From Nonbelligerency to War

When President Roosevelt ordered the marines to sail for Iceland on 1 July 1941, neither he nor any of his advisers were in a position to predict the future course of American action toward the war. The United States, to be sure, had gone far since the preceding summer in implementing its basic policy of hemisphere defense, though its armed forces were still not ready to carry out this policy alone. The nation was rapidly becoming the "arsenal of democracy" forecast by the President at the end of 1940. By mid-1941 the national policy comprehended not only material support of the nations fighting Axis aggression, including the Soviet Union, but also preservation of the British Isles as the major Atlantic bastion of America's position. Britain's salvation depended upon securing the supply life line across the North Atlantic. What the United States in the months to come could and would do in furtherance of these basic policies depended primarily on the success or failure of German arms in the Soviet Union and on what Japan decided to do in consequence of the Nazi-Soviet conflict. Writing to Prime Minister Mackenzie King of Canada on 1 July, President Roosevelt observed, "if the Russians should fail to hold out through the Summer, there may be an intensified effort against Britain itself, and especially for control of the Atlantic," and added, "we may be able to help a good deal more than seems apparent today."1  How much more depended not only on American public opinion, still far from reconciled to open participation in the war, but also on Japan's decision.

The President and his advisers knew only too well how crucial Japan's decision would be in determining American policy and action toward the war. Having broken the Japanese codes, they also had the means of learning what Japan proposed to do. The President on 1 July wrote:

. . . the Japs are having a real drag-down and knock-out fight among themselves and have been for the past week-trying to decide which way they are going to jump-attack Russia, attack the South Seas (thus throwing in their lot definitely with Germany) or whether they will sit on the fence and be more friendly with us. No one knows what the decision will be but, as you know, it is terribly important for the control of the


Atlantic for us to help to keep peace in the Pacific. I simply have not got enough Navy to go round — and every little episode in the Pacific means fewer ships in the Atlantic.2

The Japanese broke the suspense almost immediately. On 2 July at an Imperial Conference they decided that Japan should pursue the plan developed in the summer and fall of 1940 for a southward advance to secure domination of eastern and southeastern Asia. Diplomatic conversations with the United States were to be continued, but simultaneously preparations for war were to be advanced as rapidly as possible. Soviet Siberia would be attacked only if the Russians' seemed on the point of collapse. The Japanese planned to occupy southern Indochina immediately, and they had intended to present the French authorities with an ultimatum to this effect on 5 July; when news of this move leaked out, the Japanese postponed action, but only for another week.3

Apparently fearing immediate American retaliation, the Japanese had ordered their merchant shipping to clear the Atlantic as soon as possible. The United States Army and Navy interpreted this move as possibly portending a surprise attack on American defense positions in the eastern Pacific, and on 3 July the army ordered the Panama Canal closed to Japanese shipping to prevent sabotage by vessels in transit.4  An alert went out the same day to Alaska. Intercepts decoded between 5 and 7 July helped clarify Japanese intentions. Ambassador Nomura had been told on 2 July that his government proposed to advance on southern Indochina and Thailand at once. Though Japan intended to use "every means available . . . in order to prevent the United States from joining the war, if need be Japan shall act in accordance with the three-Power pact and shall decide when and how force will be employed."5

American policy and action toward Japan stiffened as soon as the Japanese made their next overt move. On 24 July forty thousand Japanese troops sailed for southern Indochinese ports to begin the construction of air and naval bases from which further military attacks could be made against Malaya and the East Indies. The United States responded on 26 July by freezing Japanese assets and by other orders that in effect ended American oil shipments to Japan-a move long advocated by exponents of a "get-tough" policy. Army and Navy commanders in the Pacific were again alerted to the


possibility of Japanese retaliation, and the alert message informed them that the Philippine Army was being called into active service. By the end of July the United States had decided to reverse its policy of standing on the defensive along the Alaska-Hawaii-Panama line; instead it would reinforce and defend the Philippines, though this defense was not to be permitted "to jeopardize the success of the major efforts . . . in the theater of the Atlantic.6

Operations in the North Atlantic

The Japanese decisions and actions of July, as previously noted, helped to delay the execution of more vigorous action by American naval forces in the North Atlantic. During June the American and British naval staffs had agreed on plans under which the United States would undertake the escort of convoys of all types of shipping from the Halifax-Newfoundland area to the longitude of Iceland. The Navy had prepared to carry out the assignment by drafting a new Western Hemisphere defense plan that would require transfer of more ships from the Pacific Fleet. The news from Japan caused the President to reverse his tentative approval of these measures.7  He also rejected Secretary Stimson's plea for a forthright explanation of American purposes in Atlantic operations in his report to Congress on the Iceland landing. Mr. Stimson wished it made clear that the "broader and more powerful reason" for the Iceland operation was protection of the North Atlantic convoy route to Great Britain and that the United States proposed to do everything within its naval and air means to protect that route from Axis marauders. He also wanted the President to announce that, with Brazil's consent, the United States proposed to establish bases there to resist Nazi aggression toward South America.8  But the President in announcing to Congress on 7 July that American forces had landed in Iceland explained the move as necessary to prevent German occupation and establishment of air and naval bases from which the Western Hemisphere could be attacked. He said


nothing about escort plans, or about Brazil, although both plans were still very much alive.

American forces established in Iceland naturally required escort of American and Icelandic shipping engaged in transporting troops and supplying American forces and the native population. This began immediately. On 19 July, twelve days after the marines had landed, the Atlantic Fleet issued orders that in effect permitted its ships "to escort convoys of United States and Iceland flag shipping, including shipping of any nationality which may join United States or Iceland flag convoys, between United States ports and bases, and Iceland." Thereafter, as Professor Samuel E. Morison has observed, many ships of other nationalities chose to join the American convoys going to and from Iceland and its vicinity. Furthermore, Canadian and Free French vessels cooperated with the United States Navy in escorting the convoys. While the British and Canadians continued to have exclusive escort responsibility on the direct transatlantic run until two months later, the American Navy from 19 July onward was increasingly engaged in the protection of shipping destined not only for Iceland but also for the British Isles, and it had orders to capture or destroy "potentially hostile vessels . . . actually within sight or sound contact of such shipping or of its escort." 9  Though it is clear that the President approved issuance of these orders, his failure to announce them or explicitly to authorize them left American naval commanders in something of a quandary: they were not certain until September whether, when they detected or sighted a hostile vessel, they ought to fire first or await attack.10  German submarine commanders had more positive orders. Hitler, in emphasizing on 10 July that he wanted to postpone American entry into the war "for another one or two months," again directed that American naval vessels in the war zone must not be attacked unless they attacked first and also that attacks on American merchant ships should be avoided.11

At the Atlantic Conference held at the United States base at Argentia, Newfoundland, 9-12 August, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and their naval advisors discussed and settled upon the division of labor in Atlantic escort operations. Indeed, this was the only significant strategic or tactical matter settled at the Atlantic Conference, though others were discussed. Actually, the naval plans approved there were practically the same as those drafted two months previously and envisaged primary American responsibility for escort duty in the western Atlantic. The President at Argentia


drew a line on an Atlantic map that ran generally along the 26th parallel from south and east of the Azores to south of Iceland and then veered northeastward to longitude 10° east of Iceland; the American sphere of action was to be west of this line. The plans, when executed, permitted release of fifty British destroyers and corvettes for duty in the eastern and southern Atlantic. Despite the complete agreement reached at Argentia, the President still hesitated to make any public announcement of it until an "incident" occurred; furthermore, he wanted to get the system in full operation before it was publicly acknowledged or officially ordered.12

On 4 September a German submarine fired two torpedoes at the United States destroyer Greer, which was en route to Iceland and about 150 miles southwest of it. The Greer had been pursuing and maintaining contact with the submarine in collaboration with an Iceland-based British plane, which had been attacking the submarine with depth charges. Thus began the de facto naval war waged between American and German craft in the North Atlantic during the three months preceding Pearl Harbor. The President in a speech on 11 September seized upon the Greer incident as the appropriate justification for announcing American intentions to engage all German and Italian naval vessels thereafter discovered in the western reaches of the Atlantic. Within a fortnight the United States Navy had begun to escort transatlantic convoys to mid-ocean. On 28 September the Navy issued its Hemisphere Defense Plan No. 5 covering these extended operations and ordered it into effect on 8 October after Admiral King had reported his Atlantic Fleet in a full state of readiness to carry it out.13

Successful submarine attacks on the destroyers Kearny and Reuben James during October-sinking the latter with heavy loss of life-signalized the intention of the Germans to modify their policy of avoiding incidents that might bring the United States openly into the war. With a quick victory over the Russians no longer in prospect, the Nazis extended their submarine operations into the western Atlantic as far as Newfoundland. During late October and early November American Navy craft and Army planes helped in an attack on a submarine pack that had found good hunting around New-


foundland.14  On 13 November Congress voted to repeal the provisions of the Neutrality Act of 1939 that prohibited the arming of American merchant ships and their entry into combat zones. As Mr. Churchill notes, this action, coupled with the Navy's escort operations, would have inevitably led to "constant fighting in the Atlantic between German and American ships."15  By 5 December the Atlantic Fleet and the British Home Fleet had reached complete agreement on responsibilities and measures for dealing with German surface raiders in the North Atlantic.16  The Battle of the Atlantic had become an American battle, though nominally the nation was still at peace.

The German Threat in the Southern Atlantic

It appeared during the summer of 1941 that the task of securing control of the Atlantic could not be confined to its northern reaches. As the British, Canadian, and American Navies tightened their hold on the North Atlantic life line, German submarine activity swung southward. In June 1941 more than half of the British merchant shipping losses in the Atlantic occurred within a 1,000-mile radius of the Cape Verde Islands.17  The continuance of these depredations through the summer seemed to American military observers to indicate an early renewal of the Nazi military threat to French West Africa and South America that had loomed so ominously in May. This threat was in fact very real in July 1941. Hitler and his commanders had expected to smash Soviet military power in a lightning summer campaign, after which they intended to turn their attention to the Mediterranean and Africa. It will be recalled that this timing had been agreed upon in March, and that German negotiations with Admiral Darlan in May had been intended to lay the groundwork for an advance to Dakar after the Russians were defeated. Though General Maxime Weygand, French commander in North Africa, had been able in early June to persuade Marshal Pétain to reject the Darlan protocols, the Germans fully intended to pursue their objectives of capturing Gibraltar and occupying bases in North and West Africa and on the eastern Atlantic islands as soon as they could release sufficient forces (especially air forces) from the Soviet front. Their main purpose would be to establish a


chain of Atlantic bases from which British and American control of the Atlantic could be successfully challenged.18

Whether the Germans could launch a drive toward North and West Africa during 1941 depended on two factors: first, their success in encircling the mass of Soviet military manpower before it could withdraw; and second, collaboration with France. During July, while the outcome on the Soviet front was still in balance, the Germans renewed their demands on Vichy for North African bases.19  About the same time the German Navy was urging upon the Fuehrer its views that a "final clarification of the Mediterranean problem" and military collaboration with France in order to gain control of strategic bases were absolutely essential to "a successful continuation of the Battle of the Atlantic." Hitler answered that there was "absolutely no reason for the concern" expressed by the German Navy. He had not changed his mind about the importance of maintaining the submarine and air offensive against Britain with all vigor. Though he earnestly desired to avoid actions that would lead to open war with the United States while the Eastern Campaign was in progress, nevertheless he was determined to march into Spain and send panzer and infantry divisions from there into North Africa "as soon as the U.S.A. occupies Portuguese or Spanish Islands."20

Since the first condition essential to the launching of a southwestward drive did not materialize, the question whether the Germans could have "persuaded" Vichy France to collaborate must remain unanswered. The Germans failed to trap the main Soviet forces, and by mid-August the German Army began to realize that it was in for a long and exhausting battle on the Eastern Front.21  A month later a strategic estimate prepared by the German Army High Command and approved by Hitler acknowledged the necessity of recasting German military plans. Irrespective of whether Soviet forces succumbed during the fall or winter of 1941-12, the German Army would be too shattered and exhausted to permit its regrouping for a major offensive elsewhere until well into 1942. Even in the midst of the titanic Nazi-Soviet struggle, the Germans considered the defeat of Great Britain their main goal in the war. A successful invasion was the one sure means of defeating Britain, but it would be at least late summer 1942 before the operation could be carried out. Nor would German ground and air forces "be available for


decisive operations in the Mediterranean, in the Atlantic, and on the Spanish mainland before spring, 1942." Until then the High Command urged that Germany do everything it could to maintain and improve its political relations with France and Spain and to block their collaboration with Great Britain and the United States. From the German military point of view, the greatest strategic danger in sight was an Anglo-American drive to secure sea and air domination of the Mediterranean and control of the North African littoral from the Atlantic to Suez, but Germany could not undertake any decisive moves to control this situation or to gain control of the Atlantic until the Russians were defeated.22

The United States Army's initial estimate that the Soviet Army would probably collapse within one to three months' time was shared by the British as well as by the Germans themselves. Early in July G-2 predicted that, if the Russians were defeated during the summer or fall of 1941, Germany would concentrate on consolidating its hegemony in Europe, expelling the British from the Mediterranean, and intensifying the Atlantic war of attrition against British commerce .23  At this same time General Sir Archibald P. Wavell, who had been serving as British commander in the eastern Mediterranean, estimated that the Nazi-Soviet struggle gave Britain a minimum of six weeks' grace, and that thereafter the Germans would first move through Spain to close the western Mediterranean and then drive against Suez. General Lord Gort, commanding at Gibraltar, reported increased clandestine military activity south of the Strait all the way to Dakar. He believed that the Germans would advance into French Africa as soon as they could release the necessary forces from the Eastern Front, and that they might "well go to Morocco and West Africa through Italy, rather than Spain."24  At an Anglo-American staff meeting in London on 11 July, the British stated their opinion that the German plans included occupation of French North and West Africa before the end of 1941, but they also expressed doubts as to whether the Germans had sufficient resources in ships and planes to establish and maintain this position if American and British forces collaborated in resisting the advance .25

While American and British political and military chiefs at the Atlantic Conference were discussing concrete ways and means of dealing with the prospective German drive toward the southern Atlantic, in Washington Mr.


Hull was asking the War and Navy Secretaries what the United States could do "if the Germans march on Dakar as they are preparing to do now." It was a hard question to answer because, as Mr. Stimson noted, the United States and Britain simply did not have enough available naval strength to support effective military countermeasures in the southern Atlantic area.26  On 15 August Secretary Stimson, in a radio address, said, "Germany has been pushing into North Africa and we have reason to believe that a major advance will be made by her into that continent." He then emphasized the threat of such an advance to Brazil and the Western Hemisphere.27

Brazil, as War Plans chief General Gerow explained to President Roosevelt on 31 August, was the southern key to the Army's scheme of hemisphere defense, and the Army planners and General Marshall wanted more than ever to put security forces at strategic airfields on the Brazilian bulge .28  In mid-September G-2 held that a German move into French North and West Africa, whatever its main purpose, would provide Germany with the opportunity to extend its influence in Latin America-perhaps to infiltrate physically-and would necessitate prompt action in the Natal area by the United States and in the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands by the United States and Great Britain .29  Not until October did the Army planners come around to the belief that the immediate threat to North and West Africa had passed. Though they still expected that the Soviet Union would be defeated by the spring of 1942, until that happened they believed Germany could not invade England or launch any other major offensive.30

The German threat to the southwest had led in August to a revival of the joint Army-Navy expeditionary force plan for the Azores that had been hurriedly developed at President Roosevelt's direction in late May and then suspended in early June both because of the decision to send troops to Iceland and because of the unfavorable reactions of the Portuguese Government toward the idea.31  The revival of the Azores project found the Army planners opposing it almost as strongly as before, and for the same basic reasons: neither the use of the Azores nor their denial to the Axis Powers was essential "to the static defense of the Western Hemisphere"; and their occupation and defense against opposition would absorb all of the Army's "immediately available resources in seasoned combat troops."32  Nevertheless,


since the President and some of his advisers were known to have a keen interest in the Azores as well as in the more distant Cape Verdes, the Army had to consider an Azores expedition as a continuing possibility. By early July, G-1 had drafted three alternate plans for military government in the Azores, and two months later War Plans placed the Azores at the top of the list of areas for which military government personnel should be trained.33  Whether these plans would have to be applied depended not so much on what the President or the armed services planned to do as on the still unpredictable outcome of the great Nazi-Soviet battle.34

In mid ,July the President had the Department of State dispatch a letter to Prime Minister Salazar of Portugal designed to dissipate the "misunderstandings which have regrettably arisen during recent weeks between our two Governments" and to pave the way for a Portuguese request for American protection of the Azores and other Portuguese possessions in the event they were threatened by Germany. The United States would invite Brazil to participate in any such operation and would categorically guarantee to respect Portuguese sovereignty and to withdraw its forces as soon as the war was over. The President's letter had a good effect in Lisbon, and Dr. Salazar's response acceded somewhat left-handedly to Mr. Roosevelt's proposals. The Portuguese Government, it stated, planned to retreat to the Azores in case the Germans threatened Portugal itself, and while it would count as usual on British protection in accordance with its traditional alliance, if British forces were too busy elsewhere American assistance in the Azores and Cape Verdes might be accepted.35

With these exchanges in hand, the Azores project became a prime topic of conversation at the Atlantic Conference, along with other operations that might be undertaken to counteract a German move into Spain. The President read Dr. Salazar's letter to Prime Minister Churchill, and they both agreed that it opened the way for a peaceful American occupation of the islands. Mr. Churchill then disclosed that the British planned to seize the Canary Islands about 15 September 1941, that this operation would absorb


all British forces available for action in the southern Atlantic area, and that he would therefore welcome American landings in the Azores and the Cape Verdes about the same time. The Prime Minister agreed to persuade Dr. Salazar to send the necessary direct invitation to the United States so that the Azores operation could be carried out promptly. He also promised to protect the operation from German interference by covering it with a large naval screen (which would, of course, also cover the Canaries operation) between the islands and the Portuguese coast. Mr. Churchill then carefully pointed out that a Canary operation in September might precede a German move into Spain, and that this operation by itself would almost inevitably provoke a crisis in the Iberian Peninsula that would make an Azores operation mandatory. President Roosevelt agreed to go through with the Azores project no matter what the circumstances requiring it. He explained that the United States did not have enough trained forces to send troops to the Azores and Cape Verdes simultaneously, so the Prime Minister agreed that the British would occupy the Cape Verdes initially and then turn them over to the United States.36

Following the Roosevelt-Churchill discussion, the American and British military chiefs considered the Azores and related operations in staff conversations on 11-12 August. Neither the British nor the American Army and Navy chiefs seem to have been as enthusiastic or as certain about the Azores-Canary undertaking as the President and Prime Minister evidently were. Sir John Dill of the British Army doubted the necessity of occupying the Azores or Cape Verdes if the Canaries were held. Admiral Dudley Pound of the British Navy questioned the feasibility of the Canary operation if it were postponed beyond September and spoke as though there were a distinct uncertainty of its being executed during that month. Both General Marshall and Admiral Stark appear to have felt that the question of which nation should occupy the Azores was still open to future decision, though General Marshall agreed that should an American operation be decided upon the Army would furnish the necessary forces. The Cape Verdes were to be considered a British responsibility.37


Before news of the Argentia discussions reached Washington, the War Plans Division sent a copy of the original joint expeditionary force plan for the Azores to the newly activated operational staff of General Headquarters and requested that it get to work on a defense plan for an Army occupation force. After General Marshall's return, he directed General Headquarters to speed work on an Azores relief plan, to be based on the assumption that the Navy and Marine Corps would make the landings and that the Army would thereafter provide a local defense force only.38  By the time General Headquarters completed this plan in September the prospect of a peaceful occupation had faded. A new joint plan prepared and amplified during September and October contemplated using the Atlantic Amphibious Force (1st Army and 1st Marine Divisions) in the initial landing and provided for an Army relief force of about twenty-six thousand to defend the islands after their occupation. By early November the Azores operation was looked upon less as a defensive move than as a preliminary step to an occupation of northwestern Africa. The Azores in American hands would provide a base for checking Axis submarine activity against the Atlantic trade routes and would guard the supply lines to Morocco and the Mediterranean.39

The military services were under considerable pressure in September and October 1941 to develop plans for the occupation-peaceful or- otherwise-of the more distant Atlantic islands and of French West and North Africa President Roosevelt in September evinced his interest in the possibilities of American military expeditions to the Cape Verdes and Dakar, in addition to the contemplated dispatch of forces to the Azores and to the Natal area of Brazil .40  Although United States forces in the Cape Verdes could have helped to interdict Axis air operations that might be launched from the Dakar area against Brazil, the Army considered the islands of value primarily as bases from which to protect the southern Atlantic shipping lanes and to support an American or British operation against Dakar. The occupation of the Dakar area by American or British forces would have blocked the only practicable line of approach by Axis military forces to South America, but the planners believed that neither the Cape Verdes nor Dakar had any appreciable value as bases from which British or American forces could advance to North Africa or the


Mediterranean. That line of approach went through the Azores and the Canaries. By the end of October some Washington authorities-but not the Army planners-were considering the possibility of following this line in the near future and landing a large American force in Morocco.41

The Army had good reason to resist proposals for the early projection of American military power into French Africa. In the first place, if the United States were permitted to place small security forces on the Brazilian bulge none of the projected Atlantic island or African operations could be construed as essential to hemisphere defense. It would be far simpler, and less costly in trained manpower and in shipping, to put American troops into Brazil than to carry out any other southern Atlantic operation. In the second place, the Army did not have enough trained and equipped troops to do more than occupy either the Azores or the Cape Verdes-not both. Dakar and Morocco were quite beyond current Army capabilities. Actually, all of the projected southern Atlantic operations (except Brazil) contemplated using the same force-the Atlantic Amphibious Force, with a strength of about 30,000 men. The United States could not spare enough shipping to transport and maintain a mid-Atlantic or transatlantic force any larger than that before the end of 1941. Since even an unopposed landing in the Dakar area was believed to require at least 50,000 troops, the Army now considered that operation well beyond its means until the spring of 1942 at the earliest; landing 150,000 American troops in Morocco was far beyond its ken .42  Secretary of War Stimson opposed the Atlantic islands and African projects both for the reasons advanced by the Army staff planners and for another reason more compelling to him. Mr. Stimson (probably with the support of General Marshall and certainly with that of General Arnold, the Chief of the Army Air Forces) wanted to concentrate on the projection of American military power to the northeast. He strongly opposed any moves that would get the Army "bogged down" in such "side issues" as the Azores and Dakar; instead, he urged Army action along what he called "the direct line of our strategical route towards victory," by completing the relief of British forces in Iceland and also by taking over the garrisoning of Northern Ireland from the British .43

With the Army in particular unwilling and unable to launch immediately effective transatlantic measures to counter the German threat to French North


and West Africa, the United States did what it could by diplomacy to persuade the French to resist German infiltration into their African possessions. In July President Roosevelt sent a sharp warning to General Weygand that the United States would do all that it could to prevent the Germans from obtaining the use of any French African ports as military, naval, or air bases. Mr. Hull talked to the Vichy ambassador in similar terms during September . 44   The United States knew that the French were reinforcing their West African defenses, but whether they were doing so to protect them against Axis or Anglo-American moves remained unknown. The actual German infiltration into French North and West Africa was comparatively slight.

In November German pressure finally forced Marshal Pétain to dismiss General Weygand, and a new crisis in Franco-American relations loomed thereafter. Ambassador Leahy recommended that if this move were followed by any evidences of increased Franco-German collaboration, the United States ought to recall him and announce its intention of dealing with France's New World and African possessions in the manner most advantageous to American defensive preparations. The Army wanted France's Western Hemisphere possessions demilitarized at once. On the eve of Pearl Harbor, the United States demanded that the Pétain government guarantee that Weygand's policy of resisting German infiltration into French Africa would not be altered. Vichy supplied the guarantee on 12 December 1941.45  Of course, since late summer Soviet military stamina had provided the most realistic guarantee against a major German drive toward the southwest during 1941.

Military Policy and Army Readiness, Autumn 1941

The events of mid-1941 required the United States to reassess its position toward the war. Before the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, the nation's leaders had decided that the national security depended on the salvation of Great Britain. The fall of Britain and the disintegration of the British Empire would have left the United States virtually alone to face a hostile Old World possessed of military power far greater than America could hope to match for years to come. Even if Britain were saved, it was difficult until the fall of 1941 to foresee how the Axis forces could be defeated no matter what contribution the United States made. The eight-point Atlantic Charter of mid-August, agreed upon and announced by the President and the Prime Minister, referred hopefully to "the final destruction of Nazi tyranny" and


to the necessity of disarming the aggressor nations. During the month following, as it became apparent that the Russians might be able to continue effective resistance to the German military machine, American military leaders for the first time could visualize with some confidence ways and means of achieving these goals. The very name applied to the massive estimates of these ways and means-the "Victory Program"-reflected that confidence. The Victory Program was not a plan for getting the United States into all out war; rather, it was an over-all estimate of the current war situation, and on the basis of that estimate a prediction of what the United States would have to do to achieve victory if tile nation chose to join fully in the struggle against the Axis.46

As a backdrop for the Victory Program, and for other military estimates and plans prepared during the fall of 1941, the military planners had to delineate their conceptions of current national and military policies. They named hemisphere defense as the first and basic policy. The Joint Board's estimate of 11 September defined this policy as the "preservation of the territorial, economic and ideological integrity of the United States and of the remainder of the Western Hemisphere."47  The War Department Strategic Estimate of October used somewhat stronger language: "Resist wherever necessary and with all available resources the economic, political, and military penetration of the Axis and Associated Powers in the Western Hemisphere. Enforce the Monroe Doctrine."48  The other major policies, as the military planners understood them, were: to maintain the security of the British Isles and the integrity of the British Empire; to uphold the American doctrine of freedom of the seas, in particular by insuring delivery of munitions and other supplies to Great Britain and the Soviet Union; within American means and the abilities of the recipient states, to give material assistance to all nations and peoples fighting the Axis Powers; to contribute in every possible way to the defeat of Germany, short of declared war; to keep Germany engaged in the Soviet Union for as long a time and at as costly a rate to Germany as possible; and to resist Japanese expansion in the western Pacific by means short of war, but to avoid war with Japan until the


European situation had been "clarified or liquidated." Finally, the Joint Board's estimate set forth a longer range national objective: the "eventual establishment in Europe and Asia of a balance of power which will most nearly ensure political stability in those regions and the future security of the United States; and, so far as practicable, the establishment of regimes favorable to economic and individual liberty."49

Pursuing these policies, the United States by the fall of 1941 had become a major though still limited participant in the war. When and whether it could or would do more of its own volition depended on several factors: the American estimate of the capabilities of the other major military powers; the military readiness (or better, current unreadiness) of the United States itself; the will of the American people, veering in their opinions toward support of all-out participation but still reluctant to take the final plunge; and the purpose of their leaders, particularly of President Roosevelt, who also was reluctant to accept the implications of all-out participation.

General Marshall and Admiral Stark in their joint estimate of 11 September made it clear that there was not much hope of defeating Hitler unless the United States threw its full military weight into the balance. They were still not certain that existing American policies and actions would insure Britain's survival. The service chiefs and their advisers thought it unlikely that Soviet forces could hold Germany in check beyond early 1942. If Britain fell thereafter, the United States at best could look forward only to a period of armed "peace" with European and Asiatic conquerors, a peace that would almost inevitably end in war under less favorable circumstances than those subsisting. The Chief of Staff and Chief of Naval Operations therefore recommended all-out preparations for a large American war-effort. With such preparations made, the nation could hope to wage war successfully either in the Old World as an associate of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China or, in the event of their defeat, in the New World in collaboration with Canada and the Latin American nations. The Army believed that the first course would require that large American ground forces eventually come to grips with the German armies on the continent of Europe.50

The United States Army in the fall of 1941 was still very far from being ready to undertake a transatlantic offensive, and its current policies were not calculated to prepare it for action of that sort. The Army, after a year of


rapid growth, had attained a numerical strength of 1,455,565 on 30 June 1941. This total represented an approximate achievement of the goal set in the summer and fall of 1940 for an Army sufficiently strong to defend the hemisphere against all eventualities. Between July and December 1941 the Army's rate of growth slowed, and it was calculated to have a strength of 1,643,477 on 7 December 1941.51  After June, the Army concentrated not on expansion but on the improvement of its existing units. Between August and November 1941 its four field armies engaged in maneuvers that not only improved their combat readiness but also disclosed faults needing correction. A fortnight after Pearl Harbor General Headquarters rated half of thirty-four divisions then in the United States as ready for combat.52  This was true only in a limited sense: most divisions lacked their full complements of equipment, most of them needed more combined arms training, and the Army did not have the supporting air and ground units necessary to weld them into effective corps and armies ready for offensive action. As of 1 October 1941, using a stricter measurement, the General Staff rated only one division, five antiaircraft regiments, and two artillery brigades as ready for offensive action. On the same date, the Air Forces had only two bombardment squadrons and three pursuit groups ready. The staff planners anticipated that by the end of the year about double this number of ground and air units would be fully prepared for task force use, and by April 1942 the Army hoped to have ready two complete corps (of three divisions each), with proper ground and air support.53

Legislative restrictions, Army plans for releasing selective service and Reserve personnel, and the shortage of shipping would in any event have prevented the deployment overseas of a large Army force in 1941. Congress extended the Selective Service and Training Act in August by the narrowest of margins and continued in effect the ban on sending selectees outside the Western Hemisphere. Most Army combat units had a large proportion of selectees within their ranks and therefore could not have been sent outside the hemisphere without severe disruption before their departure. The Army's own plans in the late summer of 1941 called for release of the older selectees and replacement of all selective service and National Guard enlisted men after eighteen or twenty months' service. Indeed, the Army was planning to retire all National Guard units from federal service, though it hoped to recruit


by enlistment as many trained men as possible from their ranks. Army personnel plans in September contemplated only about a 10 percent increase in future ground force strength. As late as November General Marshall and his advisers assumed in their planning that no more than sixteen divisions would be made ready for overseas employment so long as the nation remained at least technically at peace.54  As for shipping, there was hardly enough available during the fall of 1941 to move a task force of even one reinforced division, though the War Department hoped that there would be enough by the end of the year to move and maintain a force of fifty thousand men and that thereafter new tonnage would become available to move and supply sixty-eight thousand additional men per month.55

President Roosevelt called upon General Marshall in September to defend the current and planned strength of the Army. The President was looking for ways and means of allotting more combat equipment to Soviet forces, and one method suggested had been to reduce American combat ground forces and Army overseas garrisons in order to cut their needs for equipment. On 22 September General Marshall, Secretary of War Stimson, and the President went over, item by item, the Army's existing and projected overseas garrison strengths and its planned strength for task forces, air forces, field armies, and continental defense and housekeeping purposes. The net result was Mr. Roosevelt's approval of the Army's current strength plans and the Chief of Staffs conclusion that the President had no real intention of seeking a reduction of the Army. 56  Conversely, until December there was certainly no initiative either from the President or from the General Staff to increase the Army much beyond its existing strength. General Headquarters in October proposed a scheme for Army expansion and for multiplying the number of trained divisions; but, as a War Department G-3 (Operations and Training Division) representative commented on 5 November, this plan would have required "a reorientation of the national objective from Hemisphere Defense to an all-out `beat Hitler' effort."57  Nothing came of this proposal until after 7 December 1941-a lack of action that led Lt. Gen.


Lesley J. McNair of General Headquarters to comment with some asperity the day before: "I do not profess to understand the precise military objective of our Army, but assume as obvious that it must be more than passive hemispherical defense." He then went on to urge that the United States begin "the mass production of trained divisions" so that it could exercise "a decisive and perhaps dominant influence on the outcome of the war."58

The Army managed during 1941 to build up the Alaskan, Hawaiian, Panama Canal, and Puerto Rican garrisons to their authorized peace strengths in men, though not in equipment. Army plans developed in May and June for reduction of the authorized war strengths of these garrisons under the RAINBOW 5 plan came to naught; though ground strengths were reduced, corresponding increases in projected air garrisons virtually restored the cuts ordered in the summer of 1941. Iceland and the newer hemisphere defense garrisons along the Atlantic front remained well below their authorized peace strengths. As of mid-November it would have required the deployment of two hundred thousand additional troops (or as many again as were then stationed overseas) to bring the Army's outlying garrisons up to the war strengths then authorized under current RAINBOW 5 plans.59

Whatever the policies recommended by the service chiefs, therefore, the Army's current means and state of readiness gave it little choice but to carry out the garrisoning of existing overseas bases and prepare itself for comparatively small overseas expeditionary efforts of an essentially defensive nature. This was the conclusion of the Army's October estimate: "Regardless of the course we pursue, our present forces are barely sufficient to defend our military bases and outlying possessions. If the Axis Powers were in a position to attempt a major military operation against the Western Hemisphere, our current military forces would be wholly inadequate. Obviously we are not now prepared to undertake major military operations in far-flung theaters."60  A War Plans section chief developed this same argument in more detail. Noting that the Victory Program visualized a great offensive, he commented:

Successful offensives are not initiated until ready .... The associated powers have been forced on the defensive. A defensive strategy should be pursued until victory forces are available .... The present strategic situation is such that the United States should adopt


as an immediate objective the formation of forces necessary for hemisphere defense after an Axis victory in Europe. While forming such forces every reasonable effort should be made to continue Russia, Great Britain, and China in the war. When it appears that these friendly forces can continue no longer greater emphasis must be placed on building hemisphere defense forces. Such forces as are necessary for hemisphere defense must not be sent to a distant theater until victory is assured. Expansion beyond hemisphere defense forces provides the forces necessary for the offensive designed to bring about victory.61

Of the sixteen divisions that the war planners in November 1941 wanted ready for emergency use overseas as soon as possible, one was earmarked for Iceland, two for garrison duty in the British Isles, and three for a strategic reserve; the remaining ten were designated for expeditionary movements that might have to be undertaken to the east and west coasts of South America, to the Atlantic islands, and to French West Africa.62  This was in accordance with the revised War Plans' estimate of the same month, which concluded: "While waiting for the time when our troops, shipping and maintenance supplies will have reached a level to permit large scale operations in overseas theaters, there are several preliminary operations which may be undertaken which will strengthen our position in the Western Hemisphere and prepare the way for further action in Europe or Africa when the situation warrants." These "preliminary operations" were itemized as the completion of the Iceland occupation, the defense of bases in northeastern Brazil, the occupation of Dakar, and the protective occupation of the Azores, the Cape Verdes, and the Canaries.63  If its operations had been guided by its own judgment only, the Army presumably would have carried out a much more extensive deployment for hemisphere defense, and in a generally different direction, than actually occurred.

The Approach to War

President Roosevelt in a Labor Day address delivered on 1 September 1941 expressed his determination and bespoke that of the American people "to do everything in their power to crush Hitler and his Nazi forces." Commenting editorially the following day, the New York Times observed that the nation now had taken a position from which it could not retreat and that would also inevitably force it into direct participation in the war if its current policies proved insufficient to beat Hitler .64  The armed services in


their September Victory Program estimates were united in the opinion that Germany could not be defeated under existing American policies and measures. If the United States wanted to beat Hitler, it would have to become a direct participant in the war as soon as possible. In default of such participation, Secretary of War Stimson advised the President, not only could Britain and its associates not hope to win but also they could not expect to survive indefinitely "no matter what industrial effort is put forth by us."65

When Mr. Stimson personally presented his own and the other service recommendations to the President on 25 September, Mr. Roosevelt entered into a frank discussion of "what would happen if and when we got into war." The President agreed that a recognized state of war would greatly stimulate the national defense effort. But he also expressed his dislike of the implications of all-out war-that is, of the ultimate necessity of American forces invading and crushing Germany. 66  Apparently, the President still preferred to wait for events to shape the American position toward the war. Writing to Prime Minister Mackenzie King two days later, he remarked: "I have to watch this Congress and public opinion like a hawk and actual events on the ocean, together with my constant reiteration of freedom of the seas, are increasing our armed help all the time."67  The President knew that neither Congress nor the American people were ready for a declaration of war. When Mr. Churchill had asked for such a declaration at Argentia in August, the President (as the Prime Minister remembered it) had answered: "I may never declare war; I may make war. If I were to ask Congress to declare war, they might argue about it for three months."68  The President in a sense "made" war in the fall of 1941 by indorsing actions that put the United States Navy and merchant marine into the Battle of the Atlantic. There can be no question about Mr. Roosevelt's determination to use every means he conceived to be practicable to strike at Hitler, but as late as mid October it seemed to Mr. Stimson that the President was being unduly influenced by people who thought other nations could win the war with American weapons.69

There seems to have been a nice correspondence during the fall of 1941 between the President's position and that of the American people at large. The President's own popularity was near its prewar peak, and an even larger proportion of those questioned in public opinion polls expressed approval


of his foreign policy, particularly of his policy toward Germany. To judge by the polls, the American public really feared Hitler and German militarism. A poll in August showed that a large majority of Americans believed that Hitler would not be satisfied short of world conquest, and in November another disclosed that more than three fourths of those questioned thought any Hitler "peace" in Europe would be highly inimical to the United States. The extension of American naval operations in the Atlantic, the "shoot on sight" orders to the American Navy, the arming of American merchant ships and their entry into combat zones-all of these were approved in polls by margins of two-to-one or better. One poll conducted in November showed that nearly four fifths of those questioned approved in general of the government's conduct toward the European war, and almost as large a majority answered in the affirmative when asked whether the United States ought to do everything it could to defeat Germany, even if that meant eventually getting into the war. The polls also showed that most people expected the United States to get into the war eventually. Despite these sentiments, too manifest to be doubted on grounds of polling inaccuracies, the American people in October were still strongly opposed to an immediate declaration of war against either Germany or Japan . 70

Two developments in October helped to tip the scales toward an earlier outright participation in the war. One was the real opening of the North Atlantic "shooting" war with German submarine attacks on destroyers Kearny and Reuben James. In between these attacks, the President delivered a Navy Day address that bristled. Judge Samuel I. Rosenman, then speech drafter extraordinary and subsequently compiler of the President's papers, has stated that, by the time of the 27 October address, President Roosevelt had become convinced American entry into the war was "almost unavoidable" and "nearly inevitable."71  The other October event was the installation of a new Cabinet in Tokyo bent on war unless the United States backed down. "Matters are crystallizing on both sides of us now," recorded Mr. Stimson on 5 November. Two days later Admiral Stark said substantially the same thing when he wrote: "Events are moving rapidly toward a real showdown, both in the Atlantic and in the Pacific."72

Neither the Army nor the Navy wanted a showdown in the Pacific, at least not until the Army's program for reinforcing the Philippines had been


completed. That would not be until spring, 1942. The Navy had carefully refrained from applying shooting orders in Pacific waters, except against German and Italian naval vessels in the southeast Pacific, in order to avoid any incident with Japan, and in general the armed services were ready to go to considerable lengths to avert or at least postpone hostilities with Japan. Admiral Stark, to be sure, thought a declaration of war against Germany so necessary that he advocated it even if hostilities with Japan must in consequence be accepted.73  Nevertheless, he joined General Marshall in advising the President on 5 November that war with Japan ought to be avoided unless Japan attacked United States, British, or Dutch territory, or invaded the Kra Peninsula with intent to march on Singapore. The United States Pacific Fleet was not strong enough to challenge the Japanese Navy, and Army airpower in the Philippines would not be strong enough to provide an alternate deterrent until March 1942.74  Acting presumably on the basis of this advice, the President and his Cabinet on 7 November unanimously agreed that the American people would back belligerent action by the United States to check Japanese aggression against the territories that the service chiefs felt it essential to defend .75

Reduced to simpler terms, the situation in November 1941 was approximately this: In the Atlantic, the United States Government and the American people wanted to help beat Hitler because they viewed Hitler as the prime menace to the security and well-being of the United States. They were willing to engage in an ever larger war effort in order to defeat Germany. A November poll indicated the readiness of a substantial majority of the American people to dispatch American naval and air power to "any place where it could best help to defeat Hitler," and a large minority approved sending Army ground forces as well.76  But for the time being Hitler did not want a recognized state of war with the United States. Admiral Stark had observed in October that Hitler had "every excuse in the world to declare war on us now, if he were of a mind to . . . . When he is ready, he will strike, and not before."77  In an interview, the German charge d'affaires expressed doubts that Germany would break its diplomatic relations with the United States, though he recognized the possibility that his government might eventually "tire of


the undeclared war." Hitler himself had begun to realize that he might not be able after all to overwhelm his existing antagonists, and he certainly did not relish the prospect of having to cope with another and potentially greater one.78  In the Pacific, the United States wanted to avoid war with Japan unless Japan attacked American territory or vital areas in and around the East Indies. But Japan was ready to strike at the United States if that were necessary to stop American intervention in the Far East. The Japanese were determined to secure a free hand in China and to dominate the very areas that the United States considered it vital to try to defend.

At an Imperial Conference on 6 September, the Japanese had decided that an advance toward the south should be launched before the end of October if a final round of negotiations with the United States and Great Britain proved fruitless-a decision and deadline prompted by the American oil embargo of July. The Japanese militarists had to get oil soon or give up, and they had no intention of giving up. Naval training for the attack on the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii began in September, and during the month the Japanese completed the "war gaming" of their plans and intensified the training of their land, sea, and air forces for the descent upon the Philippines, southeast Asia, and Indonesia. There were still strong voices in Japan against the course of forceful aggression charted by the Army and Navy chiefs-sufficiently strong to cause a temporary impasse in October that produced a cabinet crisis and postponed the deadline for action by six weeks .79

The United States in the meantime was beginning to execute its new policy of Philippine reinforcement. Heavy bombardment planes-modern B-17's — were to provide the backbone of this reinforcement. The planners believed that if at least two groups (or 136) of these planes could be stationed in the Philippines, they would provide a positive and effective deterrent to Japanese southward expansion.80  The strategic concept for their employment envisioned use of Soviet and British as well as of Philippine bases. With only nine of the bombers on hand in the Philippines, and other reinforcements just beginning to move across the Pacific, an October War Plans' study concluded:

Consideration of Japanese forces and her capabilities, leads to the conclusion that the air and ground units now available or scheduled for dispatch to the Philippine Islands in


the immediate future have changed the entire picture in the Asiatic Area. The action taken by the War Department may well be the determining factor in Japan's eventual decision and, consequently, have a vital bearing on the course of the war as a whole.81

The strategic estimate of the same month doubted the likelihood of major Japanese aggression in the near future because of the heavy involvement of Japanese forces in China. Such aggression "would become feasible only with a radical depletion of the Russian Far East forces and the almost complete involvement of U.S. forces in the European theater."82  When the Konoye Cabinet fell in mid-October, the President and his principal military advisers took serious note of the worsening of the situation, and the Navy alerted its fleet commanders to the possibility of hostilities. The Army's Intelligence and War Plans Divisions disagreed with the Navy and informed Army Pacific commanders that while Japanese-American relations remained tense no abrupt change in Japanese foreign policy appeared imminent.83

The policy of the new Tojo Cabinet was in fact precisely the same as its predecessor's. At an Imperial Conference on 5 November the Japanese decided that unless the United States and Great Britain accepted Japan's demands by 25 November, Japan would go to war.84  While this new and final ultimatum was en route, President Roosevelt apparently still hoped for a peaceful settlement with Japan, or, that failing, for the opportunity to continue his current policy of "stalling and holding off" Japan; but he realized also that the Japanese situation might "blow up in the very near future."85

The events that followed the arrival in Washington on 17 November of the new Japanese envoy, Saburo Kurusu, have been recounted in detail elsewhere in this series, in many other narratives, and in the massive published record of the Pearl Harbor investigations .86  It is sufficient to record here that by the deadline date, 25 November, American civilian and military leaders had tentatively agreed among themselves on the terms of a modus vivendi to be proffered the Japanese envoys. When consulted, the Chinese expressed


violent opposition to the terms, and the British were reluctant to accept them. It is very doubtful that Japan would have accepted them either, even as a basis for further negotiation; but Japan was given no choice in the matter, since the President and Secretary of State decided not to present the modus vivendi to the Japanese envoys. The statement of American principles that they received instead was rejected by Tokyo and the decision for war reaffirmed. The die had been cast.

The President and his principal advisers were well aware by late November that the Japanese might strike almost at once and without warning. The service chiefs expected the first Japanese moves to be made against Thailand and the Burma Road, though they considered an attack on the Philippines a distinct possibility."87 No one in authority in Washington gave more than a passing thought to Pearl Harbor and the fleet. An Army intelligence estimate being prepared at the end of November stated that Japan was "completely extended militarily and economically," with sixty of its seventy-one divisions tied down on the Asiatic mainland; this being the case, Japan was "momentarily unable to concentrate anywhere a military striking force sufficient to ensure victory" in any new major offensive. Germany, G-2 contended, would for the next four months "remain the only power capable of launching large scale strategic offensives," though it was unlikely to do so during this period . 88  As for the American people, while they did not want to go to war with Japan, they were certain that if such a war came the United States would win it; and polls on the very eve of Pearl Harbor disclosed that a substantial majority believed a war with Japan would be easy and, by a three-to-one margin, that it would be short.89

Neither the military nor the public estimates of Japan's capabilities took into account the crippling of the Pacific Fleet on 7 December 1941. What might have followed had that not happened can only be conjectured. Nevertheless, initial fleet and air losses in Hawaii and the Philippines, however tragic in themselves, assured a united and all-out war effort by the United States Government and people against the aggressor nations. In itself this was the best guarantee of final victory.



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