Completing the Strategic Patterns

Although the fighting went on for almost another year, the main story of military strategy in World War II, except for the important and still unanswered question of how to defeat Japan, comes to an end in the fall of 1944. Once the Allied forces had become firmly lodged on the European continent and taken up the pursuit of the German foe, the war became, for General Marshall and his staff, essentially a matter of logistics and tactics--the Supreme Allied Commander assuming the responsibility for making decisions as military exigencies in the field dictated. But to Churchill, warily watching the swift Soviet advance into Poland and the Balkans, the war had become more than ever a contest for great political stakes, and he wished Western Allied strength diverted to fill the vacuum left by the retreating Germans in southeastern Europe, thereby forestalling the Soviet surge.1 In the last year of the European conflict the two approaches therefore boiled down to a question of military tactics versus political maneuvers.

Had the President joined with the Prime Minister, as he often had in the past, the U.S. staff's concentration on bringing the war against Germany to a swift military conclusion might still have been tempered and the war steered into more direct political channels. But the President would not, and the Prime Minister by himself could not. Perhaps the President, as usual when his political objectives came into conflict with the possibility of a quick and decisive military ending of the war, once more yielded to the latter. Perhaps, growing ever more weary under the great burden he was carrying, he was anxious to get the military phase over and apply his remaining energies to the tasks of peace. As we now know, the President's health had begun to weaken after SEXTANT, and his absences from Washington high councils had become more frequent. In any case, by 1944-45 the Commander in Chief was caught on the horns of a political dilemma confronting a U.S. President involved in a coalition war abroad. There is reason to believe that the President was not insensitive or unconcerned about the unilateral efforts of the Soviet Union to put its impress upon the shape of postwar Europe--as witness the dispute over the reconstruction of the Polish Government. But from the point of view of domestic political considerations, he had to fight a quick and decisive war--one that would justify U.S. entry and the dispatch of U.S. troops abroad. He had educated the American public to the need for active participation, but whether he could have led them to a prolonged war, or to a prolonged occupation by U.S. troops--such as might have resulted from the more active American role in southeastern Europe desired by the Prime Minister--was more doubtful. The American tradition of holding aloof


from European affairs, the strong spirit of isolationism only temporarily stilled in wartime, and the typical aversion of democracy to extended war efforts would in any case have made him less likely in 1944-45 to risk new military or political embroilments on the Continent in the process of ending the current conflict. The experience of World War I and domestic Realpolitik seemed to dictate that a U.S. President who led his country in international war must stay in it only long enough to administer a sound thrashing to the bullies who had dared to start it, hurry out of it with the least disarrangement of the American way of life and standard of living, "get the boys home," and then resume the traditional policy of remaining uninvolved in European affairs.

In Roosevelt's faith, the path of peace for Europe seemed to lead toward the long-range development of a healthy environment in which new moral, political, and economic factors might come into play rather than toward the traditional reliance on balance of military and political power. In fact certain measures, other than the thrusting of U.S. military weight into the path of the Soviet Union's advance, had from time to time suggested themselves to him as feasible ways of keeping the peace in Europe with friends and foes alike. It is a moot point whether these in time would have amounted to a well worked-out policy, or would have remained what they seemed to be in the summer of 1944--a number of inchoate threads, a composite of idealism and practicality, of optimism and reality. Roosevelt appeared to have put his faith in offering the USSR the hand of friendship; in his personal handling of Stalin and in Stalin's reasonableness; in a joint occupation of Europe with a million-man U.S. force to remain in certain selected areas of Germany for one or two years; in raising the economic standards of relatively backward areas and thereby preventing trouble spots from developing, as in the case of Iran; in a new international organization, the United Nations Organization; and in a system of United Nations trusteeships over key bases, as in North Africa.2 Whatever the explanation may be whether through deliberate choice or drift, or a combination of the two--the fact remains that American national policy in the final year of the war placed no obstacles in the way of a decisive military ending of the European conflict.

By the summer of 1944 the signs of things to come were already apparent. Once on the Continent, new problems arose, and old problems, hitherto quiescent, became immediate--problems calling for policy decisions relating to Allied, liberated, and neutral countries. General Eisenhower was given more and more responsibility for political decisions or fell heir to them by default. In the absence of clear and consistent political guidance and direction from Washington, decisions were made by the commander in the field on the basis of military considerations. He fell back on the U.S. staff concept of bringing the enemy to bay and ending the war quickly and decisively with the least casualties. This trend, already apparent in 1944, became


even more marked in 1945 in the commander's decision to stop at the Elbe and not take Berlin or Prague ahead of the Russians.3

As usual, General Marshall and the U.S. staff backed the decisions of the commander in the field. Typical of Marshall's approach were two statements prepared in April 1945--the one in response to the British proposal to capture Berlin, the other concerning the liberation of Prague and western Czechoslovakia. With reference to Berlin, Marshall joined with his colleagues in the JCS in emphasizing to the British Chiefs of Staff "that the destruction of the German armed forces is more important than any political or psychological advantages which might be derived from possible capture of the German capital ahead of the Russians. . . . Only Eisenhower is in a position to make a decision concerning his battle and the best way to exploit successes to the full." 4 With respect to Prague and the rest of Czechoslovakia, Marshall commented, on a draft communication to Eisenhower, in his own hand: "Personally and aside from all logistic, tactical or strategical implications, I would be loath to hazard American lives for purely political purposes. Czechoslovakia will have to be cleared of German troops and we may have to cooperate with the Russians in so doing."5 Such views of the Army Chief of Staff took on added significance, for during the hiatus of Roosevelt's final days and his successor's early days in office the burden of dealing with important issues fell heavily on the senior military advisers in the Washington high command. Marshall's stand on these issues was entirely in accord with earlier Army strategic planning. Whatever the ultimate political implications, from the point of view of a decisive military ending of the war against Germany it made little difference whether the forces of the United States or those of the Soviet Union took Berlin and Prague.

The Prime Minister's inability to reverse the trend in the last year of the war bore testimony to the changed relationships between U.S. and British national military weight and to the shifting bases of the "Grand Alliance." Though the military power Marshall had managed to conserve for the invasion of the Continent gave the United States a powerful weapon, the United States did not choose to use it to political purpose. The Prime Minister had the purpose but not the power. By the end of 1943 British mobilization was practically complete. In the first half of 1944, with its manpower mobilized to the hilt, strains and stresses began to appear in its economy. After the middle of 1944 its production became increasingly unbalanced, and the British were to fight the remainder of the war with a contracting economy.6


The Americans, who had entered the war later, enjoyed the advantages of greater industrial capacity as well as greater manpower resources. They did not hit the peak of their military manpower mobilization until May 1945--the month Germany surrendered. Reaching their war production peak at the end of 1943, they were able to sustain it at a high level, keep it in balance with non-war production, taper off slightly in 1944 and still more in 1945 to V-E Day.7

The greater capacity of the American economy and population to support a sustained, large-scale Allied offensive effort showed up clearly in the last year of the European war. In the initial stages Of OVERLORD the U.S. and British divisions were nearly equal in numbers, but once entrenched on the Continent the preponderance in favor of the Americans became greater and greater. Through the huge stockpiles of American production already built up, and through his control of the increasing U.S. military manpower on the European continent, the SHAEF commander could put the imprint of U.S. staff views on winning the war. The British had to recognize this.8 Whatever political orientation Churchill hoped to give the Western Allied military effort, lie had to yield.9

Meanwhile, as the war with Germany drew to a close, the Allies still had to face the momentous problem of how to defeat Japan.10 Here, too, as the noose was drawn tighter around Japan in the last year of the conflict, questions of political versus military objectives came to the fore. In shaping the final strategy against Japan, it became more difficult to separate war from postwar concerns and the desires of partners in the coalition from purely American wishes. These factors intruded on the continuing debate over the need for a Pacific OVERLORD.

During the fall of 1944 the Washington planners explored the choices in the war against Japan and shaped plans for the encirclement and invasion of the home islands. As it turned out, much of the planning was altered materially or overtaken by events.

Thus, after the Luzon decision was made, the Washington planners believed that following the Okinawa operation, scheduled for March 1945, the choice would be between operations against other Ryukyu Islands, Hokkaido, and


along the China coast. The Army planners felt that Hokkaido would require too many forces and that weather conditions around the island were very poor. Although difficult terrain and inadequate sites for airfields discouraged operations in the China coast area, plans were prepared. To the planners, future development of airfields in the Ryukyus also merited consideration since pressure against Japan could then be intensified by air bombardment.

In the spring of 1945, the joint planners prepared detailed plans for the assault on Kyushu (coded OLYMPIC), scheduled for 1 November 1945, and for the final descent upon Honshu, set for 1 March 1946. In May 1945 the JCS issued a directive charging MacArthur with conduct of the campaign against Kyushu and Nimitz with the responsibility for the naval and amphibious phases of the operation. No final directive was ever issued for the invasion of Honshu.

The whole problem of the need for invasion was subjected to further debate and discussion during the first six months of 1945. The followers of the bombardment, blockade, and encirclement school held fast to their belief that invasion would not be necessary, and in mid-June the new President, Harry S. Truman, requested that a study on the cost in money and lives be prepared to help clarify the situation. Since the unknown factors and quantities in such an invasion were difficult to estimate, the study was never completed. The Army's argument that plans and preparations should be made for the invasion was accepted as the safe course to follow.

This, briefly put, was the general planning situation when the atom bomb attacks of August 6th and 9th on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, were launched. The dramatic dropping of the atom bomb came as a complete surprise to the American public and to the Army strategic planners, with the exception of three top officers in the Operations Division, who were in on the secret.11 If the disclosures of the postwar atomic spy trials can be accredited, the Russians were far better informed on U.S. progress on the bomb than the rank and file Army strategic planners.12 Under the circumstances it is not to be wondered that the Army planners were still engaged in more or less conventional planning for a war that came to an unconventional and sudden end. In a sense the supersession of strategic plans by the revolutionary development in weapons was a fitting climax to a war that had defied Army plans from the beginning and shown throughout a strong tendency to go its own way. Henceforth, strategic planners had to take into account the existence of the most destructive weapon yet known to man.

It is significant that the Pacific "OVERLORD" never did come off, and that there was no "big blow" against the Japanese homeland. In contrast to the "soften them up by air, then attack by land" approach in Europe, the Pacific advance showed the ground forces winning air bases to permit Japan's "Inner Zone" to be bombarded. The predominance of the Army and the Air Forces in Europe was supplanted by the Navy and the Air


Forces in the Pacific, where the Army ground and service forces played highly important but less dramatic roles. Had the atom bomb failed and an invasion proven necessary, however, the Army planners would have been remiss if they had not had the plans and preparations well under way. It should also be noted that regardless of which type of war was fought in World War II--concentration and invasion in Europe, or blockade, bombardment, and island hopping in the Pacific--each had required a tremendous outlay of American military strength and resources. What it meant to fight a secondary and limited war in the far Pacific at the end of a long line of communications--even without launching a Pacific OVERLORD--had been driven home to the Army planners more and more before the war with Japan ended.

Along with the question of invasion went the more intricate political problem of Soviet intentions in the Far East. It was the general belief among U.S. military leaders that, if an invasion were necessary, it would be desirable to have the Soviet forces pin down the Japanese in northern China, Manchuria, and Korea. The Army staff and General Marshall worked on this premise and, viewing it in the military light, especially in terms of possible savings in American lives, the Army was eager to have the USSR enter the war against Japan. But the precise time and terms of Soviet entry were still unresolved at the time of OCTAGON.13 At the Moscow Conference in October 1944, the United States agreed to build up stocks in the Far East (coded MILEPOST) in preparation for Russian entry. Stalin again told Harriman that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan two or three months after Germany was defeated and Soviet forces in the Far East were reinforced. At Yalta, Stalin and Roosevelt agreed upon the terms for Soviet intervention: the USSR would get Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands; Port Arthur would be leased to the USSR, and Dairen would become a free port; the Soviet lease on the Manchurian railroads would be revived; and Outer Mongolia would remain autonomous. The Soviet Union announced its readiness to conclude "a pact of friendship and alliance" with the "National Government of China" in order to support China in the war against Japan. Roosevelt assumed the responsibility for informing Chiang Kai-shek of the terms and for securing Chiang's approval.14 As Leahy has since remarked, there appeared to be little discussion between the political leaders on the matter.15 Perhaps if the Russians had been in the Pacific war longer, the later outcry against these concessions might not have been so great. But since there was no invasion and Japanese surrender on 14 August came so quickly after Soviet entry into the war (8 August), the belief that the Russians had duped the Anglo-Americans was to gain widespread credence in the West as the rift with the


Soviet Union broadened in the postwar years.16

The Challenges of Victory and Peace

Differences of opinion within the coalition that were later regarded as having stemmed from the Yalta Conference were foreshadowed during 1944. Strangely enough, the first cracks in the Allied armor appeared between the United States and Great Britain. The apparent British intention to foster the conservative elements in liberated nations such as Belgium, Italy, and Greece did not meet with enthusiasm in the United States, which looked to the Atlantic Charter as the guide to be used in determining such future governments. The British place in the war with Japan and the restoration of colonial territories in the Far East was another area of disagreement that had already arisen in 1944. The need for continued lend-lease to bolster British economy loomed as an added bone of contention, especially after the end of the war against Germany. Furthermore, besides the Russians' designs in the Far East, their attitude toward Poland, Iran, and the Balkans caused both the British and the Americans uneasiness.17 The seeds of altercation and dispute were growing as the common bond of danger weakened and the need for co-operation lessened. Eisenhower warned Marshall just before OCTAGON, "As signs of victory appear in the air, I note little instances that seem to indicate that Allies cannot hang together so effectively in prosperity as they can in adversity. "18

The curtain began to lift on the divergent national objectives and war aims of the Allies--objectives hitherto obscured by the peril the partners had shared, the unconditional surrender slogan, and the political declarations to which they had subscribed. The unconditional surrender concept, first announced at Casablanca, had been consistently advanced at the midway conferences through OCTAGON as the agreed aim of the Allies in the war. But the passing of the common danger increasingly exposed the unconditional surrender formula, whatever its merits as a rallying cry for the Allies in midway, to the harsh realities of conflicting postwar national political objectives. Unfortunately the doctrine, born in war and directed to the enemies' surrender, would offer no common peace aim or basis for the peace settlement.

Willy-nilly, the coalition war was becoming more and more political, and the stresses and strains that had already appeared to the Axis partners with the approach of defeat loomed before the Allied coalition as victory came into sight. The shift in the balance of military power between the United States and Great Britain, and in the relations of the Western Allies with the USSR--roughly marked by OCTAGON--heralded the uneasy day when the West would polarize around the United States and the East around the USSR. In the last year of the shooting war, in the field and


across international conference tables the representatives of the United States and of the USSR would meet face to face as the advance guard of the two nations emerging from the conflict as the most powerful in the world but whose relations--so important for future peace or war--were still in flux.

On the home front, the signs of unrest would also begin to appear. As victory drew closer, elements held in abeyance during the more doubtful days of fighting would again make themselves heard. The isolationists, now that the danger was passing, would again clamor for the United States to withdraw from foreign entanglements and mind its own business; economy-minded legislators would once more begin to examine the military budget with a critical eye and demand cutbacks and savings in production and expenditures; and parents, wives, and other relatives would become more vocal in their desire to bring the boys home. The comparatively free and easy days of beating the enemy would give way to the curbs and pressures of approaching peace.

Besides the frictions generating on the foreign and domestic fronts, the Army still had to cope with the immense problem of what to do with the beaten foes. The questions of administrative organization, government, economic aid, and psychological readjustments were only a few of the facets of the coming occupation. Surrender terms and the initiation of the occupation of both Germany and Japan engrossed the Army planners during most of 1945. Through the final year of the war, the responsibilities thrust upon Marshall and his staff would become more and more political. The issue of how many and which postwar bases the United States would seek to maintain, an object of concern to the Army and Navy since 1943, came to the fore. Although the President and his military advisers agreed upon the necessity for American postwar control of the Japanese mandated islands, the President desired that U.S. trusteeship be acquired through the United Nations rather than by right of conquest and occupation. Bases in the Philippines presented a different problem, since the islands were soon to become completely independent of the United States. Negotiations with the Filipino leaders continued during the remainder of the war, and the military were directly concerned in the settlement of the question.19

The change-over from the military to the politico-military phase of the war did not occur overnight. It became apparent after the Moscow Conference, accelerated during 1944, and assumed preeminence after OCTAGON. Henceforth, agreement among the Allies on military plans and war strategy would become less urgent than the need to arrive at acceptable politico-military terms on which the winning powers could continue to collaborate. To handle these new challenges after building up a staff mechanism geared to the predominantly military business of fighting a global and coalition war would necessitate considerable adjustment of Army staff processes and planning. It had taken the staff almost three years of war to build and perfect the military machine for carrying


through the invasion of the Continent. All their planning in midwar had been geared to achieving the decisive blow that had been a cardinal element in their strategic faith. Scarcely were the Western Allies ensconced on the Continent, however, when the challenges of victory and peace were upon the Army planners. They entered the last year of the war with the coalition disintegrating, with the President failing in health and no successor fully prepared, and with a smoothly functioning, well-organized politico-military machine lacking.20 To the growing vacuums in international collaboration would be added widening gaps in American national policy, and the military would fall heir--by default--to problems no longer easily divided into military and political, and for which little or no provision had been made. U.S. strategic planners had successfully made the shift from the period of prewar isolationism to the era of intensive wartime coalition experience. But after the summer of 1944 the Army, which had perfected its organization, planning, and preparations for the invasion of the Continent, faced a new planning environment. Strategic plans and their close partners--the manpower balance and troop basis, budgets, bases, organization of national defense, deployment and production plans, and relations with foreign powers and with a new international organization--would have to be threshed out as the Army staff sought a new basis for national security in the postwar world.

Against a backdrop of a war drawing to an unorthodox conclusion in which there were already glimmerings that the role of the Army in warfare might be changing--indeed that all warfare might be changing--and that the military and political balance in the world was in process of flux, the Chief of Staff and his advisers would begin to prepare for what might lie ahead. On the threshold of a new era--with the end of the shooting war in sight--they would begin to demobilize the wartime Army and prepare to meet the challenges of victory and peace.


Table of Contents
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1. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, Ch. 5, and passim.

2. For the President's attitude toward Stalin, see Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, pp. 799, 870.

For the expressed interest of the President (and Hopkins), at Tehran, in Iran as a clinic or experimental station for the President's postwar notion of developing and stabilizing backward areas, see A.C. Millspaugh, Americans in Persia (Washington, The Brookings Institution, 1946), pp. 8, 206, 214-15.

3. (1) Pogue, The Supreme Command, Chs. XXIII, XXIV. (2) Forrest C. Pogue, "Why the Russians Got Berlin and Prague," Misc 201 Pogue, Forrest C. Copy of paper read in American History Association meeting in New York City, December 1951, OCMH files. (3) Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, Chs. 8, 11. (4) Brig. Gen. Thomas North, "The Last 45 Days," Infantry Journal, June 1947.

4. Msg, Marshall to Eisenhower, 6 Apr 45, CM-OUT 64349. This message forwarded the reply of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff.

5. Draft msg, Marshall to Eisenhower, 28 Apr 45, OPD 381 TS, 123. The message was sent with the above comment; see msg, Marshall to Eisenhower, 28 Apr 45, CM-OUT 74256.

6. Ehrman, Grand Strategy V, p. 44ff., pp. 505-06. Ehrman advances the thesis that the British staked their all on the defeat of Germany in 1944, and the prolongation of that war into 1945, was to have serious effects not only on the British economy but also on British relations with the other Allies.

7. (1) According to the Federal Reserve Board, the index of industrial production, using a 1935-39 base as the equivalent of 100, rose from 176 in December 1941 to a peak of 247 in October and November of 1943, and tapered off to 225 in May 1945. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, 1789-1945: A Supplement to the Statistical Abstract of the United States (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949), App. 6, p. 330. (2) Bureau of the Budget, The United States at War, Chart 11, Industrial Production, p. 104. The report states that the quarterly rate of U.S. output of goods and services rose from $34 billion in the last quarter Of 1941 to $52 billion in the second quarter of 1945 (P. 462).

8. Forrest C. Pogue, "SHAEF--A Retrospect on Coalition Command," The Journal of Modern History, Vol. XXIII, No. 4 (December 1951).

9. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy,, pp. 71, 267, 455-70.

10. For the detailed Pacific story, see Louis Morton, Strategy, Command, and Administration, a forthcoming volume in the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II series, Pacific sub-series. For other summaries of planning in the last year of the war against Japan, see: (1) Chs. XXIX and XXX of Vol. II, The Advance to Victory, in Sec. IV, The War Against Japan, prepared by Lt. Grace P. Hayes, USN, for the History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and (2) Cline, Washington Command Post, Ch. XVII.

11. The three OPD officers were Generals Hull and Craig, and Brig. Gen. George A. Lincoln. See Cline. Washington Command Post, p. 347n.

12. For an interesting indication of the revelations of the postwar spy trials, see The New York Times, March 18, 1951.

13. Shortly after OCTAGON, General Handy informed General Marshall that, in his opinion, continued U.S. military success against Japan and a statement of American postwar intentions on the Asiatic mainland would force the Soviet Union to enter the war in order to secure a seat at the peace table and present its own demands. See D/F, Handy for CofS, 1 Oct 44, sub: U.S. Policy in re Russian Participation in the War Against Japan, filed with SS 318 in ABC 381 SS Papers, Nos. 314-26. (7 Jan 43). See also SS 318, 10 Oct 44, same sub, same file.

14. For a statement of the terms of agreement at Yalta, see Department of State, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, p. 984.

15. Leahy, I Was There, p. 318.

16. The problem of Soviet entry into the war against Japan is surveyed in the Department of Defense Documentary Report, The Entry of the Soviet Union Into the War Against Japan: Military Plans, 1941-1945, October 1955.

17. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, pp. 826, 836ff., 865.

18. Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 31 Aug 44, no sub, Item 57, Exec 10.

19. (1) Tel conf, Marshall and Craig, 1 Nov 43, filed with JCS 574 in ABC 686 Philippines (8 Nov 43), 1-A. (2) Memo, Handy for SW, 8 Nov 43, sub: Post-war Military Requirements in the Philippine Islands, filed with JPS 318/D in ABC 686 Philippines (8 Nov 43), 1-A. (3) Memo, F.D.R. for JCS, 10 Jul 44, no sub, Item 70, Exec 10.

20. For a discussion of liaison machinery between the State Department, the War Department, and the White House, see Cline, Washington Command Post, Ch. XVI.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation