germany in North Africa and Sicily."

So at London in July of 1942, the plan of the "master of global strategy" went awry and the Combined Chiefs settled on Gymnast. Sherwood recalls that "General Marshall had firmly opposed it and so had General Eisenhower, who is quoted as having described the day when the decision was made by Roosevelt as possibly the blackest day in history."

In this connection, I should like to summon as a witness Hanson W. Baldwin, the distinguished military critic of the New York Times, whose strategic insights are universally recognized.

I think it goes without saying that the wisdom of Marshall's fervent determination to cross the Channel in the fall of 1942 or the spring of 1943 is open to grave doubts. It was, in fact, the first of a series of major decisions made by this "master of global strategy," some of them producing consequences which today increasingly threaten the well-being and survival of the West. In his book Great Mistakes of the War Baldwin says on page 33:

"In retrospect it is now obvious that our concept of invading Western Europe in 1942 was fantastic; our deficiencies in North Africa, which was a much-needed training school for our troops, proved that. The British objection to a 1943 cross-channel operation was also soundly taken militarily; we would have had in that year neither the trained divisions, the equipment, the planes, the experience, nor (particularly) the landing craft to have invaded the most strongly held part of the Continent against an enemy whose strength was far greater than it was a year later."

Baldwin's estimate goes far to support Churchill's objections that a disaster on the French coast due to a hasty, reckless invasion might have proved "the only way in which we could possibly lose this war." That Churchillian remark appears on page 590 of Sherwood.

It was at this time, whether or not because of the fervor with which Marshall pushed his plan, that Roosevelt superseded him in the military circle around the White House. The President chose Admiral Leahy, a naval officer of eminent achievements and the saltiest of common sense, as his personal Chief of Staff. Leahy became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and thus, nominally, Marshall's superior, although, as we shall see, Marshall overcame him at several of the most critical junctures. Although Leahy came on the scene, having been our Ambassador at Vichy, too late to participate in the discussions of Sledgehammer, he was familiar with their general setting. He wrote on page 110 of his valuable book of memoirs I Was There his own judgment of that sorry and provocative incident. Leahy wrote:

"The Russians could not have been more disappointed than our own Army people . . . There was much grumbling about Britain and much criticism of Winston Churchil. The Prime Minister was convinced that England was not ready to undertake such a major effort and I did not think that we were either. He [Winston Churchill] wanted to have much more assurance of success than General Marshall could give him."

It became evident with the Sledgehammer quarrel that Marshall intended to make his mark on the political and strategic decisions of World War II. The next assertion of his will came late in August 1942 when, without advance notice, the American Chiefs of Staff—meaning Marshall—served notice on the British that they opposed the hitherto agreed upon plans to invade North Africa by way of the Mediterranean as well as the Atlantic coast of Morocco. "The Army," as Admiral Leahy wrote, "was not well disposed toward the adventure." The North African expedition had by now been christened Torch. The news reached Churchill on the 25th of August. Until that moment plans had been proceeding full speed ahead for landings at Casablanca on the Atlantic, Oran, which is at the western end of the Mediterranean coast of Algiers, and at a point or points further east toward Tunisia. Suddenly the American chiefs notified the British that they now believed the Mediterranean landings too hazardous to undertake.

Upon receipt of the advice from Washington that Torch had been ditched by Marshall and his associates, Churchill wrote a disparaging letter to Hopkins. This was on the 4th of September and the text of the letter appears on page 540 of The Hinge of Fate. He wrote Hopkins:

"Frankly, I do not understand what is at the back of all this. I thought there was agreement with Marshall and that King had been paid off with what he needed for his Pacific war. But now it seems there is a bad comeback from the professional circles in the American Army and I have a deep and growing fear that the whole of the President's enterprise may be wrecked bit by bit. With it will fall the brightest hope of the Allies and the only hope this year."

The Prime Minister's letter was never mailed. Before it could reach the letter box he had a cablegram from the President announcing that he had overcome the opposition of his staff and that the bell could again be rung for full speed ahead on Torch. Had Roosevelt not overruled Marshall at this critical time, undoubtedly Russia would enjoy the same domination over the Mediterranean area which she now enjoys over the other unhappy areas behind the Iron Curtain.

As early as the White House conference known as Arcadia, the President had given his full support to North Africa, saying at that time, as quoted by the late General Arnold in his memoirs Global Mission, "We must get into North Africa before the Germans." In this connection it may be mentioned that Stimson remarked in his book that "The Mediterranean Basin always fascinated Roosevelt." Sherwood likewise recalls the President's strong preference for this operation, basing it upon Roosevelt's "naval mindedness," and his knowledge that by ridding North Africa of the Nazis we would free the lifeline to the Middle East and the Far East by way of Suez, thus obviating the long voyages around the Cape and providing for ourselves a whole new theater from which the assault against the Nazis could be carried out.

It is an interesting speculation as to the future of World War II had we abandoned Torch or curtailed it by landing on the Atlantic alone. There was strong British sentiment to land in Tunisia as well as Tangiers at that time. A proposal from British quarters suggested that several thousand soldiers could be flown from Malta into Tunisia, which was only weakly garrisoned by the French, to coincide with the landings in Morocco and Algiers. This was vetoed.

As it turned out, Hitler was able to send more than 100,000 of his best troops into Tunisia. These forces, with Rommel's army retreating before Montgomery, made a formidable opposition, and it may be assumed that without the over-powering strength in the air which the Allies were able to command, the war in North Africa might have dragged on indefinitely. Suppose we had not landed in Algeria, suppose that the battle of North Africa had continued for months on end and engaged ever larger numbers of our forces—in whose interest would that have been? By winning the war in North Africa and by our subsequent conquest of Sicily and Italy—enterprises which were unflaggingly opposed by Marshall—we, instead of Russia, were able to hold postwar command of at least the Mediterranean away from the Red armies. The European picture as of today would have been far different if the Red armies had themselves received the surrender of Italy. As it stands, we have Italy and a foothold on the opposite shore of the Adriatic at Trieste, a foothold which is no doubt today a reassurance to Tito.

No sooner had the North African campaign been launched than Marshall again began to press his views in opposition to what Churchill called the exploitation of the prospective victory. In spite of Churchill's most eloquent pleading, Marshall only very reluctantly agreed to the attack on Sicily and with even greater reluctance to the further assault on the Italian mainland. In all these attitudes, Eisenhower, who had become commander in chief in North Africa, was Marshall's firm supporter.